Bill Weidenfeller

Home: Naples, FL

Hobbies: Biking, Tennis

 

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ExpeditionPLUS

Rails to Trails Conservancy

America by Bike

ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA TO ISTANBUL, TURKEY

The summer of 2007 brings a new and extraordinary cycling adventure: "ExpeditionPLUS", a fully supported bicycle trip between two of Europe's most exotic cities; St Petersburg, Russia and Istanbul, Turkey. This is truly a continental-scale bicycle tour offering cyclists a physically challenging opportunity to venture into new and interesting territory.

Over the course of 7 weeks, 2600 miles and 11 countries, I will join a group of 20 experienced cyclists as we bike through the historic and culturally rich countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Highlights will include visits to not only the famous cities of St Petersburg and Istanbul, but also Tallinn, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, the Danube Gorge and so much more!.

Join me in St Petersburg on June 10 as we begin our journey from Russia to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kaliningrad (an exclave of Russia), Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and finally Turkey. WOW!

Come along for the ride,
- Bill

  • Posted: Sun, 8 July 2007

    DAY 25 HRINOVA, SLOVAKIA TO GODOLLO, HUNGARY

                     CENTURY  TO HUNGARY

     

     

     

       Most bicycling vacations or long distance tours are generally rated by level of difficulty.  This expedition through Eastern Europe is listed at a category 5 on an ascending scale from 1-5.  Today’s 166km/103 mile route was proof enough to me that this is a very challenging ride indeed. 

     

     

       We again climbed 4500 feet in the hills of southern Slovakia and Hungary on this “century” ride—my 40th 100 mile bike ride in 4 years.

     

     

       We rode south through the hills after a hearty breakfast of bowls of goulash and chunks of fish left over from the wedding party at our very basic country hotel in Hrinova.  The route was on narrow back roads offering continual climbs and descents over a bumpy and pot-holed route.  It was fun—like a technical mountain bike trail—dodging hazards and weaving your own path.

     

     

     

       I have said it many times.  The countryside is SPECTACULAR in its natural beauty, different from any easy comparison to Colorado or Oregon for example. I hope some of my photos can do it justice.

     

     

      

       At one point, as the temperature heated up on this sunny Sunday afternoon, we encountered a huge field of sunflowers in bloom…  and we continued to CLIMB.

     

     

       We blazed through small towns at 22-23 mph.  The roads were without traffic and the town folks must have been at church as we raced through the streets unimpeded.  It was great fun!

     

       At the 85 km mark we passed easily into Hungary at a quiet check point where our passports were stamped.  The terrain continued to be up and down.  The heat, the 100 mile distance, and the climbing challenged our endurance.  The van stopped for support with fresh peaches and “powerade”.

     

    Our destination of Godollo (with 2 dots over each O) is 30 km from Budapest.  We arrived late in the afternoon to a run-down hotel in an awful and isolated location on the eve of an off-day.  We were very unhappy!—no internet, no restaurant, no where to walk to, and a poor quality hotel for 2 nights.  We wanted BUDAPEST!

     

       We got it!   After dinner and some discussion our staff offered a solution.  We would bus out of Godollo in the morning, book a hotel in the heart of Budapest (pay an up charge) , and really get to see the city.

     

           Looking forward to Budapest,

                 -Bill

      

  • Posted: Sat, 7 July 2007

    DAY 24 LIPTOWSKY JAN TO HRINOVA, SLOVAKIA

                               SAVORING  SLOVAKIA

     

     

     

       Today was billed as perhaps the toughest climbing day of our bike ride through Central and Eastern Europe.  We cycled over the “Low Tatras”, the longest mountain ridge in Slovakia.  The route was 92 kn/54 miles to Hrinova, Slovakia on the OTHER side of the mountain range.

     

     

       At start time we were concerned that it would be another tough climb day with high winds and rain.  The winds howled in the trees and the clouds were dark. It was again very cold.  We prayed for sunshine, we felt we deserved some good weather—finally! 

     

     

       We had an early departure from Liptowsky Jan; originally named in honor of Saint John, but the Soviets would have no part of the “Saint”, so it was changed to just “Jan”.

      

        Immediately the sun came out—and we couldn’t feel the wind or rain—it was a wonderful experience.  We had sunshine all day in the picturesque mountains of Slovakia.  The staff told us we would have 2 “serious” climbs today.  Let me be the first to agree with their assessment.  We climbed over 5300 feet in what the Slovaks have misnamed the “Low Tetras”. I demand a name change!  These were difficult L-O-N-G climbs through magnificent tall pine forestlands.

