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: Mon, 18 June 2007

    Day 5 Palmse to Tallinn, Estonia

       Overnight our gear had dried out from yesterday’s rain.  The bikes were clean and ready to go.  At 8:30 this morning we left the beautiful grounds of the Palmse Manor House and headed west on the backroads along the Baltic shoreline. 

     


      Our destination was Tallinn, a port city and the Capital of Estonia.  The ride was 98 km/60 miles.  The day began with gray overcast skies, cool temperatures and a happy biking crew headed for a rest day in the city we were all anxious to visit.

     

     

       The small village of Palmse has a population of only about 200 people, but it is home to the Lakemaa National Park.  Lakemaa means “land of bays” and there are a number of scenic bays along the coastline here.

     

       At the 40 km mark we stopped in the village of Kiiu, where the Kiiu Tower is located.  It is the smallest fortress in Estonia.  It was a small vassal castle built in the beginning of the 16th century. There was a coffee shop in the basement of the tower.  We had been alerted to it, so we stopped, sipped and explored this unique and interesting place.

     

     

       The second half of our trip today was in the rain….AGAIN.  It was only light rain initially as we cycled the rural and quiet roads.  The church steeples can be spotted at some distance from the towns.  We look for stores that have a sign for “POOD” or Food.

     

     

       I spotted an old farmer leaning on a rake outside his ancient barn and I had to have a photo.  He obliged.

     

     

       The rain intensified and the cold wind picked up as the day progressed.    The last 30 km into Tallinn was not too pleasant!  We were in pouring rain riding with the big trucks and their gritty  spray for a short distance into the city.  Fortunately, the route for the last 10 km was on a wide pedestrian path, but with many road crossings and driveways.  We were really soaked by the time we entered the path along the Sea in the downtown area.  In the foggy distance we saw a huge cruise ship anchored off shore.  We rode through wooded areas and past a lake with swans.  I would love to have  been able to photograph this entry into Tallinn, but my camera was in a protective baggie in the bike bag where it had to stay.  Soon we were on the cobblestones and narrow streets and sidewalks in Old Town, and finally at the hotel.

     

     

       Tomorrow is a Rest Day!  We have a laundry run at 8:30, a walking tour of Old town at 9:30 and all day to take and share with you some great photos of this pleasant and bustling city on the Sea

     

               -Bill

    PS  My (small) hotel room has my clothesline stretched from corner to corner with 4 hand-washed biking outfits and socks hanging out to dry. Ah,  home on the road!

        

  • Posted: Sun, 17 June 2007

    Day 4 Toila to Palmse, Estonia

                      A RAINY DAY ALONG THE BALTIC COAST

     

     

       Some of Estonia’s newest fans departed Toila this morning for a 115 km/71 mile bicycle ride to Palmse.  It is Father’s Day, so some paid verbal tribute to the dad’s riding today, especially to John (CO) and his sons Reed and Brad who are with our group.  I took a photo of the three in St Petersburg.  They are great fun!

     

     

       The quiet road directly behind the hotel took us along the Baltic Sea Coast.  In this area in the North there is no development along the coast—it is in its natural state with fields of wild flowers and a few sea front homes.  The day began with sunshine and blue skies.

     

     

       We soon reached Valeste Falls, the highest falls in;  (A  northern Estonia,  (B all of Europe or (C none of the above……I don’t know, but it is certainly worth the viewing.

     

     

       The rain began about 30 km into today’s ride and continued all day.  We were all wet, but on this Sunday in June we had a lot to see and experience in Estonia and with its people along the route.

     

     

       We rode through the beautiful forest parkland along the coast and through the small towns of Purtse, Rrannu, Viru-Nigula, Vasta and Kunda.  We stopped in Viru-Nigula  for something to eat at a general store.  While snacking and talking under cover from the rain, several local kids were nearby.  I asked them the name of their village.  They responded unhaltingly in English.  They told me they study English in middle school.  I took their picture and told them I would put it on my website.  They agreed, but returned in a few minutes to have me put the site address on a cell phone so that they could see it.  Nice kids.

