Mobile phones
Getting around

Leizpig, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary

30.7: Munich ->Leipzig
31.7: Leipzig
1.8: Leipzig -> Meißen -> Poznan
2.8: Poznan -> Torun
3.8: Torun -> Gdansk
4.8: Gdansk
5.8: Gdansk -> Malbork castle -> Stegna -> Gdansk
6.8: Gdansk
7.8: Gdansk -> Lidzbark Warmiński’s castle -> Święta Lipka -> Wolf lair -> Mragowo
8.8: Mragowo -> Mikolajki -> Śniardwy lake -> Mragowo
9.8: Mragowo -> Branicki palace in Bialystok -> Bialowieza national park
10.8: Bialowiezanational park
11.8: Bialowieza -> Lublin
12.8: Lublin -> Kazimierz Dolny -> Sandomierz -> Lublin
13.8: Lublin -> Zamosc -> Lublin

14.8: Lublin -> Lwiw
15.8: Lwiw
16.8: Lwiw -> Kiew
17.8: Kiew
18.8: Kiew
19.8: Kiew -> Kamjanez-Podilskyj
20.8: Kamjanez-Podilskyj -> Czernowitz (Chernivtsi) -> Iwano-Frankiwsk
21.8: Iwano-Frankiwsk -> Uzhhorod
22.8: Uzhhorod -> Debrecen
23.8: Debrecen
24.8: Debrecen -> Hortobágy national park -> Debrecen
25.8: Debrecen -> Eger -> Kecskemet
26.8: Kecskemet -> Szeged
27.8: Szeged -> Pecs -> Szalatnak
28.8: Szalatnak -> Fonyód -> Őriszentpéter
29.8: Őriszentpéter -> Leoben -> Munich

Planning and overall impression

This was again a trip during the Covid-19 pandemic, done by car mainly because we thought that travelling by plane was a bit too risky (what if we are in a far away country and can' fly back because somebody got Covid or entry/exit regulations changed). Besides, most countries in Asia restricted tourism in summer 2021: either you were not allowed in, or there were lengthy quarantine periods.
In any case, the idea was to travel to Poland initially and have a look a places where we had not been yet (mainly the north and the east) and travel to Ukraine because we had never been there before and I was curious about the country. Ukraine is not exactly a tourist hotspot and I thought the place probably was interesting.
For the last part of the trip I was thinking to drive back towards Munich via Slovakia. Had to change that as I realised that because of the vaccination status of the kids we could not enter the country.
Poland made a good impression. The country is by now quite developed, not much difference anymore between Poland and Germany for what concerns that development level. In fact the kids fell in love with Gdansk, because it had everything they liked: a nice, modern mall with a great food court and a pretty historic centre with an open air market.
Pricewise Poland is by now practically as expensive (even more expensive in some places) as Germany. But I hear that Polish salaries are still not on German levels.
The eight days spent in Ukraine were interesting. Had I known before the trip that it takes hours at the border to get in and outside the country, for sure I wouldn't have travelled by car there. 15 hours to cross a border are simply crazy.
Ukraine has some tourist potential, although the interesting places are quite spread across the country and not as close to each other as in western Europe. Uzhhorod is cute and has a number of touristic highlights. If they cleaned up the place a bit, repaired the infrastructure and made it painless to cross the border, it probably would receive a lot of tourists.
Hungary has a number of cute historic cities and some nice natural areas.


This trip was not cheap, even if it was substantially less expensive than the trip to Norway of summer 2020. The priciest part probably were the days spent in Poland, as many places we visited were tourist hotspots with tourist prices. Least expensive were the eight days spent in Ukraine, where the general price level is low, if compared to western Europe.


It was never a problem to find food / restaurants. In a number of places we relied on food courts of shopping malls, because we are used to it and there is a good choice of (ready made) meals to select. We appreciate the convenience of sitting at a table and choosing from a variety of open restaurants - each person can in principle eat something from a different restaurant.
We didn't try much local food, but what we ate was quite good, which is a hint that the local cuisine probably is not bad.


Being a family of four (two adults, two kids) most of the time we stayed in apartments. These were convenient, because we could all stay in one place (as opposed to have two separate, possibly not connecting, rooms in a hotel). In addition, many apartments had a washing machine, so we could easily wash dirty clothes. We booked most places with booking.com (we also have an Airbnb account, but practically didn't use it). These cost in the range of 40 Euro to 110-120 Euro per night. We found the least expensive apartments surpisingly in Hungary.

Money  / Exchange rate (August 2021)

1 Euro = 4.54 PLN
1 Euro = 31.5 UAH
1 Euro = 350 HUF

Mobile phones and prepaid cards

In Poland and Hungary we relied on EU roaming. In Ukraine we bought SIM cards of Vodafone Ukraine for 100 UAH with 6GB of data. There was no need to show any identification document and the procedure was very fast.
At the Polish border to Belarus, in the Bialowieza national park, my phone connected automatically with the Belarusian mobile network without my knowledge. This resulted in the use of some mobile data, and because my German provider charges 12 Euro/MB (= 12000 Euro per GB) for non-EU mobile data, I quickly hit the daily limit of 60 Euro for roaming charges. That's outrageous, but I guess that is how my low cost German provider makes money (by relying on these "roaming accidents").

Internet access

All places were we stayed offered free WLAN, sometimes fast, sometimes not so fast and sometimes really poor. Outdoors we used the smartphone to access the Internet.


Most of the time the weather was good - mostly sunny, occasionally some rain. The temperatures were also ok. Around 20°C-25°C, higher in Ukraine where the maximum temperatures reached and exceeded 30°C, then lower again in Hungary.

Health / Vaccinations

For the border crossings we prepared all required papers and documentation. This meant that we had to do corona tests for the kids, because they were not fully vaccinated yet. These papers were thorughly checked at the Ukrainian border when entering Ukraine, but not at the border from Germany to Poland and if I remember correctly not at the border from Ukraine to Hungary.
Then, in Poland, Ukraine and Hungary nobody was wearing masks, because during summer 2021 the number of cases was very low.

VISA / Entry requirements

No VISA needed for us (only Shirley needed a visa for Ukraine, because of her Malaysian passport). International travellers may need a Schengen or other visa.
Crazy long waiting times to get into Ukraine (2-3 hours) and out of Ukraine (15 hours).


No problems in the countries we visited. I don't know what crime levels in these countries are, but we didn't notice anything unusual ot strange while there. We felt safe at any time of the day or night.

Getting around

We did this trip completely by car, leaving from Munich and getting back to Munich. This had the advantage that we didn't have to rely on public transportation (less risk of getting infected) and we could choose apartments in any location (for instance less expensive ones out of town).
The status of the roads was mixed - reasonably good in Poland and Hungary, from acceptable to very bad in Ukraine.

30.7: Munich -> Leipzig
Hotel Novum Aviva, Leipzig. 35 Euro for a double room. WLAN doesn't work. Lots of mosquitoes at night. Good shower, clean toilet. No A/C. Room has cupboard, LCD TV, table+chair. No electricity in the sockets after you leave the room.
Weather: sunny, hot, with some clouds. Top temperatures around 28°C.

We leave Munich at 3:06pm and after a long drive with several traffic jams reach the centre of Leipzig at 8:40pm. Then we walk into town and look for a restaurant.

The centre of Leipzig is very nice. Everything has been renovated and is spotlessly clean and neat. Few people wearing masks on the streets. Even in indoor areas many people do not wear masks.

Lots of mosquitoes (many more than in Munich, where there are almost none).

31.7: Leipzig
Hotel Novum Aviva, Leipzig.
Weather: sunny, with many clouds, lots of wind. No rain, relatively fresh (top temperature around 24°C).

We leave the hotel after 10:30am, then drive to the train station for the Corona test we need to travel to Poland. After a heavy traffic jam we just park the car along the road and walk to the train station, arriving on time at 11:20am. It then takes until after 12pm to collect all test results (all negative).

There is a huge mall with several restaurants in the train station. We spend some time in the train station, eating there and buying something. Then we walk into the historic centre, which is towards the market square.

What we see is a very pretty city which however has been heavily restaurated and modernised. You can see the results of post-reunification investment. The centre of Munich by far is not as nice and neat as this historic centre.

Lots and lots of restaurants and eateries. Many shops as well. This historic centre is very well suited for Asian tourist groups and anybody who likes to eat and shop.

Around 3:40pm we drive to the monument of the battle of nations, arriving there shortly before 4pm. This is quite an impressive monument, way more impressive than when I first visited it ages ago. It turns out that it has been massively renovated and modernised. Now the internal structure is accessible and you can walk in a staircase until the top. 10 Euro ticket (20 Euro for a family).

