Day 17 – Myślenice to Krakow – 40 kms
Yes, only 40 kms today and surprisingly I still had some good hills to traverse over. But with that low a mileage, I had a pretty slack ride and dawdled over a leisurely breakfast at the campground this morning. My neighbours at the camp last night were Italian on the left and Dutch on the right – they congregated at my picnic table later in the evening and we all yapped and used various forms of sign language for about an hour. What about? For the most part, I have no idea! Nevertheless it was fun; as usual I had to communicate that, yes, I do haul all this crap around on my bike!
Route 7 today was very busy once again, but I was on a wide shoulder for most of the way into the city – once I hit the outskirts of Kraków, it was white-knuckled riding once again. The city stretches for many miles with the outreaches of Podgórze, Kazimierz and Wawel to negotiate around in the south before entering the city proper. Basically, it was a slow ride for the last few miles due to route finding, rubber-necking and generally checking out the options for a way to my digs. Favourably, I ended up in the main square – Rynek – then with my maps soon got myself orientated. But I tell you, Kraków is one spectacular city – all the way in there are many impressive structures before one even enters the old town – and then, one can be really be awed by the stunning architecture that abounds. Kraków didn’t suffer as bad as other Polish cities during WWII, so much of the city’s buildings are still original.
After settling in, I went to the train station to book return travel to Oświęcim – Auschwitz/Birkenau – tomorrow. The trip will take up a big part of my day, so I decided to stay another couple of days in Kraków as there are so many other places that I wish to visit – leaving here on Friday didn’t make much sense, as this opportunity may never arise again. Besides, Basil said he wants a break from pushing me up the hills! – Yeah right, bloody hanger-on he is!
I also got a haircut today – the barber gave me an extra short do, which is fine – he was well over 70 years old and had travelled to the UK and USA, so he talked and talked forever. His age made him pretty shaky though, so I kept very still when he got the straight razor out for the trim around the ears! An enjoyable conversationalist nonetheless.
What a stroke of luck – there’s a criterium bike race starting at 6:00 p.m. and cyclists will be racing around the main Rynek – should be fun to watch, but… there’s a thunderstorm brewing, so they may have to cancel – hard to say though, as many riders have come from all over Poland according to a fellow that I just spoke to. Well, gotta run, I’d better grab a front row seat under a large umbrella at one of the myriad of bar/cafes that line the perimeter of the Rynek to try and keep my beer dry!
Adam K. & (Right on, Bike Race! We can watch other people pedal their arses off!) Basil.
Day 18 – Kraków to Oświęcim – Auschwitz/Birkenau – via Train
Today was a cool, rainy and grey day, but even had it been sunny and warm, it could have not subdued the dreadful chilling feeling that came over me. Visiting the grounds where over one and a half million people were murdered and/or suffered unspeakable degradation and torture can have that effect.
I don’t have a tale to tell today, the history of these two terrible places is well documented. Let it suffice to say that I was very moved by what I saw. To borrow a phrase… Let’s all hope, “Never again!”
Taking a bus would have been easier today, but taking the train seemed a more appropriate way of travelling to the camps. However, unlike the multitude of poor souls that travelled and ultimately perished there years ago, I had a nice seat and a window to look through… rather than peering out from in between the slats of a filthy cattle car.
And… I would take the train back out of there!
Adam K. – Lest we Forget!
Day 19 – Kraków – 0 kms
By the way, the bike racing was cancelled the other night because of the rain and storm. Yesterday was rain and today was just about another day of solid rain – at about 6:00 p.m. the rain stopped and the sun peeked out for a five minute burst. But a good day not to be riding the bike and a good opportunity to do the sightseeing that I wanted to do. The rain didn’t bother me too much as I was ducking in and out of museums, churches, antique shops and frequenting eating/watering holes!
Also, I had to change digs this morning due to my choice of staying in town longer than expected – I’m now at a student accommodation a little further away from the centre, but still only ten minutes walk to the Rynek. The place I’m now at was built in 1929 and similar so many places that I’ve stayed in with the rooms being quite dated and simple, but nevertheless very clean – even a elevator in this place, so I didn’t have to make the usual numerous trips up and down stairs with my pile of junk! I was kind of glad to get out of the other place anyway, I had just a very small basement room, with a high window – that didn’t open. I had to jump up and down on the bed to see outside – and then all I got was a view of people’s legs going by – some weren’t bad, mind you!
I’m still amazed at all the beautiful things that I saw today, I could write pages and pages about every sight that I passed or visited, but I still wouldn’t be able to explain what my eyes saw – fantastic art, architecture, religious icons etc. It’s not hard to see why this city centre was on Unesco’s very first World Heritage list.
Let’s hope that the weather dries up a bit tomorrow, as I want to visit Wawel Castle and Cathedral – I could do it the easy way and take one of the many tours via golf cart type trains or horse and carriage, but I find it more fun just to meander on foot by myself.
