Cycle Tour Iron Curtain Tour, part 2, Klaipeda-Gdynia
Dag/day 6: Wyspa Sobieszewska-Gdynia
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Added on 18 May 2019
on 28 Feb 2020
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by Ottocolor on 19 May 2019
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Gdańsk, Pomeranian Voivodeship, PL (-31 m NHN)
Gdynia, Pomeranian Voivodeship, PL (-5 m NHN)
11 May 2019
In the morning overcast, later sunny and fairly warm. The winds were moderate from the north, so some headwind in the end, but no obstacle to me.
The morning at Eaglet campsite on Sobieszewska Island was one of the quietest and most peaceful of my life. Lying on my back in my sleeping bag I had the idea of packing my stuff quickly and ride into Gdańsk in a hurry. But as soon as I zipped up the awning, a lovely calmness fell upon me. The birds sang in the tree tops, the weather was nice, no people or for that matter animals around me. Aahhh! Not an eye in the big bathroom for gentlemen. You could have walked naked around without annoying anybody. But this I did only on the beach for my morning bath. I never understood the idea of taking off one's clothes in order to put on trunks. A single dog walker may have thought his thoughts. But as I can't read thoughts or understand Polish, I let it be. Breakfast, which consisted solely of muesli with semi-cold milk, I also made a long lasting experience. And my for a man quite extensive morning toilet was also in slow motion. As I packed my clothes in the tent, I suddenly heard voices. I stuck my head out and saw two retirees leaning on their rakes. After a while, they raked some pine cones together. Then they rested and talked. And raked again. I was so happy to see them. Two male specimens of the species homo sapiens at the same reduced pace as myself. It was just before I went asking them if they had a spare rake. But crept into the tent again. And then one of them came to me instead. With a message in German that his boss liked to see me down at the reception. I had completely forgotten the check-in! This also took place at a very leisurely pace. After I had walked very slowly to the reception. The corpulent camp manager sat like a king on his throne, while I sank deep into the arm chair in front of his desk. He wrote down all my contact and accommodation details in neat handwriting, while he in German asked interestedly asked questions about my travel route. He really liked being a boss and loved campers, especially cyclists. And as I was the only one, all his love was volleyed at me. Eventually, however, I had to continue, thanked many times for his kindness and finally had everything packed. The weather had worsened during the morning. It was now cool, cloudy and windy. Not before about 11 o'clock I rolled out of the gate, ready to conquer Gdańsk on my faithful iron horse.
The 18 kilometers into the center of Gdańsk turned out one of the finest cycling stretches in my whole life. And after all, over the years I've cycled into a lot of big cities, and know that it's never quite easy. But that's what it was here! Easy peasy! On fine, newly established, completely finished bike paths along large roads into the city, special traffic lights for cyclists and fine tunnel solutions. One tunnel under a motorway could not have been better constructed in the Netherlands. Which, in my opinion, is definitely Europe's bike country no. 1. My own country Denmark I would rate second. Now challenged by Poland! I hadn't seen that come. But okay, Gdańsk is not Poland. I'll must to go to Warszawa one day soon. The whole route I had plotted on my GPS, and everything just fit as it was planned. First proof of my new rating of Gdańsk as Europe's second best cycling city after Rotterdam (and in front of Amsterdam because of the f*ing pizza mopeds there), came before and on the bridge across Martwa Wisla, Dead Wisla. The red cycle path led around the roundabout and on a separate cycle path across the bridge, where it continued on the other side. Of course, the comfortable tail-side-wind made it better. So after just over an hour I had my buttocks safely placed on a comfortable chair in a bakery cafe and enjoyed a large cup of coffee with the morning rolls, I had missed on the campsite.