We spend almost one and a half hours in this place, then get into the car and drive to the central train station. There, in the mall we have a dinner and later drive back to the hotel.

In the evening after 9pm I get back into town for some blue hour photography.

1.8: Leipzig -> Meißen -> Poznan
Blooms Inn & Apartments, Poznan. 250 zloty for an apartment with two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and a living room. On the fourth floor of a building without an elevator (very tiring to carry all luggage there). Again problems with the WLAN (have to use again the mobile phone as a hotspot). The shower has not much water, i.e. taking a shower takes more time.
Weather: overcast in Leipzig, then it starts raining after 11am. 15°C temperature. After we leave the Meißen porcelain centre at 2:10pm it has already stopped raining. Later in Poland the weather improves and the sun comes out. In the evening in Poznan it's a blue sky with clouds (and temperatures around 19-20°C).

We leave Leipzig at 11am and drive to Meißen. It's a smooth drive until the last 20km, where we get into a traffic jam on the motorway (caused by roadworks). We reach the porcelain manufacturing centre in Meißen at 12:15pm and park the car in the parking (2.50€). Then we walk to the centre and register for the 1pm visit. The Meißen centre was initially set up in 1710 as is the first porcelain manufacturing site in Europe. Until 1pm we have a look at the showroom. Some pretty impressive pieces of porcelain (some selling for 70000€).

Then at 1pm the guided tour starts. This will take 45 minutes and shows the various stages of porcelain manufacturing (we see a total of four workstations and an introductory video). After the tour we visit the museum and finally leave the centre at 2:10pm.

Since it's already late we just drive to a McDonalds restaurant and eat something there.

At 3pm we start driving to Poland. Again, smooth drive with no traffic jams. Not much traffic on the Polish motorway either (41 zloty toll).

At the border there are no controls at all. I had prepared everything, the negative corona tests for Shirley and the kids and my vaccination certificate, but no, nobody stops us and we just drive through.

We reach the hotel at 7:15pm. A bit complicated with the car, because strictly speaking you are not allowed to drive the car to the hotel (pedestrian area). Then there is the mess with the apartment on the fourth floor and no elevator. In the end I park the car in a parking near the hotel (which on Sundays is free).

After 8pm we have a dinner in the restaurant below the hotel. The pizza they serve is not bad (and they use good ingredients). Not like the pizzas with Gouda or Cheddar cheese they serve in some places.

At 9pm I walk to the central square (Stary Rynek) for some blue hour photography. The square is kind of cute, but you can see that the buildings have been reconstructed in some inexpensive way (stones have been painted on the walls instead of using real stones for the façades). But overall the square is kind of cute.

Then, surprise surprise, a friendly young girl talks to me in Polish. When I tell her that I don't understand, she says "strip". Incredible. If you walk alone at night in the streets of Munich, this doesn't happen. But here is does. And later another two guys talk to me in Polish (I can only guess that it must be for something sex related). Either here there is a big market for this kind of services or the girls are poor and need the money.

Then, when walking back to the hotel, I check if I can find some ATM. I find two, but in both there is a fee for cash withdrawal (17 zloty). Will look tomorrow for an ATM without fees.

2.8: Poznan -> Torun
Metropolis apartment, Torun. 252 zloty for a small apartment with a bedroom, toilet with shower, livingroom with sleeping sofa, cupboard, kitchen area (fully furnished kitchen with fridge, nicely made), LCD TV. WLAN is slow. Good location in walking distance of the old town. 
Weather: a mix of sunny and overcast skies, alternating over the day. Top temperatures of 22°C, no rain.

In the morning I get some cash from an ATM, pay the parking fee (5 zloty/hour) and retrieve the car, then check out of the hotel at 11:10am. We then drive to another parking, this time very close to the old town square and leave the car there. Then we walk to the old town square.

The weather by now is good again (sun is shining) and the square is full of people. Turns out that it is almost 12pm and these people are waiting for some show. This show is two ibexes coming out of a window on top of the building and charging each other several times. Actually this is nothing so special, but this nonsense manages to attract lots of people.

We don't spend too much time on this square and at 12:30pm we are back at the car. We then drive to the Posnania mall, a bit outside the core of Poznan. The idea would be to get a glimpse of how average Poles live (the historic old town is mainly for tourists).

The Posnania mall is really impressive. Modern, neat and nice, with lots of shops at all price levels, a food court and other food outlets. We have some food in the food court, then shop around a bit. We'll end up spending three hours in this mall - the girls get in shopping mode and don't want to leave.

Around 4pm we start driving towards Torun. The road is partly a land road and partly motorway. In theory the motorways should cost some toll, but there are no toll collect stations. We reach the hotel in Torun at 6:10pm.

Then it takes some time to figure out how to get into the apartment, because we got instructions, but it's not so clear how to do things.

Around 7pm we walk into the old town. This is quite nice, full of historic buildings. Very touristy with lots of shops, restaurants etc. Lots of people, few wearing masks. It's surprising that Poland has so few corona cases. We have a dinner in an Asian restaurant, then walk around a bit and are back at 8:45pm in the hotel. At 9pm I get out again for some blue hour photography.

3.8: Torun -> Gdansk
Apartment of Amber Center Apartments Mariacka, Gdansk. 407 zloty for a beautiful apartment, completely renovated, in a building in the old town of Gdansk. Complete with everything, including a fully furnished kitchen with dishwasher, toilet with washing machine and clothes dryer, stylish and elegant. Finally a good WLAN. 3rd floor of a building with no elevator. They let us use a parking at no additional cost.
The only problem is that the check-in procedure is messy: you first have to drive to the office for checking in and picking up the key, then you can drive to the apartment. In practice the entire procedure is going to take over an hour, because first we drive to the location of the apartment (which by the way is incorrect) and driving to the location is messy because lots of streets are closed due to a festival. Once there we are told to go to the office in another location. We drive there to check-in and pick up the key, then finally we can get to the apartment (driving across pedestrian areas full of people). In short, this apartment is great, but getting there and getting the key is a mess.

Weather: a mix of everything, sunny blue skies, overcast skies, heavy rain on the motorway. But most of the time it's a sky with rapidly moving clouds. Nice blue sky in the evening in Gdansk. Top temperatures around 22°C.

We check out at 11am, then drive the car to a parking and leave it there. From there we walk to the old town. Until almost 4pm we explore the city (beautiful old town with plenty of interesting buildings), have a lunch in a Thai restaurant and visit the Copernicus house and museum. This museum contains some exhibits about Copernicus and the life in the late middle ages. The ladies also do some shopping.

Then, around 4pm we get back into the car. We first drive to the viewpoint on the opposite side of the river for a skyline shot of Torun. Then we refuel the car and drive to Gdansk.

We manage to arrive to the old town at 6:20pm and then  the mess with the apartment starts (see above). By the time we are settled and have unloaded the luggage it's 8pm. We walk out into the old town for the usual round of exploration, shopping, dining etc. The ladies are back in the apartment at 9pm, I'll be back after 10pm after the blue hour photography session.

4.8: Gdansk
Apartment of Amber Center Apartments Mariacka, Gdansk. Good shower with plenty of water.
Weather: in the morning again a mix of clouds and sunny blue sky. Later in the afternoon the weather improves and there is a mainly blue sky with only few clouds. Relatively fresh, top temperatures not higher than 23-24°C. Little wind. No rain the whole day.

Day spent exploring Gdansk. We leave home quite late, almost at 12pm. So late because I spend some time booking the hotels in the next places in Poland and because we are not in a hurry to start the sightseeing.

The first thing we do is to walk to a different street, which leads us to discover the town hall square. Quite impressive square with lots of pretty buildings. Attached long pedestrian street with restaurants on both sides. Tourist ghetto area, restaurants with tourist prices. Everything very scenic, but also very touristy.

We get out of the old town area. I find a bank with an ATM which doesn't charge fees (most ATMs in the tourist area are from Euronet or Planet and either offer a bad exchange rate of fixed fee of 15.90 zloty per withdrawal).

When I'm done getting the cash, Shirley tells me she is in a mall. Turns out she found the Forum Gdansk, a large shopping mall immediately outside the old town. It's actually a nice, clean and modern mall, with lots of shops, a supermarket and a food court area. Even nicer than the malls there are in Munich.

It seems that the standard of living in Gdansk is on the same level as the one in Munich, which is quite a thing, because 10-15 years ago Poland was considered a low cost location where to relocate jobs from expensive Germany. Now I wonder if the standard of living in Poland has reached the level of Germany.

