Netherlands & Belgium

Three days before completing my Northern European loop, my laptop broke down after I spoiled some boiling rice water over it. It’s being send back for repair. Hopefully it can be fixed, as all my data and gps tracks were there.

My first goal in the Netherlands was the ‘Hoge Veluwe’ national park.  It appeared to be a nice rural area, but nothing really spectacular.  The 3 nights I spend in the country, I slept every time on one of the natural campgrounds, a network of simple campgrounds for people who like it quiet and don’t need swimming pools, bars or any other unnecessary facilities near their tents.

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National park ‘Hoge Veluwe’.

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Continuing south after the Hoge Veluwe, I crossed the three ‘big’ rivers, Rhine, Waal and Maas.  Winds were close to a storm, right from the opposite direction, of course.

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Feeling like a king (the chair !)

dsc05408Exactly 5 months after I started this trip, I’m returning to Belgium. I cycled via  the historical towns of Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges towards the coast, all car free along canals.
Total trip is 11.000 km, of which I had to cycle about 80% against the wind, but also had mostly sunny and warm weather.

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New building for the harbour authorities in Antwerp. Something with a ship & diamonds.
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Not sure I like the building.
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M.A.S. museum, Antwerp.
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‘Het Steen’, Antwerp
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Antwerp cathedral. The second tower will never be finished.
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Typical pub, Antwerp
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‘Groenplaats’, Antwerp
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Republique Populaire du Congo airplane.

 

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Ghent
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Last picture of the trip, near the Belgian coast.

I hope to recover my gps data so I have the exact distances, altimeters, etc and I can make a map of my route.

Total kilometer in Netherlands & Belgium: 528 km
Average km per cycling day: 105,6 km

Total kilometer of the trip: 11.038 km
Total altimeter: 76.887 meter (I believe the total gps data will show a bit more)
Total time on the bike: 724 hrs 50 min

Nights slept inside: 0
Nights slept outside: 4 (4 on campgrounds, 0 wild camping)
Average daily costs Netherlands & Belgium: 21 euro

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Germany

I entered the former DDR after crossing the bridge over the Oder river. The ‘R1’ bicycle route guided me via quiet roads into the heart of Berlin, the biggest city I’m cycling through on this trip. Thanks to the help of Roxane, a Berlin resident who really went out of her way to help me find some accommodation, I ended up in the ‘Sunflower Hostal’ where I booked a double room for a night.
It must have been 22 or 23 years since I last visited Berlin.

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My room in the Sunflower Hostel.
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Small section of ‘the wall’ near the former Checkpoint Charlie.

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One side of the wall has all sorts of graffiti paintings, the other side is now painted with war stories.

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The ‘Fernseheturm’ (television tower) in Berlin.

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Humboldt University
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The bike in front of Brandenburger Tor
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‘Reichstag’, the German parliament building.

I kept following the R1 cycle route towards Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Next year, the city will celebrate 500 years of the reformation.

After Lutherstadt, I followed the paths along the Elbe river for a while, before heading into the ‘Harz’ mountains and crossed the now invisible line between the former East- and West Germany.. I was still extremely lucky with the weather. Temperatures going as high as 36 degrees.
Since Latvia I am cycling against the wind, all the way through Lithuania Poland and now Germany. In the end you give up, hoping for a tailwind and you just say to yourself, “well, only another 800 km against the wind before I’m home”.

Münster was the last bigger town I cycled through before entering the Netherlands.

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One day my Rohloff hub was leaking oil. I guess because of the extremely hot weather at that moment. I did another oil change when I came home, and there was still some oil inside, so nothing to worry about, I guess.

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Lunch break at a very friendly Vietnamese restaurant.

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I’ve spend one night in this beautiful shelter in the Harz mountains. A good decision, as the night was very stormy. A couple of trees fell down near the bungalow that night.
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Inside my shelter for the night.

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Münster

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Total kilometer in Germany: 1.038 km
Average km per cycling day: 86,5 km

Total kilometer so far: 10.510 km
Total altimeter so far: 76.107 meter
Total time on the bike: 692 hrs 19 min

Nights slept inside: 1
Nights slept outside: 12 (5 on campgrounds, 7 wild camping)
Average daily cost Germany: 25 euro

 

Poland

The Polish part of my trip, cycling east to west through the country, could be divided into two parts.
The first part, I’ll cycle just south of the Polish / Kaliningrad (Russia) border back towards the Baltic sea, mostly following the Greenvelo Wschodni Szlak Rowerowy bicycle route. It was opened a year ago or so, and appears quiet popular among the Polish.
The second part, I’ll take up the R1 bicycle route, which is a route going from Boulogne-sur-Mer to St. Petersburg.

