After 6 days of Budapest and an invigorating thermal bath, I travel through the rest of Hungary towards the Ukrainian border. The puszta is a vast plain with grass and woods. Kiskunsag National Park. Here one can find something back from the authentic shepherd’s life, but then viewed through a touristic lens. A horse show gives some nice photographic moments and shows what the cowboys can do with their little, handsome horses. Cycling with the mountain bike through the protected area is very nice. But let the tires run half empty because you get a lot of sandy paths. Through Kecskemet, famous for its Jugendstil buildings, and Eger, I find a nice campsite near the Ukrainian border where I am the only guest standing next to an old waterwheel. In order to enter Ukraine, I do not take the boundary of Tiszabecs, but the one of Beregsurany, following the advice of the camping owner.The gates of Tiszabecs may be too low for me, she says.

It is always exciting, such a border between an EU country and beyond. It becomes to be an exercise of patience, desperation, frustration and finally anger.

Already on the Hungarian side, the horror starts. After 15 minutes waiting behind a big truck, I am sent back to the police station that I have passed by accident. After waiting for half an hour,it is my turn to show all my documents. From now on, I need to switch to the “Latency and Patience” mode. I clearly mention that I am a camping car, a Wohnmobil, a camper, so I am not transporting goods.

While my data are examined on the computer, Piggy is inspected by another officer. No word in English or German. Only Russian. Not really my strongest language. Of course they do not find any goods, narcotics or weapons, but as a camper I’m too heavy. Namely above 7.5 tons. So, in their vision, I am a truck. Heavy campers seem to have never come across, at least not as described in the textbook. The man does not know how to handle this and begins to become impatient. Pearls appear on his forehead. He decides to be a real strict policeman. He asks for the toll certificate that I bought at the border and concludes that I have paid too little toll because I am finally a truck and therefore I will get a fine. The Dutch Automobile Association website states that all campers have to pay a uniform rate regardless of the weight. (In addition, this applies only to the highways and not the toll-free roads I used most of the time). Unfortunately, this is not in the book of this officer.

After consulting another officer, 50 meters away, behind a computer (lasting more than half an hour), he does not change his mind. This owner of this truck can not just cross the border and also has to pay arrears, including fine. The man walks away and says I have to wait until he comes back. My documents are in the possession of the man in the police booth. After waiting for 45 minutes I’m really fed up with it and claim my passport and other documents back. I do not want to cross this border anymore. I’m looking for another location. But in Zahony, 65 km away and close to the Slovak border I am stranded in the same way. I decide to cross the border in Slovakia and try my luck in that country.

The next morning I present myself before the crossing gates. Here too drama. On the Slovak side they are quite flexible. But on the Ukrainian side, horror starts again. I am instructed to get behind the trucks and get all the stamps that I do not need. There is no other way than to drive on a weighbridge for which I have to pay 5 Euro. Finally, I’m a truck. In short, this continues for a while. Finally a friendly English speaking officer is my rescue. He says that in the law heavier campers than 7.5 tons do not exist, but he understands my situation. He calls the Ministry of Transport and after an hour he comes with the good news that I can enter the Ukrainian territory. I even get a kind of VIP treatment and can cut the long queue of waiting cars to Slovakia and drive in to the customs booth where I get a nice Ukrainian stamp in my passport. Welcome to Ukraine !!

The first impressions of Ukraine concern the bad roads, beautiful churches with blue roofs and golden domes. In addition, the large amount of sputtering Lada’s and lorries attract attention. Also women in flower-apron, headscarf and high-rise socks and horse-drawn carriages.

The road to Lviv leads through the Carpathians first. A beautiful setting with picturesque villages. On the outskirts of Lviv I find a bankrupt hotel next to an equally untidy horse race track where the grass is one meter tall and is currently used as a meadow for a few horses. With the still available doorman I negotiate the price to open the barrier and stay there for 2 days to visit the city. I think this is enough to see the historical center. Back in the Beskiden, or Forest Carpethians, I’m looking for the highest peaks of Ukraine. The Hoverla is 2060 m high and the Petra is slightly lower. Through a logger path I reach an idyllic spot in an open space in the woods. From here it goes on foot towards Petra’s top. What a lovely setting.