Anyway in this mall we have some lunch in the food court, then we split. Shirley and the girls will do some shopping in this giant mall, while I'll spend my time having a look and taking some pictures.

Within 20-30 minutes I'm done with the mall and walk back into the old town. This is really pretty and full of interesting and stylish buildings. I'm back in the apartment around 5pm. Shirley will arrive a bit later with the girls.

In the evening I get out again at 7:40pm. After a dinner in the mall and some shopping for food in the supermarket, I'm back in the old town by 9pm for some blue hour photography.

5.8: Gdansk -> Malbork castle -> Stegna -> Gdansk
Apartment of Amber Center Apartments Mariacka, Gdansk.
Weather: sunny the whole day, with a very thin high altitude clouds layer and clouds occasionally passing by. A bit windy, quite fresh (top temperatures of 22-24°C). No rain.

In the morning I call the testing centre in Lublin and postpone the Corona test for the kids by one day to August 13th. We leave home quite late and take the car to the Forum Gdansk mall, arriving there around 12pm. Getting out of the old town area with the car is easier than I was expecting.

In the mall we have a lunch in the food court, then we get into the car and drive to Malbork, arriving there shortly after 2pm. We park the car (25 zloty, a bit pricey) and walk into the compound. Huge photogenic castle, surrounded by wall and a waterway on one side. By the time we discover the ticketing centre it's around 2:20pm. Then it turns out that the next possible time to visit the castle is 4pm. Family ticket of 180 zloty, which includes the audio guides.

It may sound like a lot of time to kill, but one hour and a half is a good time to explore the castle from the outside, walking around it and taking some pictures.

Shortly before 4pm we get into the castle. Then, with the audio guides the visit easily takes a couple of hours, if you listen to the sound and follow everything as explained. I must say that the castle interior is very interesting, because to a large extent it is original from the Middle Ages (and not fake like the castles of King Ludwig in Bavaria) and the architecture is quite special. I can't remember having seen anything similar elsewhere (like those rooms with the central pillars sustaining a vault).

Still, by 5:05pm we've had enough and get out of the castle. By 5:25pm we are back in the car and this time drive to the Baltic Sea coast in Stegna, arriving there at 6:15pm. Strange parking prices (10 zloty for one hour, 20 zloty for two and 30 zloty for the whole day).

This beach place, well, is a real beach place with all the beach nonsense you find in beach places (restaurants, cafes, souvenir and other shops, sort of a mini fun fair). The beach even has beautiful soft white sand. It's just that it's windy, cold and you wouldn't want to swim in the sea with such low temperatures. So we don't spend too much time here and in fact leave shortly after 7pm.

We then drive again to the Forum Gdansk mall, where we have some dinner. After dinner we drive back to the apartment. By now there are no police checks anymore.

6.8: Gdansk
Apartment of Amber Center Apartments Mariacka, Gdansk.
Weather: overcast the whole day, windy, fresh (probably top temperatures below 20°C). Some light rain in the afternoon. 

Actually for today I was planning to do a trip to the Hel peninsula, that narrow and sandy piece of land facing the Baltic sea. But with a weather as bad as this, it's pointless to go there today. No point walking on sand dunes in the cold, with strong winds and rain.

So essentially we spend the whole day in Gdansk. After a lunch in the food court of the Forum mall we slowly walk to the Amber museum. This is kind of interesting, with several exhibits of pieces of amber and things made out of amber. The ticket for the four of us costs 45 zloty.

After the museum we slowly walk back to the apartment, buying some groceries along the way. In the evening we'll go out again for dinner, again to the Forum mall.

7.8: Gdansk -> Lidzbark Warmiński’s castle -> Święta Lipka -> Wolf lair -> Mragowo
Bezdroża Mazurskie apartment in Mragowo. 368 zloty for a small apartment in the half of a house, consisting of a living room with a kitchen area (fridge, but no stove, only a microwave, kitchen utensils) and a sleeping room area on the upper level. Attached toilet with shower (water boiler system with small water boiler). The apartment is in an isolated place a few km out of Mragowo. The WLAN is unusable (you can connect, but then you can't transfer any data). Lots of mosquitoes in the flat - they could have sprayed some mosquito poison before our arrival).
Weather: sunny with clouds the whole day. Top temperatures in the 22°C range. No rain, little wind.

We leave the apartment in Gdansk and return the keys in the office. Then, a bit after 11am, we drive to the Forum mall, because the girls want to eat there one last time before we leave. So it's an early lunch at 11:20am.

By 11:40am we are back in the car and drive towards the castle in Lidzbark Warmiński. The drive is relatively smooth with no traffic jams. The last 40-50km are on very bad land roads, narrow and with a poor surface in many sections. Lines of trees on both sides (who needs trees on both sides of the road?).

We reach Lidzbark Warmiński at 1:42pm and park the car. Then we walk to the castle. We make a full round around it because we miss the correct entrance. The castle has walls of brick stones. I'm guessing that in this area there are not many caves where you can extract stones with which to build castles, but there is plenty of mud with which you can make bricks).

The castle is much smaller than the Malbork one. The ticket for the four of us costs 50 zloty. In the castle you can walk into the basement (some dungeons) and get to all floors (total of four floors). In the top floor there is a modern art exhibition.

By 3pm we are done with the castle and walk back to the car. Then we drive to the basilica in Święta Lipka. With a stop along the way in a supermarket to buy some food and drinks, we reach the basilica at 4:10pm. There a lady immediately collects a 4 zloty parking fee from us.

The basilica is really cute and nicely made. Seems to be built in baroque style. The entrance is free. The interior of the basilica is also heavily decorated.

At 4:45pm we drive to the last place, the Wolf's lair, the secret World War II headquarter of Adolf Hitler in the Masurian lakes area. We are there around 5:15pm. Ticket of 80 zloty for the four of us. We leave the car in the parking and start our tour of the place. Alissia gets an audio guide for 8 zloty (audio guides available only in Polish and English languages).

The Wolf's lair is kind of interesting, with a number of destroyed bunkers covered with vegetation and spread around in the forest. We take the shorter loop, with which we complete the visit in about an hour. The longer loop probably would have extended the visit by another half an hour. Inside the compound there are 2-3 buildings with exhibits about World War II in Poland.

Finally, at 6:30pm we drive to the apartment near Mragowo. There we check in, unload our bags and then drive into town where we have a dinner and the buy some groceries in a Kaufland supermarket.

8.8: Mragowo -> Mikolajki -> Śniardwy lake -> Mragowo
Bezdroża Mazurskie apartment in Mragowo. This place actually sucks: in the (queen size) bed where my wife and I are sleeping there is just one blanket, and it's too small for two people. And the shower has barely enough hot water for one person. But in the evening three people need to take a shower, which means long waiting times between showers. In addition, the check out time is 10am and the owner only accepts cash
Weather: in the morning ir rains, even heavily. After 11-12am it stops raining and after 3pm the sky gradually opens up and turns blue with the sun shining. In the evening around 8pm there are 21°C (up from 16°C at noon).

In the morning we stay in the apartment because outside it is raining heavily. Finally, after 12:40pm we get out and take the car to Mikolajki. The weather is still not great, but we can't spend the whole day in this ugly apartment.

At 1:20pm we are in Mikolajki. This is a big tourist centre in the Masurian lakes area. There is a waterfront with an attached marina with yachts and boats. Boat services across the lake (plenty of 1-2 hours boat tours; not sure if there are ferry services).

We have lunch in an Italian restaurant (and at 80 zloty the cheapest lunch so far in Poland), then spend the next two hours having a look at Mikolajki. It's sort of a beach resort atmosphere, sort of a replacement for those who don't want or can't travel to the sea. The only thing which is missing is a sandy beach. But otherwise the place is full or people and life, especially on a sunny day like this.

After 5pm we drive to the Śniardwy lake (45 minutes drive). This is just a big lake, not particularly impressive. We drive there just to get an idea of this region. It's a drive across nice forests, on narrow roads, often tree lined. I guess you can trek here, although there is not much elevation and mosquitoes most likely are a problem. Moving around by bicycle could be an idea, but it looks like there are no bicycle roads/trails and riding one on the road is dangerous.

Around 6:40pm we drive back to Mragowo, where we have some dinner.

9.8: Mragowo -> Branicki palace in Bialystok -> Bialowieza national park
Apartment (actually half of house) Apartamenty Białowieża in Bialowieza. 575 zloty per night for a luxury apartment, newly built, immaculately clean with two bathrooms with shower (ground floor + first floor), fully equipped kitchen, big living room with two sofas, big dining table with eight chairs. Three huge LCD TVs (living room + one per bedroom). The only thing that sucks is the WLAN which is barely usable.
Weather: mostly sunny with some clouds, little wind. Top temperatures of 25°C, no rain.

