Monthly Archives: July 2012

Day 20: Pultusk to Warsaw – 65k

1,779km down: 4,446km to go.

Warsaw is the 1/2 way mark (in kilometres) for those finishing the ride in Venice, and the 1/4 way mark for those going all the way to Lisbon.

Today we rode to Warsaw. I rode the first 37k independently, then we were going to met at 12pm as a group and have a guide to take us into Warsaw in a convoy.

The sandy road out of camp was not as bad as it could have been, as the damp air during the night made it easier to ride on. The first 10k was a forest road again. I saw the third horse drawn cart for farm machinery, all so far in Poland. We were taking our time as we had three and a half hours to ride 37k. If the camp had not had as many ferocious and hungry bugs we may have stayed around there longer. As it was, they were still taking advantage and having a few last snacks while I was getting up the sandy road. Once you get over about 15k per hour, they leave you alone – apart from flying into you.

We stopped for a drink break but we still arrived at 10am with two hours to kill. There was a lake over the road so Walli and I went for a swim. The water was a bit murky but there were lots of families swimming and life guards etc, plus I figured if the water was unsafe, Poland is not a third world country – they have public health etc – so it would be closed.

The water was great for itchy skin. When we got out we sat on the bank for awhile, but then I felt like I was being bitten. I couldn’t see anything, then it went around my front and starting burning. Turned out I was being attacked by ants that bite! Walli picked them off me and put anti-itch on. Poor Dan had a worse experience – he ate a piece of watermelon and thought “That’s strange, there is something crunchy on it” and he had eaten a wasp which stung him on the tongue! His tongue swelled up a bit and it was a bit painful but lucky he was otherwise fine. The wasps are a bit of a problem, they follow you around and after one just flew up and bit my foot with no provocation, I am a bit wary of them. I tend to jump and twitch around trying to avoid them. They are persistent though and keep coming back.

The tour guy was a few minutes late, and when he arrived he spent a couple of minutes getting organised. A member of the group started getting a bit impatient, saying “Come on, let’s go, we have been here for hours”. I thought to myself – well you rocketed past us this morning like you were going to a fire and didn’t stop anywhere on the way, what did you think would happen with over three hours to do 37k?

The guide took us into the city by going along a canal and then a bike route. It was a longer route than the planned 25k so we did more than the 65k plan for the day, but not much, and it was certainly nicer than previous experiences of coming into a big city independently, watching the traffic, looking for flags and trying not to get run over or lost. We only spent about five minutes in total in the traffic before arriving at the hotel. We are staying at an Ibis Hotel, the rooms are really nice. It is nice to have a shower and not have to cover yourself in bug spray immediately.

One of the interesting bits of this trip is the changing landscape – in a day we can go through forest, farm land, uphill, through small towns – and the differences in accommodation. From one night to the next – a nice hotel, then a tent with bugs, then a cabin with an indoor toliet. The hotels have gone from being really basic with a single sagging bed and no ventilation to a modern ventilated hotel with double beds and a nice shower.

One of the problems we constantly face is laundry – getting our stuff washed and dried and we always hope to do this on the rest day. The past couple of places have had no laundromats in the town that we could discover. Even if we wanted to pay the rates at the hotels, they have not offered laundry services on a weekend. At the last two towns, armed with info from Google and the hotel we have all arrived at a dry cleaner and tried to explain to someone with little English that we did not want dry cleaning, we just wanted washing. Yesterday Gen, Rob, Walli and I set off to the local mall – about a 20 minute walk – to go to what we had been told was Laundromat. After hunting through this enormous mall, we asked for help at the information desk, but he gave us directions to the toilet. We finally found it and it was another drycleaner.

While we were there, Brett came past and told us that Brian, Daphne and Shirley had also been there. Daphne and Shirley had gone as far as finding an English speaker to write what they wanted and took it to the dry cleaner and then took the response back to the English speaker. We got no hint of this from the staff at the Laundromat, faced with the same question and people with bags of clothes within about 20 minutes. Would be interesting to get someone who spoke Polish to talk to them to find out what they thought was going on, maybe they thought it was a hoax?

