An offer I couldn't refuse.
On my journey to the North Cape I had unwittingly cycled past a friend I had been corresponding with for some time. His house is only a few metres off the North Sea Route, and what's more he had been home on the day I cycled by. Edlef and I met for a short time while cycling along the river Main. We had kept in touch with the occasional email, but despite this near miss, we had not seen each other for some years. To put this right we decided that we would get together for a cycle ride along the Baltic Route. Edlef suggested we plan the tour for 2012.
For me 2012 was a financial disaster, and I suggested cancelling that year and putting it off until the following year. Edlef made an offer I couldn't refuse. He put forward a plan: that we would cycle the Baltic tour in 2013, but in 2012 I should meet him at his house in Denmark and we would tour around the country, with the promise that it wouldn't cost a penny.
By using a large network of friends, family and ex colleagues, Edlef had put together a comprehensive tour covering pretty well the whole country. True to his promise, these wonderful people wined and dined us on a daily basis, and sent us on our way after a hearty breakfast, with a packed lunch, to sustain us to our next destination. My only other experience of Denmark had been its splendid Northsea route, but this trip showed me it had much more beautiful countryside to offer. And what's more, it is not all pan flat as I had once believed, there are gentle rolling hills not far from the coast, and using ferries to hop between Denmark’s many islands was all part of the experience.
Oslo invisible man!
I set of late for our meeting on the German Polish border in 2013. The plan had been to take my normal route along the North Sea, cross the Elbe before reaching Hamburg, and then head north to reach the coast around Lubeck. I then hoped to follow the Baltic route around the German coast. In the event, I had to take a short train ride to Lubeck to try and make up time, and later a further trip on the train to just before our meeting point. On another occasion I must complete this ride along the German coast as it has a unique beauty.
Up to this point, I had been following my normal practice of riding an unknown distance each day, finding a campsite, cooking a meal, sleeping until I happen to wake, and continuing in the same haphazard way day by day. Edlef, unlike me, tends to plan things. He had worked out daily rides of approximately 100 km, ending with suitable places to find hotels.
Polish horses forest trail
Our ride together started by heading south to Szezecin before heading north towards the Baltic. This was my first ride in the North of Poland, my only other experience of Poland was riding through the south of the country on my way to Russia. The Baltic cycle path's were an extremely interesting experience. The route seemed to follow what had once been roads used by the military. A mixture of teeth shattering slabs, cobbles, and worst of all, sand, made for a challenging ride. We were frequently forced to ride on mostly traffic free roads.
man holds my bike for picture Edlef photographs me
There were going to be many surprises along this route, the first of these was Gdansk. From the news reports of the 1980s strikes in the shipyards, I had a vision of industrial sprawl. In the event, the city centre was a picture of historic splendour. There are wonderful, if touristy, walks along the river, magnificent churches, and beautifully preserved buildings. We did, what we continue to do for the whole trip, found the pleasant hotel, an excellent place for our meal, and wandered around the town with the other tourists.
To follow Russia's Baltic coast has to be planned for well in advance. We didn't, and had to skirt around in order to reach Lithuania. An interesting small boat trip, over the Courland lagoon, right next to the Russian border, landed us on a sand spit where Edlef’s great grandfather had spent some time in the 19th century.
A mixture of often good, occasionally sandy, cycleways took us to Riga, another splendid city that was completely new to me. Edlef carefully photographed our journey. I, on the other hand, took the occasional snapshot (as can be seen in this article)! On most days the weather was near-perfect, displaying the Baltic countries, which for so long had been behind the iron curtain and out of reach for me, in a perfect light. In the towns there are many hotels with character, unlike the stereoscopic sameness of many hotel networks across the Western World. At the same time, some old-style Soviet buildings looked out of place, and these hotels were not surviving and were often boarded-up. We would find a middle priced place to stay the night, wander off around the towns, looking at the same time for a suitable place for an evening meal.
Old style hotel
Tallin wasn't just another interesting and attractive city, it was also the port where we were to catch a ferry to Helsinki.
In Helsinki, to reach the ferry port for our boat to northern Germany is quite complex. Edlef decided the best way would be to use his Garmin. As an old-fashioned map and compass man, I was reluctant. He was right, and we crossed the city much quicker than I had two years before.
On this longest of all Baltic ferry rides I was persuaded to buy a meal ticket, which I had not done last time. Although expensive, it was wonderful value – the food was excellent.
Our trip together ended in northern Germany. Edllef dashed off to catch a train home, while I slowly wandered south to eventually catch the ferry from Rotterdam to Hull.