I met a Japanese fellow today who’s bike touring around the world – I saw him arrive with a bike full of equipment – more than I carry, I might add – he stopped nearby, so I chatted with him a while. He was wet through and going to look for somewhere to stay, so I suggested the place where I just moved to. Anyhow, I told him I was bike touring too, from Canada – he said that he’d already been to Canada – the Northwest Territories! I mentioned that he might have missed the best parts then. Each to their own, I guess!
I must mention that this fellow was one of the very few bicycle tourers that I have seen so far and although I’ve seen multitudes of bicycles and riders on all types of contraptions, touring with a bike full of gear seems to be an anomaly – I constantly get stared at wherever I seem to be riding through on my bike, and I don’t wear any Lycra or billboard jerseys! I tend to think it’s the loaded panniers that seem to be the eye-catchers.
Public washrooms here… At nearly all WC’s you have to pay, but usually a fixed fee. Today in downtown Kraków, I had to go, so down the stairs to the “Toalety.” Well, it was a two-tier price system in this one – one złoty for a crap and half a złoty (50 groszy) for a pee in the urinal. But the funny part was that this loo was serviced by a female attendant, who’s booth is right opposite the pissers. I didn’t realise, so there I am in full flow at the urinal and out she comes dusting the sinks or whatever! So I finish, quickly, and goes to wash my hands – then the bloody motion activated drier wouldn’t work, so she comes over and grabs my hands and shoves them further under to get the damn thing working! – “Dziękuje bardzo,” and off I went!
Anyhow, one more day of wandering around Poland’s cultural centre, then Sunday a.m. I’m on the road again to Poland’s spiritual centre – Częstochowa. I hope the weather improves, the forecast so far is not very good for the whole of next week!
No report tomorrow – I’ll write again when I get moving.
Adam K. & (I’m getting itchy feet) Basil.
Day 21 – Kraków to Częstochowa – 133 kms
This morning I started riding in some nice sunshine, by this afternoon the rains had returned. It was the same yesterday in Kraków – nice morning, but a damp afternoon. It’s very cool here too – the high in Częstochowa today was only 19°C!
I wasn’t going to ride all the way here today, as I figured on it taking a while to find my way out of the quagmire of streets of Kraków – but it wasn’t too bad after all. My planned stop was Zawiercie, but that was a scruffy, dirty little city with no appeal, so I carried on to here. My original plan was to get here early tomorrow to visit the famous painting/icon of the Black Madonna – the “Queen of Poland” – at the monastery of Jasna Góra. Instead, I arrived here late afternoon in pouring rain, so I found a cabin/chalet at the campground here and quickly got settled in out of the rain. So, I guess that I have to stay here tomorrow too (well, I was going to stay here tomorrow anyway!), so that I can have the time to visit all the sights – that’s after I fight my way past all the souvenir sales booths – there’s hundreds of them! But I guess that’s to be expected with a place that is so popular with pilgrims – this place is in line with Rome, Lourdes, Mecca etc. as far as visiting faithful and tourists alike.
Talking about pilgrims, the big day here on the Polish Catholic calendar is the Assumption – August 15th – and thousands (approx. 250,000) of pilgrims will be here for that day. Needless to say I would not have come on that holiday looking for digs on spec!
Anyhow, pilgrims, yes… Yesterday in Kraków, I saw about 2000 of these pilgrims – all ages, but the majority were young people – with backpacks and sleeping pads marching and singing around the Rynek and then leaving town. They are only one group of many who will walk to Jasna Góra in the next week for the upcoming feast. There’s also a big gang that’s already left Warsaw heading here too, and I’m sure that there are many more. By pure chance, I picked a similar route to ride here using roads 794, 790 and 791. About 24 kms out of Kraków on 794, I had to pass the groups that I saw yesterday in the town. They were very organised though, with efficient marshalls signalling cars – and bikes – to pass etc. While they were marching today, with it being Sunday, the Priests in the groups were performing Sunday Mass. The groups follow the “Trail of the Eagles Nests,” which is a walking trail from Kraków to Częstochowa – about 160 kms, and they sleep in schools and other establishments that open their doors to pilgrims.
I decided on this route, because there are numerous ruins of Castles along the route – most notably two – one at Podzamcze (literally translated – “under the castle”) and the other at Olsztyn. I had planned to visit both, but only got to Podzamcze as it was raining later on so I decided to head straight for Częstochowa instead.
Well, rain wasn’t the only deciding factor – that bloody Basil dropped the camera again at the first castle site…
And this time it is well and truly, as they might say here, “Kaputski.” Cracked, broken plastic junk now – at least my memory card was intact with all my pics up to now. I’m going to have to hunt around for a replacement tomorrow – for the camera that is, I’ll forgive Basil, eventually!
Adam K. & (I always get the blame for his screw-ups!) Basil.