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Oct 21 2010

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Lithuania 2010 – Centre of Europe (Journey to the Centre of the Earth)

Thursday 21st October and our trip started as they usually do – late! This time we were waiting in for the Poland and Lithuania maps to arrive. Despite having 2 GPS’s Kevin thought that maps would be required ‘just in case’ and we’d discovered the day before that we didn’t have any for the region.

We had a relaxed, rather boring, ride down to Hannover for our first stop getting caught in the usual nightmare that is the Antwerp ring road – oh joy my favourite of favourites, filtering! After that the traffic reduced. The sun went down and we listened to Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds as the moon lit up the countryside. We passed many Martians with their red eyes flashing (or were they wind turbines?).

The next day dawned bright, if not warm, and our plan was to meet the others in Berlin if we were nearby at the allotted time; if not we planned on riding through to Warsaw where we had a hotel booked. The motorway out of Hannover has to be the world’s ugliest – miles and miles of boring shuttering hiding the countryside but we were soon out of that and approaching Berlin. We thought we would be too late for the midday meeting so we stopped for lunch at a handy McD’s and accepted we’d catch the others up in Vilnius.

As we approached the border we saw a group of bikes ahead and were pleased to see that it was the rest of the gang – Ray, Paul (Heidi!), then Steve (Codcutter), a rider we didn’t recognise (Roly) and, leading the way, Phil (Dutch/Belgian/Swiss guy). We tucked in and continued with them.

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Lorries as far as the eye could see!

Now the real fun started. Poland is undertaking a huge road-building programme (the Greens would be gnashing their teeth if they saw it!) and where the dual carriageways are completed they’re great. BUT, everywhere else on the route to Warsaw was totally gridlocked with literally miles and miles and miles of bumper-to-bumper lorries. Oh yes and cars towing trailers with wrecked cars or bikes from the UK and other European countries. I assume they are fixed and then sold on.

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Some up close and personal!

 
[Excuse the finger in the pictures – I bought a new ‘rugged’ camera but find it really difficult to use!]

We lorry-hopped our way across Poland taking in the sights. There were a lot of very cold-looking girls in the lay-bys or at bus stops who were presumably waiting for buses…. Occasionally we’d pass ‘interesting’ hotels which appeared to be advertising more than just a comfy bed!

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Roadside entertainment, Polish style!

 
I passed the time playing ‘Truck Bingo’ (I felt quite at home with all the LT and PL plates!) and added BY (Belarus), RUS (Russia) and UA (Ukraine) to my ‘card’. I was surprised to see roundabouts in Poland and even more surprised to see that they work in the same way as ours do over here. (Anyone who spends any time near Dover will understand why I’m surprised!)

Eventually we were in Warsaw where the others decided to join us at the Ibis. Phil was a late arrival as we lost him coming into the City.

We had a good meal and a relatively early night. Plans were made for the morning’s ride. We were going to ride with Paul but his alarm doesn’t work at weekends so he overslept! As we were leaving Roly asked if he could follow us so the two bikes headed off into Poland.

The countryside improved the further we went although it was very much like riding through a vast, very flat, Lincolnshire with added forests. The roads were a lot better for having fewer lorries, it being the weekend, and the weather was glorious.

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A lot of the trees had lost all their leaves already

 
Lithuania is a delightful country. Nothing spectacular but the roads were not as bad as we had feared and the countryside was pretty. They too have a road building programme and we got caught in a snarl-up where a huge hole was being dug and the ride-round took the traffic up a narrow, muddy, track. Unfortunately there was no traffic management so it was a free for all and relied on someone giving way!
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Free for all – bit dodgy here but the bike coped

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The hole where the road used to be!

We only had one ‘satnav-moment’ where it took us on a short-cut to miss out a corner and the road it took us on just petered out. No harm done, a quick U-turn and we were back on-track.

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The end of the road – you can see the road we were heading for in the background

Having driven through miles of countryside we approached Vilnius and there were more and more large buildings; many were very rundown. Suddenly we turned down a road and the city vista opened up in front of us. It was rather unexpected – acres of blue glass in high-rise buildings which reminded me of Canary Wharf.

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View from our hotel of some of the city buildings (photo taken with Phil’s camera)

We were about 200 yards away from the hotel when we spotted Phil and Steve at the side of the road asking for directions. One by one we all turned up at the hotel except Paul who texted to say that he was at the monument waiting for us. We headed over there and found him asleep on his bike (no change there!!). He’d already sussed out the place and we followed him up to the monument. It didn’t look like the sort of place we should have been riding but hey-ho we did anyway! Phil is such a bad influence!

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‘Ladies of The Night’ could be found in many of the lay-bys!

