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: Thu, 28 June 2007

    DAY 15 PULTUSK TO WARSAW, POLAND

             A  WINDY  RIDE  TO  WARSZAWA  (WARSAW)

     

    Czesc!  (Hi!)

     

       The weather was again chilly and very windy for our short 75 km/46 mile bike ride into Poland’s capital city, Warsaw.  The weather Gods have not exactly looked down with favor upon us during the first 15 days our journey south to Istanbul.  However, that does not in any way diminish the fact that this trip continues to be one of the most enjoyable and exciting adventures of my life.  I look forward to every day’s ride and each new city or town we visit!

     

       Dan, my friend from several past bike tours, was back on his bike today after injuring his ankle and having to sit out al few days.  It was good to have him back in the group.

     

       The Caldwells; John, Reed and Brad, were riding their last day with us today as they will return home from Warsaw.  We will miss those three adventurous Coloradoans! 

     

     

        For a short ride we covered all types of pathways into the city, from country roads to heavily trafficked arteries into Warsaw, a city of 2 million people.  We were on sidewalks, bike paths, a rail-trail of hard dirt, and even service roads.  We then crossed over the Vistula River Bridge, negotiated the busy round-abouts and finally rolled down the major boulevard, Jana Pawla II (named of course for Pope John Paul II) right into the underground parking lot of our hotel.  Looking down the boulevard we could see the tall clock tower building.  We learned that the building was donated to the city by Stalin as a gift to the people of Warsaw in the 1950s.  As a result it has always been detested by the citizens here.  It was considered a symbol of the city’s subjugation, firmly under the thumb of the Soviet Union. Very interesting!

     

     

       We are staying at the 3 star Warszawa Fryderyk Chopin hotel in the heart of the city—only a few blocks from Old Town.

     

     

       Our group dinner was kick!  The beer was served from a tall glass tube at the table.  It holds a large volume of local beer and comes with its own tap. Duck was the excellent prix-fixe dinner in this theme restaurant which spoofed the era of Russian control.  The hostess wore a Russian military uniform and our tables were below a large fresco of Lenin, Marx and Stalin.

     

     

       Tomorrow we look forward to touring this wonderful rebuilt city on a day off the bikes.

     

                 Na zdrowie!   (Cheers!)  

     

                       -Bill

     

     

     

  • Posted: Wed, 27 June 2007

    DAY 14 OLSZTYN TO PULTUSK, POLAND

                                       PULTUSK  OR  BUST

     

     

       I feel good about today’s bike ride from Olsztyn to Pultusk, Poland.  It provided numerous challenges, but over the long distance we really experienced and enjoyed seeing a big slice of rural Poland

     

     

       It was a long day in the saddle—168 km or 104 miles (Century!), which took or group of 5 over 7 hours to complete.  We fought steady tree-shaking winds all day ranging from  18-30 mph, and cold temperatures (57 F).  The wind chill factor, of course, made it feel much colder on the bike.  It resembled a raw windy day in autumn.  Most of us dressed for the cold weather, and hard pedaling kept us warm enough.

     

     

       Leaving Olsztyn, I was “inspired by the spires” of the RC Church and photographed the steeples in the sky.  John (CO) and Rich and others who visited Old Town last night were impressed with the progress the Poles have achieved in the past 10 years with new and modern buildings and upscale stores and restaurants.  Olysztyn is worth a re-visit!

     

    Our rider group of John (CO), Fritz (WI), Rick and Kathie and I stuck together all day long.  We pace-lined, we “buzzed’ through small towns (KATHIE”S description),dodged some pot holes, and made the time pass pleasantly together. 

     

     

       We had hot coffee and soup to warm up at a neat bar/café in the town of Nidicy en route, joined by David and Chantal.

     

     

       The Northern Poland landscape of forest lands, with the wind whistling through the tall pines, gave way to the expansive farms of grain, potatoes, and corn.  The farmlands of Poland must be some of the most productive in the world.

