We left Poznań for a four hour drive east to Warsaw, the capital of Poland. It was very cold and an hour before we arrived snow had begun to fall heavily. The main roads remained clear but side roads collected 10cm of snow. Our camp site was 15k from the city centre.
We chose a sunny day to visit the city but the temperature remained below freezing all day. It was so cold I was forced to buy a fur hat!
The old part of the city had been restored after heavy damage during World War 2. Despite its Communist past, Poland remained a deeply Catholic country and we admired Warsaw’s gothic churches as well as its neoclassical palaces, one was home of the Polish President. The wide squares in the old part of town were surrounded by pastel painted buildings. We didn’t stray from the old city and avoided seeing the ugly Soviet era blocks and the modern skyscrapers further out of town.
The temperature that night dropped to -10° and although we were warm enough in the van, the icy conditions caused the boiler freeze valve to release all our water (a safety device). The next morning when we realised we had no water, poor Tony had to spend ages refilling the tank with 120 litres of water from a distant unfrozen tap, using our small watering can – definitely a blue job! The next night we left our gas central heating on to keep the water system above freezing.
We spent a week in Poznań, hiring a car so we could travel around more easily. The weather was very cold, barely getting above 0° but it was mainly dry.
Throughout history Poland had been under constant threat from its more powerful neighbours. From 1795 the country was partitioned between Germany, Austria and Russia and became independent in 1918 after World War 1. In 1939 Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and, after World War II, Soviet Communism took power. The Polish People’s Republic was established in 1989 and the first elected Prime Minister was Lech Walęsa. Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and a son of Poland, one Donald Tusk, eventually became President of the European Council in 2014.
Many restaurants offered traditional Polish food as well as international cuisine. Everywhere you would find pierogi which were made with dough wrapped around a savoury or sweet filling and cooked in boiling water, sometimes fried afterwards for a crispy result. Potatoes were often served, perfectly boiled or baked in their jackets and sprinkled with fresh herbs. The flavour of the potato was strong and earthy, reminding me of freshly dug from the garden. Beetroot and red cabbage were common, often topped with a hunk of meat – pork, rabbit, venison or duck. Every variety of soup was offered, highly seasoned with some surprising ingredients lurking below the surface – a bowl of meaty soup I had contained half a lightly boiled egg.
We also had these soft steamed bread rolls instead of potatoes, served with a delicious gloopy sauce. They were memorably called pyzy drozdzowe. The meal pictured above cost around £7, including a beer and coffee afterwards.
We left the UK in the icy jaws of the Beast from the East, travelling north east through France, Germany, Holland then Germany (again) and on to Poland. Although we spotted patches of melting snow by the roadside, the roads were dry and clear, the worst of the weather was definitely behind us.
We made three overnight stops in Germany – at Bad Bentheim, Hatten-Kirchhatten and Magdeburg, arriving in Poland on the fourth day. En route we called in to Groningen in the north of Holland to say hello to John Stalman, a colleague in the boat business who ran Van den Bosch Yachting for a number of years. John and his wife, Sabina, owned a beautiful marina on the Paterswoldsemeer. It was almost ten years since we had seen John but he hadn’t changed one bit.
We were travelling to Poland to see the progress on our 2003 fire tender truck being converted into an expedition truck.
The project had begun over a year ago when we purchased the truck from a dealer in Preston, Lancashire and had it shipped by low loader to Poland where they stripped back the chassis, painted and serviced the vehicle. They fitted larger fuel tanks, an air pressure system for the tyres and they removed the rear twin wheels and replaced with single larger ones.
After settling in to our campsite at Malta Lake in Poznań we went to collect our truck from the local Mercedes Benz dealership, who had been carrying out some modifications to the vehicle. We were very excited as it was the first time we had seen the truck since the day we purchased it. Tony was able to get behind the wheel and, after a practice circuit of the dealership, we drove the truck for forty minutes to a company that would carry out exhaust pipe alterations.
We then visited Campersol, the company that was building the habitation unit that would sit on a galvanised frame that had been specially constructed to fit the chassis. The habitation unit was made of a grp foam sandwich. There would be a lot of work on this box over the next few weeks, fitting it out with all the paraphernalia needed to keep the Morgans warm and comfortable on their travels.
We didn’t linger travelling north through Spain and France. It was mid November and, although it was warm enough during the day, at night the temperature plummeted to 0°. And Europe was an hour ahead of GMT so it was dark by 6pm which discouraged us from taking our long evening walks into town. We found ourselves eating our main meal in the middle of the day and spending the evenings watching DVDs or reading and, of course, early to bed!
