Day 22 – Częstochowa – 0 kms
What a cold day again here, the wind was giving out quiet the chill for most of the day and the sun stayed behind the grey screen all day too – but at least it didn’t rain today – yet!
A good day all the same – I managed to find a camera at a decent price and it uses the same memory cards and batteries as the previous one. So after I acquired that, I did my tour of the monastery, churches and museums here, whilst dodging crowds of pilgrims throughout the day. The inside of the chapels and churches are quite spectacular, and of course the chapel where the Black Madonna resides is a special place. This was one of the few places that I have visited that allowed photo taking (without flash) inside the buildings. Nearly all my previous historic or religious venues in Poland have not allowed photos to be taken once inside the buildings. So it was lucky that I picked up my new camera before venturing into the Jasna Góra complex.
A very special day for me also, as I remember my parents talking of this holy place of Częstochowa and I also remember seeing a picture of the Black Madonna at my parent’s house – now I’ve seen her at her home.
Tomorrow, I will be heading a bit further west – not too far though – I’m building a route through some towns where people lived, or may still live, that corresponded with my mother. Most of the next few days involves areas where I think that I will likely have to camp, so I’m really hoping for dry (and warmer) weather – cold wet weather camping is not much fun after a wet day on the bike! Tomorrow will also be as far west as I will travel in Poland; after meandering through some villages, I’ll head to Łódź where my grandfather lived, then I’ll be making my way back through a small town where my father was born and then back to the River Wisła to follow it north to Warszawa – that’s the basic plan anyway for the time left.
There’s lots to like in Poland, but as usual, it’s the small things that tend to grind…
Dog shit everywhere, there’s almost as much dog shit as graffiti – how the hell do you spell graffiti anyway – two f’s or two t’s or both? Anyhow, the dog shit thing is really prevalent on all town and city streets. There’s also lots of loose dogs around, most are harmless, but BIG loose dogs can be intimidating – but I guess that BIG dogs shit where they like when I think about it! It’s just lately, I noticed that most people here don’t walk in a straight line – no they’re not drunk – it’s the game of finding the path through and around the dog shit! For a newcomer like me, I have to dodge people and still keep my eyes on the ground for you know what – riding the bike is so much easier!
Ah, life’s little tribulations…
Adam K. (I told him to watch where he’s walking) Basil.
Day 23 – Częstochowa to (almost) Bąków – 66 kms
It’s a good thing that I didn’t plan to ride a century today, because the wind would have worn me out. There was a strong wind blowing as I left Częstochowa this morning and as usual I pointed my nose into it and was heading on my intended route – west on 494. Uncanny how that headwind works, but it was particularly bad today, blowing a steady 40 kms/hr! Every mile was hard work as the winds here do not come in gusts, but are quite steady – the gusts come from the backdraught of big trucks heading in the opposite direction – then I was almost at a standstill for a few seconds! Fortunately the sun was out periodically for most of the way to Olesno, and I did pass through some nice towns enroute – Panki being one of note.
My Michelin map is strange in that it doesn’t show the route as 494, but my Copernicus camping map does – and the route is a main shortcut to highway 11 which takes traffic to Poznan. In retrospect, it was wise to bring both maps for these kinds of situations where one map does not indicate road numbers; for the most part, road signs have been very good in Poland, with very few exceptions.
So I pedalled into that wind all the way to Olesno; I’ll add that the road surfaces were crappy for just about the whole way and much like, if not worse, than many of the roads that I have ridden up to now – it was like riding a mechanical bull in a windstorm! Anyway it was just after noon, so I took a break, found a restaurant and had a nice lunch – inside, out of the wind. I figured that only had about 13 kms to go to my planned campground at Bąków, so I dawdled a bit and looked around the town – that’s when when the first rain squall hit! Boy did it ever come down, I was lucky to be close to a shop’s awning where I cowered until it passed. Half an hour later, I set off to find a supermarket for some supplies, as soon as I got there another squall hit – into the store I ducked! Spent another half-hour there reading labels, then I bought a couple of things and left to the presence of some ominous looking clouds that were still hanging around.
By this time, I figured that the campground would be pretty wet for a night’s bivouac and was still debating with myself, when I looked up and saw the next surge approaching, being pushed towards me by the strong wind. I was on highway 11 by this time, and fortunately there are large gas/petrol stations on Poland’s main routes, so I took advantage of one none too soon just as the next downpour started. I lingered over a cold coffee until it stopped raining and headed out again. About five kilometres later, I saw another one coming – a nearby bus shelter gave me the necessary cover to hide. So I’m sat there waiting for the rain to stop – again – when an old fellow comes along to wait for the bus. We chatted for a bit and he didn’t envy my plans of camping for the night – by this time, I wasn’t too thrilled about it myself! I asked him if they had cabins at the campground in Bakow, he said no, but he told me of a place about 2 kms down the road that has cabins around a small lake that is popular with fishermen. Off I went, but I still had to brave yet another rain squall in the two klicks to get there though.
Hence I’m about 7 kms from my original destination, but I’m out of the wind and rain and there’s a restaurant/bar here, so life’s not too bad. It was lucky for me that the fellow came along to gave me some good information – and lucky for me that I can speak a little Polish!
