Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Day 5 - Ainazi to Riga

Great nights sleep and up early as this is the last day and Susie is waiting for me in Riga. Breakfast didn't start until 0800 and then I got chatting to Mark so wasn't on the road until just after 0900. Was really looking forward to the ride today as the road looked like it hugged the coast all the way.

After a brief cycle soon joined the E67 going south again and off I went. Followed the Eurovelo 13 signs as I decided that taking the inland Eurovelo 10 would not only be a little less interesting but also 40km longer which translates into 2 hours more cycling and no chance of seeing Susie who was catching the ferry back to Stockholm tonight at 1730. At some point the signs took me onto some back roads and what looked like a pleasant few KM through the forests to my right. OMG it was Poland all over again. Can somebody tell the guys who make these bike routes that a road made of sand is not a bike route. Might be fine on the mountain bike you used to scout the road but on a touring bike with road wheels and god knows how many kilos of luggage we just sink into the stuff. It was a nightmare because the forest floor was to littered with branches to go around and find an alternative route. Took me an hour to do 6 KM and I saw my time with Susie ticking away

Rejoined the E67 and vowed to ignore all subsequent signs to leave the road and just put my head down and ground out the distance. The day started heating up and temperature was soon up to 29 degrees and the sun was relentless. No cover at all and of course the closer I got to Riga the traffic started getting heavier. At one point I ran out of water so had to try and cross over to the other side of the road and to a cafe where I could restock my water. Also took the opportunity to slap on more sun cream as I was baking. Thank goodness I did as I was able to avoid getting sun burnt.

Hardly saw the sea all the way down as it was always tantalizingly close but just the other side of the never ending trees off to my right. What glimpses I did get were off glorious sandy beaches. Also the closer I was getting it became slower and slower because of the junctions and lights and I was getting very frustrated

Found the hotel that Susie had booked for me and where she had stayed. Was great to see her again and she made a big fuss of me having arranged a protein drink for me and an evening of luxury in the spa with a massage. What a lovely way to finish the ride :)

Day 4 - Pivarootsi to Ainazi

Slept better than lastnight and was served breakfast in my chalet by Peter. He had even gone to the effort of making me an omelette along with copious amounts of bread and cheese. An early start which was good because today is my longest day of cycling

Good cycling in the morning due to the fact that its all back roads. Again the scenery was very pleasant consisting mainly of farms and woodland with the occasional glimpse of the sea off to my right. Reached the half way point at Parnu and decided to grab a quick bite to eat and chose the "Parnu chicken burger" which was a mistake :) Lovely lady said it was the best choice and it turned out to be a chicken burger with marinated vegetables all smothered in some sort of sauce. Well the sauce went everywhere and the combination of marinated vegetables and chicken wasn't unpleasant but it is probably an acquired taste :) Still it was much appreciated especially as she let me refill my water, charge up my mobile and use her loo :)

Parnu was quite a big town so I avoided the main streets and instead stuck to the river on the banks of which the city had been built. Lots of derelict buildings so it has a slightly run down feeling but Estonia hasn't had it easy the last few years. Actually Estonia hasn't had it easy full stop if you look at her history. She has had centuries of being ruled by the Germans, Denmark, Sweden and finally Russia until she declared independence from Russia and broke away in 1918 only to me taken back in 1941 by Russia who then ruthlessly got her own back. Deported 10% of the population to slave labour camps she press ganged her men into the Russian Army. May fled to Finland where they joined the Finnish army which ended up fighting the Russians in the Winter War. Brother fought brother and father fought son. A tragic time. Estonia suffered 25% casualties during WW2 making her one of the highest proportions of losses, a true tragedy

The afternoon ride was a lot different from earlier as it was now on a bigger road the E67. Though the traffic wasnt heavy there was some traffic and a few trucks so it was a question of head down and just keep going. Luckily the Estonian roads have a strip down the side of the road that is fairly wide so I didn't have to cycle on the road itself and could just go down this strip. Strange thing is that the driver tend to drive with the right side of the car over this line so as to create an additional lane on the road as the drivers are doing the same on the other side. This means that overtaking is quite easy as the cars don't cross over the centre line