Just as we were struggling to get the photos taken a lovely lady came out to ask us to move on as we shouldn’t be there. “No problem! But will you please take our photo first?” She was a sport and did.

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The photo. [Phil, Steve, Paul, Kevin, Lynda, Ray, Roly]

We swiftly moved off and back to the hotel for a shower and rest. We booked a table at a local restaurant that did traditional and European food. We were surprised to find the restaurant at the top of a huge shopping mall where we lost Ray for a while. Turns out he’s a dedicated shopaholic and Adidas Gazelle aficionado. The food was delicious, and cheap, and the company was great. What a brilliant way to finish the day.

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What we saw of the old town was pretty (not sure about the ghosts in the foreground though!)

We’d arranged with Paul to ride home together. He’d promised us a route that would be more interesting than the journey down and he fulfilled that promise by first turning us off onto a ‘main road’ that was to prove the GS’s pedigree (which was as much a surprise to Paul as it was to us!).

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The road wasn’t exactly tarmac!

It was pot-holed and mud-covered – my (other) ’favourite’! We bumped and slid along this road for about 20 miles and only a couple of cars came the other way. As Kevin’s confidence grew (he doesn’t enjoy doing off-road with me on the back for some reason!) we sped up and a couple of pot holes really bounced us around. Finally we were back on to a real road. I relaxed back…and back…and…where’s the top box?!!

I waited with Paul whilst Kevin retraced our route and found the box slap bang in the middle of the road. Luckily it had landed top-side-down so the mechanism for attaching it was still intact but the rest of it was a little sorry for itself.

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One ex-top box

The weather was great. We had our electric gear switched on but only needed it on low. It was sunny for most of the day with a short interlude just before lunch where we had to put on our waterproofs. At our McDonalds lunch stop we put them away again and that’s where they stayed for the rest of the trip. We did 630 miles and didn’t hit a motorway once. The roads were undulating with gentle bends, the road surface was generally pretty good and the traffic was very light – it was excellent riding.

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Riding through Poland the trees still had their autumn colours and it was lovely.

We rode into the night, destination Berlin. As we were exiting a small Polish town Paul was waved down by a couple of hair-dryer-waving white-hatted Policemen who were a few metres town-side of the sign indicating the end of the town. Policemen with speed cameras operating at night?! We pulled in behind him but they didn’t bother about us, they were trying hard to explain to Paul what he’d done. Naughty boy had been speeding (sitting right behind him we were, of course, completely innocent!). They lead him to their car. This was getting serious. Whilst one sat in with Paul the other one continued to wave his stealth radar around. Eventually Paul was released. He’d managed to talk himself out of the 500 Zloty fine and we continued on our way.

We encountered more Police with a speed camera on the outskirts of a town in Germany but this time we were all being good.

At the last fuel stop before Berlin we were all feeling tired and decided to stop at the first Ibis in the city which was 19 miles away. If it didn’t have a restaurant or was full we could ask about the others (there are 3 close by). Should only take half-an hour or so. WRONG!

The route in was being dug up and we took the wrong side of a diversion. We ended up in a car park, went out the wrong way and got lost, so retraced our steps and found ourselves back at the original diversion. Then we were at the outskirts of Berlin, then through the middle. It took ages to get to the hotel as we traversed the very convoluted route in but we had a great tour of much of Berlin.

We eventually arrived to find the hotel didn’t have a restaurant (I was beginning to fray a bit at this point!). Luckily the next one did and the guy at the desk phoned forward for us. He told us their restaurant closed at 11.30 so we had plenty of time. As it turned out he was wrong and it closed at 10.30. We arrived at 10.20. The girl behind the desk said “Go and eat and then we’ll sort out your rooms. Trust me, you’ll be fine.” So that’s what we did. Lovely meal and a very welcome drink or two! They even held the kitchen open so we could have desserts!

Our final day was motorway all the way but as it was fine weather (who’d have believed it in October?) we all had fun. Even coming round Antwerp wasn’t a problem. We were late catching our train as we stopped for about an hour at lunch time where we had a very decent meal; as usual, being late was no problem for Eurotunnel and we went straight onto the next train.

We stood and chatted for the journey and remarked how enjoyable the weekend had been. I had been worried about going and had originally said I didn’t want to go as I was expecting it to be very cold and wet, possibly even snowy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 10/10 to all involved (including John whose absence ensured the good weather!).

Lithuania route

2579 very enjoyable miles.

2579 very enjoyable miles.

Permanent link to this article: http://thewellers.net/iron-butt-rides/lithuania-2010-centre-of-europe-journey-to-the-centre-of-the-earth

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