     

     

       The tree-lined country roads today gave us some protection from the wind.  In the mostly open areas the wheat and grain crops were blown sideways in the wind…as we were.

     

     

       Each town had a Catholic Church and cemetery.  Many religious statues adorned with flowers were placed just off the roadway, mainly at the entrance to a farm.

     

     

       We stopped in a town about 35 km from our destination for ice cream.  There, Fritz and Rick entertained some local kids with Pez candy.

     

     

       We sighted several storks today in the fields and in their nests with young.  These large and beautiful white and black birds are common place, nevertheless, always an interesting sight to us.

     

     

       The city of Pultusk—with what is reputed to be the longest town square in Europe—was a welcome sight after 104 miles on the bike.

     

     

       We bounced into town on their rough cobblestone streets, and rode straight to the Dom Polonii castle/estate/hotel where we are staying.  Pretty good digs!

     

         “Piwo, prosze!”    (Beer, please!)

     

           -Bill     

  • Posted: Tue, 26 June 2007

    DAY 13 KALININGRAD (RUSSIA) TO OLSZTYN, POLAND

                       PEDALING  INTO  POLSKA

     

       Some days never go as planned.  Today appeared routine “on paper”.  It turned out to be anything but ordinary.

     

       We were to ride 122 km/ 76 miles from Kaliningrad to Olsztyn, Poland.  We began on a delayed schedule due to the heavy rain and lighting.  We were dressed for the chilly, wet day ahead…we thought.

     

     

       The route out of the big city of Kaliningrad was on bike paths, roads, and sidewalks.  At one point we passed a church on the river that demonstrated some of the old charm of this ancient and historic city.

     

      

       Once outside center city we experienced heavy traffic and numerous potholes as we negotiated the route in the pouring rain.  The rain intensified with no end in sight for the balance of the day.

     

     

       As we approached the check points for Russia-out/ Poland-in, we encountered long truck lines waiting to cross the border.  Delays and unrelenting rain resulted in ExpeditionPLUS hiring a mini-bus to transport us to Olsztyn.  It was a welcome decision considering the safety conditions and weather.

     

     

       The harsh and gloomy Russian agents at the border come in  sharp contrast with the cordial, smiling officials who showed genuine excitement in our expedition and wanted to talk to us about Colorado and Florida, for example, with an interest in visiting the US someday.  We have experienced this dichotomy of culture at every border point between free nations and Russia:   ie, Russia/Estonia, Lithuania/Russia, and now Russia/Poland.  Russia is sadly different in attitude, outlook and emotion…even today.

     

     

       We are off to a great start in Poland!  Olsztyn is a wonderful city with beautiful churches, modern buildings, and Old Town, and a great hotel-OURS!  We walked the city some this afternoon.  Our group had dinner together this evening at the hotel.  We met Seco, our new Polish guide, who will be with us for the next 10 days.  Toomas departed this morning for his home in Estonia.

     

       I cannot say enough in support of our tour staff.  They have handled the unexpected and difficult situations with expertise and good humor.  Their support is extraordinary.

     

     

       The group of cyclists is cohesive, cooperative and fun-loving.  What more could you want?   LOVIN’ IT!

    -Bill

  • Posted: Mon, 25 June 2007

    DAY 12 NIDA, LITHUANIA TO KALININGRAD CITY, KALININGRAD (RUSSIA)

                                   “BACK IN THE USSR

     

       Kathie reminded me of the Beatles song as we rode into the city of Kaliningrad, Russia this afternoon.  We were on a very busy 2 lane road without a shoulder and with cars darting by.  It was a rather uncomfortable situation, but a few of us had missed a direction arrow chalked on the roadway and were on the main route into the city as a result.  Kathie’s reminder of “Back in the USSR, You don’t know how lucky you are, boy”, was the perfect tongue in cheek comment for the day.  To be back in Russia, after visiting and enjoying the Baltic States, was a come-down for us.

