The Baltic’s to Berlin
Eastern Europe, a Metamorphosis
There is still a lot of visible evidence of the Soviet Years in the Baltic’s, Poland and even East Germany. There are the Stalinesq apartments, row upon row filled with the old plumbing and décor, yet on the other hand there is also a recent surge of new building. Born-again entrepreneurs everywhere are taking financial risks, hoping for rewards. Much of the positive attitude is based upon the expectation that they will soon be a part of The European Union. (Lithuania and Poland have both voted overwhelmingly to join.)
It’s hard to understand how a third of the people could have been killed or imprisoned during the dark years here. For Cat and I, it is completely unbelievable that the Government could take all private property away from its citizens. The good news is that they are repatriating it back to those families who can prove previous ownership. You’ll meet a family from the US that has retrieved their family property after 57 years. In Poland, the Government claims that 50 % of properties are now held in private ownership. That applies to businesses, too. (Friends say they think the numbers are inflated about 10%?)
In this chapter of our Journal, “The Baltic’s to Berlin,” we cycle 1500 Km. (1000 Miles +-) For those of you counting, this brings us to 10,000 Km. (6,200 Miles+-)
If you’ll keep on reading, we’ll keep on Riding!
(Note from Wally: There are a few pictures missing from
this journal entry. I'm working to add those, and will let
you know when they are there.)
April 21, 2003
Russian Border to Ape, Latvia
(Pskov to Ape 107 Km)
We remember the words of the Finnish Border Guards, “Take a deep breath of freedom before you cross into Russia.” We found a growing freedom there but, like the fresh breath of spring we had been feeling, we swept into Estonia. The liter that spoils the roadsides of Russia stopped as suddenly as it had begun at the Finnish border. We were greeted by smiling, helpful Border Guards, another pleasant and unexpected surprise.
Jill, came up to us and said, “You’re Americans?” She’s from Canada and stuck here at the friendly border crossing. When I did my usual comment, “Canadians are Americans, too,” she rolled her eyes back and said, “Not at this border, Estonia requires a Visa for Canadians to enter.” Funny, she like us, just wants to cross the small corner of Estonia, 21 Km that lies between here and Latvia. Estonia allows citizens of the US without Visas as does Latvia and Lithuania. The two latter let Canadians cross without Visas, too. Red tape and Governments???
We talked and took a picture while the good guys there tried to find a way to let her pass. In the end, she had to backtrack and go south then cross directly into Latvia. An interesting gal, she is backpacking Europe, hitchhiking alone. Cat couldn’t fathom that, especially in Russia. She has been living in Russia for 5 months, teaching English. Her Boyfriend is Russian, perhaps really getting to know the Russian people AND speaking the language changes ones perspective about them.
We waved as she hitched a ride back then turned to our own problems. There are no Hotels, Guest Houses or even places to camp in Estonia on Highway A2. The Border Guards did tell us about a place they called the Round House. It is 22 Km inside Latvia. They thought there would be a place to camp and maybe a room inside but no facilities. They even took time to draw a map to make sure that we wouldn’t miss the place. So, we roll into The Baltic’s, land of freedom and distances. We’ve come 64 Km and have at least another 43 to go.
Hunger began to set in so we sat on a curb and ate leftovers, our first and only meal in Estonia. A few cars and trucks and farms were pretty much all we saw until a small market in the tiny village of Misso. We did buy an apple and soft drink for dessert there. A young guy sat on his haunches, smoking and drinking a beer and watching us cut and eat the apple, with great interest. There was a bicycle sitting nearby with a rack on the rear wheel. I asked if he was a cycle tourist. He shook his head and said that he didn’t speak much English. We asked the woman in the store about a Camp Ground or Motel. She thought there was one in 20 Km. The bicycle guy didn’t think there was one but he wasn’t sure. He works for the Highway Department but knows or can communicate nothing about the things along the road. That might have to do with the lack of Estonia in these parts. It is only 21 Km across at this point.
True to the hand drawn map, we found the turn off to the Round House just past a sign for the village of Ape which is 2.6 Km off the road to the north. It took some work but I finally convinced Cat to ride into Ape in hopes of finding a store for a few groceries before setting up camp. She is tired and rightfully so, we have ridden more than 100 Km. It was an easy glide down into Ape, which meant we would be climbing out. There were two women and a man standing, talking on a corner. We pulled up and tried to talk. Their English was as limited as our Latvian. A guy rode up and did speak some English. He was snaggle toothed and the only whole tooth remaining was gold. Just for drill I asked about a Hotel or guesthouse. No, none here. Then I asked if anyone rents a room in their house, they conferred and Golden Tooth said that there was a lady who would rent a room. He suggested that we follow him but one of the gals lived in the direction and must have told him that she would guide us.
The house is cute. It’s called Silaziedi, which means house of flowers. The woman there called and another gal came down the street. She was a daughter and spoke English. We had a room and breakfast for only 5 Lats, each. That is 10 Lats or less than $9.00. The next search would be for dinner. We rode the bikes into the heart of the village looking for a grocery store. The Golden Tooth came running out of the door of a bar/café as we passed, called out and waved. We waved back but rode on. At the heart of the village we found the private store. Cat went in and got ham, cheese, bread and a fair bottle of wine. We were in business.
As she shopped I drew a crowd. Golden Tooth rolled up on his bike and kept saying, “I understand English but don’t speak!” He liked to get right in my face to make his point. A young guy with a 100-liter plastic bottle half full of beer staggered up and tried to talk. He urged me to take a drink of his warm foamy beer then fell and sat on the steps of the store. Then came the best character of all, Mala. She was carrying a broom and sort of sweeping the gutter and then the steps around the drunken young guy. Her clothing was filthy and she was snaggle toothed, too. She was scolding the boy then Golden Tooth and finally she turned her wrath toward me. She gestured with her broom handle and made remarks about my tight pants. She even took a poke at my private parts with her broom handle. Every thing she said made the crowd that was gathering laugh and point at me. She was a real show person.
A young guy pulled up in a four-wheeler, got out and asked if he could help me. It was good to have a friend who talked my kind of talk. I was getting a little nervous about the crazy gal and the drunken boy. Not sure what either was saying and both were pretty vocal by now. He had worked in Denmark and seemed anxious to practice his English. He told me that the drunken boy who seemed to be getting belligerent was an okay kid who had just had too much beer. The old lady, Mala, was making jokes. I started joking back and she grabbed me and tried to kiss me on the lips. I hugged her but turned a cheek to the kiss. Boy was she strong smelling. Cat came out and saved me.
Back at Silaziedi we found that we even had BBC on the little TV in our little room at the top of a tiny stairway. We were really happy to be here and could only imagine what the Round House would have been? Our bathroom was at the bottom of the stairs. A dressing table and tub, no sink? Old Soviet style toilet but way ahead of what we might have had at the Round House.
After a spit bath we picnicked in the room. Anita had Rikard, her Grandson, bring up a tray of tea. Neither of us drinks tea however we accepted gracefully. The story of the house is slowly coming together for us. Rikard is staying here to help his Grandma. Grandpa died just a few weeks ago. What a nice boy and good helper for here to have.
Our nightcap was an old movie, they spoke English and ran Latvian sub-titles across the bottom. We’ll never know what the Round House may have been but we were pretty happy campers as we turned off the telly and lights.
April 22, 2003
Ape to Smiltene, Latvia
Breakfast was a blend of same and strange. The strange was a sort of pizza toast and deviled eggs. Rikard came in, sat and talked for a short time then hustled off to school. Anita had thrown a light rug over the bikes to protect them. We loaded then she came to the driveway, smiled and waved goodbye. It is 2 Km back to the highway then a ride in forest. A stop at a store for toilet then we sat on the deck, watched the traffic and I had a soft drink. As we rested an old guy came out the door and stood staring at us. He was had a yellow paler and didn’t look healthy. His cloths were baggie and he wore knee high rubber boots. We thought he was a local just out for exercise with a pack on his back. He walked across the street then on, out of our view. When we got back on the road we caught him almost a Km along. He was striding and looked like he was on a serious trek.
It was 2:00 Pm when we pulled up at the Tourist Office of Smiltene. While Cat checked with the staff I watched the bikes. There were two boys, Salvis and Edis, sitting on the stairway. They were talking and joking back and forth then the one nearest, held out his hand and said, “Money?” I returned the salute, “You give me money, you’re young, and I’m old.” They laughed and although I don’t think they understood the words they got the message. Then I gave them cards and showed them our route on my jacket. Like most young teenagers they were impressed but continued to joust and joke.
Give Me Money!"
Cat found a fairly fast Internet connection so we spent 2 ½ hours fielding and answering messages. Our Hostess called the Park Hotel Bruzi and secured a room while we hovered over the computer screen.
The city map said climb up then drop down. We thought it might be better to go around. After a half Km ride on bumps we backtracked and climbed. The Hotel sits low, next to a creek. A steep downhill at the end of the day means a climb at mornings start. The first problem in the Hotel was what to do with the bikes. They had no elevator and our room is up. The girl at the desk offered us a large conference room for parking, we took it. She even gave us the key to the room. We had to tote our own bags to our really great room. The Hotel is almost new. The room and furnishings were in soft, light pine. Very comfortable. We dined in the restaurant and food was very good. From the room we had a creek view and we watched the gardener as he raked leaves and branches then fed them into a fire. Starving, the meager ham and cheese leftovers went down fast.
It is still ahead of season, there was a couple in the restaurant but they left as we entered. A business guy seated across from us was buried in his newspapers and cell phone. Those may be the only other guests? We enjoyed terrific food and service in our solitude.
April 23, 2003
Smiltene to Cesis, Latvia
After a big, included breakfast we took the bikes out of the conference room and up the three stairs, into a sunny morning. The hill above the Hotel was alive with leaf raker's, school kids who must have to help the community get ready for summer. They were having fun and doing good work. The bicycle path along the creek and small lake saved us most of the steep climb. We emerged on the same street we had given up on last night then turned back.
We rolled on for a while, then saw a small market /bar where we stopped for a snack. Pat bought cookies and juice. We sat at a picnic table roadside and watched the trickle of traffic and life go by. We rolled into Cesis at 2:00 and went directly to the Tourist Info Center. The very nice girl helped us find a hotel and gave us a list of things to see in Cesis. I asked her if she spoke Russian, I have failed to get “You Must Be Crazy” in Russian. She did the “language of the world” sentence in Latvian and I thought it was Russian. So much for my ear for language! The brochure on Cesis District had a picture of horse back riders wearing Cycling helmets. I thought it was funny and asked the girl if these were Cesis Cowboys. She blushed and said, “They are just people trying to ride horses.”
Hotel Katrina is only 2 years old, it looked modern compared to the rest of the neighborhood. No elevator and we were on the third level. Settling in was three trips up with bags before we locked the bikes in a garage across the driveway. Starving, we had a late lunch in Hotel Katrina’s small café. The food was really good and inexpensive, too.
Quick showers then we walked to see the Old and New Castles. When we got to the Castle, the woman said it was closed, but after talking with a colleague, she had her 12 year old son Edward show us the way to the castle and how to light the lanterns. Yes, part of the walk in the old Castle was in almost total darkness. There is a circular stair and room that was eerie in the flickering light. As we walked back to return our lanterns and the matches they had supplied we stumbled across a Smithy Shop where Daumants Kalnins crafts jewelry in the ancient style. He is the wonderful kind of character that we love to meet. From his raspy voice to his unique musical instruments. He played a sort of zephyr for us and wanted to show us the sound of a Latvian bagpipe. First squawk and we knew we didn’t need a long song. Daumants Kalnins also contributed “You Must be Crazy” in Russian for us. Of course I bought the book he has written about his art.
As if to spit in the eye of the former style of government, the Victory Monument, an obelisk in the central square, was a commemoration of Latvian Freedom in the early 1900s. When the Communist government took over they blew it up. When they left power in 1991 the locals immediately rebuilt it.
After a big search in a small town we finally found the Internet Shop. It was crowded with young kids. They had 20 almost new machines. The cost was cheap and the computers fast. We stayed there until they asked us to leave at closing time, 6:30 PM. Back to Hotel Katrina and to dinner in the downstairs Café.
April 24, 2003
Cesis to Sigulda, Latvia
Before leaving Cesis we rode back to the castles. I had seen an inscribed stone and wanted a picture of it. For some reason I couldn’t remember where it was? Inside the Castle walls, near the Police Station, it sits in view of the City Hall. The words, “Komunisma Terora Upuru Pieminai 1940-1991 are etched there like a bad memory of a terrible time. As we exited town another interesting sign of changed times. An old cemetery overgrown with many head stones askew. Some of the cover stones were thrown back like covers on a soiled bed. Were these the final rest of those who now have fallen into disfavor?
The short ride was countryside beauty but we did see a wonderful looking windmill in the distance. At the square of Sigulda there was a tall Easter display. The sign to Info Center led us to the combination Hotel and Tourist Info, all in one! The gal at the desk, Inga, was great. She suggested a Pizza place just a short walk away. We were starving and it hit the spot. The place is only 4 months new and the guys who waited on us wanted to know about our trip when they saw our jackets.
Back at the Hotel we decided, at the urging of Inga, that we should see Sigulda. She called a Taxi and translated our desire to see the castle and other attractions and to settle on a cost. We were short of time so it was to be a quick trip, the kind we like.
