Balkans and Russia

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Poland and Auschwitz has to be part of an overlander around the world trip. The Auschwitz concentration camp complex was the largest of its kind established by the Nazi regime. The SS authorities established three main camps near the Polish city of Oswiecim: Auschwitz I in May 1940; Auschwitz II (also called Auschwitz-Birkenau) in early 1942; and Auschwitz III (also called Auschwitz-Monowitz) in October 1942. At Auschwitz I, SS physicians carried out medical experiments in the hospital, Barrack (Block) 10. They conducted pseudoscientific research on infants, twins, and dwarfs, and performed forced sterilizations, castrations, and hypothermia experiments on adults. The best-known of these physicians was SS Captain Dr. Josef Mengele. Between the crematorium and the medical-experiments barrack stood the “Black Wall,” where SS guards executed thousands of prisoners. In total, approximately 1.1 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz. All I can say that our experience was depressing and we still wonder if the world has learned anything since this happened ( Referring to Vietnam, Rwanda-Cambodia-former Yugoslavia and no doubt in a few years Afghanistan and Iraq).

It was time for more pleasant times, we crossed into the Ukraine to watch the Dutch soccer team play in the Euro Championships, but this was short-lived as it never came past the first round, nevertheless Ukraine was a pleasant surprise after all the poor media it received. Nearly 20 million foreign people visit the Ukraine every year. It is at the cross roads between Central and Eastern Europe. Its Capital Kiev has many unique structures and broad boulevards the old city of Lviv with its cobblestone streets its medieval old town and unique architecture. Our destination was Kharkov a city which history started in the mid-17th century. Unfortunately we never made it inside Chernobyl as bookings were required. From Kharkov it was only a short drive into Russia and our main destination Moscow. 3 highlights for us were the Red Square, Kremlin, and our camp spot in Sokolniki Park. Red Square came into its own in the 20th Century, when it was most famous as the site of official military parades demonstrating to the world the might of the Soviet armed forces. Since Perestroika, however, the emphasis has moved away from official pomp, and Red Square has been used increasingly for rock concerts, big classical music performances and a whole range of large-scale events from fashion shows to festivals of circus art. Moscow met the millennium here with a huge firework display and street party. The Moscow Kremlin has played a dominant role in Russian life for over eight hundred years. Right in the middle of Moscow we found a perfect campsite in Sokolniki Park very close to the center of the city.

Leaving Moscow the long haul along the Trans Siberian Railway started. The highway stretches 11000km from St Petersburg to Vladivostok; we joined in Moscow and followed the highway to Ulan Ude. Nearly the whole highway was built by Gulag prisoners. The road surface varies from perfect to dirt track in those parts where upgrading of the highway is done. Potholes are something to look out for. During this trip we crossed 8 time zones, saw a diversity of Russian nature (tundra, taiga, steppes, mountains, lakes and rivers), culture, architecture, and visited 15 major cities of Russia, 22 in 22 territories. We had a few days R&R at Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake. It curves for nearly 400 miles through south-eastern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. Surrounded by mile-high snowcapped mountains, Lake Baikal still offers vistas of unmatched beauty. The mountains are still a haven for wild animals, and the small villages are still outposts of tranquility and self-reliance in this part of Siberia.


We crossed into Russia and the first highlight was the City of St Petersburg, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, with lavish architecture, an extraordinary history and rich cultural traditions. We are not city people but this city is one of the best we ever visited. From here we traveled North again back into the Arctic. The Kola Peninsula is a region for overlanders who are attracted to the unusual and unpredictable and to extreme environments of the Northern Russia wilderness. It lies between 66° 03′ and 69°57’N and 28°25′ and 41°26’E. The Kola Peninsula occupies the rim of Northern-Western Russia. Major part of the Peninsula lies Above the Polar Circle. In the North it is washed by the Barents and in the South by the White sea. In the West it borders with Finland and Norway. There are about 21 000km of  rivers running through the Kola Peninsula territory. Murmansk is a port city and the administrative center of Murmansk, located in the extreme northwest part of Russia, on the Kola Bay, 12 kilometers from the Barents Sea. One off the highlights to visit was the Nuclear icebreaker Lenin.