In the morning at 10:20am the owners informs us that the check out time is 10am and that we have to pay cash. So we rush finishing to pack our stuff. By 10:50am we have put everything into the car. I drive into town, withdraw cash from an ATM, then drive back and pay the apartment. Then we start driving towards the Branicki palace in Bialystok.

The trip by car takes about three hours. It's a lot of driving on narrow roads with variable tarmac (some very bad, some less of a problem) and smooth roads, but no motorways.

At 2:40pm we drive into the parking of the Alfa Centrum mall. In the mall we use have a lunch, then drive to the nearby Branicki palace. This is really nice, kind of similar to the Nymphenburg palace in Munich, with a frontal inner court and a big garden behind the main building.

At 4:40pm we are back in the car and drive to Bialowieza. With a short stop along the way we reach the bison centre a few km out of town shortly after 6:10pm. It's already closed, but it's good to have a first look and get a feeling about the place. We'll visit the place tomorrow.

Finally we drive into Bialowieza, until the entrance to the national park. This is already closed for the cars, but you can go in. Because there are many mosquitoes, the girls refuse to go in (they got bitten at the bison centre; I had applied mosquito repellent in the morning and do not have this problem).

So I briefly walk in. What I see is more like a city park, not exactly a wild forest. Hopefully the strictly preserved section we'll visit tomorrow is more interesting.

By the way, Bialowieza is a big tourist centre, with quite a few restaurants and many tourists.

Around 8pm we have a dinner in an Italian restaurant (pizzeria siciliana). We don't try the pizzas because it's too heavy stuff to eat so late in the evening, but they should be quite good.

10.8: Bialowieza national park
Apartamenty Białowieża in Bialowieza
Weather: sunny, hot (26°C top temperature), no wind. A few clouds in the sky, after 7pm more clouds. Some rain in the evening between 9pm and 10pm and then at midnight when it rains again. Looks like we have been very lucky with the weather today (would have been no fun, had it rained while we were in the forest).

We only manage to leave the apartment around 12pm. First we drive to the Bison wildlife centre a few km west of Bialowieza, so that we can see some bisons (I'm skeptical we'll see any in the forest). The tickets cost 16 zloty for adults and 10 zloty for children.

The centre has horses, bisons, wolves, deer, moose and other animals. It's relatively small (compared to other wildlife centres I have seen before), and in fact we'll spend only 40 minutes there. Still, I get some good images of the European bison.

Around 1:30pm we are back in town and start looking for a restaurant. But we find no place in which we all agree to eat, so in the end we just get a waffle (each with a different flavour) in a food stall. Then we busy some groceries in a food shop.

At 2:40pm I drop off Shirley and the kids at the apartment, then drive back to the national park. I'll spend the next 45 minutes walking around the park. This is nicely set up with meadows, big majestic trees and a pond/lake. Inside there is also some museum.

At 3:40pm I pick up Shirley and the kids at the apartment and we drive to the place where we will meet our guide for the walk in the protected area of the Bialowieza national park at 4pm.

I have been in touch with this guy since yesterday by phone and SMS. Two days ago I had emailed 12 guides/travel agencies, of which four sent offers and two would have been available. This one guy called me on the phone yesterday while I was driving to Bialowieza and we finally agreed to the walk at 4pm. Guides are mandatory for the protected area of the national park (they won't let you in without one). The cost is 300 zloty and in addition there you pay 24 zloty to get into the park (some kind of ticket).

Shortly before 4pm we meet the guy. Because we have no tickets he buys some for us using his smartphone (this takes almost 10 minutes, because he must wait for a confirmation by SMS). Then we drive to the parking near the entrance to the protected area (about 1km from here).

It's then a short walk through the fields, until we reach the park entrance. There a guard checks the guide and the tickets and we are allowed in. All the time the guide explains things about everything surrounding the park.

The forest is, well, underwhelming. It's a UNESCO world heritage site, so should be special, but the reality is that most forest around Munich look like this one. I don't see otherworldly scenery with huge trees with crazy shapes and Pandora-like mystical forests. It's a quite simple forest where most trees we see are less than 100 years old. The guide explains that trees here do not get so old. By the way, we meet a number of groups walking across the forest.

In any case, shortly after 7pm we are back at the car. We pay the guide and drive into town where we have a dinner at the Italian restaurant.

11.8: Bialowieza -> Lublin
Plac Litewaki apartment, Lublin. 382 zloty for an apartment, a bit smallish, with a living room with fully furnished kitchen (but no microwave) and dining areas, a bedroom and a bathroom with shower and washing machine. A bit cramped for four people. There is also a balcony. WLAN is reasonably fast and everything is quite modern and new. Car parking in the garage below the building (level -1). There is an elevator. The apartment is in walking distance of the old town (5-10 minutes). Quiet at night. The check-in procedure is smooth (we receive instructions for how to self check-in).
Weather: overcast in the morning in Bialowieza. By the time we arrive in Lublin at 2:50pm the sky has opened up and the sun shines. Only a few clouds left in the sky, which become less towards the evening.

We check out at 11am and start driving towards Lublin. Brief stop at a petrol station to refuel the car (and Natasha buys some breakfast). Then we continue driving. The road is initially not so good (narrow land road with not so good tarmac), later it becomes a good long distance road and the last 20km are a piece of motorway.

We arrive at the Vivo! mall in Lublin at 2:50pm and park the car in the parking of the mall (parking is free). The mall is ok, quite big, but not more impressive than other malls we have seen in Poland. It's quite modern and new, but the architecture is a bit less flashy than for instance the Forum Gdansk mall. There is a food court, but there is less food choice.

We have a meal around 3 something pm in the mall. Then at 4:15pm I walk with Shirley into the old town (the kids prefer to stay in the mall). The old town is actually nicer and more interesting than I had expected. There are not so many heavily decorated buildings with special architecture, but the setup is excellent, i.e. the historic core is really nice. And attached to it there is a long pedestrian area with restaurants and other features (a small park, fountains etc.). Other malls / shopping centres in the area.

At 6pm we're back in the mall. We buy some groceries in a supermarket and take the car to the apartment.

In the evening at 8:15pm I get out again for some blue hour photography. At this time of the day the city really shines: colourful light fountain show, lots of life in the pedestrian area and old town, lots of people.

12.8: Lublin -> Kazimierz Dolny -> Sandomierz -> Lublin
Plac Litewaki apartment, Lublin. Apparently the company behind this apartment is "A+B Apartments Lublin".
Weather: almost perfect weather today. Sunny, blue sky, top temperature of 24°C (evening 20°C), very little wind, no rain. Only a few clouds every now and then.

We leave the flat in the morning around 11am and drive to Kazimierz Dolny. At 11:55am we park the car in a parking near the old town, then walk to the central square.

Kazimierz Dolny is a cute, touristy small town. Everything is clean, properly set up or restored. Heavy tourist orientation: shops, cafes and restaurants everywhere. The traditional roofs of the buildings are properly repaired - not a tile is missing. A bit disneylandish, but all here is original (or at least I assume so). Even the castle ruin (10 zloty entrance) on a hill overlooking the city or completely restored (metal bars in place to stabilise the walls; modern art exposition inside).

We have a lunch in the a restaurant on the main square, then have a look at the city.

Around 1:40pm we take the car to the next place, Sandomierz. The trip will now take a bit longer (Google Maps shows 1:35 hours).

At 3:30pm we park the car in a parking right behind the historic core of Sandomierz (3 zloty/hour). Then we walk into the old town. This is also nice and touristy, but is bigger than Kazimierz Dolny. Very photogenic, but a bit less cute than Kazimierz Dolny.

All in all we'll end up spending a bit over two hours in Sandomierz. There is more stuff to keep you busy. For instance we get stuck in a small market area behind the main square, where the kids order some food and the ladies shop around.

Finally, around 5:40pm we start driving back to Lublin. It should be 1:40 hours according to Google Maps, but in the middle of the trip we run into a huge traffic jam, which makes us lose about 15-20 minutes. This is caused by roadworks, where on a busy road one lane is alternatively used by cars from each direction. This is not a proper way of handling such a situation in my opinion. In addition, Google Maps does not warn us of this traffic jam.

At 8:10pm I drop off the ladies at the Vivo! mall in Lublin, then drive back to the apartment. From there I walk to the mall and pick up the ladies at 9pm. Together we slowly walk towards the apartment. With lots of stops along the way (the girls like the colourful water fountain and the round video screen display) we are back around 10pm.