The New Castle, as in Cesis, is the Town Hall and it’s adjacent to the Old Castle. Our driver waited while we walked around the New. We went inside and asked about climbing to the top of the bell tower but the lady smiled and got here point across, NO. Across the barranca that separates the New from the Old, we enjoyed the feeling of time and space just walking through the falling down rocks of the old structure.
The driver had the engine running and whisked us to the Lawn Art Museum. Dozens of huge sculptures scattered around a large open park. Also, there is a twisted tree with a monument under it. We read the story of Lucaida Rose, a young girl who was killed for dubious reasons unknown to us but her memory remains, etched in stone. We could see the walls and tower of Turaida, another Castle on another hilltop. It was closed so this would be as close as we would get.
Our final stop on the tour was Krimulda formerly a Castle then a Sanatorium Hospital now in deteriorating condition. In a large semi circular building that looked temporary we saw hundreds of beds row on row, as if waiting for the infirm to resurrect. On the way back we crossed the famous Gauja River that has carved out this famous valley.
Dinner at pub type place full of Motorcycle memorabilia. The Waitress and Bar Tender are a Harley couple. Seated at the bar, we struck up a conversation with a couple from England, Steve and Annie, who were here for a wedding. Cat talked travel with her while he and I compared notes on old cars.
April 25, 2003
Sigulda to Riga, Latvia
The typical included breakfast then we were off on a great road to Riga. Inga our friend from the Hotel, stopped and we chatted. She offered her cell phone number to us in case we have an emergency. We suggested lunch and told her we would call.
Old & New
The scenery remained rural but the road narrowed and traffic thickened as we got about 40 Km from Riga. We pulled off at a small market and got the usual, ham-cheese-bread luncheon. As we wrapped up our trash a couple of cycle tourists came riding from Riga, waved then turned across and stopped. They also needed a break and it was a lucky break for us. Martin and Stephan are adventure tourists on a tune up ride to Tallin, Estonia. They have ridden close to the same path that I took across the Soviet Union. Martin has cycled North Africa, solo. Much of the route we plan to take will follow his trail-blazing epic. We took a picture together and promised to get in touch in Berlin.
The shoulder disappeared and we were on a freeway. There is no other way at this point so we just bulled our way along, doing our job which is avoiding being run over. Hoping that the drivers are doing their jobs, which is, avoiding running over us.
A shopping center pulled us, ducking and dodging, across four lanes. There was a big hardware store like Home Depot and several small shops clustered at the entry. The entry area was enclosed with a glass roof. It was nice to get a break inside, away from the cold. We bought soft drinks and spread out our left over ham and cheese. As we ate a trio, two women and a man, took turns hustling customers to buy some sort of card they had and sitting next to us smoking. They were pretty shady looking and acting. We kept an eye on our things and them.
I approached a fellow at a Lock Smith stand to see if he had Teflon lube that we could put on our shifters. They are dry and pretty stiff. He didn’t but was a great character. Slightly heavy, with a stiff leg and a hearty laugh. He couldn’t help on the Teflon but when I asked about a safe way into Riga he launched into a speech that was over our heads. The young girl sitting with him translated. “He tells you it is safe, he rides to work and back every day.”
I couldn’t believe my ears and said, “Are you talking about a bicycle?” She assured me it was a bike not motorcycle then he insisted on showing it to us. Well, if he can do it, we can do it. We finished our snack rolled out and attacked the traffic with new vigor. It was still pretty brutal out there. Finally we crossed a big bridge and were able to turn off onto surface streets.
The entry window was the typical Industrial junky places but we did see a lot of ladies hitch hiking? And, a wedding party just walking down the sidewalk and toward a bridge. Nice idea bad neighborhood to do it in.
Cobble stones and cars. When you reach the old town area cars must pay to enter. Sort of a control on the amount of traffic cruising the tiny streets.
Wondering around the cobblestone streets we stumbled upon the hotel that Cat had seen in a brochure. It is called “Rudi un Draugi” which sounds sinister but means, friends and relatives. They only had one room available and it was a family room with what looked like 4 hospital beds. We took it.
Got in, had bowl of soup in their café, then off to Tourist Office for info on city and rest of Latvia. We walked around in “Old Town” finding the market and other places we will want to visit in the next days. It is cool and windy. After our walk we rested then opened the window to blustery wind with big raindrops flying around in it. We chose to have dinner in the restaurant downstairs rather than brave the storm. It’s down a set of stairs from the Café and feels like a wine cellar. One waiter covered the room and did a good job of it. The food and his service were both great.
April 26, 2003
Day Off in Riga, Latvia
We decided we would like to take Inga, the girl who works at the front desk of the hotel we stayed at in Silgulda, to dinner. She lives here in Riga. We called her and made a plan to meet at 6:00 p.m. Laundry was our next first priority. We gathered a lot of clothes together and had the hotel do them. Well they had a lady pick them up, she probably does them at her home. They have a computer downstairs, so we worked on our emails. It was time again to mail another package of maps and brochures home so we ventured out to the Post Office.
The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia is the one we wanted to visit. It holds the story of the Soviet take over of Latvia, in the 1930s then their loss of it to the Nazi. We spent hours learning about the horrible story. The people were pawns between two powerful neighbors. Russia began the process of de-privatization in the late 1930s. Germany pushed the Russians out in 1941 but let stand the edict that the State owned all businesses, land and buildings. During those years of Soviet Occupation the men were conscripted, often illegally, into both the German and Soviet Armies. (So now I knew why Golden Tooth became so emotional when he told me that his Father had served with the German Army.) After the German defeat Russia controlled Latvia from 1945 until 1989. During those dark and terrible years more than 550,000 Latvians disappeared, either killed or sent to Siberia. That was more than 1/3rd of the total population. Incredible, unbelievable, sickening. The pictures, newspaper clippings and writings/handicrafts of the prisoners drive home the point of pain and suffering graphically.
We had lunch at a small café across the square, then walked around town a little. Riga is a wonderful city, with picturesque streets and buildings.
We relaxed, back in the room and did more computer work. When the laundry Lady came to our door she handed Cat the bundle and a little paper with 15€ written down on it. We paid but felt that she was pretty expensive, maybe taking advantage of Tourists? When we opened the bundle we were shocked to find that she had mended my old T-shirt, the hole in the leg of my long underwear and, darned one of my sox that was beginning to unravel. So, she was a bargain, after all.
Inga met us in the Lobby at 6:00 p.m. and we ventured out. We walked quite a way to her car because she can’t drive in to the old town area. You not only have to pay but you have to have a reason for driving there. She doesn’t come into this area enough to justify the cost of a pass. She took us to a typical Latvian place first. It is a huge, in fact she says the largest log building in Europe. It is a blend of Restaurant, bar and dance floor, game booths for kids and lots of other touristy things. The food is Buffet with too many choices. It was noisy and busy. We had hoped for a quiet place where we could have dinner and conversation. We had salad then convinced Inga to move elsewhere for dinner. She took us to a place she likes but we think she didn’t want to suggest an expensive place. It was exactly our vision, nice wine list and menu. Prices weren’t as low as the Buffet but they weren’t bad.
our Tour Guide
What a nice person. Inga has 3 boys, one is 21 years old and out on his own. The 13 year old lives with Dad. She has the 4 year old so she has to live in Riga to get a good apartment she can afford. Also, he ex and his new girl friend live in Sigulda and it is obvious that she is uncomfortable with that. She has a friend, Cat asked if he is a boy friend and she said that he wants to be but she isn’t sure. She is concerned about age, he is 62 and she only 40. She can’t decide what to do with him. I told her my age and she said, he seems much older. He family escaped from here 57 years ago. He lived and worked in Phoenix, Arizona and has taken the early retirement. We have to figure that he brings in a pretty good pension from the City of Phoenix and Social Security. The family property he was able to re-claim is on the coast, she says a nice big house. I advised her that she should follow her own feelings but there is nothing wrong with caring for a guy who will take care of you. She is very self-confidant and said that she didn’t have to rely on anyone and likes it that way. We spent a great evening with her.
April 27, 2003
Day Off in Riga, Latvia
Old Riga is World Heritage listed and you can see why when you walk the streets.
We did the walking tour by brochure. At our first stop, the Cathedral, we took the elevator tour to the top of the spire for the view. While we were taking pictures we noticed that the main street along the Daugava River was lined with hundreds of people. A man told us it was for the opening day of cycle season and celebration of the 100th anniversary of cycling. Of course we were excited so we headed right over and fell into the crowd. It only took a few minutes to get the exact scoop. Yes it was opening day of the season and the 100th anniversary but it was Motorcycles not bicycles. Okay it wasn’t bikes as we know and love them but it was interesting. We stayed the wait then got a couple of pictures as wave after wave of Motorcycles of every make and vintage roared past.
years of bikes? Then continued on walking around the town. During our walk we stopped at Caribbean Restaurant for lunch. Different but just didn’t hit the spot. Our afternoon was shopping for drugs store essentials and enjoying people watching.
We decided to have dinner in the Café rather than do the search party thing. There were two gals and a guy in the next booth and they were speaking our brand of English. They, like Inga’s friend, have returned to reclaim their family property. They are sister and brother, Ieva and Andrei and sister-in-law, Phyllis. Andrei and Phyllis live in upstate New York. She does hair and he is now proud to say he is retired. Ieva is a Deputy Director with the Fairfax County Police in Fairfax, Virginia. They took back a building that their parents had owned but it hasn’t been a walk in the park. The basement was full of sewer water, dead rats and garbage. The retail spaces on the first floor were in ruins. Worst of all the apartments above were rented in terrible condition at low Soviet rates. They got the retail redone and rented for fair rates but the tenants in the apartments refused to allow workers in, they don’t pay their rent and they won’t move out. I love this story. It is like good prevails over evil after all those years. Too bad they’ve had to spend so much on Attorneys, in re-acquiring then property management issues. It doesn’t sound like a great investment but has sentimental value to them and a possible up side if they can straighten out the tenant problems.
April 28, 2003
Riga to Bauska
We saw Ieva, Andrei and Phyllis again at the included breakfast. They were dressed up and ready to meet the lawyer to start the process of “Pay or Quit” that we serve to tenants when they aren’t paying. It isn’t called by that name of course and it is much more difficult to get here than in California. We wished them good luck on their project and they gave us the same wishes for a safe journey.
It was a ride in the countryside with lunch on the steps of a grocery store where I got a soft drink and loaf of bread. We had ham and cheese that Cat had snagged from the breakfast buffet. It was cool and windy. We finally arrived in Bauska at 4:00 PM. At Tourist Info. the lady had a bad cold I wanted to avoid. We stood well back as she explained how to find the only hotel in town. It is a Soviet style, 4th floor walk up. We made a deal to keep the bikes in a hallway that is secure then carried the necessary bags up the 4 flights. Things felt better after a shower, at least the price is right.
The town was formed in 1609 but the buildings look more like 50s and 60s. Tired, we chose to dine in the attached hotel restaurant. It was amazing the transition when you walk through the door from the hotel. The restaurant is well decorated and the menu is Asian. The food was great, we were both surprised and pleased. We took our bottle of wine but the young guy thought that we should drink theirs. It was a full liter and not as nice as ours but, when in Bauska!
April 29, 2003
Bauska to Pasvalys
No breakfast included, so we cycled to the Rima Shopping Center. Had coffee and roll in a café while we waited for the Internet place to open at 9:00. I checked messages while Cat sipped her coffee and watched the bikes. Rain and wind slowed us, at times to a crawl. It was showering as we crossed the border into Lithuania. Typical looks at our Passports, yes two looks, one guy scrutinized them, handed them back and motioned for us to move forward where a second guy did the same. Then I asked about changing money. The one guy indicated that we would have to go to a building on our right. Then the other motioned to another little hut that we thought was more Border BS. This one was a moneychanger and insurance guy. We dumped all our Lats and got Leitus. The exchange rate is 3.50 L for $1.00.
Just a short way down the road we found a Lithuania Café. Well actually it was a truck stop but fairly nice inside. The sprinkles turned to rain as we sipped a good bowl of soup. We went back to wet seats and sprinkles in our face, welcome to Lithuania.
The signs for Pasvalys said that we should turn right but our instinct said take the angle road or stay on the highway. Cat was concerned so we stopped and asked a group of guys working on a pipeline for directions to Town. They all pointed, talked among themselves, one who spoke some English said straight then left to Centris. All chimed in, but we could only understand the hand signal about a turn and the word “Centris”.
Our instincts were correct, we had sort of circled town then rolled in to the Centris at about 2:00 PM. Started asking about tourist info and Hotel. One guy just shrugged and walked on. We went across the street where two women and three kids were standing, waiting for the light to change. One knew a few words and pointed down the street. We thanked them and crossed. Suddenly she came running and just wanted to make sure that we understood.
Though everyone indicated that there was no Info Center. They were wrong, it was just across from the only Hotel in town. Cat wasn’t too happy after she saw the room. It was small, Sovietski style and the toilet and shower were down the hallway. Not too clean, either. Well, it’s the only game in town and we were tired of the wind and drizzle.
A guy in the lobby asked about us then launched into an invitation for us to join him for a tour including a Sports Club that would “blow us away.” Cat worried about him and his club. She was sure that it was a Sports Bar. I got a different message. His jacket had embroidered wings and the words, US Air Force on it. When I asked he said flying was his hobby. We didn’t connect the airport with him until later. He hurried off but promised to return later. We had a bowl of lukewarm soup in the little restaurant. The décor was all flight, fixed wing and hot air balloon.
