Christine Revisits an Old Haunt

30&31/7/16. The campsite in Lübeck is much more our sort if place! It is a reasonable price for a start (€16.50 compared to up €30 we have paid at a holiday park). It is also a place that feels more transitory as most people seem to spend only a night or two here (which is somewhat ironic as we are here for 3 nights because of pill day and church services!) as Travemünde (about 10 km away) is a major ferry port for services to Sweden and Finland.

The range of nationalities here is also very wide as we have seen cars from 12 different countries – Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Britain, Switzerland, Austria and even Slovenia! We also met up with two British cyclists on the first night. We think they were the first Brits we have spoken to since on the cruise in early May (other than when in transit at Heathrow, that is)!

On Saturday we took the train to an area where Christine worked in a restaurant during the summer vacation after her first year at university (so back in the Dark Ages!!!). Initially we went to the largest town in the region called Plön intending to walk along the lake shore and cross to a nearby island. However, we didn’t get very far as sharp showers kept forcing us to take shelter under bridges and trees.

So we returned to the station and went back one station along the line where a short walk (without rain thankfully) took us to the landing stage for a ferry on a different lake. This ferry took us right to the restaurant where Christine had worked. Her memory was that the place was really busy from lunchtime onwards and the kitchen (where she was the general skivvy) was going flat out. Sadly, that appears to have changed as there were only 2 other tables occupied while we had our kaffee und küchen (Stephen can heartily recommend the Black Forest gateau – more cream than cake!). Perhaps they now do more of their business in the evenings?

Having rekindled the memories, including seeing the annex where she lived, we walked on to the pretty town of Eutin nearby and then returned to Lübeck.

While Christine was digesting her pill and then going to the 10.40 service at the cathedral in the old town, Stephen went for a bike ride (after all he hadn’t even touched his bike the previous day!!). We met up after lunch as arranged and then wandered around the old part of town which is really quite large. There are several old and very large churches as well as many historic buildings for other purposes. Interspersed there are some modern ones which, by and large, are in keeping with their neighbours.

We also found a cake shop which majored on marzipan (which neither of us really like) with some very impressive “models” of town buildings made from the stuff. They also have a wide range of chocolates and cakes (not all of which include marzipan) at very reasonable prices (about €2.50 for a good sized slice to take away) – so Christine thought it would be rude not to patronise them!

The Baltic Bummel 3

27-29/7/16. We spent the last three days close to the coast before turning inland to Lübeck from where we will head towards Hamburg and the North Sea coast. It has been a very pleasant ride but rather unremarkable.

There have been lovely views of the Baltic looking very blue, at least when the sun has been shining, and a mixture of woodlands and more open country. The hilly sections have increased in frequency, although it has to be said that they are at the less strenuous end of the scale thankfully!

The weather has been somewhat mixed with rain most nights but only the occasional light shower during the day and the clouds have generally been burnt off/blown away by the afternoon to leave temperatures comfortably warm.

As we headed west the towns and villages looked increasingly prosperous with many new or refurbished houses, mostly in keeping with the older buildings although there were one or two eyesores. Many of the places were out and out holiday resorts with accommodation and attractions for tourists including many campsites. However, these were all very busy and generally more like holiday parks aimed at families staying for a week or more with “attractions” such as live music, shows and gift shops rather than catering for cheapskate cycle tourists simply looking for a place to pass the night.

At Warnemünde, the port for Rostock, we took a short ferry ride across the river to arrive in a town buzzing with passengers from two cruise ships. We had hoped to use the wifi at the tourist information office but found it next to impissible to get online because there were so many other people there before us. Most of them looked like the crews from the ships which would accord with what happened on our cruise from Sydney to Singapore.

Several of the the towns had olde worlde centres being former members of the Hanseatic League, which made us realise how wealthy this area was in the Middle Ages.

We reached the former border between the two Germanies just before Travemünde, which is at the mouth of the river that flows through Lübeck and this was marked by an interesting information board which told how East Germany attempted to stop people escaping to the West in the area and had a picture of the celebrations when the Wall came down in 1989.

On the way into Lübeck the cycle route signs showed we were approaching the Herrentunnel where the road we were travelling beside went under the river. We wondered how the German approach to getting cyclists through a tunnel would differ to that in Japan (which varied from the unpleasant to the downright terrifying!). We needn’t have worried! The route went into a small bus station where there was a bus which had been adapted to take 15-20 bikes. We piled on with half a dozen others and were whisked through the tunnel in comfort and safety. Lovely!

The campsite in Lübeck was on the far side of the city so we passed quickly through the old town which is located on an island in the middle of the Trave river as we can look around while spending three nights here before going to Hamburg to fly home for a few days.

