A Ride Through Poland

Day 30 – Kazimierz Dolny to Kozienice – 78 kms

A Wall Made of Headstones from a Jewish Cemetery Destroyed by the Nazis

A Wall Made of Headstones from a Jewish Cemetery Destroyed by the Nazis

Kazimierz Dolny is a weekend getaway destination for Warsaw-ites, hence yesterday the place was packed in a similar fashion to most of the other popular places that I have visited. Wall to wall people wandering around a town with a myriad of beer gardens and restaurants to choose from.

People, People Everywhere!

People, People Everywhere!

An interesting town regardless, as there was a castle ruin, a bastion and numerous churches and buildings dating back to the sixteenth century.

Castle Ruin in Kazimierz Dolny

Castle Ruin in Kazimierz Dolny

I think that the streets date back to then too – nearly all the streets in Kazimierz Dolny were literally just rocks with sand filling in between – sort of rock cobblestones. Talk about ankle-snappers for pedestrians, and don’t even ask how riding on that corrugation of rock felt on the loaded bike!

Really Rough Cobblestones!

Really Rough Cobblestones!

Many of the buildings are still in excellent condition and the tourist trade obviously helps to keep everything shipshape and attractive for visitors to wander the interesting narrow streets and pathways. The riverside is also a draw, alongside the town with some sand beaches and a wide paved walkway for quite a distance, boating, river tours and floating bars flourish. Lots of the usual “Room for Rent” signs, but I opted for the campground – nothing special, but a place to rest and relatively quiet for a change – only mozzies to deal with, but they don’t disco dance until all hours!

After a dry day yesterday and a nice evening, I was surprised to get rained on this morning and at the worst time, when I was packing my tent away. But I managed to get a cabin in Kozienice, so I can dry out my stuff quite easily. Apart from this morning, today’s weather was OK – windy as usual, but it didn’t bother me too much.

Beware of Bull!

Beware of Bull!

Apart from having to past a very large bull at the side of the road it was an uneventful ride today along 801 and then I crossed the river onto 79 – I’m kind of coasting between camping facilities on my way to Warsaw, enjoying taking my time and the passing pastoral scenery on my last few days in Poland without too much exertion. I have digs booked there and want to arrive early on Thursday, so that I can pack up my bike, leaving Friday open for one last day to view some sights in Warsaw that I missed previously.

The campground here in Kozienice is part of a sports complex – this is the second (or is it third?) one that I’ve stayed in – that are around the country for people to visit when training for all different types of sports activities. Apparently all these types of facilities have a hotel, cabins, camping etc. Good to know if one is looking for digs, but like the Agrotourist places, one has to know their locations. That’s one of the things that Poland needs in order to attract more tourists – some good publications with accommodation information. I’ve found it somewhat difficult in many places to find even a tourist information office – and when I have, they’ve usually been closed. I’ve also found that some of the information offices are part of another business and it depends on who is in the store as to how one is treated – basically people seeking information are not paying customers! However, some were excellent and I did get good information from those few.
Anyway, I just figured out that tonight’s cabin translates to only C$8.50 for the night – hardly worth putting the tent up eh? And as a bonus, there’s a riverfront bar with very reasonably priced refreshments and also a small restaurant on the grounds with great (and cheap) food!
Otherwise Kozienice seems like a post-war town with lots of the standard ugly apartment blocks complete with satellite dishes and laundry hanging on and off the balconies. No historical sites or buildings that I could see but there’s a huge electrical generating station nearby that I would imagine is the mainstay of the town. Nevertheless, as in the majority of places that I have visited, I always find that people are friendly and helpful , even if some of their towns don’t appeal to me!

More tomorrow…

Adam K. & (Nice cabin and I get my own bed too!) Basil.

Day 31 – Kozienice to (north of) Józefów – 86 kms

I left on route 79 this morning and enjoyed the the ride up until Góra Kalwaria – then I crossed the river on 50 and it was white-knuckled riding with very heavy traffic, no shoulder and the usual rough and sunken pavement to deal with. I had a short reprieve on 801, but the closer that I rode to Warsaw the busier it became – to be expected, but nevertheless unpleasant. Afternoons are always busier, hence my reason for stopping just 20 kms short of the city here in Józefów. Tomorrow morning will be a little easier for me to negotiate the traffic and pedestrians whilst avoiding getting my wheels stuck in the tramcar rail tracks!
At least the weather has improved, today was actually quite warm with temperatures in the mid 20’s – very pleasant for riding.

Tidy Place

Tidy Place

So the tour’s almost over, I’ve seen a Poland in transition and can see where changes are happening, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. There is a wealth of European history to explore here and I’ve only touched on a small amount and even my photos don’t do justice to some of the fantastic places that I have seen. I don’t think that the people here have yet realised the potential tourist dollars that could find their way here. But the facilities, especially in a lot of the campgrounds, need to be upgraded and kept up with some basic maintenance. Many places that I visited needed grass cut, fences/benches repaired and garbage picked up. The exception being this last stop – super place, very clean & modern – cheapish cabin too! This one gets the 5 flat beaver tail award from Basil!

 

Another Cute Cabin

Another Cute Cabin

Ultimately, I really have enjoyed my tour here – it’s a very different country and culture that what I am used to normally. If one loves history, this is a great venue! The architecture from bygone eras is astounding, the Polish girls are beautiful, the food and drink is wonderful, and without a doubt there is a lot more to see here than what I have managed to grasp in a few short weeks. Perhaps this is good time for anyone wishing to see an old country being rejuvenated to visit Poland?

