A Ride Through Poland
The Route , at a Glance...
Warszawa, Ruciane-Nida (Mazury), Białystok, Białowieski Park, Zamość, Jarosław, Nowy Sącz, Zakopane, Kraków, Częstochowa, Łódź, Kazimierz Dolny, Warszawa
Map image courtesy of Google Maps
July 17th to August 20th, 2005 - 2,350 Kms by bike
- and a bit more by rail and foot!
Why Poland? A question asked by so many when they hear of my trip. In a nutshell, my parents (who are both deceased now) were born in Poland and emigrated to the UK during WWII. They never returned to their homeland and I only have vague memories of their conversations relating an earlier life in Poland and the inevitable upheaval caused by WWII.
My parents were both from large families which hinted that I had relatives there (somewhere?) that I had never met and this fact had always intrigued me as did the rich history of the country itself. So the prospect of a bicycle tour in Eastern Europe coupled with the possibility of discovering some of my roots seemed to make a good combination. Added to this was the prospect of exploring a country that only last year (2004) had been allowed to join the European Union and was slowly emerging from decades of Communist rule.
At the end of the trip reports is a summary with some personal conclusions of my ride through Poland.
Click on any of the photo thumbnails to view a larger image, then use your "Back" button to return to the text.
Once again I took along my Pocketmail device again, and what follows are basically the edited e-mail messages that I sent home daily to family and friends. My moods tend to change from day to day when I'm touring and the daily reports somewhat reflect these idiosyncrasies - read on and take it one day at a time...
Day 1 & 2 - Welcome to Warszawa (Warsaw)
My bike in its case and also the large bag of equipment arrived safe and sound at the airport. Wisely, I'd pre-booked a room at a downtown hostel with whom I had confirmed would store my bike case for a few weeks, so I took a taxi there from the airport. I'm glad that I read my Lonely Planet Poland book before I came [in fact, I took the book with me and found it invaluable throughout the trip], because it mentioned the "Pirate Taxis" in Warsaw. Well sure enough, I was intercepted on my way out of the airport terminal by a cab driver - so I asked him how much, and he said 60 Zloty - I told him that was too much and went out to the taxi stand. The actual fare ended up at 25 Zloty, plus I gave the driver a 5 Zloty tip - so, half price of what the Poles call the "Mafia" taxis.
Travelling yesterday for 24 hrs - that included hanging around in three airports for extended periods of time - and nine hours time difference produced a restless sleep last night and my body naturally protested today. Regardless once settled into the hostel, Basil helped me put the bike together last night, as I was having such a hard time with my jet lag - fine job we did too! I'm glad that I booked two nights here before setting out. With my bike and gear readied last night, I had today to crawl around Warsaw and even included some sightseeing during my quest for some necessities required for travelling. One item of which was alcohol for my stove, which proved to be a devil to find. I eventually found some at a small paint shop under the name of "Denaturat." I mentioned to the owner that I had a hard time finding the fuel and he said it would be easier to find away from the city? Apparently the down and outs drink the stuff even though it is poisoned to deter just such consumption - realistically, it wasn't much cheaper than some brands of Vodka which were readily available everywhere!
The old town of Warsaw is quite spectacular seeing as how the Nazis levelled it during WWII. The majority of the historic buildings have been rebuilt from the rubble left behind, using original brick and stonework wherever possible - this seems to be an ongoing project even now. Nevertheless, the results are truly spectacular when one has viewed the photographs of how the inner city looked in 1944. Commemorative plaques on many buildings are testaments to the relevance of particular structures during differing timelines of the Warsaw Ghetto and related uprising. I can only add that after coming across the many memorials throughout the city, the realisation that huge numbers of civilians were murdered here during the war is rather disturbing and difficult to digest at times.
I'll be back in Warsaw just prior to my return and am looking forward to more exploration then.
Some Views from around Warsaw
So I'm ready for the off tomorrow, but just my luck, the weather has taken a turn for the worse here. I kind of figured that some rain and storms were due here, because of the high humidity yesterday when I arrived - reminded me of Southern Ontario. Well off into the rain tomorrow morning regardless - I'll be heading northeast towards Poland's lake district, the Great Mazurian Lakes - hopefully it doesn't rain too much.
Adam K. & (what, raingear already?) Basil.
Day 3 - Warsaw to Ostroleka
Getting out of Warsaw was as tense a situation as I had figured that it would be, but I waited for the worst of the morning rush to subside before I ventured out onto the "mean streets" dodging the cars, buses, trams whilst trying to keep my wheels out of the tram rail track. Moreover, my jet lag wouldn't let me move any sooner anyway, as I seem to be having a hard time sleeping - I'm tired at the wrong times and having trouble falling asleep on a night. Funny thing is, Basil seems to be OK!!!
Anyway, I did manage to find a bike path which led me to the correct bridge on which to cross the Wisla (Vistula) River - so that made up for the tram tracks and other hazards that I encountered on my ride out of the city centre.