     

     

       The next stop was in Kunda, where a bocce tournament was underway in the rain.  We watched briefly, but were soon invited to “go around back for some coffee or vodka.  We had the coffee in a tent among the locals—most of whom took the other beverage option.

     

     

     

       The route continued along the Baltic shore and into the Lakemaa National Park; dense forest land inhabited by elk, deer, and boar.  Our hotel, the Park Hotel Palma is situated  in the park in an old vodka distillery of Palmse Manor.

     

     

       The hotel has been converted into an interesting lodge with pine furniture and a wine cellar/bar that was our locale for the “Welcoming Palmse Beer Ceremony” this afternoon.

     

     

        We discussed  with some of the staff their experiences in the past –living under communism—and their progress today as a free nation.  It was heart warming to hear their story.

     

     

             -Bill   

     

     

      

     

     

      

  • Posted: Sat, 16 June 2007

    Day 3 Ivangorod, Russia to Toila, Estonia

               WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES

     

     

       What a difference a day makes….especially when the border OUT of Russia is involved.  We departed Ivangorod at 9:00am for the rather short 58 km/36 mile ride to Toila, Estonia.  We would cross the Narva River just blocks from our hotel and pass through Russian and Estonian border control.  With passports and visas in hand all went rather smoothly.

     

     

       Reed and Brad (CO), the 2 brothers cycling with their dad, John, were assigned to “sweep”, making sure the group was ahead of them.  Brad is in the photo above with a citizen of Ivangorod.  As they left our hotel parking lot on their bikes, they had stones thrown at them from a small group of Russian teenagers along with some profanity in English. 

     

     

       Our reception in Estonia has been quite different.  The attitudes changed, the road surfaces improved, the Estonian villages of Narva, Sillamai, Voka, and Toila were clean, prosperous and inviting, and the commercial establishments were active.  We loved the peaceful backroads in the beautiful park and forest lands along the Baltic Coast.  We are pleased to be out of Russia and looking forward to several more days of cycling in Estonia.

     

     

       This Saturday morning ride in calm sunshine was a dramatic change to yesterday’s long, windy ride into Ivangorod.

     

     

       The Narva River separating Russia and Estonia is a wide, fast flowing river with opposing forts facing each other on opposite cliffs.

     

     

       We saw several military monuments in memory of the Russian presence in WW II, as well as a cemetery for the German soldiers killed in Estonia.

     

     

       We detoured off the main road to visit Sillamae, a Baltic coast town that was built in the Soviet model.  The old block apartments near the factories have been greatly improved since the change that took place in 1991.  We also stopped at a church built from in a forest park along the route.

     

     

        

    One can see the improvement in hotel accommodations from Ivangorod to Toila



     

     

     

    We are currently staying in a spa-resort hotel in Toila (with wi-fi internet access—finally!)  It is located on the beach of the Baltic Sea’s Bay of Finland.  Most of the guests are here for the spa, but an RV park in the rear accommodates many Danish and German guests, some of whom I photographed from my window as they sunbathed on the lawn. 

     

     

       Our discussion of tomorrow’s ride took place in the hotel lobby with local beer from nearby Sillamae being enjoyed.

     

     

       I can’t agree more with my friend Hans in Naples who said to me; “You will enjoy Estonia

     

     

                 -Bill

     

      PS    Today I was able to post several new journal entries.  Many photos have been added to previous day’s journals.  Have a look.

                                     

  • Posted: Fri, 15 June 2007

    Day 2 Gotchina to Ivangorod, Russia

                                             BRISK BALTIC WINDS

     

       For day one—this was one day for the books!  On these bicycle tours we always say the most fun is not knowing what lies ahead.  Every day brings some new adventure.  Today’s 135 km/83 mile ride is a good example.

