Posted: Thu, 28 June 2007
DAY 15 PULTUSK TO WARSAW, POLAND
A WINDY RIDE TO WARSZAWA (WARSAW)
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!)
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!)
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
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!
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,
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
(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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.)
dienos ! (Good day!)
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
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
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!)
Posted: Thu, 21 June 2007
Day 8 Haapsalu to Kuressaare, Estonia
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
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.
Posted: Wed, 20 June 2007
Day 7 Tallinn to Haapsalu, Estonia
FILLED WITH SUPERLATIVE COMMENTS
Tere, (Hello in
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
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
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
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
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.
Paeva! (Good Day!)
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
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
Enjoy the sights,