In continuation of the yesterday’s de-tour we again did it; drove down a road until it was blocked by a military installation. This time it happened near Mrzeżyno where we had hoped we could take the more direct road to Rewal, instead we ended up driving four kilometres on paving stone to the check-point and back again. ”Happy New Year” as one of my colleagues would have said?! Why the heck is the military areas not shown on the maps here in Poland or they could at least have omitted the roads totally to avoid confusion.
Apart from the above we had marvellous weather and since a great part of today’s road was very close to the touristy Baltic Sea we had a chance to enjoy our lunch on some logs directly on the beach – could it be more wonderful?
It was very clear that our destination Rewal must be a lively city in the summer season – however today on the 27th September the streets and squares where empty. Most shops and guest houses were closed and the few open grocery shops had unplugged their fridges with beer to save power (thus no cold beer to be bought). With this in mind it was a big laugh when I checked one of the more prominent hotels; they still claimed the price for the high season. Our third try was up (down) to our standards and we thus checked into Dom Wczasowy Idylla on Saperska 16 where we were greeted by a friendly lady. The house itself was an old nicely renovated building from before the Second World War with stairs squeaking when walking on them – perfect!
And I even did not mention the nice service in the local restaurant California in which live music was performed even though there were no guests (almost).
We started the day with an eight kilometre de-tour to a military exercise area on the vest side of Ustka. We don’t they mention these bases on the map!? Okay, we had perfect weather, so why should not really complain at all:-)
On our trip to Koszalin we had lunch on the main square of Darłowo with a nice view of the City Hall (see below). All the houses surrounding the square were in bright colours, some newly painted and others in need of new paint. School kids were crossing the main square and half of all the benches were occupied by retired people enjoying the sun and the quietness – cars were severely restricted. Perfect.
Near the coast we hit the small town of Dąbki, which was Polish beach tourism in overdrive if it would have been the high season. For kilometres we passed guest houses, vacation houses, hotels, restaurants and cafés. Most of it was shut down and only a few tourists were strolling down along the road.
Koszalin is I guess Poland’s version of Esbjerg, that is a working city without too many restaurants or old buildings dragging tourists to the city. All the same I was quite content with it; since it gave me a good excuse for going to the local cinema to hide away for a few hours. ”Drive” was the name of the movie and can be recommended:-) I tried to find our sport club Hotel Gwardia by foot without a map from the suburban cinema but failed and capitulated into a taxi… which reminds me that the taxi driver who drove me to the cinema guessed on the spot that we were from Denmark, which kind of puzzled me until he told me that he had been trucking between Katowice in the South of Poland to Horsens in Denmark for around two years. Funny:-)
The decision about going to Ustka was made by the weather. Bad weather meant no sea and good weather meant sea, thus Ustka. The weather just could not be more perfect… sun, light tailwind and this all the way to Ustka. Click here for a video of my dad riding his bike outside Słupsk.
We are both surprised that this part of Poland is so hilly; on one of the hills going down into a small town I tried to get my picture taken by the police radar. I am not sure I succeeded, but passing the radar with 54 km/h was at least a qualified try as the speed limit is 50 km/h.
Ustka we realized is a place where a lot of local Polish people go for vacation and for the weekends, at least when it is the high season. The first camping site was closed, the next couple of guest houses and hotels were totally deserted, but after following some more street signs we found Hotel Stach. It also looked a bit deserted but at least the door was not only open, but there was also sitting a girl in the reception. Success.
The embankment was a sight we did not expect – there was an enormous crowd strolling along it. From where all these people come from we are not sure, but probably not from the guest houses, because these were varified to be mostly empty. Going out the mole was nice but I think i will just let the pictures speak for themselves:
As crowded the embankment was in the late afternoon as deserted was it in the evening when we went there for dinner. Not even a black cat was crossing our in front of our eyes.
Tomorrow we will direct our bikes in the direction of Koszalin.
The trips first tire puncture happened today and almost as it was made to happen on a timer. Exactly after entering Kartuzy my back tire was flat:-( Not a big deal as we kind of expected it to happen sometime or the other. It was quickly exchanged with a new tube and I was ready for more action. It happened not far from the main square in Kartuzy and we thus choose to eat at the local restaurant.
Above picture; my dad removing the tire;-) An audio status report can be heard here (in Danish only).
The weather out of Gdansk was somewhat dull, so the remaining part of the trip from Kartuzy until Bytów was a delight – sunny weather and not too cold. Actually what bothered us most on this route was road construction outside Gdansk and some badly paved parts of the road.
In Bytów we booked us into a room in the local city castle – which also served as Hotel Zamek. It was quite funny to be accommodated in a room with arrow slits serving as the only windows. In general the hotel was kept in a nice old style reflecting the castle it was situated in.
