Day 5: Monday 17th August
After a hazy start with a little cloud around we have another beautiful sunny morning. We get on the road early again, at 08.20.
East of Grudziadz the road deteriorates and our speed is limited to 50 kph. They are working on it in patches. We stop for a break on a patch of rough ground in front of a couple of shops. As we arrive I notice a glass fibre model of a stork in a nest atop a telegraph pole by the car park. I chuckle at the local humour and think no more of it – until a few minutes later when it takes flight and I realise that it had been a live one all along! Good photo opportunity missed.
After the break we pass through the seaside resort of Ilawa, with its pink wedding cake town hall and a useful Lidl supermarket. Alcohol is processed through a separate till but they take cards so we’re OK.
A new bypass has been built around the next town, Olsztyn, and the satnav map does not yet have it – the maps have had less relevance for some time to what is actually present on the ground. We take the scenic route by mistake. East of Olsztyn there’s a stretch of new road – all too brief – and then back to the rough surface we are becoming used to.
At Mikstajki, on the 16, we enter the lake district of northern Poland – grand hotels, signs to what appear to be posh campsites and a bright and colourful resort with the streets thronged with families on their hols.
The next 300km of route 16 is a succession of good and bad surfaces – about one-third bad, some of it very bad, bumpy and narrow too. Elk is a pleasant spacious town on a pretty river of the same name and is one of several resort towns on the 16 with campsites (that we have no intention of using), lakes, boating and water sports. During this part of the trip we pass around ten motorhomes, German and Polish, with most giving the wave.
Beyond Elk we look for a place to stay, turning off the main road and driving a few km into the countryside. We find an open field, recently harvested, and pull in. There are some farmhouses in the distance but there’s no way of knowing if this is their field so we just settle in and hope for the best. Then I spot a chap wandering aimlessly around the next field so go and have a word. It turns out he is searching for frogs. No shared language but with gestures and sign language I make myself understood that we want to stay for ‘eine Nacht’ and he nods and we shake hands. I suggest he accept a beer from us and he agrees. This seals the deal and we are left in peace and again in great surroundings. A short while later we notice a stork in the field and take far too many photos of it – as it wanders closer and closer to us – this one too looking for frogs to eat. Apparently these small frogs eventually grow into giants and that explains the farmer’s interest. The bird book tells us that storks are not particularly wary of humans and commonly breed close to human habitations (unlike the forest dwelling black stork).
We’re five nights in and have not yet paid any campsite fees!