So it was back to the old method of washing in the shower and hanging clothes lines around the bathroom.

While we were out we had dinner, Gen and I shared a mix of Bravilan Sausages, sauerkraut and mustard and a mixed platter of dumplings . They have a name for it that starts with a p but I can’t spell it well enough to give the iPad an idea of what I want to write. The autocorrect on this is a real pain, if a word has a letter wrong it changes it to what it thinks it should be – often no relation to what you were trying to say. Kelly (who has the patience of a saint and highly developed deductive skills) knows all about this, she has to try and interpret the ones I miss. For example I want to spell Laundromat. Look at what happens when I try it all together, it turns laundro mat into laundro AT&T!!.

After dinner we went back to the hotel to do our washing, and to catch up on the blog. On the way back to the hotel we came across a line where the ghettos had been in the Second World War. First there were two and they were really big – thousands of acres – so it was not such a problem but then all the Jews were forced into the smaller ghetto and many starved to death. Many more were killed when they revolted and the ghettos were set on fire, others were sent to extermination camps. Approximately 300,000 Polish, Jews lost their lives there.

As mentioned before, on Thursday my iPad decided to go on strike. I tried charging it, and Yarn tried to get it going on his charger but there was no response. However when we got to the hotel I thought before going to the iPad store I would try once again and for about an hour nothing happened then it came up with “battery low needs charging” then it must have worked out actually it was on a charger and had been for the past hour, and started happily charging itself. So I have decided not to take it to the store here as we are only here for one day, the next rest day we are in a town and have two days so will do it then.

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Day 19: Nowograd to Pułtusk – 113k

1,702km down: 4,523km to go.

The day started off with good news. We had thought it was going to be a 130k ride, then we were told it was 123, then we were updated this morning – the route was actually only 113k.

Daphne was not well so I started riding with John and Shirley. I got about 15k up the road and had to make a quick dash into the trees, then again soon after. At this point John sensibly rode off and Shirley and I rode the day together, with me stopping a few more times along the way. I had chicken liver with pasta and a cream sauce the night before, and although I did not eat much of it I wonder if it disagreed with me.

To start off the day was overcast and cool and then it drizzled slightly. It was flat or slightly down most of morning. Just before lunch the weather cleared up then it was really hot! Same type of land as the day before: farmland, shrines, small villages, churches. In the afternoon there was a bit of uphill but not really anything substantial.

There was an interesting site set in the middle of the forest, I would not have been surprised to see a hobbit or two. Talking about seeing a hobbit, there have been lots of animal signs, first for moose, then the bobcat, then deer today. Whilst on the outskirts of town I saw a deer race across the road not far ahead of me. And just before turning onto the road to the camp I saw a squirrel at the side of the road. They are much smaller than I had imagined – I had always thought (for no good reason) that they were about the size of a possum. As Brett said they are like a rat but with a tail, and actually yes they are.

I had been hearing a clack clack noise on my bike so at lunch Ciaran removed the reflector from the front. The clack clack continued so I thought it was the Speedo as the bit on the wheel where the screw is stopped working, and I have not been able to get another so far.

The lunch truck, photo from the blog of another rider on the trip

I had my daily accident at the town just near the end of the day. We were just about to get back on the road by a crossing when an idiot on a motor bike roared through blowing his horn at the people on the crossing who jumped out of his way. I got distracted and forgot when I leant over to take my foot out and over I went. First time I have done that for awhile, luckily no damage apart from a slightly sore knee.

The last couple of kilometres was the old favourite: sandy dirt road. I arrived at camp hot, sticky, and badly in need of a shower. When the tour guys had checked out the camp the night before they had said it was pretty much deserted. On the way down the drive we noticed a few older women painting in the field but did not think anything of it. Well it turned out there was a painting retreat and the camp was full of artists. A couple were in that European style – dressed in not very much at all, although they had an awful lot to cover.

