TRIP 10 – THREE VANS, THREE NEWBIES AND THREE BOXES OF TIFFIN

Headed up by Troels and George in the Polish van which had replaced the Headington School bus (casualty from the week before), we left Oxford.
Martin and I in the Greenford minibus, kindly donated by Bob Hutton and his business partner Simon Rogers, and Tim and Bev in the land rover. Quickly finding our positions and staying in perfect convoy, we drove to a disused school in the middle of Fulham. Boxes of medical supplies, other essentials and Kellogg’s breakfast cereal were loaded into our vehicles, with little or no space for anything else, including visibility! The volunteers were incredibly passionate about their purpose.

Two vans headed to Folkestone while Troels and George headed off to Paddington for further medical supplies. Despite the heavy traffic, they still managed to be only an hour behind us, and after a nibble on the tiffin and a short wait, we boarded the channel tunnel and headed to Calais (a first for me).

Nerves were now mounting. I had been less than honest about my right-hand driving experience and knew it would be my turn soon. Keeping up with Troels and George didn’t allow for nerves, only survival. We were making speedy progress and confidence growing with every mile. When someone suggests driving to Poland, it is difficult to fully comprehend just how far that actually is.

Having had no problems through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, we experienced a loss of power in the minibus just outside Dresden Germany. With thoughts of the previous weeks Headington School bus shenanigans we immediately located a VW garage only 10 minutes away and we decided to head that way. They were brilliant!!! With Troels’ multilingual skills, we were able to explain the problem and they plugged the van into their computer. Turns out the Turbo was playing up, but was not terminal and with careful driving, we could continue. Huge shout out to these guys. They charged us nothing and provided a very welcome rest break and coffee too.

Totally relieved by the outcome, we headed off again. Swapping every two hours and taking advantage of what sleep we could get. Just outside Krakow we passed an American Airforce convoy transporting “high explosives” to the Ukraine. Our boxes of Rice Krispies “SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP” were certainly no match for that.

Finally, we arrived at the distribution unit in Cieszanow at around 18:00 where the enthusiasm for us and our cargo was contagious. Having been sitting still for as long as we had, assisting moving our supplies from the vans to the lorry was a welcome change. They explained that they would be crossing the border into Ukraine and delivering the contents to Lviv the next day. A sobering realisation that we were so close to the nightmares on the other side.

The first part of our mission now complete, we found our hotel and the desperately longed for beer that had been growing as an idea for the past few hours. We weren’t disappointed. That was the best beer, food and night’s sleep we have ever had. Everything is better when you have earned it!

The next day, refreshed, fed and watered, we headed to Warsaw for our first pickup. 4 hours later we welcomed 12 people, 5 dogs and the fluffiest cat I have ever seen onto our busses. Our passengers were undoubtedly cautious, but very willing and grateful of the lift and soon settled in. It was my turn to drive, and then the coolant light came on! A quick SOS to George who was our practical member, saw a stop and a quick check of coolant. Levels were low and therefore the nearest sweatshirt grabbed and used as protection from the potential steam. George assured us it was Danish and didn’t matter. Poor Troels!

Six hours later we arrived at Berlin Airport. With the previous weeks knowledge working in our favour, we were saved the loops of the airport and instead drove straight into the pedestrian area and waited. 4 people emerged with only one dog this time and Troels switched them into the land rover to give the numb bums of those who had endured the last 6 hours a well-deserved rest. Now to Dortmund.

3 people and 3 dogs later and we were on our way again. The minibus was on its best behaviour now and everyone stayed in convoy, only swapping for comfort breaks or for Troels to swap from the Land Rover to the Polish van to make phone calls and save his back from total ruin. We had been advised of a last-minute stop in Ypres. Somewhere I had never been and rather poignant for obvious reasons. A mother, her son and a very lovely dog were loaded up. At this stage they were separated due to the limited van space, but the son seemed happy sitting up front and admiring the views ahead of him.

We were now only 1½ hours from Calais, with a drop-in at Calais railway station planned on the way. A family of 4 with their dog got out and two young ladies with a cat climbed on board. We were just about to leave when we realised the fluffy cat from Warsaw had disappeared. This was not good! There were so many places she could have sneaked out. After all it was travelling loose and not in a cage. We dropped everything and searched every inch of that van only to finally see some eyes under the luggage at the back.

With relief we carried on to Pet Control at The Tunnel. Troels told us this was often the bit that took the longest, but he had obviously navigated it many times and it went smoothly, with exception to the lady from L’viv with her disappearing cat. Unfortunately, the paperwork wasn’t correct so she couldn’t come with us. This made me very emotional, but she knew her paperwork was not correct so in fact she knew this was coming and was just grateful we had brought her this far.

Time for a rest. Half an hour of down time and a chance for Martin to grab a 20-minute snooze. Something he hadn’t been so good at up until then.

Torrential rain welcomed us back to blighty. I felt a bad but reminded myself that despite the wet, this was still a safer place than they had known. Drop-offs were made at Folkestone Services, Ashford International Train Station, Cobham Services and finally Beaconsfield Services.

Troels swapped vehicles once again and realised with horror that the last remaining tiffin had been removed and was now with Tim and Bev (Better known as the Tiffin thieves!). Gutted and only left with dry biscuits, he was less than pleased and was further provoked with pictures of it being handed between cars on the M25. We were now accomplices! Aiding and abetting, but the energy it gave us to complete the 4-hour journey home that followed due to bad traffic was essential. 3 vehicles, 3 seasoned drivers and only 3 small pieces of tiffin took 3 different routes back. Tim and Bev being the firm winners. Glad we never placed that bet 😊.

The Eden Aid Charity and its purpose was something we only found out about two weeks before setting off to Eastern Poland. We feel so blessed to have met and travelled with some of the nicest people and are in total awe of the energy and sincerity Troels and George have for the mission. So much respect for them and everyone involved. This trip actually changed peoples lives for the better, and we will always be very proud to have been a little cog in this very special wheel.

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