Day 6 – Wizna to Białystok – 70 kms
Not a big mileage day or a tough ride – I had a tailwind and fair weather, so I took it easy and took in some sights along the way while meandering on some back roads that passed through fields of wheat and corn – could almost be the Canadian Prairies… Peaceful! That was until I got chased by a pit bull type dog! I yelled like I usually do and that did nothing – I could almost feel his hot breath on my legs, so I yelled “Get Lost” but in Polish – amazing, that worked! By this time I had to join the main road, number 8, anyway and was warned by my hosts last night that it would be busy – it was, but surprisingly it had a decent shoulder all the way into the city.
On the way, I passed by the southern tip of Biebrzanski National Park and we saw lots more Storks – Basil was all excited though, the place is supposed to house Poland’s largest Beaver (Bóbr) population – nary a one to be seen though, the little fellow’s disappointed after practicing his Polish for that chance encounter!
Talk about Polish! I thought that I knew “some,” but frankly “some” translates to “very little!” What was I doing at those Polish School classes that my parents sent me to? Obviously sleeping, because I really have to concentrate and ask people to speak S-L-O-W-L-Y! Then I watch and listen to the jumble of words coming out of their mouths, pick out some words that I think I know and then say something stupid in return – well, I get some grins anyway. Each day gets better though.
I must mention last night – I had my best and longest sleep of the trip – it must have been the comfortable surroundings. Money was never mentioned last night and I had no idea of the cost of my night’s room. So I was dreading asking this morning what the damage was, as I figured that for such modern facilities and all that food, it would be expensive. This morning after breakfast I paid my bill – C$25.00, which was for a private room with bathroom and three meals – I felt as if I was cheating them! What value!
So far, I’ve found food, meals and accommodation to be very cheap here in Poland. I went to my first “Bar Mleczny” (Milk Bar) today and paid the princely sum of C$3.00 for a very generously portioned hot meal with coffee. The milk bars were created by the State to provide cheap meals to workers and those who needed them. After the fall of Communism, many are still holding on as private enterprises and serving good food at bargain prices – nothing fancy and no booze, but all very tasty stuff. All you have to do is decipher the menu on the wall which consists of about 60+ items! Also, roadside stands are plentiful and great places for a inexpensive snack stop.
Elsewhere, other stuff… Half a litre of beer: C$0.90 – very good too. Camping fee a couple of nights ago: C$3.00. In fact, apart from Warsaw – expected – most lodging is very reasonable. Tonight I’m in a hostel type place run by the Orthodox church community – once again very clean; private room with bathroom, even got TV – want a good laugh… Fawlty Towers with Polish voices dubbed over – hilarious!
Apart from some interesting churches and a museum, Białystok, after being mostly destroyed in WWII, post-war reconstruction was with lotsa concrete/block and very little thought for the previous history of the city. Some buildings were rebuilt as original – but from what I saw, few and far between. I was going to stay two days here, but I think that I’ll mosey along in the morning to Bialowieski National Park for a camp night.
Worst thing about Poland – graffiti literally everywhere. I keep checking the bike and bags to make sure that someone hasn’t scrawled something there when my head was turned.
Tip of the day… most shops close early on Saturdays – read your Lonely Planet book, Dummy!
Adam K. & Basil the (Bóbr) Beaver.
Day 7 – Białystok to Bialowieza – 105 kms
I forgot to mention yesterday that the main street of Białystok was cobblestones. Quite the boneshaker with a loaded bike, luckily when I left this morning there wasn’t too much distance before I hit asphalt again – although there are potholes everywhere to contend with anyway. Sunday morning riding to Białowieski National Park on 19 was very quiet, the back roads exceptionally so, with the lack of shoulders not really mattering. As I rode rode through villages and towns on 685, many people were attending mass at either the Catholic or Orthodox churches that I passed – better they be praying than being maniacal on the roads when I’m on them!
This area is one of the most eastern parts of Poland, with the population being a mix of Poles and Belorussians. I’m camped at Grudki, which is a hamlet about 2 kms from the village of Bialowieza, only about 1 km from the border to Belarus. There is a prevalence of Orthodox religion and accompanying churches in this region – some of buildings are very unique and spectacular.
The National Park here is a big draw for tourists – mostly Poles themselves – as the park has the nation’s great bison reserve. Żubr is Polish for bison and also a brand of beer that I’ve “tasted;” I wondered about the significance of naming a beer after a bison – now I know! Also, the famous “Żubrówka” vodka has herb grass in the bottle from this region, giving it a slightly green tinge – and very smooth taste!
