We left Belgium on the road to Germany, via Luxembourg (where diesel was cheap and chocolate spread for sale in 5 litre tubs!). After a long days driving we arrived in the German town of Hidelberg, at a beautiful riverside campsite. Since it was a Sunday all the shops were closed so we cooked up dinner from our supplies and had a relaxed evening around the fire.
The next day, (Monday 6th) we drove on to a campsite just outside Vienna. It was a fairly uneventful day of autobahn driving, swapping drivers regularly to get everybody properly accustomed to driving on the wrong side of the rOad. That night we stayed at a busy campsite 30km to the west of Vienna. We met an interesting English couple who had built their own 30ft mobile home and driven it to places as exotic as Timbuktu! We also had to explain to some perplexed campers why anybody would want to drove to Mongolia!
Tuesday 7th, we drove on to Romania via a series of complicated u-turns in Vienna and a 45 minute wrestle with Budapest’s one way system, although Calum, who was navigating at the time maintains that this was a sightseeing tour! The morning was summed up by Calum’s radio transmission from the ambulance; “we are definately on the right road, just going the wrong way!!”
In the afternoon we crossed into Romania and were pulled over by the police within a mile of the border, after lots of pointing and the showing of documents, we were let off for our offence (apparently it’s illegal not to have your headlights on in Romania). We were all shocked by how under developed Romania was, horse and carts were a common sight, and the area around our campsite felt like we had gone back in time. Needless to say our trucks attracted alot of interested stares! Just when we were all starting to wonder what on earth a campsite in this area would be like, we came across our haven for the night. A peaceful well kept campsite run by a Romanian man called Cornell and his Dutch wife. They welcomed us with romanian tea, cherries fresh from their trees and stories of Romania and what we could expect in the next few days. They were an amazing couple who ran an orphanage and numerous other projects across Romania, their campsite was run to help fund the orphanage.
We set off early, heeding Cornell’s warnings of difficult roads and crazy lorry drivers! We found Top Gear’s best road in the world, the Transfăgărăşan Highway, described by the TV show as being like every great corner from every great racetrack in the world. Unfortunately the mountain pass was closed halfway up (though some more intrepid drivers in 4x4s ignored the barriers). We resisted temptation to carry on and turned back, however what we did see of the road was the nothing short of spectacular. That night we camped under Dracular’s castle, at A campsite called Vampire Camping, and woke up to a massive thunderstorm at around 5am.
A long day saw us cross into Moldova. This was our first real border crossing- and our first experience of corrupt officials. Calum and Will were called into a back office and had to pay $100 in fines for various “indiscretions”! As it turned out we spent lOnger at the Moldovan border than we did in Moldova, as our route across the country took under two hours. In that time we had one particularly tricky wrong turn which resulted in the first engagement of the 4×4!
We crossed into Ukraine from Moldova at a quite intimidating military border post where Adrian paid an import tax of just just €1. The guards were very interested in our trucks and the map showing our route.
Two long driving in Ukraine saw us give up on finding a place to camp and having a hilarious conversation a Ukrainian hotel made who understood not a word of English, fortunately our actions and phrase book got us through, a decent dinner and secure parking for the trucks.
Yesterday, Saturday, we crossed into Russia, a two and a half hour, bribe free but stressful experience. We were given forms in Russian to fill out, and struggled through as much as we could until a guard with a huge gun took pity on us and pointed to which boxes we should tick. We were then able to help out two English bikers who arrived behind us on a tour around the Black Sea. Adrian and Chris then took the forms to an office where a grumpy guard shouted at them for getting the forms wrong, 4 or 5 attempts later we made it through the border… Welcome to Russia!!
We were pulled over by the police twice on the way to volgograd (formally Stalingrad). The first police check involved a full document check by a policemen who was quite intimidating until his phone rang with the theme tune from the Harry Potter movies!! At The second stop we were waved on by the policeman when he realised we spoke no Russian!
We nearly ran out of petrol on the way into Volgograd as no petrol stations took card and the 1000roubles that Will’s Dad had given him turned out to be Czech Croner and no use for buying fuel. Fortunately we found a station willing to take our card, and filled two tanks for under £45!!
After a good nights sleep in a Volgograd hotel we plan to take in the sights of Volgograd and rake a slower pace from now on. We enter Kazakhstan on the 15th and hope to have Internet again within a day or two after that.
Everyone sends love and best wishes to all at home and we thank you for your continuing support.