13.8: Lublin -> Zamosc -> Lublin
Plac Litewaki apartment, Lublin. This morning (and again in the evening) suddenly while taking a shower, there is not enough water. You are full of soap and have to wait for several minutes until the water comes back.
Weather: sunny, warm (probably more than yesterday, strong sun), fewer clouds, no rain, no wind.

We drive to the Corona testing centre in Lublin and have the kids tested (fast antigen test) around 12pm. Both are negative. At 12:30pm we start driving towards Zamosc, arriving there shortly after 2pm. We park the car and start exploring the city.

We quickly spot a Vietnamese restaurant, where we have a late lunch. Then we walk to the great market square. This is really nice and impressive, especially with that majestic town hall building overlooking the square. But besides that there is not that much to see in Zamosc. This place turns out to be a bit of a disappointment. The old town is ok, but there is much less life compared to the cities we have visited yesterday.

Around 5pm we drive back to Lublin. There I drop off Shirley and Natasha in the old town and drive back to the apartment with Alissia, who has some headache. Once there, Alissia will take a rest, while after 7pm I walk to the Vivo! mall where I meet Shirley and Natasha for some dinner around 8pm. A bit later Alissia joins us. Together at 9pm we walk across the old town towards the apartment.

In the colourful fountains area there is an audio and video show with the fountain. Really well choreographed and planned. After the show the kids spend some time with the magic lens. It seems that this video screen is connected to Vilnius in Lithuania.

At 10pm we walk back to the apartment.

14.8: Lublin -> Lwiw
BV Apartments Exquisite, Lwiw. 2700 UAH for a huge 100m² flat. Two toilets with shower, two big bedrooms, one big livingroom, one kitchen with utensils (gas stove!). The apartment is old, but functional. Has also A/C, but in the end we don't need it, despite the daytime high of 30°C (somehow this flat is relatively fresh). Fast WLAN. Good central location, 700m from the main historic square. Parking included in the price. Friendly host (who however wants to be paid in cash).
Weather: for the first time really hot. Top temperatures of 30°C. Sunny, no rain, very thin clouds layer here and there. No wind.

We start driving around 10:30am towards Ukraine. Around noon we stop in a KFC restaurant along the way, which turns out to be a good idea because the trip to Lwiw turns out to last longer than expected (in other words we can't delay the lunch until the arrival).

Everything proceeds smoothly until we reach the border to Ukraine, and there begins the mess. I don't count the time exactly, but we spend a bit over two hours at the border, going through an ordeal of multiple queues for multiple checks. Later an Ukrainian friend of mine tells me that the two hours are good; actually crossing the border usually takes much longer than that.

It starts that we drive past an endless queue of trucks until we reach the first checkpoint. Initially I think it's the Ukrainian one, but most likely it's the Polish exit border. There they check everything except the Covid documentation. By the way, there are two queues for the cars, the EU one and the all passports one. We pick the EU one, which is much shorter than the all passports one. This first queue takes about 40 minutes.

Then there are 2-3 more queues (where they check all documentation we are carrying with us). The problem is also the heat, because you can't keep the engine of the car running all the time (more than one hour) so that there is A/C in the car.

In any case, after countless checks we are finally allowed to proceed into Ukraine. The road initially passes through empty land. There is no motorway, but the road surface is reasonably good. For quite some time there is very little traffic.

In the urban areas (those between the beginning of city and end of city street signs) there should be a speed limit of 50 km/h, but in practice lots of people do not follow it.

Around 6pm local time we reach the Forum Lviv mall in Lwiw. This is a nice modern mall with lots of shops and a food court.

We first buy some SIM cards. 400 UAH for four Vodafone Ukraine SIM cards with 6GB of data each, unbelievably cheap. We do not need to show any identification document and the procedure is very fast.

Then we go to the food court and have some dinner. We still have no Ukrainian cash (except for the 200 UAH I got by changing the remaining zloty at the border), but can pay by credit card everywhere.

Finally we go to the supermarket and buy some food and drinks. Lots of delicious food in this supermarket (and at very competitive prices, compared to Germany).

A bit after 8pm we drive to the apartment and check in. Later in the evening I walk into the old town for some blue hour photography.

15.8: Lwiw
BV Apartments Exquisite, Lwiw.
Weather: sunny, hot, top temperatures probably around 30°C. Sunny, blue sky with a few clouds, no rain, no wind.

Day spent exploring Lwiw. The city doesn't look so special, but when I go through the photos in the evening I notice that lots are quite nice, so this place is more photogenic than it would seem to be at first sight.

It has somehow the baroque and neoclassical architecture of Vienna, also a bit the look of it with those tramways, but things are not as immaculate and perfect as in Vienna. Lots of broken buildings and dusty roads (probably the funds for cleaning up/fixing everything are missing), although there are also lots of roadworks everywhere, so that in a few years this place should look much more neat.

In the old town area of the city there are countless cafes, restaurants and tourist shops, so I guess this place must be receiving its fair share of tourists, although perhaps not so many foreign ones. Few people speak English.

We start our day at 12:30pm, because everybody is still on Polish time and got up late this morning. Then we walk to the Rynok square and have a look. We briefly break up, me going around to take some pictures, the ladies looking for shops and cafes.

I'll rejoin the ladies after 5pm in the apartment, then go out again after 6:20pm. Around 7pm the ladies join me and together we walk to the Forum mall where we have some dinner and buy some groceries.

At 9:15pm we are at the opera house and watch the water fountain show.

16.8: Lwiw -> Kiev
Apartment of Be My Guest - Apartments in Kiew. 2427 UAH for an apartment with two bedrooms, one toilet+shower and an additional small toilet, living room with kitchen corner with washing machine. One (weak) A/C unti in the living room and a broken one in one of the bedrooms. The apartment is in a poor state (many things are broken), i.e. needs repairs. Fast WLAN connection. The apartment is very centrally located in Kiew, 100m from the Majdan square. But in the booking.com description it says that a parking is included. In reality there is no parking, and this causes some headaches for us. Essentially the entire evening is messed up with the search for a parking.
Weather: overcast and rainy in the morning in Lwiw (21°C). More rain on the road to Kiew. But in Kiew it's sunny and hot (32°C) with a thin clouds layer (milky blue sky).

We start driving at 10:35am. After a few minutes we refuel the car in a petrol station (28.64 UAH for one litre of diesel; later I find petrol station selling diesel for 26 UAH/litre.

The trip proceeds more or less smoothly with only a few short traffic jams here and there. There is some confusion about which speed limits apply, because for instance the city limits sign starts somewhere in the fields, in the middle of nowhere, with no building in sight. Very hard to understand why there should be a speed limit of 50 km/h when there is not a house in sight.

Then there are the Ukrainian motorways. These seem to start and end without a clear street sign or indication that you are on a motorway. You only realise that you are on a motorway when you see two well built lanes + a service lane per direction, separated by guard rails in the middle.

But then on these Ukrainian motorways there are zebra crossings every now and then. Just imagine people crossing a motorway, where cars are driving at high speed. They should build pedestrian bridges over the motorways.

There are even U-turn lanes on the left side. Suddenly cars on the left lane (the fast one for overtaking) slow down to 80 km/h and then go on the other side. A couple of times we have to use the brakes, because suddenly a bus or large truck from the other side makes a U-turn to our side of the motorway.

This seems all quite dangerous and I wonder if there are accidents or even deaths because of this.

In addition these motorways often cross cities, and you are supposed to slow down to 50 km/h.
To top it all, on these motorways there are even traffic lights.

When you approach Kiew, the motorway enters Kiew, but there is no street signage indicating that the motorway is ending, so you are left wondering if you are still on a motorway or not and what the speed limit is.

At 12:30pm we have a meal in a restaurant in a petrol station. The meals here are about twice as expensive as in a restaurant in the city.

Finally, shortly after 6pm we arrive in Kostolna street, where the apartment is. We (temporarily) park the car at the roadside and put all luggage into the apartment. While the ladies are taking a rest, I walk out and check the area. The entire Kostolna street is a clearway (tow away zone). Even the street after Kostolna street is a clearway. There seems to be no place where to leave the car.

I get back to the apartment. Some discussion about the parking problem, i.e. what to do. Look for a parking first or have a dinner first. In the end we decide to drive to a parking we found with Google Maps (the Tsum parking). Once there we are informed that parking is ridicolously expensive, so we just drive to the Gulliver mall. But we find no way to drive into the parking of this mall (not clear if there is one). So we park the car in a parking along the street.

