08 – East across Europe

Mark Beaumont’s 2008 BBC TV series documenting his record breaking cycle around the world re-ignited a desire to tour by bike and with Sylwia off to her family in Poland for her sister’s wedding that summer it seemed a great chance to cycle East across Europe to Zurawnica, Poland.  With limited funds and even less touring experience I abandoned the dirt tracks and loaded an old mountain bike with panniers and headed East.

The first day, a Friday was a 66 mile sprint after work and then an 85 mile sprint on Saturday to make the early afternoon Dover to Dunqerque ferry leaving just enough time to find a cheap motel before sunset.

The Battle of Britain memorial outside Dover was a poignant reminder of the suffering and sacrifices of previous generations and with Auchwitz on route it was a fitting start.

Arriving into Dunkerque I made a mental note to ride on the wrong side of the road and rolled off the ferry first heading for the nearest motel.  The first few days were long, suburban and flat, the monotony only broken by cakes and coffee, one day to Brussels and then into Holland for a few hours and onwards into Germany.   Not even the persistent rain could dampen spirits and with a sense of adventure I pushed on averaging 126 miles per day.

Cycling is part of the continental culture and social accepted, through France, Holland and Germany there’s a mass of dedicated cycleways and even into Poland there is a large hard-shoulder to cycle in.  The roads are quiet, the drivers polite and courteous, no road rage, no abusive boy racers, no lorry drivers running you off the road, progress was good and I was enjoying a simple life of cycle, eat, sleep, repeat !

Now past the cities and towns of north west Germany I was entering rural eastern Germany, the rolling agricultural heartland was a welcome change from the mainly urban conurbations of the route so far.  I followed the cycleway along the Elbe for almost a day before continuing east as it headed North .  The cycleway supports a thriving cycling community and  support infrastructure, local bike hire, repair shops, cafes, bakerys and hotels vied for the pedal powered passing trade.

Through the Thuringen and Sachsen regions I was entering sausage country, as part of my daily routinue was to consume 6500 calories I literally salivated as I rode between small rural villages.  Outside the local pub there would often be a BBQ and table, simply ring the bell and a small moustached man would appear with a small bread roll in hand, he’d then stand dewildered, staring as I devoured the bratwurst and cycled off for my next fix.

Heading into what was East Germany the reminants of communism started to appear, the wealth and affluence of the old Western Germany was replaced by a more run down feel and appearance.

Move over McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Subway and all the other fast food crap, this is fast food German style!  In the center of this Rostbratwurst joint was a huge BBQ grill, 5 sweating chefs, a choice of 23 bratwursts, 8 steaks, 12 rolls and 9 mustards,  rolling in around lunch time the placed was packed with school kids and office workers.  Looking a little out of place I joined the que, ordered three different combinations of bratwurst and sat on the kerb next to my bike for the next 15 savouring every last mouthful, the stomach cramps that blighted my ride thatafternoon were worth the pain.

Heading east the temperatures soared and the sun beat down, the cycling was good and I was easily making my average daily mileage of 120 miles, crossing the Elbe in Dresden I would be soon entering Poland and Eastern Europe. Dresden itself is a sprawling city approached through huge pine forests, the tree lined avenues, trams and open spaces made me want to linger a little longer, but with a deadline looming I settled for an ice-cream and rolled out of town.

Through out the trip I’d been plagued by afternoon storms, often just short heavy downpours but heading into Bautzen I had been stalked by this approaching Storm.  As the sky darkened the rains came down and I rode the last 15 miles in a torrential thunder storm, the photo below was taken a t5.42pm in the middle of July!  The road became nothing more than a torrent of water and I struggled to see through the spray, I made for the first Hotel in Bautzen, the receptionist in a middle state of panic lay towels over the cobbled floor and refused to check me in until I’d dried myself in the gents.

An hour later and the quiant German town of Bautzen was again basking in sunshine, I headed for a spot of sight seeing and a bit to eat, strolling down a cobbled alley I spotted this old police car.

Crossing the Polish border meant I had made it to Eastern Europe but with the Schegen agreement removing border controls within member states there was not formality, no road blocks and no passport to check, simply the obligatory photo and I rolled on in to Poland and ever eastwards.

Crossing into Poland there was a small but noticeable change, the affluence of the West was being left behind, the countryside became more rural and unfarmed, the roads smaller and quieter, great expanses of forest dominated broken only by small villages were men drank beer outside the local shop and kids played freely in the street.  Skirting the Poland/Czech border I rode in the foothills of the mountains avoiding the towns and cities of the North.

The Human mind and body like routinue, during a ride like this you quickly slip into a routinue that makes the time on the bike enjoyable, mine ran something like this, 6.30am wake up, pack up and stretch for 30 mins, 7.30am eat breakfast, eat alot of breakfast and then eat some more, 8.30am ish start cycling, 10.30am/11am eat some cakes, 1pm stop for lunch, eat lots and then some more, by lunch I’d usually have hit 60-67 miles, 2pm start cycling again, 4/5pm eat something again, 7pm have stopped found somewhere to stay and am usually eating again.  During the ride I became irrationally addicted to a cold coffee milk drink known as ‘Mr Brown’, 4 of these beauties would provide just the caffine kick I’d need to crack the afternoon session, and what a great name, much like my favourite insect spray ‘Off’ or my favourite suntan lotion ‘ Black Up’.

The final night was at a hunting and fishing lodge, men walked around in camo with rifles and knives and despite no common language they invited me into their homes to share their home made blueberryVodka, sitting in front of the lake watching the setting sun I reflected back on the simply pleasures of life on a bike and wished the trip would never end !

Counting down the last 126.7 miles I started to feel emotional about how far I’d come but knew that this was only the start.  The land remained flat, sparsely populated and covered in forest, the smell of blueberries and strawberrys carried on the breeze and families roamed the forest floor picking blueberrys, strawberrys and mushrooms to sell at the roadside.

Arriving at the family home to a welcome BBQ and beer I sat contemplating how far I’d come from the Newbury bypass 11 days earlier and as the sun set over Eastern Poland and the Storks flew overhead there was no where I’d rather be.

The Route:

Responses

  1. Yes, 6/10 for spelling and punctuation but it’s smart and well constructed. Innit.


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