Cold winds, busy roads, flash looking cars, stressed people - welcome back to Europe.
Tadek’s alarm failed again, and we woke up with only 30 minutes to shower, dress, eat, and launch the bikes and bags into the Scooby. Mission not accomplished, we finally left 30 minutes later than planned. Even though we were braving the rush hour through Basingstoke and onto the M3/M25 motorways, we had no problems and arrived at Gatwick South Terminal with plenty of time to spare. Straight to the check in desk where all was going smoothly with our sour faced check-in assistant from Virgin Atlantic, when Teresa decided to keep to the rules and inform the airline that we were carrying a MSR multi-fuel cooking stove and empty (brand new) fuel bottles.
Off went Miss Miserable to find a supervisor and we were kept waiting for 10 minutes with no news. She finally returned with a glamorous supervisor caked in make-up who was in radio contact with their ‘cargo’ manager. The actual stove and fuel pump could be loaded (although they had both been used and smelt of fuel), but the empty, new bottles could not. Tadek lost the plot and was on the verge of being offloaded for aggressive behaviour until a fellow, mellow passenger informed him that he had been arrested for something similar. Our flight with the fantastic BA, 4 days earlier had been no problem – we also notified them of the stove, but they were happy when we told them that no fuel was in the bottles. No post office at the airport meant that there was nothing that we could do with the bottles. A second supervisor came over to tell us ‘NO’ and we were left with little option but to book in the bags, minus the fuel bottles, with Miss Miserable, and try to find ‘Oversized Baggage’ to check in our bikes. Once in the relative secrecy of the Oversized Baggage room, on the spur of the moment we decided that we could pack the offending (freshly scrubbed) empty bottles in with our bikes as they would appear as it they were drinking bottles – actually, I would have been more than happy to use them as such and had indicated so to the ‘supervisors’. Bikes and bottles passed through the scan with no problems, and we left for passport control waiting for our names to be called over the tanoy and for us to both be offloaded ;-)
Some ten minutes later, we decided that all must be OK and tucked into the complementary Bailey’s in the departure lounge. Tadek finally calmed down as we got to the plane and realised that we had fooled the system.
We have already met four other cyclists on the their way to Cuba – 3 at check in, including one tandem, and another sitting next to us on the plane who will be travelling for 5 weeks on a second hand Claud Butler.
Arrived in Jose Marti Airport 40 mins late and had to wait until all other bags were off-loaded before the bikes came out. It took another hour putting the bikes back together, changed some money, bought some water and headed off to central Havana. We had thought it would be 15kms, but turned out to be 25kms. On the way, we passed lots of old cars on the way, mainly old American classics, but plenty of decrepit Ladas and Fiat 126s. Night time bakeries wafted pleasant smells through the fumes from the old bangers; everyone tried to help us, even an axe wielding old man who appeared on the dual carriageway outside of town in the complete darkness. We finally arrived at our booked Casa Particular to find that the booking agency had not actually booked it. The owner, Louis, quickly found us an alternative down the road, provided us with a coffee while we waited and even helped us with the luggage and bikes so all was more than well. Turns out we have an apartment with kitchen and expansive roof terrace. Tadek popped out to get some beers and we savoured the sounds and smells of old Havana while shivering from the unseasonably cold weather.
Four days in cold, frosty England are coming to an end. Jabs are complete, Bags are now wrapped in CTC plastic bike bags from Wiggle (hopefully the fact that the baggage handlers can see that the package is a bike will mean that they suffer less damage). Panniers have been packed into one large, zipped rucksack cover to keep within airline baggage regulations.
Dad is really looking forward to another motorway trip tomorrow. Gatwick in rush hour - bet he can't wait!
The weather deteriorated over the afternoon and more snow made driving conditions treacherous. Witek (Tadek's dad) could not drive with his summer tyres, so we decided to take public transport to the Okecie Airport. Out flight was at 7:40am, so we had to catch the first 189 bus from Sadyba. It took us 30 minutes to get the bike bags and panniers (see the photos on the Poland page to see why) to the bus stop - it usually take 5 mins walk! We expected to take 2 buses to get there, but the first connection was missed. We waited another 25 minutes at the windy bus stop (still minus 8 degrees). The 182 arrived labelled up to Okecia, but when as were settling in for the short trip to the terminal, the bus turned off in the wrong direction. We quickly hopped off a the next stop, but then had to drag all the equipment back up the road to catch yet another bus. Check in was easy and the flight was great (it's definitely worth paying more for British Airways, rather than suffer the rigours of the likes of Ryan Air).
The bikes had a fairly good trip too! Only one slight crushed pedal (which actually might have been a little bent before). Dad was there at the airport to take us the 40 mins back to Tadley. My home made bike box was a little big for the car, but we finally managed to get everything in. 4 days in England and then the adventure begins.
Teresa and Tadek
Inexperienced cycle tourists of Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Thailand, Laos & Cambodia