     

     

     

       We had gorgeous views of the towns in the valleys.  We passed many ski centers along the route on this sunny Saturday morning.  In the towns we saw many people returning from market or cutting their lawn. The grass was being cut with either a scythe or a modern lawn mower. 

     

     

       Rick and I rode together all day, but climbing is an individual sport.  You climb alone- at your own pace-in your own zone.  The downhill “free fall” or descent, depending on your whim, is also very much an individual exercise.  Some (like Rick and Dan) “fly”, some are more cautious (guess who?).

     

     

       At the end of the second major climb—drained of energy—we stopped for a picnic lunch of the sandwich we had received from our hotel.  We chose a roadside spot with a view overlooking the mountains we had crossed. Sitting in the grass, we ate everything that had been packed for us….including the large green pepper.

     

     

       The final run to the very rural “Penzion”  was also uphill, but it was the conclusion to a wonderful and SUNNY DAY in Slovakia.  It ended our 3rd day of climbing in the Polish and Slovakian Tetra Mountains.  We were proud of the fact we had climbed over 14,000 feet in 3 days….and we were tired!

     

       Tomorrow we head into Hungary—and a day off in Budapest.

       You bet we are excited!

                -Bill  

     

     

      

     

     

     

      

  • Posted: Fri, 6 July 2007

    DAY 23 CERVENY KLASTER TO LIPTOWSKY JAN, SLOVAKIA

               TAKING ON THE HIGH TATRAS

     

      

       Dobry den !   ( Hello! in Slovakian)

     

        Anybody have an extra jacket?  It’s COLD here!

     

     

       In a beautiful part of the world, on not such a welcoming day, our cycling group took on the best obstacles the Slovakian High Tatra mountains could throw at us.

     

     

       It was bitterly cold with the winds gusting at 40 mph in the mist or rain we had throughout the day.  We climbed a total of 4700 feet overall, mainly on 2 major long ascents.  WE covered 115 km/71 miles in the vacationland of Slovakia…the imposing High Tatra Mountains—a section of the Carpathian Mountain Range.

     

       It was surely a long and tough day of biking, but the pleasure of being HERE and DOING IT was a reward in itself. I think a regret we all had was that we could only imagine how beautiful the mountain vistas surrounding us all day WOULD have been IF only the sun had been shining.  We had dark cloud cover for all our photos, but we still had great material.

     

       I was impressed with the numbers of hikers, back packers and trekkers we saw in the mountains today.  They walked along roads, up trails, in groups and in families;   Europeans on their active, outdoor vacation.  Kudos!

     

       While biking alone through a clean Slovakian village, a young boy ran into the street from his home.  He offered me an apple or an orange which he held out to me as I passed by.   His mother was in the window of their small house obviously supporting his generosity.  I thought, “What a nice thing to do.”, although I took neither.  I did stop and gave the boy a Snickers bar which sent him running home with a big smile.  His mother yelled “Dakujem! (Thank you!) from the window.

     

       I mention this because only moments later I entered another small town—this one a poor gypsy (Roma) town of impoverished dwellings.  Ahead were as many as 15-20 young kids in the street. As I approached, I was swarmed by these gypsy kids who pulled at my jacket and bike pack until I was finally able to push them away.  They ran off with my bicycle tools from my zippered bike pack.  Mugged!  Later, others were hit in the same way, losing money or being knocked off the bike.  Our new guide, Ondrej, told us tonight that the gypsy “problem” is Slovakia’s number 1 social concern.

     

     

       The day’s journey continued (following a flat tire repair) with a serious climb to and beyond the village of Nova  Polianka, where a number of large mountain resorts are located.  Ski hills and mountain trails in the vicinity obviously draw a large number of tourists.

     

       At the summit we were in a cloud with only a view into a foggy mist.  The long downhill run to the hotel in the small town of Liptowsky Jan was a real pleasure. 

     

     

       Our dinner tonight was by music from a local Slovakian trio. 

     

        Dobru noc!   (Good night!)

     

            -Bill

     

     

     

     

     

      

     

     

      

      

  • Posted: Thu, 5 July 2007

    DAY 22 KRAKOW, POLAND TO CERVENY KLASTER, SLOVAKIA

     

     

                     RIDING  THE POLISH TATRA MOUNTAINS INTO SLOVAKIA

     

     

       So Many things changed today!  It seemed we made adjustments several times each hour on our ride from Krakow, Poland to Cerveny Klastor, Slovakia.  At the finish you had to admit that it was one great bicycle ride. We covered 136 km/84 miles biking through the Polish Tatra Mountains.