We had hoped to get cabins but it was tents again. The bugs are really vicious over here, it does not matter what sort of spray I use, they find the one spot not covered. They bite through your clothes. I keep reading the warning on the spray-bottle that says excessive use is dangerous. Hopefully that means weeks not days at a time. So I am covered in various lumps and bumps and bruises. Putting on all the various lotions after a shower and in the morning is becoming quite a task: anti rub, anti itch, insect spray, sun screen, chapstick stuff etc.

At camp there were only about two power outlets available and 19 riders wanting access, so my phone ended up only being charged for an hour.

I was lucky enough to get Yarn to upload my photos for me. Yarn was also trying to sort out Skype for me as mine will not recognize my password. At the same time we were helping Danya craft an email to her parents about her injuries, that would not be too alarming. So we coached her with starting it “I have minor injuries from an accident on my bike, the cut on my face is not disfiguring” etc.

We had moved outside, but the Internet connection was pretty patchy, you could only really get it inside the bar/restaurant. The artists were having their meal in the restaurant so Yarn suggested waiting until we could go back inside again. After awhile I thought I would show Gen my photos. I opened my iPad and there was nothing! I took it and charged it for an hour but still nothing. I took it to Yarn who tried his connection and tried charging (and he checked it was turned on etc) still nothing. Yarn was at a loss and could only suggest I try it in the morning as sometimes you just have to leave them for a couple of hours. He said if we had no luck then we could take it to the iPad shop in Warsaw (we arrive there tomorrow). The screen was completely blank – nothing!

I was upset as I had been looking forward to being able to finally send photos, I was not looking forward to trying to get an iPad fixed overseas, I was tired due to the lack of sleep the night before, I was covered in insect bites, I had been feeling off colour all day, and I had come off my bike. It was all too much, so I retreated to my tent for the night. Thankfully everyone knew I had been unwell so thought nothing of it.

Unfortunately as mentioned earlier my phone did not get well charged, I had music on with head phones but the battery went dead about 8:30pm. Sadly the artists enjoyed sitting outside talking and having a sing song much longer than that.

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Day 18: Augustów to Nowogrod – 135k

1,702km down: 4,523km to go.

I rode with John today. When we set out it was nice and cool, riding through tree lined roads, even though the Tarmac was uneven and had pot holes, then 5k of dirt roads and then uneven with potholes for rest of the day, apart from a stretch about 3k at the very end. By the end of the day it felt like every bone in my body had had a really good shake. At one point I commented to John just as well we don’t have false teeth – you would hear the clack clack clack as we rode along.

Up until lunch time at the 70k mark it had been mostly a slight downhill gradient, and mainly through forest, apart from one short hair-raising stretch on a main highway. After lunch it was uphill gradient in the open and baking sunshine for about 40k. We went through lots of small towns, just about every third house has some sort of shrine outside with a crucifix and ribbons and fresh flowers, we are not sure of the significance. We asked Yarn, he is Canadian but his family comes from Poland and he speaks pretty good Polish but he was not sure either. The houses are newer and there are a few fences. We also saw the first public phone box since leaving home. There were still lots of really impressively large gardens. Poland is 98 percent Roman Catholic so having a Polish Pope was a really big thing and there are lots of statues of him and a number of new churches.

The temperature got to about 35 degrees today. We stopped at the local store in one of the small towns for a cold drink and attracted the attention of a number of the locals, they were asking John questions and giving me chocolate, luckily Yarn and Danya turned up just after us and Yarn was able to talk to them. They were pretty impressed with the extent of our bike ride, just then we were joined by Dan, Michele and Bret. The local men were then determined to get the guys out the back drinking Vodka but in the end they had to be content with giving them a bottle to take away as a gift from the village.

That night accommodation had been organized at the local college (called a Gymnasium) which turns into a youth hostel for fund raising in the 3 month summer break. The woman were in what is a Geography classroom on the first floor in 7 dormitory style beds, the men were across the hall all 11 of them in a maths classroom. The toilets were down on the next floor and there was a shared shower facility. All I can say is if this is planned again I will get alternative accommodation if I can, it was a dreadful. Although I have paid for the single supplement so I do not have to share, this only kicks in for the rest days.