Outside the bakery's window, there was an election poster for the forthcoming European Parliament election. And there was also the same candidate's election material on the counter. Unfortunately, it was Danuta Sikora from the PiS party. She probably was connected to the baker, and suddenly the bread tasted less good. "Poland is the heart of Europe" (I think so) it said on the poster. The heart usually refers to the place of emotions. But it can also mean the middle. In any case, the Poles have to recognize what Europe has accomplished even during the Cold War, where they were prevented from attending (Europe lapparently lacked a heart at that time!) And start to take the smooth with what they apparently perceive as rough, namely to adhere to Europe's set og values. You can't just take the smooth and build how many beautiful bike paths for EU money as you like. If they do not recognize our values, they must be put outside the door. In my opinion, exit negotiations with both Hungary and Poland should be started as soon as possible. If these governments do not immediately stop their anti-European policy and unreservedly recognize the common European values. Well, I quickly got something else to think about, because now I was in the center of an absolutely enchanting city. Good old Danzig, I thought. The old Hanseatic city, which had been the core of battle in the run-up to the Second World War, incorporated into the newly formed Polish state after it and the hometown of the Solidarnosc movement, which ended up being absolutely essential in the demise of the Eastern Bloc personalized in Lech Walesa, the electrician of this city's Lenin shipyard that ended up being Poland's first free president. And today it is one of Europe's finest bike towns, okay, for the time being, only inside my head, but it will surely pay back to the city someday soon. You who read this can go there and I can only say "do it". You will not regret. The first impression I got was standing on the bridge across the Motlawa River, and was totally captivated. An almost perfect old waterfront with beautiful gable houses and a stately old crane. In the middle of the river a copy of an old wooden sailing ship was departing towards Westerplatte, I believe. Out there are several large museums and a memorial, because here the first shots of the Second World War were fired when the German warship Schleswig-Holstein fired shots into the coastal fort out there on September 1, 1939. Perhaps this ship also sailed all the way to the peninsula Hel on the other side of Gdańsk Bay. Now I walked through The Green Gate, which was not at all green. Instead, there was music. A trio played really loud under the arches and it sounded well. Just inside the gate The Long Market, the city's stately pedestrian street, began. And gosh, it was harmonious and wonderful to look at with various narrow gable houses as far as the eye reached to the west. First of all, I "fell" over a street vendour who sold amber ornamentals. One I bought for my dear wife at home, who, to my delight, would put them in her earlobes. First stop on the pedestrian street was the Neptune well in front of the Artus court. Here I parked my bike in a bicycle rack under a big tree. In the basement of the old courthouse they had opened a brew pub, so after a look at the menu and the prices I decided to have lunch here. I loved the prices! At first, however, my hunger for culture was greater than for food and beer, so I went into the main city hall, which is older than the old city with its own city hall. This one was from the late Middle Ages. And it was sumptuous too. Not least the halls, wonderfully decorated. In the former city council hall, paintings of all the Polish kings hung as well as an old tapestry with the Polish eagle, but aove all was the so-called red hall. The name comes from its wallpaper, but the most sumptuous part was the ceiling with a large oval painting of a city gate with costly frameworks. Also the door to the hall was a sublime work of wood carving. All these treasures had been removed during the war. And it was a wise decision, because Danzig was terribly devastated during the war. Erroneously, I had thought it had been let off cheaply at the time, but a large photograph in a corridor made me gasp in disbelief. Almost no house had been spared. The city must have burned terribly. And the way it looked now, it had been looking since the 1960s, when it was rebuilt under the Communists house for house in very faithful original style. Well, honestly! I know how beautiful East German cities like Dresden had been neglected in the GDR era. The photo of the bombed city made a big impression on me. And I thought about it when I was standing on the city hall tower and looking over the city's roofs for a long time. It was incredible! The Maria Cathedral also appeared beautiful and huge only approx. 100 m to the north. It was completely renovated, I knew, because my sons had only experienced it packed completely into scaffolding both inside and out. Suddenly I heard somebody speak Finnish. And wanted to have a little chat. It is not often I have the opportunity to cultivate this little passion of mine, and the approach was Finland's victory over Canada in its first match at the ice hockey World Cup. Later, they would win the World Cup itself. The Finns also enjoyed the view from the City Hall Tower, except for a young woman who suffered from fear of heights and huddled by the stairs and obviously needed my care. In Finnish. I was in my elements. Even more when one of the Finns praised me for my language proficiency. My inner cheers would not end. Not until I had taken a seat at one of the outdoor tables of the brewhouse. And found other things to cheer about, namely beer and food.