On my way to Kamianets-Podilkyi, this time I arrive in an extremely bad road section. You can call it offroad on asphalt. I swing in the cabin from left to right. Piggy moans. Suddenly a bang. A familiar sound of last year after the ride in the desert of Morocco. Broken support bracket of the cabin. Extremely slowly, I drive to the nearest village. I see a corpulent man working with a grinding wheel to work his metal fence. This has to be a tech, I think, and stop next to his house. It turns out to be a good feeling. Within a few minutes the man is welding my injured truck. His wife gesticulates that her husband is a very skilled technician. So I’m in good hands.

Within an hour, Piggy is travelready again. The man does not want to receive anything for his help, but nevertheless I give him some Ukrainian Hrivna. What a great kindness and hospitality I meet on the way. Only that Hungarian police officer on the border with Ukraine should be locked up or fired !!

Fortunately the border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova is settled a lot smoother. Of course, the whole procedure takes about an hour. One wants to know and inspect everything. A female officer speaks some English. She has not ever seen such a camper in her career. I’m kidding with her and invites her to join me on my trip. That’s what my husband does not think is good, she says.

The first thing that strikes in Moldova is the numerous wells on the side of the road. Especially in the first village I already count more than 20 specimen. Always built in a different way. Like a water can, with a canopy, with a dome and sometimes just a water well with a hinge and bucket. Wild camping in Moldova is easy and safe. In fact, Moldova has not much to offer. The scenery is a bit boring, but the roads are not. Holes as big as a basketball (Category 1), where a man fits in (cat. 2) and where a cow fits in(Category 3). They keep me from falling asleep. The diesel is so far the cheapest I’ve experienced on my way. 72 Eurocent per liter. That means filling all the tanks before I go to Romania. The language is Romanian. A Romanian language in which I discover many Italian and Spanish words. The script is also more comprehensible. This is unlike Ukrainian, written in the Cyril script.

Moldova has good wines. I visit the largest wine cellars in the world in Milestii Mistici. 200 km underground corridors filled with huge wooden and metal barrels. The tunnels can only be visited by car. Piggy is too big, but I’m invited by people from Slovenia to make the tour with the guide in their car. At the end of the tour there is a cozy wine tasting in an atmospheric space with vibrant live music, accompanied by delicious local snacks. Afterwards, of course, a visit to the wine shop. For the time being, I can go ahead with beautiful wines between 1 and 3 Euro per bottle.

A taxi brings me to Chisinau.The driver speaks English. 3 to 4 hours to visit the city center is sufficient. There are few great things to see. On the way back I tell Nicolai, the taxi driver, the story of the broken cab support in Ukraine. I suspect that there is a crack again, because the truck moans at every pit. Indeed, this seems to be the case. At my request, Nicolai is looking for a really good welder to solve this problem once and for all. He calls me the next morning that he has found someone. In two days they have time to solve the problem. We ( Nicolai and I) agree that we will go to the separated part of Moldova, Transnistria, the next day, about 120 km to the south. It is entirely aimed at Russia. They do not want to speak Moldovan anymore at the border. Russian only. Also here only Cyrillic traffic signs. They have their own money system, including some plastic coins. The traffic is minimal. Crossing the road is therefore almost without danger. The capital Tiraspol has even less to offer than Chisinau, except the extensive monument to the fallen soldiers and the century-old flame for the unknown soldier. You can clearly see that it is a poor country, but there is now a new imposing football stadium and a large modern supermarket, clearly financed by Russia. The only special thing I experience is walking around here in this “small country” that is recognized by Russia, the only one in the world.

Also done some nice shopping here. The local brandy and cognac are internationally well-known. A bottle of 8 year old cognac costs here 4 Euro.

The welder is working for a long time to repair the damage to Piggy. He says that the metal has become too old and too soft. He has a lot of work on it, but I feel that he knows what he is doing. In the future it is better to have a new part, he tells. Nicolai is looking for a company where they can copy this item. He will keep me informed by phone when I’m already in Romania. If necessary, I have to return to Moldova again.

The welder does not want to receive any money from me. As a payment, he only asks for a 2.5 liter bottle of beer. I remain amazed at the kindness of these people.

Meanwhile, I’m in the Danube Delta at the Black Sea in Romania. An El Do-rado for bird lovers. A boattrip is the ultimate way to explore the lakes and between the cane-fields and sometimes I feel a bit in the Biesbosch (natural park in Holland) and sometimes in such an area in Asia or Africa.

It is a lovely place here at the small campsite with the friendly helpful owner.

The plans for the coming weeks: First to Bucharest. Then via Brasov to the north, again back to the Carpathians, but then on the Romanian side.

Via Timisoara I will travel to Serbia and Croatia.

Until then..