Updated: Sep 4, 2018
Friday, 4th May
Wegorzewo to Bartozyce, 63 miles
I left the site with the 'Ruskie' bar with little sleep at nine sharp and headed into town to pick up provisions and down some fruit and yoghurt.
My teeth had begun to play up so I decided to lay off the Menthos and switched to satsumas and bananas.
Just ten miles in, I really felt it, exhausted. I stopped at a Green Velo shelter for a kip. I lay on the hard floor with a pannier under my head and drifted for a while. I then tightened my bike chain. After over half a million circles it had stretched some two centimetres. It would slip on the climbs.
Back on the road the going became a lot better. It was good to see so manly people out on their bikes along the route and I was joined by a man, Przemek, in his early thirties from Warsaw. His English was good and we chatted for a good couple of hours as his friends rode on. You see I’m not that fast a cyclist, I could blame the weight of the bike and the wind resistance of the bags but I just can’t move my legs that fast. But Przemek was happy to fall behind and keep me company. The twenty miles that we were together flew by and I apologised for talking too much but he seemed happy just to listen to stories about the trip.
Przemek and his friends were following the Green Velo route for a week, staying in hotels along the way. His friends were getting fed up and their backsides ached so I think I was a welcome break from the moaning
We separated and later met up a couple of times along the route but thinking back it was sad to see him go. I passed through the town that they were staying in that night and headed on for a few more miles until I came to a wood along a potholed track. A deer stood and watched me as I looked for a pitch, before long I was fed and in my sleeping bag listening to the birds say goodnight.
Saturday, 5th May 2018
Bartozyce to Elblag, 69 miles
The day was sunny and was spent following an old railway line into the town of Elblag, pronounced Elbling.
The railway track was part of the Polish cycle network and took me alongside some of the most glorious countryside. The weather was wonderful too and for times I cycled without my t shirt. So much warmer than Finland in March. I passed a lake and stopped, the noise was incredible. It sounded like ducks quacking away but there were no ducks. Looking closely I saw hundreds, maybe thousand of frogs swimming and diving creating this deafening frog chorus. I saw more lakes like this throughout the day and had to stop at each one and marvel.
Away from the railway path I continued through flag flying villages and by barbecuing families and as I began to tire and the evening approached I was given a 200 metre decent over a three mile stretch down into the city of Ełblag. I passed through army barracks and estates and camped at a heavily gated site on the river.
It was late evening, too late for food. I fell asleep, despite being by a flyover, straight away.
Monday, 7th May 2018
Elblag to Gdańsk , 53 miles
For two nights at the illustrious Campsite Fłyover I paid a little over 10 quid. It was safe and clean and I found a little gift in my tent when I returned from my shower. A group who had been canoeing from Warsaw had left me some provisions before heading off home. I also had a lovely note from Marcin wishing me well and a contact number if I needed help while in Poland. Top guy.
The road was flat out of Elblag and followed a dyke out into the countryside very quickly. After half an hour I was away from it all in a Dutch type landscape.
I was also back on the route with the guide book and finally at the other end of the Curonian Spit. I was glad of my extended adventure and extra time in Poland and was keen to head onto Gdansk following my map on the official Iron Curtain Trail.
However my first stop was not a thrilling one. The narrow gauge train track at the side of the road was the first clue and I took some time, looking at and trying to digest the horrors of the Stutthof camp.
I walked around huts surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers in neatly lawned grounds in pleasant spring sunshine. If you have never visited a camp where thousands met their end in the most horrible of ways, please do. To see a glass case as big as a swimming pool full of decaying shoe leather is a sure way to remove any sense of entitlement a spoilt life may have given you.
I followed sandy paths and fast roads into Gdańsk, with its dockside buildings and cobbled waterfront streets. I checked into the Hotel Gdańsk. So strange after camping outside for so long to be in a room.
Thursday, 10th May 2018,
Gdańsk to Chlapowo, 48 miles
I would thoroughly recommend Gdańsk as a weekend away city break. It’s not expensive, it’s very picturesque and the World War II Museum is captivating.
I wrote up the blog for the cycle to Lithuania in an Internet cafe before heading out of town.
The country is labour intensive, three women light up as they break from their road sweeping duties, gangs remove roadside dirt in a way similar to the gangs I saw in Russia and teams of five men strim verges and ditches.
I head pass the docks where Lech Wałęsa led strikers and eventually the country to independence. In fact the whole Solidarity movement was not the original intention of the strikers. The aim was to reinstate a crane operator, Anna Walentynowicz, who had been fired. Lech was an unemployed drunk but had a maturity and weight of character that the strike organisers needed. In the lead up to the strike they had to check daily on his commitment. On strike day, one striker was on time, 0530 for a 0600 disruption, the other strike organiser left the leaflets at home and Lech rolled up late. His bullish attitude, with the help of western media, snowballed this simple demand for Anna's reinstatement into a national strike and the Solidarity movement.