Brewery pub Rajców on the town hall square is a bit understaffed. When the sun is out, as it was again after the cloudy morning, the busy servants cannot follow the demand. On any other day I had been totally indifferent to that fact, but today I had a mission with a rock hard back edge: At 8 pm the check-in to the Stena ferry across the Baltic Sea would close, and I just had to make that. When I let the first gulp of beer flow over my tongue and down the throat, I thought three hours had to be enough for the 33 km my GPS told was the distance to the Stena terminal in Gdynia. That would give me a departure time of 5 pm. Eleven kilometers per hour on average, I could always cycle. Okay, in Russia two years ago, that average speed had almost killed me on the roads over there, but here the bike conditions were good. And now it was close to half past three. And I still had my visit to the newly renovated Maria Cathedral before me. Well, it stood very close to me. It gave me peace of mind to enjoy the perfect space I found myself in. To the right the town hall, which beautiful interior I had just seen. Right in front of me a perfectly unbroken row of beautiful citizen houses. Slanting to the left, the beautiful well where the nudist Neptune did casual work with his trident. And backwards to the left, Rajców's entrance and above that the splendid Artus court, a medieval courthouse. Close to perfect. And now my food was served. A huge seafood pizza, which was accompanied by the wheat beer of the house. I couldn't be better off. Also with the thought of the very successful cycling holiday plus my soon return to my beloved home with my lovely wife. Unfortunately, the waiters were very long to comply with my request for payment, so I wasted ten precious minutes on formalities. Now I had only three quarters of an hour for the cathedral. And what a huge church it was. It still seems that way in spite of the tall buildings we are able to build today. What impression had it not made on medieval people who lived in small, low cabins without glass windows? Glass was reserved for nobility and clergy. I understand why faith in God was without alternative in those days. And I must say I still love to feel small and insignificant in a big church like this. For me, it shows that the houses of God are great because God is great. This is my private attitude. For me God is equal to goodness: faith, hope and love. Which are interconnected. And, by the way, no matter whether the church is evangelical, catholic or orthodox. Or whether it's a mosque or a Buddhist temple. We humans are small and it's not our task to solve the mystery of the universe. Our level of understanding is too low. The universe is not only different than we imagine. It is different than we CAN imagine. As a consequence of that, our approach to the world needs to be somewhat more humble. And far more careful. My own little life has taught me. And it is never more obvious to me than in a huge structure like this. There was a wedding going on in the central nave, but the church was open for visits in the side aisles and behind the altar. And just as I stood next to the altar, the wedding itself took place. I was captivated. It was a young couple and the bride's dress was very pretty. And I thought back to my own wedding almost four years ago. And then I "fell over" a memorial to Gdańsk's liberal mayor Pawel Adamowicz, who had been assassinated last winter by nationalist extremists. Many candles were lit, and I also lit one in honour of this true democrat. Poland's hope for freedom and broadness is in need for light. At least symbolically. Both the wedding and the memory of the mayor called for contemplation. And contemplation equals to slowness as the Czech author Milan Kundera has established. Speed leads to superficiality, he says. And argues for this by stating that while trying to remember something and digging in memory, we automatically slow down our walking pace. Conversely, when we come to think of something unpleasant we would like to forget, we unwillingly speed up. Subconsciousness reigns over us. Well, I didn't have time for all this slowness. Unfortunately. After all I had to make the ferry. So I found my bike in the rack and was ready to speed up out of town and up the bay to Gdynia. The clock was only 5.10 pm, so everything in the garden was lovely. Or was it? Well, there were plenty of people on the street and many pedestrians on the bike paths, which also followed my route out of town. Unfortunately, there were also road works now. They had not finished building the cycle paths. That was bad news. Besides, I missed the route once, and of course the road I chose to return to it was one-way in the opposite direction. So I had to wheel my bike on the pavement. At the coast they had built jumble bumps where the bike path crossed roads and walking paths. You couldn't go fast anyway because there were plenty of relaxed pedestrians on such a Saturday evening in lovely spring weather. Well, I just kept the 11 km / h average I was supposed to, when the bike path suddenly ended just before the town of Sopot. Again they had not finished it yet. Ugh! And on the parallel promenade biking was forbidden. And almost impossible in the abundance of children and their parents. Nevertheless, I cycled slowly, but felt badly about it. Even worse, I was about to bonk. It typically happens when you drink (more than one) beer. The solution was a Belgian waffle with chocolate and a cup of coffee at the amusement pier of Sopot. I was now in the middle of Three City (Trojmiasto), how Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia are collectively called. A big city of almost one million inhabitants. Most of them were strolling around out here, I thought. In addition, the girl in the waffle shop was infinitely slow to cook my waffle. Maybe she just contemplated. But now I was nervous not to make my ferry time. I knew there would be a steep climb ahead where the coastal road and the promenade had to give way to a nature reserve. This was the reason I replenished my sugar stocks, even if it cost time. And I must say I loved it after the pier in Orlowo. For gosh, that climb was demanding. The path was excellent, but so steep that I sometimes had to wheel the bike. I had to make just under 100 m in height before I plunged down again. Unfortunately, I could not go fast downhill to the Gdynia promenade, because here the road was poor and still much infantry on it. Well arrived in Gdynia's parade harbor, I knew several large sailing ships were moored there, including the four masted Dar Pomorza ("Pomeranian gift"). I didn't give it a glance. I watched only the city traffic and the magenta line on the GPS display. When Gdynia's center finally lay behind me and the large port area took over, I trod hard into my pedals. Time required me to do so. And here were no pedestrians. Only big trucks, but again there were lovely bike paths and they saved me. For exactly at 7.57 pm, I checked in electronically in the crowded Stena terminal. Fortunately, many online terminals were available. Well, that was a criminally close shave!
