Tag Archives: ticks

Vilnius to Siveri 24-29 June 2012

It’s so good to be back on the road!  Keith’s knee is not fully recovered so we’re taking it very easy and keeping a close watch on it, but knee worries notwithstanding it’s a delight to once again be pedalling past rustic wooden cottages, rolling meadowland and peaceful woods.

Keith outmanoeuvring Tamar…yet again.

We’ve slipped into a lazy routine of dozing in the tent until 11ish, then having a late breakfast and packing up in a leisurely fashion to be on the road for around 1pm.  We stop for a snack, supermarket shopping and a game or two of backgammon around 3 or 4pm and then do another hour or so of pedalling in the early evening, generally covering 50-60km a day.  Tailwinds most days have helped keep the pace up without straining Keith’s knee too badly.  Every day it seems a little less swollen and perhaps a little less hot to touch, but recovery feels very slow.

We almost didn’t leave Vilnius on the 24th as at lunchtime Keith noticed that not only was his knee swollen, but his ankle and shin had puffed up too, but there was no pain or heat in them so he decided to stick to plan A and start pedalling; and thankfully the swelling disappeared from his lower leg after a couple of days.

Our lazy schedule means that as well as time for some seriously competitive backgammon, I have amused myself by prettifying the Pino.  For some reason, our latest frame came without decals and I thought it looked terribly plain, and so just couldn’t resist the 3D butterfly stickers I spotted in the supermarket.  Keith remains unconvinced, but I think you’ll agree they make the Pino look quite beautiful.

Prettified Pino

Keith has put his time to a more practical application: stringing up a washing line in the large vestibule so that stinky socks can be dried outside the sleeping compartment.

I’ve also finished off all 24 Tarzan books.  My favourite line comes in the final book, which was written in 1944.  The eponymous hero is helping some Americans beat the Japanese in Sumatra (as you do) and the Americans are unaware of his true identity, knowing him only as Colonel Clayton.  Circumstances dictate that ‘the ape-man’ sheds his clothes and takes to the trees.  The Americans joke that he’s a ‘regular Tarzan’ but when he single-handedly slays a tiger armed with just his knife, one of them realises that he actually IS Tarzan.  His lower-ranking compatriot, who is not so quick on the uptake says “Wot, is he dat Johnny Weismuller?”  Well, it made me laugh anyway.

In our own little bit of wilderness, we may not have to build bomas or sleep wedged into the crotch of a tree to avoid marauding carnivores, but we do seem to spend a fair amount of time waging war against somewhat smaller combatants.  We’ve encountered far more ticks this year than last.  Keith’s had two and I’ve had three so far (one nestled into my belly button, which was particularly irksome to evict), and we’ve removed countless more from the tent before they could make a greater nuisance of themselves. We’re very grateful to Nina and Clive who bought us the tick-tweezers.  They’re brilliant!

I’ve also been bitten or stung by various unidentified creatures.  I’m pretty sure I’ve had three wasp stings (no sign of the perpetrator but they feel and look like wasp stings) and last night I hopped out of my wet cycling kit into some dry trousers only to have to hop out again a few minutes later as I became aware of a burning sensation on my thigh.  All I could find was a small black ant, the same as the ones which we’ve had running over us in the tent for weeks now with no ill-effect so I don’t think it was that, but nonetheless I have 3 itchy raised lumps on my leg.

Happiness is a bug-proof smock!

Our biggest triumph to date in the battle against the bugs has been the purchase of two mosquito-mesh smocks, which we picked up in the supermarket as we were leaving Vilnius.  They were less than half price (about £3.50 each) and definitely money well spent.  Combined with a mosquito-coil they make life outside the tent much more pleasant.  Oh, and by the way, citronella candles don’t work so don’t waste your money.

It took us three days of pedalling from Vilnius to reach the point at which we’d previously turned back due to Keith’s knee, and it was a good feeling to get past that and onto unfamiliar roads.  We have left Lithuania and are now in Latvia.  On our initial schedule Keith had anticipated being in Moscow by now, and indeed had emailed friends a few weeks ago to say ‘We’ll be in Moscow in 3 weeks’.  History has shown that men before him have had similar aspirations and seen them thwarted, so I’ve told him not to make such bold statements in future.   Don’t tempt fate and all that.

