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Published: September 20th 2021
Given the potential border delays, we took an early 6am start from the Minsk campsite with a view to beating the Excelsior bus to the border, which we successfully did. We reached Brest around 11am after a good ride in very overcast weather. A very modern Customs building housed us for coffee while the Russian immigration took a mere 1 hour to allow us to depart the glorious Soviet Republic. While it was a sad farewell to Nina, for many on the bus (but not for me) it was a fond farewell to the Soviet Union.
We only lost an hour also with Polish customs, which were also less stringent than we had anticipated. We obtained money and duty-free booze – this time some Polish Cherry Brandy and Cherry Vodka for USD1 apiece. We picked up most of the lost time when our watches were turned back 2 hours at the border, but it still turned it into a long day. The Polish countryside had more variety and interest than the last few trips. The houses were quaint and pretty, and horses and carts abounded. People in the city were also less drab than the Russians – long hair and
mod clothes were quite common, not unlike Romania. It was about a further 4-hour trip into Warsaw, where we set up camp at Campsite Gromarda in fairly blustery conditions.
We ventured into town for dinner and were offered black market money as soon as we got off the bus – I took USD10 worth at 80 Zlotys/USD, about 2.5 times the official rate. We had a great meal of mushroom and noodle soup, weiner schnitzel and veges, choccy milk shake, choc sweets with nuts and fruit, all for 65 Zl, which with the black market money is the equivalent of AUD0.53. Bob and I discussed the possibilities for the next day’s shopping to net us a bunch of clothes and camping gear for our planned upcoming Kombi trip around Europe.
The following day, we had an organised morning tour of Warsaw city, which had basically been rebuilt in a similar way to that before it was badly bombed in the war. We saw some great buildings, with the old city walls blending in well. We spent some time in the Old Town and Castle Square, taking in the mood of the city. We also took in the end
of the National Day Parade, with some great costumes and many flags on offer. My attempt to pick up an exchange rate of 100 Zl on the black market almost ended up in disaster due to a slight of hand by the crafty seller (the folded over banknotes trick!), but I managed to again pick up 80 Zl later in the day.
We had a great 3 course lunch for 21 Zl, followed greedily by several sweets. My shopping afternoon with Bob and Jules netted the following purchases: shoes (398 Zl), a tie (98 Zl), deodorant (198 Zl), and for kitty, a gasbottle (275 Zl), elements (395 Zl), pan set (130 Zl), lilos (290 Zl each), blower up (90 Zl) and assorted cutlery (80 Zl). We received a most unamused look from Gary as we made it back to the bus all loaded up.
Our evening meal was at the Grand Hotel, but not without hassles in getting there. A local non-English speaker gave us an extra 30-minute walk with some wrong directions. We were finally put back on track by a local guide, Elzbieta, who gave us her address for a future visit. A final dinner of
mushroom soup, rump steak and chocolate ice cream for 140 Zl still left us some money over for our planned future visit, and a soft spot for Poland.
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