Bikes in the lobby, three locks on them. The nice girl said she would be there all night and watch them. Another 24 hour shift worker.
My new best friend never came back? He had also said he wanted to introduce us to the Hotel owner who also owns the Newspaper. Thought he would do a story on us.
We did get confirmation that the pictures and story were received by The Star. They will run the story in the Sunday, May 4 issue. Cat learned that when she stopped at an Internet connection and checked messages. Yes, this small, simple village has an Internet connection in the back of a hardware store.
I sat up shop and worked on the journal while Cat showered down the hall. We decided that the place was about the same as camping except this tent was bigger than ours. Not as clean but bigger.
I went down to check the menu only to find that the restaurant was closed. The girl said, “Go to Sheila’s” and took me to the door to point it out. Then she stepped back in and said, “Sheila is closed, too.”
The T-Market next door is open. We found a chicken, bread and cheese, wine of course and a salad. For some reason, not the clean condition of the room but some reason, we liked the idea better than the place downstairs or Cindy’s.
April 30, 2003
Pasvalys to Panevezys
It was easy to get up and out early. The Restaurant wasn’t open yet. The nice girl made us two cups of coffee. We’ve never seen so much sludge in such small cups. No food at all, just the cup of MUD. I went back to the T-Market and got cookies, wanted a sweet roll or muffin but it was not to be. We sipped and nibbled then pushed across and I spent too much time trying to get into AOL in the back room of the Hardware store. A porno site took control and the clerk finally had to shut down and re-boot, to get rid of it.
On the road by 9:45 AM into sun and wind, head wind but a beautiful, sunny day. We cycled for two hours then pulled into a service station and had a snack of OJ with nuts and raisins. It was only 1:30 when we arrived in Panevezys. Our first stop, an English Language School, was worthless, the three girls tried to help but interesting, none could speak English? They did tell us there was no Tourist Office but our map said there was. We found the Café and Tourist Info was just next-door. Lunch then the girl at Info was very helpful, she confirmed that there was no place to stay for the next 55 Km. With the wind in our faces that was not doable. We made a decision to stop here, work on the journal and relax. She recommended a sportsman hotel but it was out of town. We decided to try the Hotel just across the square. Cat checked out the room and came back out with THAT look on her face. It was a typical Soviet style place. The bath was in the room here but the place was dinghy and depressing. The girl at Info had mentioned a place called Hotel Romantic that was fairly close by but expensive. We cycled there and loved the place. Really blew budget on the room and dinner but we deserved some niceties in our life. Cat called it going from a bad P city to a good P city.
English language TV, CNN and BBC, WOW. Cat went to market while I worked on the computer. Dinner downstairs in the very nice restaurant. Live music, a group of girls sang to the sounds of computerized songs. They left at 7:00 and the guy did a few songs but a young girl was the show. She has a great voice and does song after song in English. A mix of early jazz, big band and classic 1940/50 songs. The food and service were wonderful. I struggled with the exchange rate then said to heck with it and chose a bottle of wine that looked good to me. It turned out to be way above budget but wonderful. There was a meeting of some kind going on. They were a little noisy and interrupted our concert. I watched them as they worked the room, making deals or? One guy in particular seemed to be getting cornered a lot and taking an earful.
May 1, 2003
The Blow Out at Panevezys
Included breakfast was slow. Good but slow. Met a the guy that I thought was on the hot seat at last night’s meeting in the restaurant, this morning. He is from Switzerland, his firm manufactures TV color picture tubes. They’re the largest manufacturer in the world and they do it all right here. Turns out that the meek one getting it from all directions is the President of the Company. He got away before I could get his card. Too bad, his is another big turn around story. When I was in The Soviet Union in 1989 the color picture tubes were really just a shade of green with some pale yellow. The greatest single reason for fires in the home was TV pictures tubes that would blow up and short out. His firm purchased this plant eight years ago and has become huge. Cheap labor, cheap building and friendly business climate I would suppose.
The girls who work at the desk and restaurant were curious about the bikes. We told them our story and they brought the web site up on the screen at the desk. They were excited when we took a picture with them and really thrilled when Cat told them that we would put their picture on the Site.
It was 11:00 AM by the time we finally rolled out and down the street into heavy head wind. We got to the edge of town and the wind blowing across open space was horrific. We wobbled and twice cars honked warnings as we wobbled. I pulled up at the intersection where we would join the new highway. There was construction ahead and we were turning more into the wind. I estimate it was blowing 45 – 60 Km per hour. (30-40 MPH)
I feared that it would be too dangerous out on the highway. There is only a small paved shoulder, no wobble room. We were reminded of the day we pulled up as we were leaving Lusk, Wyoming and turned back. What change in the story would this turn back bring? Interesting as we stood making our decision several birds tried to fly but ended up on the ground, hunkered down just like us. One really tried to get something going. He would hop then take the wind from the side, wobble and ruffle his feathers then turn his back to the wind. He finally gave up about the same time that we did.
We talked about conserving a little money, staying in the other Hotel but I vetoed that. I would spend the time trying to catch up our Journal. Cat would procure lunch and we would also eat in to save $$$, or is that Leits.
The girl at the desk was surprised to see us. She had asked us to come back again but hadn’t thought it would be this soon. She did give us a 10% discount since we stayed two nights. Cat thought we might get haircuts, but today is a holiday and most shops are closed. So on May Day, which is celebrated as Labor Day, we made it Computer day.
The lunch in idea was good but we ended up back downstairs for Dinner. Tonight we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Two other couples came in but the guys were big ones and they just put their heads down and mowed. The same two singers were setting up as we sat down. They are a Father and Daughter team singing. He teaches voice and the other girls last night were students. He said, “This song is for you,” then he belted out a little known Frank Sinatra song that has special meaning to us. Summerwind is not only a beautiful song but it’s the name of a project in Anaheim, CA that we managed for our friend Don Hunt.
She is interested in expanding her career. They are pretty much stuck here for now but will be able to travel once Lithuania is a member of the European Union. She has an opportunity in Denmark that she is sort of counting on. When the heard that we were from California they invited us to visit their home for tea when they finish their show. By the way, we were the only customers left by 8:00 PM. The idea sounded like fun but we were tired and they went on until 9:00 then would have to tear down. We needed to get to bed. The winds had died down and we wanted to ride in the morning.
May 2, 2003
Panevezys to Kedainiai
Cold breakfast, cereal and toast, for speed. We pushed off into rain and wind. Not wind like yesterdays hurricane but wind that slowed progress. We stopped at the turning point of yesterdays attempt, the birds were flying, we were rolling onward.
We avoided having to break out the raincoats for as long as we could stand it. Finally had to dig them out of the bags. Picked up a loaf of bread at a small bakery then snacked in the cover of a bus stop. A woman got out of a car and stood out in the drizzle. She peeked around the corner but remained out in the wind rather than face a couple of aliens.
Though we are on the main highway we have had a fair shoulder and traffic has been light and courteous. Kedainiai is off the highway about 8 Km and it was direct head wind to struggle through. We saw a big, old hotel but close inspection found that it was closed and looked like it had been for years. Following the map, we found a place but it was like the Blocks in Greenland, part of an apartment building. Back to the main road and into the Centris. We followed signs to Tourist Info. The girl was good and called to get us a place. She called a Guest House then hung up and told us she thought it was too expensive. The next place she called was fully booked. Oh well, it was back to the other. We picked up wine and a snack then cycled back in a complete circle. Yes, we would be staying in the apartments. It was hard to believe that we had just spent 2 hours making a big circle.
When we pulled up the drive three boys, Andrus, Karl and Aremus approached us on bikes. They asked if we wanted Hotel. They led us to the door and a woman there sort of shooed them back. Cat checked us in while I played with the kids. Some older girls came up and sat on a low wall, watching. They told the boys something and then the boys asked for money. I used my usual, “You want to give me money?” Once we got beyond the beg I let the oldest boy, Aremus ride Cat’s bike. He was sitting tall and proud in front of his friends but almost took a tumble just as he tried to dismount. He caught himself and that shut off the guffaw from his pals.
It was one of those bathrooms like that in Ape, toilet and tub but no sink? A rambling two-room place with bedroom and living room. The color scheme was worth a second look. Very strange colors, ranging from orange and brown to icky green. Cat noticed that they had BBC on the TV in the lobby. It wasn’t on our set. I asked the lady why she had it and we didn’t. I thought she was telling me that we could come to the lobby and watch but finally got the gist. She can, somehow, switch the channels from the satellite connection to our room. We now had BBC in our room.
We had to take a cab back into Kedainiai for dinner. Both the girl at Tourist and our landlady suggested Vikonda. The cab driver dropped us in front of a glitzy nightclub-looking place. A huge bouncer stopped us, asked for ID then told us that we would have to pay the cover charge of 10 Euro each. When we told him we just wanted to have dinner he seemed to shrug and say, too bad. WE turned to go then he conceded and let us in without cover. The room was full of partiers and most were smokers. It was definitely a Casino and honky tonk. The big guy was shocked when we walked. It was a good ¾ Km jaunt but we enjoyed the fresh air and green trees.
Finally found a small place called Café Ritmus that we liked. It was just a bar and the food was hot snacks. It felt good so we ordered lots of different items. The waitress was shocked at the amount we ate. Taxi back to our Sovietski home…
May 3, 2003
Kedainaia to Kaunas
We chose, unwisely as we look back now, not to have the 10 Lat breakfast for two at the Hotel. In part because of the feeling of the place and in the hope that we would find a nice coffee and sweets place in the town. After wasting and hour roaming the streets we ended up with jelly donuts in the parking lot of the Super Market. Cat procured and I watched then moved the bikes to a bench in the sun.
Now, partially fed we were faced with another dilemma, which route to take into Kaunas? We decided not to just backtrack our ride in last night. We then set out without a final choice but we had time to worry as we rode. At the cross road I urged us toward the old road that follows the river. Cat followed and we only had to ride, the decisions were made. We stopped to study the map and a guy who had been behind us on a bike with groceries passed by and waved. We soon caught him again and waved as we passed. Then at the turn off we stopped again to compare notes. He sailed by with the same little wave. After conferring we made a right and set out to catch him. He turned off as we were nearing his back fender.
The bike path disappeared almost as soon as he did. The road was narrow and traffic fairly heavy for such a small strip of asphalt. When cars passed they pulled off on the shoulder to give us room but set up a shower of rocks and dust. Despite the difficulties we thoroughly enjoyed riding near the river, through small villages. When we came to the bridge over the highway E 85 that is the shortest distance and best road between the two points we were tempted. We sat on the bridge and watched the cars and trucks swerving in and out. We would be fish out of water out there. We would continue on the old road.
Worried about food we cycled across to a service station and bought two sandwiches. The bread was puffy and warmed in their microwave but the meat was virtually non-existent. A little smear of dressing and one tiny piece of bologna. We sat outside or should I say jiggled and walked as we ate. Both of us needed a toilet and the Service Station declined our request. I went around the building to go on the wall but the guy came looking for me. They were treating us like homeless people, we continued to hold and rode.
When we merged with 112 we were along a river. Cat thought it looked like Colorado. Shortly we stopped at a store with a covered patio and picnic tables. Cat scooted right to the Ladies Room. I shopped for food. There was a stack of pastries and I watched a couple of people buy them. They smelled good, I had to have one. Cat came back around the building just as the microwave dinged its done sound. She chided me as I juggled the super hot morsel to a table. I liked the greasy taste, I convinced her to take a bite and she immediately ordered one. I had another, too.
As I nibbled a lady drifted in on a cane. She was probably about my age and slightly overweight. She hovered near me then approached and used that sign of fingers together moving to the mouth to tell me that she was hungry. My first reaction was that she hadn’t missed many meals. I nodded, no, and she went to a table across from me and stared. I stared back then began to feel guilty. Here I was assuming that she wasn’t really hungry. I had just decided to buy her one of the pastries when she suddenly jumped up and almost ran to the front of the building. A bus pulled up and she jumped on board. Well, she did have bus fare so maybe she has food, too?
It took a long time to get from the City Limits of Kaunas to the old town. A sign sent us in a goofy direction. Concerned, we pulled up and asked a couple of girls who were walking by. They looked at the sign then said, “Yes, go that way to city.”
That was a 2 Km detour that soon had us back on the same route we had left at the behest of the girls. Over a bridge, we turned right and visited Kaunas Fortress. Asking we turned and cycled back toward the north. Feeling lost I asked a Cab Driver for the Tourist Info and he pointed straight ahead.
We followed his direction and it turned out to be correct. Unfortunately with all of our delays we arrived at the door at 6:05 PM. The office had closed at 6:00. Cat noticed a lady inside and pounded on the door. As she yelled that we wanted a map a young girl stopped and said, “Here, I have a map you can take.” Her English was really good and it should be, Ellen is from Seattle, Washington. Cat was making headway so I chatted with Ellen. She is here as organizer of an event for the International Institute for the Study of Pain. She was late but did take time to meet Cat then scurried off to make sure the details of tonight’s big meeting were handled.
The lady inside the T.O. did pull through and gave us a map as well as a list of Hotels. She even marked a few. We tried a nice placed around the corner but they only had the high priced rooms available. Several extremely made up couples spent time at the desk, hovered in the lobby or stood in line with me. They were International Dance Contestants. That explained why the rooms here were booked up. We pushed back to the main and started to search for one on the list a few blocks away. I went around the corner in the direction of the place then came back. The neighborhood deteriorated as it moved away from the main. We decided to take a room at a Guest House on the main street. The room was a suite, an old stuffy feeling suite. We had to leave the bikes down stairs but the lady was great. We got both of them into a hallway and small room behind the front desk.