Took a little detour to the village of Tahkuranna where I bumped into a very interesting character and fellow cyclist called Mark. He was taking a photo of a rather splendid church which had also caught my eye and we chatted. Turned out he was a 75 year old American of Finnish heritage who every years explores the lands of his grandparents going back to his roots. A retired engineer he spends a lot of his time helping charities with affordable homes and was very interesting to chat with. Turned out he was booked in to stay at the same hotel as I was that evening so we exchanged business cards and agreed to have dinner later that evening at the hotel. It's these random encounters with other fellow travellers that I enjoy so much when doing my touring. Interesting people with interesting stories :)

Back onto the E67 and south and eventually onto the back roads after Papisilla. This area is where a lot of people have summer houses and come to spend their vacation time. Also smoked fish seemed to be a big thing around here with the smell of the smokeries filling the air. Arrived at Ainazi which was just over the border and into Latvia which is where my ride stopped as this was the hotel. Met another cyclist here and had chat with Lotta, a young German women, who was planning to cycle all the way up to Vaasa and then catch the ferry across to Umea before cycling back to Hamburg which is where she was from. Best of luck because she was cycling without any maps and was loaded down with a lot of stuff to carry. But she looked fit and up for it :)

Mark arrived a hour or so later and we had a very pleasant meal together. Turned out he was a Vietnam veteran and had served over 600 days in country at Danang in the US Navy. We had a lot of things in common and chatted for a few hours. However both of us were tired so retired in good time

Day 3 - Kilhelkonna to Pivarootsi

Slept well enough though legs were aching and kept me awake as everytime I moved I woke myself up. Also a little bit too hydrated which is a good thing because it would be hell if I wasn't. However meant I woke for a pee a couple of times. Up in good time for a tasty breakfast of boiled eggs and other bits and bobs my host had left over.

Took a spin around the village to check out the church and see if I had missed anything and I hadn't so hit the road and headed south. Had asked my host the night before how come this village had such a large church yet the village seemed so small. Apparently wasnt alwasy like this and the village had been a lot bigger. Once the Russians came in 1941 a lot of people either fled or were deported as the village had been quite wealthy

Best cycling so far with glorious weather and rolling scenery. Passed through the capital of the island Kuressaare and feeling that I was missing some food decided to pop into a supermarket and buy some bananas. Strangest grocery shop ever as it didnt seel any fruit and vegetables. The fortress though was magnificent with lots of school children being shown around by their teachers. Dating from the 13th century it pretty much dominates the town

The afternoon ride was a bit more functional as I had to get to the ferry port and off the island and really there wasn't much choice with regards which way to go. It was a long ride today so i wanted to avoid the unnecessary diversions and detours that Eurovelo 10 wanted to send me on because frankly it was hot and tiring and I still have 2 more long days ahead of me. Traffic was very light and thankfully I was not forced to share the road with any significant trucks which is always good news for us poor old cyclists

Found the ferry and due to its frequency I didn't have to wait too long. Once over on the other side I wound my way through the back roads down to the camp-site at Pivarootsi and what a little gem this place turned out to be. Run by a middle aged man called Peter and his aging mother he had renovated an old Dutch Windmill into a home for himself that also doubled up as a conference centre, disco and dining area. He proudly showed me around on a little guide tour and i was impressed by the quality of the work and the obvious love he has for his little camp-site. Dotted around the windmill he had built a number of summer cabins and amenities such as sauna, jacuzzi and relax areas with grills. What really impressed me though was Peter himself as he was such a friendly and chatty host. He couldn't speak English so he chatted away in German using a lot of hand gestures which I was able to follow. He made me an excellent dinner of grilled chicken and salad which he served to me outside in the warm evening air. Lovely way to have ended a hard days cycling

Friday, 26 May 2017

Day 2 - Haapsula to Kihelkonna

Was planning on taking the 1000 ferry but woke in good time to catch the 0830. Took a little tour around town and found the castle which was very impressive. Headed off to The ferry terminal going past the railway station which had a bunch of rusting steam trains sitting outside of it. Guess these are the trains that would have serviced the railway line I came down yesterday. They looked rather sad and all I could think of is these were in the UK there would be some sort of historic preservation society restoring them to their previous glory.

