‘Welcome home’

I have searched and I have tried to find a place where I can be
I love my homeland dearly but never carved a place in society.

Woods of Ypres – Travelling Alone

Via the social media and in real-life people welcomed me back ‘home’. The quotation marks are mine. Why I use them, is the subject of this blog post. I always used them when I decided to go back again and wrote about that. But I prefer the term ‘back’ better. Because what is ‘home’? Is that where you have been born and is therefore that place destined to be your home for the rest of your life? I don’t agree, I don’t see it as a static definition, it’s very dynamic (as life itself should be).

In fact, I’m I still officially homeless, so than it’s quite hard to ride home, isn’t it? When you’re planning to leave The Netherlands for more than eight months, and you don’t have any income, you’re obliged to unregister as a citizen. Well, the first plan was that I would be gone for a year and a half to two years (apart from the initial plan of 3-4 years), so I unsubscribed. Fortunately I have an awesome family, if I couldn’t stay with my girlfriend in Groningen, I could have crashed at my parents place and otherwise I could definitely have stayed with my sister or brother. If they would be fed up with my, there would still be the option of putting up my tent in their garden.
I’ve studied in Groningen, but never lived in that city before. But I do feel right at home here. Isn’t that enough to bé at home? Last weekend I payed a visit to my parents, they still live in the same house as where I grew up. Again I got response about being home again. Would I got the same response when I would’ve cycled back to Denmark, where I lived a year before going on this adventure? I felt more at home there than I ever felt in the province of Fryslân. I would’ve stayed there if I didn’t had the (crazy) idea in mind to cycle around the world. If I haven’t met that nice girl in Groningen, I would have gone back to Denmark immediately after returning from my trip. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind it turned out like this and that I’m not back in Denmark. Quite the opposite, I love how things turned out (and I love not to plan my life for the next hundred years, but to go as the river flows).

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The view from the balcony in Groningen

Since I am really fond of the Scandinavia countries as Sweden and Finland, where I was during my trip, I could quite easily imagine to live there one day, since I felt right at home there as well. After the Baltic States I arrived in Poland. People who are regularly reading my blog posts know that I am lyrical about Poland. Especially due to the kindness and warmth of the Warmshower-family in Bialystok. Since I felt right at home there, I decided to stay a night and day longer with them.
I slept everywhere (I could) in my tent along the way. Everywhere I put my head on my pillow in my cozy tent I was where I should be. I brought my own little movable house everywhere so I could be (at) home in any place I desired – at least if there was a spot to set up my tent. ‘Where I lay my head is home’, as James Hetfield of Metallica sings in the song Wherever I may roam. Doesn’t it make your world very small and narrow to call only the place where you come from your home?
That place where you come from – your Heimat – with its language, culture, values and norms is something you carry with you whereever you go. Above that, it can also be partly taken over by another Heimat. I’ve only spent a year in Denmark. But I find myself still cursing in Danish every now and then. I have the feeling I speak that language better than German, although I have an average knowledge of German, since I first learned it for more than fifteen years ago. When I try to speak German now, Danish comes creeping in like it’s feeling ignored like a spoiled child, so I mix Danish words with my German unwanted. But above all I felt a strange sensation of actually coming home – now on purpose without quotation marks – when I returned during my trip a few months ago to the vicinity of Hovedgård (between Horsens and Århus), where I stayed that year. Can one be Heimatlos or can one simply have more than one Heimat?

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The way I lived in Denmark when I worked on an organic farm (also as a nomad)

Like I said before, I really feel at home in Groningen. When I crossed the border I felt very negative again about The Netherlands, but when I came closer to Groningen, that sentiment blowed away by the strong headwind I had last Thursday. When I lived that half year in Ljouwert after leaving Denmark and before going on the trip, I felt right at home there as well. So I have no problems of registering me again and go searching for accommodation. I just lay my head down over there and I will be right at ‘home’.

