Following the Irish team through Euro 2012
11.06.2012 - 12.06.2012 20 °C
Our Poland adventure really began about 7 months before our flight touched down in Munich in June 2012, and as most great ideas are, it was born in a pub! Ireland were playing the first leg of the European playoffs in Talinn, Estonia on the 11th November 2012. We had all gathered in our local with a cautious optimism that perhaps this could be our year, but at the same time we were all afraid to get our hopes up having been disappointed so often in the past.
As the fourth Irish goal went in I remember turning to the table and stating in no uncertain terms: "We're going to Poland in the summer"!
DAY ONE - DUBLIN - MUNICH - 1374km
And so it came to pass that we landed on German soil in Munich on the 11th June, the day after Irelands first game in the tournament against Croatia. A disappointing 3-1 loss the night before had left us an uphill battle to qualify for the next stages with the international heavyweights of Spain and Italy yet to come. But that disappointment was somewhat offset by the fact we were now there.
St Ledger scores vs Croatia
The months of planning (by everyone but me!) were coming to fruition as our gang of ten not-so-hardy travellers set about picking up our transport and accomodation, the soon to be very smelly campervans that would house us for the next 10 days of shenanigans, tomfoolery, mischief, fun and frolics.
The camp had to split in two to pick up our vans and we arranged to rendezvous somewhere down the autobahn. 5 couples split 6 & 4 between the vans, an unusual mix of footy fans especially according to the guy who rented us the vans. In his own words Lorraine, Gemma and Eva were the first 'ladies' he had seen of the 100's of Irish fans he had rented to. Some precious brownie points earned for the lads on that one...not that they would last too long!
After Ste had foolishly volunteered his credit card for the safety deposit, the start of our journey was made with some trepidation! And by trepidation I mean a cold sweat and out of character caution for the drivers as we crept onto the autobahn.
Ste and Gemma in the van
2 hours down the autobahn and the 2 vans united in all their glory for the first time!
Our homes for the next 10 nights!
DAY ONE - MUNICH - BERLIN - 585km
We always knew the first day of our itinerary was going to be a long one. Thoughts of powering straight through Germany and reaching our intended destination of Leba on the North Polish cost were soon cut short when the realism of campervan travel and the distances involved hit home. So the more realistic target of Berlin and a campsite on the outskirts was set.
It was getting dark as we pulled off the autobahn 7 hours later and started the search for our campsite. It was some change from the monotony of the German motorway to the backroads, we even had to swerve to avoid a deer at one stage! And the roads are that bit thinner so manoeuvering the 3.5 tonnes of campervan became that bit more delicate, but it was nothing compared to some of the Polish backroads that we would face the next day!
So we settled into our first campsite (and delicious beers) of the trip and watched idly by as Ste took care of all the electricity and water. It was a quiet first night as the 3 hours of sleep from the night before and the drive caught up on us all. Also we were only halfway to Leba and an early start awaited us in the morning.
Morning in the campervan
DAY 2 - BERLIN - LEBA - 400KM
After an inevitable later than expected start on day 2 we were on our way again, and some interesting sights, roads and weather lay ahead!
We passed the border into Poland without any major transition, but within a couple of miles we started to spot the little differences between the 2 countries. The motorway soon enough became a dual carraigeway and then even sooner just a main road. Road signs became that bit rarer (especially speed limits!) and the surroundings changed as well. As we ventured further into Poland we started to pass through small villages that would be gone in a flash, similar to Irish country pubandpetrolstation villages. The countryside was vast and the villages very rural. The high powered Mercs and Audis of the German autobahn made way for older smaller cars and the occasional horse and cart (which make overtaking on the small winding roads very interesting!).
Our little convoy had been ticking over nicely on the Polish roads for a couple of hours, just relaxing and taking in the sights, when the sat nav lady informed us to take the next exit off the main road. The exit turned into an effective single lane, unsignposted, directed worryingly away from the small signs of civilisation and into the deep countryside. We were still 2 hours from our destination so this couldnt be the turn?? After some inter-campervan debate on the walkie talkies we decided we had to just take it and trust the satnav! About 2 minutes off the main roads with us already feeling dubious.....a big storm started to add to our worries!
Polish backroads to Leba
Sheets of rain pounded the windscreens causing torrents of water on the road whilst huge bolts of lightning ripped across the skies. The narrow road was flanked by ditches on either side and potholes in the middle! The road appeared to be just wide enough for our vans and little else, but we learned that in fact buses could actually pass us by at speed missing us by inches! It was 2 hours of excitement and near misses for the passengers, and just sheer nerves of steel for the 2 drivers! We did make it in one piece though and the storm even cleared up just as we pulled into the beautiful beach town of Leba. We parked up outside our campsite for the next 2 nights, and the two sweat drenched exhausted figures of our drivers Ste and Eoin embraced....they hadn't been quite as cocksure of themselves as they'd let on. In fact they admitted theyd been terrified for most of the last 2 hours!
We had arrived in Poland, we were by the beach, and our holiday could begin....beers were now in order! And while we're on the subject a particular mention has to go out to the Polish brewarys: the beer in Poland is sublime and has converted not just ourselves but im sure the tens of thousands of Irish who made it to Poland.
Leba is a beautiful seaside town on the Baltic coast and the campsite we stayed in was a much classier affair than what we had been expecting for this trip. We got 2 excellent spots parked up beside each other, put out the awnings, setup some log benches, started a fire with some marshmallows, busted out the guitar and started singing some camp fire diddlies! Well the parking part of that sentence is true.
Ste and Lorraine
Just havin a laugh
In fact we relaxed into the start of our holiday, played some football to get in the mood and laughed hysterically at Eoin falling over the benches beer in hand chasing the ball.
A walk into the town that night nearly left us stuck for dinner, everywhere appeared to be closed and Poland were playing in the tournament that night as well so for a while it didnt look like we would be fed. We wandered into an empty bar with no customers and some staff just sitting watching the match so we were not expecting much, but it turned into a great night. Plenty of food and beer had watching the games with the staff, Shanes 'Strong' pizza....which he wasn't man enough to eat, Emers surprise birthday cake of assorted muffins, the incident which shall henceforth be known as 'salami-gate', and even an over zealous security guard at the campsite on the way home! The holiday was off to a good start!
Awwww the lovely birthday couple!
For our second day in Leba the sun came out and we had to hit the beach! We were all taken aback by the size of the beach and the brightness of the white sand, it was like a clean Brittas Bay! The men set about playing footy with beers, whilst the 'ladies' settled down into gossiping with wine...or whatever it is they do when we're not around?!
Representing the local
Playing football on the beach is exhausting, and had to be interrupted by many a drinks break. Eventually we settled on a shoot out to determine the loser - who was to be dunked into the sea. Whilst taking penalties a local auld lad in his speedos joined in and embarrassed both Ste and Kev, but Kev was up for more embarrassment as his feeble efforts at penalty taking resulted in the 4 of us flinging him into the sea! Not that it was much of a punishment as we all ended up jumping in two minutes later.
The gang on Leba beach
This was a proper start to a holiday, sun sea and, em, sand (well with 10 of us sharing 2 campervans there wasnt gonna be much of anything else going on!).
As the sun went down we remembered again why we were there, the football! So back to the campsite for dinner and to the bar to watch that evenings games. It was all just a distraction though, an appetiser for the next day and the next stage of the trip, for the next city was Gdansk, and the big game versus the World Champions! Ireland vs Spain in the European Championships 2012......what could possibly go wrong???