The male dorm room, photo from the blog of another rider on the trip

The power outlets were all disabled so my phone ran out of charge and so after awhile I could not listen to the music on my phone with headphones. One of the women snored, the noise from the male dorm was a mixture of chainsaws and coughing, the town dogs barked until early morning when the rosters took over. Add to that the locals doing wheelies, a hot temperature, and duvets that would keep you warm in winter with no sheets, it was not a great experience. Because the school aka youth hostel had no cooking facilities we ate out at a local restaurant paid for by the tour. The food was really good but due to the level of exercise being done most of the riders could have eaten double. We had a chicken breast stuffed with cheese, pickle and tomato and two small mounds of white rice and a sliver of lettuce. A number of people stayed and paid for dessert, however I was quite full as had eaten my take away sandwich at about 4pm.

At lunch time I can only manage one sandwich but then if the ride is longer than 100k I get hungry at about 3pm, so I have got into the habit of making a takeaway sandwich and putting it in a snap lock bag for later. The rye bread is very dense – we joke that if you were drowning and you grabbed onto a piece it would surely drag you under. It does however stay in your stomach and keep you full for quite some time.

Most days I get to camp by about 3 to 3:30pm, but the last riders do not usually get in until 6pm. Rob and Gen (her name is actually Genevieve) are later because they take their time to explore, and Walli is much slower. It makes it a long day when we set off at 7:30am each day.

In my last update I said Dayna had had an accident – she hit the kerb the wrong way when going up onto the pavement and she fell off and scrapped her knee and got a cut above her eye that needed stitching – luckily in the eyebrow line. This is not great, not just because it is sore but also because on Friday she is meeting some of Yarn’s Polish family for the first time. This is the couple who were married on June 30th this year and are spending 3 months doing this bike trip as their honeymoon.

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Photo update

Hospi on the Trans-Europa tour

Flooding from the rain

Sheltering from the rain, left to right: Walli, Daphne, Gen, Shirley, Rob.

Stork babies

Boats in the lock just before Augustów

The hospital at Kingisepp if anyone is looking for a new job

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Quick updates

Day 18: Augustów to Nowogrod 

Safely at camp, we are staying at a college, they rent out the rooms in the summer break. All the women are in one room and the men are in another. We are in a Geography classroom.

Long day today, 135k at 35 degrees. All good, feeling ok.

Day 19: Nowogrod to Pułtusk 

Another long day – 125k. Got here safely but no update today as my iPad is not working. Mr PC guy can’t fix it so I will have to take it to the iPad store in Warsaw tomorrow.

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Other riders, the lunch truck, and a cow

There are 19 other riders in total, and I thought I might share a bit about all of them. We have the front three, the back three, and those in between. We have mostly settled into groups with some movement in the middle riders.

Front three
Making up the front three are the honeymoon couple from Canada: Jan (pronounced Yarn) who is 29 and Darnya who is 30, as well as Scott who is in his 50s, a retired accountant. He was born in Australia but has lived in Canada for years. He met his wife there and they moved back to Australia at some point, but he didn’t really like it so moved back to Canada. We do not see them all day once we leave camp until we get to the next one. Their average riding speed is about 32k. Jan is Mr PC Savvy and sorted my iPad for me. He has also helped me get and install the app for Skype, so I will have a go at using that sometime soon.

Back three
At the back are Walli, Rob and Jen. Walli (who’s real name is Walburga) is a 71 year old income tax consultant. Walli was originally born in Germany but moved to Canada 18 years ago. Walli is the same age my mother would have been if she was still alive, hard to imagine my mother at 71, even harder to imagine her on a bike. Walli is not built like a biker and trails the field, she has done one ride with this company before, and plenty of other rides. Walli does not always ride a full day, and will either go in the lunch truck at midday on to camp or to the lunch spot and bike from there. Everyone admires her ability to keep going, often we have set up camp, had a shower, done our washing and a cold beer before Walli arrives.