Poland is bordered in the north by Russia (Kaliningrad) and in the east by Belarus, both countries for which I don’t have a visa. Luckily there is a very small ‘gate’ open for overland travelers, a narrow part where Poland and Lithuania, both Schengen territory, have common borders.

Entering Poland, I have to turn the clock back again one hour and I will pay in Zloty’s for a while. It’s another country I entered via a little, sandy road. Sejny is the first bigger place I visit. Huge cathedral for such a small place. Immediately I see pictures of Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla.
This shepherd of the father of creation is still very popular here.
My first night in the country, I pitch the tent in the forest in Wigierski National Park.

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On the morning of my second day in Poland, I first visit Klasztor Kamedulow.

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A typical Sklep, Polish village shop.

Suwalki, the first real Polish town on my way is quiet famous among Belgian people. It’s the hometown of Waldeck, one of the main characters in the country’s most famous sitcom, ‘Home’.
Waldeck is some sort of Polish Casanova. Many times you see him daydreaming at the bar, drinking his ‘Slurfke’ (= elephant trunk) while he’s having flashbacks about his youth in the forests around Suwalki, the same forest in which I’m riding my bike now.
A trunk is a beer he invented together with his buddies Frank and Eddie. Frank is a top guy. A carpenter who’s a bit conservative. He has a son, Frankie who turned out to be gay, which Frank didn’t take very well. On top of that, Frankie got married to another guy.
As if that wasn’t enough, he had a sex change as well and Frankie is now Kate.
Life is tough on Frank, but still, he isn’t drinking too many trunks.
Eddie, the master brain behind the trunk beer is an ex convict of some sort. He’s always out of money, can’t keep jobs, etc….
All three of them have many problems with their wives.

Anyway, let’s not get carried away here. The Suwalki forests are behind me, and I head back north again through Krajobrazowy National Park, towards the border tripoint of Poland, Lithuania and Kalingrad (oblast of the Russian Federation).
There’s a granite obelisk with a stone circle around it, marking the three territories. Half of it Polish, a quarter Lithuanian and a quarter Russian. There is a very clear notification you are now in the Schengen Zone and it is absolutely forbidden to put your feet on Russian soil. I happily oblige, because I don’t want to get in jail there.
Polish tourist have their pictures taken in front of the obelisk.
When two Russian soldiers approach, the Polish go away quickly. I was still lingering near the thing. The two Russian soldiers walked up to the obelisk (into their tiny quarter).
‘Hi’, I said. But they didn’t reply. One of them looked to the camera on Russian soil from the corner of his eyes. I guess they aren’t allowed to make contact.
What a shame. A friendly word can only change the perception, no ?
After the soldiers were gone, the Polish curiously asked me whether the Russian said anything.
They still seem to make a big impression on them.
I wild camped just south of the Polish-Russian border. Hope Vladimir isn’t going to grab any land overnight.

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The two Russian soldiers approaching to their little corner.

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I’m really happily surprised with the Greenvelo Wschodni Szlak Rowerowy route. I’m following quiet roads and a lot of sand roads. Little washboard sometimes, but way better then what I had further north in the Baltic States. There are lot’s of stops with information signs (exclusively in Polish) and these rest areas have many times a bike pump and equipment for repairs. At the few places where you cycle along a main road, there’s a separated bike lane. Thumbs up for Poland here.

Between the small towns Goldap and Wegorzewo, the route follows an old railway track. Very pleasant cycling.

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Bees at work for me (honey)

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Another sklep for my daily milk.

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A little bit north of Frombork, I reached the Baltic Sea again.
I decided to stay at the camp site in Frombork (noisy one !), because I wanted to check out the town a bit the day after. This is the place where Copernicus spent the last 20 years of his life. You can see part of his coffin through a glass tile in the town cathedral.