This parking is not free, but paying for the parking is too complicated (you have to open with the smartphone a page in Ukrainian without an English version). After some discussion, because it is late and the kids need to eat something and we are so tired of looking for a parking, we just leave the car there, even if there is a fine of 600 UAH if you get caught.

We get into the Gulliver mall (mall in a skyscraper, on many floors, a bit old; food court on the fifth floor) and have a dinner. Then we walk to the supermarket in the basement and buy some groceries.

Once back in the car we check again in Google Maps for a parking. This time we choose a parking near Majdan square. We drive there and are lucky, because this is the parking of a hotel and you can park the car here for 200 UAH/days, which seems quite reasonable. Then we walk back to the apartment.

17.8: Kiev
Apartment of Be My Guest - Apartments in Kiew. The shower is broken as well (shower pipe is too short).
Weather: hot and sunny (top temperatures above 30°C I guess), a few clouds every now and then. No rain, some light wind.

Day spent visiting Kiew. Shortly before 12pm, as it becomes clear that the kids will need even longer to get ready, I walk out on my own and head to the St Andrew church complex. Beautiful immaculate Christian orthodox church with richly decorated interior. No entry fee. After that I walk to the St Sophia church complex. There you have to buy a ticket to get in (25 UAH only for the compound, 60 UAH if you want to climb up the tower, 300 UAH if you want to see everything.

The St Sophia complex is supposed to be older and more interesting. Personally I don't find it terribly interesting and don't spend much time there.

After St Sophia I walk south to the golden gate of Kiew, which is a 1980 reconstruction of an 11th century gate of Kiew.

Shortly before 2pm I walk into the Globus mall (the one below the Majdan square) where I join Shirley and the kids for some food.

It seems there is no compact historic core in Kiew. Later I hear that this was destroyed during World War II and not reconstructed in Soviet times. But like this, Kiew is a city of huge buildings and huge streets, not exactly a place with many peaceful corners where you can rest. Also, I can't find an area of cafes and restaurant. Everything seems to be spread over a large area.

After 3pm we take the metro to the Kyevo Pecherska Lavra complex, another orthodox church complex. This turns out to be not a terribly good idea, because using the metro is not easy if you are a tourist who doesn't speak Ukrainian. We get out at the wrong station (Dnipro), and have to take a train back to Arsenalna station (BTW, very deep metro station). From there we take a bus (Nr 38), but have to get out soon again, because they don't sell tickets on board. So we walk the last 1km.

The Kyevo Pecherska Lavra complex (ticket 130 UAH for adults) is really nice. Also here there is a bell tower from which you have a nice view of the compound. Inside it there are several church buildings and other religious buildings. For some reason we can't visit the caves today (seems that they are closed).

After 5:30pm we take a Uber taxi to the Mariinskyi Palace. This place is closed, so we walk slowly to a bakery where we have some food. Then we walk back to the Majdan square.

Between 8:30pm and 9pm I take some blue hour photos, then join the ladies for a dinner.

18.8: Kiev
Apartment of Be My Guest - Apartments in Kiew.
Weather: overcast and rainy in the morning (temperatures below 20°C). It stops raining by 12pm, but stays overcast. After 4pm the sky opens up, but there are still lots of clouds in the sky.

Because of the weather we stay long in the apartment. At 1:05pm we take an Uber car to the River mall, arriving there at 1:25pm. The River mall is a large, modern and fashionable mall, which lies on the other side of the river. It's really big inside and contains mostly upmarket shops (although not luxury). There is a food court on the third floor and a supermarket in the -1 floor.

We head to the food court and have some lunch. Then the ladies do some shopping and I have a look at the place. With good weather this is a nice place to be, because from the terrace you have a nice view of the river.

After 4pm we take another Uber car, this time to the St Andrew church. We arrive there at 4:40pm (that is, we tell the driver to drop us off around 400m from this church, to avoid a series of traffic jams which would have cost us 33 minutes). This church is on top of a hill, in sort of an artist area with cobblestone streets and old houses. Quite picturesque.

I have a look at the church. Inside it's nothing so special, but the platform of the church offers great views of the city and the river.

Around 5:30pm we continue walking and reach the St Michael church. Then it's a short walk to the Globus mall, where Shirley and the kids will have some dinner.

While the ladies are in the mall, I take some pictures of the Majdan square. It's 6pm and there is a huge military parade, with countless soldiers marching on the street. Police everywhere, the street where the soldiers march is cordoned off.

After taking some photos of this parade, at 6:30pm I join the ladies in the mall and have some dinner. In the evening after 8:15pm I'm out again for some blue hour photography.

19.8: Kiev -> Kamjanez-Podilskyj
Апартаменты на Старобульварной apartment in Kamjanez-Podilskyj. 1980 UAH for a big, luxury apartment in the centre of Kamjanez-Podilskyj. Parking included. Big kitchen with table, chairs, fully equipped (even a washing machine). Big bedroom, big livingroom, one bathroom with bathtub only (no shower cabin/corner). Good WLAN, but no A/C.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Kiew, later the sky opens up and becomes sunny. Top temperatures of 23°C, no rain, no wind.

We leave Kiew around 10:40am and start driving towards Kamjanez-Podilskyj. I refuel the car in a petrol station at the outskirts of Kiew. Once we leave the Kiew area (and BTW, Kiew is really a huge big city), the traffic level drops a lot. Initially we drive on the motorway, then after about an hour we exit the motorway and continue on long distance roads. These range from good in some sections (two lanes per direction, smooth surface) to bad in other sections (one lane per direction, narrow, surface with bumps and holes).

Shortly after 2pm we briefly stop in a petrol station where we buy some sandwiches for lunch. We reach Kamjanez-Podilskyj at 5:25pm and park the car in the main square.

Kamjanez-Podilskyj turns out to be a bit less than what I was expecting. There is one highlight (the castle), but the old town is not terribly impressive. That means that there are not that many old, interesting buildings. But around the city there are some walls, which probably are old and the panoramic view from the bridge to the castle is good.

We walk to the castle (60 UAH ticket/adult) and have a look. Then we walk back to the town and have dinner in an Italian restaurant.

After 8pm we meet the host of the apartment and check in.

20.8: Kamjanez-Podilskyj -> Czernowitz (Chernivtsi) -> Ivano-Frankiwsk
Fontush Boutique Hotel, Iwano-Frankiwsk. 990 UAH for a big double room with attached bathroom with shower, lots of furniture, A/C, WLAN (a bit slow), LCD TV, no fridge. 1.3km from the city centre.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds. Top temperatures of 25°C, no rain, no wind.

In the morning we leave the apartment after 11am and drive into town. The idea is to buy some food/drinks in a supermarket, but we spot a small Asian restaurant and have some lunch there first. After we buy the groceries in the supermarket.

I have a quick look at the (non historic) part of the city. It's quite nice and relaxed, the streets are clean and the city is photogenic as well.

Then we head back to the car and drive to Czernowitz (Chernivtsi). The road is so-so - sometimes good, sometimes not so good. We reach the university in Czernowitz at 2:15pm.

The university is incredible - extremely cute, with very special architecture, like the school of Harry Potter. Must have been designed by an artist. In principle a university is just a place where students study, but this one is extremely decorated.

We spend 20 minutes in this place, then start walking towards the centre of Czernowitz. We need about 10 minutes to reach the town hall square. Lots of cute buildings, many in neoclassical style. Lots of pretty pictures. We stop in a cafe, then have a look around.

At 4:10pm we start driving to Iwano-Frankiwsk. With a stop along the way and some traffic jam we reach Iwano-Frankiwsk before 7pm.

Iwano-Frankiwsk doesn't have lots of old architecture or a medieval core, but it's still a pleasant, relaxed city. It's not a terribly touristy place, but it's a comfortable place where to rest for some time.

We have a dinner in a restaurant on the town hall square and the bill totals only 800 UAH - for four people including the meals, drinks, dessert, salad etc. Very good value.

After dinner we walk back to the car and drive to the hotel. In the evening I'm back in town for some blue hour photography.

21.8: Ivano-Frankiwsk -> Uzhhorod
Argo hotel, Uzzhorod. About 800 UAH for a small double room with attached bathroom with shower, A/C, LCD TV, fridge, cupboard for the clothes, no table. The A/C is broken, meaning that it generates cold air but water drops on the bed from the A/C unit. The hotel is about 1.5km from the centre of Uzhhorod. Good breakfast included in the price; good value restaurant.
Weather: overcast in the morning in Iwano-Frankiwsk. While crossing the Carpathian mountain range it is still mostly cloudy and also briefly rains. In the late afternoon it's sunny with a blue sky in Uzhhorod.