From the last few days, both walking and cycling, I find many road surfaces to be crappy and the drivers are all speed demons and/or dare devils. The speed limits are posted in Kms/hr, but the drivers are exceeding those limits by far - even if you read those limits in miles/hr! Once out of the city and off the main car routes, the roads are narrow with predominantly little to no shoulder - mucho pot-holes, repairs and road heaves too. Besides continuously glancing at road conditions, I think that I spent more time looking in mirror today than at the road ahead - keeping an eye rearwards to see just how much room those speedy drivers were about to afford me. Although fast, the drivers seemed to be very used to bicycle traffic on the roadway, as they gave me a wide berth when flying by! Nevertheless, traffic was horrendous until after Pultusk (approx. half-way) then it petered out to just the speeders and maniacs. The worst ones were the (many) oncoming drivers that insisted on passing traffic whilst coming towards me at warp speed, talk about looking death in the face - all I could think about was the Aussie girl cyclist who had just died in a head-on collision with a car during a bike race in another part of Europe! Anyway, I haven't had to bale out yet, but the finger's on the ejector seat button constantly!
Otherwise riding mostly on Route 61 today, the scenery was nothing startling; riding through this part of Poland where is relatively flat is a good chance to rubberneck at what the Soviet system has left behind - basically a legacy of hundreds of block style apartment buildings that are utilitarian and nothing else. Added to which, many of these concrete and block boxes are showing their age and there seems to be little funds available to repair or replace these "architectural gems!"
Nevertheless, the Poles seem to be accomplishing "Westernisation" admirably, with cars a plenty - BMW's and Mercedes abound - those tiny Polish Fiats are hardly evident in and around the larger cities (although, throughout the next few weeks as I toured the countryside, I did see many more of the older cars in less populated regions). The latest fashions - designer low-riser jeans, body parts avec tattoos etc. - are as commonplace here as in Vancouver or New York City - McDonalds are here, but much more prevalent are KFC and Pizza Hut, giving the pierogy delivery guys on their scooters some stiff competition!
But there is very much evidence of the have and have-nots - the plethora of street stands selling fruit/veg, household appliances and everything in between is evidence of a thriving underground economy. Also, it seems as if the small time farmers all come into the cities to try and sell their wares, on many occasions directly outside grocery stores. On today's ride, I saw evidence of much farmland on the outskirts of the Warsaw that was for sale and/or subdivision for building plots - lot/acreage for sale signs were very evident.
Large memorial encountered on the way to Ostroleka
Ostroleka is my stop for the night, no camping here so I grabbed a room at one of the very few hotels in the area, another block building with tiny rooms and definitely dated decor - but it's very clean and cosy for my one night's stay. This was/is an industrial area, so the accommodation for tourists such as myself are sparse and Spartan! I hope that I sleep better here tonight, I'm getting sick of laying awake listening to Basil's snoring - highly disconcerting!
Cute and Cozy Room
By the way, it didn't rain today after all, but the forecast is for storms for the next few days - I hope that they're wrong on that forecast too.
Highlights today... Saw my first Stork and visited my first Skansen (outdoor museum).
Adam K. and (I don't snore) Basil.
Day 4 - Ostroleka to Ruciana-Nida
A shorter ride today and I needed it; still had yet another restless night to overcome! And it was pouring rain when I left the hotel, but I had no choice looking at the solid grey skies - possibly ominous for the whole day, I thought to myself.
I had to backtrack a short way along 61 and then took 53 heading north. Once again, the roads were not cyclist-friendly and the rain didn't help either. However, the heavy rain petered out after about 20 Kms, and the rest of the day was a combination of wind, some sun and showers.
I rode on 53 for about 85 Kms and then took 59 at the town of Rozogi. About 22 Kms on 59, then east on 58 to my stop here at Ruciana-Nida on Lake Nidzkie. As soon as I turned onto 58 I could tell that I was in a holiday area - accommodation signs were sprouting up everywhere and other advertising related to all sorts of water related activities. Of course restaurants started sprouting too and the delectable smells as I rode past quickly had my taste buds screaming. So I stopped for lunch and had a plateful of pierogy, barszcz (beet soup for the uninitiated) and cup of tea - wonderful!
Satiated, I arrived a little later here and found the place was a mini-seaside resort area, albeit on a lake. Lots of people around, so I didn't bother with hunting down some digs, but elected to camp seeing as the rains seemed to be holding off - I might regret it tomorrow, but I think that other options were slim to none anyway. There are lots of cabins here and they're all full - besides, I was dying to try camping here in Poland for my first time. I'm at lakefront - very windy spot though, but scenic with good views of sailboats constantly criss-crossing the bay.
Camping at Ruciana-Nida
I saw a bit more of rural Poland today, and caught some glimpses of a past era, such as a horse and cart still doing active farm duty. Many places that I passed through are just dots on a map, yet others are bustling with activity. Lots of small deli style grocery shops everywhere that remind me of the Polish grocery shops that I visited in my youth and similar to the delis that my mother worked in Britain many years ago. I stopped in one today and just enjoyed looking around at the huge variety of what I would consider specialty items outside of Poland - great stuff!
Well, the dinner gong has rung! Off to cook one of my one pot specialties - won't be as good as lunch was, but edible, I'm sure.
Adam K. & (left on bike, while pierogies were devoured!) Basil.