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Thursday 27 to Friday 28 September 2012, Latvian border

No it didn’t take 2 days to go through the border! But it did take hours. It started with the Russian border. We drove past over 10 kilometers of trucks before reaching the border post. We could only hope the border was not busy for normal traffic, and it wasn’t. However there was only one booth open at first then a second booth opened. We went to this booth manned by a Captain. This was bad news for us. He obviously had not been at the coal face for years and was not familiar with our particular car papers. He didn’t like the car import/export papers that we had received on entering Kazakhstan either. We had to complete new ones. Then he became totally confused because we are Dutch and Australian, the car is British and we live in South Africa. He decided we had to live in England! Each step of the way he had to check with his staff how to work with the documents and the computer. To make matters worse he was excruciatingly slow on the keyboard. The process took two hours.

We expected the Latvian Border to be easy. After all it is the European Union and we have never had problems. Yes, there is always a first time. Passports were fine but the car papers were not. One character in the chassis number is incorrect and manually corrected. Totally unacceptable for the customs officer. We were already cold from standing around at the Russian border, even though we took it in turns. This time it took even longer. The customs officer listened to Pieter’s explanation but did not want to accept the modified papers. He phoned several people and 3 hours later we were finally allowed through.


Saturday 29There were many varieties of apples for saleOur detached shock absorber, useless! September to Wednesday 3 October 2012. Suwalki, Poland

We have had problems with shocks throughout Central Asia and once again Pieter felt that the car was not driving correctly. He stopped and took a look. The photo gives you an idea of the problem. This happened on the way to the Russian border so we decided to go to Warsaw to have it fixed. By the time we had crossed into Poland it was getting late and we looked for a campground to have a good clean up. In 2006 when we were last in the Baltic States there were actual border posts, these have all gone making traveling even easier. The first campground was in a town called Suwalki. The manager/owner had a an old and a new Jeep. He and Pieter started to chat and Pieter casually asked if there was a good mechanic in town who could sort out the shocks. There was one who had sorted out various 4x4s owned by the manager and his son. His son is a great 44 enthusiast.

Monday we went there and agreed he seemed competent. He was more than competent, he was very very good. He replaced the shocks which were actually for trucks with lighter shocks more suitable to a car. The heavy shocks had made the car slam up and down which partly caused our problems. He fixed the back bumper which had become distorted when we went through the road blocks in Khorag, Tajikistan. It now looks as good as new. He manufactured a new exhaust and fitted it in such a way that it no longer bumped against the car and did several other smaller things such as replacing a broken blade in a leaf spring. We were very happy with his workmanship. It took time though. Luckily the campsite also had en-suite rooms available which we rented for a few nights. They also provided meals on request which saved us walking quite some distance to a restaurant.


Thursday 4 to Sunday 14 October 2012, Groningen, Holland

3 days driving on highways brought us to Doetechem in Holland where Pieter had left his camera months before. We were way too late on Saturday to fetch it. So Sunday we did some general cleaning including trimming the mattress. It was perfectly rectangular but the bed tapers towards the front, therefore it curled a bit on the sides there. This resulted in the mattress moving sideways at an angle which meant one of us (usually me) was pushed right against the canvas. OK, its a very small thing but I am glad it is now shaped to fit.

We bought 4 new tyres to replace the used ones we had bought in Uzbekistan and Mauritania. Once we picked up the camera we headed for Groningen to spend time with Harjet and Kees.


Monday 15 October to Thursday 6 November 2012, Spain

By driving through Germany we skipped almost half of the French toll roads. Then it was toll roads all the way to Valencia where we spent a day with our friends from 2005, Doreen and Alec.