In the morning around 11am we do antigen Covid tests for the kids because they are not fully vaccinated and the next day we are travelling to Slovakia (later I realise that the tests are actually not needed). We do them in a lab 100m from the hotel (990 UAH for two tests; results available after 1pm.

After 11:30am we start driving towards Uzhhorod. We cross the Carpathian mountain range. The road for a small section of the trip (about 30-40km) is quite bad, but roadworks are ongoing so in the future also this road section should be good. After this bad road the road is good, except for the last 50km where the road again is not so good.

The Carpathian mountains are unimpressive. They are indeed less developed than mountains in other countries, but they lack dramatic scenery, e.g. steep cliffs, tall peaks. Or perhaps the part we cross is not so spectacular.

At 1:30pm and 2:30pm we stop briefly for short rests. We reach Uzhhorod at 4:35pm and park the car in the old town. Uzhhorod is sort of ok - there is a castle and an open air museum with traditional houses of the Carpathian mountain range. And some churches. Then there is a pedestrian area with some shops, hotels and restaurants/cafes. Renovation works are ongoing, i.e. in a few years this city should be more pretty.

While I check out the castle and open air village, the ladies look for a restaurant and get some food. We then get together again and drive to the hotel. In the evening I'm out again for some blue hour photography.

At night while trying to register the kids for the entry into Slovakia with the ehranica portal, I run into the problem that I can't complete the registration. So we'll have to discuss the matter tomorrow with the Slovakian border authorities. In the worst case we won't be able to visit Slovakia and will have to continue the trip in Hungary or Romania.

22.8: Uzhhorod -> Debrecen
Toscana 4 Debrecen apartment in Debrecen. About 71 Euro for rooftop apartment with one big sleeping room with two double beds, A/C, toilet with shower, small toilet with WC, washing machine, fully equipped kitchen. No WLAN. About 1km from the city centre.
Weather: sunny, thin clouds layer and other clouds. Strong sun, no rain. Top temperatures of 24°C.

In the morning we have a breakfast at 10am in the hotel and then check out at 11am. We first drive to a supermarket where we buy some groceries, then to a first petrol station where we get rid of the remaining UAH buying diesel and a second one where we fill the tank. Then we drive to the border.

Can't remember exactly, but it must have been around 12:30pm when re reach the queue of the Ukrainian border. Then we have to wait an eternity in this queue. After 10pm (i.e. after almost 10 hours of waiting) we are allowed to proceed to the Ukrainian border check. There it takes another 40 minutes until they chop our passports. Especially the visa of Shirley makes them lose a lot of time (25 minutes until the border official comes back).

Then we drive through and reach the queue of the Hungarian border. It's now 11pm and we start to wonder what time we will make it to Debrecen (which is 1:30 hours from the border). Check-in time was 6pm, but I have explained to the host that we will be late.

The queue at the Hungarian border takes over two hours. Around 1:20am Hungarian time (2:20am Ukrainian time) it's finally our turn. The border officials are rude. When they see us, they first call us "russky" even if the car has a German licence plate. We hand them over our passports and explain that we are Germans and my wife is Malaysian. Then they say that their system is not used or not capable of handling German passports, so we will have to wait 40 minutes.

Finally, at 2:08am local time we finally are in Hungary. Seems this border crossing ordeal has lasted almost 15 hours (from 12:30pm to 3:08am Ukrainian time).

Then it's a speedy drive to Debrecen and we arrive at the apartment at 3:32am. We send a message to the host and after about 10 minutes they arrive and we can finally get in. We sleep after 4am.

23.8: Debrecen
Toscana 4 Debrecen apartment in Debrecen. Today we extend the stay by one night.
Weather: sunny, hot (over 30°C), some thin clouds layer, overcast in the evening. No wind. In the evening it gets windy, the sky closes and after 11-12pm it rains.

Day spent exploring Debrecen. We leave the apartment very late and drive to the Forum Debrecen mall. This is a big and nice mall, with a good food court. We have lunch there and then the ladies spend the afternoon in the mall, shopping around (because outside it is so hot).

I also shop a bit, then walk out and have a look at Debrecen. There is an interesting area around the central square (the one with the church), but not much besides that. So I head to the tourist office on this main square (Tourinform) and get some information about the Hortobagy national park.

This is quite close to Debrecen and covers an area of 820 km², mainly consisting of puszta. There are a number of activities possible there, including horse riding.

I collect some information material and walk back to the mall, where I meet again the ladies. We then buy some groceries in the supermarket in the mall and head back to the apartment. Around 8pm I'm back in town for some blue hour photography.

24.8: Debrecen -> Hortobágy national park -> Debrecen
Toscana 4 Debrecen apartment in Debrecen.
Weather: overcast in the morning, after 12pm the sky opens up and turns blue. Later it is full of clouds again and it rains for a few minutes. Quite windy in the evening. Top temperatures of 24°C (strong sun in the afternoon).

In the morning I call the Hortogbágy national park (the contact numbers I got from the tourist office yesterday) and discuss the visit to the Hortobágy national park. We settle for a horse riding session at 2pm and the horse carriage trip at 4pm.

After 12pm we take the car to the Forum mall and have a lunch there. Then, at 12:50pm we drive to the Hortobágy national park. It takes around 40 minutes to get there, then a few more minutes to find the exact place where to register for the activities.

There is no park headquarter where you have to register and also no controls on who goes in and out (and no entrance fees or tickets). This organisation which arranges the activities in the park seems to be a private company or some non-profit organisation. Somehow I hear that they also raise cattle in the national park (cows, buffaloes).

Anyway, between 2pm and 3pm my two girls have each a 30 minutes horse riding lesson (first time they ride a real horse). They don't do much, except for sitting on a horse and moving in a circle (with the horse occasionally trotting).

Then it's some waiting time until the horse carriage trip at 4pm. We kill the time in the main building, where there is also a cafeteria.

Shortly before 4pm we get on the carriages. These are quite big and seat about a dozen people each. We'll spend a bit over an hour doing a loop in the puszta, with some shows of Hungarian horsemen and a few stops at farms and cattle herds.

The park essentially consists of an endless prairie. Trekking in it doesn't make too much sense, because there is no specific point/landmark you could reach. But I guess you could rent a horse and have a ride through the grasslands.

Shortly after 5pm we are back at the park headquarters and around 5:15pm we drive in the car back towards Debrecen. On the way we make a stop at an Auchan hypermarket which Shirley had spotted. There we buy some groceries. At 6:50pm we get back to the car and then drive to the Forum mall in Debrecen for dinner. We are back in the apartment around 8:30pm.

25.8: Debrecen -> Eger -> Kecskemet
Ecomfort Apartment in Kecskemet. The equivalent of 54 Euro for an apartment in the centre of Kecskemet. One bedroom, livingroom, fully equipped kitchen, bathroom with bathtub (no shower cabin) and washing machine for clothes. Fast WLAN, parking for the cars in the court, A/C. Separate small toilet with W/C only.
Weather: sunny, with a variable cloud cover (sometimes overcast, sometimes blue sky). More fresh than yesterday (top temperature of 22°C). No rain.

At 11am we leave the apartment in Debrecen and get into the car. We stop at a petrol station where we buy a vignette (3600 HUF, 10 days) for the Hungarian motorways. Basically you register the licence plate in the Hungarian system and when the car is scanned on the motorways, it recognises the licence plate and you don't get a fine. No need to fix a sticker on the windshield.

We also wash the car in this petrol station. Then we continue driving (mostly on motorways) and at 1pm are in Eger. There we park the car in the parking of the Agria Park shopping mall.

After a quick lunch in the food court of the mall, the ladies do some shopping in the mall while I walk into the city. Eger is kind of cute, even if the historic centre is a mix of old and new buildings. Everything is quite neat, as if it recently had been renovated. There is a nice castle (2000 HUF ticket) overlooking the old town, but the only old structures of the castle seem to be the walls. Everything else is much newer.

There is a tourist street with restaurants and souvenir shops, but it is quite short. The entire historic centre can actually be done in less than two hours (if museums are skipped).

After a visit to the castle I rejoin the ladies at the giant panoramic wheel.

Around 5pm we are back in the car and drive to Kecskemet. It's almost all motorway, so by 6:45pm we are in Kecskemet. There we split again for the moment (ladies going to the Malom Központ mall) and I have a look at the historic centre. This one looks interesting, with quite a few buildings with interesting and cute looks. There is some event ongoing, with a band playing songs and lots of stalls.

By 7:30pm I meet the ladies in the food court of the mall and have some dinner. After that we drive to the apartment.