Later that afternoon, after I just turned inland again, a small green car stopped next to me while I was cycling up the hill.
“Do you know the distance to Tolkmicko ?”, an obese, North African or Turkish guy asked me.
“I don’t know, I’m not from around here”, I replied.
He mumbled something more while I was stumbling up the hill, but he had to accelerate as another car almost drove into him.
Hundred meters further on, he parked on the side, waiting for me.
“Allez, now we’re gonna get it”, I thought.
“Hey my friend, come over !”
If a stranger calls me ‘friend’, all his chances of becoming one evaporated already.
“Do you know the distance to Warschaw ?”
What the fuck is wrong with this guy ? Do I look like a Garmin ?
“No, sorry”.

“Here, take this from me it’s a present”, while he handed me a box with a watch.
“I don’t want a present”, I said.
“Yes, take it my friend, it’s for you” and he put it on my handle bar bag.
“I don’t want it”, I said, and put it back in his car.
Then I saw a woman lying in the back, pretending to be sick.
“Where are you from ?”, he asked.
“From Dublin”, I said.
“Hey, I know Dublin. I”m from Prague”, said the fat guy.
“Is that why you drive with Polish license plates ?” I asked him.
He didn’t go into that.
“Give me 30 euro for the watch my friend”.
That’s strange, just minutes ago I got it as a present, and now I would have to pay 30 euro for it ?
“I don’t want a watch”, I said.
Then he gave me an i-phone 6, for 40 euro.
“I don’t want a phone”, I said.

Damn, if the next thing he’s trying to sell is his car, then this guy succeeded in offering me the three things I hate the most in one minute time. Material things that is. I hate a lot of other stuff too 😉

I was getting bored with this, so moved my bike back to the road to continue cycling.
“Give me 30 euro my friend, for fuel”.
Yeah, right.
“20 euro !”, he tried once more.
I cycled on. I think this is where our friendship ends.

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Back at the Baltic sea, after I left it in Estonia.
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Many smaller roads have these concrete plates, torturing the bike.
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Market place at Frombork.
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Inside the church where Copernicus lays.

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Copernicus

With all the time I ‘d spend in the morning in Frombork, and later on with my friend, I decided to call it a day before reaching the town Elblag, as I didn’t ant to get stuck in the city late afternoon and finding a camp site at the other side of town.

Elblag is where I start the second part of my route, intending to follow the R1 bicycle route
There’s not a whole lot to see in the city.
To no avail, I tried to find the tourist info, hoping they could tell me where I could buy a new gas cassette for my stove. Signs everywhere to them, and they where in my gps as well, but on the ground, nowhere to be found.
It being a Saturday, I guess they would be closed anyhow.
Tourist offices the world all over tend to close in the weekend, when people are out and about and woud like to get some info.

Another night, just before reaching the Wisla river, I had a nice camping spot in a pine forest. Very quiet and the first night since ages I didn’t hear dogs barking.
But probably my nicest camping spot in the country was the day after, when I camped on the other side of the Wisla River, near a small pond. I could watch to the town of Chelmno on the opposite river bank. It’s 3 churches nicely lit all night.

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Mushrooms growing inside a tree next t the road.

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Monday 15th of August, all shops were closed, because of a Catholic holiday, or so it appeared.
This was of course the very first time since the start of my trip I had only 2 small slices of bread left and nothing for diner. Only a bit of spaghetti and rice, but no vegetables, no sardines, no Sri Ratcha sauce, no soup, nothing…
The 2 slices of bread I ate for breakfast (not realizing yet the shops were closed).
At km 10 I was starving, as always.
The only thing left was a 200 gram bag of trail mix.
“Ok, one nut or one raisin every kilometer”, I thought.
That went fine actually and the kilometers went by quickly, concentrating on my one nut, every time a km had gone. (Sometimes I cheated when I was really hungry and took an extra nut or raisin after half a kilometer).
After 29,55 km, I was saved. I saw a few drunks in front of the local ‘Klep’ (= small local shop).
I had decided this morning in the tent to reduce my milk intake, because it makes me fat, but to celebrate my good luck, I bought a liter and drank it instantly. No banana’s, no apple, no paprika in the shop.
“Beer ?”, the lady asked.
Oh God …..
I bought some mackerel in tomato sauce. I could decide later one whether to eat them with rice or spaghetti.

But also that turned out to be no point.
When I drove through the little town of Mrocza around 4 pm, I saw a small take-a-way pizzeria. There were a few tables inside, so a pizza it was today. For 20 Zlotti (5 euro), I had a pepperoni pizza and a can of Pepsi.
While eating the thing, one after the other local entered the small business, without ordering anything. They just looked at me. All of them seemed to have a skin disease, literally all of them.

