Day 16 – A Circle Doesn‘t Have To Be Round

The last day of the Baltic Sea Circle 2018 started with glorious sunshine and we had a coffee next to the water.

We then had proper breakfast together with Peter and Torsten from MNK47. Peter made some scrambled eggs from all the eggs they had left from their journey. Must have been 10 or so…
Then packing up camp for a last time. This time we took our sleeping gear, bags, pillows etc. from the tent and put everything into the boot in order not to have to open the tent again when we were unpacking at home in Hamburg.

We thought we had enough time to take the scenic route to Hamburg via Swinoujscie/Swinemünde and take one last ferry to enter Germany via the island of Usedom.
But one thing became clear, life is what happens while you’re making other plans.
While we were going up the road there was suddenly a noise and we thought it was one of the panels that we had taped previously that had become loose again. So we taped it again. We thought we were alright but after not too long a while the noise was back. We stopped again and saw that one of the plastic panels from the car’s undercarriage appeared to have come undone. Jörg was then trying to get underneath the car to apply duct tape as a temporary fix and did as best as he could, thus soiling his shirt that he had saved for the last day.

Having lost almost 45 minutes, we calculated that the planned route would now consume too much time and turned around to take the motorway so that we could be at the finish line in time.

We then had a bit of a disagreement on how fast we should go with the loose panel. Jörg, being the pilot at that time set the cruise control on 130km/h against Franz’s preference and we were gliding through a lovely summer’s day into Germany towards Berlin. At a not so smooth section of the motorway we heard a noise immediately followed by a small bump and we could see the evil panel in the rear view mirror sliding across the motorway.
Well, that at least settled the speed discussion.

Having passed Berlin we were on the home stretch but were hitting quite a few and also some quite long construction areas and got into a jam that took away another 45 minutes. But we read from the other teams who had taken the more northerly route that they had a jammed section that took at least an hour.

It was a bit of an odd mood that we were in on this last stretch. 16 exciting days full of sights, views, people, events, discussions, laughs and banter and endless hours of driving lay behind us. Our spirits were high and full with impressions and memories. However with the finish line coming closer there was also a bit of a feeling of emptiness creeping up. How would we feel when we were back to our every day life? Would we be different? Would we cope with predictability and normality?
We will see.

We then came close to Hamburg and it looked like that we would make the finishing time between 16 and 17h. In fact we arrived again in the port of Hamburg, where we had started 15 days earlier at 15:55. Jörg’s aunt Carmen was expecting us and taking pictures and we were then joined by our girls Anne and Daniela a bit later.

We were then greeting the other teams that were there already and those that were arriving after us. 2 hours later we left the venue, drove back home, unpacked, started the first washing machines.
Later that evening we concluded this adventure with a lovely dinner with our girls.

We’ve now completed the circle around the Baltic Sea.
The circle is not round, not perfect but complete and it for sure made us a bit more complete.

We had to drive 8076 km to achieve this task.
The Fat One drank about 900 litres of fuel while carrying us safely and comfortably on even the roughest roads. We haven’t counted our consumption of booze and sweets, meat, fish and potatoes but you can rest assured we didn’t hold back on anything.

And we are thankful, very thankful.
First and foremost we are full of thanks and love for our girls who let us go on this trip and had to endure our exciting stories while they were holding the fort back at home. Not always easy…we know.

Then we are thankful for our sponsors, especially the Garagist for preparing the car.
And we also shouldn’t forget Christof who was so nice to lend us his camping gear and especially his roof tent, which gave us many hilarious moments of tent-yoga.
Thanks so much!

But especially and enormously grateful do we feel when we think of all our family, friends and colleagues who opened their pockets and donated so generously for the charities we had picked.

And this is what in the end we’ve got together:

Let’s help kids in need – Arche received 23 donations with a total of 1915,-€
We drive, you save dogs – Hilfe statt Trost received 11 donations with a total of 855,-€
Putting Men’s Health in Focus – Movember Foundation received 10 donations with a total of 620,-€

3390,- € for good causes is a great achievement by you and us and we feel truly blessed.