     

       First, let me state clearly that the conditions today made for a very difficult ride.  It began in the night, well actually the sun was up by 4:00 am, but I wasn’t. Noise from the sky lights in my room woke me up as heavy rain smashed down against them.  I thought we would be in rain gear all day long.  Fortunately we were not, as the rain cleared by start time, but the weather for cycling was awful!  “Brisk Baltic Winds” was how I labeled them, and the wind factor was a major challenge to today’s riders.  We faced 20 to 25 mph head winds, with gusts to 30 mph the whole way.  We were headed directly west from Gatchina to Ivangorod, Russia into “the Baltic Blast” out of the west.

     

     

       The wind was not our only problem.  We missed a turn a short distance from the hotel, so we all rode miles in the wrong direction. It was cleared up by some Russian pedestrians walking along the road and a cell phone call to the van.  We had to return and correct, adding over 10 miles to the trip.  But the incessant wind was the prime cause of our struggle today.

     

     

       The rural Russian roads need a lot of repair work!  Pot holes and poor shoulders were the norm.  We may see worse road conditions in Romania or Bulgaria, but Russia’s roads kept us constantly alert for holes and cracks.  The new bikes of ExpeditionPLUS are good and tough on these road surfaces, but they are not yet “our bikes”; comfortable, fitted and familiar.  So several riders experienced some difficulty today and required further adjustments.

     

     

       We were only 1 km from our destination in Ivangorod and VERY tired at 5:30 pm.  It had been a long day’s struggle in the wind.  We were so close to being home when a Russian security Border Stop appeared in the road.  The official border with Estonia is in Ivangorod at the Narva River crossing, but the Russians had set up an additional border check point here.  We were stopped and pulled over.  There were only 6 of us at this point as many had been brought to the hotel by van due to the weather and the wrong turn.   The armed Russian soldier seemed delighted to have some American cyclists to harass.  We did not have our passports—only zerox copies as recommended.  After all this was not a “border crossing”.  We were told to wait for our “commander”.  Toomas the Estonian/Russian guide rode out from our hotel on his bike and cleared things up.  We had some laughs about spending some time in a gulag before we were released.

     

     

       The hotel tonight is “minimal”—see photo of the bed.  The shower photo would provide more amusement. 

     

       Our experience has found Russian adults to be “joyless”—that is our word.  They appear expressionless, void of emotion, unfriendly and detached.  The countryside looked barren of economic activity as we passed farm after farm that was uncultivated.  The general populace is poor, the roads are poor, the old Soviet apartment buildings are stark and from the same engineering drawings.  We are anxious to move on.  St Petersburg was a delight, but we welcome tomorrow as it brings us to Estonia!

     

     

                         -Bill  

     

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  • Posted: Thu, 14 June 2007

    Day 1 St Petersburg to Gatchina, Russia

       Our bus departed St Petersburg after a farewell lunch at a restaurant near the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum. We were off for the city of Gatchina, about an hour drive south of St Petersburg.  It is there that our bikes await us, and it is the starting point of our actual ride. 

     

     

       The bikes and tour supplies (energy drinks, maps, tires, tubes, tools, etc.) had been driven to Gatchina in the van from the ExpeditionPLUS farm in Italy just a few days ago.  After experiencing the traffic and crazy Russian drivers on the road out of St Petersburg, we were all pleased to be on a bus.  We needed to fit our bike properly and test ride it around this neat suburban town this afternoon.  I installed my pedals and saddle and it seemed to test out well.  We have Cannondale aluminum road bikes with drop handlebars and 27 gears.  The heavier weight and slightly wider tires are better suited to the road conditions ahead we are told.

     

       Our ExpeditionPLUS staff is currently composed of Monica, Michaele, and Toomas.  Monica is the daughter of Rick Price the founder/owner of the touring company.  She is fluent in Italian, an experienced biker and world traveler in her twenties, who has lived the bicycle touring lifestyle all her life.  She will be a great resource along with Michaele, an Italian young man with experience and mechanical skills along with a calm and pleasant personality.  Toomis is a young guy from Tallinn, Estonia who has a bike shop and bike rental business at home.  He will be our local guide through Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  We are fortunate to have such an experienced, young and enthusiastic staff.

     

       Our group of 20 is now at full strength having been joined by the last 2 members:  Paolo from Mexico and Wally from Colorado. I hope to introduce many of the interesting members of our group to you on this website as we travel through Europe.  Once again—it is a great group.