I hope that’s not from the pizza’s here.

Soon after, I felt terrible. I was swaying on the road like a drunkard. Not a good idea, if many of the car drivers passing you actually are drunk.
I vowed not to eat any of that junk anymore in the year 2016.

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Creating my own routes, I am always pleasantly surprised to end up in these landscapes.

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Initially I was quiet satisfied with the R1 route, but as I cycled further west, more and more I cycled over big, busy roads. I become a grumpy, unhappy person when cycling that kind of roads, so again I sat down one night in my tent and started drawing a route in Garmin Basecamp.
You never know what you’re gonna get if you gamble on taking the little red dotted roads in that program. I had a stretch of 30 km through very loose sand but once I reached the Warta river, I could cycle along it’s bank, the river on one side, endles fields on the other side. A good sandy track, no traffic. Excellent cycling.

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This wall painting made me think of the Shankill road and Falls road in Belfast.

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The good cycling along the Warta river.

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The people remain rather unfriendly.

Total kilometer in Poland: 1.131 km
Average km per cycling day: 87 km

Total kilometer so far: 9.387 km
Total altimeter so far: 68.208 meter
Total time on the bike: 621 hrs 45 min

Nights slept inside: 0
Nights slept outside: 14 (2 on campgrounds, 12 wild camping)
Average daily cost Poland: Exactly 40 Zloty / day (= 9,23 euro)

Route Poland
Route Poland

Baltic States

 

 

Estonia, land of the storks

For easy reference, I decided to cycle the Baltic States in alphabetical order.
Arriving with the ferry right in the heart of Tallinn, it will be the first time I plant my wheels behind the former iron curtain.
It’s obvious to have a look at the town first. A nice little city, but I still think the old centres of Antwerp, Ghent & Bruges are much more impressive.

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Entering the medieval centre of Tallinn

 

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Steeeeeep descents in the city (reality was 18% downhill)
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Many streets in Tallinn are still full of these old wooden houses.
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But you’ll find this as well.

After cycling all the way to the wrong end of town to find a new gas cassette for my stove, I went to a supermarket close to Tallinn City Campground.
It doesn’t get the best reviews, but still, after cycling into Helsinki, finding the right dock from where the ferries to Estonia leave, the ferry ride itself and all the chores in Tallinn, I wasn’t ready anymore to cycle out of town for God knows how far before I would find a descent wild camping spot. Besides, I needed a shower and wanted a bit of free time in front of my tent, reading. So I stocked up in the super market. Meatballs, vegetables, bread, a bottle of milk for next morning and some yoghurt + a big bottle of beer and a bag of chips for tonight. It was a bit wobbly with all that stuff on the bike, but just a short ride.

The campground ……. from half a kilometer away I could here some concert was going on. Right next to the campground.
The campground itself is a concrete parking lot between high rise buildings.
The sanitary building smells and looks like one at the end of a rock concert. An alarm of one of the mobil homes was going of constantly.
Apparently since morning time already, I was told by a German couple.
All these other campers have a lot of patience enduring that all day. I was there 5 minutes and wanted to break it open already….
In short…. it was worse then hell.
And it costs 20 € !
Impossible for me to stay there. Accidents would happen.
I ate the yoghurt, drank the milk and tried to load all the other stuff as good as I could on the bike. Filled the water bottles and left, not before enquiring at the reception whether they had a free space, what the price was, have a good laugh and go.

Late evening, 30 km or so outside of Tallinn, I found a quiet, mosquito infested spot in a field.
Much better.
Prepared the meatballs and ate them in my tent, followed by the beer and chips.

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Leaving Tallinn along the Baltic Sea, the city in the background.
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Preparing breakfast in a bus shelter. Finally living like a real bum 🙂
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But still having Yogi tea for the necessary wisdom.

I have the intention to follow the ‘Eurovelo 11’ route a bit through the Baltic states. First along some peninsula’s along the country’s northern shore.
Beautiful riding through virgin forests. To actually see the sea, you ‘ve got to take some dirt roads going down to the coast.

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I rode a few km with some kind Estonian cyclist a bit outside of Tallinn.
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Last views of the Baltic Sea
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Nice roads through Lahema National Park.

