Departure to the east

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

…or northeast?
For 2 months we were forced to stay in our home stable, to get our “RuGa-li” back in shape and to tinker with our further travel plans; the Corona pandemic not only restricted our freedom of movement but also that of all of us.

Towards the middle of June the time had finally come. With full confidence we set off for the third time to experience the wide world and further adventures. The waiting made us quite fidgety and nervous!

The meeting in Riga/Latvia was, due to Corona, postponed to St. Gallen/Switzerland, from where we will spend the coming week together with Selina and François. The jumps were still small because the border was still closed for a few days for tourists willing to leave the country.

But, Switzerland also has a lot to offer in the southeast corner and we enjoyed the ride through the Grisons on many trails that are not frequented by the big tourist streams, and the Corona time made even some tourist hotspots seem almost deserted.

In the valley of Münstertal, that was the end for us, too! The border to South Tyrol was still closed and so we spent a forced night at the foot of the Umbrailpass, before the last barriers at the border far up in the mountains were opened.

On the Stilfserjoch, there are still a few winter sportsmen who are curving over an almost perfect slope and probably already trained for the next winter, while we climbed up to the Dreisprachenspitze on the opposite side. Various commemorative plaques drew our attention to the turbulent past and our bad smuggling conscience was already making itself felt; do we have too much “Schoggi” with us?

In the Vinschgau Valley, the stream of tourists slowly began and besides Swiss license plates, the Germans were already very present everywhere. The little open tourist infrastructures probably tried to make up for the lost ground and demanded relatively high sums for an overnight stay on a simple meadow. For us the price was just too high and so we decided to drive up a mountain to find a place for the next night in a lonely corner. High above Meran we enjoyed the view over the wide valley floor and an absolutely quiet night.

After Meran we followed the tracks of the Haflinger. But until we discovered the first four-legged friends, some time passed and many kilometres were already behind us. In the morning I had told them that there would be many more on the pastures like the Freiberger in the Jura. But suddenly I doubted my explanations – nowhere were the noble horses to be seen! Unfortunately we didn’t see any free-running Haflingers, but at a horse stable we had the opportunity to make up for what we had missed. The owner generously handed out his business cards; he too probably felt the restraint of the holiday guests and their need for leisure.

We reached Bolzano at a rather inopportune time. Nobody really wanted to stroll through the countless alleys and shop in the noble boutiques, although this city would be a shopping paradise. Also we didn’t like the behaviour of the people: Until recently people were locked up in their flats all over Italy due to the lockdown for doing nothing, now everybody was sitting crowded in the cafés or standing around in the alleys.

Over many passes, long valleys and changing weather conditions we reached the noble tourist place Cortina d’Ampezzo. Actually, it was a pity that the clowds were hanging too low and the view to the rock towers of the Dolomites denied us. For me, this would really have been the dot on the “i”, as many years ago, I scraped my fingers sore here during many climbs.

Also the other days, the view to the Three Peaks was denied to us; the cloud layer was already at the feet of the rock walls and the raindrops kept us from further outdoor activities. So we went relatively quickly from South Tyrol back to Tyrol. Due to many road closures and the closure of the Timmelsjoch pass road, we had to take the detour via the Brenner Pass. But also here we found our backroads and again and again we followed the forgotten hamlets far above the bottom of some mountain flank.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen was another destination in the crossing of the eastern Alps and; unfortunately, the view of the highest German mountain was also denied us! But there was an adventurous camp on the Lech river and we reached our overnight stay place almost mischievously by moving the stones that were put up especially for the barrier. But the weather punished us: It rained so hard that François and Selina decided to sleep in the car.

Through the Vorarlberg and the southern foothills of the Allgäu Alps we reached Lake Constance, where the stream of summer visitors had already begun and the upcoming weekend was busy. In spite of the Corona signs, we often had the impression that everything was over and people – close together – strolled through the city centres with hardly any consideration for his counterpart. Also the campgrounds were already overcrowded and the caravans were really put down – side by side. Awesome!

In Friedrichshafen our paths then parted: Selina and François had to go back to Switzerland and work and we moved further north. The common way with many conversations ended and enriched each other; it was simply a great time!

In a zigzag course we crossed the Allgäuer Voralpen and reached at some point the Bavarian Forest with its extensive forests. While roaming the countryside we again felt almost “at home” and the small scale gave us a lot of warmth and charm.

The further we advanced to the north, the more we were shocked again and again by sick and dead forests. Hundreds of scrawny trees stand in whole sections of forest and convey a bleak picture of a creeping disease of our environment. Whether it is our ruthless stalk of life, the many dry periods or the wrong tree species planted; we do not know, but what we saw made us very thoughtful.

