I knew that Poland was a nice country and the people there were very welcoming and friendly. But I was disappointed with what I saw, especially in the west. The east around Warsaw being nicer. Of course I can only write about what I saw on my route. Poznan, in the west, was so polluted that I would keep my visor down in hope it would help. The air was disgusting, I had never smelled something like that. The air was hazy too, full of polution. How do people live like this? I would not see something like this even in Russia, though there maybe I just couldn't smell it. The countryside around this area was nothing exciting, flat fields, small towns.. But the people were great and friendly. Throughout the country life seems simple, not yet too modernized, for example you can see farmers plowing their fields with horses, most cars are eastern European made and are small and look old. This is all compared to us in the west anyway. No one speaks English or French. I stopped at a big hotel to ask a question but they didn't speak English there either. From Poland on the art of sign language becomes real useful. If you want to eat chicken, make like a chicken. If you want water, I found saying it with a German accent works, Vater!! GAZ!! for fuel. And so on.. And unlike in Europe or other countries it looks like there aren't many Polish words that are similar to those in English and French. For example if I asked for coffee they wouldn't understand. By the way, do you know what is the most universal word in the world? Coke. That's what I've been told anyway, and it works great. Anywhere you go they'll recognize the name. Pepsi too. Another interesting point is that the Polish language is similar but not the same as Russian, but with a western alphabet, making signs readable. So the ride went well. The weather was good, it was sunny with patches of clouds at times. The temperature was comfortable, it must have been around 15 degrees. I reached Warsaw in the east and went to the center to find a bank to get money.
It wasn't easy to find since I couldn't understand the word for bank, but by asking people and some riding around I finally found one. The tricky part was I had to leave my bike fully loaded with my bags on while I went inside, so I parked it in front of a shop and asked if the staff could keep an eye on it, they were friendly and they did. I ran into the bank only to find this one couldn't exchange money to Belarussian, so I had to run down the street to this other place, they wouldn't do it either. Oh oh!! I didn't want to rely on an exchange office at the border in case there wasn't one but now I had no choice. I still got some cash in Polish currency, got back to my bike and headed for Belarus. Warsaw was an ok place. It was strange because one part of the city has skyscrapers and is relatively modern while the other part is old and historic. The new part I didn't like, the old part looked nice as you can see in the picture. Back on the road and leaving the city towards the east the countryside became nicer and the scenery improved. Still flat as a table there were forests, small villages, and farms. I got to see a sunset along the way. It was a nice ride.
When I reached the Belarussian border the line was even longer than it had been at the Polish border. That meant around a four to six hour wait. On a bike loaded with bags it wouldn't be fun, so I went to one of the border guards and told him that I was tired, cold, and had been riding all day and if there was a chance of cutting ahead. Which wasn't entirely true. They actually let me cut right to the Polish passport control. No one objected or seemed upset, instead people were curious and just looked at the machine, some came over. I had cut in front but just to get through the whole process, that meant the Polish control, then the Belarussian customs, and a vehicle check, would take almost two hours. The biggest delay came when the forms given to me to complete were only in Russian. I had to keep asking them what it all meant. And if any of them spoke English it was only a few words. This is also when people really started to take an interest in the bike. In Poland people were sometimes curious at it but it was obvious most of them had seen such a machine before. But from Belarus on it was a different story. I would attract crowds in minutes, sometimes seconds. One of the strangest moments was when all these bikers and their friends on the bikes were going through customs next to me, maybe it was a group, you should have seen their machines and equipment. It's not something to laugh about, but it was hard not to, they must have been some of the first bikes and equipment invented. And almost all of them as they saw me they would come over or just stare. I had to work hard to keep from laughing because it was so strange to see, at times a smile would crack up. I'm talking almost 1950's bicycles with small engines on them, and this guy and this girl on it with ski helmets and goggles on. It looked like that anyway. It was obvious I was entering a region that was much different than what I was used to seeing, and in a much different economic state. Just by looking at the people there, their cars, and their belongings, you could see the obvious differences to the west. It was interesting. What added a sense of interest was the army like setup of the border and the border guards. It looked like I was entering the Soviet Union with soldiers guarding gates, fences going from one place to the other. What I saw that night is difficult to put into writing, but I knew I was in for a ride once I crossed that border. After several checks and red tape I was allowed to continue, on through a checkpoint, and then to another gate where they told me to stop. They told me I had to pay a required medical insurance fee of $2 and I could only pay in Belarussian money, but I didn't have any, only in Polish. There were no exchange booths, or none that were opened. So finally after a long wait they asked a traveler going into Poland to exchange the money, I paid that $2 and was on my way.
The moment I entered Belarus I fell off the face of the earth as I knew it. I was now in a real post communist country with all the stuff that comes with it. The soldiers, the police in their camouflage uniforms, the culture, the corruption, somewhat bad roads, a language and alphabet I couldn't even pronounce, of course I couldn't communicate with anyone, and the list goes on. Just the first few moments riding away from the border through the checkpoints with soldiers and everyone staring at me, the signs in Russian.. This was going to be interesting. Unlike visiting other countries in Europe this was completely different. Since it was late I decided to go to the nearby city, Brest, to find a hotel. I couldn't read any signs so I headed the direction I thought it was in and then asked some police officers for directions, fortunately they understood Brest. I'll remember riding down that street almost every pedestrian would just stare at me in surprise. If I stopped I had a crowd that would gather around. I couldn't believe it and kept laughing in my helmet. It took a while but I found a hotel and it had a secured parking but even then that wasn't safe. Just to show how it was as soon as I parked in front of the hotel to go register, I had a group of guys that kept crowding around the bike. I did what I could but couldn't get them to go away. Even two police officers joined the group, staring at it. I kept an eye on them and went in to register, always running back to the window to check. Fortunately there was a currency exchange booth there so I exchanged my money and paid for the room. It was about three times more expensive than what I had planned for, but because it was late, there was secured parking, and no other hotels around there, I had no choice. I rode the bike to the parking and went to my room. The hotel was a big one, and it looked nice inside, the rooms were ok and looked as if I was back in the sixties. I then went to the restaurant. It was funny then because no one spoke English, and it wasn't obvious to order food. To celebrate my arrival I ordered a shot of Vodka, they understood that one. I'll always remember just laughing by myself at all of this, I couldn't believe what a different world this was. The people, the culture, the buildings, the architecture, everything was different. This is traveling. The food and the vodka was good, it cost almost nothing. That brings up a subject, the Belarussian currency. For around $80 I think I had around 1,500,000 of whatever they called it, I'll call it a ruble, even though it's not correct. Some of the bills said 500,000, some 100,000, others 1000, and 500. It was confusing and I had no idea how it all worked. At first I would have no choice but to show my stack to them and let them pick, fortunately no one would ever take more than they had to. Next