Rob is a 67 year old retired accountant from Australia, and his daughter Jen is a 26 year old registrar on 6 months leave. Neither Jen or Rob have done a lot of road bike riding, though they are reasonably fit. In preparation for this trip, Rob did a couple of 50k rides, and Jen bought her bike in Singapore on the way over. These are the only two who have spent every night in a tent, even on the wet miserable night. They are quite used to tenting and happy to stay in a tent. I say any time I can have an indoor toilet at a reasonable cost I’ll take it.

I was talking to Gergo – one of the guides – and he told me about a women who turned up to do the Tour d’Afrique African tour (4 months cycling 12,000kms through African desert etc). She took her bike out of the bike box and said “I haven’t done much riding”. The first day was 150k through desert – hot, deep sand, the longest day of most of the riders lives, the next day was the same but 160k. Gergo said there were tears along the way – and not just her – but she made it.

Those in between
Jules (mid 60s) is an architect from Israel and he is still working. Rodney is in his 60s, I think he either ran/runs or owns/owned a hotel in Israel. Don is 60 and is Canadian. He works as an ED consultant as a locum part time, and the rest of the time he minds his 14 month old. All three are friends and have done rides before. All three are very nice and have a good sense of humour. Rodney and Jules leave us in Warsaw and Don left us in Vilnius – what a day to have as your last ride, doing 170k!

In Riga, Walli and I were looking at the Wall of Remembrance for the victims of Stalin and Hitler. While we were looking at it, Jules and Rodney came past. Jules was talking to us about his personal history with his family. There was one photo on the wall which bought me to tears – it was a photo of a group of teenagers, a couple of young women and a small girl about two years old, on the beach just before they were shot. Their crime was being Jewish!! How can this happen, and yet it is still going on in parts of the world as I write this. 6 million Jews – the population of New Zealand and half again.

Dan is in his early-to-mid 60s, and is a Canadian retired accountant. He has done about 3 of the Tour d’Afrique tours before. Garth is also Canadian, he is 67 and works in the film industry. I am not sure if he has done any of these rides before but he doing really well. He is a nice person, and married to Louise. Louise has done rides before, but not sure if they were with Tour d’Afrique. I am unsure of her age, she is a volunteer and also Canadian.

Daphne (72) and Shirley (69) are both retired ex-nurses. They have both done two rides with this company before and plenty of other rides. David joined us in Vilnius and is going to Barcelona. David is from Melbourne, he is a lawyer and semi retired. Michele is a 60 year old retired Canadian. Brian is 60ish, he is retired also but was a stock broker, from England. John is a 67 year old retired professor, from Canada. Brett is also retired, he was a Sea Captain. He is Australian, and is 60 years old.

The riders that are going all the way to Lisbon are Brett, Jan, Darnya, Michele, Dan and myself. John and David are going to Barcelona, Rodney and Jules are leaving us in Warsaw, and everyone else finishes in Venice.

Rider’s Priorities
The rider’s priorities depend on the time of the day: in the morning we are looking for coffee, as soon as we get to camp we are looking for a cold beer, we have hardly drunk any wine at all. The next concern – but very secondary – is whether there is Wifi?

The Lunch Truck
The lunch truck parks along the route each day. There have been a few occasions where the locals have turned up and have wandered around looking at the food, picking up the lids, obviously thinking it was a good stall.

A tethered cow – as mentioned previously

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Day 17: Seirijai to Augustów – 88k

1,454km down: 4,771km to go.

Another beautiful day, and yes the 5k downhill yesterday was 5k uphill this morning. I was riding with John again, lots of rolling hills to the Polish border. Once again there was no real border, this time we could see where the border was but no one looking out on it and there was not even a sign.

We noticed a new thing once we crossed the border – not only was there signs to the next hotel etc but there was also signs to the next WC (toliet), weird we thought. We stopped for a coffee about 5k past the border and I needed to go to the toilet so I went through the door and in the corner was a woman collecting 2 polish dollars. She was sitting in a dark small space outside the toilet, imagine that as job.

