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Published: September 21st 2021
We were away from the campsite at Warsaw by 7am and reached the German border (500km) some 9 hours later after a short lunch stop. The countryside was still devoted to farming, but much less intensive than in Russia with greater variety and a nice contrast of greens. Most of the farmhouses were two-storeyed stone houses, with characters all of their own.
The joint border took less than 2 hours, and fortunately there were no hassles on the Polish side with our money declarations or our purchases. The final leg into West Berlin was along the E8 autobahn, travelling 100kph the whole way, and with no time change we reached camp by 7.30pm. There was not a lot to see off the road, with trees sheltering fields most of the way, but notable were the sudden presence of super, smooth, fast-speeding Porsches, Mercedes, BMWs etc. There were minimum hassles at the West Berlin ‘gate’. We tracked along the wall for some period – a strip of sandy ‘no man’s land’, with frequent sentry boxes of DDR guards.
The campsite provided a hot shower and a great meal of schnitzel, chips, ‘unt salat’, with a litre of beer to wash
it down. We dined and drank with a rather boisterous Pacesetters crowd, with boat races, brown eyes and all. It seemed like plenty of good times could be had by backpackers in these European campsites.
There was no breakfast at the campsite, so we made it into town early to change money. We had a short bus tour of West Berlin, taking in the Victory Monument, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and the Allies side of the Wall, including of course the famed Brandenburg Gate.
I teamed up with a couple of the girls to go through Checkpoint Charlie onto the East side. We ambled down the Unter den Unden, taking in the Brandenburg Gate from the East side, the University, War Memorial (complete with goose-stepping guards), Marcenkirke, and a number of bombed out churches. We took in a cheap lunch of soup and fruit cake, before taking the lift up to the top of the Television Tower for a panoramic view of the two cities, showing clearly the magnitude of the famed Wall and its ‘no man’s land’ buffer. On the way back, we checked out the rubble lying totally untouched inside one bombed out church, which was
quite some sight. We just made it back to the bus in time after a rushed customs check. The weather for the day was bleak, windy and cold – just the environment recommended for the tour by our guidebook, although I thought they were a little harsh in some of their criticisms of East Berlin.
Back in the free world again, a few of us went off for dinner, preceded by some window shopping. There were some pretty impressive shops, especially in the very modern Europa Centre, with arrays of chess sets, colour TVs and even an ice-skating exhibition. But the absolute highlight was stumbling upon, quite by accident, a packet of cigarettes with the brand name ‘Collie’, for which I obviously bought a packet despite being a non-smoker! We hit Huhner Hugo’s English pub for a dinner comprising a rump steak and several ales.
It was a very cold arising next morning at 5am to cook our final camp brekkie at the West Berlin campsite, with the only shelter coming from the mighty wall. We got away around 7am and through the East German border about an hour later, without any hassles. We took the autobahn through
to the West Germany border, which we reached around 10.30am. At least there was a bit of a change of scenery, with the farming country showing a delightful contrast of colours and being dotted with two-storey houses of brown and red brick.
We made it through to the Netherlands border by 4pm that day and went straight through without changing any money. The rain had really set in after lunch, and as such, very little could be seen out of the fog-bound windows. We settled in for some late afternoon ‘social’ drinks in the back of the bus, as a prelude to farewelling four of our departing passengers, who had decided to get off the bus in Amsterdam instead of going all the way to London. A couple of hours later, and my two bottles of Polish cherry liqueur later, my ‘social’ skills were pretty non-existent, and the rest of the day was a complete mystery for me. I heard some pretty interesting stories about my behaviour (naturally, none of which I believed!), but only seem to have one permanent scar – I lost my ‘Collie’ cigarettes!
I understand that I spent the night sleeping in a campsite
in Amsterdam, but I certainly arose feeling much the worse for wear around 7am, after apparently some 10 hours sleep. I spent most of the morning napping, moping and throwing up, and generally trying to get rid of a king-sized hangover. I did manage to at least fit in a good hot shower and a final packing of my suitcase.
Early afternoon, Bob and I set off to Schiphol, the airport, to check out duty-free car options. Unfortunately, Shipside was closed, but we did at least get their brochure. We then made it back into town where we met up with the crowd at Dam Square, which is the general meeting point for all tourists in Amsterdam. There was a mix-up in understanding how to pay the bus fare, but the driver with his microphone was a good sport and had some fun and games with us. We wandered around the canals and the red-light area, with its multitude of sex shops. The central part of Amsterdam is very appealing, but monstrously touristy and expensive. I finally made it back to camp early by train for a light meal, a night of relaxation and the chance to bring up
to date my travel diary, having missed the last couple of days and with a move into Belgium the next day.
We had a wet weather start next day as we packed up all our tents and mess gear at the Amsterdam campsite for the final time on this trip. We got away by 8.30am and made it into Brussels via Antwerp just after midday. The weather cleared and we got a good view on the way of the Dutch countryside with its canals and windmills. The Netherlands-Belgium border was just a set of traffic lights, which fortunately for us were on green. The countryside in Belgium was not dissimilar to Holland, without the canals and windmills, and the most memorable aspect of Antwerp was its number of old church spires.
In Brussels, we checked out the Atomium, which was set up for the World Fair; the Grand Place, including the Town Hall; and the famed Mannekin Pis. We also briefly shot up to the British Embassy but couldn’t get entry certificates. Then followed a comfortable 2-hour drive to Brugge for dinner, relaxing and shopwalking, prior to our setting off for the ferry to the UK at 10pm.
It was a pity we didn’t have more time in Brugge as it looked a very attractive city with heaps of interconnecting canals and fabulous old buildings. There were no hassles in boarding, and after a snack and a change of money, we were ready to sail for Dover at midnight.
We were fortunate to have a smooth Channel crossing, which reached the “white cliffs of Dover” around 4.30am. We spent most of the trip playing cards and chatting to try and stay awake. After a lightning run through Customs (despite having no entry visas), we were away again around 5.30am. It was a tiring final trip into London, and while we reached the outskirts by 7am, we in fact didn’t reach the Sundowners office until 8.30am. On the road, we passed Dover Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, and many really beautiful Olde Englishe houses. And so, after 80 days on the road, visiting 15 different countries, and travelling a total 17,630kms, we had finally arrived in one piece at the ‘Old Dart'.
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