My second night, I wanted to have a short day and stay in one of the RMK campgrounds (RMK = the Estonian forest department).
After a 50 km ride, I arrived at the RMK campground in Leesi.
A bumpy sand road going down from the main road. That looked good and quiet.
Until I was down that road.
Two big groups of Estonians were playing volleyball, car stereo’s at maximum volume, beer all around. Further down a group of Hells Angels was making loud noises with their Harley Davidsons, a group of girls was sitting in front of a tent smoking water pipes (idiots), a family with dogs on the beach….
I parked my bike next to a Harley Davidson, sat down in my cycling shorts at a bench nearby and had lunch.
“Aren’t these guys feeling hot, still wearing all that leather crap”, I am thinking to myself ?
“They must really envy me, in my cool shorts.”
I didn’t bother asking them, cause I constantly had to kick a little dog away.

Driving back towards the main road, I saw another cyclist coming down.
Isn’t that….. yeah, it was John, an English cyclist I met already twice on the Lofoten and again at the campground in Tromso.
What are the odds we meet again in Estonia on a little sand track ?
We had a good talk, before John went back towards Tallinn to take a ferry to Sweden.
I headed further along to coast and pitched my tent in a mosquito infested forest, 30 km further down the road.

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John, a strong U.K. cyclist who I meet by chance again on a small sand road in Estonia.

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This is where Bill Gates comes to shoot his wallpapers.

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Everywhere on my maps of Northern Europe, I saw the ‘Struve Geodetic Arc’ mentioned. I finally got to see one for real in Estonia.

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Soviet style housing is still common.

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Riding South towards Estonia’s second biggest city, the university town Tartu, the Eurovelo Route started to use bigger roads so I had to intervene a bit and made my own route, using traffic free dirt roads.

Tartu is a nice place, but I was so stupid to follow the Eurovelo route again to leave town.
Busy, busy road.
I made a much, much better route that night in my tent for the rest of the ride towards Latvia.

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Tartu
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Tartu
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Tartu university
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Ok, the bike was in the sun, but it shows it can get pretty hot in the Baltic.
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I also find nice RMK campgrounds completely for myself

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Alexander and Arnita, a Russian bicycle couple.
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Nice, little road in south Estonia

Total kilometer in Estonia: 519 km
Total kilometer so far: 7.556 km

Route Estonia
Route through Estonia

Latvia: Crossing the country on dirt roads

My last kilometers in Estonia were on a provincial road skirting the border.
Right side Estonia, left side Latvia.
I was heading to the small town Valga but didn’t really want to ride into another town when I didn’t need supplies.
I saw a little road coming in from the Latvian side, but it stopped a few hundred meters from my road. Probably from older times, when border crossing weren’t that easy.
But roads don’t ever stop just like that near another one, I thought, so I kept my eyes open.
And sure, suddenly there was a cemetery on the Latvian side of the road, and a little path going there from my main road.
This is the first time I entered a country via a graveyard 🙂
Not a problem in our happy ‘Schengen world’, I guess.
After the cemetery I continued on sand roads back to the Eurovelo 11 I was following. That turns out to be another paved provincial road. Not too bad when I ride it early evening, but I can imagine it will be busy tomorrow so later that evening I create my own route further through Latvia.

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First meters on Latvian soil.
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The kgb wouldn’t have liked this kind of entering in older days 😉
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Latvian bus stop.

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The route I created between Smiltene & Jekabpils turns out to be spectaculair. From gravel roads onto smaller and narrower sand roads right through the heart of Latvia.

Just when I come from a small sand road on a bigger gravel road, a passing police car stops right in front of me.
A big fat guy whit a cigaret drags himself out of the car.
“Kezembrechal zwizwetska norovski embroich ?”
I politely explain him I don’t speak Latvian.
“Ghwhat your name ?” he asks me.
A blanc stare for a few seconds…… “Plovdo Karisteas Sir.”
“Ghwhere you from ?”
“I’m a United States citizen Sir.”
“You tourist ?”
“Sir, yes Sir !”
“This your first time in Lativa ?”
“Sir yes Sir !”
We exchange a few more plaisanteries and soon I am on my way again.
But of course the thunderstorm I was trying to outrun (outcycle ?) caught up with me by now.
It’s a short one though, so soon I can enjoy the now a bit muddier tracks I am following.