All donors can relax now for as much we enjoyed this trip there are no immediate plans to do a similar exercise anytime soon. Although, the tour across the Balkans…

Day 15 – Dashing Through The Poles

When we navigated our way out of the city of Kaliningrad we came across a naval museum that wasn’t open yet but as the doors were not closed we ventured onto the premises, walked around and took pictures. The Russians are very proud of their military history and achievements and do like to show off a little bit occasionally.
However, all the military (army, naval) bases we had passed during our travel through Russia looked quite run down, sometimes even on the brink of collapse but the supposedly old and obsolete material that has been on display on various locations that we’ve seen always looked immaculate, well maintained and cleaned.

We don’t know why that is but after all the Potemkin Village was a strategy invented in Russia and maybe they are simply continuing in this tradition.

We crossed the Dvukh“Yarusnyy bridge later

With views on the Vistula Lagoon and the Vistula Spit we made our way through the Kaliningrad District exclave, the former East Prussia to the Russian-Polish border. We had been warned before and during the rally that the Poles seem to not like the Russians too much and therefore are very meticulous in their immigration process and take their time. We crossed the Russian border in a record-breaking 30 minutes and then hit the end of the queue at the frontier to Poland and the EU.

Waiting for the Russians
A Polish Pole
Waiting for the Poles

Doing some recon Jörg discovered that there were lanes towards the control post where only Russian cars were in and another one that led to the EU passports’ entrance. We then squeezed the Fat One past the other cars and suddenly had only 3 cars left in front of us. First passport control, then customs control. The customs’ officer was friendly yet professional and we had to open everything. In the end he wished us fun and success for the rest of the rally.
All in all the process had lasted about 2 hours and we were in Poland.

We had decided to aim for the seaside town of Kolobrzeg//Kolberg on the shores of the Baltic Sea to spend our last night on the rally.

Vistula Lagoon and Vistula Spit in the background


We passed Danzig/Gdansk on the South and covered some distance on Polish country roads.
At least we tried to, which wasn’t a lot of fun.
The quality of the roads was pathetic, it seemed like there was a village every kilometre, where we had to slow down and the traffic was surprisingly heavy for a Saturday afternoon in the countryside.
So progress wasn’t as swift and smooth as expected.
Still, the mood on board was good.
At one point Franz was driving and asked Jörg to read the roadbook’s text for today. One of the attractions they mentioned for this day was the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork (Marienburg). And, lo and behold, at that exact moment we were just about to leave Malbork. Jörg turned around and saw the castle next to the river.


It’s still to this day the largest brick building in Europe.
Of course we stopped and paid the castle a visit i.e. running around it.
But first we had to sort out the parking.
Clever Poles had fenced off a piece of ground and were now asking for money to park your car. The problem was though that they didn’t take credit cards or Euros but only Zlotys. After a lot of discussion in Polish, German and English the lady in the booth was willing to accept 5 Euros. And then she gave us back 10 Zloty (about 2 Euro) with a piece of paper denoting our license plate and the entry time.
Viewing while walking across the river and then around the castle we could only admire the feat of constructing and building such a fortress just out of bricks.
Like on most days of our trip we didn’t have the time to do some proper sightseeing and  get into the castle and do a tour there. But when you’re getting to Gdansk make sure you make a detour via Malbork. It’s really something even only from the outside.

Back at the car park we handed back our paper slip and wanted to get to the car when the lady in the booth called us back and handed back the 5 Euros. We were a bit confused now for at this point we then would have parked for free plus we were 10 Zlotys richer…
We gave her back the 10 Zlotys and left with everyone happy and smiling.
The roads were now getting twistier but also a bit less crowded. Having texted with some of the other teams we had agreed to now head for Szczecin/Stettin instead of Kolberg. We had researched a nicely located camping spot there next to the marina, where we all wanted to meet for a last night. We did some dinner shopping in a Polish discount supermarket where one of the other customers gave us some tips in German, and then continued our journey to the western border of Poland dashing across the beautiful and slightly hilly countryside, leaving quite a few Poles in the Fat One’s wake.