     

     

    *    The weather changed almost hourly.  We had rain, wind, sun, all at different times during the day.  Basically the rain occurred during the first half of the ride—the sun came later. 

     

     

    *      After weeks in the flats, we climbed 4200 feet today in the Polish Tatra Mountains; some were long gradual climbs, others were shorter ascents, but all had great descents.

     

       *    The temperature changed, or at least our body temperatures did.  We changed            

    clothing numerous times during the day.  The rain jacket was on and off with each

     precipitation.                                                          

     

    *   The environment changed as we climbed into the mountains.  The scenery was   spectacular at times.  One could have imagined being in Austria or Colorado.

       The architecture changed from the city buildings and country farms to mountain chalets and A- frame homes.

     

     

    ·        We biked from the urban streets of center Krakow to the very rural Spisska Stara Ves near Cerveny Klastor, Slovakia only 15 km from the border with Poland.

    ·        We left Poland after 10 wonderful days spent in the expansive rural countryside, the Tatra mountains in the South, and the historic cities of Warsaw, Sandomierz and Krakow.  The people of Poland were warm, helpful, industrious and proud.  To me they have shown great strength in re-building a country devastated by the Nazis and controlled by the Soviets.  We really enjoyed our tour of Poland!

     

     

       We have seen little of Slovakia, but we have already experienced a welcoming at the “bicycles and walkers” only border crossing in Szczawinca.  We have ridden through the beautiful Pieninski National Park with its deep gorge and bike path along the river.  We have seen some terrific mountain views in the vicinity of our country inn.

     

     

    ·        And just as I was mastering the Polish language (HA!) , I am now faced with speaking Slovakian—in addition to comprehending a new currency exchange

     

     

       Our hotel has the appearance of a new Alpine lodge.  It is a great place to stay.

     

        I am one of the several bikers ready for some rest.  We celebrated the wedding anniversaries of Rick and Kathie and Elizabeth with a glass of champagne tonight.

     

       -Bill

     

      

     

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  • Posted: Wed, 4 July 2007

    DAY 21 REST DAY IN KRAKOW, POLAND

                                                  WOW, KRAKOW!

     

     

       Krakow, Poland has become one of the ‘must see” cities in Eastern Europe along with Prague and Budapest.  Now, I understand why!  It is incredibly beautiful, virtually untouched by the ravages of WWII, historic, and fun.  It is a city of 150 churches, 200,000 university students, home of the Wawel Castle, and has one of the BEST old market squares in all of Europe.  On our day off we took in as much as we could.

     

       Anna, our guide for the morning, gave us a classroom history lesson and overview before we ventured out on a walking tour.  It was a rainy morning, but our spirits were not dampened b y the rain. Our group of 20 cyclists made up only a small part of the 7 million tourists who will visit Krakow this year.   

     

       Take a look at some of the photos Rick Myerburg and I took on the 4th of July in Krakow’s Old Town.

     

       

  • Posted: Tue, 3 July 2007

    DAY 20 BUSKO ZDROJ TO KRAKOW, POLAND

           POLAND’S  AMBER  WAVES  OF  GRAIN

     

     

     

       AGAIN we began our cycling day in the rain, but AGAIN the weather turned into a beautiful and warm sunny day. 

     

     

       The route at times was post-card scenic, and for the first time we had the challenge of some difficult hills.  Today’s course was 102 km/63 miles into Krakow.  It was a long, varied, and memorable bicycle ride.

     

       For the ride into Poland’s most beautiful city, I was wearing my new Polish bike jersey.  Although wet and covered with rain gear early, it dried and the shirt elicited many approving glances along the way.  We had several interactions with town folks during the day; a woman in the country who had lived in the Chicago area, a young man operating a “sklep”/store who spoke good English and invited our biking ladies to use the bathroom in his home, and a church custodian who turned on the church music and opened the doors to give us a tour.

     

     

       The hills we climbed today (2000+ feet) gave us long sweeping views of the fields of grain and hay against the clearing skies.

     

     

    As we rounded a corner in the village of Malzyce, we heard church music playing and came upon an old wooden church.  It was an impressive sight, both outside and in.  The custodian’s tour was a bonus, as he presented the church with pride.