The Baltic Bummel 2

25-26/7/16. It has been a quiet couple of days enjoying the weather and the cycling along the coast.

Jonas had told us the 30 km or so from Greifswald to Stralsund included about 20 km of cobbles which did not appeal at all. There was the possibility of branching off to catch a ferry to the island of Ruggen, a popular holiday resort but marked by a lot of arrows (indicating hills) on the map, which would cut out half of this bumpy section. However, we decided to take the easy way out, otherwise known as the train!

From Stralsund (another impressive historic town, perhaps they surrendered to the Russians too!) we proceeded through rich countryside and little villages to Barth where there was a small campsite attached to the youth hostel. This was on a sloping site with the flattish areas pretty much full but we found somewhere to squeeze into that was reasonably level.

One of the key attractions of the hostel was clearly horse riding judging by the number of young girls walking in jodhpurs and riding boots. The stables and horses in the fields were a bit of a giveaway too. As was the number of flies which were everywhere.

The other notable thing about this site was the cost. We have paid as little as €9 for the two of us and it is generally around €15. Here it was €37.20, including local taxes! However, this did include the buffet breakfast in the hostel which, while not haute cuisine, was very edible so we made sure we got our money’s worth!

Before breakfast there was a short sharp rain shower, the first we had seen since the first morning in Berlin nearly two weeks earlier. It soon blew over and the tent dried quickly as the sun burnt off the clouds.

Leaving Barth we rode alongside an overgrown railway line and bridge which crossed to the far end of a long thin peninsula, the Darsser Schwelle,  which is more like a spit enclosing a lagoon. We were to spend the rest of the day riding to the other end of the peninsula where it was attached to the mainland.

It is an extremely popular holiday spot which is clearly doing well out of the visitors, the villages looking very prosperous and beautiful. It was quite idyllic. Since we reached the coast we have seen a number of thatched rooves but here almost one in two houses have them, and they all look newly thatched, many with quite complicated roof structures including dormer windows.

From Zingst to Prerow the route went along the top of the dyke. Outside major Dutch and Danish cities, we cannot remember seeing a busier cycle path! It was an almost continuous stream of bikes in both directions. This was actually a bit of a pain because there was only just room for the two lanes of traffic so overtaking was very difficult and everyone ended up going at the pace of the slowest rider. And when someone stopped a traffic jam ensued!

At Dienhagen there were three campsites to choose from. We tried the first one and there was room – just! As everywhere seemed very busy we took it. The cost was cheaper but still at the upper end of the scale we have encountered at €20 plus €1 each for a shower, and the toilet and washing facilities were struggling to cope with the numbers on the site.

Just a quick word on the profile of the countryside. On the day into Barth (with the campsite on a slope) we encountered a few ups and downs in the last couple of km which could, just about, be called “hills” if you are prone to exaggeration but generally it is as flat as can be, as evidenced by the total climbing on Tuesday (the one on the peninspeninsula,according to the Garmin, we climbed 35 metres (just over 100 feet) all day – and we suspect that may be an overestimation!

The Baltic Bummel

22-24/7/16. “Bummel” is a German word for a leisurely and aimless walk or journey (as in Three Men on a Bummel by Jerome K Jerome, an even funnier sequel to Three Men in a Boat).

We are loving our time here on this very pretty coast. The weather is wonderful – mid to high 20s without being too humid-  and the scenery is lovely. The campsites are plentiful, reasonably priced and generally beautiful located on the water’s edge. Stephen has been for an early morning swim at all three sites we have stayed at. There are some nice towns with interesting buildings. However, they are not generally as chocolate box pretty as in Bavaria, for example. (Mind you, we didn’t think that much of Ulm, for example, when we were there last year.)

Because we didn’t have far to go to our Warmshowers stay on Friday and our host was not going to be back from work until 7.30/8.00 we had a leisurely start to the day which gave Stephen the chance to change the oil in the gears on the bikes. They ran more easily afterwards.

We headed back towards Peenemunde but taking a flatter and more direct route beside the road rather than the unmade track through the woods for the first few km. After lunch Christine noticed that her little solar panel recharger wasn’t in its usual place in the map flap on top of her handlebar bag.

As she looked so doleful Stephen volunteered to ride the 5 km back to our lunchspot where she last remembered seeing it. There was no sign of it so he rode back and on the agreed meeting point on the edge of Wolgast where Christine was looking very sheepish! She had found the charger inside the bag!

After catching up on some podcast downloading at McDonalds we made our way to Jonas’ flat and arrived at almost the same time as him. He was another very pleasant host and we had a most enjoyable evening chatting and eating.

