West Poland, Baltic Sea

It has been really quiet here on the blog. That’s not because I stopped writing or doing photography, but because I don’t have money to travel right now. And the reason for that is, I’m finally getting a van to go on a proper roadtrip, which means I’m trying to put away as much as possible.

If all goes as planned – which of course it never does – I’ll buy a nice RV sometime this fall and start driving south and east until I get scared in the springtime. Until then, it’sjust work and working out in the hope my that disability won’t put a stop to the whole project before I even reach the Balkans.
Anyway; I love Berlin but after an entire year bound to this beautiful concrete jungle I knew, I needed to get out. So at the end of July I decided to grant myself a little furlough. Since money was still a topic I decided to give the Polish part of the Baltic coast a go.

Szcezecin photo gallery

Trains from Berlin run every two hours or so and for 11 € you get to Szczecin (Stettin) in about 2 hours. From their i changed to a small train to Koszalin that seemingly stopped at every sinkhole along the way. From there I rode my bike the last 30 km or so to a resort town called Gaski. Getting around the Polish countryside on a bike without really knowing anything isn’t really anything I recommend. This is definitely a country where it pays to know specific cycling-friendly routes. You might get lucky just picking small side roads, but it might backfire spectacularly as well. Most roads I’ve ridden in the week I spent there are in rather bad repair, which is ok if you’re riding without luggage and have a sturdy bike. The alternative, taking a well-maintained main road, isn’t really one. I don’t know if the average Polish motorist has a deeply rooted hate of muscle powered vehicles or if they plainly just don’t care if you die, because let’s be honest, it’s their road. I mean, finally there’s enough money going road,to buy decent cars and then these German müsli-eating world savers with their bloody bikes claim a piece of THEIR road? Anyway, if there is no bikeline on the side, cycling a major Polish road is kind of scary. I would much rather face again my fear of heights, maybe even try a bungee-jump than doing that again. Overtaking with oncoming traffic and about hand’s width to spare isn’t the exception, it’s the norm and most drivers don’t even break. So in the end I always used small roads even if they were going the long way round and bumped me around good.

The house my room was in, was the private residence of a Polish couple living in Berlin that build a micro-hostel in the first floor of their own home. They were friendly but for my taste, the whole place was just a bit too clean. Every blade of gras was cut to the same length with exquisite care, not a single mote of dust and the garden looked like a catalogue photo prmoting landscaping services rather than a place where people actually live. Funny thing is, more or less every garden looked that way, it seems there simply is no middle ground between “totally in shambles” and “clinically clean”. Don’t get me wrong some of those gardens were magnificent oceans of blossoms with spectacularly shaped hedges, but more in the way of shop-window displays and not as a place of human habitation. Other than that Gauski is a typical resort town on the baltic. There’s an old lighthouse, a main road, that was dug up during my stay calming considerately, about 2 km of camping grounds between the road and the beach and generally no houses higher than two or three stories. A couple of small shops catered to everyday needs, like the breakfast beer that seems mandatory for male Polish vacationers, and some restaurants are the only infrastructure.

But I came here for the beach and endless skies. And there are miles and miles of pristine white sand beaches just a 5-minute walk from my place. A little cliff protects the coastal settlements and offers a home to 100s of swifts (a smaller relative of the swallow) that come out around dusk to hunt mosquitoes. While it could be a little crowded close to the camping grounds, in total it was pretty relaxed and if you are willing to ride your bike for 10 minutes you will always find a quiet space with your next neighbours 30-50m away. On a day trip along the coast though you will notice that for most Polish people holiday is not so much about spending time quietly and in seclusion, but more about having fun with your loved ones and meeting new people. The town of Mielno is a good example for this typicall Eastern-European approach. The main road along the coast is not only packed with cheap restaurants and souvenir shops, there is a veritable fun fair just behind the beach, including a ferris wheel and all kinds of crazy vomit-inducing torture contraptions that are considered fun. The beach itself was incrediby packed, with literally not enough space to pass between sunbathers without stepping on somebody blanket.

What struck me a bit strange is the fact that most people neither spoke English nor German, so ordering food was a bit complicated and I ended with something different from what I thought I’d ordered. Most of the time I just got myself a huge chunk or fried or barbecued fish, a little coleslaw, and a beer to eat at the beach. Breakfast, was mostly just some biscuits and a coffee. On the last day I found a place with really great Pirogi, but I would still prefer those of the restaurant just around the corner from my place in Berlin. Generally speaking I wouldn’t rate the food among the top reasons to go to Poland, if you don’t speak the language. On the plus side, Poland is still cheap, even here so close to the border with Germany in the most affluent part of the country. I would say cost of living is about 60-70% of what it is in Berlin (which is already pretty low, compared to the rest of Germany).

What I love about this part of the world is the incredible vastness of it’s skies and the everchanging sea. For a city-dweller every horizon is magic in a way because our gaze is always brought short by a house, a tree or sometimes just a giant billboard, but here the open sky has something that makes it seem even bigger. I spent hours sitting on the beach, feeling the sand trickle between my fingers, wind ruffling my hair and waiting for the exact same moment when sea and sky stop being two things and flow together into this endless steel-coloured bubble of which I’m the centre.

One thing to remember before you consider a trip to the Polish coast is the weather. Even on warm days, with official temperatures above 25°C you usually need a long sleeve sitting on the beach because of the cold wind that blows inland or along the coast. The clever Polish holidayers all had rather practical windshields they put up to hide behind.

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