26.8: Kecskemet -> Szeged
Exclusive Szálláshely Szeged apartment in Szeged. The equivalent of 70 Euro for a tiny little apartment of 24m² with two double beds (one in its own corner), a small kitchen corner with washing machine for clothes (a small one), fridge, microwave, stove, one cupbiard for clothes, a table + three chairs, toilet with shower. Reasonably fast Internet (WLAN). Centrally located in Szeged, not far from the city hall. In principle the apartment is ok, but it is definitely too small for four people. I only booked this place because there was no other choice.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds, top temperature of 25°C, no rain. Some wind on the motorway between Kecskemet and Szeged.

In the morning we check out at 11am and park the car in the Malom Központ mall (just because it's conveniently located next to the historic centre). I walk into the centre of Kecskemet and take a few more pictures of the area. There are some beautiful buildings, although it's difficult to guess the architectural style (some seem to be Art Nouveau). But I can't find a tourist street full of restaurants and cafes, so I get back to the Malom Központ mall and have some lunch there with the ladies.

Kecskemet has an interesting centre, but seems to lack a medieval historic core.

Around 1pm we are back in the car and drive to Szeged. The road is mostly motorway. We arrive in Szeged around 2:20pm and park the car next to the cathedral. Then we start exploring the city.

Szeged, or let's say the centre of the city, is mostly built in Neoclassical style. Perhaps some church is older than 200 years. But also here a medieval historical core is missing. Either it has never existed or was destroyed to make place for new buildings.

We quickly reach the Karasz pedestrian area and walk along the street. We reach some kind of park on Szechenyi square and rest under the trees. Then we slowly walk back, stopping here and there. It's a very neat, clean and nice pedestrian area with plenty of shops and restaurants. But everything seems to be from the 19th or early 20th century.

At 5pm we pick the car and drive to the apartment. There we meet the host and move in.

We get out again at 6:20pm for dinner, this time walking to the Arkad mall, another modern mall near the city centre. After the dinner I'm back in the city centre for some blue hour photography.

27.8: Szeged -> Pecs -> Szalatnak
Ecomfort apartment, Szalatnak. This is a complete house with garden, very big (120m²). Two big bedrooms, two livingrooms, one kitchen, WC toilet, one toilet with shower. WLAN, no A/C, heating is available but we can't figure out how to switch it on (the place is quite cold). This house lies in Szalatnak, a small village in the middle of nowhere in the hills, 40 minutes by car from Pecs. The night here is very dark, because there is little light pollution (few settlements, few people in this area).
When we arrive we call the number we received from booking.com and get an old lady on the phone who only speaks Hungarian and doesn't know we have booked the place. Seems the place is rented out by a guy (who lives in Belgium?). Luckily the old lady calls some other woman who lives in Austria on the phone and we can explain to her that we booked this place and finally move in at 9pm.

Weather: rain in the morning and until about 2pm. After that it's overcast, but after 4pm the sky gradually opens up. In the evening the sky is blue and the sun is shining. Top temperatures of 18°C (14°C when it rains).

We check out at 10:30am, then drive by car to the Arkad mall. There we have some breakfast, then around 11:40am drive to Pecs. The road initially is a simple long distance road. Only the last 60-70km are motorway. Along the road we are stopped by the Hungarian police who asks us to open the boots. Seems they are looking for refugees.

We reach Pecs at 2:15pm and park the car next to the cathedral. We have a look at the cathedral, then walk to the Szechenyi square, which is the main square of the historic centre of Pecs. Several interesting buildings are on this square, many of them in neoclassical style.

Pecs has a beautiful historical core with several significant buildings. It's not very touristy however, because there are not so many tourist-centered activities/businesses. It's not a tourist trap. On the other hands, restaurants seems to be a bit pricey (for instance an Italian restaurant charging the equivalent of 12 Euro for a dish of spaghetti).

The ladies spot a Konzum department store/supermarket and spend some time there. I continue having a look at the city. Then, together we visit the Csontvary museum. Inside there are paintings of this artist, some quite nice.

After the museum I drive the ladies to the Arkad mall. While they are there doing their shopping, I continue having a look at Pecs. It's now 5pm and the suns is finally coming out and the sky is getting blue.

At 6:20pm I'm back in the Arkad mall and will spend the next hour and a half there, having a dinner in an Italian restaurant and buying some food in a supermarket.

At 7:50pm we get back into the car and drive to Szalatnak, where we'll spend the night.

28.8: Szalatnak -> Fonyód -> Őriszentpéter
Centrum Étterem és Panzió, Őriszentpéter. The equivalent of 42 Euro for a room with two beds, cupboard for clothes, two big upholstered chairs, small TV, no table, toilet with shower, no A/C. Breakfast included. All the stuff in the room is quite old, but the price includes breakfast and this pension has an own restaurant. WLAN is available, but quite slow from what I'm being told. Broken ventilator fan in the toilet (doesn't suck out the smelly air).
Weather: overcast in the morning. Over the course of the day the sky will alternate between partly sunny/blue and overcast. Some rain while driving on the motorway. Top temperatures of 21°C.

We check out at 11am and return the keys to the old lady. Then we drive to Fonyód on the Balaton lake, where I'm planning to stop for lunch. We arrive there shortly after 1pm.

Fonyód is sort of a touristy beach resort. The only problem is that the sky is overcast and the sea water looks greenish/milky/grayish, not exactly pretty. And I cannot see a beach here. So it's kind of a beach resort city without a beach, or perhaps there is a beach but not near the centre of Fonyód.

After lunch in one of the restaurants near the pier, we shop for food in a supermarket and continue driving to Őriszentpéter around 3:30pm.

We reach Őriszentpéter at 5pm and check in the pension. Then I have a look at the place. Supposedly we are in the middle of the Örseg national park, but this national park is a bit strange. It seems to consist of a rural area with villages, fields and patches of forest. I don't see dramatic scenery, wilderness, a park headquarter, marked trails into the forest.
Perhaps this national park is not about wilderness, but about the combination of these villages and the surrounding nature.

After 5:30pm I do a short walk around the area. It's kind of a peaceful and not so developed place.

In the evening we have a dinner in the pension.

29.8: Őriszentpéter -> Leoben -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: overcast in the morning in Őriszentpéter (but no rain). Over the course of the day the sun comes out, some patches of blue appear in the sky, then it rains for some time, stops to rain, restarts etc. Top temperatures of 14°C-15°C.

Day essentially spent driving back to Munich. Google Maps gives a total travel time of six hours for the 553km trip Őriszentpéter-Leoben-Munich. In practice, with the stop in Leoben and some time lost in traffic jams we reach Munich a bit over eight hours after we have left Őriszentpéter. This actually is quite good, considering that we have to cross two borders in a Corona pandemic situation and there is heavy holiday return traffic.

In fact, except for a short traffic jam on the motorway in Bavaria (caused by an accident) which makes us lose about 10 minutes, the roads and motorways are very fluid. Initially (in Hungary and part of Austria) there is little traffic. Traffic increases as we approach Germany and is highest in Germany. It seems that we chose the right route and border crossings, because on the radio I hear of waiting times up to two hours at other border crossings.

Regarding the border crossings: from Hungary to Austria there is just an Austrian soldier who asks us if we are transiting across Austria, on the way to Germany. At the border between Austria and Germany near Salzburg (and here for once Google Maps does the right thing and routes us to a secondary border crossing with no waiting time) the German border police officer just waves us through. We almost can't believe things went so smoothly, after the 15 hours spent crossing the Ukraine-Hungary border.

We stop in Leoben between 1:30pm and 2:30pm. The city is cute and immaculately clean, but the only interesting part is the main square with the plague column.

Now the problem is that due to the pandemic situation if you want to eat in a restaurant, you either have to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, have gained immunity by recovering from a Covid-19 illness or you must have a negative test result max 2-3 days old. Both Shirley and I are fully vaccinated, but the kids have only received the first dose and we do not have a fresh negative test result.

So, basically we can't have lunch in a restaurant (like we did in the other countries). We are forced to go to a McDonalds restaurant, and order some take away food which we then consume in the car (because we are not allowed to eat it on the terrace of the McDonalds restaurant).

There is nothing wrong with these pandemic prevention regulations. But the fact is that until July it was very difficult to get a Covid-19 vaccination (we registered with the portal in February, but only got the vaccinations in June-July). Shirley and I managed by luck to get both shots before leaving for the trip, but the kids only got the first shot in the week before the trip. That is also the reason why we couldn't travel to Slovakia.

Anyway, at 7:15pm we reach home. We have completed a trip of 6300 km across Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary and Austria smoothly and without major problems.

Copyright 2022 Alfred Molon