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I lived in an old classroom in Ljouwert last year (photograph was taken when I needed to get rid of everything before my journey)

 

From Groningen and back again

Before and during my journey a lot of people said, that they admire it and have respect for my trip. I always shrugged my shoulders and tried in my best English that it’s all not that big a deal.

And I still think it is. In the morning I got up, packed my sleeping bag and air mattress, boiled water for my morning coffee and poured the rest in my thermos for my afternoon coffee. In the meanwhile I ate a slice of bread or some yoghurt with cruesli. Then I packed it all and broke down my tent. I put everything on the bike and was back on the road again. Cycled a couple of kilometers, had a break, cycled some more, another break. In the afternoon I filled up my waterbottles, bought some food and sought a place to camp. Set up my tent, pumped up my mattrass and unrolled my sleeping bag, cooked my five star restaurant worthy meal, had a tea, smoked a pipe, wrote in my diary, read some and went to sleep. The next day was quite the same. The day after that as well, and the day after the same ritual again. Day in day out, week in week out. There is really nothing to it.
I got the reaction: ‘I couldn’t do it’ as well a lot. That’s bullocks, everybody can do it. You just have to want to do it. I mean, I sat all day and just peddled a bit. Enjoyed the scenery, when I was lucky I had a little chat with someone. Thought about how to solve the world problems, philosophized about my own life or just figured out a plot for a new story to write while listening to some music.

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Being on the road is a lot easier and more simple than what I am facing now that I am back again. I have to find a job, keep (and enjoy) it, find a place to live (since I am officially homeless, because I am unregistered), switch my insurance, pay my family a visit etcetera, etcetera. And that in a country I have left a few years ago to go live in Denmark, since I was and still fed up with The Netherlands. It’s overcrowded, people are really fixed on career and earning money (Danes are much more relaxed), it’s overregulated, it’s so tedious flat etcetera, etcetera.
When I rode through Germany this week I just wanted to go immer gerade aus in order to be ‘home’ again. There was not a thought about the country I dislike. Therefore I made longer days than usual. It’s stupid in a way. What does one or two days matter on such a trip (and my girlfriend won’t be home till next Saturday!)? It’s pure psychological. A few days ago I talked to a British cyclist living in France about going homewards. He has done a trip that took two years and on the last day he cycled 260 kilometers just to be home. You can reason with yourself in all rationality, but you just can’t convince yourself to slow down, to be a day more on the road. You just want to be home. I did enjoy cycling through Germany – it’s so damn easy with all the good cycle paths and the fact I speak the language – but I couldn’t stop thinking about being back again.
But when I got really close to The Netherlands yesterday after leaving the city of Leer I did felt a reluctance crossing the border. It felt almost a bit smothering. My mood went way down, I wanted to crush it under my tyres. At that moment I couldn’t stop thinking about being back again in the country I’m so tired of. Why not another little detour? For example Spain or Greece. Silly thoughts, I kept on cycling in westbound direction. The very depressing outskirts of the province of Groningen didn’t help in any way.
But again a switch turned all of a sudden! Coming closer to the city of Groningen did help in any way! It was like the clouds drove from my head into the sky, because my head cleared and the weather turned worse.

I had to wait a few hours, before I could pick up the key in order to get into my girlfriend’s room, where I can stay for the time being. My cousin works in Groningen, so he helped me waiting by drinking a beer on a terrace (very noble of him). Sitting there and seeing all those people bustling along, while we chatted and laughed, it was like I’ve never been away at all. In the weekend I plan to pay my parents a visit. There I can air my tent and clean out the camping stuff, show them the photographs and have a coffee. I plan on doing some writing next week, pay some friends a visit and before I know she’ll be back again. So, in short I guess it’s actually not that bad being back again…

The joy and the longing

“What do you like best about Poland?” When I answered in all honesty that it would be the inhabitants themselves, she laughed saying that she was surprised that I didn’t say the alcohol. When I said that the booze comes in combination with the people, she laughed even more and we toasted with our metal cups filled with red wine cheering na zdrownie.