We stopped for lunch yesterday in the pretty town of Kraslava, on the Daugava river.  The river has played an important role in the development of the town, and its coat of arms is a silver boat on a blue background.  The boat has five oars to symbolise the five national roots of the town’s inhabitants: Latvians, Russians, Belorussians, Poles and Jews.  The leaflet we picked up from tourist info elaborated further on the crest’s meaning: “We are in the same boat, so we should row together.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if we all felt like that?

All rowing together in Kraslava.

Back in the Vilnius campsite we’d picked up a leaflet of Latvian campsites, predominantly because it contained a rough roadmap that would be sufficient to link the end of our Lithuania map (part way into Latvia) to the start of our Russian maps (a gap of about 100kms) and meant we wouldn’t need to buy a map for Latvia, however, we noticed there was a campsite marked on our route that was next to a lake and offered showers, toilets, sinks, a playground, football, swimming, boating, fishing and internet access.  Yay!  So, in the interests of resting Keith’s knee we decided to take a day out at the campsite.

After 4km of pedalling along a soggy dirt track we finally found it.  There’s a lovely lake, some rowing boats, a nice table and bench above which the campsite guys erected a gazebo to keep the rain off us, and only two other guests: a Swiss couple who are motorbiking around Europe for 4 months.

The facilities were not quite as advertised though.  There’s a single chemical toilet, no taps, no showers and no wifi.  We were told internet could be provided very slowly via a USB, but, as we were to discover the next day after preparing the blog entry, the USB connection was only available on the first evening we were there, as after that the USB had left the site with one of the guy’s sisters.

For drinking water we’ve been given a 5 litre bottle of water which we’ve been told is drinkable tap water brought in from off-site, but the green gunge on top when we opened it didn’t look too healthy so it went through our water filter before going anywhere near our lips, and when we asked about showers we were told that the lake is clean enough to wash in.  That’s as maybe, but it’s damn cold!

The shower and laundry facilities at Camping Siveri

Still, it’s lovely and peaceful, with no motor-homes, some frogs hopping about, dragonflies wheeling and diving, a small flock of goldfinches bouncing and chirruping in the trees and even the occasional snake swimming sinuously across the surface of the lake.  And, unexpectedly, the waste facilities comprise a row of four burgundy wheelie-bins courtesy of Chichester District Council.  We’d love to know the story behind that!

We took a boat out for a couple of hours on the lake this afternoon, and rowed out to an island and back, which was very relaxing and knee-friendly.

PS – This entry was written at the lakeside campsite in Latvia on 29 June, but is being posted from Russia on 2 July.  You’ll have to wait for the next blog instalment to hear about our border crossing and what we’ve been up to since leaving the campsite.  Keith’s knee continues to improve though, despite some longer days on the bike, so we’re very happy about that.

Munster to Berlin 13 – 22 May 2012

Hailstorms, heatwaves, broken spokes and one cool capital.

Old bike transformed into a cycle-path sign

One of the quirkier pieces of signage on Europa Radweg R1

We left Munster on the Europa Radweg R1.  This cycle route runs 3,500 km through 9 countries, from Boulogne-Sur-Mer in France to Saint Petersburg in Russia.  We’re using the Bikeline Cycle Touring Book, which is the same series we used to follow the Danube last year.  They have good maps showing which sections of the route are paved, unpaved, traffic-free or otherwise, and where the campsites are.  They also have loads of information about tourist attractions en-route, but unfortunately the one we have this year is in German so we can only understand about 1 in 40 words.

German village seen across field of rapeseed

The sunny yellow fields didn’t make us feel any warmer in the bitingly cold wind. Nice to look at though.

The R1 cycle route does meander somewhat, avoiding busy roads and taking in as many tourist attractions as possible, so we’ve adapted it to our own needs.  We’ll often cut corners by taking busier roads, or set out ‘off the page’, relying on the compass to pick up the map a few pages further along having missed out a lengthy meander.

Apart from a couple of hilly days skirting around the edge of the Harz mountains, the route has been predominantly flat – perfect for getting us back to fitness without destroying ourselves in the process.  We’ve passed through picturesque villages and towns, across rolling farmland, through dappled forests and leafy glades, and bumped our way over more ‘ye olde cobbled streets’ than our wheels would really appreciate.  Apart from the indifferent weather it’s been a really relaxing and enjoyable start to the tour.

