Sunday, 13 April 2014

Olecko, Poland - The nights are fair drawing in

Bart and I may be cycling to the midnight sun but at the moment our nights are drawing in, a curious effect of travelling east. It's lucky then that the sun rises earlier each day to give us ample hours for cycling across northern Poland.

We entered Poland, homeland of my paternal grandfather, at the busy city of Szczecin. It's traffic, dense humanity and chaotic bustle were a shock after the quiet roads and sleepy villages of Germany. Our first jobs in the city were to buy a new SIM card for Bart's tablet - the main network in Eastern Europe is Vodkaphone - and a map of Poland.

 The imaginery line that we followed across Poland took us initially through depressing countryside littered with abandonned state farms and empty, out-of-place tower blocks. But we quickly moved into a more pleasant land of rolling hills and farms, scattered with small villages. Each village is set around a charming church and there is always a huge woodpile, a duck pond and a stork high up on its lofty, scraggy nest watching over the scene.

Poland is a funny country. In one moment you are shopping in a modern Tesco or using wifi at a Macdonalds and in the next moment you are cycling through a shabby village with chickens running around the dirt roads, people beating carpets with a stick and a man restuffing his sofa with straw.

The wilder parts of the countryside are dotted with beaver lakes fringed with old woods and reed beds and veiled with morning mist that always gives us a wet tent to pack away. It's in the wilder places that we choose to camp, finding quiet spots in the woods or the occasional campsite, though few are open so early in the season. It's still freezing cold here in Poland when the sun doesn't shine. Bart's GPS found us our first campsite on the outskirts of a housing estate on the fringes of the city. The owner charged us less than three euros. He covered up our bikes with a tarpaulin when rain came on and set out coffee for us in the morning. We were invited to stay for free at another campsite that wasn't yet open and found by chance another run by a Scotsman from Glasgow.

Our roads have been mostly quiet and nearly always lined with tall trees, a relic from the war when they were planted to obscure military manoeuvres from the air. There are other relics from the war such as the old roadside bunkers. Both are reminders that northeastern Poland was Hitler's headquarters during the war. The road surfaces are so appalling that they look like they have been more recently bombed.

There have been two highlights to our passage across Poland. One has been the wildlife - we are always spotting storks, cranes and fiery orange red squirrels - and one afternoon saw a pure white deer bouncing through the forest. And the other has been cycling through a village called Barty!

Tomorrow we will cycle into our fourth country, Lithuania, and as we round the corner of the Russian region of Kaliningrad, we should finally start cycling north when our nights will hopefully start to draw out.

Fact file
Daylight - 13 hours, 15 mins
Distance cycled - 966 miles
Days - 14
Route - Entered Poland at Szczecin and cycled directly east through Czersk, Kwidzyn, Morag, Dobre Miasto and Gizycko to Olecko.

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