Bathroom attendant in Poland

Due to the time change going back an hour we were at lunch 10:30am. Today was mostly rolling hills and some gradual climbs. We came across a sign “beware of bob cats”. Brian – one of the riders – had a great time telling me that for some reason they attack women on bikes ha ha. Anyway turns out they only weigh about 20 pounds, so I thought ok not so scary then. But then I thought about our cat Boss who is 2.5 kilos soaking wet (about 5 pounds) and she can certainly do some really serious damage!

Warning! Bobcat!

On the way into town we saw people taking a boat up a lock with a lock keeper. I have heard about locks but had not seen one before.

Lock in Poland

When we got into town our instructions said at the intersection turn right so we did. We went 3k out of town and then found a flag so headed up a dirt road. Oh my god before it there was a constant stream of trucks, crossing the road was a major hazard. Anyway we get 3k up the dirt track and we had just realized we were in the wrong place and a truck pulls up and Chrtisiano leans out and says sorry guys the right should have been a left. The reason for the flag was they had considered the site we had gone to but decided against it but had not removed the flag. So back on the bike and back into town – zillions of trucks again. What is with the trucks, are they only allowed through town on a Tuesday?

Anyway got to camp and set up the tent. Totally different atmosphere across the border, houses are better maintained with better material. And when we got to the campsite it was full!! Although they have cabins they were all full (Walli wanted me to book her one) – it’s the way July should be with families on holiday! I am sitting here hearing the sounds of families on holiday. I had a swim and unlike last night when it was just me there were about 30 people, mostly children, in the water! So I am in a tent again tonight, and with the tent last night that makes it 4 nights in total. Tomorrow we are in a hostel, and the next night we are again at a campsite with no accommodation so tent total will be 5. Tomorrow is going to be a long day – hilly 135 kilometres but at least I won’t have to put up a tent.

When I got here today and was putting up tent, I was getting eaten alive by bugs – through my clothes even! We thought there was no Wifi but then found out there, was hence the update. I am now sitting here having a cold beer. I heard one of the riders Daryna has had an accident; she came off her bike and is in town, she has been stitched up – unfortunately just by her eye. Hopefully will not leave a scar.

Walli, Daphne, John and Shirley, having a beer while I update my blog

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Day 16: Vilnius to Seirijai – 132k

1,366km down: 4,859km to go.

We set off from the hotel in a convoy for 11.5k to get out of town. We got about 5k and Dan got a flat, we were then held up by road works, then Rodney got a flat. All in all the 11.5 k took about 2 hours!

I rode by myself for about 5k then caught up with John. It was a beautiful day, the sort of day I had imagined when thinking about this trip.  When I caught up with John he said that his eye was sore but I didn’t have any drops and he declined Saline. After 15k he could hardly see so we pulled over. Daphne and Shirley came past and Shirley had drops (crikey the stuff she has in her bag – I expect to see the kitchen sink), unfortunately it did not help. We rang the truck and they said pick up would be an hour so John decided to keep riding slowly, although we tried to talk him out of it. I rode off with him but luckily the others had rung the lunch truck, which was only 20 k away. That arrived and picked him up just a kilometre after we had left, so luckily the other riders rang the lunch stop and insisted.

Later I missed a really well flagged turn and added 8k to my ride but luckily I figured it out and did not go any further.  After lunch I rode by myself for about 20k then rode with Dan, Michele and Brian. We stopped for a drink stop at 105k and Jules caught up. We rode off in a convoy, and at 110k Jules and I missed the lights so we rode the rest of the way together.

From lunch onwards it was pretty much uphill for the rest of the day, mostly not too steep but certainly I was very happy to get to camp, even though I suspected the only downhill of the day – the 5 k into camp – would have to be ridden as uphill in the morning when we left.

Other than two others, we were the only campers at the campsite. It had a great lake, I went for a swim, most of the other campers did not, they said it was too cold. It was warmer than any New Zealand lake! I was toes up in bed by 8:30 pm.