If you like your cycle trips a bit more adventurous and like to see little frogs of 2 cm jump from before your wheels, instead of you trying not to get under the wheels of speeding cars and trucks on the busy roads, this is a route for you.
Sure, you’ll have to face a few dog attacks on these little roads, but it’s definitely worth it.
I’ll put the gps tracks online when I’m back home.

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The big difference after Estonia where only bigger places seem to have shops, Latvia seemed to have this little village shops again. Very convenient.
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lutheranian church in Drustu.
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Sometimes I fear, when I’m enjoying this kind off roads, others might find I’m ‘pushing it a bit’, if we would cycle together 🙂
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Camping next to the graveyard. While lying awake all night because of a loud party in the village, I found myself suddenly hoping this was not the place where they scatter the dead’s ashes…..
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On Latvia’s dirt roads, it often felt like cycling in the tropics. Hot temperatures and lots of ferns.

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Another village shop.

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Cycling heaven !
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Never, ever people will return your greetings, whether they are on a bike are not.

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More Soviet style housing.

Total kilometer Latvia: 274 km
Total kilometer so far: 7.830 km

Route Latvia
Route through Latvia

Lithuania: About rain, headwinds and washboard tracks

Lithuania, the third and largest of the three Baltic States. It seems also to be the most religious of the three. Small villages with big churches and lots of crosses along the road.
As good as my sand- and gravel tracks were north of the grimly town of Jekabpils (Latvia), so bumpy they suddenly became south of that town. And they continued to be like that throughout Lithuania.
After the little border town Obeliai, I leave again the provincial roads and take a left turn towards Kriaunos. The sun is out, so I have again a swim & a wash in a lake and also find myself a beautiful camping spot next to another lake.
But from the next morning on, the weather becomes dodgy and I pack the tent away wet most mornings.

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Welcome to Lithuania
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The big church in Obeliai.
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Nice Estonian / Polish couple I met just across the Lithuanian border.
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Wild camp nbr 1 in Lithuania.
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Apart from storks, the Baltic countries are full of these little frogs.
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Cycling along the Audra water reservoirs.
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Small vilages with big churches. Lithuania seems much more religious as her two northern sisters.

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Bumping over washboard roads, 3 bumps a second, a strong head wind and a regular rain shower.

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DSC0437670 km north of Vilnius I take a rest day on ‘Apple Island’, a camp site on a little island in lake Grabuostas. It’s my first rest day since Tromso, exactly 3746 km back & 43 days ago.
It’s not that I didn’t want to take any rest days, but the circumstances decided otherwise.
Or there were no campgrounds around near the end of a cycling day, or I didn’t have enough food or water to take a rest day on a wild camping spot, but the main reason was the weather and the insects. The insects forcing you to keep moving, or they would attack you. And as I had such good weather further north, it gets way to warm in a tent to possibly stay inside all day.

During my stay on Apple Island, I treat myself with some good meals from the restaurant to have a change from the usual pasta or rice dishes I make myself. For the first time in my life, I start reading a book in German language, “Amerika von oben nach unten” from Tilmann Waldthaler, one of the ‘big three’ in World Cycling touring, together with Heinz Stücke and Frank Van Rijn.
The book is only available in German, so I didn’t have any choice. I understand everything surprisingly well, so I can buy his other books as well.

A bit before Vilnius, I start following the Eurovelo 11 Route again, which leads my into town through a beautiful forest and a bicycle path along the river. The ride out of town is on a bumpy foothpath along a very busy road. I suppose there was no alternative.
The 5th of August must have been the warmest day on this trip so far. The sun was burning relentlessly and made me stop at every village store for refreshments.
In this little village store, one can see that wodka is still one of the main commodities over here. With all the problems coming along with that probably.

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The cycle path into Vilnius
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Vilnius library
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View from Mac Donalds on the main street through Vilnius
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A&, A4, A16, E28, E85 and …. Euroevelo 11

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My last day in the country, I woke up around 6 am. The sky was very grey, so I decided to break camp quickly and go. The first 15 km were slow going along more bumpy wasboard roads.
When I went to the village store in Perloja to buy my (almost) daily liter of milk, all hell broke lose. A terrible thunderstorm and an even harder headwind as before. But I was happy with my decision to rise early. The tent was packed away dry, I managed to leave the field I was camping in with dry feet, and the bumpy dirt rod was behind me as well.
The nasty weather prevented me from following the planned route along the border with Belarus through Dzukios National Park though. It would get way too hard on the sandy (muddy) roads in these conditions.
It shortened my route with 60 km, and that way I entered Poland on August 6th, a day earlier as expected.