It is indeed the Poles that I like best about Poland. In previous blog entries I praised the country in all its facets and the Poles in particular. I won’t do that again. Oh, I can easily sum up all the terrific things I experienced in this country since the last blog post, but I’ve drunk off my vodka and being at the brink of leaving Poland and entering Germany it is now time for some reflecting.
That I like Poland so much is also an intrinsic element. I have finally slowed down a pace. In Sweden I just wanted to reach the North Cape. In Finland I wanted to go south to get a bit of warmth. In the Baltics I started to relax and I’ve perfectioned that here in Poland. So, now I take it all in much more than before. I cycle less per day and I’ve made a ‘detour’ going north to the city of Elblag (I wrote Elbing before, but of course I should use the Polish name) in order not to go through Warschau. Again, I won’t repeat myself how lovely that route was (read my previous blog post).

Apart from the fact that I enjoy riding through Poland from east to west, doesn’t mean I want to stretch it more than I do now. Yes, I have long breaks, I take a swim when there is a lake or river, I eat an icecream, I’m not packing up my tent as fast as possible in the morning and I cycle less kilometers per day. But since I’ve made up my mind to go home (for a very good reason!), it is like a switch has been pulled. Therefore I do long to get home as well, even though my girlfriend won’t be home when I expect to arrive – yes, the sweet, sweet irony. When I am in the saddle, my feet peddle on the rythm of the leaves waving in the trees, a Pole on his roadbike waves and the sun is trying to tan my arms even more, there is not a care in the world. But when I found a campspot (have I mentioned before how easy that is in Poland?) and I am boiling my pasta, the longing comes creeping in my head like the bugs in my tent. Having eaten the simple dinner and lit my pipe, I start to calculate where I can be tomorrow, the day after and next week. How long does it take me to reach Germany and how fast can I ride through that country to the city of Groningen? I look at Google Maps, dividing the kilometers between days of riding and I can’t deny that I feel a strange sense of relieve that it won’t take that long anymore.

My girlfriend was right (as always she would say) by pointing out that I don’t have a deadline, so don’t rush. I don’t and I won’t, but nonetheless I ride to the west day by day. Therefore I just enjoy every meter, every ray of sunshine, every drop of rain on my tent and every smile as long as I am still on this trip.

‘Wie ein Traum’

The three words a German cyclist I met in the center of Finland said came back to me when I spent a few days in Poland. ‘Wie ein Traum.’ He loved the country, the landscape, the people and for us ‘westerners’ the prices. Before meeting him I was already very curious about the country, after speaking to him my curiosity was only aroused. And now that I am in Poland I have experienced that he didn’t say a word too much. Cycling through the Polish country is indeed like a dream.

One of my best hosts I had in Bialystok. Intending to stay one night, I quickly decided it became two, because I felt so at home there. Jakub and Karoline thaught me a lot about the city, but most of all about Poland, its history, its people, its virtues and its problems. Since I was really fed up with big cities after Vilnius, I decided to skip Warschau. Jakub agreed with me and adviced me on my route that would take me more northernly – to the city of Elbing/Elblag. That would be more pretty to cycle than the vicinity of Warschau and so great is the city neither. That decision was the right one in my opinion, the road to Elbing was most beautiful. Good roads (good cycle paths in the cities and bigger towns), just a few gravel roads, nice weather, friendly smiling people, an occasionally smalltalk.