The list of restaurants was endless. Our decision making process was swamped by the choices. We walked to Pizza Jazz but it was really just a fast food place. Across the street was Pizza Arena. After being seated there we still felt uncomfortable. Up and out into the wet, again, we walked to the Bistro. The food was good and the wine, fine. There was a group of people talking and eating next to us. Three of the guys had to keep going to the patio to smoke. A young guy who was eating with them opened a case and pulled out a Saxophone. He played “Amazing Grace” in a fantastic jazz rendition. I wished that we had brought the camera. We asked if he would play more. I wanted to run to the Hotel and get the camera to take a little movie for the site. However he told us he had to go to work. He plays with a local band. The other guys had bought his dinner and he played for it. Nice guy, he is also on the board of directors and talent manager for the annual Kaunas Jazz Festival. Another one of the “Damn it, always bring the Camera” kind of moments.
May 4, 2003
Kaunas to Gudeliu
Today is Mothers Day here in Lithuania. As we ate Breakfast Ellen walked past on her exercise path. We hailed her on the way back. She joined us and we filled each other in on the details of our lives and travels. She works for the International Association for pain Management. Her title is “Meeting Planner” so she travels and checks places that might work for future meeting then attends and makes sure that the meetings go well. A really cool job if you like to travel. Her boy friend is Exec Director with Master Builders, similar to BIA, Building Industry Association in our area. I gave her our friends Tim Mc and Bill Mc’s phone numbers in Seattle. Either of them perhaps both may know her friend as they are both involved with development. After dashing upstairs to get the camera we forgot to take Ellen’s picture.
We rolled down the pedestrian street in wind and rain. The rain let up as we left town but the wind picked up. We blew down the road with a side tail wind for 12 Km then ran head on into head wind. From there we crawled at one point as slowly as 5 Km PH. Even worse, the road was under construction and there was no shoulder. We were on the edge of a drop off, with a heavy flow of truck and car traffic on our left.
We thought seriously about stopping at Garliava, just 14 KM OUT. We could see the Hotel but conferred and chose to struggle onward. We pulled up in just 7 Km in a village called Juragai. Asking for a Hotel at a small grocery store, they thought there was on just 2 Km further along at Mustaicai. We did find another small store there and a really nice family. The young girl spoke a little English. She got the point across that her Grandparents owned the store but have passed on and passed the store onto her Mother. They were so nice, even gave Cat two chocolate bars for energy. We were also able to figure out how to get them to say, “You must be Crazy”, in Lithuanian They sent us on down the road another 5 Km to a Hotel with big rocks in front of it.
Must Be Crazy!", Lithuanian
The Granite Hotel was there but closed. A young guy sitting in a car seemed to be laughing at us? Old guy was trying to start a barbeque out back. We tried to talk with him but he was short with us, maybe because he couldn’t understand us. He did get the point across that they were closed. We thought that he might have been firing up the barbeque to cook for Mom? He strode quickly back to a house off to the right and a guy and girl came out. He looked sort of like our son-in-law David, big shoulders, and short haircut. He struggled with some English then took our map and pointed to Gudeliai, 10 Km further down the road.
At the City sign we turned left and sailed, with the wind, into the village and another small store. The checker there spoke only Lithuanian and German. He called a girl who spoke some English. They were positive that if we went back to the road and continued just 800 meters we would find a Hotel. Cat was worried, she remembered Alex, asking, riding, and asking. Okay that was in snow but the wind was cold and brutal. We had to gear down and press hard as we rode back I the head wind. Just as they had predicted there it was, an oasis, Gudeliu Karciama Hotel and Restaurant.
We pushed the bikes into the room then went directly to lunch, I was starving. Most of the diners were dressed, taking Mom out to lunch. I watched the orders coming out and one plate with a big round thing on it kept catching my eye. They brought us a menu in English, it was called Zeppelin. I had to have one, it’s their specialty. It was dough similar to dumplings with a ball of ground pork in the middle. Wonderful! I was afraid that it would hit bottom like a lead balloon but my body just absorbed.
Relaxing, after a shower, I even found a way to fine tune the TV. We watched the news on BBC, relaxed and worked on the journal. Later we had a glass of wine in the room then back to the restaurant for dinner. They served a wonderful fish dinner.
The owner or at least the guy who seems to be in charge may be Russian. At least when he spoke to others around him he used words like Da and Nyet. The two waitresses, Elge and Rasa were great, I had to have a picture with them.
May 5, 2003
Gudeliu to Suwalki, Poland
Breakfast in the room, they are working on the wall and ceiling and the smell of paint is in the air. Rasa had a hard tome trying to explain so she took us to the dining room. Then served a lovely omelet and plate of blinzky pancakes as we watched BBC.
Late start, we hit the road at 10:15. The most beautiful day we’ve seen in months. The wind has subsided and we enjoyed the fresh smell of countryside, farms and forest. The leaves are growing greener and grass deeper every day. We had lunch sitting on a wall next to a small store. Cat bought the leanest meat she could see and we truly enjoyed it with cheese and bread. I waited until the next day to ask how she liked it. She thought it tasted like smoked turkey. When I told her it was beef tongue she almost gagged. She wanted to know why I hadn’t told her yesterday but the answer was obvious.
Without hindrance from the wind, we really rolled on a flat, smooth highway. It was 4:00 Pm when we crossed the Border into Poland. Another of the “same old story,” stories. The Lithuanian Guard checked our passports then we shook his hand and told him we had enjoyed our visit. Then came the Polish side, what has been described as the last Communist style crossing into Europe. They had 3 checkpoints, we made the first, then skipped the second because we thought we were through. The Third Guard sent us back. The second just looked at our Passports and waved us on. The third just waved us on, the second time through.
Into Suwalki at 5:30 then we spent time looking for tourist office which once found we found it closed. Asking at a restaurant, the waitress came with us to the street and pointed to the right. We couldn’t tell if she was telling us it was close or a long ways away? It was just 2 blocks. Another old, tired looking Soviet style place. We stood there then saw a sign across the street, Hotel Private. At the top of a big downhill we really thought twice about whether to risk the down because if the place was BAD we would have to push back up. It turned out to be a great call on Cat’s part. The place was a gem. Not the same neat feeling of last night but nice. The woman who greeted us was a bit standoffish and began wheeling off prices. “Room is 120 Zalotys, 25 each for Dinner, 20 for parking the bikes in a garage, not allowed in room.” I was ready to push back up that damn hill, I didn’t like her attitude. Then she language locked and said, “I get Husband.” He was fantastic, he had worked in Chicago and spoke pretty good English. He had a great laugh. She, Hena, joined in, we were sure now that her original problem was simply language. What a great evening. He even invited us to use their computer to check our e-mail.
We had them do “You’re riding your bicycle around the world” and when it was her turn to say, “You must be crazy” she said “crazy” in English. We laughed, Jan told her to say in Polish and she said, “Gluppie”. He said, “She has said, Stupid.” That really made us laugh.
Must Be Crazy!", Polish
Jan and two other men were working the grounds. Hena, the wife and a gal working for them prepared our dinner. We had sweet wine and loved it. We also learned that we had crossed a time zone. We thought it was 9:00 PM when we went to eat but it was only 8:00. Dinner was a traditional bowl of Polish soup, and chicken cutlet. On the table was a small holder containing squares of wax paper. We wondered what they were for then got it, they were the napkins! We thought perhaps they would bring other napkins when we got our dinner, but no. We used all of them and we still needed something else to wipe our hands. Oh well…we began to call them “CutRight” napkins. (That will only make sense to some in the US. CutRight is a brand name for wax paper.)
The room was okay. Hena had shown Cat that the beds open up like the trunk of a car and the linen is inside. Jan came knocking, Cat who had just stepped out of the shower and toweled down, jumped under the covers, he burst in then said, “Okay, you know about beds and linen, once we forgot to tell a man and he slept on the bed in his coat and was cold all night.” Then he howled with that infectious laugh of his.
May 6, 2003
Suwalki to Rajgrod
Breakfast at 8:30, Hene was sleeping. Jan told us that they had filled every room last night and worked the bar and kitchen until 1:00 AM.
There was a new gal cooking, she also cleans the rooms. After a nice breakfast we settled up with Jan. The entire experience cost only 280 Zloty. We think that is about $70 US. What a bargain. I admired an old banner that Jan had in his office of Lenin and the Soviet times. He went into a drawer, pulled another out gave it to me. I tried to refuse but he insisted, he said he got them and the old Soviet Flag hanging on the wall at a swap meet. We took a picture of him with the flag. I asked about how they repatriated land when the Government change took place. He didn’t understand my question but said, “I and Hena work in Chicago, save money, come back and buy this place. We build house and Hotel.” He did talk about the difficulty with local building laws. He also told several stories of Police corruption in the old system and even today in Ukraine. He was doing import and export and driving to Turkey. He told of the way the police would stop you, tell you the fine then make new rules if you chose not to pay. What a nice man, we had to give him bear hugs when we left.
They are truly Capitalists, they’ve invested all of their money in another Hotel in a town called Goldap. Their daughter and son in law operate it. He is really proud of it. They haven’t made money, yet because they spent so much fixing and cleaning the place. It was an old Soviet Hotel and he had to redo all the plumbing, electrical, heating and windows. It is a resort town with a small ski area in the winter and a lake for summer visitors. We bet they’ll do well. As we pulled out of the drive we came upon two young guys spraying graffiti on a wall across from Hotel Private. Was there some meaning or significance? We don’t know.
Polish countryside is rally quite beautiful. The farm houses sit well off the road most of the time. Storks continue to nestle in their nests. There is a phenomenon here that I have seen before in Yugoslavia. When a car crash takes someone’s life the families build shrines to their memory, at the site of the accident. They either have a lot of lives lost or the shrines of memorial stay for years? We passed through a town and began the quest for food. I watched a crew as they constructed a cobblestone street while Cat went asking.
The road was rolling up and down today and the wind was not our friend. We struggled until 2:00 PM then stopped for a snack at a Service Station. From the limited menu we chose a Kielbasa, sort of, Polish Sausage with fries and an orange drink. Burped all the way to Rajgrod then let the wind drive us in. The small Hotel Pokoje has a lake in the back. The nice Lady spoke no English but she called her son, a Police Officer who had been to New York and worked there for 3 months in construction. He spoke enough to get us set up in the room and for breakfast. Cost 80 Zlot, about $20 US, we like these places and these prices.
We walked along lake, up to top of a hill overlooking the village and lakeshore, very beautiful. Dinner at local restaurant, chicken schnitzel and veal something. Again, the same wax paper sheets for napkins. As she brought our salads, the waitress dropped them breaking the plates and making a giant mess. She was embarrassed and had to squat next to us while cleaning the mess. I had an Ice cream bar for dessert. Back at the little Hotel we played a game of Pool. They have a nice game room and library. Having done all there was to do, we hit the bed early.
May 7, 2003
Rajgrod to Lomza
I awoke at 3:30 AM, revisited by the kielbasa and schnitzel no doubt. I just couldn’t go back to sleep. By 4:30 the room was already filling with sun! I just dozed until 6:45. Nice breakfast of eggs and juice, etc. then we were off by 8:30. Another nice, wind free ride. The road was thin but the traffic gave us plenty of room. The shoulder narrowed then disappeared and we rode on dirt for several kilometers at one point.
We stopped and had a raisin snack on bench. Passing through the town of Stawiski we stopped near a group of students. They surged forward and sort of surrounded us. I asked if the place we were in front of was a café and a young guy said “No, it is just a shop.” Another said, “A sex shop.” And the others laughed. Then the first boy said, in good English, “There is a restaurant straight ahead on this side.” We handed out cards and shook hands. (The boy, Artur, who gave us direction, went right home and sent an e-mail. He loves adventure and we have since sent and received more messages.)
The place that Artur told us about was a restaurant but closed. We finally found a service station with a small café where we had a bowl of soup. A tour bus full of folks from Finland stopped. One gal talked with us as best she could. We told her of our trip around the world and that we had cycled across Finland. She reported the story to the others and they all drifted by, looking at the bikes and signaling okays and thumbs up to us.
Made it in to Lomza at about 4:00 PM. There was only one Hotel so that was easy. Not a bad place and not a bad price. We had decided to find the bike shop because I definitely had a broken spoke. A gal latched on to us and wouldn’t let us alone. She rambled on as though she may have had a little to drink. We think at first that she was trying to rent us a room in her home. Hard to tell but once we got the point across that we had already checked in to the Hotel she continued. We had no idea what she was talking about and we couldn’t get rid of her.
We found bike shop and she finally got the message at the same moment. The guy, Andrzej, was personable and understood sign language quite well. He discovered two broken spokes, took us right in and replaced them. He was such an artist, he trued the wheel both on the side and the round. No wonder, his other business, once he cleans the bike grease off his hands, is repair of Violins. He worked until 6:00, his closing time, then washed and indicated he had to go. I was really sorry that we hadn’t brought the camera along.
