Poland

Poland is a democratic country with a stable, robust economy, a member of NATO since 1999 and the European Union since 2004. Poland has also successfully joined the border-less Europe agreement (Schengen), with an open border to Germany, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Slovakia, and is on track to adopt the Euro currency in a few years time. Poland's dream of rejoining Europe as an independent nation at peace and in mutual respect of its neighbors has finally been achieved.

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Basic Information

I know the Poles as a generally friendly bunch, who are the only Europeans who can out-drink the Russians. Since the Dutch migration rules have become less strict, I've met a few Poles working here in the Netherlands. I'd love to know what Poland looks like from up close. When I ask Poles about Poland though, they're generally not that positive about their own country.

There are two things I need to keep in mind. First, traffic is total anarchy. There's a total disregard for traffic regulations, including speed limits and general decency. The general quality of the road network is not great and often roads are way too crowded. That's what people tell me, anyway. Second, Poland is largely devout Catholic. I'm exactly the opposite. I'll have to do my best not to offend anyone while I'm there.

Map

External Info
Distance traveled 817 km
Time spent 2 days

Places of Interest

disclaimer   These are only places that make up 90% of the plan for this trip. Whether or not I've actually managed to visit each and every one of them can be found in the ride report.

Baltic Sea Coast

For Poland I've got no real points of interest, really. I'm more or less treating it like Germany. I'll just go wherever the road takes me. Especially along the coast, I don't need to plan anything ahead. There are plenty of accommodations and things to see. Besides, it all depends on whether there's any time left until the 4th of August or not.

Entering Poland from the east across the border with Lithuania, I'll be following the Russian (Kaliningrad) border to Gdańsk. It's quite a gorgeous city. It looks great on photographs anyway. Whether this will be my first stop from Vilnius remains to be seen, as it's almost 600 km away.

From Gdańsk it'll be plain sailing along the Baltic coast towards Germany. From what I can gather the coast line is quite a nice sight, with long beaches and cliffs. Again, it's all depending on the schedule. If there's time, I can chill at the beach. If not, I might not even see the Baltic sea.

The plan is to cross the German border at Swinoujscie, unless I'm forced to take the motorway home.


Ride Report

This is only what I remeber of Poland and quickly wrote down during the trip. I'm sure I've missed some details here and there. Sorry! It's chronological, mostly.

The end goal for this day was to reach Gdańsk, on the Baltic Sea coast. Because of visa issues I couldn't go through Kaliningrad and had to cross the border further south. The road from Lithuania was just what you'd expect. Another strip of okay-ish highway, slowly being upgraded all over the place.

Once I crossed the border into Poland, things changed. For the worst. I was warned about the bad state of the Polish road network, but this was just ridiculous. Most of the time roads, and these are main roads, were just wide enough for two cars to pass. Two trucks are forced into the banks every single time. The quality of the asphalt was just awful. Cracks and potholes everywhere. Most of the potholes were filled with water, so the only safe thing to do was to avoid pools of water at all cost. Of course this wasn't always successful. The Alp didn't seem to mind all that much. The shocks are almost unbreakable. The luggage in the hard panniers did mind, with everything bouncing around inside all the time.

Polish roads are dangerous. But it isn't because of the horrible state of the road surface on most places. It's the traffic. Basically, there are no rules. The only exception is to warn other motorists of nearby police by flashing the high beams. But then again, the police doesn't do much either. The only presence I've seen was a highly visible parked police car with two policemen standing in front of it. Just looking at the traffic passing by at twice the legal speed limit. They didn't seem to care either.

Being on a motorcycle doesn't really help. Because you lack width, you leave a gap on your left side. Leaving a gap in Poland means "please overtake me". So to stay visible, thus safe, you have to make sure you're the one doing the overtaking, which in turn means you need to be faster than everybody else. It's not uncommon to see people being overtaken while they're overtaking somebody else. Yes, three cars, side by side, on a narrow road, all going in the same direction. I've even seen a fully loaded truck overtaking me while I was overtaking a fully loaded truck. At 100 km/h on a narrow, bad road. Being squeezed in between two trucks isn't the nicest way to die, I think.

When I got closer to Gdańsk the amount of road work increased as well. There wasn't much organization or purpose to it all. There were parts of the route that were brand new four lane highways nobody used, which would suddenly stop and turn into the good old narrow death traps again. I could see strips of asphalt, clearly being there for at least a few years, running parallel to the bad road I was on, that weren't connected to anything. Traffic lights in the middle of nowhere, incomplete detours, abandoned construction equipment and the list goes on. It's a very unreal situation.

The entire route to Gdańsk was just awful. I was cold, soaked and thoroughly shaken. If things couldn't get any worse, I got lost in Gdańsk. Because of the road work and failing GPS reception I had to find my way to the hotel using my sense of direction and a bit of luck. I didn't expect to find the most difficult off road terrain in the middle of the city. After missing an exit, I took the next road to the right, only to find myself struggling up a steep, muddy path with a few cobble stones scattered about to remind you this used to be a road some time ago. These badly or completely unpaved roads were everywhere. When I finally arrived at the hotel my boots were covered in mud and I was soaked and tired.

I checked in at the Krolewski hotel and went outside to get the panniers off of the Alp after the heavy rains made way for a drizzle. The top pannier made a sloshing sound inside. This pannier contained the first aid kit, food, water, the maps and all of the other paperwork. At first I thought the water was rain water, until I removed the water canteens. Both the aluminum canteens had been bouncing around on the bad Polish roads and lost their caps, spilling their contents into the pannier. My maps were gone. All the food was soaked. Only my notes, which miraculously stayed on top, were unharmed. I had used the maps to mark my route and write down contact details of hotels and people I had met. All gone.

I went to my hotel room feeling defeated and angry. All I wanted now was a shower, a set of dry clothes, a hot meal and a cold beer. And if things couldn't get any worse, the lock of the left pannier containing all of my clothes didn't want to open anymore. It was troublesome since Norway, but it worked after fiddling around with the key a bit. Not today. The lock wouldn't turn. WD-40 didn't help at all. Now I got really angry. These puny locks are no match for an angry Dutch pirate! So I broke it. Flimsy locks.

After a shower and the best chicken ever I wandered around the hotel. There were some ships outside, in the canal, looking quite cool from a distance. Closer inspection revealed they were just cheap, scaled down, diesel powered tourist attractions. I didn't feel like exploring Gdańsk, or Poland for that matter, in the rain the next day. So I decided to head to Berlin the next morning.

Having seen enough highway for a while, I decided to take the old and direct route from Gdańsk to Berlin. It's pretty much a straight line from city to city. Aside from the "normal" road abuse, it was quite a nice ride. When the weather cleared during the second part of the day I could finally see how beautiful the Polish landscape actually is. Rolling green hills, small farms and forests. Quite scenic, most of it. Up until close to the German border. There were lots of prostitutes along the side of the road. Most of the customers were German. I didn't stop to ask, but there was an equal amount of people selling orange stuff in boxes. It looked like nuts or fruit of some kind.

The border into Germany was nothing more than a bridge. I crossed it, and I couldn't help but to think of the Soviet assault on Berlin. Would they have crossed the Oder river at the same point that winter?


Photos

These are the photos taken during the trip through Poland using this gear. Hopefully they're in chronological order. If you'd like a larger version of a particular photo, just let me know and I'd be happy to make it available to you. All photos can be redistributed freely under the Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 license.