One of many fantastic applications to our Spring Cycle Tour Bursary project, Eloise was the winner of the Rest of Europe Bursary for her plan to spend time exploring her native lands of Pomerania for the first time, on a route from Szczecin to Gdansk. Now back from what appears to have been an interesting trip, we are chuffed to be publishing a piece on her journey. Enjoy…
Pomerania (Polish: Pomorze; German: Pommern)
A region on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea in Central Europe, split between Germany and Poland.
The idea of heading to Poland on my bike occurred to me last Boxing Day as I daydreamed about exploring in the New Year. My great, great grandfather was once the Oberpresident of somewhere called Pomerania on the Baltic Sea coast, which was something that I had always been kind-of-proud about despite knowing next to nothing about either him, or the place; I thought Pomerania had been it’s own country. Turns out Pomerania is a province of both Germany and Poland – during my great, great grandfather’s time the province was mainly German (as he was) but since World War II, the border shifted west to the River Oder and so the majority of Pomerania now lies in Poland. Anyway, Polish or German, country or not, I thought my once native lands would be an interesting place to visit and explore by bike.
So, with the help of the Pannier Bursary application process, my plans to cycle the length of Pomerania were finalised – I planned a route, following the coastline of the Baltic Sea for around 500km. As the official borders are (and always have been) ambiguous, Harry and I opted to ride between the two major cities in the region – Szczecin in the west and Gdansk in the east – namely for logistical reasons as both have good transport links with the UK. I began scouring the Internet for information about Pomerania but didn’t manage to find a huge amount out, which added to the sense of our heading into the unknown, for sure. However, I picked my relatives’ brains for any inside knowledge of the people I was chasing: my great, great grandfather, Julius Lippmann, and his family (who had lived in Szczecin) whilst we pored over albums of photographs. My Grandpa’s cousin Ruth emailed with more information: Szczecin was the government seat, and their Opa had his office there. My Grandpa sent me a postcard of the family on holiday in Miedzyzdroje (a coastal town north of Szczecin), sent from his mother to her mother. So we added Miedzyzdroje to our touring route; apparently it was a very popular spa resort back in the early 1900’s and so we hoped that it might provide a good place to rest our legs. In preparation, I looked at booking the odd campsite and received replies from each of them saying that there was no need to bother booking in May. We would clearly be visiting out of season. We were all set, until thinking about flying with our bikes…
"My Grandpa sent a postcard of the family I was chasing, all on holiday in Miedzyzdroje (a coastal town north of Szczecin) ... So we added it to our touring route; apparently it was a very popular spa resort back in the early 1900's..."
Harry and I had equipped ourselves with the CTC heavy duty plastic bags to stow our bikes in for the flight, but it turned out our flight operator (both ways) demanded that our bikes must be dismantled and packed into a box or proper bag. Our solution to the logistical problem of touring between two airports might not have been so great after all. But, we resorted to the travelling cyclists’ trick of contacting all of our local bike shops, and managed to get two cardboard bike boxes on time. In our misjudgment, however, we decided that it would be easier to transport the bikes assembled with the boxes flattened, before packing everything up at the airport. Experience counts folks – this is not something I would recommend. Despite our dubious, frantic cramming and packing, the bikes and we arrived safe and sound in Szczecin. We built them back up before setting off on the first 50km of the trip, from the airport to the centre of Szczecin. Expecting the roads to be busy around the airport, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves on a cycle path through forest almost immediately. We rolled for a pleasant few miles on the road, before hitting the Szczecin Lagoon, where we paused to watch the fishermen and wind surfers, and then headed into the centre following the network of red painted bike paths that we discovered all over the country. The plan was to stay in an apartment in the city for the night, before the real tour began; the owner couldn’t believe that we had cycled “all the way from the airport!” This was our shortest day (by some way)…
In the evening we explored the city, eating in the Wyszak Family Brewery, situated in one of the cellars in the old town hall. It has been there since 1867, and so I was entertained by
the idea that my great great grandfather would have come here. I hope he did: the food (we took the sour rye and white sausage soup) and beer are delicious. We wandered some more to an impressive group of buildings we spotted while riding along the harbour front earlier. One of these turned out to be the Pomeranian state offices – by chance, we had come across the place in which my great great Grandfather would have worked. The plaque outside also stated that part of the building was used as lodgings for the state governor; perhaps my relatives once would have lived there too.
After a night in Szczecin, our tour began for real, as we set off to Miedzyzdroje – the spa town in the postcard. We left Szczecin early, with church bells chiming across the city heralding our departure. It was a Sunday, and there were families gathering round every church we passed, young girls and boys dressed smartly in their first holy communion outfits. The city is not large, and we were soon rolling along pretty happily through the farmland, on lanes and cycle paths. I planned the route to follow the line of the lagoon due north, heading for the sea. However, we barely caught more than a glimpse of the water all day as it turns out, Pomerania is as flat as a pancake. Around midday, we came off the cycle path and continued on quiet roads. We didn’t have a whole lot of food with us and, after passing through such a desolate region all morning, it wasn’t until 80km in before things look up when we hit Wolin, a slightly larger town 16km from our finishing point. The sight of a pizzeria in the main square cheered us up – we would finally get a meal to fuel the rest of the day’s riding to Miedzyzdroje on the coast, and our campsite.