A few thoughts after this chapter of the trip:

  • The mosquito’s and horseflies: The problem went on until Latvia. As south as Lithuania, they come in normal quantities.
  • Dogs: Not a night went by without hearing the constant barking of dogs. Huw-huw-huw…. huw-huw-huw…. huw-huw-huw. This constant, monotonous noise all night long from several directions.
  • The people: In Finland and the Baltic States people are generally not friendly. They don’t return your greetings and in the Baltic States they generally don’t even look at you, although you must be quite a sight in some remoter parts. Never a smile. There were exceptions of course. I remember the friendly guy in Finland who approached me near a library for a chat and gave me a tip for a national park, the friendly family who invited me in to have lunch when I asked only for water, the friendly bikers I met outside Tallinn, a mother and here daughter who gave me some blueberries they just picked in the forest in Latvia, but they were exceptions. You can’t simply blame it on ‘the system’, the communist past, or poverty, because that’s things Finland isn’t suffering from. I think the only conclusion one can make is that, in general, people are not friendly in this part of the world, western and ‘rich’ (Finland), or former communist and a bit poorer (Baltic States), the mentally is largely the same. Compared to southeast Asia. In Thailand people lived fairly untroubled in recent history and are relatively well off and in Myanmar they lived under a brutal regime and are dead poor. Same goes for the brutal recent history in Laos and Cambodia where the living standard isn’t too high either. But Thai, Myanmar, Lao or Cambodian, they all are, friendly, warm and happy people. It’s a regional thing.
  • Storks: Not only Estonia was a stork country. You see them everywhere through Latvia, Lithuania and here in north-eastern Poland where I’m writing this.

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I’ll insert from now on some extra data about my trip after I crossed a country. I updated the previous posts as well (few things I still have to calcuate).

Total kilometer Lithuania: 426

Total kilometer in Baltic states: 1.219 km
Average km per cycling day: follows later

Total kilometer so far: 8.256 km
Total altimeter so far: 62.755 meter
Total time on the bike: 543 hrs 19 min

Nights slept inside: 0
Nights slept outside: 15 (3 on campgrounds, 12 wild camping)
Average daily cost Baltic States:

Route Lithuania
Route Lithuania
Route Baltic
Complete route Baltic States

Finland and the Route of a Thousand Hills

Finland, or Suomi as the Finish call it, might be famous as the land of a thousand lakes, but I will always remember it as a land with hill after hill after hill after hill.
It never stops.
Riding north to south in an “S”-shape through the country, it seems already endless, but there was hardly a day I didn’t gain 1000 vertical meters, without ever climbing a real mountain.
35 meter up, 30 down.
You’d think as a cyclist you will have some ‘momentum’ and just roll up the next hill.
Not with a loaded touring bike on a gravel road.

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In Finland as well, the reindeer are never too far away of course.

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That said, I enjoyed many moments in Finland. The quiet gravel roads in the north leading through huge forests.
But it also had it’s annoyances.
Mosquito’s. They come in zillions.
Horseflies, biting chunks of meat out of your legs.
A horsefly can fly 38 upto 40 km/h so you need to go downhill to get rid of them. But they ain’t stupid. If you go too fast, they just hitch a ride on your panniers somewhere till you slow down.
So what you do, after you climbed up the hill, sweating, kicking the horseflies away, you go down, pedal hard because the downhill isn’t that long, in the meantime you slam your panniers in the back with one hand and kick your panniers in the front with one leg, trying not to lose control of your bike on the gravel road.
And then the next hill comes, and the horsefly is back, laughing with you.
They always come in pairs.
But you ‘ve got to respect those little bastards. Flying 40 km/h with wings of 1 cm.
If we as humans with our 1 meter legs would perform likewise, we’d run …. 4000 km/h ! From pole to pole in an afternoon. But we can’t even keep up with these little bugs.

There were other annoying animals.
For the first time this holiday I was attacked by dogs. 3 giants at the same time.
But I still seem to make enough impression to hold off even 3 off them.
Just brake VERY aggressively, and go to them. Shout or growl like a grizzly, go towards them.
They all turn back. Any dog on any continent.
I’m not sure about this Tibetan giants. Hope to figure that out one day.