As the place i stayed in last night didn't do breakfast I had a full English in the ferry going over which took best part of an hour. This was then followed by some of the least interesting cycling I've had in a while due to the barren nature of hiiumaa. Combine this with losing my cycling jacket which I can only attribute to a senior moment where I must-have stopped, taken it off, placed it on my panniers and then ridden off made for a crap days cycling. I also very tired as I had gone too fast yesterday and besides day 2 is always tough.

Was going to do the peninsula as I was told it had a nice lighthouse but couldn't justify the extra 30 km so gave if a miss. Consequently was at the 2nd ferry with about 2.5 hours to spare. Thought I planned it quite well as this would leave me plenty of time to chill and eat lunch except their was no food available. Guess we are a little early in the season as the restaurant down at the harbour was closed and the one in the village nearby was half demolished

Still I shouldn't complain as there was a couple of German chaps who had arrived at 1100 as they had been told there was a ferry at 1200. Ferry wasn't until 1730 so they had had one neck of a wait. Another cycling couple turned up (German again) and a Swiss biker. They all had plans to stay just the other side but I was determined to stay on schedule so set my sights on reaching the west end of Saaremaa and Kihelkonna which was a good 60km.

Head down and lights on as well as a high visibility top for what was to be the best cycling so far. Road was empty and the scenery so different from the cycling earlier really lifted my mood.

Was booked into staying at a religious hostel and got there in good time. Lady showed me in and then let me use the kitchen. 2 bowls of frosties  and some pasta with butter and ketchup made for a very tasty meal. Shower and Bed

Day 1 - Tallin to Haapsula

A full day at work followed by a mad dash to the ferry isn't probably the best way to start a cycling holiday. However with a national holiday on Thursday it was just too tempting not to miss the opportunity especially as I am very unsure what vacation I will get this summer as we have so much to do in the UK

Caught the 1730 to Tallinn and once again risked the cabin share option hoping the other occupants don't show up. No such luck though we did have one no show so just the 3 of us. Treated myself to the buffet but kinds wish I hadn't as it was a bit of a zoo. Next time I thing I go to one of the restaraunts as they seemed a lot quieter

Didn't stay up too late as tomorrow is going to be a busy day so had an early night. Slept terribly as it was so hot and I had eaten too much for dinner which is always bad as I tend to get very hot when eating late

Treated myself to breakfast and again wish I hadn't as it was a zoo again. Ship was very busy packed with people taking short breaks by cruising back and forth. Lots of Chinese in particular, no idea why

Boat arrived at 1000 which was go so headed to the Swedbank office for a full day of meetings. Very useful and glad I came as it's given me a lot to think about

Changed into my cycling gear and then headed off. Using Kamoot for the first time which has voice directions and was impressed because they were pretty good and didn't get too lost. If if junctions were a bit confusing the best bit was that the software would tell me almost instant when I had gone wrong

Found my way out of Tallinn and onto the route I had previously planned. Would ideally have gone along the coast and followed the Eurovelo 10 but simply no time tonight. Very aware that my destination is over 100 away and I didnt get on the road before 1600. Tried to cycle as fast as possible as light could become an issue especially dusk

Bike route was excellent with a number of interesting things. Passed a monument to the almost 10% of the Estonian population that were sent to Soviet work camps between 1941 and 1949. In some areas, hence this memorial, over 90% died. Horrendous treatment and I wasn't really aware of this treatment

About half way the route took me onto an old railway which took me all the way to Haapsula. Great bike route but a little restricted as to what there was to see but was made good progress. Made it in less than 5 hours which was pushing it for me. Was just starting to lose the light so good timing

Found the place I was staying which was an old house which I had to myself. Lady was very nice. Quick shower in a tiny bathroom with a sandpaper towel but who cares was just great to wash all the dead bugs off of me.