Whether Bytów had any other tourist attractions I do not know, we did not find any really:-)
This was the earliest departure so far – around 9.15 we left the hotel, which was good since we wanted to come early to Gdansk in order to see the city. On the first half-a-hour we or rather I was very lucky, because behind us drove a tractor, which was to wide to drive by us. At a bus stop we gave way and it passed us. I quickly speed up and managed to get behind it to get an almost free ride. For the next maybe five kilometres I drove 30 km/h and only pedalled now and then. Free rides always have ends and this one ended with a right turn for the tractor.
We came to our destination just af lunch since we got to enjoy a lot of tailwind. Our hostel Gdansk Hostel – Targ Rybny (see the below picture) was located in the centre right next to hotel Hilton, the service probably not as good as in Hilton but the price was definitely better:-) We got our own room just under the roof slope providing very little space for any acrobatic moves.
Gdansk?! Well a nice old city with an enormous amount of tourists. We hit the main square and I subsequently got a view of the city from the tower of St. Mary’s Church (the tower of the Town Hall was closed).
The nice thing about leaving Lonely Planet behind and walking around at random is to rediscover things one had totally forgotten like in this case the square in front of the gates (see the picture below) of Gdansk Shipyard where the world-famous trade union Solidarność was formed. The shipyard itself was almost totally gone and parts of it was now a construction site.
We dined at Cafe Bar Mon Balzac which is worth mentioning since their steaks really can be recommended:-)
Today became the trips shortest ride so far since we wanted to visit Malbork Castle. There was not much to say about the ride, however a funny detail can be said about find our accommodation. Yesterday we booked a room in the local Malbork Hostel no problems there. When we came to the address today we found a gymnasium?! It turned out that this also was some kind of a hostel, but first after 17.00 hours. So if we wanted to stay there we needed to wait five hours for a shower. Goodbye was the answer to that.
A bit north of the Castle we found the local camping site and a small one star hotel. I guess the name is Park Hotel when translated into English. They had a shower and clean bed sheets for a budget price so we quickly checked in, ate some lunch and went to the castle.
All kids want to climb the highest tower of a castle. I wanted to do the same, however doing so at Malbork required one to meet up before one o’clock or so; so we were left with the less spectacular walk around the castle grounds:-(
Malbork being a touristy city does not apply to the dinning places in the evening. In fact not a lot happens here to it took us some time to find a decent place to dine and drink a beer:-) That marks the end of a normal day with few wonders happening.
Gdansk here we go!
Waking up and seing a clear sunny sky from seventh floor – what can be better? Probably not much when you are on the road most of the daylight hours.
I think we both were happy to get out of Kaliningrad’s smog-filled streets, not because Kaliningrad was not worth the visit, it certainly was; but it is not a pleasure to be twenty centimetres from buses with black smoke coming out their exhaust pipes. The other reason for us being happy was that the road all the around fifty-five kilometres to the Polish-Russian border was nicely paved without potholes. We even forgot to say that the nature was beautiful and the trucks were packed away on a road parallel to ours some ten kilometres or so away.
We have passed three Russian borders stations with bicycles now and nobody complaints when we are sidestepping the auto queue, the border officials normally smile at us and this was also the case today. The Russian customs guy opened his windows looked out and gave us a huge smile and waved us directly to the passport control.
The sidestepping DID not work on the Polish side and resulted in a Polish border guard jumping up from his chair and shouting something in Polish about the boom barrier. We got the idea and stopped moving:-) I have seen many things at Russia into EU border stations, but this is the first time I have seen a customs official kicking tires and other places of the car with the end of a screwdriver. Probably a lot of smuggling was going on here?!
On the above spot I made the following audio report (in Danish only).
The remaining forty something kilometres to Elbląg went just as smoothly as on the other side. The only difference was that the abandoned farmland became highly cultivated farmland, and the cities became much nicer renovated and more German looking.
In the small town of Frombork we drove by a huge cathedral which worked on us like a magnet and we thus got trapped in the local café together with a company of German tourists.
Upon arrival to Elbląg we found ourselves somewhere in the centre of the city with no city map and no clue where our camping site was to be found. The help came almost immediately in the form of an elderly guy racing towards us with his bicycle. In some difficult to understand English, he asked what we were trying to find. I told the word camping with all the different accents I could think of; but he quickly understood and said we should follow him. He took us through parks and paving stone roads down to the river and after half kilometre Elbląg Camping was just in front of us. We sincerely thanked him and watched when he raced away back the same road we came for – he did it only for us!
A small audio report regarding my dad’s new saddle (he bought a new one in Kaliningrad) can be heard here (in Danish only).
Tomorrow we will have a short ride to Malbork (Castle). Oh, did I mention that Elbląg Camping really is value for money with a nice view of the river?