     

     

       As we entered the outskirts of Krakow we were asked to stop for a while to allow Seko, our Polish guide, the time to mark with arrows our route into the very busy center city.  Rick and Fritz took the opportunity to rest in the sun-on the sidewalk-near a bus stop.  The off-loading bus passengers –even the stoic old ladies in scarves had to smile at the boys.

     

     

       The final hectic 10 km through the streets of the city in heavy traffic led us to the Ascot Hotel just a few short blocks from Old town—and one of the most INCREDIBLE squares or plazas in all of Europe.  (Photos and highlights will be given tomorrow on our rest day)

     

       My riding buddies; Dan, Kathie, and Rick before leaving Brusko Zdroj this morning had time for this photo.

     

     

       Here is all the gang at a traditional Polish dinner in Krakow, including Damiano (foreground) a new Italian guide who will be with us for awhile.

               

                    Enjoying Poland and its people immensely,

     

                                 -Bill

     

     

     

     

      

     

     

     

  • Posted: Mon, 2 July 2007

    DAY 19 SANDOMIERZ TO BUSKO ZDROJ, POLAND

                         DOG  IN THE  FOG

     

     

       Elizabeth, David and I stood on the porch of our hotel in Sandomierz ready for our 105 km/65 mile bike ride to Busko Zdroj, Poland.

     

     

       Our departure from town gave us a clear view back at the church and the town we enjoyed so much; Sandomierz.

     

     

       We were soon in the countryside amid apple and cherry orchards, small towns, and farmlands.  It was an interesting look at Poland—off the tourist route where the “real people” live.

     

     

       Each home it seems takes the trouble to grow a flower garden.  The people are obviously proud of their homes and display this pride with gardens and hanging baskets and window boxes of colorful flowers.

     

     

       Another prevalent display in Poland are the religious alters or icons to the Virgin Mary and/or the Crucifix which are placed along the roadways.  We have seen hundreds of these monuments, each different and personal in their respect for their Catholic faith.  Impressive!

     

     

       Rick and I stopped to take a picture of a horse drawn wagon as the farmer yelled approvingly, “Yankee”!  We have seen farming at many levels from huge, modern operations to the small family farm with one tractor or wagon.

     

     

       Today’s weather was warm and sunny early, but unfortunately turned to an increasing rain as we progressed on our route.  We were only miserable in the 30-40 km range when we encountered seriously pot-holed roads.  We bounced and dodged through this section in heavy rain, careful to avoid the big holes.

     

       The sun came out at the half way point of the route making it an enjoyable finish to the day’s ride.

     

     

       At noon Rick, Kathie, Jane and I stopped in a park in Kurozwejki to eat our hotel packed sandwiches.  We bought cokes in a nearby “sklep” (store) and Rick bought some pastries for dessert.  In the meantime, we had drawn a small, curious crowd.  The foreigners in spandex shorts and “clacking” bicycle shoes were an oddity to the town folks.  After a group of men accepted some of our doughnuts they happily posed for photos.  They too found out we were “Yanks”, not Englishmen.

     

     

     

       Leaving Kurozwejki we rolled past an imposing church in the partially walled city of Szydlow.  We were now in the final 20-30 km and moving quickly on our bikes.

     

       At 2:00 pm we entered Busko Zdroj, a city of 18,000, which lies in the lowlands of southern Poland, 230 km south of Warsaw and 80 km north of Krakow.  It is Poland’s only spa resort with “unique springs and therapeutic waters”.  Several bikers had a message treatment this afternoon.  I (along with many others) had a “Dog in the Fog” brand Polish beer on arrival—and had planned to save the label when it somehow became attached to my forehead.  Oh well!

     

     

            -Bill     

  • Posted: Sun, 1 July 2007

    DAY 18 KAZIMIERZ TO SANDOMIERZ, POLAND

          CROSSING  THE  1000  MILE MARKER

     

     

       We continued to ride south along the Vistula River through farmlands and small towns to the ancient city of Sandomierz (pop  300,000). It was a beautiful Sunday morning for a bike ride.  There was no doubt that this was a morning for church for the Catholic population.  We passed several churches, including one just outside of Kazimierz, where Mass was in session.  A loud speaker system outside of the church building was broadcasting the words of the priest and hymns of the choir to the hundred or so parishioners standing in the courtyard attending the service.  In another town the Mass had just let out when we rode through.  Families and couples were walking, riding their bicycles, cars and even a tractor on their way home. This is one European country that DOES go the church on Sunday.

