For non-Polish speakers, it’s pronounced something like ‘Bid-Gosht’, and I hadn’t heard of the place before, but it was a pleasant surprise.
Our original plan for today (conceived once we knew Visby was out of bounds) had been to land at Poznan and stay for one or two nights. The weather looked favourable. But once the cost became apparent, I decided to make a fuel stop at Bydgoszcz and then proceed to Lubeck in Germany.
So I filed two VFR flight plans, departing Kaunas at 0930 local, with an hour on the ground at Bydgoszcz before proceeding to Lubeck. We would gain an hour as we moved timezone from Eastern to Central European, landing for our stop before 1030 local. If we decided not to continue, the second flight plan could easily be cancelled. All flight plans are filed in UTC/Zulu which helps, but changing timezones can still be challenging, especially when your electronic tablet/phone/watch automatically update.
We took a Bolt taxi to the airport, and it was the same friendly driver we’d had on arrival. He spoke no English but we managed well with gesticulations. This time he dropped us off at the museum entrance, where we were faced with an intimidating stop sigh on a sturdy-looking fence. The museum didn’t open until 10, but fortunately we found a local pilot who spoke English and directed us on how to gain access to our plane.
The tower at Aleksotas has a radio callsign, and was able to provide the QNH and other traffic information (in English and Lithuanian) but little else. This was quite proportionate for this size of airfield and I was very happy with that arrangement. We were advised to contact Kaunas Information for a squawk code and to open our flight plan, and reminded to fly outside (i.e. below) controlled airspace. With a helicopter visible ahead, who was on frequency but speaking only the local language, we took off and departed keeping low (below 1,000 AGL).
Squeaking between Russia/Khaliningrad and Belarus
Climbing slowly to remain below the Kaunas TMA, I was asked at what altitude I planned to cross the FIR boundary. Knowing that the danger areas on the Polish side extended up to 4,300 feet and I was flying VFR west, I had selected 4,500 (evens plus 500 ft) which caused no concerns. Only later did I realise that some of the danger areas to the north extend higher. We crossed the border about 15 miles south-east of Kaliningrad/Russia and 25 miles north-west of Belarus, seeing no other aircraft and hearing little on the radio. Just before crossing, we were passed across to Olsztyn Information who gave us a QNH and confirmed radar contact. It was quiet on frequency and the winds were a little turbulent occasionally even in the clear air.
Thankfully the autopilot had decided to work today, but I kept a close eye on it to ensure we didn’t deviate off course. It made for a much easier and gentle ride, with relatively little to cause concern. Poor navigation here could really get you into trouble.
Poland is quite a large country, and as we passed over it we saw a variety of landscapes – mostly fairly flat, some wood/forests, quite a lot of arable farms and a few lakes including lakeside towns. Relatively few wind turbines (we realised once we started seeing them again when we got to Germany).
During the flight I had been able to get updated METAR and TAF information for Lubeck, our final destination. The forecast had deteriorated and although IFR conditions were above minima, it wouldn’t be so enjoyable for sight-seeing. At this point, I had pretty much decided to stay overnight at Bydgoszcz where the weather was much better, and who knows when we might visit Poland again.
I confirmed that the Danger Areas and TMA that we would pass through were inactive, and climbed up to 6,500 feet for a smoother ride. The transition level here is FL80.
After a short period with Gdansk Information and with about 25 miles to go, we were switched to Bydgoszcz Tower (who were operating combined with Approach). I had already listened to the ATIS, and was simply instructed to descend to 2,500 feet routing direct to point Uniform and report two miles before. At that time, I was cleared into controlled airspace with a further routing via November and Papa. A helicopter was holding below us at Papa, and we were instructed to proceed there and expect to hold (which we did for a while). These aren’t the four minute IFR holding patterns, just orbiting approximately near the waypoint. Initially I tried to do this with the autopilot, but the turns were too steep and I reverted to manual control.
After a few orbits, we were told to position for base, with one ahead to land that I never saw. Late on base, given a landing clearance and asked to vacate at Bravo. I confess to not having briefed thoroughly enough to know where Bravo was, but a reasonable guess would be the second last exit more than half way down the runway. I’d also confess to not having properly heard the wind and should have asked for a repeat. But I’m not sure how much use that would have been. The wind was quite strong and highly variable (again), as stated in the ATIS, and I felt this was actually a more challenging touchdown than some of the others on this trip.
On vacating, we were given clear taxi instructions to our parking spot where a marshaller was waiting. A Ryanair flight was pushing back – it was good that we arrived just after the turnaround, otherwise airport staff could have been busy elsewhere. This is an old military airport where every aircraft can have its own independent large concrete parking area, big enough to turn around in.
A friendly English speaking ground handler asked our intentions, and on my request, checked that it was OK for us to stay overnight. She asked us if we carried any weapons (a first for me) — I wonder what would have been different if we had. She waited while the AVGAS fueller came and topped us up (who I paid directly by credit card), then drove us the short distance to the terminal and walked us to the passenger exit.
I booked a very nice hotel and started investigating getting a taxi into town. As we had found at several other airports on this trip, a bus happened to be waiting outside; it helpfully took card payments. We had left the land of the euro and quickly had to figure out how many zloty to the pound (it’s about 5). The weather was marvellous, perhaps slightly windy at times but warm and sunny outside.
Lunch was a very relaxing art gallery museum cafe, where the menu was fairly difficult to decode. The only recognisable words were Croissant, various types of coffee and Coco Chanel. I opted for the first two and was pleasantly surprised with a very thoroughly prepared concoction involving ham, cheese, fruit and chocolate.
We explored the city, including the river and canals, briefly visited one museum (but passed on the full tour of the Soap-making and History of Dirt Museum). The city had originally become a major trading centre due to its location on the river, with canal and river connections to the Mediterannean and Black Sea. Barges are able to travel all the way down to the Dnipro river in Ukraine, although this became less important when railways developed during the mid 1800s.
One of the city’s famous citizens, Marian Rejewski, reverse engineered an Enigma cipher machine used during WW2 and made a huge contribution to cracking the code. He is mentioned at the Bletchley Park Museum in the UK, where the code was cracked on an industrial scale.
Mill Island, close to the city centre, used to be the industrial heartland but is now a popular, atmospheric and lively landscaped area. There are many bars, cafes and restaurants both there and in the city centre that make this a pleasant city to visit.
Perhaps not quite so much walking around today – my feet were starting to suffer a bit – so we made full use of our hotel spa and sauna facilities instead. Dinner in the hotel was tremendous and I would highly recommend the family-run Hotel Bohema to anyone visiting the city – definitely the best of our trip.
Not too much prep for the following day. The weather forecast looked like a flight later in the day would be best. I researched potential hotels on Booking.com so we would have an easy choice to pick from on arrival, but I don’t make the booking until after we have landed. I also checked the weather for our return flight home which was looking good. We had been blessed with good weather throughout.
PIC today: 2:10
Total PIC: 2036:35
Total time: 2250:45