     

       We were delayed for an hour at the border, and saw our cycling friend Paolo turned back due to an error on his visa (he will taxi to Poland).  It was not conducive to any fond feelings for the Russian Republic.

     

       But here we are in the large city of Kaliningrad  (Pop 900,000), staying at the Hotel Kaliningrad in the heart of the city, only a few blocks from “Freedom” Square.

     

     

       Our biking group had met at the square for the final push to the hotel on our bikes through traffic and trolley cars, and taxis, and pedestrians. Big city traffic is definitely a challenge!

    =

     

       We began today’s 86 km ride heading south for 50 km on the Curonian Spit down to the mainland of Kaliningrad.  The border crossing was soon upon us, where we SLOWLY progressed through Russian immigration.


     

     

       The 50 km we biked on the Russian half of the Curonian Spit was truly unremarkable—there were no towns to speak of, no tourism as we had seen in Lithuania’s northern half. 

     

       The final 36 km found us cycling as fast as we could in traffic to complete the day’s ride.

     


     

       Some bikers took a walking tour of the city with a Russian guide.  I found an allusive internet connection (as scarce as gold) to update the website.

     

       Freedom Square (despite the misnomer) is a new and attractive sight at center city.  The obelisk, the fountain, and the Russian Orthodox Church in the background provide a great backdrop for a photo.


     

       The stork family found a good home site on a war memorial along today’s route.

     

     

       Tomorrow we begin a highly anticipated 9 day stay in Poland.

       

     -Bill

     PS    Did you know?    Kaliningrad was once called Konigsberg, meaning "Home of the King".  The first King of Prussia was crowned here---a castle remains. The city was completely destroyed during WW2.  What we saw today was rebuilt since 1945 by the Russians who acquired this territory following the war.  It remains an exclave of the Russian Federation.

                                       

     

     


  • Posted: Sun, 24 June 2007

    DAY 11 KLAIPEDA TO NIDA, LITHUANIA

                  

          BIKING  THE  CURONIAN  SPIT   


    The early morning rain cleared before our short bike ride through Klaipeda to the ferry boat.

    We boarded and posed for a group photo before sailing.  Our destination was a sand spit of land in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Lithuania and continuing south to Kaliningrad.  The Curonian Spit International Park with its beautiful bike path and tree lined road is a mountain biker's and road cyclist's nirvana.  This narrow spit of land is 98 km long, 4 km across at its widest point, an only 350 meters wide at its narrowest.  Forests, dunes, beaches, and charming tourist towns mark the landscape.


    The ferry ride was only 20 minutes, but we met and chatted with some interesting locals.  First,of course, we met the members of a bike club from Klaipeda who were headed for their Sunday morning bike ride.  A photo was taken with "The Boys and Bill". They got us excited about what we would experience on our ride to Nida.


    Next we noticed the "Latvian Lassie" standing with her boyfriend.  She was wearing the traditional crown of grass and flowers commemorating the Midsummer Night Festival.  I spoke with them briefly and asked for a photo. They  kindly obliged before sitting back in his red Saab convertible on the ferry boat and enjoying their Sunday morning glass of champagne together.


    On the way to Nida we stopped in the little town of Juodkrante midway down the spit for a cappucino.


    The bike path took us along the beach and into Nida, Lithuania, our destination.  This active vacation town was booming on a holiday weekend.  Tourists on rented bikes of all kinds along with droves of pedestrians filled the promenade along the beach and town center area where live music and dancing energized the crowd.


    Our group had a beer and a late lunch at a beachside cafe.