As we exited the same pesky woman was there and began following us. I was pretty forceful in telling her both in English and sign language that we didn’t want her following us. She finally got the hint and drifted off down the street, mumbling and muttering. Dinner in hotel restaurant, just fair. Same wax paper napkins. Another bonus at the Hotel was Internet access. We spent most of the evening on their computer, in the manager’s office.
May 8, 2003
Lomza to Pultusk
Oh what a beautiful morning! The included breakfast was served but had the usual scrambled eggs and ham. When we asked for a second cup of coffee the waiter said, “More cost.” They charged 1.50€ for each cup.
The weather is really right and it’s a good thing, we will ride more than 90 Km today. It was a beautiful ride, except for the trucks traffic. We had several close calls, at least they felt close. The terrain was generally flat and the day sunny. We stopped and had cheeseburgers and fries then pressed on. We were in town at 5:00 PM and followed signs to Castle, Dom Polonii. It was a pretty simple looking castle but the price didn’t reflect it. Though above budget we bought, too tired to go searching at this hour.
Located on the river Narew, there is a bar overlooking the water and boat-launching ramp. We sat and sipped a beer and swatted mosquitoes. Well I should say I sipped a beer, in fact two, while Cat stuck with the wine. We dined in the elegant “Green Room” on pierogi and a pancake thing with spinach. All presented right and very delicious. Another bonus was linen napkins in lieu of wax paper. However they did have a holder full of wax paper sheets on the table too. Another great dining experience, another blown budget meal!
They do offer FREE Internet so we spent the early evening on line. One of the messages was from Artur, the young boy who told us how to find the restaurant in Stawiski that I mentioned earlier
Cat hit the wall and the bed, I stayed with the e-mail. I had been trying to reach Marcin, the young guy from Poznan, Poland that we met in Greenland. I e-mailed Ruud in the Netherlands and he got us the correct e-mail address. It is DR. Marcin Kilarski and he was happy to have packages delivered to his office. Our ATM cards were expiring and the gal at the bank who had told our base camp, Charlie, that the old cards would continue to work. I sent Marcin’s address so that Charlie could overnight the new ATM cards. Our old cards will expire out on May 15th so it will be close but we should get them before EX Date.
May 9, 2003
Pultusku to Warsaw
Up early, breakfast, Internet, then off in rain and drizzle toward Warsaw. It was a very busy road, getting us out of town and the drizzle added to the challenge. Once out on the road, the heavy traffic continued but we had plenty of space on the shoulder. The suburban area began to remind us of Mexico. The road surface eroded and the buildings looked rough and in varying stages of disrepair of reconstruction and there were old car bodies in the yards.
As we neared Warsaw we finally caught a bike path. It didn’t last for long and we couldn’t tell which direction to take. Riding along the edge of a large highway we were cut off by an on ramp that looked very bicycle unfriendly. Choosing to stick close to the road we cycled across an open area on a dirt path. There were several homeless looking guys lying in the grass, drinking. They locked on and watched us with interest as we passed. The path ran out at a steep embankment that we had to push up and then ride the same big highway we had tried to avoid. Once across the bridge over large Wisla River, on the Warsaw side we had to take them down a long stairway. That was a real struggle, we took them down one at a time, hoping that the one left standing alone would still be there when we got back. Once on the ground, we followed the bike path along the river.
Stopped at a bike shop and got some info and talked with Piotu a nice young guy. (He told us that Piotu is the Polish version of Peter.) He and his family own the shop they call Dr. Suport. He outlined the path to central Warsaw then we took a picture. I like talking with him so much that I asked him to do the “You must be Crazy.” I forgot that Jan had already done the Polish version.
Must Be Crazy!" Polish II
The path followed the river then we turned west and in to town. We saw what we thought was the Gromada Hotel, the same group that we had with in Lomza. It was the main office for the chain but the guard did know where the Hotel was located and showed us the way on our map.
The Hotel is above budget but this is a BIG city. We did get to keep the bikes in the room and it was roomy. It is centrally located to the old town and walking distance to most of what we will want to see. Per the suggestion of the front desk we took a cab to Giovanni Restaurant and had great pasta. Giovanni is in a wonderful area of town, near the Old Town. Nice restaurant, good food but still the wax paper napkins. We walked back to the Hotel, past many classic building that were lighted which makes them look even more interesting. It was a nice walk. We stopped at a gate and watched a rock band with the strong voice of a gal pulling the lead. The concert was sold out but people kept pushing and trying to get past the security guard. We listened and watched for a while then walked on.
May 10, 2003
Woke up early but laid in just relaxing. Breakfast was a very nice spread. First stop, Hotel Warsaw to check prices because the cost of our hotel is going up by about $40.00. Ran into a guy from New Jersey, Robin. He is here on a discovery and research mission about losing his memory from electronic devices? He kept saying, “Don’t touch anything that you don’t know what it does”. Strange, but interesting, I got the feeling that he was with the CIA or FBI or thinks he was. He has a website that we must visit. Next stop, the Post Office to mail some of the accumulated maps and brochures and lighten our loads. That took a LONG time, it might have taken all day if a kind Polish woman hadn’t helped us. She is working somehow in education with the European Union.
Next stop would be an Internet shop. We followed instructions given us by our Hotel, but couldn’t find the place. There were a lot of Police setting up roadblocks, we had entered a parade route. The parade was a lot of young people marching in support of Poland’s entry into the European Union. There were bands, baton twirlers, even some classic cars. It turned out that not all of the demonstrators support the European Union. The last group in the parade appeared to be the last brigade of socialists or communists. It’s possible that they could have been spoofing those who do oppose?
Walking all the way to Old Town we sought and found the Tourist Info Office. With a hand full of brochures we decided to return to the same restaurant we had dinner in, last night. My back was really bothering me so we were headed toward home, hoping to find an Internet connection. We did find one but as we were going through our messages the entire system crashed.
Our next mission was to find mini CD’s for our camera. Eureka, we found some, a brand name we have never seen but they are made in England. I took my aching back, back to the room. Cat looked for Fryzer (hair cut) and another hotel. She found a Fryser and they told her they could take her right away. There were hundreds of stylists but every seat was taken. They took her upstairs and put her in a room where the women were waiting for their “color” to take. The fumes from the solution made her feel nauseous, she waited for 15 minutes and no one even spoke to her so she left.
She did run into a store with some of the toiletry items we needed. Back at the room, Cat discovered that only ¼ of the laundry had been done. As we put away the clean things we discovered that they had lost 1 of her socks. Upset, Cat called the desk only to learn that the girl from the laundry just didn’t have time to finish all our wash. Then the gal told her that the cost for the items they did wash was about $30, US. WOW, Cat found the price list and outlined the costs so that we could talk with the manager. On the brighter side, I was able to make a deal to stay at the same weekend rate. However this laundry bill would offset most of the savings. The Manager wouldn’t be in until tomorrow. Cat found that they had charged for dry cleaning some items and treated our t-shirts as though they were dress shirts to be starched and ironed.
Though we wanted Japanese Udon Noodle soup the address for the place was way out of walking distance. I was still hurting so we ended up a The London Steak House. I had one of the toughest steaks ever. We just got through the meal and then headed for the bed.
May 11, 2003
Mothers Day! I was still feeling pretty punk. I had the sweats all night long and got up at 6:30 to take a shower. We did the included breakfast, then went back to the room. We wanted to see Warsaw but I was wavering. I sat while Cat rearranged bags. It started to rain but we decided to go out, anyway. It was just a drizzle and we really wanted to see the Jewish Ghetto. We had a map to follow, but it wasn’t easy. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier we got a picture of the guards in plain drab uniforms. The monument is located in the heart of a beautiful park and garden area with all the new flowers of Spring, springing forth.
The map of the Ghetto was hard to read and understand. We found the address where some only remaining remnants of the Ghetto Wall are supposed to stand. While we stood, trying to figure it out a woman came up and opened the gate to the apartment building. She turned to us and said, “Ghetto Wall?” We got the point across that we did want to see it so she let us in through the security gate and pointed toward the back of the building. What a way to bury something that should be an Internationally protected site. This is the place where more than 300,000 Jews were imprisoned. This is the place where more than 100,000 of them died of starvation, cold and disease. Why is there so little reverence for this place? One friend of ours said that there is still a lot of anti semantic feeling here in Poland. The few building still standing are close to falling down. On April 19th 1943 a group that realized their fate rose up and struggled with the German Army for a month. At the end the place was a smoldering ruin and most of the population had been killed or transported to death camps. Our friend says that there are only about 500 Jews here, in Warsaw now.
Another place of death and disgrace is a prison called Pawiak that would be the dead end for as many as 3,000,000 Jews and Poles during the Nazi occupation. A terrible time here and in the world.
During the years, 1939 to 1944 at least 20 people were killed daily at Pawiak.
|“This place bears tragic witness
To the TRUTH that there will be
no walls behind which one could
not feel free and one could not
show solidarity with others. Let
it remain a warning against hatred.
Let it remain a memorial to the
greatest human dignity.”
It drizzled on and off, throughout the day. We worked our way over to Old Town, and found a nice restaurant for a bowl of soup. On our way around the streets of Old Town we ran across an Internet café and unfortunately spent 2 ½ hours, in a dark bar, looking at reading and writing e-mails. By the time we were finished, it was pouring down rain. I was cold which is rare for me. We walked in the rain for a while then ducked into a bar for a glass of wine. I was tired and hurting, I just wanted to get back to the Hotel. We blew budget on a very expensive cab ride.
Once back at the Hotel I struggled to get
warm. For dinner we just went down to the
restaurant. The food was less than so, so and we
wiped our hands and mouths on wax paper napkins.
There was a dance party going on in the bar,
adjacent to the restaurant. Though the music was
a little loud we did enjoy watching the social
drama. Women dancing with other women, hoping
that a guy would come over and cut in. And, guys
would come look through the door then leave, as
though checking out the possibilities. We didn’t
finish our food, just got through it as best we
could then went back up to the room, BBC and
May 12, 2003
Warsaw to Sochaczew
Woke up to gray skies and drizzling rain. I was in a gray mood too. Still not up to par and worried about cycling in rain and not feeling well. We called the Manager about the laundry and got that problem somewhat taken care of. She reduced the bill by $10.00. Not enough for to actually make a difference but better than nothing.
By 9:45 AM we hit the road. It took us a long time to get out of town. Luckily there was a brick path along the busy road leading toward the west. It was in pretty bad condition so we had so go slow, but the good news was we didn’t have to be out there with all the cars and trucks, without a shoulder to ride on! We pulled up after 2 hours for a break. A Pizza place pulled us in. They had a bowl of soup that was really great.
We had planned on cycling at least 40 Km but after just 25 I felt that we should stop. I was feeling pretty weak and tired. We pulled off in a place called Sochaczew. There was a sign for a place called Hotel Chopin. We thought it might be the house where Chopin was born or maybe next to a museum. It was a new looking place but it looked good to me. We were able to get the bikes in the elevator and into our room.
Cat went out searching for a snack while I rested. I had a taste for bananas but Cat returned without finding them. She told Justine, the girl at the front desk about her quest and after a couple of minutes, she knocked on the door and delivered 2 bananas. What a nice gesture. We showered then went down to dinner. As we left our room, we tried to lock the door and couldn’t. I found a rock in the lock! We worked it out with our knife and wondered if it had just happened or someone had made it happen.
Justine had told us that we could use the computer at her desk to check our e-mails. She was interested and happy to hear our story and help any way that she could. She rides her bike about 20 km. every day for her health. Dinner was very good. Salmon, fries, salad, even real linen napkins. Back to room and bed fairly early. Cat was able to watch BBC while I dozed off.
May 13, 2003
Sochaczew to Kutno
Early to bed, early to rise, I felt better, not great yet, but better. The included breakfast was good and fast. We got out the door by 9:00 AM. We still had a good bike path on the side of the road, not as good as yesterday but pretty good. We rode in the rain for a while then pulled into a gas station for break and cup of coffee. It stopped raining by the time we started again. The ride was nice, some great paths, some not quite as good, but all were flat. Another service station, another stop for a bowl of soup. WE had come more than 50 Km and only had 15 or so to go.
Coming in to Kutno we saw a sign for a Motel with a Witch as a symbol. Wanting to be closer in, we rode on toward town. There was a McDonalds and a sleazy looking Motel next to it but we passed and went on into the town. A Bike shop turned out to be no help at all. They did tell us about a hotel and drew a little map so we could find it. Another Soviet style looking place in an old neighborhood. We did find a nice BIG Super Market on the way in so we circled back there and got bananas and wine. We decided that we should go back to the witch place.
We sat out on a country road that felt right but ended up being real wrong. After a half hour we asked and then asked again. A cyclist who spoke some English spoke with some people in a house and then told us the best thing to do was go back into town and take the second right turn after the BIG Super Market. Finally we found the Witch Place. It was after 5:00when we rolled up to the door.
They had us put the bikes in a garage behind and under the restaurant. We settled in, showered then want down for dinner. Peirogis, and it was good. The place was pretty quite until a Polish businessman came over and started trying out his English on us. He was with 2 other guys and they were celebrating with beers and Polish Vodka. We ended up sitting with them for a while, laughing and talking. Krysztof (Christopher) was the man who could speak some English. He is the President of a company trucking that does maintenance on big rigs. His and his colleagues, Siawek and Mirek have been calling on customers but they will be back home tomorrow. They’re celebrating tonight. They had a great time trying to talk with us but we needed the bed. They stayed up, we could hear them partying way into the wee hours.