The history of the Solidarity movement is bloody and is almost quashed by the Soviets, fascinating stuff. It did ultimately lead to Poland being the wonderfully dynamic country that it is today. The people are fireballs, who as a nation have seized the opportunity of freedom to take their newly formed country to great heights.
Soon out of town, I followed dykes along the Vistula into the country side. Long paved paths pass through wildlife rich marshes. As I cycle I look at a blue sky with village churches on a horizon of endless green reeds and three young men having sex in the back of a silver Skoda estate. The sun warms the air and butterflies dance around the bulrushes and the villages come and go. Village drunks come out and greet me when I stop and I head along a busy coastline to a ferry port which will take me to Hel. I arrive a little after lunch.
Hel is at the tip of a 25 mile long sand bar that offers wonderful cycling through nature reserves and villages. The ferry, contrary to the guide and google, is only running once a day. The next departure is at 1000 the following morning, in Bumble spit tradition I take the long route.
The rest of the day is spent cycling through the industrial zones of Gydia until I join the end of the sand bar in the evening and follow the coast to the town of Chlapowo.
Here I decide to stop at a campsite. It’s empty and there is no one around. It’s about eight and I ring the number on the reception door. A lady answers and I say that I’ll pitch up and settle the bill in the morning, she says, “Ok”.
A little later as I battle with MSR tent poles, my phone rings. A man says he will be with me in fifteen minutes. I ask if it’s ok to pitch my tent, he says, “Yes”.
My spot is lovely, I’m alone and overlook the sea. I’m the only camper. With my tent sorted I head back to the reception.
A well dressed man shakes my gloved hand and sits me down in his office. He chats away and is absolutely delighted with my views of Poland. How the people have seized the opportunity of freedom to develop a progressive society. How they take pride in themselves, their properties, and heritage. I told him that they were a very proud nation and he was pleased as punch. I didn’t mention the new sexual positions I had learnt earlier that day.
We chatted for a good half hour. Michal was a Depeche Mode fan and had seen them 23 times in concert. I didn’t ask him who Depeche Mode were as I guessed that they were a big Euro pop band and questioning this may offend Michal. But during those communist years bands like DM were his link to an out of reach way of life.
He phoned his wife, Alice, he wanted me to tell her about my view of Poland. Luckily she was on the phone, I wouldn’t have known what to say. “Hey Alice, do you like DM too?” I made my excuses as I needed to cook and sleep.
I think Michal and I could have chatted a lot longer.
Friday, 11th May 2018
Chlapowo to Głowczyce, 60 miles
A few miles from Chlapowo was the top of Poland, Rozewie. Spectacular cliffs and a lighthouse museum, could I find it? No. After searching for twenty minutes I gave up, it probably would have been closed.
When I asked Michal about his client base he said that it was made up mainly of Polish visitors. Occasionally Dutch and German tourists would venture this far east but although Germans loved to visit Poland they either stayed to the west coastal resorts or toured the area that I had cycled through with Przemek.
The seaside towns were empty, waiting for July and August, slow preparations were being made. I followed the coast through pine forests with tracks of sand that were difficult to cycle through. My rear wheel would spin and fishtail and my front would slip from beneath me. I may have fallen off half a dozen times before I moved away from the trail and onto tarmac.
In the afternoon it began to storm, lightning would flash and distant thunder would roll. As the storm drew near the rain broke and the thunder grew louder. I took shelter in corrugated iron bus stop and lay on the bench listening to the raindrops pound the metal roof. Between passing cars I fell asleep to be woken by the sound of material rubbing. Waiting in the rain for a bus was an old man who motioned for me to go back to sleep. Despite sitting up he stayed in the rain and boarded a beat up 15 seat mini bus with condensation heavy windows.
I went back to sleep.
Later in the day I was back on the route and again found myself back on sandy paths. I fell off a couple of times and was met by a huge German man on a mountain bike. He was clearly upset and muttered something about '10 kilometres' as his thickset, muscular legs and teary eyes passed by. I guessed the path didn’t improve much. A little later a slight lady asked in English, “Have you seen a large German man come this way?” The road ahead looked rocky.
As soon as sixty miles showed on the Garmin, I stopped. I was by a wood and I dragged the bike through muddy tractor tracks and stagnant pools of water so that the road was just out of sight. I climbed upward to where the wood was on the edge of a field as set about pitching and cooking. The wind direction changed and dogs began to bark and the smell of a chicken shed wafted over. It had been a tough day my arm was heavily bruised but I was very happy.
Saturday, 12th May 2018,
Glowcyce to Lazy, 80 miles
In the early dawn I was woken by the forraging of a wild boar near the tent. I was very excited but could not bring myself to peek through the flysheet - don’t they kill you? And a deer trotted by too. Before the whole Disney cast came to say good-morning the loggers arrived and began revving their chainsaws. I skipped breakfast and packed up and pushed Mrs F right by them, giving a wave, back to the main road.