Now we needed a place to stop and spend some time doing more maintenance on the car. We found a nice campground near Murcia with an English pub on site. The pub attracted lots of English people so we could communicate easily with everyone. Really nice for a change. The site manager is also a handy-man and he installed the sink we had purchased from Holland. It will be such a pleasure for Pieter to throw vegetable water into the sink instead of stepping outside and (sometimes) dropping the vegies onto the ground. I can now brush my teeth inside instead of going out into the cold and wind. I am not so sure it will be used much for washing up though. It was the waste water outlet I really wanted. Next step was to remove the Spanish varnish I had applied in 2011 and replace it with a German varnish we had bought in Holland. The  Spanish varnish was soft, scraped off easily and looked ugly. Now it all looks much better. All the drawers were removed, cleaned out, repacked and the surfaces underneath them cleaned. Its amazing how much Mauritanian dust came out!

Pieter pottered around and did some general maintenance on the car.

The last day before leaving for South Africa was spent in a campsite near Madrid Airport preparing the car for storage there for the 3 months we would be in South Africa.


Friday 7 November 2012 to Thursday 28 February 2013, Johannesburg, South Africa

It was such a joy to see our boys again. Pieter Frank took a weeks leave to spend some time with us. He was with us for Christmas as well. Then he spent another 10 days at a Scout course for scouts, PLTU, Patrol Leaders Training Course, which is held very close to David’s flat. We managed to see him a few times during this period. He also come up from Klerksdorp for a weekend in February. He is there on a 3 month army training course.

Pieter and I had decided to buy an old car to use during our visit. The car would then be left with a friend of David’s ready for when we next returned. A car is essential in South Africa. We went out and found a cheap Nissan bakkie (pickup). It had to go through roadworthy and we were given a list of items that HAD to be fixed. Many less major problems were left off the list. The car can be parked inside the property at night but not during the day as it interferes with other cars. We picked up the car on Wednesday. Sunday morning it was stolen from outside the flats where David lives. Welcome to South Africa! We ended up once again with a hire car.

Apart from that I managed to clear some long outstanding admin such as closing accounts that had not been used for years, chasing up income tax which had not been assessed for 3 years. It actually had been and we owed money. I just wasn’t aware of this. The 2009 assessment was marked as not submitted. It had been lost by the department and had to be resubmitted.

The electricity charges for our properties is also finally being sorted out. There has been an ongoing dispute over the charges for years. Our managing agents finally found a way to sort this out. Ours are not the only properties involved. They now physically take the details to the Municipality and sit with a clerk to have each account sorted out immediately. This is taking them a few months to have all the accounts they manage sorted out. The problems started years ago when The Municipality introduced new software. The software just did not work properly. Presumably it does now. The staff were also not trained resulting in more problems. 10 years ago Price Waterhouse Coopers had a contract to sort out the mess. They sent in a management team and used their various experts. They gave up quite quickly. Apparently its still a shambles. At least the direct and personal approach seems to be working. The correct procedure to sort out problems is to get a reference number. Unfortunately getting a number each time you phone doesn’t help.  Municipal staff have to actually do something about the problems.

PurrBall had Clipping PurrBall's nails in full battle gearbeen with us for 18 years. He saw David through High School, accepted our various dogs and lost weight when we left him at home while we went on holidays. David took him when we left in 2005. He has been a grumpy old cat for years, becoming less adventurous and slower as time went on. He never lost his taste for treats though and definitely recognized us each time we came back. Maybe he waited until we returned. In December he lost his appetite and couldn’t walk far. He kept on trying to get down to the garden but we always waylaid him and brought him back. There are dogs downstairs and he would not have had any peace. Three days of this and we took him to the vet. The vet said he might live another day at the most. I believe in reducing suffering in terminal cases i.e. euthanasia, for humans too.

The laptops were in constant use. I revamped the menus for our website and played games while Pieter added to his old blog, created a new one and watched movies. I have also read several books. It is not always possible to find English language books when traveling in non-English speaking countries so I have purchased an e-reader. I have 50 books on it, mostly free, and can buy when I have wifi. It has already been put to good use.

We visited old friends and spent Christmas day with friends of David. For Pieter’s birthday we (all 4 of us) went to a shooting range and fired about 150 rounds using 3 different pistols. I must say we are all reasonable shots though Pieter and Pieter Frank are definitely the best.

