To Hel and back

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Sep 29, 2009

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Flag of Poland  , West Pomeranian Voivodeship,
Tuesday, August 4, 2009

There is a place in Poland called Lazy, we didn't bother to go when we passed it. There is also a place called Police with our record we stayed well clear! There is also a place called Hel which unlike its name suggests is a nice little seaside town along a long peninsular, unfortunately for us the day we visited Hel it actually live upto its name. It had rained heavily in the morning with another high pressure thunder storm so things were already off to a shaky start, the traffic had been a nightmare, more on that later. But as the rain eased off flies started to gather, I'm not talking about a few hundred or a few thousand, there were literally hundreds and thousands in massive swarms that resembled mini tornados. It was like a plague, people on bikes were choking other who stopped for a camera shot could barley keep there shot straight it made your skin crawl just watching them circle the van. As we made our sharp exit the road was full of these little circular swarms for miles, Hel had truly lived up to its name today!

The drive from Warsaw to the Lakes was fairly uneventful, we found a good free spot for the night and then camped on a site at the Lake resort of Mikolajki, the lakes were amazing, the shear number is overwhelming, they are teaming with wildlife and many are in the middle of nowhere with towns to match, I don't know how people manage to live in these areas where there is barely a road, but they do in large numbers.

Driving in Poland is a challenge, its not that the drivers are aggressive like the Spanish or Italians, though they are a bit crazy, its just the roads. They have improved beyond recognition since the Poles joined the EU and we were last here, but thirty years of communist neglect is going to take a long time to fix.

The Polish have developed a main road system where there is a normal one lane road with a slip road bout the width off a quad bike, this slip road is used for breaking down as expected but its also expected you drive into it if someone wants to pass you, not only do you have to watch out for people selling farm good in these lanes and broken down cars when your driving in them at 90km a hour, you have to watch your back for passing cars and to make it even more fun you have to move into the slip road if a oncoming car is in your path! It seems to work in a strange and everyone is very polite about it, but for a foreigner it can sometimes look like cars jockeying for position on a F1 grand prix, I think these roads are being phased out now they are in the EU and roads are slowly being repaired or widened but they are an exhilarating experience I recommend you try while you can.

The sat nav was proving more of a hindrance than help, its bad habit of taking unnecessary shortcuts was getting us into allot of bother, we were soon leaving half decent main roads for cobbled back roads which eventually turned into dirt roads or even in extreme cases fields! I wish I was exaggerating but when a guy in his combine harvester looks at you in astonishment and a dear then jumps out into your path on what can only be described as mud tracks along grass we knew the sat nav was out of its depth.

Even going back to the old map was a challenge, we had hoped to drive along the baltic coast but there were no roads which gave you any views, you could drive for miles to a seaside town only to have to drive straight back out without seeing much at all. We did drop on a few nice towns and camped a few nights on a great cheap site a short bike ride from the beach. The Poles as in the south never let anything get in the way of there holiday, these resorts were jam packed, the sea was freezing but they were going for it, as in the south these places could become tacky and overcrowded but the Poles have great respect for there own country and with the amount of people it was easily one of the cleanest well run places we had been.

Before we hit the coast we had driven to Gdansk, which surprised us as we thought it would be very industrial maybe a bit like Manchester but it was actually more like a Polish Edinburgh with lovely old buildings and a really nice feel to it. We visited the docks scenes of the Polish Solidarity uprisings, and after years of watching the struggles at home it was good to visit and see how important this place still is to the Poles.

Before Gdansk we got the crazy idea of how well traveled we would sound if we could say we had driven to Russia. The north borders a small part of Russia left over from the communist block, they probably use it as a military area to keep a watch on Europe, well thats what we think as we found out first hand the Polish army are keeping a close eye on the border. I'm not sure what we were expecting, maybe snow and border men marching in big fury hats! A few hundred meters from the end of the road we were stopped by the Army, who were very suspicious and checked all our papers carefully, even calling there base to check over our passports. They predictably wanted to know what we were upto so we just played innocent. They were actually very nice guards and warned us to turn around as only the end off the world was on the road ahead! Sharon decided to tempt fate further, when they asked for the insurance document I turned to see she was quite obviously trying to take a picture of the situation on her phone, she thought she was being sneaky I could only look in horror as I heard the familiar camera click. Luckily they either didn't notice or care, its funny to think back now but at the time I couldn't believe she thought it was a good idea, but I have to give her credit it was a funny picture!

So thats been the main highlight of north Poland, its a remote part of the country in places and the majority has been driving between crowded towns and then deserted villages with long unbroken views across golden fields, the weather has been pretty good with the odd shower. We stocked up in the border town off Szczecin on cheap fuel and food and bid a sad farewell to Poland but a happy goodbye to the roads!

One final tale on our last night, we had stopped in a national park car park so the next morning we could visit a bison reserve, well we love bison vodka so it was only fitting. I'm not sure what fate we tempted that night but settling down watching a film the van shook with an almightily crash, Sharon thought the engine had fallen out, I though our worst nightmare had come true and someone was trying to get into the van by smashing the roof windows! After a few seconds in shock it was clear the was no one outside and the initial noise had died down, so we nervously went outside to see what had gone on, we had parked under tall pine trees and a branch bigger than the car was lying on the roof, I managed to get on the roof to find it had actually gone through at the back! With a struggle I managed to prise it out without causing further damaged. In the end we were lucky it hadn't smashed a window it must have fallen from a hell of a height and had pierced the roof a few feet above Sharon's head, if the upstairs bed hadn't broken the fall further it could have seriously injured someone. So the van now has addition ventilation about the size of a tennis ball, which we have managed to temporally patch up and a scar to be proud off!
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