Driving to Cracow following E40 Route
We have driven to Cracow from the UK (Essex) - many times, there and back, and are likely to continue doing so to our holiday home near Zakopane. It's a drive of just under 1,100 miles and the amazing thing was not meeting a single static speed camera between Calais and Rabka-Zdroj if you follow the E40.
Saying that, last year we were fined for speeding, a few metres over the Polish border. The police tend to lie in wait at the restaurant/petrol station around the corner from the main road leading from the border control. We were told that we had broken the speed limit by so many miles and asked to pay 100 zloty in cash. We didn't actually see any speed cameras nor was any evidence produced. Rather than pay cash on the spot, the speeding fine form has an option for payment at a Polish post office.
It's essentially a 17 hour 15 minute drive door-to-door. We do it over 2 days with an overnight stop in Germany. It provides a good opportunity for passengers to see something of the countryside. We have also done the drive in one go overnight when the roads are quiet. Weekends are good for this because there are fewer lorries on the road.
We followed the E40 route through France, Belgium, Germany and Poland which goes all the way from Calais, to Cracow and beyond. Most of this is motorway or dual carriageway.
If you stop for fuel in Belgium between 9 pm and 6 am, fuel must be prepaid. Most petrol stations have a machine on the forecourt where you insert your card and enter the pump number.
The German parking places with clean WC's were much appreciated. It turned out to be an interesting and enjoyable drive. German roads are undoubtedly the best in the world and a pleasure to drive on. We discovered windmills every few miles along the route in Germany, the solution to graffiti on walls - grow creepers to add colour and hide it from view.
You drive through national parks and lovely scenery that makes us want to explore much more of Germany.
We used to cross the German Polish border at Gorlitz or Zgorzelec, and then travel into Poland along a single track road. The new motorway has now been completed which reduces travelling time and eliminates congestion.
Nowadays you pass from France through to Belgium, Germany and Poland nowadays without any border control whatsoever. The old customs post have either been dismantled or converted into restaurants and shops.
Economic changes in 2009
The fall of the pound against the Euro has made eating in restaurants at European service stations very expensive compared with the UK. In Belgium we encountered the 1 Euro banana which is extortionate compared with UK prices. The way round this is to take a picnic and flask of coffee.
Use of toilets cost 50 cents
A fee is payable for the use of most toilets in Europe. 30 cents or 50 cents is common in the Eurozone. Good places to make toilet stops are where Wert-bon vouchers are used. These vouchers are issued when you pay 50 cents at a turnstile leading to toilets. You can redeem the voucher against a purchase of food or drink. These toilets are of a very high standard with revolving self-cleaning seats.
Motorway tolls on motorway from Katowice to Cracow - 8 zloty for a car (since 1st Dec 09). We had to pay twice. The tolls are manned and change is given. It is possible to pay in Euros and US dollars as well as zloty.
Driving to Poland via Magdeburg and Berlin
Some people prefer to drive through Berlin and then drive down to Wroclaw via motorways to avoid the single track road from Gorlitz. The new motorway near Gorlitz has eliminated this problem and it's a good route to take except that you might need to update your SatNav to recognise the latest road changes.
The disadvantage of driving from Berlin to Cottbus and Poland that way is that the first 60 miles or so don't have tarmac and consist of bone shaking road which is fine if you don't have aluminium wheels.
On balance, we prefer the E40 route for speed, good views and plenty of parking places, especially in Germany, to stop.
The dreadful roads in Poland
How the Germans must laugh when they see Polish roads. German roads are the best in the world, cross the border and you're on some of the worst roads on Earth. OK, there are some good stretches but even Poles will tell you that the speed limit is not dependent on road signs but on the condition of the road. Nowhere else in the world have we seen the 'Koleiny' sign that warns drivers about the tram line indentations produced by heavy good vehicles as if it was a natural feature of the road like a double bend.
2009-11 seems to have ushered in a wave of road improvements across Poland, we have noticed a great deal of new tarmac and patching up. The roads are of a higher standard than they ever used to be and generally equal British roads with a few exceptions.
The Katowice to Cracow toll road
The toll motorway between Katowice and Cracow has been undergoing repairs for months on end. In September 2009 there were a couple of bottlenecks near the Katowice end going towards Cracow which results in lengthy queues but the road was fine going from Cracow to Katowice.
The dual carriageway or Zakopianka from Cracow to Zakopane is now an excellent road for about two thirds of the way. There are plans to continue extending the dual carriageway all the way to Zakopane.
Click here for more about Krakow.
Poland is much cheaper than the Eurozone
Once you cross the Polish border, a different economy prevails. Fuel and food and drink are instantly cheaper. (There is one town near the German border where the majority of adults are hairdressers and the majority of their clients are German!)
You're still likely to have to pay for toilets - 1 to 2 zloty is the norm.
Places to stay overnight
The following website offers a list of rest houses or auto-hofs on main routes through Germany. Most useful as long as you know the road number:
Travelling the E40 Route
We stayed near Dresden on the way there (although a stop around Bad Hersfeld is ideal and there are several places to stay) and Dillenburg on the way back. Dillenberg has an old section of town with a castle and historic wood-framed houses similar to Tudor style. There are 2 hotels open all year - we tend to stay at the hotel Oranien, one without the restaurant - good basic clean rooms, quiet and a decent breakfast. If you spend a night in Dillenburg, the Italian restaurant on the high street offers good value meals. There is also the option of Chinese which we haven't actually tried yet.
Travelling via Berlin
There are plenty of places to stay near Magdeburg. We've tried a couple of motorway hotels now, both modern with en-suite facilities and good service. Tthe Hotel Magdeburg which is west of Magdeburg (look for the Lomo sign on the AutoHof sign, LOMO Rasthaus, Irxleber Straße,
0392045950) is OK. This hotel is clean, quiet, offers a good buffet breakfast in the restaurant and has a swimming pool where you can relax if you've any energy left. The rooms can be a little too warm if anything. There is a petrol station adjoining which also sells LPG at a reduced price.
We last stayed at the Best Western Hotel in Magdeburg itself which was very comfortable and provided an excellent breakfast. It's a whole class above the Autohof and cheaper. You would need a SatNav to find it, a few km off the motorway.
Magdeburg is a riverside town with a large Art Nouveau building, a market and some lovely but dreadfully expensive china and gift shops. One had Christmas baubles for sale at 50 Euros each. It's pleasant enough for a walk round. The bakers are highly recommended.