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Those smalltalks and friendliness of the Poles is like a warm bath. I get a lot of smiles, people try to make me something clear when I ask something. No surly faces like in Lithuania. When their German and English is as bad as my Polish, we try the universal language of hands and feet. A woman wished bon appetit (at least I thought she did) and another one pointed motherly at her bottom to say that I shouldn’t sit on the cold ground. A mushroom-seeking lady tried to show me which to take and which not to take. That was a bit unclear, I didn’t wanted to take the wrong ones and end up like McCandless, so I let them be. Those small encounters are very welcome for the lonely traveller.
But I encountered for the very first time on this trip four cyclists who didn’t make any connection. Not by smiling, not by waving, to say nothing of talking. When I asked one where they were from, he shrugged his shoulders and looked the other way. My conclusion was that they were definitely not Polish, because Poles are far too friendly for that kind of (almost rude) behaviour.
The hymn of praise isn’t finished yet. Wild camping is as easy as finding a cross alongside the road. I had the pleasure of some very nice places. But I took my refuge at a camping as well, since on Friday the weather wasn’t that great anymore and I wasn’t 100% fit, to be honest. A warm shower and a rest was very welcome. The next day a ‘less lesser road’ (if you know what I mean) took me on under windless clouds over hills and alongside fields of grain and grass between trees and sleepy villages to just before Elbing. In the middle of nowhere I found a perfect campingspot again.

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I had another great host again as well, in Subkowy. We grilled, we drank beer and vodka, had very nice conversations and a lovely evening. You can imagine that the black coffee this morning was quite welcome. Not only did I leave with a little heavier head, but also with heavier panniers, since they’re now full of apples from their garden, homegrown tobacco and homemade wine!
Although it might not all sound that spectacular, I have had some terrific days in the saddle. Now after Elbing the road takes me to the border with Germany. Too bad I can’t skip that country and cycle a bit longer in Poland, since I really love this country and I’ve been in Germany before.

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The very last assignments

In Poland I have completed the last assignments I had to do. At least the assignments I could do on my way back. In Germany and also The Netherlands I only have to record a word or sentence in that language.
So, if you don’t want it to be the last assignments, please sent me some! Or just donate, since CooP can make good use of it!

I had to make a selfy at the Branicki-Palace in Bialystok. This time I’m smiling. Because it’s the last one or because the sun was that bright?

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I shipped the last book to André Looijenga for our mutual literary project. He is going to make some translations of the books/poems I have sent to him. The Nobel Prize winner Szymborska.1468839166714

It feels weird that I don’t have more to do than just cycle back home…

First encounter with Poland

I actually don’t need to write a whole blog about my first encounter with Poland, because two simple words would suffice: very positive! But do let me explain why.

I don’t know exactly what it was, but I wanted to get out of Lithuania and go to Poland. I was quite fed up with the – sorry to say so – maniacal driving style of the Lithuanians. And with the lack of normal (bicycle)roads (pavements with high curbs) in Vilnius it was a real pain in the ass to get out of the city. In Druskininkai my bank card was swallowed by the cash machine. I asked the women behind the information desk at the supermarket (where the ATM was) about my problem. They had a hard time understanding me, one spoke a bit better English and said bluntly I had to call the bank. No sympathy, no will to help me. I met such an attitude in some bookstores in Kaunas as well. When I visited Guras Parkas the woman at the cash desk didn’t even bother to put the phone down. Anyway, in the supermarket was a young couple who immediately helped me by calling the bank for me, because I couldn’t get them on the phone. To keep a story short, in Bialystok I could pick up so called ’emergency money’ after I phoned with my own bank. Of course I had terrific hosts, met other nice people and had a great time in Lithuania, but after these incidents I wanted to get going again (maybe the element of missing my girlfriend played a minor role as well).

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Marius, my Warmshower-host in Vilnius, contacted his friend if I could camp in their garden in Druskininkai. Lovely stay between the trees and vegetable garden.

But let’s talk about Poland, since I wrote enough about the Baltic Countries. I came into Poland by a backdoor on a lonesome gravel road. I like such crossings when all of a sudden there is a border crossing in the middle of a forest. The sun shone on my Kleine Beer-cap, birds where trying to sing louder than the metal in my ears, the scenery and little villages where downright fantastic. My Warmshower-host in Bialystok warned me beforehand to stay clear of the main road, because Polish drivers wouldn’t have much respect for a cyclist to say the least. Therefore I expected the worst, but I experienced quite the opposite, since Polish drivers are real gentle(wo)men on the B-roads. They gave and give me a lot of space. Even 90% wait on an oncoming car before overtaking me. That was a relieve, since just 10% of the Lithuanian drivers do that.