I don’t know what’s with the weather here, the last three days have been long pants and woolly sock days – it’s August for crying out loud, it’s supposed to be hot! The saving grace is that bike-touring allows me to change my plans as different situations develop – I don’t really have to be anywhere for a while – and so long as I can find digs or somewhere to put up my tent, I’m OK and always hope for better weather – tomorrow!
Adam K. & (I should have packed my thermal underwear) Basil.
Day 24 – Bąków to Siemianice – 40 kms
The wind this morning was just as strong as yesterday, so I braced myself for more buffeting as I left my cosy cabin for the open road. At least the sun was out and I couldn’t see any threatening clouds.
So I fought my way through the backdraughts of the frequently oncoming behemoths until I reached Byczyna, where a quick rest was in order. This was a lucky stop, as I found it to be a very old walled town with buildings and a church dating back to 1283. There was a wall around the town and most of it was still in place. The town is not in my LP book, but it definitely is worth a stop on anyone’s itinerary; I took some photos of the main sights and some older houses before continuing on route 11. 11 was a very busy route, lots of trucks, lots of wind, but I didn’t have any alternative for my route plan of the day.
Next I rode through the small village of Kostow, shortly after I entered the region of Wielkopolska. The first village was just after that regional border and it was named Siemianice, which was the town name of a return address that I had discovered on some of my mother’s old correspondence that I had kept after she died about 11 years ago.
Note: My parents escaped from Poland during WWII and ended up in England but never returned. Nevertheless, they corresponded with their families for many years. Prior to this encounter, I had never met any of my relatives from Poland other than my grandfather who had visited England somewhere around 1954 when I was just a wee lad…
I didn’t have any street addresses, just the village name and two or three names from my mother’s family. So I went to the church – no-one there and the rectory was being renovated, so no priest to question. There was a shop with a post office though; I asked the lady inside if she knew any of the people on my list, half expecting her to say no, or that they had passed away. But she did know them – one was my uncle, he had passed away, but his wife still lived just down the street. Off I went and knocked on her door, a little old lady answered and stared suspiciously at me. I said that I thought she was my mother’s sister and proceeded to tell her my name – she just about keeled over! Anyhow, she told me that although she was my aunt, she was only my mother’s sister-in-law. But… One of my mother’s sisters lived almost next door. I thanked her with a promise to return and off I went again. I knocked on the next prospective relative’s door and could hear something inside, but nobody would answer. So I knocked some more – still no answer – just then a fellow arrives, looks me up and down suspiciously and asks if he can help me. I said that I was from Canada and before I could give him my name he said, “Adam!” Wow! Turns out that he was my cousin Krzysztof who lived with my aunt. He knew of me through my mother’s correspondence throughout many years when she had kept in touch with her sister – Krzysztof’s mother. I guess that I was the only relative that had emigrated to Canada from Britain and he had a good memory of my mother’s correspondence recounting our family’s activities in England.
He let me into my aunt’s house and I nearly keeled over myself; she bore a very close resemblance to my mother. The rest is history now, basically, I received a very warm welcome and two more of my aunts were summoned plus about eight cousins and their kids – what a day and evening! There’s lots more to say about this another time, but suffice to say for now that I didn’t expect to find anyone, and to find now after all these years this extension of my family in Poland is a wonderful and moving experience.
I was invited to stay the night, which I did, as we didn’t finish with our visiting until pretty late and I still had to leave in the morning.
Fast forward… Krzysztof rode out 10 kms with me on his bike and showed me a shortcut to my next destination. I was sad to leave, but we were all elated and happy at the situation that had presented itself.
Another part of this tale is quite extraordinary… When I took photos in the walled town of Byczyna earlier in the day – unknowingly at the time, I took a photo of a house that one of my cousins lives in – and then I took another photo from the doorstep of another cousin’s house – how about that for uncanny! – They both visited in the evening and were amazed at my photo locations that we viewed on my camera’s LCD screen.
What a day! More tomorrow…
Adam K. & (the family cat was nice too!) Basil.
Day 25 – Siemianice to Zduńska Wola – 97 kms
With the wind at half speed and somewhat at the rear, today was a much easier ride than previous days of this distance. The weather just does not want to cooperate though – when Krzysztof and I left today, it was on wet roads with a grey overcast sky for an accompaniment. About 20 kms into the ride, it started raining and continued until I was about at Złoczew. Once Krzysztof showed me to Route 8, it was back to busy traffic after that first lull on the back roads. From 8 I switched to 14 just after Sokolniki. Both these main routes had shoulders, so the heavy traffic was not as much of a burden – and the tail wind helped too.
I decided to camp at Zduńska Wola as it was still relatively dry here – I might regret this choice in the morning, but I’m still so elated from yesterday, that I just want to be on my own with my own thoughts for the evening. I sure got that choice too – the campground is deserted apart from one other tent – Germans of course!
The campground is part of a sports complex with two outdoor pools, tennis courts etc. – the water in the pools will remain still this evening, I’m sure – I don’t think that even the Germans will be hardy enough for a swim today! Not surprising that the place is empty here though – I’m sat here with two pairs of socks on, long pants, two jackets and a cold beer! I think that I would have been better off with some flavoured vodka in a hot drink! I would have gloves on too, but it’s hard enough typing on this little keyboard as it is.
Short ride tomorrow to Łódź, hotel for the night and some searching for the other side of the family – wish me luck!
Adam K. & (Brrrrrrr!) Basil.