"'Out-of-season' in Pomerania meant the coast was eerily quiet, however, the beach and forest landscapes remained serenely beautiful, with wide stretches of white sand and pristine woodland teeming with bird life..."
After our lengthy day up to the north coast, a shorter next day to Niechorze meant we had time to head into Miedzyzdroje town to see if it is still the upmarket spa resort town my grandpa had described. It safe to say, Miedzyzdroje is somewhat past its heyday. Though still busy-ish with German and Polish tourists, the town was run down and brilliantly tacky. Rolling our bikes down onto the beach (which was empty thanks to the howling gale), we discovered that every restaurant served the same selection of fish & chips, kebab, or pizza, and the promenade was lined with cheap souvenir stalls and arcades. We had a slightly surreal breakfast in a pub, attempting to place orders using sign language and my very limited German, from a totally incomprehensible Polish menu. Everyone we had met so far spoke very little-to-no English at all – a strange feeling, and reminder at how much we just assume that everyone will be able to communicate in our own language. Despite having no clue what we had ordered, the pierogi was pretty good, I’m not sure it’s a typical breakfast food though.
We headed out of town, onto the smooth, rolling, winding and car free roads through the forested Wolinski National Park – the best riding of the trip, even if the temperatures were Baltic. Luckily for us though, the howling gales provided us with a tailwind heading due east; I was even riding in a down jacket. We finally passed a supermarket selling actual food, and stock up on supplies. Around midday, we came off the road, and followed a cycle trail through the forest, to the beach.
Without realising it, we’d ended up on part of the Bike the Baltic network of cycle routes, and happily continued along those paths through the forest for the rest of the day, following the coastline along wide tracks with glimpses of the water as we wound our way through. After arriving at the deserted campsite in Niechorze, we found the whole town to be shut and empty too. ‘Out-of-season’ in Pomerania meant the coast was eerily quiet, however, the beach and forest landscapes remained serenely beautiful, with wide stretches of white sand and pristine woodland teeming with bird life. For several stretches, we rode on slim spits of land, sea on one side, lake on the other, before dipping back amongst the trees.
The next day, we were back following the R10 Trail through the forest to Mielno, and popping up every few miles or so in the small towns that lined the coastline which all seemed to share Miezdrodje’s tacky resort town blueprint. Following a cool couple of days on the forest trails, between Mielno and Utska, we were back on roads. The landscape turned to gently rolling farmland, tree lined roads and fields of bright rapeseed. Utska is a larger town, and thankfully less dire than the neighbouring towns we’d passed through. We had a drink in the harbour, toasting the sun and last of the coast, before treating ourselves to a delicious dinner of perfectly cooked fresh fish in Dym Na Wodzie. After Utska, we were turning inland and heading for the Kaszubski National Park where we would camp overnight before rolling to Gdansk.
The thought of making it to Gdansk that day offered us a real incentive for an early start. Our route steadily climbed as we navigated out of Utska, through the city of Slupsk, and back onto quiet country lanes where we noticed that the place name signs were then in two languages: both Polish and (as we find out later) the Kashubian dialect. The Kashubians are an ethnic group in Pomerania, and the information we find in a leaflet from the tourist info in Gdansk tells us that the Kashubian language is close to the original Pomerania language. It was decision time: should we stop and set up camp next to a picturesque lake we had stumbled across, or carry on to Gdansk? It was only just 17.00, so we decided to fuel up on some traditional Kashubian cuisine -_ goose pierogi, wild mushroom potato dumplings and pork stew_ – by the lake – and then see how we felt. Then, after downing two of the largest double espressos, we decide to carry on; food and a coffee always make decisions easier. It’s downhill all the way anyway, right?
That evening was pretty balmy, it had certainly warmed up since the start of our trip and the main square was heaving with tourists sitting out, eating and drinking. It was 21.00. We’d made it to the final point of the trip, and felt pretty chuffed with ourselves – a total distance of 150km for the day (our longest ever ride) and the end of our Pomeranian adventure. Our last days were spent exploring Gdansk, discovering it to be such a great city: historic, picturesque, with fantastic food and drink. As a plus, locating cardboard bike boxes for our flight home was super easy: one trip to a bike shop just outside of the old town, and a quick image search was all it needed. Turns out it’s pretty tough to charade “large cardboard box” without it turning into some sort of dance move…
It was brilliant for me to finally discover what Pomerania was like: the special coastline; beaches; forest trails; tacky resorts; and historic cities. We had explored somewhere a bit different, I had learned more about my family history, and we had a great time touring on our bikes. A huge thanks to Pannier for this opportunity.
For more on the background to Eloise’s application and plans, see our Bursary Announcement Journal piece...