The next morning, Jonas accompanied us for the first 15 km or so as he was cycling to meet his parents who are on a music related trip relatively near by. He left us at an old nuclear plant from the GDR era which is being decommissioned. He was able to tell us lots about it as he has taken his physics classes to visit (he is a teacher).

We continued parallel to the coast catching glimpses of the sea until we reached a campsite on the edge of the old Hanseatic city of Greifswald. Although it was rather early to stop it looked to another lovely situation and we thought the city might be an interesting place to visit on the pill/rest day.

So it proved. Christine walked the 5 km into town the next morning to go to the service in a very large church in which the congregation of about 25 looked rather lost. She thinks it is probably popular with students from the local, large university so it is much fuller in term time. Stephen cycled in later and we wandered round the old town which escaped destruction by the Russians at the end of the war by surrendering without a fight. Probably very sensible.

We ate sandwiches by the harbour on the river and then walked along the banks which was much more pleasant than the road we had taken into town. There were some seriously expensive boats using the river and some very nice houses and apartments being built beside it. It is very definitely an up and coming place. We have sensed that many places in the former GDR are improving but this is where it is the most noticeable.

Current Plans

Lee has asked what are our plans for this leg so here goes.

Christine’s sister, Lynn, is getting married near Bristol at the end of September and neither of us want to miss seeing her and Clair get “hitched”. That is our major objective.

We are intending to have a relatively leisurely ride from Berlin, up to the Baltic coast (already achieved), across northern Germany via Hamburg, into The Netherlands and Belgium (meeting up with a couple of Stephen’s former work colleagues for dinner, hopefully) and then into France probably catching the ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven in mid September.

We will be taking a 5 day break early in August, flying back to the UK from Hamburg, to meet up with Conal and Tamsin (son and d-in-l) who we haven’t seen since they moved to Bahrain a year ago and Alaric and Annabelle (other son and girlfriend) who live in Didcot.

We may make a diversion up to Esbjerg in Denmark before riding down the North Sea coast of Germany to humour our completionist natures as, several years ago, we cycled with the children from there up the west coast of Denmark to the “top”.

Our plans for after the wedding are still up in the air. The house is let until the beginning of December so we have nowhere to go back to! There is the possibility of extending the lease until early in the new year as the tenants’ house will not be complete by December and this is being discussed at present.

Where we go in October will partly depend on whether it is for 2 months or 6 but there are several possibilities for each option. If anyone has any suggestions please post them as comments.

Stettin Haff & the Island of Usedom

19-21/7/16. We have hit upon a prime German holiday area – and we can see why!  It’s pretty. It’s civilised. It has got the facilities. The weather is wonderful.

We have spent the last two evenings with a couple from Bremen, Gisela and Thomas, who tell us that the place has been transformed from how it was when they first came here more than 20 years ago. Even then it was probably at the “better” end of (former) Soviet bloc resorts but now it is very much in the Western mainstream.

(We are on the island of Usedom which is the German side of the border with Poland on the Baltic coast – part of the old East Germany.)

After shopping for camping stuff (gas for the stove and a new towel for Stephen – to replace the one he left behind at a campsite drying on a rock along with his swimming shorts – what an idiot!) we set out from Stettin (sorry for using the German name but the Polish one is too difficult to spell – just a long string of consonants it seems!) on a cycle track beside the main road heading north west back towards Germany and the Baltic coast).

Soon we were out of the city and riding through woods. Stopping to eat lunch at a table and bench we were joined by a couple who had been picking berries (whortleberries according to Somerset Christine) and a conversation in a mixture of broken English, German and Polish ensued, the main points of which were that they have a daughter and three grandchildren living in Evesham and that they do not understand why the UK voted for Brexit!

Just before Ückermunde (meaning the mouth of the River Ücker) we stopped at a campsite on the Stettiner Haff, a lagoon sheltered from the Baltic itself by Usedom. We camped in a lovely setting right by the water which gave Stephen a lovely early morning swim the next day – warm, wave free, gently sloping sandy bottom (the lagoon, not Stephen!) under a blue sky with the birds singing all around – just glorious!

On Wednesday we headed west along the southern shore of the Haff towards Anklam back on the Berlin-Usedom cycle route that we had been following. Just before the town there was a fork in the route with a short cut using a small ferry (max 6 passengers) saving 32 km which Christine took and the longer route via Anklam which Stephen took. We arranged to meet at a tourist information point in Heringsdorf at 6 o’clock if Stephen didn’t catch up with Christine earlier.

The route on the island was further than expected (and Stephen added 20 km to his trip by going in completely the wrong direction at one point (the Garmin is great for navigating in the local area but the tiny screen is rubbish for getting the bigger picture). As a result, Christine arrived at the designated meeting place at 6.20 and it was almost 7.00 when Stephen polled up.