Fact is that the centre of Kaliningrad around House of the Soviets and Hotel Kaliningrad is very discouraging for ones eyes, however after a tour of the city we found that the north-western part of the city looks much nicer and more in line with other big cities in Russia. We also had a small walk around parts of the remaining earth mound and access gates, which were now used for various commercial activities or museums.
Of more cultural activities we paid a visit to the Bunker Museum, which was a small bunker complex built by the Nazies during the last hours of Second World War just behind our hotel (see below). Here seven meter below the ground the Nazi military command led the Nazi defence of Kaliningrad. It was not a success and the commander in chief was later forced to capitulate by a Soviet envoy in the exact same bunker. And so it happened the battle for Kaliningrad was over and left was only the ruins of a once magnificent city.
By the embankment of Kaliningrad we went under the sea scout into the diesel-electric submarine B-413 which had a crew of eighty mariners before it was decommissioned in 1999. I cannot remember I have visited a submarine before and both me and my dad were impressed by all the gadgets and instruments hanging and every square meter of the wall. Also we were not really used to climb through the small hatches between the sections of the submarine – I guess real mariners would have laughed at us:-)
Tomorrow we will leave Russia for good on this trip and go to Elblag in Poland.
Status so far is that we have biked 1280 kilometres which means that we are approximately halfway to Esbjerg:-)
Above; the House of the Soviets can be seen as the big box building on the left of the lighthouse.
Today we stepped up to the big chainwheel since we came under heavy artillery fire from the Russian Army just outside the small village of Prudy some thirty kilometres from Kaliningrad. For some this might sound like a joke for other the beginning of the Third World War, however correctly said we heard artillery fire from what we think was a military exercise area. It must have been so damn crap to be soldier during the Second World War.
As with yesterday we basically flew the first sixty kilometres from our starting point only bothered by truck traffic and the odour of car exhaust – which are far worse in Russia than in the EU, probably something to do with low diesel and gasoline quality. The result of this was that we left the main highway (see below) near Znamensk for a much smaller road on the south side of the Pregolya river.
This ended up being a nice choice; the road was good and much (!) less trafficked that the highway and in addition the nature was more interesting with a lot of abandoned farmland around us. We even drove by an unpleasant looking prison.
Before arriving to Hotel Kaliningrad we somehow expected a centre of (rebuilt) old buildings. We were therefore really astonished to learn that most of the centre was one big Soviet post-war rebuild – and worst of all most streets and buildings were in decay, with the biggest and ugliest of all the buildings being the abandoned Palace of the Soviets situated in the extreme centre.
To make things better we enjoyed a nice meal at a bar with the peculiar name Pirate House:-) Tomorrow we will take a close look at the city since we will have a non-biking day. I guess the city will look better when it is sunny:-)
Today’s grand theme was good weather, tail wind and speed! The first twenty kilometres to the Russian-Latvian border was done in less than an hour. Fortunately the border control itself went smoothly no queue for pedestrians at least. I was quite amused about the sign above the small window at the Russian passport control (see below): ”Giving money to the border guards is forbidden”.
Listen to today’s audio report just before the Russian border (in Danish only).
We expected the roads to be worse on the Russian side, but our expectations were luckily not fulfilled and we kept the same good pace all the way to Chernyahovsk. In fact the tail wind became even stronger. The way from the border station and until a bit further than the city of Gusev we were surrounded by cultivated farmland which surprised us a lot.
Chernyahovsk we reached early around 15.00 hours and we therefore considered going the extra fifty kilometres to Gvardejsk, but declined on this option because we were not sure we could find a hotel there. In Chernyahovsk we almost immediately found a hotel with the strange name ”Hotel by the Bear”. It was an old renovated red brick building which looked closed down for the winter, but we were almost ready to go, when I found a small door bell. It worked and we got into a beautifully decorated hotel – with a lot of pictures showing the primary German history of the city.
We took a quick walk around the city and found that not a lot from the German period was left. Some buildings and a few churches. One of the churches was in fact very interesting since it was built in a typical German protestant style but later converted into a Russian orthodox church, that is on its exterior it was German but inside it was like any other orthodox church.
It is somehow sad to enter Russia after Lithuania, since it is like coming from modern times and welfare and back to the Middle Ages. Everything here is falling apart with competent authorities nowhere to be seen. A few days ago I read an article that compared the Putin era to the era of Bresnev – an era of stagnation (and without future). A pretty harsh comparison, but the more I think about it, the more it seems plausible.
Tomorrow we will reach Kaliningrad which will be a visit we have been looking forward to. Some five years back I actually was at a Moscow airport ready to fly to Kaliningrad, but we cancelled our tickets, since they had more than one meter snow in the airport in Kaliningrad. We later learned that the airport was closed for three days because of snow. I therefore feel like I have some unfinished business to do:-)