Popped out for food and a couple of young lads heard me talking English to susie on my phone so they offered me a chip from a bag they were eating. We shook hands and I thanked them, lovely gesture. Susie said contract it might be poisoned but I think k that the risk factor was low 

All I found was a supermarket so bought a microwave pizza. Disgusting, tasted like cardboard smothered with ketchup. Still I was so tired I couldn't care. Bed looked terrible but I was asleep within seconds and slept through

Friday, 13 May 2016

Day 7 - Leba to Gdansk

Woke up this morning not actually remembering falling asleep last night. Couldn't find my glasses and eventually they turned up down the side of the bed. Worked out i must have gotten into bed and literally fallen asleep instantly. So needless to say I had a good sleep last night :)

A lavish breakfast was served in the elegant dining room with its amazing view out to sea. Huge choice of fruits, yoghurts and pastries so I tried not to go too overboard with my selection.

I was able to get myself a 30 minute massage for later in the morning as i decided to make the best use of the day and the fact that it was only going to cost 100sek. Well the massage turned out to one of those butterfly massages which never really got going, like somebody offering to scratch your back but missing the actual place that needed the scratch. Guess the best thing that came out of the massage was that the massaeur was a keen cyclist and told me the roads out of Leba are as bad as the ones coming in. So if i had followed the route it would have been hard going.

Taxi turned up at 1200 and we loaded the people carrier. The trip took 2.5 hours and we headed roughly the way i would have gone. It became very urban once we got away from the coast and hit the towns and cities built around the railway. Apparently Poland has 2500 railway stations but only 650 are in use, would explain why Leba has a railway but no train service. Looking at the map Poland is a big country. Traffic became very heavy once we got close to Gdansk and the driver joked (or was he hinting) it would be faster if i cycled :)

Got to the ferry terminal only to find it was closed and that PolLines had moved to a new terminal opposite. So the driver took us to the ferry crossing to get over the other side only to find it was closed. Couple of guys sitting next to the ferry (probably the crew) told him that it had been replaced by a tunnel. So off we went looking for the tunnel which we eventually found after having gone the wrong way for about 5km. Once we were the other side it was quite a drive out to the new ferry port.

Taking the taxi waas the best decision i could have made. The ride would have been very stressful and if i had made it to Gdansk in time it would have been a miracle unless i had made a 0600 start and missed breakfast. After the previous day I really didnt want a hard ride and more importantly didnt want to finish my ride stressed and knowing i had cut a corned of Poland off by going directly from Leba to Gdansk. I have made things a bit difficult for myself for next time because i will need to get back to Leba, but at least next time I will have a much healthier respect for the road quality of Poland (and probably all the other baltic states) so I will have a lower expectation of the distance i can cover

Had a couple of hours spare so bought some lunch in a quay side cafe and waited to board. Queued up with about 20 motorcyclists from Sweden, nice to talk to somebody other than hotel receptionists :) Poland doesnt really have English as a second language, its more likely to be German. Becomes obvious when you look at why, every town, village and city I have cycled through ever since crossing the border used to be part of Germany until 1945. Gdansk used to be Danzig, never knew that. I guess the rest of the Baltic will have Russian as a second language.