    (Left to right: Kathie, John, Fritz, Brad, and Paolo)


    Tonight the festivities continued in the Town Center

           -Bill

  • Posted: Sat, 23 June 2007

    DAY 10 JURKAINE, LATVIA TO KLAIPEDA, LITHUANIA

                                  LATVIA  TO  LITHUANIA

     

     

       Labas,  (Hello in Lithuanian)

     

       Today is one of the most festive holidays of the year in the Baltic countries; Midsummer Night Festival.  It is celebrated on June 23-24 coinciding with the summer solstice, which provides the longest hours of daylight for these normally sun-starved Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians.  We witnessed some of the festivities and costumes and celebration today while we on and off our bikes in Lithuania.

     

       There was less joy for me and my fellow cyclists this morning, however, as we began our century bike ride into Lithuania.  We were also sun-starved!  It was raining, cold and a bit windy.  We knew it would be a long day pedaling the 168 km/ 104 mile route from our rural lodging in Latvia to the city of Klaipeda, Lithuania (Lietuva in their language).

     

       We all dug to the bottom of our biking gear bag for rain jackets, leggings or rain pants, some for booties or a shower cap to wear over a helmet.  Dressed for the conditions, we rolled onto the pot holed roads of Western Latvia.  The Baltic Sea was visible early on today’s long bike ride.  It was off to our right under dark gray cloud cover and pouring rain.

     

       We bounced along dodging as best we could the craters in the road, heads down and wet for most of the morning hours. 

     

       In the university and busy city of Liepaja, we stopped at an old trolly stop and removed layers of wet clothing as the rain had now stopped.

     

     

       In the small town of Nica, we stopped again for a long lunch break in a restaurant serving mutton goulash soup in a bread bowl.  Our group included Rick and Dan, Wally(CO) and Margie (CO).  The soup sounded better than it was, unfortunately

     

     

       We rode the major coastal highway A-11 out of Latvia and into Lithuania.  A large group of us hit the border crossing together at the 120 km mark  for our very pleasant encounter with the Lithuanian immigration agent.  The roads improved immensely in this our 4th country of the trip.

     

       By mid-afternoon the sun was out.  We had a nice quick pace line going with Rick Price (the owner/founder of ExperiencePLUS) leading us into Palanga, a city swarming with a festive holiday crowd.  With ice cream in hand and armed with Lithuanian Lita currency from the ATM, we watched and enjoyed the people at play.

     

     

       We finished our “century” day in good spirits, joining with our gang for “post-ops” discussions and a brew at the hotel patio bar in Klaipeda.

     

     

      ( A photo from my hotel window overlooking an apartment complex in Klaipeda on a rainy Sunday morning.)

     

     

               Geros dienos !  (Good day!)

     

                       -Bill

  • Posted: Fri, 22 June 2007

    Day 9 Kuresaare, Estonia to Liedags, Latvia

     

    SAILING  TO  LATVIA

     

     

       We began today’s ride at 7:30 am with a 44 km ride from Kuressaare to Montu at the southern tip of Saaremaa Island.  Just a few km from the hotel we all stopped to take a picture of the interesting sculpture near the harbor. 

     

     

       Camp grounds and small woodsy resorts were plentiful in this region of white birch trees and junipers and expansive meadows. Perfect escapes from life in the city.

     

       I have noticed the variety of interesting fences surrounding the homes and farms of Estonia.  They are all done a little differently.  The pattern of slats is fitted at various angles.  They all look unique.  There is no standard design.

     

     

       Upon arrival at Montu, we were cleared by Estonian customs/immigration and then rode our bikes into the mouth of the ferry for a 4 hour cruise to Ventspils, Latvia (or Latvija in their language). 

     

     

       It was a relaxing voyage aboard ship for most of us.  However, 8 of the bikers joined a fellow cyclist, Mary, a fitness trainer from Sarasota, FL, in her impromptu yoga class in the cafeteria.  Several other passengers joined in.

     

     

       John (Madison, CT) is one of our 3 cyclists on their second “Expedition” of the year having recently crossed South America through Patagonia in January.  He showed off the biking shirt he had made for this trip.  It lists all the countries we will visit this summer. Mary and Paolo (Mexico) are the other 2 alumni of that ride.