     

     

       Once we had checked into our very comfortable, small hotel and worked on the bikes, we headed into town.  The Post Office in Gatchina has 3 computers terminals, which are apparently the only source of internet connection for us. I was able to hook up my laptop there—for 30 rubles for 30 minutes—and publish 3 journal entries covering the pre-ride days in St Petersburg.  With very limited time, I was able to submit only a few photos.  I have so many great shots of St Petersburg that I urge you to continue checking those journal entries for photos to be added.  It is going to be very difficult to publish regularly, but I will continue to write and photograph –save it on Word—and download when I can.

     

     

       Walking back to the hotel for our “safety and rules” meeting with the staff, Rick, Dan Sean and I stopped at an outside patio bar in Gatchina for a beer.  The local people were out for the evening on the pedestrian walkways and in the restaurants and bars obviously enjoying the period of White Nights. 

     

     

        The boys found a statue of Lenin to lean on in the park.

     

                                   -Bill

     

          

  • Posted: Wed, 13 June 2007

    Pre Ride Day 3 The Hermitage and the Canals

    These pre-ride days have been fun for our group of 20 cyclists.  We have explored the city, toured the sights, and struggled with the ruble exchange as we watched them fly from our wallets.  But most importantly, we have gotten to know one another and had some good times together before starting our 46 day cycling adventure through Central and Eastern Europe.

     

       Today’s main attraction for the group was a guided tour through all 5 buildings that make up the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.  The Hermitage, meaning “a quiet place for relaxation and seclusion”, was named by Catherine the Great at the time she was gathering her fine collection of great art here.  Today the Hermitage has 3 million pieces of art, and 30,000 visitors per day—a fact that is undeniable based on the crowds today.  It is one of the finest and most famous museums in the world.

     

       As you can see, I particularly liked the 2 beautiful Russian greeters in front of the museum, but I also appreciated the paintings, sculptures, and frescos inside.   Our guide explained the paintings by  Botticelli, Raffaelo, Caravaggio, the two Leonardo Da Vinci pieces and many, many others as we viewed them.  The architecture refinements and ornate furnishings of the Winter Palace of Peter the Great—now one of the 5 museum buildings—are spectacular.  One can only say “No wonder the revolution by the people took place” in Russia.

     

       Following the museum tour and lunch on Nevskiy Prospekt, Rick, Cathy, Dan, Nancy, Fritz and I boarded a tour boat and were propelled on an hour long passage on the canals of St Petersburg.  The sunny day and views of the mansions of the elite along the canal, as well as the quieter neighborhoods we passed by made for a pleasant tour.  The announcements—all in Russian—were lost on us, but we enjoyed the journey.  Passing by in the boat, I was able to get a photo of “Our Savior on the Spilled Blood Church”,  that  has  the most colorful and spectacular spires imaginable.

     

       Floating through St Petersburg, (but anxious to BIKE!)

     

                          -Bill

  • Posted: Tue, 12 June 2007

    Pre-Ride Day 2 City Tour and Peterhof

       The early morning light that lasts until midnight (White Nights) is a new phenomenon for most of us.  It provides a long day to explore a great city like St Petersburg, and we did just that.

     

     

       After a good buffet breakfast in the hotel with fellow tourist guests from literally all corners of the globe, our biking group loaded a bus for a guided tour of the main attractions of St Petersburg.  Our Russian tour guide explained in excellent English what we were seeing and its historical significance.  This is a beautiful, clean and spruced-up city of some 500 palace homes of the former aristocracy.  It is often called “The Venice of the North” with its 65 canals and 400 bridges, but it is also known as “the Capital City of Crime” and we were repeatedly warned to be on the alert for pick pockets in the crowds.

     

     

       Our tour first revisited the Smolney Church, painted in bright blue “to match the blue eyes of Elizabeth”, the Empress in whose name the church was built.  Nearby on Tapestry Street we saw a statue of “Iron Felix”, founder of the KGB.  Peter the Great had set up a tapestry factory in this neighborhood to make the beautiful tapestries he had seen in France. 