Crosswinds today, but as I’m going to head south and west, I feel that headwinds are on the menu for a few days. Westerlies are prevalent here, so I’ll just have to grin and bear it – the weather is usually better in southern Poland though, so let’s hope that “usually” holds true. Today wasn’t bad – no rain – and apparently tomorrow is supposed to be sunny all day – we’ll see!
I camped tonight – I don’t know why? This touristy area is full of guest houses, pensions and hotels. But I guess that I just want to justify hauling all my camping crap around – I could have snagged a nice room for about C$15.00 – although camping was only C$3.00! Truthfully though, I do like camping and was dying to see if Polish mozzie bites are as bad as all the others that I have suffered – you betcha they are! The showers here may as well be out in the open, just a few slats for walls, so the mozzies have a feast while you soap yourself up – I won’t mention where the most tender bite was, but it sure is embarrassing to keep scratching there!
The fellow that runs the campground, says that I’m the first Canadian he’s ever had here – quite an honour, I guess! An English couple just set up camp close by and I’m sharing my meagre picnic table with a Czech couple. The English ones have some bratty kids, so I’m ignoring them – one of them tried to pull Basil’s tail – not on!
By the way, bicycles are part of everyday life wherever I go. Here in Bialowieza, most of the hotels and guest houses rent bikes and many tourists bring their own. I see quite a variety everywhere I go, from the old single speed clunkers from way back, to modern mountain type bikes, but most of all there are a myriad of older folding bikes with the smaller 20″ wheels – they are everywhere with all types of riders. Not many touring cyclists though; I spoke to three young touring fellows a few days ago and passed another fellow going the other way yesterday. I’m still pleased with the fact that although the drivers are fast, they seem to be aware of – and used to – bicycles on the road and nearly always pull over wide to pass – I still keep a close eye on them in the mirror though!
Factotum… Petrol is C$1.50 per litre, so I guess prices aren’t that bad in Canada yet.
Tip of the day… No bread on Sundays – bakeries are closed – buy your supply on Saturdays!
Adam K. & (Wot! No bread with our soup?) Basil.
Day 8 – Białowieża to Siemiatycze – 102 kms
102 kms was enough today into the expected headwind. For the most part, I rode on 685 and 693 today then arrived in Siemiatycze at about 95 kms, but farted around trying to find digs etc. I got a nice room in a pension with a restaurant next door – it was the first place I found, but as usual, I had to check out other options – there weren’t any! Nice town though, built around three small lakes. There are at least three fabulous looking churches in the town too – unexpected for a small town. Lots of rebuilding going on here with some worthwhile results.
I was going to try for Biała Podlaska today, but the winds cut my chances of another 60 kms. I’m still going to try for Chełm tomorrow, as I want a rest day there – but it will be long ride I feel. Today was also very hot, with sun for most of the day – a three ice-cream day and a few cold ones tonight!
Not much to report on today’s ride other than I had to backtrack to Hajnówka from the campground at Białowieża – it’s the only road in and out for about 20 kms. I hate riding over the same route when I’m touring, but I took a side trip to one area to see the bison – go figure, the herd were in a different area this morning, so all saw was the padded down grass and bison shit!
Otherwise, lots more potholes and wheat fields – the roads are definitely getting hillier though, so with a headwind it was a long haul in some places.
I see lots of cattle in and around the farms too – but I have yet to see a sheep! Nada, nix, nothing, no trace – what’s with that? Poles don’t eat lamb or mutton?
Interesting time at picnic table last night – my young Czech friends dined with me – she spoke Czech and a little Polish, he spoke Czech and a little English and me with my Yorkshire/Canadian English and broken Polish made for some remarkable conversation – fun night though!
I mentioned that small grocery/deli stores are everywhere that I travel, well they all sell beer and liquor – read, vodka. As I pass these stores early in the morning, it’s upsetting to see the menfolk having their breakfast beer in and around these stores and everywhere else close by (bus shelters etc.) – I guess that it must be the lack of work or boredom that makes them want to drink so much. It’s also not uncommon to see people walking around with cans of beer in public – I see this everywhere and not just in the larger towns. Perhaps the lack of work is a result of the end of the protective Communist state? I don’t know, but I continue to see numerous drunks on a daily basis – thank God they’re not driving!
Adam K. & (Oh good, no mozzies tonight!) Basil.