One must say that Stena-Line knows how to handle bikes in their ferry ports and on their ships. At the ticket inspection I was handed a yellow vest with the strict orders to don it immediately. Everyone except people in cars wore them in the ferry port. And I didn't even have to roll on board together with the cars. No, there was a big, specially designed trailer, I had to hang my bike on plus all the luggage I didn't want to bring into the cabin. I felt a little skepticism about whether it was right (you really don't like to to leave your best friend all alone when you seemingly only have finished your job halfway) and impressed with the way Stena had chosen to solve the challenge with bicycles on car decks. I have to say I have not always felt comfortable on various car decks in company of many cars and huge truck tires just a few centimeters from my body. After the bike check-in I was a regular walking passenger with some luggage. After a bath in my four men cabin and a satisfying dinner, I went out on the deck to say goodbye to Poland. The ferry described a huge arc around the peninsula of Hel before it was out in the open Baltic Sea. Afterwards I enjoyed a few beers in the bar where there was live music. Wi-fi worked fine and was free. Completely opposite to DFDS, who had shipped me to Klaipeda. When my session was over, I sat contemplating about my experiences from this cycling holiday in Eastern Europe. Many emotions fell over me. I'm just like that. A child of the Cold War I like to call myself. And as such, it does hurt a little to experience the current situation. Basically, I am glad everything turned out as it did. It is so infinitely better than the times when we in the West, myself included, and in the East confronted each other loaded with live cartridges. Now, there are perhaps only blank cartridges in the guns of the Danish soldiers on exercise in the Estonian forests, but the political development with an increasingly hostile attitude towards Russia, who responds with its own hostilities and an unbearable attitude of power, is indeed incredibly sad. The relationship between Russia and the West could have been so much better, and there was hope when the West had won The Cold War and the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. But NATO was not dissolved. I think this could have been an option after the victory in the Cold War. I mean, after a war, soldiers usually go home to their moms and wives with a flower in the gun barrel. This was not the case this time. Despite promises of the opposite in connection with Germany's reunification, NATO expanded its territory with as many as 18 former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact countries. It was really good that, for example, the Baltic countries became independent and opted for the West. But one has to admit that the Russians must have perceived it as a huge defeat. A wounded bear if you like that picture. And in this humiliated and weak position, Russia approached us, first with the jovial Yeltsin, but also in Vladimir Putin's first two terms as president. We tend to forget that today. But he actually offered us a great deal. Among many other things mutual visa freedom. And he spoke in German in the Bundestag in Berlin. With the terrible war that cost Russia so unspeakably much, and that ended in Berlin, in mind this gesture is not to underestimate. But the West refused and chose the way of confrontation. A big mistake in my opinion. And at the same time, another big mistake was to consider "my enemy's enemy to be my friend". Here I am thinking of the Ukrainians. In a very uncertain and unclear political situation in Ukraine after the revolution on Maydan Square, we chose to embrace the country incredibly much. Where caution and diplomacy had been in place. This could not but upset Russia, their great neighbour and historically close ally. Both the EU and NATO offered Ukraine associated memberships. That wasn't called for yet. Not at all. We know the result. War in eastern Ukraine, who by no means see themselves as belonging to the West, plus Putin's annexation of the Crimea. The latter becomes quite understandable in that context. Before the Russian Black Sea Fleet, stationed in Sevastopol in the Crimea, would end up in a NATO country, Putin took the entire peninsula, which until 1954 was Russian land and is populated by Russians. What an outburst it was in the West. "Putin is a bandit." But what about trying to look at our own geopolitical error assessments. We keep talking about Ukraine's "territorial integrity". But act completely counter-productively by pushing Russia from us and supporting Kiev unilaterally. In this way, we tear the country apart into to a westerly Western Ukraine and a Russian East Ukraine. Zero integrity. And all this after the West's serious mistakes in the Balkans, where we ignited Serbian nationalism by immediately recognizing Slovenia and especially Croatia. Only the solution to the Bosnia war gave the West some credit back. First, the massacre of Srebrenica opened our eyes. And now, we are committing the same insane errors towards Russia. It's just so hard to see our own mistakes and so easy to blame the opponent. That's how we are constructed in our heads. Enemy images lie deeply buried in our brainstem. And they are necessary for us to keep us together in our own world. And now that the Islamists, who previously were able to hijack passenger airplanes and steer them into skyscrapers, can only race cars into crowds, Russia is certainly more suitable as the enemy image we need to form our social kit. We define ourselves based on who we do not belong to. It is infinitely sad. With these sad thoughts I went to bed in my cabin for an incredibly bad night with a coughing co-passenger and partying and noisy Poles in a neighbouring cabin and I woke up to an even worse home trip by train through Sweden. But the trailer with my bike was parked in a dedicated spot of Karlskrona ferry port and the sun shone from a cloudless sky. It had been a great bike holiday.