     

     

       We have passed by one crop that we could not identify initially.  We have discovered that it is hops, grown for the production of beer.  It grows as a vine staked for climbing.

     

       In the town of Watowice, high on a ridge above the Vistula we could see the river meandering below us.  We crossed over a bridge on the Vistula later in the ride. 

     

       Today’s ride offered some tougher hill climbs than we have experienced up to this point in our ride, including the steepest grade just outside of destination city of Sandomierz.  We covered 95 km or 59 miles on today’s route.  At some point during today’s ride we passed the 1000 mile mark on our journey to Istanbul, Turkey—only another couple of thousand to go!

     

       There are occasional hazards in the road that we encounter-- as you would expect.  I did not expect, however, to come face to face with a cow in the road as I did today.  The cow posed peacefully.

     

     

       We entered Sandomierz through the oldest gate in Poland, and rode into the town square complete with a castle, restaurants, 14th and 15th century buildings, and crowds of weekend celebrants.

     

     

       This afternoon we ventured into a re-enactment of jousting contests in the square performed for the costumed king and his court (and for many tourists). The selection of restaurants for tonight’s “on your own” night is extensive—as are our appetites!

     

                   -Bill  

     

       

  • Posted: Sat, 30 June 2007

    DAY 17 WARSAW TO KAZIMIERZ nad WISLA, POLAND

                                  FOLLOWING  THE  VISTULA                                            


       We were not the only ‘bikers” leaving from downtown Warsaw for a day on the bikes.  A group of European motorcyclists left the hotel at about the same time this morning for their ride.  They had the bigger bellies, and I bet we had more fun.

     

       Our gang rode together through the Warsaw streets on this sunny Saturday morning for the first 17 km.  Seko was our guide, confidently working to keep us together and  insuring we changed lanes safely for left turns, and showing us the way.   After 17 km we were on our own—following the chalk  arrows marking the route.  We had a long day ahead; 146 km or 90 miles to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kazimierz nad Wisla  (or the city of Kazimierz on the Vistula  River).  It is a city that was not damaged in the war, and has magnificent buildings remaining from the 15th and 16th centuries.

     

       We cycled through the suburbs of Warsaw into the countryside.  We noticed the change in crops.  North of Warsaw it had been all grain and potato fields, principally wheat, but south of the capital city the fields had changed to orchards of apple and cherry trees.  We stopped along the busy roadway to buy some fresh cherries from one of the numerous stands.  There were many roadside sellers of fruit, mushrooms, and freshly picked blueberries. 

     

     

       Continuing southward, wheat fields again appeared and looked ready for harvest.

     

     

       While riding, Rick and I and others discussed the big event of last evening.  It was a massive bicycling  rally to promote better pathways in Warsaw called “Critical Mass”. As we left our restaurant at 10:00 pm in the Old Town we encountered hundreds of cyclists gathering for a ride through the nighttime streets of the city.  Bikers of all ages apparently ride in mass on the last Friday of every month to raise awareness for safer roads for the cycling community.  Bravo! (and what a sight!)  

     

      

       Our final leg into the town of Kazimierz was right along the river and through the busy tourist town.  We climbed up to our hotel overlooking the city below.

     

     

       The hotel Villa Bohema is a wonderfully small and charming resort and spa located just a few block walk to the interesting sights.

     

                             -Bill

     

        

     

     

      

     

     

     

  • Posted: Fri, 29 June 2007

    DAY 16 REST DAY IN WARSAW, POLAND

                            TOURING  WARSAW

     

    Our tour leaders of ExpeditionPLUS set up a 4 hour program for us today that included a classroom overview of the history of Poland and the important places to see in Warsaw, followed by a long walking tour. 

     

     

       Marta, our tour guide, was very well informed and showed us the historical sights of the city.  Following the walk several of us enjoyed a lunch of the traditional meal of Poland, pierogi (stuffed dumplings) at an “Old Town” café.  We will return to this section of town for dinner tonight. 

     

      

       Completely destroyed by the Nazis, Old Town was rebuilt in the first 6 years after the war. It is a remarkably enjoyable place to visit and spend the day.

     

                       Old Town

     

     

                       President’s Palace

     

     

                       Kathie in a coffee shop

     

     

                       Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

     

     

                        Saski Park

     

         

                                       Enjoying the day,

                   

                                               -Bill