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Day 15: Rest Day in Vilnius

I slept reasonably well; I woke up at 5am but managed to doze off again and woke about 7am. Walli and I had agreed not to meet for breakfast until 9am so I read and mucked around until then.

After breakfast I gave my bike a really good clean and got all the grease out of the chain, degreased it and put more lubrication on it. I was lucky enough to catch Gergo outside by the bikes putting together David’s bike (Australian joining us here until Barcelona) so he had a look at my bike and gave it a bit of an overhaul – it had gotten a bit clunky and stiff.

I told Walli that I would met her at 12:30 as I decided that I actually needed a rest day, not a rushing round taking in all the sights day. So we met at 12:30 and we did another bus tour for an hour and half around the main sights. It was a good bus as it had open windows which were good for taking pictures from. It made a couple of stops; one was the St Peter and St Paul’s church – another beautiful church.

St Peter and St Paul’s Church (photo from Wikipedia)

We went past the Museum of Genocide Victims which is in the middle of Vilinus, and is the former KGB palace. We did not go in – you can go in and see cells, solitary confinement and the execution chamber, but I chose not to. It was sobering enough looking at the bricks of remembrance outside – a stone for each freedom fighter that was killed. Some of the ones I saw inside were just young men in their early twenties. There were 200,000 thousand Lithuanians sent off to Siberia between 1944 and 1953. Before Hitler, Lithuania was known as the Jerusalem of the East and 28% of the population was Jewish. The Jews were all forced into a ghetto and then finally killed.

We saw the Peace Park Memorial complex and the Presidential Palace. Outside there was a group of people protesting but as I can’t read the local language I do not know what they were protesting about.

Presidential Palace (photo from Wikipedia)

We also saw the Vilnius Town Hall and the Vilnius University – one of the oldest in Europe – and the Gate of Dawn, the only remaining gate in the defence walls built in 1600. There is an image of the blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy on the eight oak pieces that make up the gate and there is a chapel above the gate. This gate is believed to have magical healing powers.

Gate of Dawn (photo from MyWorldTravelGuides)

Plus we also saw many other beautiful buildings such as the International Church of Vilnius, National Museum and the Applied Arts Museum.

National Museum (photo from Wikipedia)

We then had a snack as it was 3pm and we had a beer – a Svyturys, unfiltered with lemon, as we had not had lunch, to hold us until tea time. Then we headed back to the hotel to regroup for tea at 6pm with Shirley, Daphne and Walli. We set off to find a restaurant that some of our group had been to called The Kitchen which they had thought was pretty good. We found it but it is closed on a Sunday. Most of the shops here are also closed on Sundays. So Shirley then said how about the Lithuanian restaurant so we headed off to look for it. We found the street but she could not find the restaurant. I asked at another restaurant and they directed us, it was about 50 meters up the road. We also collected John on the way down the street.

The restaurant was called Dvaras Lietuviski Patiekalai. It was a nice meal, I had potato pancakes and herring and fish pudding which is fish pie, plus I shared a bottle of dry red with John. The waitress was wearing tartan which is part of their national dress, so not just the Scotts! I am now very full and quite sleepy and need go pack for tomorrow.

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Day 14: Anykščiai to Vilnius – 125k

1,234km down: 4,991km to go.

So off we set and if I had thought about it I would have clicked: hilly rollers last 15k yesterday – probably be some more of the same today! But I would not have thought rollers and hilly all day!

I had tired legs to start with so told Daphne and Shirley to ride without me, as anyone who rides with me knows I take awhile to warm up, and am always slowish to start. I stopped and took a photo of an amazing church in Alanta. I plodded up and down the hills – pretty much the same scenery as the day before – cows tethered to the side of the road and in the fields, small towns and endless hills. I came up one incline feeling quite tired going about 7km an hour, and a dog rushed out at me – a German Shepherd. After last night’s events I took off and suddenly was going up the incline like a Tour de France rider. Thankfully I got out of the dogs territory before it caught me – I spoke to other riders later who were after me, most of them had had the dog rush out, but by the time Walli went past it was just sitting barking and didn’t chase her. It was probably the busiest morning it has had for years.