May 14, 2003
Kutno to Konin
Up early we downed the typical breakfast of runny scrambled eggs and plain bread. I asked for jam and got. We were surprised to find that they charged extra for it. In fact, with all of the individual charges, we paid more for breakfast than we did for dinner?
It had cooled down quite a bit, we put on our coats and gloves. The ride started out on a wonderful road with nice shoulder, then deteriorated. We stopped at a roadside. I had a hamburger (where’s the beef?) and Cat supped soup.
It was already 5:00 PM by the time we rolled into Konin. Hotel Central is across from a Super Market and an ATM. Our room quite small, after struggling with the problem we decided that they would fit in the bathroom. After we showered we stacked them in then went down for dinner.
We asked for a wine that we recognized on the list. Our waiter went in the back then came out and told us they were out of it. They didn’t have anything else that we liked so we asked if we could go across to the market and get one more to our liking. The waiter disappeared again and returned with a bottle of the wine we had originally ordered. Funny though, the cork had already been pulled? Suspicious, we tasted and felt that the owner had poured one of the cheaper wines into the bottle. Although the waiter resisted then said we should buy because they had opened the bottle for us we noted that they sell it by the glass. He was stymied and mumbling as I left to dash across the street. The food was very good, even though the vegetables reminded us of those sold from the freezer back home. In the end, we tipped the young guy 20 Z, ten percent of the bill, because he did a good job and we felt that the Chef put him up to the wine switch. Back up to room, some TV then bed.
May 15, 2003
Konin to Wrzesnia
Another morning of runny eggs, I think I had Spam of some
sort? Cat passed on that one. Our plan included a ride of 70+ kilometers. We started in beautiful, sunny weather. Our Route down highway 92 was precarious. No shoulder and plenty of traffic. Lots of countryside, potholes and narrow road.
At 30ish Km we pulled into a gas station for a break. The nice couple that owned the place pulled out 2 chairs and set them on the lawn for us. We sat facing the sun, oblivious to the gathering gloom behind us. Once we rolled out of the driveway we knew we were in for some weather. The ominous dark sky was boiling and swirling toward us at fast forward speed. Within minutes we were pacing a wall of rain that soon turned into icy hailstones. The temperature dropped like a rock as we felt the sting of bigger and bigger stones from the sky. We turned off the road into a small village, Stupca. Seeking shelter from the now bruising ice as big as marbles we took refuge in the arched entry of a tire shop where we huddled until the storm passed over. It was gone almost as quickly as it had come. Though we waved and said hello the guys in the shop said not a word to us.
We needed a warm, dry place with food. After circling the little square we figured out that the only café was above the grocery store. We pushed the bikes into the stairway hall and locked them then went up for soup. Goulash soup, served in pots heated by little candles. It was a delicious warmer upper.
The rain stopped so we rolled back down past the tire store and onto the highway into the procession of trucks. We had plans to go on another 40 Km but about 8 Km we were ground to a slow pace, winding our way past parked trucks and cars. The line up was more than 2 Km long, the result of a big pile up. For us, it was a good time to be on bicycles. We rode on the shoulder, through mud, crud and grass until we got to the scene of the crash. Two trucks had hit, head on. A small farm truck and van were on their sides in the ditch. The Police held us there while they separated the trucks and got a Fire Truck through then waved us on.
We had the entire lane to ourselves. Traffic on the other side of the road just sat, wondered why they were sitting and watched us sail by. It was after 3:00 PM by the time we reached Wrzesnia so we decided to shut down there for the day.
Though a small place the Square was picturesque and had the first feeling of architectural antiquity we had seen in Poland. As we searched for lodging we found a motorcycle shop. Our chains are crying out for oil but they had none. The guy there did tell us about a Hotel he thought was above the “Restaurant Margarita”. We have been talking about Margaritas for a few days so it sounded like the place. Circling several times we finally found it hidden behind a curtain of re-construction. The rooms were there but closed until the rehab was completed.
Tired of the search we went back to City Hotel. We had passed it twice during the Margarita quest. Though very plain on the outside the room was at least okay. The manager, Jaroslaw told us that we could take the bikes into the room. I looked up at the steep stairs and shuddered. He said, “Come on, I help!” I took the front wheel and he pushed. We had them on the upper floor in no time. Our room would normally share a bath but tonight we would have the entire wing of the building to ourselves.
We parked the bikes in the hallway. Jaroslaw even programmed BBC onto our TV! After a quick shower, we set out to find an Internet connection. It was right where Jaroslaw had said it would be. We invested two hours, reading and sending then went on a Pizza quest. I asked a woman walking near us and, though she spoke no English, she got it and motioned for us to follow. She led us to a great spot and we both wolfed down whole Pizzas. We had the place to ourselves most of the time.
Walking back to City Hotel through the beautiful evening we recounted the events of the day and our good fortune, being here together, full of good Pizza and experiences. What a lovely evening after a stormy day. The walk was refreshing but once in the room, we hit the bed and I mean HIT IT. The mattress was like cement, or something close. The pillows that were so flat they were less than our camping pillows. None of that mattered too much, we were tired and sleep came despite the discomfort.
May 16, 2003
Wrzesnia to Poznan
The included breakfast was a pleasant surprise for us. It was down in the basement and we again had the place to ourselves until a couple of German guys, here on business, came in. The entire offering was bread and jam but it would kick off our ride and it was better than searching for food, for an hour.
We cycled through the streets and took pictures. The other Polish cities we’ve visited, excepting Warsaw of course, have been pretty non-descript. Wrzesnia was an exception, it had character!
It was a beautiful sunny morning for a bike ride. Everything was going our way when the small shoulder completely disappeared. It added a big dimension of anxiety to the trip
InterMarche, the French owned market that we knew and loved so well in Portugal and Spain, drew us off the Highway. We needed a break from the stress and a bite of lunch. Cat went in and loaded up on the usual, turkey, cheese and bread. We sat on a bench nearby and picnicked. Hoping to find oil with Teflon for our chains, we asked at an adjacent Hardware Store but again, it was not to be. We were getting a lot of stares from the locals. Asking if there was an alternative route to Poznan, they all shook their heads, no. Then the boisterous, friendly locksmith with a stiff leg said, “I cycle it every day.”
We did find a brick bike path but it soon disintegrated into dirt and potholes. Struggling for a couple of kilometers we were real happy when the brick reappeared. It wasn’t great but it was way better than the dirt and bumps and it was away from the peril of trucks and cars.
The sun slipped behind clouds, big puffy white clouds at first. They churned and changed to gray then started to spit down raindrops as we entered Poznan. We got a little wet as we sought out a place to stay. At an Internet site I ducked in and checked, Marcin had e-mailed suggesting that we stay in the Old Town and get together for dinner at 8:00 PM.
I came back out on the sidewalk just in time to save Cat from a drunken local, Richard. He was definitely Russian and out of it. His name was Richard and he had been trying to steal a kiss from Cat. We shook hands, locked hands and hugged then broke away as he wobbled away.
Old Town is a great place but we couldn’t find a Hotel. There was a huge square with quaint buildings but none of them offered a room for the night. A guy, Edward, asked if he could help. We told him our problem and he suggested Hotel Rzymski. He pointed the way and we rode on but were soon standing and looking again. He reappeared and led us down the street then pointed to the Hotel. It is old, almost Soviet looking but they did have BBC and we were tired of the search. It turned out to be perfect, close to old town and most other landmarks of Poznan
Our first priority was laundry, we had a weeks worth of stinking clothing. The Hotel recommended a place so we bundled up our dirty things and walked. Lost, we asked for direction in a wine store. The guy, Dominick led us around the corner and to the door of the place. Once inside, a woman who had definitely had too much to drink confronted us. Communication failed so we hurried back to Dominick. He came back with us and got passed the woman. Her husband and son took the cloths and told us to come back by 4:00 PM tomorrow. It all seemed pretty shaky to us but Dominick was sure that they would get the things done. He explained that they usually only do work for Hotels. Perhaps that was why our Hotel had sent us there?
We walked back to the wine store with Dominick. He is a great guy and he loves his wines, Italian wines. We had to buy a bottle, of course. He recommended two so we ended up with one of each.
We sipped one while we passed the time, waiting to meet Marcin at 8:00 PM. He teaches class until 7:30. We adjourned to the lobby at 7:20 and waited. Cat thought she saw him walk in and then back out. When the same guy popped in again we moved toward the desk and recognized him. They had told him that we were waiting outside?
We talked as we walked to an Italian Restaurant that Dominick had recommended. He had told us that it was expensive and he was right. It was a little too fancy for our dress but we chose to sit. It was too late to start searching and we wanted to spend time talking with Marcin. It was after 10:00 by the time food hit our table. It was okay, over budget and not great. They did have linen napkins and we didn’t miss the wax paper. We had plenty of time to talk and it was a good thing because Marcin was planning on returning to Gdansk, his home, tomorrow. We said our goodbyes, even took a picture under the full moon then wished each other well and parted. It was after midnight by the time we got back to our room.
May 17, 2003
Day off in Poznan
Awoke to sun shining through the thin curtains at 6:40 AM. We decided to lay in just a little longer then both fell back to sleep. Cat stirred at 7:30 and worked on computer. The sun and keyboard sounds finally pulled me out from under the covers at 8:00. We were on no schedule today, so who cares? I wanted to work on the computer for a bit, putting pictures in, because we have been having problems with the camera lately. In fact, we have one CD we can’t read and download.
Finally at 9:45 AM we joined the light, late crowd for breakfast. The VERY runny eggs reminded us of Greg, the Australian we met in Greenland. He called them Salmonella Pills.
As we walked toward the square we came across several interesting benches, decorated in strange and unusual styles. The one that caught our eye, of course, was done like a recumbent bicycle. We had to have a picture and that involved a conversation with Agnieszka and Basia, two sisters sitting nearby. The eldest, Basia, shot our pic then I asked them to sit on the next bench for me. It had angel wings and we told them that they were our Poznan Angels. (The girls reminded Cat of her favorite music of the 80s, a group called Basia.) In fact Basia was the name of the girl, lead singer. Remember them?)
When we reached the square I found Euphoria. We were in the middle of a car rally! They were just lining up, getting ready to hit the road. I spent an hour taking pictures of the mix of Autos, East and West. What a treat!
What happened to Cat? Tired of old cars, she drifted off, looking for a gift to send to Maggie, our friends Kojack and Louise’s daughter who is getting married on June 6th in Las Vegas. Finding nothing, we decided to send her a 20 Zloty note and a 20€ note. Just keep sakes but I would later send her a note suggesting that the Zloty would be worthless once Poland joins the EU however the 20€ may be worth big bucks someday, considering the way the US Dollar is declining against it.
What in the heck are the Goats of Poznan? We see signs and even some of the decorated benches allude to GOATS? It must be the luck of the Irish in Poland, as we rounded the corner we were thrust into a crowd of gawkers, looking up at the tower of the City Hall. It was high noon and everyday at high noon the Poznan Goats do their thing. It is similar to the Glockenspiel clock in Munich, Germany, if you’ve seen it. Not very exciting in this high-speed digital world but nice to know you can still count on the Rams ramming heads after almost 200 years.
Our dreaded appointment with the Laundry
Lady was rather pleasant. She wasn’t there, the
Father brought out our bundle of fresh smelling
things and handed us the bill. It was only 30 Z,
rather than the 50 she had quoted. (30 Z is about
We rushed next door to Dominick’s wine store and blew the savings on a good bottle of Vino. Back in the room we discovered that although Dominick’s wine was dry, the laundry wasn’t. It was spread and hang time, again.
The best news of the day came in the form of a message from Marcin. I had left one for him, telling him how much we enjoyed seeing him last night. His message let us know that he had spent the night here and wanted us to meet his girl friend, Magda. The biggest surprise was that they would be here at our hotel in just a half hour. We hadn’t eaten and were starving. I called him and left another message that we would be downstairs, having lunch and invited them to join us. We enjoyed a pretty nice meal in the coffee shop then waited in the lobby. When they arrived we were disappointed that we would only have 45 minutes together. They are booked on a train so we made the most of our time together.
Once the four of us found each other we had a wonderful time talking and laughing about our strange life, Marcin’s life as a Professor and Magda’s idea to film an adventure in Greenland with Marcin. He is definitely going back in July this year but they are already planning their trip for 2004. She has produced a film on the Poznan Theatre. I talked with her about how they will manage it but they are in such premature stages of planning that she wasn’t sure. She is young, young and cute. Somewhere during the conversation Cat asked Marcin about the wax paper napkins. Magda missed the point so he explained it to her then they both said it was an embarrassment to them. Well, we don’t know if it would be embarrassing but it is sort of non-functional. An exercise in futility?
As we walked with them toward the train station we met a friend of Marcin’s. He is also a Professor and his name is also Marcin. We stood and talked then hurried off toward the train. They were so late now that they chose to take a trolley. Our parting was so hurried that we hardly had time to say goodbye. Ah, the sorrow of parting was curbed by the haste of departure.
031 Marcin, Magda & Marcin II
032 Marcin & Magda
033 MarcinII & Friend
Mpeg 052 The Meeting Place
Walking back to our Hotel we again met Marcin II and his girl friend. We stood and chatted then asked about an Internet Connection. He not only knew of one, he led us to it. A strange place down a set of stairs from a parking lot, sort of in a basement. It is open 24/7 but we only needed 2 hours to catch up.
