Leaving the Baltic states, our original plan was to head into Belarus. Unfortunately to travel visa free in Belarus you have to enter by air not by land, that was not an option. With Belarus now out of the equation we headed slightly west to Poland. I had already visited Poland about 10 years ago but Pete hadn’t so this was still a good option. Also I had a friend, Marcin, in Warsaw so it was a good opportunity to be able to catch up.
Marcin researched and recommended Majawa campsite located close to the CBD with good public transport access.
We met him after work and he took us on a walking tour of the city. It was great to have someone who is local and passionate about their city and country show you around. You get far more interesting information and see things off the beaten tourist route. He loves walking so he made sure we saw as much as we could!
We started in the old town area that, following the Warsaw uprising in 1944, Hitler and Himmel vowed to wipe it from the face of the earth as an example to other European cities.
On our way out, we stopped to admire the large monument to Chopin. Sadly we weren't there for any concerts, what a great venue it would be to have a picnic and listen to an orchestra.
Time to get back to the van and on the road again heading to Krakow.
Marcin had felt guilty not taking us to a ‘Polish restaurant’, even though hanging at a cool local bar was way better for us, so we promised him we would go to one before we left.
For main I ordered roasted pike perch in white wine sauce with a mushroom risotto and quail egg and Pete had veal cheeks au jus with roasted vegetables, parmesan cheese and couscous. The portions were large, the food delicious and the waddle back to our van required!
Over 1.1M people died in Auschwitz, it can only be described as dark, solemn, moving and emotional. However their motto is in order to prevent future wars, we cant forget the past.
It was early evening by the time we had finished our visit so we decided to drive a little out of town and look for a place to stay.
An hour and a half later we crossed the border into Czech Republic. We had googled a campsite along our route, the reviews said ok, so good enough. The manager staggered drunkenly from his caravan, unlocked the office then refused to communicate with me. He just kept saying “no English”. Now I am not one to demand people speak English. I live in a country where English is the second language. So I am more than happy to attempt communicating with hand signals, body language and google translate. But this guy just wasn’t cooperating. Sad, it was the first time we came across someone who wasn’t friendly and helpful in the campsites. The place was full, bar one spot by the river. We soon realised that although the place was full it was pretty empty of people. 90% of the caravans were permanents. Anyway, we just wanted to cook dinner and get to bed.
The next day was a road trip, destination Croatia.
Most of you know we have no end date to our travels. So really, there is no rush. However, we do have one major time restraint hanging over our heads. Fortunately as Australians, visas aren’t required for a majority of the countries we intended to visit, most countries offer us 90 days visa free. Unfortunately the bloody Schengen visa allows 90 days in 180 day period for the entire Schengen zone. Schengen area comprises of 26 countries, how does one cover everything? And to top it off, the Schengen is growing, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria are set to join next year. Currently I can spend three months in each of these counties when they join it will be three days (if I want to see all Europe) Maybe they need to rethink such rules, an applied visa extension or something!
Early in our travels Pete had made out an excel spreadsheet with the dates going from green to orange to red. Green was our safe time, orange we had to start thinking of making our way out of Schengen and red was get out of there now. We were starting to get close to the orange area, so we were making our way down to the first of the non-Schengen countries, Croatia.
Our plan is to travel around the non-Schengen countries until our 180 days is up, then we can re-enter. From Poland to Croatia is actually not that far... just Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and the corner of Slovenia between them! (They will have to wait until our return) Sounds incredible to someone who grew up in Australia.
We arrived at the Croatia border 6 hours and 5 countries later.. passport stamped....AND.... relax!!!!