Our trip to Europe started off with the idea that we would like to visit Lithuania. Camilla's Father had been born in Klaipeda when it was Memel and a free Hanseatic town in 1912. She had never been there and so the first thing we did was to see if Rotel went there. Camilla has done many Rotel trips over the years and we had together done the trip to Iceland with them 16 years ago. Yes Reise Nr. 306 went there and it was even a trip with bicycles. Rotel is a family company run by the bavarian Höltls for 21 years or so. They were pioneers of the idea of sleeper cabins in their buses. It is however a bare 14 day trip and that is insufficient to justify the long, tedious and extremely uncomfortable air flight to Europe and back so we decided to leave the Rotel after the trip around Lithuania but before they began the long drive back to Germany and to cycle on our own for four weeks.
To pay for our air flights at the early bird rates we had to book by 15th Decenber. So we booked the Emirates flights to Munich and back from Riga via Lufthansa to Frankfurt, Emirates then via Dubai to Perth Western Australia. At the same time we booked our Rotel Reise 306. Booking the Rotel trip this early meant that we were the first to book. First in best dressed - Rotel have a policy of fixed place seating in their buses and the first to book are allocated the most favourable seats at the front.
Many Rotel trips are with 36 passengers in a bus with a separate sleeping trailer but the bicycle trips are in the buses that carry twenty passengers in the front and have sleeping accommodation in the back for 21. They then can tow a bicycle trailer with space for 22 bikes. The crew are the Reiseleiter or guide and Der Fahrer or driver. The driver is the most skilful and hardworking person that you will ever encounter. He can not only reverse the bus with trailer into the most incredibly confined spaces but prepares the breakfast and delicious evening meal every day punctually at 07h00 and 19h00 respectively and drives the bus meticulously up to six hours most days.
We joined the bus at the start of the trip outside the Arnulf street entrance to Munich Railway Station. The trip north was mostly along Autobahn 9 with various deviations to collect intermediate joiners. We spent he first night in a camping ground at Webelinsee North of Berlin. I was very impressed when Renate, a lady in her late seventies joined us there with all her gear on her bicycle after dark and in the rain having travelled by train across Germany from Köln and ridden from the railway station.
The freeway ended near Danzig. The final section of motorway is only two lanes each way with very rough stretches of patched concrete. From Bromberg the road is single lane each way with very occasional shoulders. An amazing number of modern wind turbines are springing up like weeds. We saw 48 in one group. Crossing the border into Poland we changed 10euro into zloty and ate one goulash between two. It came with a plateof salty, greasy noodle soup. There was at first a very notable lack of windmilss. we drove through frequent villages with old style small rural buildings. Speed limit through villages was frequently as low as 40kph. on the main road. Outside of the villages we saw many examples of absolutely suicidal overtaking by polish drivers. We saw our first stork just inside Poland and an hour later we saw 2 more and a nest. Home made greenhouses proliferated and many of the larger towns had groups of allotments each with a little cabin hedged or fenced. As we reached into Mazuria we encountered field after field of tobacco and home made drying sheds of poles and plastic sheeting. So this is the source of the famous mazurian weed. Many of the little old houses, 1940s perhaps were roofed in corrugated asbestos and looking the worse for wear.
Our camping ground by a lake was reached after several false turns which driver Fabian negotiated uncomplainingly.
A warm sunny morning soon clouded over and we had long periods of slight rain for the rest of the day. On our own bikes for the first time we stopped in the village of Kiersztanowo to admire storks and finished the ride at Swietkalipka (Holy Linden) baroque church with extremely dilapidated frescos. For lunch Camilla and I ordered a Mega Kebab which turned out to be lumps of meat in a toasted pastry envelope of creamy sauce. By the time it was served we were overdue back at the bus and struggled to finish the meal while pushing the bikes up the slope to the road in the drizzly rain.
The road was narrow and winding for much of the way. It was noticeable that warnings of rough road, Spoorrinnen or Koleiny, tight corners etc. had speed limits (red circle) in places which would only have been advisory limits in Australia. We were amazed to see a bicyclist with an unguarded scythe strapped to his bike
Leaners here are marked by a white L sign on top of the car. We were astonished to see an extremely tiny car so marked absolutely packed by four very large Poles doing some sort of training maneuvre in the middle of a main road junction. We saw several milkmaids milking cows in the middle of the field, milk being distributed from 10 litre plastic buckets at the side of the road and being carried away by bicycle. Our driver Fabian managed effortlessly to turn the bus/trailer completely around in narrow roads at very short notice - Excellent Driving!
Arriving in Lithuania near Mariampole our camping ground was beautiful on a mown grass slope studded with molehills overlooking a large lake on the border of Kaliningrad.