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After a busy day's rat-shopping ...
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... why not pop into the Rat Bar?
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Girls selling flowers in Międzyzdroje

It was another “bus day” but we managed to combine it with a little bit of sightseeing in Hameln first. It just seemed a shame to push on hastily without at least taking a look around. After a late breakfast in the cosy breakfast room downstairs and checking out, we parked Eddie in the central car park and took another stroll around the picturesque streets of old Hameln. This is Germany at its most picturesque with beautifully decorated sixteenth and seventeenth century merchant houses, such as the Rattenfängerhaus, the Dempsterhaus, the Leisthaus, and many more. There are references to the story of the pied piper everywhere. As for the legend itself, I won’t repeat it here, just try these links instead:

de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rattenfänger_von_Hameln

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied_Piper.

We drove out of Hameln and on the country roads through the green rolling countryside towards Hannover and then on the fast German autobahn to Berlin and beyond. The kilometres clocked by, we swapped driving several times. Ness had a kip while I topped up on coffee at a pit stop and on we went, past Berlin and headed for the Polish border. By mid-afternoon we had enough time left to cover the short remaining distance into Poland itself and aimed for the small seaside town of Międzyzdroje, on the Baltic sea coast. The last section of “motorway”, through what used to be communist East Germany, consisted of much poorer quality tarmac, concrete blocks and potholes. At last it began to feel as if we were getting somewhere new and unfamiliar. For a little while I had already been pondering how strange it was to be driving so freely through what used to be the old DDR, behind what was once the Iron Curtain. Not that you could notice from where we were sat, zooming along the motorway. But past Berlin the roads got smaller and worse and here was a little reminder of what this country’s crumbling infrastructure must once have been like. We carried on to the Polish border, which we crossed with hardly any formalities. The German and Polish border guards sat next to each other in the same office and we were waved on with a schon gut and then we were in Country 22, counting the UK, Ireland, Belgium and Germany as four more on our world trip).

Almost immediately the whole environment changed. What little traffic there was drove very slowly, sticking to the speed limits – 50km/h, up to 70, back to 50, etc. Lots of trees on either side of the road. We seemed to be driving through one large forest which was only broken by some small villages when we passed through them. The villages reminded me of the poorer parts of Belgium: not too tidy, bits of paint missing, and some really looked worse for wear, although mostly they just looked less well built than the solid and tidy German houses we drove past yesterday and today. Driving through the forested stretches we saw many people selling berries along the roadside, sat with a few jars of blueberries they had presumably gathered from the surrounding forests. They just sit by the side of the road, some on little stools, waiting for cars to stop. Lots of little strawberry stalls too.

We made a stop at a Polish service station of sorts, a simple cabin with a snack bar and a Polish barbecue on the go. It smelled great but the meat looked like it had been there for quite a long time. Without being asked, two boys cleaned Eddie’s windows while we were sat on the patio – they could do with it anyway so that was fine, but a little trick we’ll have to watch out for. The only reason for stopping was to “make contact” with the country before just whizzing straight through it in our car. We couldn’t make out a word of Polish but got by with German and English for now. We’ll have to look up the essentials for “hello” and “thank you”. We carried on driving, heading north, past Szczecin (quite easy to pronounce once you get the knack of the fearsome “szcz” combination – it’s the same as the “shch” in pushchair). On quiet small roads all the way to the island of Wolin, on the Baltic Sea coast, right up against the border with Germany, although to us it felt, after several hours of driving, as if we had gone deep into the country. We missed a turn-off and ended at the other end of the island, where a local, “Polischer student”, pointed us in the right direction, after having tried to offer us a guesthouse and a window-clean.

Międzyzdroje itself was a small town with a laid-back atmosphere. At first it felt more Mediterranean than Germanic, with a slightly chaotic feel. There was no real town “centre”, as in a market square. We wiggled around and around through the leafy streets, past lots of stalls with barbecues and kebabs, pizzas and ice-cream (“lody”) and back round to try our luck at the large Marina hotel. It looked welcoming but was full. The receptionist suggested the Aurora hotel instead, by the seafront and pier, and called on our behalf. We drove there, parked Eddie behind the hotel and checked in, and got a nice room with a sea view, overlooking the square and pier below us. There was a small pier in front, people strolling about on an evening paseo along the tree-lined promenade. Lots of stalls, selling ice cream (“lody”), pizzas, kebabs.

We went for a walk around, an early evening stroll, and up and down the pier, seeing the same pair of girls selling single roses – I took a picture of them but didn’t have change to buy a flower from them for Ness. It was still bright daylight, the late summer evenings of northern latitudes. Music was playing from various quarters, an accordion player somewhere, thump thump disco-beat synthesisers elsewhere, all mixing together in a seaside cacophony, but still managing to stay on the background. Families and children were driving around in pedalos, reminding me of the Belgian seaside “from when I was little”. Kids with sticks of candyfloss, or with soft ice-cream piled high in a vertical twirl, teenagers holding hands, and older people ambling slowly along. Stalls with Polish barbecues, metal rotating skewers packed with slices of pork, pork fat and onions, with a lovely smoky smell coming from the coal and wood. We had a beer and some meat, a blutwurst, rather like “zwarte pensen”, from one of the stalls and sat under the umbrellas. A two-piece band played under a small cover, with a tiny bit of space as a dance floor, which was immediately filled with two couples twirling each other round and round to the cheesy tunes. Super atmosphere, priceless. Afterwards we had waffles from a stall in front of the hotel and finished with a drink at one of the small cafés inside the covered section at the start of the pier. The sky looked beautiful with varied colours and little clouds, a sky “in which something is happening” is how I tried to describe it. Back to our cosy room on the fourth floor. It was rather noisy. By now the clubs and dancings had fired up their speakers and the sound carried straight into our room until the early hours.