I came away from any route on the map that indicated unpaved paths. I guess that different local interpretations were used when compiling the detail of this 10,400 km. route. The going was fast and I managed to remain in touch with coastal towns.
The night before I noticed that the gas canister that I had bought in Finland was slowing. I began to hunt out a replacement and found that despite there being a large camping industry along the coast neither campsites nor shops sell camping gas canisters. At one seaside kiosk selling outdoor gear I held up my nearly spent canister and asked at the doorway if he sold them. He looked quizzically and asked, “what is it?”
That evening I camped on a spit near the town of Lazy the sea breeze filled my tent with its cool air and I thought about the gentle putt putt sound my burner made as the nearly boiled water began to cool and my empty stomach rumbled.
Sunday, 13 May 2018.
Lazy to Wolinks 81 miles
Today was an ice cream, chocolate and coke day.
Mainly because I had no gas and secondly because no shops were open. It was Sunday. The Polish are very respectful of the day and their religion.
As I passed churches and cathedrals along the coast congregations filled the building to bursting. Eager for the word, benches outside and boundary walls were full of those who had arrived later than the keener worshipers.
The towns today were also less ‘Kiss me Quick’ and their facia changed to fancy restaurants and boutique stalls. Their car parks filled with new cars with D preface number plates. The German euro was making its mark.
With a nice 80 miles done I camped in my first pine forest plantation. The rows of trees were even and the ground in which they grew was furrowed and I slept awkwardly. The mosquitoes were prevelant and I swore at myself. I hadn’t yet adopted a 'spray on repellent before picking the camp' routine. I paid the price, the mossies ate better than me that evening.
Monday, 14 th May 2018,
Wolinks to Brünsow, 58 miles
Leaving the pine forest I took a route through a protected area of forest, the Wolinski National Park. It had been established as an area for conservation in the 1960s and there appeared to be a strictly followed set of conservation rules. A path ran through this untouched Beech Wood for several miles and their thick trunks and spacing between those trunks created a different forest to those of the Baltic Pine.
I entered the town of Lubiewo and found myself in a more prosperous area. bought some camping gas and had a gorge out on some gluten free bread. I headed to the post office to send home my guide that had travelled with me since the start and then sat down to eat cheese sandwiches and look at the second guide which covered Germany.
The scale was different and I would be turning over the pages frequently but the main route followed the old internal German border that difened the territories of the GDR (East) and FDR (West). I would be crisscrossing the border for the next 1000 miles.
Before reaching the German border and saying goodbye to Poland I stopped off at a shop two streets from Germany. There was a currency exchange and convenience store. A grey haired man watched me enter the shop and walk past the currency booth. He made to stand up and the sat when I hit the aisles.
There wasn’t much to spend my Zloty on and feeling thirsty I picked up a can of ‘Monster’ energy drink and some chocolate.
As I left I stopped at the Exchange booth and the man stood again from his seat in the sun to take up position in his cubicle.
I produced my remaining Zloty, about 300, and slide them under the window panel. I asked for euros and he sighed. With little English he explained that his Euros were at the bank and that he was all out. Being two streets from Germany I asked for Japense Yen instead.
You become, in a short space of time, use to a country and it’s culture. By the time I crossed the border the Monster chocolate cocktail was kicking in and the transformation between the two countries was formidable. It was in fact quite shocking. It felt very clinical, wealthy, and strict. A couple of small cycling indiscretions was met with officious retribution from bystanders.
The Bay of Pomerania and the towns that line it grew up in a similar way the the British seaside towns of the 1800s. Grand buildings line the front and the occasional pier demonstrates that sea air was as much a wonder to the Germans in that period as the British.
But these towns appeared to have held on to that timeless romance. There were no signs of kiss me quick hats and fried onions. These towns remained in their own league.
A couple of scoops of ice cream didn’t come cheap either.
I’ve spoken with other cyclists who find the adjustment between countries a little nervy and looking back it took a couple of days to settle into German life and to begin interacting with the people. Once I had learnt how to do this I found them, especially the women, very open and cheery.
Grand, well maintained villas and hotels lined the Baltic Coast and I followed paths that were wide and well travelled. In fact too well travelled. Everyman and his dog were out cycling, many with panniers and tents, some with electric bikes and some with families. It was fun but chaotic at times.
I met a lovely couple, Jayne and Walter, who were travelling to Latvia. They had been cycling together for over 35 years and had travelled over 120,000 km and visited many countries. Despite their middle age they looked fit and hardy. Their kit although worn was well ordered. They didn’t smell either.
Inspired, I decided that I wouldn’t wild camp that night and sought out a camp site with a washing machine and shower.