     

     

       Our bus drove down the Nevskiy Prospekt (street), the main shopping and commercial .  avenue. It is the Champs Elysees  of St Petersburg in many respects.  We would spend a lot of time here over the next couple of days.

     ood to us so far, providing 2 of the “only 65 days of sunshine” that St Petersburg is said to experience annually.

     

       We walked around St Isaak’s Square observing the large statue of a horse mounted Nicholas I (“Nick the stick”), who had the reputation of being a very cruel Emperor in his day.  The statue faces the enormous St Isaak’s Church.  It was formerly the main Russian Orthodox Church in Russia with a capacity of 14,000 worshippers.  Its magnificent gold fused dome and solid granite columns are its trademark.  Shrapnel marks and bullet holes in the columns are a reminder of the siege of Leningrad when the Russians held out against the Nazis, but with a loss of half the population of St Petersburg.  

     

     

       Later the bus passed by the Marienesky Theater where all  the famous Russian ballet dancers have performed.  It was then on to a tour of St Nicholas Church, which has an active practicing congregation in this city.

     

     

       The monumental statue to Peter the Great sits in a park along the Neva River with throngs of passers-by stopping to view it.

     

       We activated the ATM machine at the very posh Grand Hotel Europe in order to have the rubles for our speedy hydrofoil boat trip to Peterhof, the summer home of the czars built west of the city by Peter the Great to compete with Versailles in France.  The NY Times travel editor has written that tourists must visit Peterhof for a “ glimpse of the glories or depravity of the czars”.  It is the 18th century complex of palaces and gardens with the most audacious display of wealth possible.  A true sight to behold!

     

       A group of 6 of us decided to try the subway system, or Metro, to return to our hotel.  We had basic directions including signs to look for once we were underground.  The signs were of course in Cyrillic—with no English translation—and we knew NO ONE would be able to help the helpless English speakers in case of difficulty.  Dan (CA) managed the map, and I the directions….and surprisingly we caught all the right trains, going in the right direction, transferring lines, and all without a hitch.  We had a proud toast to our accomplishment once back at the Okhtinskaya Hotel.

     

     

          -Bill

  • Posted: Mon, 11 June 2007

    Pre-Ride Day 1 St Petersburg, Russia

       International air travel never seems to be routine.  Things happen!....such as flight delays, a missed connection in London, re-routing through a third city, and lost luggage,  even ALL of the above.  Despite these inconveniences, Dan and I arrived at the Okhtinskaya-Victoria Hotel in St Petersburg at midnight Sunday—only 6 hours later than planned.  In the meantime we had spent a few unexpected hours in Helsinki, Finland and then a short hop across the Bay of Finland and along the coast of Estonia on the Russian airline, Rossiya, into St Petersburg.  All is well that ends well.

     

     

       Actually, my 30 hour journey from Naples, FL culminated with a Mercedes taxi ride at 80 mph through the streets of St Pete passing cars, buses and trolleys on the left and right as we raced to the hotel with Ivan at the wheel. 

     

     

       It was still light at midnight and cool in this city of 4.5 million founded by Peter the Great and now considered to be Russia’s  intellectual and cultural center.  We have 3 days here to explore its great museums, palaces and cathedrals before we get on the bikes on June 14th.  I look forward to that!

     

     

       My hotel room is small, basic and clean, as attested to by the paper signs in English found in the sink, on the toilet, and on the shower floor stating—“Disinfected”!

     

     

       The room looks out over the Neva River at the magnificent Cathedral of the Smolny and its parks, which Dan, Nancy and I walked to this morning.  It is a national holiday today, so traffic is light and it seems more like a Sunday.

     

     

       We have exchanged US dollars for some “rubles” ( at 27 rubles to 1 dollar), experienced a few Russian beers, and are totally confused by the Cyrillic alphabet—see the billboard photo which I took for the purpose of demonstrating the alphabet.  We are adjusting to the 8 hour time difference…and waiting to meet up with the rest of our group this evening.

     

     

         -Bill