Functional neatness, skleps and pierogi’s
After a 3 month of unexpected rest the cycle itch have me going again. By starting at the doorstep in the Netherlands we, Tom and me, are letting the wind direct us: it’s blowing east.
I have my mind focussed at countries like Romania and Albania. Not so much because I seek wild adventure -although I do- but more because I want to stay close enough to the Netherlands. Later on, this decision seems to prove not the best, tick-wise seen. Also, I feel like I am a novice, a starter, while I already reached the semi-finals by having cycled to Cameroon. To see things positive; this is the way that connect the route home to Turkey, which was my starting point towards the Himalaya. But most of all, I cycle together with Tom in places where we both haven’t been yet!
Direction East becomes slightly North East, leading us towards Berlin. We reach Berlin in 12 days non stop cycling. Meanwhile we have both decided not really wanting to go to the Scandinavian regions. We arch towards Czech Republic to have a slice of Poland, entering at Gubin.
Tom and I both love stealth camping, a very easy thing to do in Germany, more so in Poland. We let our route decide by one more thing now; patches of green, forests and national parks. Not to sleep in ‘Neuenbaumer Moor’ national park, we start following the Mittelland Canal. The route is flat, it’s easy to follow a curve-free canal and now we all have to do is focus on food, and each other.
German food surprises me, not only by the many sausages I eat as a vegetarian but also for the caraway seeds on and in bread. I try to mask my vegetarian diet by acting out I am offered sausages as a part of German culture. Gone are the images of cute, pink pigs! Is it because I see no pigs that they are not there?
Soon we need to cover ourselves in DEET, ticks are prevailing. Soon my nails start to have black oily crusts underneath them. Soon my legs are covered in scratches and bumps. My head start to itch ceaselessly and I think after 12 nights of no shower it’s time for a night in a hotel. So we can wash our dirty bodies, thoroughly stained clothes and get rid of skin disorders.
I feel fresh when my saddle region and face are cleansed daily but the reality is that we both look like a crusader, on the edge of ripeness fresh-hold. We look like the great unwashed, not being introduced to the concept of bath. I think Tom smells adorable and he thinks I look just fine. But we obviously can’t smell ourselves admits soapy fresh people. People in supermarkets and bakery’s look at us disgusted. And I know we are.
We slowly ride into the former Soviet controlled part of Germany and when we hit it, we hit it hard. The feeling is one of depression. Such a big difference with tiny villages who were never part of the Soviet controlled era. Where beautiful picturesque villages with beautiful fronts and tiny bakery’s with a cheery, helpful frau place our order of 2 big rhubarb strawberry cake-like pie. Now I see big, greyish buildings painted pink and light orange, impressive buildings in decay and people with unhappy expressions, curved postures as if the past weighs down on them. Even young couples who try to continue their happiness by a dog or a baby look depressed and tired.
We make our camps in places surrounded by beautiful songbirds and impressive dances of the skylark. I spot a nest with 5 blackbird eggs, the mommy-bird disturbed by us. We listen to the orchestra of roaring frogs and the call from the cuckoo. We pass villages where they count storks, in each town the highest chimney has one brooding. We spot cranes and deer. We hear wild bores and take care our food is always secured so no wild fellow can run away with it.
I see changes coming closer to Poland, and entering Poland is an immediate difference. Roads have little shoulder to cycle on, car people drive like maniacs, as if they’re on the German autobahn. Cobblestone streets have our bicycles rattle. Giants patches of wood our hearts melt, ticks crawling down on Tom, they like him much more than they like me. Broken surfaces of road, weed about everywhere, wooden church work and stucco crumbles down showing the original stone wall. Unfinished houses, abandoned places, chickens in gardens, less concern about appearance. I like it, much more bohemian.
The biggest difference between Germany and Poland, I find, is the obvious proof of poverty, faces radiating depression and that of uncelebrated health. Yet I notice authenticity! I see functional neatness in gardens, where laundry might be drying and vegetables are taken care for. People grow their own healthy food, with bigger fields surrounding their unfinished homes. While cycling views into the distance becomes wider too.
We sample pierogi, steamed or fried dumplings, for breakfast and dinner. Especially to my surprise, Poland is much cheaper than Germany. The supermarkets have foodies never seen before, and we try as much as we can. Dogs are roaming free, we are welcomed by one and attacked by another. Like Germany, people cycle quite a lot, but without Ortliebs and Lycra. Women are plucking leaves, more one with nature. Households still burn coals, thick fumes reach high above the chimney. Gardens have wells, I am in doubt whether they’re in use. Cats complete the scenery where women still wear old-fashioned aprons and head scarfs (I wonder whether anyone complains about ‘purdah’ in Poland). People may live a poorer life, they also live a way more relaxed life.
We cycle for two days through woods only, it might be a plantation, yet it is nice to see no people and cars for two days. Tom and I stop abruptly in our tracks when we hear a sudden roar; it seems on the other side of the railway track there’s a fight between a wild bore and a deer! Turns out it is an original soundtrack played through a system along the track. Fine example of Poland’s technology for scaring away wild animals when a train is crossing the huge forest. Beavers are in obvious abundance, skleps (shops) appear in little villages just when we need kabanoski (meters long, thin sausage) and kilbasa (thick sausage), we’re set for another night in the woods.
We left The Netherlands somewhere in the beginning of May (2015), crossed Germany and Poland in soft weather, little rainy May month…