La Campiña At Santaella – Last Warm Days
In Spain many camp sites stayed open throughout the year, especially along the coast but in France (the home of “camping cars”) sites were closing for the winter like sleepy eyes after dark. Our planned site at Le Mans advertised a closing date of the 19th but when we rocked up on the 16th the gates were already locked and the site deserted. We parked up outside for the night but I was disappointed that I couldn’t have a shower or a fresh baguette in the morning. A better overnight stop out of season would have been at one of the larger Aires next to a fuel station where truckers took their obligatory rest. We always found those Aires safe enough overnight – although a bit noisy with lorries coming and going
As we approached Calais we stopped to fill up with diesel. Driving out from the fuel station we noticed cars overtaking us had put on their hazard warning lights and were indicating that we should slow down. Assuming there was something amiss with the van, we pulled on to the hard shoulder and a couple of the cars stopped too. We were careful as we could have been victims of a scam but it turned out there was a man – an asylum seeker, we assume – hanging off our rear, clinging to the bike rack as we sped along at 50mph. As we stopped he jumped down and ran off. It looked as if he had been trying to conceal himself under our bike covers. He could so easily have fallen off and been killed and maybe we would have been none the wiser.
We had had a similar problem in Tanger in stop/start traffic where groups of youngsters were continually running beside our vehicle, trying to climb on the back I don’t think they had any sinister intentions but were just joyriding. Tony reckons our new van will have all round camera surveillance and a big klaxon to frighten off any boarders!
Last Night In France, Cité Europe At Calais
We Spotted These Friendly Faces Sharing Their Vehicle With Three Horses
As we travelled north towards the Atlantic coast, the scenery softened into fertile plains. We stopped over night at the seaside resort of Mohammedia, close to Casablanca. The campsite was perched right on the beach but was being surrounded by rows and rows of newly built apartment blocks overlooking the scruffy beach area. We presumed the seaside development was for the folk of Casablanca. A small apartment cost in the region of £30,000 – we were not tempted.
Atlantic Coast Beach At Mohammedia
The next day we drove to the ferry at Tanger Med. We checked in at the ferry terminal and proceeded through the port’s long winded security procedures. Ten minutes further on we were told our vehicle was wrongly classified on our boarding pass so we had to turn back, exit the port and drive along the dual carriageway before turning back into the port entrance. We checked in for the second time and were given reprinted boarding passes. We reappeared at each security barrier and no-one seemed to notice we had passed that way fifteen minutes earlier. Fortunately from then on it was easy going and we disembarked in Algeciras two hours later. Soon after 9pm we were enjoying a late supper at Casa Bernardo’s.
Zebra Camp, Tanaghmeilt
Zebra Camp was adjacent to the Cascades of Ouzoud, spectacular waterfalls 110 metres high. We had taken a guided tour of the tourist attraction during a previous visit, so we decided that on this occasion we would visit the Cascades and walk around independently. However, when we walked down to the falls the following morning – well before the tourist coaches arrived from Marrakech (two hours drive away) – we were approached by a Guide who offered us a walking tour, showing us places where most of the tourists would not go. We reluctantly accepted him as our guide and by the end of the day we realised that we had chosen wisely and it had been well worth the £24 he charged.
Zebra Camp in the Middle Atlas Mountains was a popular camping site, owned by a Dutch couple who ran the camp to European standards – so the toilets and showers were modern, clean and in good working order. I was able to hand over a bag of laundry and when I returned to the camp two hours later my washing was hanging up to dry in the sunshine. There was a restaurant serving a small selection of freshly cooked local food. We were charged £80 for three nights’ stay including an evening meal – but no wine – although you could bring your own bottle. We were sad to learn that the site had just been sold to a Moroccan investor and we wondered whether their high standards would be maintained in the future.
Our guide’s name was Mustapha and he proved very knowledgeable and an interesting companion. He took us along dusty mule tracks down one side of the valley, crossing a series of pools at the bottom of the valley and walking up the other side. We didn’t need to hurry, we walked slowly and had plenty of opportunity to sit and rest. At one place we sat in a cool cave and drank glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice. Further up the track we bought a bag of mixed nuts from a vendor. When we came across another tourist group heading our way, Mustapha deftly steered us on to a different path where we were able to enjoy the views without interruption. The weather was a warm 28° but it was cooler in the shade of the trees, surrounded by tumbling water. The terrain was difficult in places but we really enjoyed seeing the waterfalls and the series of pools below from several different vantage points around the valley. Our guided walk lasted over two hours and we finished up having a well deserved lunch in a café overlooking the falls.Edit
We decided to spend a few days at Ourika Camp, said to be the best site in Morocco. Ourika was five miles south of Marrakech city centre. The weather was warm (25°) and sunny and we had been into Marrakech on several occasions so we were content to sit by the pool and enjoy the beautiful gardens.
Traditional buildings in Morocco were usually constructed with adobe-like bricks, made from local earth and dried in the sun so they blended perfectly with their surroundings.
Swimming Pool And Restaurant At Ourika Camp
The following day the camp site guardian arranged a taxi for us so we could do some shopping. The taxi collected us from our pitch and the guardian gave the young driver instructions of where we wanted to go. He drove us to an ATM and then on to a restaurant for lunch. After lunch our taxi collected us again and took us to a supermarket. The driver helped us load the shopping into the boot and returned the trolley to the supermarket himself. When we got back to our pitch the driver unloaded our shopping for us. The taxi cost £25 including a generous tip.
The next day we drove west across the Marrakech Plain towards the Middle Atlas Mountains. The roads were straight, but narrow and then the scenery changed dramatically when we began to climb.
The Marrakech Plain
The Middle Atlas Mountains