As I go past people, especially other riders, I generally call out hello. Some of them smile and wave but some of them just stare ahead and pretend they did not see you, but it adds interest to the day. I had one guy come up to me at a rest stop and say “You are crazy!”. And then he said good on me, and then laughed and walked off grinning, so I am pleased to have bought joy to his day. I should mention we have “Tour de Afrique: St Petersburg to Portugal” number plates on our bikes (will post a photo as soon as I work out how to send it). I am rider number 202. I’m not sure how the numbering works as there are only 19 riders, but I have worked out those going all the way to Portugal start with 2, and those going to Venice start with 1.

I rode onto lunch and found I had caught up with a bunch of riders. I got off my bike and walked up to wash my hands, and it poured – it was like a flash flood, it pelted down. I ate lunch and thought “well at least I got 60k – half the ride – without rain and it’s a rest day tomorrow, so will have warm, dry bed and clean, dry clothes tomorrow” and just like that it stopped raining.

I caught up with John just out of town and rode the next 30k with him. John is a Canadian, 67 year old retired professor and is one of my favourite tour riders. He is a quiet person, but very warm and friendly. I kept up fine on most of the hills but he had to slow down with a couple up the top. After awhile we came across Michele (a 60 year old retired Canadian) – I kept a wary eye on him as it was Michele who I had the crash with last week – plus Brian (60ish, English, retired) and Brett (60 year old, retired sea captain, from Australia. He left work the Friday before the tour started, although he has retired he is technically on leave until November, and then retires but he is not going back to work).
So Brett and I are the only two being paid and accumulating leave whilst on holiday – fantastic!

We rode in a convoy for about 10k and John stopped on the side of the road and we said we would wait around the corner, which we did, but there was a sharp right with a flag which we thought John would see. It started to pour so we took cover under some trees and unfortunately he missed the flag. By the time we realized he had shot past we would not have been able to catch him, we waited for about 10 minutes hoping he would come back during which time the rain stopped. Unfortunately he didn’t. We found out later that his speedometer had stopped going and a further 2k up the road there was a sharp right and gravel so he went a further 25k before he realized he would have to turn back! When he got to the city limits he had had it, and did the smart thing and caught a cab.

We kept on going up some pretty steep hills, Brett and I had dropped Michele and Brian but picked up Rodney. Brett stayed me through town and I saw one flag he hadn’t.

Vilnius is a pretty town with a population of half a million, and I think we met a good proportion on the road into town. A lot of the streets are paved with cobblestones so you have to be quite careful in the wet.

We are staying at a beautiful old monastery called Domus Maria Guest House. I was pleased to get up to my room – yay for the first time in three weeks I had a double bed to myself. I sorted the laundry then went to see what Shirley, Walli and Daphne were up to. Walli was not yet in and Shirley and Daphne had just arrived. I left them to get sorted and went on a cold beer hunt. On the way I bumped into John walking down the street and heard what had happened, we stopped and had a cold beer with Brett and Michele. Mission achieved, I got back to the hotel and Walli, Jen and Rob had just arrived – it was a long day for them but as it turned out not the longest. Jules and Don had also taken a wrong turn and they clocked up 170!! They were just behind me when we left the lunch stop.

We went out to find a Restaurant, but we were all tired so we decided to go to a place nearby. We ended up going to a German restaurant called Vokiski Maisto Restoranas Bunte Gans (doesn’t sound German to me but Walli said it was and she should know she lived in Germany until she was 18).

We went in, it looked ok, we ordered the meals and they took ages to arrive. The couple across from us had an Autistic (we think) child who was quite vocal so by the time the meal came we were pretty over it. Once we had had the meal I was nearly falling asleep at the table and they took forever to bring the bill even though we asked a couple of times.

I had grilled beef and potato pancakes with apple sauce and red cabbage, which was ok but probably a bit rich just before bed. When I got back to my room I brushed my teeth and was lights out in about 2 minutes.

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