We found the camping, picked a nice spot and had a drink, Gin and Tonic this time as we had finally been able to get ice cubes in a supermarket, waited for the others, then prepared dinner.

Once they were there we had small pancakes with sour cream and cured salmon for starters, followed by a nicely marbled polish steak with jacket potatoes and some herbal cream, and polished that off with a tasty Spanish white wine. That’s Europe for you.

Sabine and Sven of team „Maschseepiloten“

We had another evening of telling tales, laughter and banter and the occasional drink and around midnight were getting a bit deeper by discussing our takeaways from this rally – apart from the weather during the first days nobody could say anything negative or think about anything they didn’t like.

A Wolf, a Lada Niva and an old Range Rover made it too

We did about 530 km that day and needed more than 11 hours for the trip.
Then we spent the last night in our tent.

Day 14 – Storks Know No Border

As planned we made a tour through the centre of Riga after getting up and packing up camp. At 07:30 Riga’s old town is still very calm and only very few people and the occasional rat can be seen. From all the cafes and bars that you see in every other building however you can guess that at night it’s going to be a very lively atmosphere.

From Riga our next stop would be Klaipeda to there take the ferry onto the Curonian Spit. We passed the town of Liepaja on the shores of the Baltic Sea and turned South.

One we thing we noticed and that had already started in Estonia and here in Latvia and further south in Lithuania and Russia we saw a lot of storks. Storks in their nests, in meadows and swamps looking for food, flying storks. They all have their summer homes up here in the North to procreate and raise their hatchlings. They migrate here because in summer the days are much longer than further South so they have more time to hunt and find food for their little ones.

Having arrived in Klaipeda we got into the queue for the ferry. The distance across the Curonian Lagoon was very short and we got off very quickly.

We now were on the Curonian Spit, a 98 km long peninsula, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As the border to Russia is on the spit, it’s shared by two countries.
Jörg’s grandmother, mother and aunt were born and have lived in Königsberg until 1945, which is now Kaliningrad, our target for this day and located at the southern end of the spit. His grandmother and her family and friends used to go on holidays or on the weekend to the beautiful shores of the Curonian Spit.
There were only a few villages on it and we had hoped to see more of the dunes that define the character of the spit. However the road towards Kaliningrad went mainly through the forest in the middle of the spit, which was a bit disappointing for we had thought that by now we would have seen enough woods.

Still, beach and the access to it through dunes and heather was breathtakingly beautiful. There was a very strong Northeastern and the waves were unusually high for the Baltic Sea. But it’s a remarkable experience to stand on a beach that’s nearly 100 km long. Even in summer it presumably will hardly ever get crowded.

Then again immigration into Russia. Our second time. The process was a little bit different, the border and customs officers in general a bit friendlier and we made it in under 1 hour.

Now the last kilometres towards Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad, or Königsberg the provincial capital of East Prussia at that time, was subject to very heavy fighting during the last months of WW2. First the British had bombed it in 1944 with the result that most of the historic centre went up in flames. When eventually the Red Army approached it they besieged it in early 1945 and only few people managed to flee from the city. Among them was Jörg’s grandmother who was pregnant with her 3rd child and her two little daughters Carmen and Petra, Jörg’s mother, who got lost during the flight. This family history was one of the reasons for getting to Kaliningrad. Jörg’s ancestors had a trading house on the banks of the river Pregel.
Today there’s almost no building to be seen in Kaliningrad that was built before the war. The cathedral was re-built after the war with mostly money coming from Germany and the other one that we could identify was the former stock exchange. The rest looked like a badly planned amalgamation of post-war Soviet architectural excellence which by now has been further enhanced with modern buildings clad in cringeworthy Russian bling.

After having checked in at the hotel we went out and strolled the former centre of Königsberg. Unfortunately we couldn’t get into the cathedral where Jörg’s mother and aunt had been baptized as there was a music rehearsal going on.

We then had a very nice dinner next to the river and went to bed early as we all were quite tired, especially Jörg.

It was for Jörg a memorable experience to see the roots of his mother’ side of his family and he felt a bit sad.