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In Lipske I really needed to refresh my water. I didn’t wanted to bother with my filter, since Tripadvisor says you can’t drink from the tap (actually did that a few times and I’m still alive), so I wanted to buy a bottle (actually against my principles, because of the plastic…). Of course I couldn’t pay with euros, Poland has Zloty! Stupid that I just didn’t think about that fact. I stood there tongue-tied with my two euro-coin and didn’t know what to do with it. The girl behind the register either fell for my natural charm or it was just pity for the dumb foreigner. Whatever it may be, she was unbelievable kind when she said: ‘I’ll pay for it, just take it.’ I couldn’t be more thankful. Luckely I could change a few euros at a gas station in the next town in order to buy dinner and breakfast.
After that I felt like a million Zloty, I wasn’t tired at all. By then it rained, so I didn’t feel like camping already. In that way I made my personal record that day with 160 kilometers. I had my first wild camping experiene in Poland before riding into Bialystok the next day. From Suprasl to Bialystok there was a smooth bike path and cycling into Bialystok itself was easy as cycling into for example København. I loved it! Later on I heard from my hosts that it is a law when there is a new road to be built, that there should be a bicycle lane next to it.
At the Branicki Palace I put up my tent to dry, since I would sleep indoors that night at my Warmshower-hosts’ place. In less than an hour I had about five conversations! That is more than in all those weeks I’ve been in the Baltics. Don’t get me wrong, they’re absolutely not unfriendly, but a bit more reserved, I guess. Someone said literally that in this part you can still smell the old Poland with its nice little villages and wooden houses. Another one said that people are much more friendly here than in the western part. One man began to speak in Polish. When I could interrupt him, I said I don’t speak the language. ‘No problem, welcome!’ he said and walked away.

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Well, I really do feel welcome in Poland, I am already am in love of the country and the people living in it. When a grumpy old guy at the bank asked me if I was British and I replied that I wasn’t, he probably wasn’t convinced because he said: ‘In Poland we don’t like Brits, verstehst du!?’ Well, that didn’t break my spirit in the least! I got my ’emergency-money’ (in the long run) and my host let me in to do this writing when he went out again to continue his work. Did I already say I love Poland?

Baltic beauty (part 3)

It needed to take a couple of months, but now I really learned to slow down. Maybe a bit ironic that it came just now on my way home. With slowing down I mean in particular taking ‘detours’. To be a day or two later at home won’t make much of a difference. Since I am here now and with my bicycle I have all the freedom to go (almost) anywhere I like, I want to use that freedom as much as I can. That is a bit relative, because at the same time I long to get back again as well, because it’s not without a reason I am on my way back. And freedom is relative term in another way. I’ll get back on that further on.

I wrote in a previous blog that I went from Riga (Latvia) to Daugavpils. It was a two days ride. I wasn’t that enthusiastic about the city itself, but the route to that place was in one word splendid! It took me along the river Daugava and it was one of the best and most beautiful stretches of my whole trip! It learned me that taking detours pay off.
Since I arrived in Lithuania I was considering continuously if I would go to Vilnius after paying a visit to Kaunas. It would be another ‘detour’. I am not on this trip to just go to every city – or capitol for that matter – or look for every old stone there is to see. Most of the time I enjoy the ride and the smaller places much better than the crowded cities. Kaunas was beautiful as it was. So why go to Vilnius? Just because I can? Just because it is no more than a days ride? Just because a day or two more won’t matter? At a certain moment I decided that I wouldn’t do it. It’s plain silly to go there just so you’re able to say you visited the city, but that deep in your heart you didn’t want to go there. I wanted to take a slow tour down to Poland, pay a visit to Guras Parkas. Alytus would be on my route, I thought I would like such a small place better than the capitol of Lithuania. Done, decided, just needed to go.