We followed the German-Czech border first northwards, then eastwards through the Ore Mountains towards Poland. The most recent post-war history is omnipresent here and much still bears witness to this time; whether in use, abandoned or in decay.

The history here goes back a long way and is omnipresent. Many things are lovingly maintained and restored. Be it the old bathing or health resorts, winter sports areas or the almost endless sandstone towers of the Elbe mountains (Saxon Switzerland), where people were busy climbing.
But also here in the Erzgebirge: huge pieces of forest gave a very sick impression and the dry trees cannot be argued away.

Until recently, large excavators ate their way through the landscape on the German-Polish border and the coal was immediately burnt in the nearby power stations. Today the huge holes in the landscape are filled with water and are used by water sports enthusiasts. One person’s joy, another person’s suffering: Does the brown coal being mined have something to do with the brown forests of the Erzgebirge and the Bavarian Forest? But we all want energy and it has to be as cheap as possible!

When we changed to Poland we entered a new world again and already after crossing the border river we had the impression of being in another time. The attention to detail is missing here very much and, also the abandoned and half-decayed buildings underline what we saw. Outside of the villages there are wide areas in almost forgotten landscapes, which once provided a livelihood for many people. Today, presumably only a few employees of an agricultural enterprise cultivate the huge mining areas and let the agricultural areas degenerate to monocultures.

On our way to the northeast we made a detour to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the cruelty of mankind caught up with us for a short time. Despite the closed facilities (corona virus) this area left a deep impression on us and gave us goose bumps on our backs. Millions of people were once carted here like garbage and brought to destruction. And the crazy thing about the whole story: We humans still haven’t learned anything. It’s still happening.

Eastern Poland is mostly characterized by vast agricultural areas and extensive forests, but also by beautiful settlements with wonderful churches. Faith is still deeply rooted in the population here, which is manifested in the many crosses decorated with coloured ribbons and other Christian symbols. Even the cemeteries become real eye-catchers in the landscape with coloured (plastic) flowers.

The further we approached towards the Baltic States, the more hilly the landscape became and offered more variety again. The water sports on the waters were omnipresent and cycling probably plays a big role for the Polish. The cycle paths are well signposted and whole families went on their long journey by bike. For the mountain bikers there are well developed trails in the forests and somehow I regretted not having a bike with me.

The transition to the first Baltic state – Lithuania – was without any problems thanks to Schengen; we were simply in a new country! Instead, the border to the Russian enclave Kaliningrad reminded us of the former times, when there was still entry and exit everywhere, border barriers stood and a lot of barbed wire was supposed to prevent people on both sides of the fence from crossing the border unintentionally.

Surprisingly, the flow of goods seems to work perfectly. Heavy trains are pulled across the borders, the trucks stand in kilometre-long queues at the borders and wait for the customs clearance of the papers. Crazy world!

We moved on, got away from the border fence and followed the coastline in northern direction. The weather was mostly a mix of many clouds, rain showers and some sunshine. And no sooner was the sun shining behind the clouds than the Balts in their bathing trunks stood outside in the sun. In the evening, they were still sitting lightly dressed in front of their houses or caravans, while we put on our jackets more and more and looked for warmer clothes. During walks on the beach we found neither amber nor other curiosities, but wonderful stretches of coast where the landscape is in a constant change and every storm brings up new bizarre shapes.

We reached Riga/Latvia almost a month late on the agreed date, and we were also a little behind schedule for our onward journey. The North Cape and the visit to England are still being planned; we would like to cross the Arctic Circle before the first snowfall. Therefore we went relatively quickly through Latvia and Estonia, heading towards Tallinn.

Tallinn forced us to take a short break; get a ferry ticket and stock up on some supplies. (…certain drinks are a bit more expensive in the Scandinavian countries than anywhere else!) The time also allowed us to go on an extensive city tour and thanks to the tips from the harbour keeper where we could park our car and spend the night, we were able to experience this pearl on the Baltic Sea particularly intensively. And this would also be our tip: Tallinn is worth more than just one trip (according to Chantal the most beautiful city in the world, also for shopping)!

From Tallinn we went out into the Baltic Sea in heavy rain and are looking forward to new adventures and the endless expanses of Finland.


PS: I (Tom) am always asked about the great reports and photos. Here I would like to add immediately still something: The reports and photos are a joint product; in addition to the editing, Chantal adds further anecdotes (…or deletes all too personal).
The translations into English and French are done for us by the “machine” of Deepl-Translator and are usually done 1:1.


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