On October 31st last year, I posted a short message to Twitter that I intended taking a break from the whole ‘Cycling Europe’ thing to spend a bit more time doing everything else in life. I signed off saying that I would be back on January 1st 2022 and, right on cue, here I am. Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a good Christmas and are all set to make the coming year better than the previous two…
I’ve not been entirely inactive on the ‘Cycling Europe’ side of things since the end of October however, and I have mentioned on here my trip to Scotland to speak to a gathering organised by Cycling UK Scotland in Stirling. I took the opportunity of travelling up to Scotland with the bike and made a short film about the weekend trip – predominantly the journey back from Stirling to Edinburgh – that you can watch on YouTube. I also gave a talk in York in early November, an event that had been planned to take place when no one had ever heard of COVID let alone caught it. It was good to finally have the chance to travel over to Acombe and it served as a useful rehearsal for the talk in Stirling a few weeks later.
Away from the cycling, my other life – as a teacher – has seen some evolution in the past couple of months. Since the first lockdowns were announced (and when the schools were open) I have spent the vast majority of my time working at my local secondary school teaching a diverse range of subjects. So much so that I have agreed with the school to become a permanent member of the teaching staff as from January 4th. With it being my local school and with me having committed to work there for the whole of last term, I decided to leave the car at home and commuted to work on foot almost every day in November and December. This has proved very useful… In that tweet that I posted on October 31st I stated that I wanted to spend more time ‘reading, watching and listening’. Hand on heart, I can’t say that I engaged in significantly more reading and watching in the final two months of 2021, but I certainly did a lot more listening and it was my walks to and from school – 45 minutes in each direction – that provided ample opportunity for me to let my, err… feet(?) do the listening. So what did I listen to?
I’ll answer that question in a few moments but, if you remember, my big cycling plan for 2022 is to circumnavigate the Baltic Sea on a route inspired by EuroVelo 10, the Baltic Sea Cycle Route. My initial thoughts were to attempt the cycle in a clockwise direction starting in Germany then travelling through Denmark, Sweden etc… over a period of three months. The problem with cycling around the Baltic has always been Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave that throws up all kinds of administrative issues with visas etc… I am of the generation which has grown up not knowing what it was like not to have the freedom to travel and work within Europe. Thanks to Brexit (the gift that just keeps on giving…) that’s no longer the case. But let’s not head down that rabbit hole to hell. Fortunately, ‘freedom’ to travel (albeit limited to a period of 90 days) remains in place for British citizens in the EU (just forget any thoughts of working there…). Kaliningrad isn’t, of course, part of the EU but I sense that British citizens are now been treated more harshly than citizens of the EU when it comes to ease of travel to Russia, including Kaliningrad. Wouldn’t it be easier just to miss it out on any trip around the Baltic? Well, yes, it would. What’s more, with my new permanent teaching job, I now find myself in a position of no longer being able to take three months off during the summer. My summer holidays will ‘only’ be eight weeks. Is that enough time to circumnavigate the Baltic? Probably, but a few modifications will be needed to the original plan.
Perhaps I should have included ‘thinking’ as one of my list of things to do more of during the ‘Cycling Europe’ holiday as I certainly did a lot of that. The result is that I have come up with an updated plan for my cycle around the Baltic in July and August of 2022. It’s summarised quite well in this graphic:
If you look carefully, you will see that I have revered the direction of travel. It has now become a cycle in an anti-clockwise direction. This allows me to travel immediately from Kiel in Germany to the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda, just to the north of Kaliningrad. Problem solved! This change of direction also allows me to get into the heart of the action without having to retrace my steps through Denmark. It’s a wonderful country through which to cycle; I know as I cycled through it back in 2015 on a route very similar to the EuroVelo 10 between the German border and Copenhagen. By heading immediately in the direction of Lithuania, however, I can, after just a week of travelling, be in a place which is all new to me. That’s a far more exciting prospect than having to retrace my steps for a couple of weeks through Denmark. You can read the notes I have added to the map for other comments regarding St. Petersburg and the Gulf of Bothnia but you’ll note that Trelleborg offers several alternative routes towards the end of the trip. From the perspective of January 2022 the ferry to the Polish border town of Swinoujscie looks the best one to choose as this would then allow me to cycle the north coast of Germany to Lübeck, but if time is short, I also have an option of heading straight back to Lübeck on a ferry. If I had lots of time, perhaps even a cycle through Denmark? The downside of this change of direction is that the Polish coastline has, along with Kaliningrad, been removed from the itinerary. Perhaps if I had the time upon arrival in Swinoujscie I might be able to head east for a few days before doubling back and continuing into Germany?
So what did I listen to on all of those morning and evening walking commutes during November and December? Well, below is the complete list of podcasts that took me away on not one but two clockwise journeys around the Baltic Sea in the winter months of 2021. Of particular note are the programmes made by Misha Glenny in his excellent ‘The Invention of…’ series for BBC Radio 4. Click on the name of each country to reveal the complete list of podcasts:
Lost & Found: Helsinki (ABC, February 2019)
Witness History: Finland Wins Independence from Russia (BBC, December 2017)
Witness History: Finland’s Winter War (BBC, February 2015)
Crossing Continents: Finland’s Race to Go Carbon Neutral (BBC, December, 2019)
The Educators: what Finland Did Next (BBC, December 2015)
In Our Time: The Building of St. Petersburg (BBC, April 2009)
Edgelands: Kaliningrad (The Telegraph, July 2018)
A to Tsar of Russia with Adrian Chiles: Kaliningrad (BBC, June 2018)
From Our Own Correspondent: Kaliningrad Attempts to Forge a Future (BBC, March 2005)
The Trip: Drinking St. Petersburg (October, 2018)
Witness History: From Leningrad to St. Petersburg (BBC, April 2021)
Time well spent! If you’d like to read more about the cycle around the Baltic, the ‘EuroVelo 10: The Baltic Sea Cycle Route (2022)‘ page of the website has been updated to reflect the changes mentioned above.
Talking of podcasts… The Cycling Europe Podcast – which is now in the top 3% of podcasts worldwide – has also been taking a break over the winter months but, fear not, it is about to return. Episode 41 will be published in the next few days and it will feature a German man talking about his own cycle around the Baltic Sea so listen out for that; perfect for your commutes to work! Upcoming episodes will feature the usual mix of people from the cycling world so stay tuned…
In the meantime, let’s hope that 2022 is a far better one than either of 2020 or 2021. Surely it can’t be worse… Happy New Year!
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Thanks for the update Andy. I hope Omicron doesn’t delay your trip!
Thanks Simon. Yes, COVID continues to be a concern but I remain hopeful that by the summer, the situation may have improved and permit country-to-country travel within Europe. Hope you have a good year 🙂