Once on board I put mu name down on the waiting list for a cabin. As i was one of the first on board I was hopeful, still i found a chair in a corner of the ship that would do in case I didn't get one. Couple of hours later I joined the throng around the reception desk and was allocated a bed in a shared room for 4 people. Suited me fine as i have ear plugs just for this eventuality :) Turned out my companions for the night were a couple of Swedish carpenters from Vallentuna who had decided at the spur of the moment not to stay in Gdansk and fly back but to take the ferry. They were already quite "merry" so i was doubly glad i had my plugs. Treated myself to a meal in the resteraunt before retiring at 2230. My carpenter friends rolled in at 0230 and tried to be as quiet only as drunks can :)

Day 6 - Darlowo to Leba

Little did i know but today was destined to be my last day of cycling though thats not how i had planned it, but i am getting ahead of myself

Breakfast was "late" starting at 0800 but with only 100km or so for the day that didn't phase me. Had by far the best nights sleep as the bed was very comfortable and the room quiet. Breakfast was the normal battle with the German geriatrics who all seem to come at exactly 0800. Maybe their day is all planned out for them and they have no choice. 0800 breakfast, 0900 water aerobics, 1000 water painting class, 1200 lunch etc...

On the road and got a little lost finding the right exit. Turned out to be a dog walkers path along the coast which soon became a really nice paved coastal road. My spirits sawed with the thought that this was what lay ahead for me. Alas it soon shifted to the normal soviet era pre-fab concrete slabs but that at least was a hell of a lot better than what was waiting for me.

Actually the morning and early afternoon were good. Progress had been a little slow in places due to road conditions but it wasnt that bad. At about 1500 i was within 20km or so of finishing for the day so was anticipating a 1630 end to the day. Looking at the maps supplied on big information boards (was going through a national park) the route looked very good as it would hug the coast giving me plenty of chances to enjoy the seaview. They even charge me 6zl for the privalage of entering the park, the lady who sells me the ticket asks do i really want to pay? What a strange question. Of course I think thats what she was asking cause she didnt speak any English. She did sell me 2 bottles of water as I had run out by this stage

Then disaster struck! The bike route (and i swear i didnt miss it) suddenly ended at the base of a massive sand dune. Neatly sign posted it looked the right way and knowing i was so close to finishing i assumed it was just one of those vagaries of the R10. So i pushed my bike up the sand dune and at the top, there was another. Ok, this can't be right, probably just over the next one the path starts? I guess you all can see where this is going. You ever tried pushing a heavily ladden bike through sand up and down dunes? After what seemed an age (but probably only 15 minutes) I see a party of school kids with their teachers coming towards me. I know I will ask them if there is a bike lane ahead. First teacher doesnt speak English, or the second, or the third. However one of the little boys says that he can speak English. Great I think. So he tells me his name is Paul, and i say I am Steve. And thats the limit of his English. Oh well. Of course last teacher doesnt speak Englidsh either. So I leave my bike and just carrying the bags walk to the next dune and the next. And of course all there is to see is dunes and now i relaise that even if there is a way through its going to be sand. So i cut my losses and backtrack. Shattered, shoes full of sand and lost at least an hour or more I eventually make it back to the lady who looks at me with a dead pan expression

So thinking the worst was over for the day I followed the alternative route with high hopes of making up the time. Then the road dead ended so i backtracked looking closely for the turn off only to find it was into a marsh. No kidding i have NEVER cycled on such horrendous surface, even sand would have been preferable as it was almost impossible to make headway. I slipped into stagnant pools and the bike and my wrists took a hammering from the potholes. I was convinced this was a joke road but lo and behold i was following other bike tracks and occassionally an R10 sign

I eventually arrived (after more sand roads) at Leba at 1800 exhausted only to find almost all the hotels closed. Guess people only ever come here if they have to because unless they are in a car its almost bloody impossible. The hotel I found though was a classic. An old castle right on the shore front. Showered, ate some food and literally collapsed into bed and sleep. Not before organising a taxi to Gdansk because today my friends destroyed all my faith in the Polish roads (not that I had much). If they were this bad getting in to Leba what the heck were they like getting out!