SPAIN 2013

Friday 1 March to Wednesday 3 April 2013, Murcia

The weather was cold, especially after summer in SA. We headed straight for Murcia and holed up for a month. Our new SUV tent is great except when the wind is very strong. One night the wind was exceptionally strong and gusty, We could hear it coming and then it would hit. The roof wallowed up and down and the sides snapped in and out. We seriously considered sitting downstairs for the rest of the night and putting the roof down. Instead when the wind hit we pushed out the canvas and kept a sharp eye on the roof. The roof and canvas survived as did we. Apparently it had been like this all through the previous 3 months. Glad we were not there.


Thursday 4 April to Monday 13 May 2013, France, The Hague, Frankfurt, Prague

I had forgotten just how white people could be. Driving through France we saw bus loads of school children on tour. Some of them were very white, real peaches and cream. The adults always had darker skin, weathered from the sun and wind. No wonder the darker races were amazed when they first saw very white blond people.

We spent a day with Kees and Harriet in a French campground. They were on their way to Morrocco.

In Holland we went back to our favorite spot near The Hague and started the process of obtaining Russian visa. Three weeks later we admitted defeat. The rules have tightened considerably since last year. Firstly Pieter as a Dutch citizen has to have medical cover even for a transit visa. This is horrendously expensive because of his age. Secondly, I as an Australian, must have proof of Dutch residence even for a transit visa, without this I have to obtain my visa in SA or Australia. The only thing I obtained was a badly twisted ankle from a small step in the embassy! The ankle took over 3 weeks before I could ignore it when walking and another 3 weeks to heal completely. Thanks Russia!

We also asked about visa for Belarus. Westerners unfortunately need a Letter of Invitation (LOI). Ukraine has also tightened up. Europeans do not need a visum. Australians require a bank statement to prove I have money, medical insurance, a copy of the car papers and a hotel voucher. The last is to ensure I don’t sleep on the side of the road. Obviously Europeans can sleep in the gutter if they want nor do they have to have sufficient money to pay for them selves! Damn. I would really have liked to go to the Ukraine again.

Besides staying at our favorite spot we also spent a week house sitting in Gouda for Pieter’s niece Thea and her husband Hans while they went on holiday. They could have left the house empty but we really enjoyed that week with all the space and mod cons. I took the opportunity to look around Gouda again after 40 years. I can’t remember much and my journal and photos are in storage in SA. One day I will do a comparison. The two sights I specifically visited were the Cheese Museum and Sint Janskerk. The Cheese Museum was very interesting. The exhibits covered the old methods of making cheese which have since been mechanized. It is run by a very knowledgeable man who speaks several languages. Interestingly the leftovers from the cheese making is turned into butter by the addition of more rennet. Sint Janskerk is the longest church in Holland (123 metres) and is famous for its 16th century stained glass windows.


Keukenhof flower bedKeukenhof- CymbidiumKeukenhof- unusual statue

Keukenhof was also on my list. We spent an enjoyable time there walking around the gardens. The various displays were magnificent.

The herring that made the crack visibleIn South Africa I complained about one of my teeth but as there was no decay and no visible problem the dentist could not fix anything. In fact there was a large crack at the back and side which was not visible. One Saturday a very small piece of filling chipped off the back of the tooth and by Sunday the crack was visible. Monday I went to a dentist who removed the cracked section - a quarter of the tooth! He then removed all the filling from the inside and refilled the lot. All I have left of the tooth is the front, one side, half the back and the roots. The middle and other sides are all filling. He says it will be OK but then he has used the white filling which is, I assume, much stronger than metal filling used in SA.

Finally on 10 May we were on our way.

Pieter and David in FrankfurtConversations in PragueFirst stop was Frankfurt where we spent a day with David. He had come to visit the Head Office of Boehringer. It was lovely to see him. A visit to Prague then on to Poland


The Behrams with some of their growing family Spain 2012 South Africa Spain 2013 Gouda St Jan, detail Gouda Cheese House Gouda St Jans-looking at the Choir Back to Russia Next to Poland Next to Poland Back to Russia