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Lucky you can buy the fabulous Sri Racha sauce anywhere now. This one was made in Bulgaria but tasted almost the same as the original.

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The midnight sun above Inari Lake, north Finland.

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Pokka, along the dirt road going south from Inari (Lapland)

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Self-made red curry rice soup.
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Local country shop in northern Finland.

By the way, Finland is my first ‘new’ country on this trip. I also realized that after I cycled on every continent (if you take the the Americas as a whole), I also cycled along every of the 5 oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Southern).
The Arctic Ocean was still missing, but the Barents Sea in northern Norway is part of the Arctic Ocean.

On 11th July, after 37 days in the polar region, I crossed the polar circle again. On the bike this time, not on a boat 🙂

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Lonely sheep 🙂

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Self-made green curry rice soup.

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Little polar circle sign.

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Twice I went to a campground in Finland (Inari & Kemijarvi).
The campground in Kemijarvi is ridiculously expensive. 20 € for one night with a little tent. But it had wifi, so I could see the hardest stage of the Tour de France and the final of the EC 2016.
The cycling was good, the football was not.
The Kemijarvi campground is also the place where my stove gave up completely. I started it but immediately not only the stove but also the fuel hose upto the fuel bottle were on fire. Also the grass started burning, all that 1,5 meter from my tent. I grabbed the fuel bottle, the burning stove still attached to it and submerged it in the lake next to my tent.
Of course, fuel being lighter then water, a square meter of the lake and my arm were on fire !
Both without permanent damage.

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The elderly in Finland have thee roulators. They stand in between and use it as a step. They go FAST ! The braking system seems dangerous to mee (a left and a ride side brake). If you use only one at the speeds they make …. don’t want to know where you end up 🙂

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It may come as a surprise, but Finland is a land where it’s very hard to find wild camping spots. A lot of land is private and with a bungalow. Or the forest is too thick. The places I found were hardly ever spectacular.

A good thing about Finland is the many libraries you find along your way. ‘Kirjasto’ they call it here and you better look out for them (wifi, water, toilet and just the possibility to sit down without being attacked by insects).
That ‘sitting down’ is another issue.
The Finnish are allergic to picnic tables and benches I think.
You simply don’t find them, which means having lunch along the road in a clumsy way with your lunch partly on the back of your bike, partly on the ground, you standing next to it kicking mosquito’s and other insects away. Never relaxing.

 

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I stopped in a forrest in the middel of nowhere to ask for some water at a house where I could see some smoke from a bbq. I was invited in immediatly by the mother of the house and was fed a good meal.

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One evening I found a rare opportunity to camp along a lake, just north of Jalaa (100 km north of Helsinki or so). A bit of public land along the lake, a fallen down tree that could serve as a bench a flat piece of land with I cleared of cones and old branches.
I was looking forward to an early stop, take my time to cook diner, read my book next to the lake, do some laundry,…
But before pitching the tent, I first wanted to have a little swim before it would cool down.
It was then an Andy Murray look alike arrived with his friend and seven (7 !) kids, all between nothing and 6 years old or so.
Screaming, splashing, with diapers in the lake….
You don’t want to know how quick I was on my bike again.

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One of my best days in Finland, the evening I passed this little Thai take away restaurant. I ordered immediatly a penang kai to eat there and then and a dish of phat krapao kai to take away. The friendy lady from Lomsak in Phetchabun province, an area where I cycled before threw in a lot of spring rolls for free 🙂
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Enjoying krapao kai in the tent.

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My good luck with the weather continued throughout Finland.
I had maybe 2 or 3 days with rain, but the other days were warm, around 25 degrees C and the wind ….. must have blown about 60 % of the time in my back !

On 22 July I arrived in Helsinki (via a very nice route through parks, I made in Garmin) ) and took a ferry to Tallinn.

It’s bye bye Scandinavian countries and hello Baltic States.

Total kilometer Finland: 1.709 km
Average km per cycling day: follows later

Total kilometer so far: 7.037 km
Total altimeter so far: 55.350 meter
Total time on the bike: 460 hrs 40 min

Nights slept inside: 0
Nights slept outside: 17 (2 on campgrounds, 15 wild camping)
Average daily cost Finland:

Schermafbeelding 2016-07-27 om 23.47.16