Day 4: Sunday 16th August

We are up early and resolve that we’ll make an early start. No fresh water point to fill up but grey water dumped down a drain on the service area and we’re on the road at 08.12! It’s not that far to the Polish border but we’re in for a bit of a surprise, and a foretaste of what is to come, when we’re about 40km from Szecin. The surface on our carriageway of the 10/E28 suddenly deteriorates (the other side has recently been resurfaced) and we are given a bone-shaking juddering ride for about 4km over a surface that seems just like very badly laid concrete. Have to slow right down to make it bearable but even so it is very, very bad, the whole van shakes and vibrates violently.

It’s another beautiful sunny day and by lunchtime it’s baking hot at 29 degrees. We’re over the border and into Poland now and while the trunk roads are in reasonable condition the roads in the first two towns we pass through are very rough, with big ruts and potholes. The countryside is attractive with pine forests and fields but it’s not like the south that we saw a lot of a couple of years ago. Whereas there you find the countryside dotted with farmsteads, here the farming seems on a bigger scale with large fields and houses collected together in villages. Perhaps this area was collectivised or subject to state farming before the fall? The fields are large and generally put to wheat with beetroot, sweetcorn and other vegetables in between. There are gentle hills and a few lakes along the way.

We manage to pick up some water at a BP petrol station on the A10 between Starygard and Bydgoszcz. It’s a relief because we were on our last few drops. At Bydgoszcz we try to shop in a Netto store but they take only cash and we have no zlotys. The cash machine outside isn’t working so we move on to a Polo market in the next town – it accepts plastic so we stock up a bit.

Progress is limited today not so much by bad roads as by speed limits (90 kph max), numerous villages (40 kph max) and cameras all along the way. You just get up a decent speed and then you have to change down again – very tiring. East of Szezecin the road is single carriageway and a heavy traffic stream has built up.

Around 6.30pm we turn off the E261 just before Grudziad and look for a stopover spot. We find a rarely used track under some apple trees between some recently harvested wheat fields just outside the village of Gruczno. The stubble is illuminated gold as the sun goes down – fabulous! After a tuna and pasta dinner we walk into the nearby village to have a look round. There are a few teenagers strolling the main street and then we find a bar called ‘Night Club’. Jill is reluctant (just washed her hair and it’s gone frizzy) but after persuasion she agrees we should try for a beer – if they take euros as we have no zlotys.

Inside a dozen men appear well oiled and we arouse some interest as we go in. There’s a woman behind the bar who we try to communicate with but it proves impossible. She indicates to us to hold on and she disappears to return with ‘Bob’ a few minutes later. Bob is a Pole but he speaks reasonably good English – which is not surprising as he is a motor mechanic just home for a few weeks from his workplace in Burton on Trent! We explain our problem to him, that we want two beers but have no zlotys, and he promptly orders the beers. We assume they’ll be on him but when the woman produces the beer Bob looks to us to pay! We again show we have only euros and both now express surprise! Bob tells her we have no zlotys and I tell her to take 5 euros, about twice what the beers would cost, and she does so though still bemused. At least everyone seems happy and we chat for over an hour with Bob about everything under the sun including Poles, English, Pakistanis, Muslims and Russians. At one point a young man joins us and declares himself a Man U supporter and I say I support Liverpool. We have a laugh about the prospects of each team in the coming season with the player changes that have affected Man U and the absence of any new big names at Liverpool. Bob warns us about Russia – ‘it’s a wild country’ he says, before admitting that he has never been but his brother has and he has told him all about it.

Several times we are interrupted by drunken elderly Poles who insist on shaking hands. One of these refuses to loosen his grip, appearing to need my support to stay upright. Finally he lets go and then staggers backwards in a daze and at an angle before being saved from crashing into the stairs by another drunk who catches him as he falls.

At the end of the evening Bob asks for our address and as he seems like a decent chap we hand it over enthusing at seeing him again once we get back. He compliments Jill on her youthful looks, not believing she is 63, and then, after prompting, says the same about me! We stroll back to the van under the stars, enjoying the warmth of a pleasant evening followed by a restful night.

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