     

     

       Toomas, our local guide in this region, told us that in the dead of winter roads are cleared on the ice for automobile traffic between the 2 Estonian islands we cycled.  It is hard to imagine such frigid weather. 

     

     

       After entering the port in Ventspils, Latvia, and getting our passports stamped in our 3rd country, we jumped on our bikes for a 55km ride to Jurkeine, Latvia.    Being first out of the passport line, I led the group through the city of  Ventspils for 10 km.  We noticed little difference in the landscape between Estonia and Latvia once we were outside the city.

     

       A stork was spotted in a field outside Ventspils, but the best opportunity for a photo occurred at a nest further down the road when the parent appeared to feed  a couple of stork chicks.

     

     

       I love the forests here—being an old paper industry guy!  I notice the trees.

     

     

       The forests in Estonia and now in Latvia are pristine; pruned, tall, healthy and dense.  Ferns cover the ground.  The wood craftsmanship in Latvia is quickly evident in the wood floors and furnishings in our hotel.

     

     

       The new hotel is outside of town in a rural setting.  We sat outside for a beer on arrival to “celebrate the day’s events” after a 100km day.  It has become our custom to do so, and is a very enjoyable part of the day when we all get together.  I have learned to say, “Alus lutsu!  (beer please!) in Latvian.

     

        Laba diena!  (Good day!)

     

           -Bill

  • Posted: Thu, 21 June 2007

    Day 8 Haapsalu to Kuressaare, Estonia

                      THE ESTONIAN ISLANDS TOUR

     

       OK folks, get out your maps…go to the Baltic States and look to the West off the coast of Estonia.  You will see the two islands that consumed our glorious biking day today. It was an adventure by ferry boat and bicycle to some interesting places and some terrific cycling.

     

       We would bike 117 km or 72 miles on the Estonian islands of Hiiumaa  and Saaremaa, but first we had an hour and a half ferry ride on the vessel St Ola to the East coast of Hiiumaa Island, arriving at noon. We knew we had 4 hours to ride to the southern tip of the island before catching the 2nd ferry to the island of Saaremaa.  We enjoyed the bike ride, stopping often to see and photograph the unusual sights and scenery. 

     

       Hiiumaa is popular with Finns and Swedes and of course Estonians, but not yet with the English speaking world.  It will be if our experience is typical. 

     

     

       The island is beautiful and would rate a 10 on a rating scale of cycling routes.  The meadows blooming with wildflowers and poppies, and the woodlands, combined to make an attractive landscape.  This was a nature ride filled with the natural beauty of a remote island setting.

     

       We saw thatched roof homes, windmills, a wool museum, grazing sheep and very few motorists.

     

     

       We ate a late lunch in a town outside of Emmaste where we boarded the ferry for a shorter ride to Saaremaa.  On arrival we had bike south some 57 km to the city of Kuressaare where we are spending the night.  We only stopped for a couple of photo ops. First at the windmill complex and again in Kaali to see the crater lake formed 4000 years ago when a meteor crashed into this site. 

     

       On this longest day of the year( in terms of daylight), we saw first hand the tourists and natives alike enjoying the bright evening hours walking the town and stopping in the pubs and restaurants with family and friends.  We joined in!

     

     

       We will leave Estonia tomorrow and enter Latvia.  Estonia rates very high with this group of American bikers.  It is great to see a country proud of its accomplishments achieved through freedom and entrepreneurship.

                 -Bill

  • Posted: Wed, 20 June 2007

    Day 7 Tallinn to Haapsalu, Estonia

          

                   A DAY FILLED WITH SUPERLATIVE COMMENTS        

     

    Tere,  (Hello in Estonian)

     

     

       It all came together for the cycling crew on this beautiful day in June, as we rode out of Tallinn and continued on our westward route to the city of Haapsalu, Estonia.  The ride was 125 km or 78 miles, and one filled with superlative comments.

