For the first time on this journey, right at the beginning, I realized that things are planned and then executed. I had a dream, I planned it and now I am living it. This was such a banal realisation but it hit me hard. I wanted to break into a big laugh when arriving on the beach in Ahlbeck. The euphoria rose in me as I slowly saw the sea appearing behind the dunes. The white sand on the beach and the children in yellow raincoats flying their kites looked like out of a picture book. A never-ending stream of German seniors walked along the surf while the seagulls were screaming. The sand was divinely white and warm.
I was the only one carrying a huge backpack on my back and a daypack on my chest. I walked a few steps and then stood still to take in this place. It would be 5 kilometres to Swinemünde, or Świnoujście as one says in Poland. The border was clearly marked on Google maps and not visible on the spot. I moved in a residual stop and go while taking pictures of the waves, the seagulls, and the sky. The 5 kilometres were taking me not one hour as Google maps had claimed, but almost three. I blamed it on the sand and the picture taking. This way, my completely untrained body, got its breaks naturally. I ate a banana and drank the water that I brought along. The wind and the sea brought a calmness that impressed me. The nervousness of the first day that solo travel brings settled and I soon heard the first Polish words. Although there was no longer an actual border, I heard almost exclusively Polish after crossing it. Boundaries in the head are more powerful than any fence could be. On the Polish side, the dunes were protected by a fence, behind which was a forest. Otherwise, everything looked exactly the same. In Świnoujście I would be camping. It was a small place full of luxury hotels and poor German tourists. It was beautiful there. The locals were a little sick of non-Polish speaking invaders and made it clear. I could hardly blame them, the German tourists I met there were dreadful.
Setting up the tent only took 15 minutes. Shortly after, my air mattress was blown up and my sleeping bag was arranged to my satisfaction. The old and heavy camping cooker was empty after 5 minutes of use. Instead of the noodles, I planned to eat, I returned to my bananas. The night was cold. I was deeply muffled in my sleeping bag and balanced on my super slim air mattress. It was wet and cold outside, in my warm cocoon, it was perfect. I was incredibly glad that the sleep decisions I had made turned out to be ok. I owned the right tent, the right air mattress, and the right sleeping bag. I was happy.
The next morning I set off for the city. For the first time, I saw lovingly maintained high-rise buildings and residential complexes inhabited with style, whose counterparts in Germany are sad places full of criminality and hopelessness. I met German-Polish history everywhere. The few old buildings that exist were beautiful and often run down. I explored the city and the way to the train station. Tomorrow I would make my way to Danzig, or Gdansk. I was quickly scouting my way to the train station on the other side of the river and once again, I stood on a ferry, passing huge grey warships. The crossing was free and I remembered something I heard in Kiel: Ferries across artificial waters are always free, a regulation which I will encounter all along the coast in the coming weeks. I appreciate the little facts that accumulate on this journey.
The German tourists were easily distinguishable from the Poles. Young Poles follow the same mostly American fashions as the young Germans, but they have their own twists. I saw some young men in suits, with nice leather shoes and an undercut, which in Germany one sees predominantly with students or people with tendencies to punk. Sometimes they had a child on their hand, some wore beautiful beards. This style reminded me of Vikings. The whole look was very masculine and at the same time somehow stylish-feminine. It made me smile because I know the pictures that inspire these men to dress like that and realize that these same pictures only reappear differently in German closets.
On the way back from the train station in Świnoujście I walked along the coast, saw some historical fortifications and world war memorabilia en mass. The most beautiful was Fort Aniola, an artist-run museum with a café in the courtyard. On the roof was a small rose garden, where I enjoyed an hour in the autumn sun, drinking my water in solitude. Now and then, music from the record player in the courtyard was drifting up. It was perfect up here.
As I continued, I decided to go around the last stretch of the beach. As a young woman all alone I was a little out of place. Some elderly gentlemen threw me sympathetic glances, while I ate yet another banana in the sun and eagerly took photos of the surrounding landmarks. The fishermen around me were fishing only until they had a rather small fish on the hook, then they took it off and got rid of the fish scale. They took it with them and went away. To me, this seemed strangely minimalistic. One of these fishes didn't seem to be enough for a good lunch...
As the sun went down and the air slowly cooled, I returned to my tent, checked the situation and then went to a small restaurant to eat alone for the first time on this trip. Since I had no hot meal the night before, I decided to get a small and excellent bowl of goulash with a proper beer. Turns out this was perfect. To my relief, I was surrounded by silent couples. Being alone can feel quite sad, but not when everybody is alone in the crowd. After paying, I went to the beach where I put on my oversized headphones and played some loud music. It was far from perfect but already pretty good...