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Kaunas (sorry for the little smudge, I can’t get it off)

But… still there was a little bit of doubt which gnawed on my consience and I couldn’t shake it of. Wouldn’t I regret going there? Come on, it is just about 100 km. Than I came to speak with a Dutch woman at the camping in Kaunas. ‘You should really go there, it was one of the highlights on my trip. Than you would’ve been to all the capitols of the Baltics.’ The last argument didn’t convince me, because I don’t care about that. But that it is a very open, musical and creative city did more than I probably wanted to. If I would go to Vilnius, I was close to Trakai. An interesting town with a great (although restored) castle in the middle of a lake. My girlfriend could recommend that place as well (just like Guras Parkas). I thought to let fate decide, if I could get a Warmshower-host for one night in Vilnius, I would go. Fate definitely wanted me to go there, because I had one pretty quick. So I took the ‘freedom’ to go to Vilnius. Was it my decision and therefore still my freedom?
On Wednesday I left the City Camping in Kaunas where I had a pleasant stay. From there I saw the city in a relaxed way and did a lot of writing. I got up early. It started to rain before I could pack my tent. It didn’t stop until midday when I reached Elektrenai. I had a hard deal getting out of Kaunas, where roads were cut off, which didn’t show on my App. I had to unload all my stuff in order to get on top of a stairway to cross a railroad. And it kept on raining. Finally I got out of the city. My spirit was about to raise a bit – also because the road was good – but than I hit a sort of sandy gravelroad. The road was wet, so my tyres sunk in deep. The gravelroad kept on far too long, I had to push the bike up 6% sloops. Excuse me for saying so, but drivers in the Baltics drive like maniacs, so I had the dirt behind my ears when someone overtook me. At a certain point I almost regretted I ‘decided’ to go to Vilnius. The terrific scenery kept me going. The fantastic little villages with a lot of wooden houses and with churches which are as big as the villages themselves. The expressions of disbelieve – I constantly have the feeling they see me as an alien – on the faces of the old inhabitants on their way to the nearest shop. Rain, though roads, ahard ride, it is of course all part of the adventure, so I pushed on.

When I reached Elektrenai and did my shopping, the sky actually cleared and it stopped raining. I was as happy as a child. And I saw on my navigation-App that I could better go to Trakai that day instead of when I would leave Vilnius, which was my initial plan. Than I could take a more direct route to the south of Lithuania. All of a sudden it struck me that I actually could best go the same day to the castle, because it would still be open. Better that than to camp a little outside the town and go to the castle the next day. Since I am an early riser, it wouldn’t be open for hours. I made the right decision to say the least. Having arrived there, having seen the town, the famous castle from the inside as well as the courtyard (which was free, because there was the counter you had to pay), I drank my coffee outside the walls to be away from the tourists. Why not ask if I could camp there? The woman at the cash desk asked the security and it was fine if I would put up the tent after closing time and I had to leave before the castle would open the next day. She warned me that it could be a bit noisy, since people can freely walk around the castle, which many do in the evening. Well, that wouldn’t bother me, although she was right. A little price to pay to have the best damn campingspot you can possibly imagine!

The next day I had a rainy day in Vilnius, but nevertheless I really liked the city. I do did play a bit like the tourist and saw a church or two and other highlights. Marius, my Warmshower-host, picked me up with his car and drove me around and then to his place where he is staying with his family. One big happy family. I had a really nice and cozy stay there. We made a little cycle trip, we practised with airguns, we had delicious food, nice conversations and laughs and at the end of the evening we played a boardgame. I’m a great fan of boardgames and it’s been a while I last played such a game (although in Anykšciai I played chest with Mantas, my host over there). I lost big time, but I couldn’t care less. Maybe that was because the homemade wine was so tasty…

Marius said that beauty costs. For me it cost just a couple of days to see a lot of beauty and experience a bunch of things! It doesn’t matter if the choice wasn’t technically mine. The freedom it took me on those detours was. At least I like to think so. Anyway, take a  detour in your life when you have the liberty to do so!