We had spent so much time that we hated to walk and look for a restaurant so we just went back to our Hotel. The place was crowded with a huge group of German tourists. We sat in the room next to the dining room. Missed a little of the ambiance but the food was, again, surprisingly GOOD.
Back in our room Cat crashed while I watched a Boxing Match. Not her forte but the snoring added to the atmosphere of the fight.
May 18, 2003
Day off in Poznan
Up fairly early and it’s a sunny morning. After our decent included breakfast, we went back to KGI Internet Klub. The best-laid plans, we ended up spending 4 hours! It was after 1:00 PM before we escaped the dingy place and climbed back up into sunshine. We just walked the streets, did a minor quest for a bicycle sculpture we had read about. It is a bigger than life bronze of a businessman on the way to work, brief case on the rack. It represents the professionals of the past, we think it is a good idea for today and the future. We’ll come back tomorrow on the way out and get a picture with him.
Lunch, in Old Town Square at a Chinese Restaurant. We chose the place because it had seating on the square, didn’t even know it was Chinese until we saw the menu. The food was good and people watching was great. They have a stage set up across from our seats but music doesn’t start until 6:00. The horse drawn carriages pulled up, loaded then left right in front of our seats.
After a relaxing afternoon we went back to the room to drop off the gallon bottle of water we’ll use to fill our bottles tomorrow. Though we were planning on visiting a building with an Observation Deck to get the panoramic view of Poznan, I got stuck on the computer. We had a problem with one of our disks full of photos. It wouldn’t finalize after the battery died. I got instructions on Internet, had them printed and wanted to see if we could work it out Two hours later, too late to see the panorama, I finally figured it out! It was a very happy moment because A LOT of the photos were of Lithuania and Warsaw. I was sorry that time had escaped us then we looked out the window and were doubly doomed, it was blowing a hurricane and the rain was pouring down
We almost spent another lazy evening at home. With so many nice places to choose from, hated to eat in the Hotel again. They had an umbrella for loan so we took it and took off for the heart of Old Town. The stage that was fallow while we dined on Chinese was now raging with ROCK. My Father used to say, “If you can’t play well, play loud.” They were played pretty well and pretty loud.
Rock 'n' Roll
Dinner would be Italian, a small home owned place. The daughter waited on us. There was a big family party in the back room. Lots of kids running in and out, laughing and playing. The wine was cheap and tasted same. The food was cheap but pretty good. With the kids, the old folks and family, it really felt like Italy in Poland.
May 19, 2003
Poznan to 4 Km west of Gorzyn
(78 Km = 50+- Miles)
After our included breakfast we walked in the rain to the Internet Connection. We wanted to check because Cat had e-mailed a short term Apartment rental in Berlin and we hoped they would have a place for us. No such luck but Cat had told them of our trip and web site, we did pick up some new cycling friends.
Cat also checked us out while I went for her bike. That would be a pretty good workout to start my day. Up the 4 stairs from our hallway then at the elevator I had to roll in on the rear wheel. Of course I knew that but forgot that the European style elevators have a door that you have to pull open from left to right. Problem, the rear wheel brake and only control of the bike once it is on the rear wheel, is on the right. I had the bike in the air when the elevator arrived but couldn’t let go to open the door. As I struggled the elevator answered another call. Now I had to push the button again. When it returned I set the bike on the rear bags and pulled the door open then tried three times to beat the spring load but it was too quick. Finally I just scooted the bike, caught the door and struggled an inch at a time until I could get my right foot inside the door. None of this may make sense but I really worked up a sweat in the struggle.
Of course Cat was ready to go. She said, “Should I wait here with the bike?” As much as we hate to, we had to trust that the desk would keep and eye on it, I didn’t have the strength to try to wrestle my heavier bike aboard the elevator single-handed. With the two of us it was a snap.
Back to the brass sculpture of the guy on a bicycle in drizzling rain. He is called Stary Marych, a character from writings of Kubel, in columns in a newspaper a long time ago. The character came to symbolize the average Poznanian businessman on his way to work with his leather brief case. We lined the bikes up then lined up a couple of ladies and one took a great picture for us.
Pissed off Pollack
City streets and city traffic are our least favorite places to be. We were lost, sort of, for a short time then found and on the road, E30, 2, to Berlin. The usual difficulties, cobble stone streets and trolley tracks were exaggerated further by drizzling the rain. It took us almost 2 hours to finally get out of the city mess. On the outskirts we found a frontage street or path most of the time and used it due to the wet conditions. At one point we entered a narrow paved single lane that meandered off toward a shopping center. Not enough room for us and on coming traffic, the cars would drop their right wheels off the pavement and leave us a 1 meter (2 foot) edge to cling to. Well, most of them would. A small white station wagon came at us pretty fast and wouldn’t give way, even a little. I slowed then stopped but he swept past, almost hitting my leg. I hit the rear panel of his wagon with the back of my hand to show my disapproval.
Brakes screeched, his car slid slightly sideways and he jumped out. He looked angry, he looked stout and he looked 10 years my junior. I stood my ground, he growled something in Polish, and I shot back a salute of English telling him he could have hurt us. He came right up to me and raised his arm as though to hit me. I stood taller and spewed as much English as he spewed Polish. He made another threatening move and again I stood, I was still astride the bike and knew that if he started swinging I would take the first couple of blows as I got off the bike. Cars were beginning to back up, someone honked then he abruptly turned and jumped back in his car. He ground the gears as he grabbed low then the tires screeched as he peeled out and it was all over. He had been shaking as he threatened. For some reason I remained cool and calm, even as he sped away. We pedaled past a half dozen cars, the faces stared, some smiled and waved, one gave us a big thumb’s up. A smile and non-violence paid off.
A stop for a soft drink and toilet left us feeling like stupid tourists. I drank while Cat tried to get in the toilet. She told me it was locked, I tried it then asked the girl. She just shook her head. Back to the men’s, it was open. I shut the door and found that it was now locked, too. They were pay toilets and the cost was 1€. We passed on that one and rode on.
The large sign drew us in but we couldn’t figure out how to get in? We had to circle the Service Station, Restaurant to find the driveway. As we made our way in we stirred up a pair of ostriches and they raced back and forth in the long narrow pen.
The only thing we could see that appealed to us was soup on the menu. As we slurped a couple of boys walked up and started looking the bikes over. I knocked on the window and gave them the thumbs up, the returned the salute the walked away. I was sorry that we hadn’t taken their picture when they suddenly re-appeared on their bikes. They parked them next to ours and compared. We went out and I stood with them for a picture. They were really excited when they saw the picture but didn’t understand the card with our web site on it. They spoke no English so we just did a little sign language. As we started to ride away they joined us. I had to have a video to remember the moment.
The boys, Mati and Mecei reminded me of two little boys on bikes more than 50 years ago. Jimmy and Jerry Patterson, my brother and I, cycled all over town when we were just 7 and 9 years old. We would have been totally intrigued with two adults riding bikes. Especially if we knew they were riding around the world. We often talked about just taking off and going around the world. In those days our world was so small and the world seemed so big. Today, for me, the World seems a smaller place, hopefully because I’m a bigger person?
Once out on the roadway we ran into moderate rain. We slogged along on a fairly flat road with a nice wide shoulder. The rain and the shoulder stopped at the same time. Then it went from bad to worse, road construction took it and most of the lane away. We had to fend for our selves as the cars and trucks jockeyed for position in the narrow, dusty roadbed.
We saw a sign, Cross Roads Hotel and went for it. When we arrived it was small and right on the highway. Then we caught another sign that told us that we must go only 4 Km further and we would find Hotel Tuscany. It was off the main, down a tree lined lane and a dirt driveway and into a wonderful place.
The place was like a hunting lodge of old but the buildings were modern, just built last year. They had a large barn and lots of horses. It’s a destination resort for the horsy set, in season. Our room was wood and wallpaper, we even had BBC and CNN television. The crowning glory was that they let us use their computer to check e-mail.
As we ordered dinner we ran into a language problem on the wine list. I asked for a Pinot Girigio that seemed priced right, on their list. The girl pointed to a bottle of Santa Margarita and I thought she was saying it was the one on the list. I asked in several different ways because it seemed such a bargain. Assured, we ordered and enjoyed, until we got the bill. The cheapy wasn’t S.M. I discussed it with the manager, another exercise in futility, then paid the price. By the way, dinner was as good as our room.
May 20, 2003
Gorzyn, Poland to Manschnow, Germany
It was cool and windy as we entered the main road. Construction continued until we reached the new section, which had a large, bike friendly shoulder. After while it thinned to narrow then disappeared, completely. Although the cars and trucks were close they gave way to us, and they were moving slowly. The road was tree lined and beautiful, we came upon a bird and wildlife refuge. There were fishermen trying their luck amidst the plush greenery. A tall tower over looked the wet lands where bird and wildlife watchers can revel in nature.
Almost a surprise, the border into Germany sort of snuck up on us. There was a Border Guard and they did check our Passports but it was all very relaxed. We thought that Kostrzyn was a city that straddled the border. There was a traffic jam as we cycled toward the Center caused by a slow moving train. That was enough to turn us toward the west. We rode on, asked a woman at a fish stand if there was a Hotel and she indicated that there were several. It is 6 Km to Manschnow where we stopped for information. A couple at a restaurant told us of the only place, a Motel just 400 meters further. We rode through an intersection then decided that they must have meant for us to turn left. Back and to the left then through village housing and back into farm land. Two ladies just coming out of a house pointed across the field when we asked. They suggested that we would be best off to go back and make the turn again and continue to the first street we could turn left on. We found ourselves in an Industrial Park then we found the Motel. It is a single story building sort of hidden in the neighborhood. Cat tried the phone at the entry but got know where. The woman who answered spoke only German. I caught a guy at a little Restaurant a few doors down who was just closing. He called the woman who runs the place. We watched him load his van and worried that he was our only connection and he was leaving. Then up drove the Frau. She lives off property. The number that Cat had called on the entry phone had nothing to do with the Motel? Sure would be good to speak German.
to be Out Done
The nice lady shared our concern
about leaving the bikes in the hallway.
There wasn’t enough room in our room so she
opened another, just across the hallway and
we had a private garage for them
The room is basic but the shower was strong and hot. Tired, we had asked our hostess about a Taxi and she just laughed. We walked the 400 meters, back into the village to the Restaurant we had stopped at earlier and had dinner. Then another walk, back to our humble abode.
May 21, 2003
Manschnow to Berlin
Breakfast included, several other guests. Some appear to be long term. They all entered, looked at us and said, “Morgan”. We responded, “Good Morning”. That was the end of the conversations. Oh those language problems.
Cycled in cool breezes, head breezes, for about 30 Km then looped off the highway to picturesque Muncheberg. We asked and were told that there was a café just after the big beautiful church. It was an ice cream store with a very limited food menu. Soup, good hot soup and a dish like chicken potpie with out the crust. Not full yet we had the only other thing on the menu, Wieners and Potato salad. As we ate a group of four women pulled up on bikes and looked at ours that were leaning out front. I went out and talked with them briefly. They are on a 10-day ride through the countryside. A couple had touring bags the other two had little suitcases strapped to their racks.
When we finished eating we decided that we should have taken a picture of the group. We went on into the heart of Muncheberg and found them eating their sandwiches on a bench in the town square. What a fun group! Rita, Ingrid, Reinhild and Margrit. They have been doing an annual ride together for the past twelve years. They’re from Hamburg and belong to a club that cycles together every Sunday during good weather and walk in the winter months. We had a fun time comparing experiences. I got them to say, “You must be Crazy”, for our language study. They ride 50 Km daily, the gal who spoke the best English told us that in the earlier years they would go up to 100 but have pared it down the past few years.
must be Crazy, Take 1, German
must be Crazy, Take 2, German
It is about 60 Km from Muncheberg to Berlin. We just cycled, stopping occasionally for a picture or rest. I called Martin, one of the guys we met on the road in Latvia. He and his girl friend, Jessica have volunteered to help us. They actually have adopted us, she called around then he finalized a deal for an apartment for us. A second call and Martin told us they had taken a place near the Center in a good neighborhood.
At least 15 Km. of the ride was on City streets. We alternated between the street and sidewalk bike paths riding. It was rush hour traffic by the time we got close to the Centrum. Another stop at a Best Western Hotel and the help of a wonderful front desk gal and we were within striking distance of the Apartment. She even copied a map for us with exacting directions. Of course we couldn’t seem to follow them and were soon lost. Don’t blame it all on us, we were on Frankfurter Allee and the street we were looking for, Peters-Burger Strasser both have names that change mid block. We stopped during our misadventure and bought wine, cheese and bread. We were both a little shaky and in need of nourishment.
Martin and Jessica were waiting and hailed us down as we turned the corner onto Pasteur Strasser. What a pleasant surprise, the apartment is in a great, central location. It is beautiful, we are the first guests to stay since it was renovated and Mr. Trepte, the landlord, gave us a discount on the already good price. It is 50€ per day but days 4 and 5 were reduced. The total is only 220€ or 44€ per day for a fully furnished place. Since Mr. Trepte doesn’t speak English having Martin and Jessica with us was invaluable. They also brought the rear bike wheels that had been shipped to us by LandRider.