Quedlinburg Rathaus

In front of the Rathaus in beautiful Quedlinburg

We haven’t done a huge amount of sight-seeing en-route, deciding to save it for Berlin.  We’re concentrating for the most part on getting some distance covered as we’re very conscious of the lateness of the season if we want to get to warmer climes by the winter, but most days we seem to arrive in a picturesque town at lunchtime and spend some time admiring the old buildings.

Places of note have been Dessau (home of the Bauhaus movement), Wittenberg (where Martin Luther did some reforming), Einbeck and Quedlinburg (both of which have lots of beautifully painted old half-timbered buildings) and Park Sanssouci in Potsdamer (palatial gardens).

Date on old house of 1545

‘Ye Olde Painted Woodworke’ in Einbeck

It’s been quite a challenge to spot the difference between former west and east Germany….there’s no obvious border, but just a gradual realisation that there’s perhaps a higher proportion of utilitarian buildings in amongst the pretty ones, and that more and more roads, particularly the lower-category roads, are cobbled instead of tarmac, and that there’s far fewer solar panels (which seem to be in abundance on barns and farms in particular in the west of the country).

To be honest though, the most significant differences don’t seem to relate to former east/west divides, but are rather more to do with current area administrative boundaries.  Some areas have invested heavily in silky-smooth tarmac on their cycle-paths, and others have not.  In fact, in Brandenburg, the cycle-path surfaces are so superior to the road surfaces that Keith has actually been using the cycle-paths without demur!

Bauhaus architecture in Dessau

One of the ‘Meisterhausers’. Bauhaus architecture in Dessau

The only downside to the trip so far (rubbish weather notwithstanding) has been the mysterious breakage of three spokes in two days.  Last year we broke just one spoke in 11,500km, so this year we weren’t too pleased to have our brand new ones start to go after just 1000km.  Usually spokes break at the elbow (the bend where they insert into the hub)….but ours have all broken inside the nipple (where they insert into the rim)…and all are on the non-drive side.  Any idea what’s going on….anyone?

The weather (as mentioned) has been pretty cr*p:  very cold and windy, and until a few days ago, very wet, with the odd torrential hailstorm thrown in for good measure.  But at last the summer seems to be arriving and the last 3 days have been a bit of a heat wave, which has made a nice change.  Prior to that Tamar had been so cold at night that she’d not taken her clothes off for the eight days straight that we’d been wild camping.  A big thumbs-up for merino wool!

Despite being bundled up in winter clothes a tick still managed to attach itself to a momentarily bared leg, but we now have some fine-tipped tick-removing tweezers that worked a treat (unlike our efforts last year).

The terraced vineyards at Schloss Sanssouci, Potsdam

Terraced vineyards at Schloss Sanssouci, Potsdam

The route has taken us through lots of forested areas so finding wild campsites has been pretty easy. A variety of wildlife has taken a keen interest in the tent.  One site was awash with caterpillars….from tiny threadlike ones, to pale green inchworms, to sturdy black undulating b*ggers…all intent on attaching themselves to the tent.  The following night it wasn’t caterpillars, but spiders who were determined to take up residence.  Small black shiny ones, spear-head-shaped stalking ones, long-legged fragile ones and some interesting radioactive-looking bright green ones.

The Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate….a symbol of both division and unity

On arriving in Berlin, the sun finally decided to make an appearance.  We found a nice campsite about 15km out of the centre, but with great bike-route leading in to the main tourist attractions.  We then spent a day looking at the few remaining bits of the wall and sating our curiosity at the DDR Museum: a small but fabulous, privately-run museum that’s set out in an innovative hands-on way. Several happy hours were spent poking around inside a mocked up ‘concrete slab apartment’, opening cupboard doors, looking at clothes, books, magazines and foods, watching movie clips and listening to music.  We read about state-run communal potty-training, sat in a Trabant and then in a somewhat more luxurious Volvo used by party leaders.

Artwork from the East Side Gallery - on the remains of the Berlin Wall

An image from the East Side Gallery….1.3km of artwork on what’s left of the Berlin Wall.

We’ve been impressed with Berlin.  It’s a great city to cycle in. Flat, with wide roads and sensible, workable cycle provision.  Not too much traffic either.  It’s a nice mix of old, new and ‘still-under-construction’, all set around a web of waterways.  Add it to your list of places to visit if you haven’t already.

The Reichstag, Berlin

Berlin’s impressive Reichstag…but you have to apply 3 days in advance to go inside. 🙁 The dome looks great…full of enticing spiral walkways.

We’re about to head off again this afternoon (22 May) and should reach Poland in a couple of days time.