Warsaw to Vilnius

Trip Start Mar 16, 2004
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Trip End Jun 13, 2004


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Thursday, May 27, 2004

After two nights in Warsaw, my shortest stay in any capital city so far, I carried the bike down the stairs again and was soon on the road to Vilnius. Warsaw is a very interesting city and deserves more time, but I want to get further north.

I left on Friday and made it to Zambrow, 150km away. As i cycle along I often pass other cyclists, young and old, going about their daily business, shopping, commuting, going home from school, going to the bar. About 10km before Ostrow Mazowiecka on the way to Zambrow, I passed a middle aged man, the road bordered either side by pine forest. As I continued I head the squeaking of his bike getting closer again. Looking over my shoulder I saw him pull up alongside me and start pointing at the panniers and chatting in Polish. He was wearing smart trousers, a heavy woollen jumper and a baseball cap, grey hair peeking out beneath it.

He talked a while, and I replied in English, sign language on this road was out of the question. We cycled in a little convoy into town where he looked at my map and pointed me the right way. A big friendly wave and I was off. It was nice to cycle in company for a while.

The other reason Ostrow Mazowiecka is memorable for me is that just before rejoining the main road on the far side of town I saw a pair of corncrakes in a field. The grass was still quite short. I have often heard, but never seen corncrakes before.

In Zambrov I found a little bar/hotel. As I was entering an old man was passing, he came over to chat. He spoke a little French and said he learned it from French soldiers he fought with, he may have fought with them in the second world war, he looked old enough anyway. The girl at the bar spoke no English so he translated into French for me. Then he went on his way.

I had dinner in the bar, pierogis. Imagine small Cornish pasties which are boiled rather than baked, so the pastry is still a little doughy. They are cheap and filling and this bar made the best ones I've tasted so far. A couple of groups of men were grouped around two tables. Vodka was ordered by the bottle for the tables and before 10pm they had all left. They may have been truck drivers stopped for the night. The only woman in the bar was the barmaid.

To get to Augustow I chose a small road through the Narodowy National Park. After sharing the road with trucks for so long it was such a pleasure to enjoy the peace and quiet. As I passed a little wetland I paused to watch terns picking food the water surface. Deeper into the park I was completely surrounded by forest. Mile after mile of wet forest, the trees standing in large pools of water. In mid-afternoon I went a little way into the forest to cook up some noodles. I ate the noodles the mosquitos ate me. I had to move every few seconds to get peace to eat.

Augustow is a fairly large town surrounded by the forest that covers much of NE Poland . The forest the lakes make Augustow a tourist destination. It feels like a tourist destination with a large square and outdoor cafes.

I crossed the border into Lithuania on Monday. The Polish police nodded at me through the window and I was meet at the Lithuanian border by a soldier and a police man in a high peeked Russian style cap. They examined the photo in my passport closely and appeared to consult each other as to whether it was really me or not before waving me through. The road to Vilnius was quiet, scenic and relatively good condition.

The first person I had contact with in Vilnius was a man who walked up to me as I checked my map at a junction. I assume he was asking for money and strangely was holding a building brick in the palm of his hand. Not threatening me, but as if it was a valued object. I shook my head and rolled on a few metres.

Vilnius is said to have been founded by Gediminas in 1323 . The first recorded mention of Lithuania dates to almost 1000 years ago. The government recently passed a law to get t he royalPlacee in the city centre rebuilt in time for the millennium celebrations in 2009. The information board outside the building site states that the people are proud to explore their heritage now that they are free to do so.

The town is compact and picturesque with out being overwhelmingly grand. It is laid back and friendly. There is obvious poverty around, for example as I explored the city Isaww some lovely old wooden houses, residents smoking on the steps , but the buildings were in a very poor state of repair. However there most of the cars appear to be new.

I continue northwards to Riga tomorrow, 300km, about three days away. Shortly after leaving Vilnius I will cross the 55 degree line of latitude, its a bit symbolic as that puts me at the same latitude as Derry. The EU charity cycle will end in Tallinn, Estonia which is only 600km from here. I reckon about 10 days more as there are a few places I want to visit en route.
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