     

     

       As you can perhaps see from my smiling face, the weather was perfect—we had blue skies with some puffy clouds all day.  The wind was often at our backs.  The road conditions were great and the scenery was either green farmlands or dense forest.  The traffic was elsewhere, certainly not with us. 

     

       We rode in peace for 6 hours.  One could not create a more conducive environment for a day of cycling.  The fact that we were in ESTONIA  and well rested from our day off was also a big plus.  We all enjoyed the ride!

     

     

       We began our journey today on the sidewalks, bike paths and roadways out of Tallinn, a very biker- friendly city.  There has been no aggressive behavior from the motorists.  Many cyclists passed us on the bike paths heading in the opposite direction into town to work. 

     

       The route was again along the Baltic Sea Coast.  As we reached the suburbs we passed homes located on the water in an upscale neighborhood.

     

     

       At the 42 km mark we saw a charming little cottage set back from the road.  Fritz (WI), Dan and I turned back to get a photo.

     

     

         Today we had our picnic lunch in front of  a roadside B&B resort called” Puhketalu”,  a small lodge in the woods, where we all sat on an old log and ate our sandwich.  Soon Jane and Nancy came rolling in—and then Fritz and the Caldwells.  It was a popular lunch spot on our way to Haapsalu.

     

       Most of us make a sandwich from the bread, cold cuts and cheese offered at the hotel’s breakfast buffet.  It is very difficult to find a place to eat on the road.  We can often find a snack or candy bar to eat at a store in route, but seldom a café. The food we have been served has been quite good.  The breakfast buffets offer numerous choices; generally eggs and bacon or sausages, pastries and jelly, bread, oatmeal, yogurt and fruits, cold cuts…and the local favorites.  In Russia it was the blinis (pastry filled with meat), here in Estonia it is herring.  We have been presented herring in many ways: wrapped around a pickle, or in a sauce of mustard or something more spicy.  I have begun to like it….somewhat.  Most of us will continue to sample the local favorites as we move south.

     

       The Baltic Hotel Promenaadi is our resort hotel located right smack on the Bay of Haapsalu in this beautiful tourist town of 14,000.  A large group of riders sat at waterside at the conclusion of the ride today with our favorite SAKU beer for “the story telling” that goes on following a day’s ride.

     

     

       After dinner I took a short walk with Elizabeth, a music teacher from Oregon, to “Tchaikovsky’s Bench’.  The famous composer vacationed at this spot, and legend has it  he may have been inspired to write his music here.  As I sat on the bench his music played in the background.  Was “Swan Lake” the composition he was thinking of here?

     

     

      A family of swans is living in the reeds off shore.

     

           Head Paeva!   (Good Day!)

             

                      -Bill

     

    PS  Tomorrow is going to be a long and exciting day….stay tuned!

     

      

     

     

        

     

     

         

     

     

     


  • Posted: Tue, 19 June 2007

    Day 6 Rest Day In Tallinn, Estonia

                               
                                   TERRIFIC   TALLINN


       Tallinn is a city of 400,000 people in a country of 1,300,000.  The word “Tallinn” means “the Danish city”.  Denmark later sold all of Estonia to the Germans.  It is located about 80 km across the Bay of Finland from Helsinki, Finland. It is a terrific city; alive and prosperous, friendly and beautiful. We were all very impressed with the people and the atmosphere in Tallinn.  This is a country that is on the move!

     

       We learned that.. and much more on a walking tour of Old Town this morning with Toomas , our Estonian guide. 

     

       We also know that each evening at sunset and every morning at sunrise the Estonian National anthem is played, as the flag is lowered and raised on the castle in Old Town.  Last night at 10:58 pm and again at 2:00 am we heard the music.

     

     

       Today was a wonderful and relaxing day walking the cobblestone streets of this incredibly beautiful city.  We concluded the day at “Olde Hansa”, a medieval  restaurant serving wild game in the Old Town. 

     

         Enjoy the sights,

                -Bill