Wednesday, June 22nd

As we got into bed on Monday, I suddenly remembered … the banners!!! Having left them behind at the Ace, I had asked Jim to mail them to DHL’s depot in Berlin. Though it would have been convenient if I had collected them while the men were working on JP’s bike, the depot was the other side of the city and I am notoriously bad at using GPS. In fact, if John’s Garmin had anything to do with it, I probably would have got lost and spent the rest of the trip circling Berlin’s ring roads … I am strictly “Map Woman”!

Brigid posing with JR's bike, in front of the Reichstag building
Brigid posing with JR’s bike, in front of the Reichstag building

Anyway, now we are about to enter Eastern Europe proper, we need the banners for photo opportunities – particularly the Russian-language one. If nothing else, it may explain our mission to the authorities when we, inevitably, have to bail out John Plumb for wheeling his bike onto some national monument for a photo opportunity! So far, he has managed to ride or push his bike, unmolested, into pedestrian-only areas in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building amongst others, even eliciting a smile from bemused Polizei in Berlin. He did, however, get a mild reprimand for parking it in front of the Russian War Memorial … But I digress. Followers of our progress might have been surprised to see John Plumb leaving Berlin on his own this morning, while JR and I fought our way through 8 miles of rush-hour traffic to DHL’s Forckenbeckstrasse depot.

When we finally left Berlin, it turned out to be a glorious day’s ride into the Polish countryside. There is no formal border crossing now, only a tacky collection of booths selling souvenirs and foreign exchange. We stopped at McDonalds in Kostrzyn for wifi and coffee … and established that JP was moving and some 90km ahead of us. Catching up would prove quite a challenge, as the road surface on hwy 22 varied from merely “bone rattling” to unexpectedly “ butt clenching” and we were unable to do much more than 5mph over the speed John could make.

From what we were seeing, Poland held a lot more appeal than Germany. Importantly, the sun had come out and, for the first time on this trip, we were warm and dry. The countryside is oddly reminiscent of France, with cheerful-looking eateries and bars in every village. The driving too … though I would say that the French have generally calmed down a little in recent years!

We caught up with JP at a small roadside restaurant, where we ordered schnitzel and coffee. The coffee was made in the typical fashion – simply finely ground coffee with boiling water poured over.  The trick, I immediately discovered, was either not to add milk or not to stir it, so as to allow the grounds to settle, forming a sludge at the bottom of the cup. It tasted good though!

Gdansk, Old Town harbour
Gdansk, Old Town harbour

Gdansk gave us our first experience of hostel accommodation. The first was rejected out of hand, after JP declared that it failed his “Brigid filter”! I didn’t see inside, but a large vertical crevice running from the ground to the second floor, was enough to convince me that the structure might not be entirely sound. We settled on Hostel 21 down by the river. They had a small twin room for John and me, and JP initially accepted a bed in a dorm room … until he saw it and realised that it “smelled of students”!

Gdansk, Old Town
Gdansk, Old Town

After our late lunch, none of us felt particularly hungry, so we took a walk by the waterside and had a couple of beers before bedtime.

The following morning, we were due to leave for Vilnius in Lithuania. However, we had heard that there was a national holiday on 23rd June in Latvia and it might be worth getting to Riga a day earlier than planned for their midsummer festival: “beer, food and naked bonfire dancing …” Seemed rude not to.  The quickest way to get there would be to take a short cut across Little Russia, staying in Kaliningrad overnight. We didn’t have the correct visas but, talking to truck drivers, it seemed we might be able to buy them at the border.

In the event, this turned out to be false information. It wasn’t so much a case of not being able to get into Russia, rather that the border guards wouldn’t let us out of Poland! In the event we ended up wasting the morning and backtracking in order to skirt around the country. We spent didn’t get as far as the Lithuanian border, and spent the night at a rural hostel outside Elk. Not our best day.