We made a date for dinner tomorrow evening, they were off and we walked to the super market just down the street. A disappointment, the market doesn’t accept credit cards or have a Cash Machine. As I tried to understand the directions the checker was giving me the guy who had just checked out turned and said, “Maybe I can help.” Peter turned out to be the perfect helper. He was loading his groceries into an Orlieb Pannier. Yes, a cyclist, he led us around the block to an ATM and filled us in on his job. He is Dr. Peter and his Doctorate is in electrical science. Looking for an advancement in career, he has just today taken a new position with a Micro-Chip manufacturer in southern Germany on the Czech border.
Roast chicken, salad and fries from a little stand. We were at home. Rearranging furniture, we were soon propped at the table filling our stomachs with good food and our minds with English language news. (Yes, we even have CNN on our television.)
May 22, 2003
Errands in Berlin
You really don’t know how tired you really are until you have a morning when you don’t have to get up and go. The window to our combination living room/bedroom is right on the street. There are mini blinds but they don’t block the light or street noise. On closer inspection we discovered those wonderful metal shutters that we had in Marbella. I closed them when we lay down and there was no light or noise. We slept until after 8:00 AM. We couldn’t believe it but we loved it.
Breakfast at home, cereal, fresh fruit and coffee, what a treat. (Real coffee, not Nescafe!) Then we just lazed, lounged, unpacked and did a little work on the computer. Sandwiches and soft drinks for lunch, another treat.
Cat has been craving a hair cut for a month. I could care less but my mane is getting pretty hard to control. She made an appointment at the Hair Dressers located directly next door, for both of us. She went first, I took a couple of pictures and a video but the camera was giving us a problem. When I took the chair I told the girls, Nancy and Melanie that it would look like it had snowed when they finish with me. Marianne sat in a chair and tried to tell us of her travels in Africa. She doesn’t speak much English, so it was not quite understood completely, but it was great that she was trying to have a conversation with us. Good for a laugh, after the 10 minutes of explanation and translation. By the way, snow in German is Sney, much like sneg in Russian.
I spent the afternoon trying to retrieve the pictures that are trapped on the disc that was in the camera. A code number and the manual led me to the conclusion that the disks we bought in Poland are not compatible with the camera.
Our late afternoon was spent at Surfin’ a strange Internet Café. When we entered the young guy asked for identification, a drivers license or passport. Although strange, he said it was to use for our permanent number there. When we told him we were just passing through and he caught a peek of my California Drivers License he ran out the door and we could here the words, Californiee and Americanzee as he excitedly talked about us with the lady who owns the place. When he returned he opened a machine. We asked how much they charge and he said, “We don’t charge you, it is being free!” We don’t know exactly why but we took the deal. Then the strangest thing of all, we asked as we were leaving, what their hours were. They are only open from 3:30 to 6:00 PM on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday? Well so much for great free Internet Access in Berlin.
They pointed out a bicycle shop just across the street. Jan, the owner was friendly but told us that his service department was booked for tomorrow and closed both Saturday and Sunday. He could take us on Tuesday. We told him that wouldn’t work and he was sorry. Then I asked about the cost of helmets. We have been thinking we should get new, adjusting helmets. Also, I looked at the seats he had on display. Both our seats are beginning to tear and I have wanted a little different configuration. His ears perked up. Then when I asked if he know another shop that might be able to take us he said, “If you bring them at 9:00 AM tomorrow, we will work them in. The shop is tidy and well stocked, I told him we’d be back.
Company is coming, we had to hurry back. I was just jumping into my long pants when the doorbell rang. Martin and Jessica were on time, we were a little late. We sat in our lovely abode and talked while they had a beer and we drank wine. They are a cute couple, soon to be married. Their backgrounds are really different. He was born and raised in the Eastern Sector, she in the West. Though they are only in their mid-upper 20s they know a lot about politics and the world. Martin loves to ride bicycle, Jessica says she would ride but she doesn’t want to camp. Although he says that the last name Moschek is Jewish, Martin’s Father was a Catholic Priest at least until he met Martin’s Mom and started a family. Jessica’s Mother is Swedish and Jessica wants to live in Sweden. It sounds like Martin sort of likes the idea?
He started with a trip to middle Asia, in the Soviet Union back in 1990. He and his best friend Stephan made that trip and both fell in love with touring on bikes. They’ve made many trips together during the past 12 years. Martin cycled in North Africa solo in 1999. Our planned start and route are similar to his. He went down the coast then inland to Timbuktu. He has promised to bring his maps and pictures when we meet on Sunday. They are going to take us on a photo shoot tour of Berlin Sunday afternoon.
We walked, explored neighborhoods and sought a restaurant. Finally Jessica led us to a nice little Italian place. The pizza was great, the wine not so. Oh well, you can’t have everything. The company was terrific. They hurried off to catch a train and we walked back through the darkened street. Cat led, I was completely lost so I followed.
May 23, 2003
More Errands in Berlin
Up a little earlier, maybe because we left the door open and light from the rising sun filtered through the dining area. Another fine, relaxing, breakfast at home then off to the Bicycle Shop. Each of us had to carry our new wheel so it was pretty wobbly. The guys were just opening the door when we pulled up. Nice guys. Remo, the tech, listened to my thoughts and made notes. We had them install the rear wheels, new chains and brake pads. Jan helped us choose helmets and I bought a pair of cycling shorts in XXXL. Nice and loose, I want to wear them under normal shorts. They asked us to come back at 5:00 PM.
The long walk back to our apartment and we loaded up dirty laundry. The coin op is several blocks in the opposite direction of the bike store. We were witness there to something we’ve seen as a joke on a TV commercial. There was a guy, shaved head, sitting in his under shorts and sneakers in front of washer. He had his knees pulled up against his body and was staring as the cloths went round and round. We watched him out of the corner of our eye. When we moved to the dryer he put his few things in the one next to ours and sat next to us. The little bell dinged, he stood in front of the dryer, retrieved his pants and hop stepped into them then his shirt and jacket. Last, he pulled his clean sox and old shoes on. Fully dressed he brushed past us and murmured, “Sorry.”
The Pharmacist at the Apotneke across the street gave us the name, Dr. Wellkopf and an address. We walked, a long way. The door to the office was pretty plain, with an intercom. A push of the button brought us the bad news, “Come back at 4:00 PM.”
Okay, we took the trolley to Alexander Platz, the shopping street. Well, we got on but couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket. I tried to put a 2€ coin in the machine and it wouldn’t take it. We asked a young girl and she said, “It’s your lucky day!” Okay, if the machine won’t take a coin we ride for free? No, a spoilsport showed her how to push the right button. She didn’t know because she has a student pass. She said, “Forget it, you can’t pay if you don’t have correct change.” Then she became our guide. The trolley makes a turn to the right about 3 blocks from Alexanders Platz. She talked as we walked. She is going, with friends, on a trekking trip to Sicily. We parted at a bank, we needed cash. The bike store only takes cash and we had a feeling the Doctor would want Euros, too.
Cash in wallet, we explored the shopping center. Another of our quests is mini CDs for the camera. A round about and several asks led us to Saturn and CDs. We trolleyed back to the Doctors office, buzzed in then had to stand in the hallway for 15 minutes. Finally they opened the door, we explained what we needed and took a seat. Cat has always thought that these Doctor visits and expense is a rip off. Well, we do the same thing in California, prescriptions written by foreign Pharmacists don’t fly there either. After 10 minutes the nurse called us to the desk and the Doctor sat in front of us and asked about our drugs. She was quite nice, understanding and soon had written prescriptions. When we asked what we owed she acted as though she didn’t understand. The nurse said, “No, you don’t pay!” Another pleasant surprise, we gave them cards and asked that they e-mail us. Again, we don’t know why she didn’t charge but, if you’re in Berlin and need an honest Doctor, Cat recommends Dr. Wellkopf.
We walked the 4 blocks back to the Bicycle Shop and got there right at 5:00 PM. The bikes were ready and though not sparkling clean, they did have new chains and wheels. Pretty expensive but they did throw in the XXXL shorts at no charge. Remo was alone and busy. He was selling a bike and taking one in for repair. I paid him, we had a picture with him then wobbled away with the old wheels hanging from my handlebars.
Back at our Apartment, we decided to break down the old wheels. The tires were pretty worn but the wheels are in good condition and we will give them to Martin. Also, we have a feeling that Remo may not have changed the thorn proof tubes into the new tires on the rear wheels. We were right and I was angry. We checked the hand written bill that he had given us and found that we had paid 70€ for the helmets we thought were going to be 44.50 €. I was pretty upset. Cat worked hard to calm me.
Dinner in, soup with pasta. Another rare treat, what fun it is to have a home. CNN and journal, on into the night. Strange, I lost a little sleep thinking about being cheated by the bike shop. Sort of like back in those days when our business was shaky and we were short of cash. This is a small deal but I hate to be taken in by someone I trust.
May 24, 2003
Working Tourists in Berlin
Our morning was spent on pictures and journal. Cat made a market run and we had sandwiches. We loaded the old wheels on my bike and Cat carried the new Helmets in a plastic bag. We were headed back to give Jan at the Bike Shop a piece of our minds. We got to his door but it was locked. They had closed at 1:00 PM. I peeked through the window and saw Jan way in the back. I began to knock, at first with my knuckles, but he seemed to be ignoring me. I took a coin from my pocket and made a lot of noise. He still kept his eyes down. Finally, he knew that we weren’t going to give up so he came up and opened the door. When he stepped out he locked it. I confronted him about both the tubes that weren’t changed and the price of the helmets. He fumbled around then said, “Come Monday morning, Remo will fix tire.” We wanted to see the helmet prices but he said that he wanted to go to his family, almost whined that he wanted it was his time for family. I told him that Cat and I are family and we wanted answers. Again, he asked us to come Monday morning, “Remo has English.”
So, that was that, he walked away and we stood there, almost wanting to break a window or do something. WHOA, we are against violence. What are we thinking? I should say what was I thinking, Cat was already urging me to, “Get over it!”
We stowed the bike at the Apartment and walked, through the big park and out into the main part of Berlin. The first place we saw had sand volleyball courts. They were all full with players looking like we were at East Beach in Santa Barbara. The park was huge, with fountains, table tennis areas, loads of bike/walking paths, amphitheatre, ponds, etc. The entire place was loaded with people enjoying the sunshine. We found the right tram to get us down to Alexander Platz where we figured out how to get to Check Point Charlie, and all the other “places”. First we had to have an ice cream!!!! Then on to our mission. CPC, Brandenburg Gate, etc.
|By protecting the Freedom of Berlin
We protect the Freedom of Paris,
London and New York.
John F. Kennedy 1961
We made a couple of mistakes on the public transportation system, so it was after 6:30 before we got back home. Tonight, pasta, salad and bread. Don’t forget the lemon cake!!! And, OH YES, the Euro Vision Song Contest on TV. It is a HUGE thing here in Europe and we got sucked in too. Cat even wrote down every group in order to remember them for voting! The Turkish Group was the winner. Not our first choice, but a lot better than the Hard Rock Russians!
May 25, 2003
A Day With New Friends
Our plan was to meet Martin and Jessica at the Brandenburg Gate at 11:00 AM. I hate to make appointments in such a loose way. I wished that we had asked them to come to the apartment and start together from there. We started on time but were a little late, due to traffic. Even though there was an Earth Day event with hundreds of people swarming around, Cat spotted Martin and Jessica right away.
Martin was an extremely patient and a wonderful cameraman. He took a lot of videos and still shots, while Jessica watched and helped. Some of what we were shooting was for LandRider. We rode through the huge gate several times for the camera. For our second venue Martin chose The Bundestag. Well, he works there and it is the most important place in the hearts and minds of Germans.
We spent more than 2 hours riding through the Brandenburg Gate then back and
forth in front of the Bundestag. While we walked and pushed toward a place in
the WALL that Martin thought would be interesting to get pictures of we met a
couple from Australia. Nathan and Camilla are here on a quick vacation so it was
cool for them to meet Martin and Jessica. They walked and talked, mostly with M.
& J. as we pushed. We found the only remaining guard tower and the East Side
wall, both of which were pretty plain.
I really wanted to do a shot at Check Point Charlie but it was not to be. The place is quite a ways from where we have been shooting and a long way from where their car is parked. We cycled, while martin and Jessica drove back to our apartment. We met them at the cool little restaurant, Erhardts. We wanted to enjoy the rest of the afternoon with them but they had things to do and they were tired. Lunch was good, the conversations great. They are from two different worlds as we have mentioned earlier. They will be married on July 18, she wants a big deal, he would like small and quiet.
We almost hated to let them go. Pictures, hugs, and more stories then they pulled away from the curb and we turned and walked back into our sanctuary. We had late dinner, all our leftovers, then packed and at last hit the pillows at 10:30 PM.
An Eye Opening Experience, Life on the East Side!
The best thing has been, the coming of spring. It was slow and rather cold as it first peeked its head above the farm fields of the Baltic’s but it did finally come to us. There is a lot of history here but most is filled with stories of brutality.
Poland was a wonderful surprise for us. Maybe because it was green and warm? Many of our friends in Russia and others we met in Latvia and Lithuania continually warned us about the terrible Poles and how we would have to watch our things carefully. Our experience there was nothing but positive. The roads were a little narrow and traffic close but we learned to love the people and the place.
Germany is still, in many ways, a divided country. The East seems to continue to cling to dreams of social equality. It’s the same dream that those of us counting on the promise of Social Security in the US shutter about when we hear stories of the system going broke. The system in East Europe went broke!
Stay tuned as we ride into Western Europe and experience the DIFFERENCE.
Pat & Cat