With us both feeling exhausted, having done 80 and 120 km respectively, we set about finding a campsite. The first one had a sign saying “Full” and there was nobody in Reception for us to plead our case. The second did not accept tents. So we were getting a bit desparate when we arrived at the third site, about 8 km from where we had met, but luckily there was room at this particular “inn”. We set about tent erecting, bed sorting and dinner cooking at once. As we were about to eat a neighbouring German couple, Gisela and Thonas from Bremen, offered us the use of a couple of camp chairs and table to eat at, having overheard us tell someone walking past how far we had cycled.

As the campsite was even more lovely than the previous one and it had wifi (cost €3 per device for 24 hours!) we decided to stay an extra night. This would mean we could visit Peenemunde, where the V1 and V2 rockets were launched in the war, without bags.

We slept deep and long that night.  Thursday dawned warmer and sunnier than the previous day and we were glad not to be lugging heavy panniers around – especially when we encountered a couple of short, sharp 16% hills early on the cycle route that runs through the woods between the road and the beach. These hills aside it was a lovely ride mainly shaded by the trees and passing through the occasional very busy seaside resort.

As we neared Peenemunde the countryside opened up and we shuddered at the thought of how bleak and miserable it would be on a wet January day with an easterly wind blowing out of Siberia. But we were lucky with almost clear blue skies, a gentle tailwind (on the way there) and temperatures on the right side of 30°.

The small harbour is dominated by a real, live U boat which can be explored for €7 per person. As we have watched the TV programme Das Boot, we chose to sit and admire the outside while scoffing ice creams!

Having made a late start to the ride (midday-ish) and dawdled on the way it was now almost 5 o’clock and we had over 30 km to ride back to camp. And the tailwind was now, of course, a headwind!

So it was again quite late when we started cooking and we had cycled more than 60 km on a “rest day”! Gisela and Thomas again invited us to eat our meal at their table and we had another very pleasant natter. They also very kindly offered us a bed when we pass Bremen although it might be difficult to fit in around their hosting of their three grandchildren.

This was yet another example of the kindness we have encountered from almost everyone we have met on the road as talked about in the previous post.

Thinking About People We Have Met

Over dinner we thought back about the people we have met and talked to while travelling. We have been shown many, many acts of kindness and friendship everywhere we have been – lifts in cars when we have been in extremis, a bed for the night, meals and drinks, smiles and a friendly chat, etc, etc. We cannot remember an unfriendly word or act, other than from some people cocooned in metal boxes travelling at high speed.

It restores your faith in human nature and the inherent goodness in people.

So a hearty thanks and big hugs to everyone we have met.

We Take a Detour

18/7/16. The information we have to hand showed no campsites between Prenzlau and the coast, about 75 km away, so we were anticipating a long day. As a result we were both in bed early (around 8 o’clock!). Stephen awoke some time later, feeling he had been asleep for ages, to the sound of children playing and it was daylight. He looked at the time to see how early it was. 6.30? 6.00?? 5.30??? Only to discover it was 9.05. PM!!! He soon went back to sleep.

Stephen’s bike needed a little bit of attention which required access to a tool he does not have with him (a chain whip for the cognoscenti) so he wanted to be at the local bike shop when it opened at 9 o’clock the next morning.  Christine made a beeline for the tourist info office to use the wifi while Stephen sorted his bike (and, incidentally, was given the precious Slovenian €1 coin referred to in the previous short post) in change for the €2 charge for the use of the tool and a little bit of labour as assistance.

We set off through more lovely rural countryside – farming country rather than woodlands – and caught up with a German couple Stephen had spoken to at the bike shop while they were getting a pedal fixed. We cycled with them for a few km nattering away until we reached the top of a gentle but long hill which afforded a good view of the surrounding area. We had been seeing quite a few wind turbines recently and from this hill top around 200 were visible!

Reaching the town of Pasewalk, about half way, at lunch time, Christine aired the thought that we could go to Stettin (in Poland) as it was close by, probably more as a way of chalking up another country on our trip than a real desire to see Stettin if truth be told! We considered camping about 8 km out of town and making a day trip by train or bike on Tuesday but decided to go the whole hog and take the train (with the bikes) that afternoon staying in a cheap hotel.

Once checked in to the hotel we set off on the 7 km self-guided walking tour recommended by the tourist info office as taking in all the highlights of Stettin. We were impressed by the amount of daylight and the lovely stained glass windows of the modern cathedral and the beautiful restoration of a very large house as we completed the first half of the walk, before being distracted by the siren call of a pizzeria!