I’ve got used to a slice of lemon in my tea, soup for breakfast, warm milk with cereal, glasses of coffee with the grounds in the bottom of the glass and lots of other ways of life here – it’s easy to adapt oneself if one is willing.

The majority of Poles do not wear sunglasses – someone has cottoned onto this concept, as there are sunglasses sales stalls on every street (now that’s a tongue-twister!) in the big towns and cities. Anyhow, why did I pick on this topic? Because sometimes we wonder why people stare at us – for the most part Poles, don’t wear sunglasses, (men) don’t wear shorts and hardly anyone wears a bike helmet – go figure, who’s the strange guy riding by – and with all that crap strapped to his bike no less! I’m the oddity, not them.
Also, I’m convinced that you can buy anything you desire at one of the thousands of street stalls scattered around Poland’s cities and towns – you name it, from underwear, to perfume, to food, to electronics – the array of goods available from these street vendors is astounding.

Anyhow, I hope that you have all enjoyed your vicarious bicycle ride on over 2350 kms of Poland’s pot-holed and badly repaired roads… I won’t bore you all with my re-entry into the “atmosphere” – the metropolis of Warszawa – tomorrow, but I’ll be rewriting my emails onto my website in the near future, together with a selection of photos [You are reading the result!]

So for now it’s, “Do widzenia!” And peace to you all!

Adam K. & (It’s so sad to say goodbye!) Basil.

That was the end of my emails to family and friends, here is a short summary of my ride through Poland…

Summary…

I suppose that this was really day 32, but I didn’t want to bother with email on this day, hence my last message above. I was a little sad that the tour was over, but also looking forward to another day of sightseeing in Warsaw and then my return trip home to Canada.

Nice Bike Path!

Nice Bike Path!

I ended up riding about 36 kms to get back to the hostel in downtown Warsaw. Much of this was on bike paths alongside the river – many bike paths in Poland are twinned with very wide (frequently brick-paved) sidewalks and this was also the case in Warsaw. At least one can dawdle along without worrying about traffic on these paths.
I stopped at a milk bar for lunch in the old town and a fellow told me to bring my bike inside as there was a chance of theft – he helped me drag the bike into the doorway alcove – after I wandered up to the counter to order, he left! I thought that he was the owner of the place and felt quite embarrassed that my bike was blocking a third of the doorway. Nobody said anything though, but I hurried my meal all the same.

Nice Separated Bike Path on this Bridge

Nice Separated Bike Path on this Bridge

More Wonderful Architecture

More Wonderful Architecture

That’s enough stories…

I have to mention that the Lonely Planet Poland book was invaluable throughout the trip – especially the town centre street maps and accommodation recommendations. The book is also crammed with lots of historical information on Poland and its culture – well worth taking along even if it is a little bulky. However, between the LP book, a 1:700,000 Michelin map and the 1:750,000 Copernicus Camping map, I managed to find my way everywhere with very little problem. I also had a small phrase book for those Polish words that I didn’t know – quite a few as it turns out!
I also had along a Carnet Camping Card, which was very useful for ID in campgrounds, hostels and hotels. Instead of having to fish out my passport or leave it with the hotel desk, the card was a well accepted substitute – it does have one’s passport number recorded on it. I got mine through my Automobile Association for a very small cost.

Many people have asked me both before and after the trip, “were you not worried about theft?” As they had heard the the Eastern European countries were rife with criminals on every street corner waiting to steal anything that wasn’t bolted down!
I can honestly say that I never felt threatened anywhere in Poland and on the whole, I was treated kindly and with respect almost everywhere. Perhaps my (little) knowledge of the language helped when I was approached by people? And I was approached by beggars on many occasions – they weren’t very persistent nor threatening though. For the most part, many were genuine charity cases that the new-found free market economy has created. The Communist system gave work, but big queues for sparse goods; now with the free market economy there are no queues for the now plentiful goods, but many have lost their meagre jobs and have no money with which to buy any of the surplus. Basically, it seems that there is no middle class in Poland, you are either a “have” or “have not!”

I didn’t venture out into town centres at night, as that is not my style. Perhaps greater care would be required then, but in general, my reaction is that Poland is a safe place to visit. Yes, there are security guards in some of the shops and banks, but we have the same in North America, so nothing extraordinary there!

OK – the bike…
I haven’t mentioned much about the bike, and to be absolutely truthful, that is a good sign. As the new break-apart bike that I built up performed flawlessly. Apart from a couple of short trips, this was really the first extended tour on this bike. My Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires were a good choice and never got punctured nor damaged. They also ran well at the low end of their recommended pressure, which is where I kept them to produce a bit of “bounce” on rough roads – of which there were many! I had a sprung Brooks Conquest saddle, for which I was also thankful for too, and if I change anything on the bike it will be to install a suspension stem. I use suspension stems on a couple of other bikes that I ride and I did seem to miss the extra little flex at the handlebars. The gearing was perfect with smooth shifts from the barcons on Paul’s Thumbies. Beyond the rough roads, the bike rode very comfortably – even though this bike has 26″ wheels, the wheelbase is the same as my Cannondale T2000 touring bike, which has 700C wheels.
Otherwise, the Polish roads were certainly a torture test for the rest of the bike assembly and equipment – a loaded touring bike seems to take the knocks harder than an empty rig! Anyway, I’m happy to report no problems and it was very pleasing to pack the bike away into its own case for safe transport.

Generally, I found my trip to Poland very inexpensive – apart from the air fare! Food was not only cheap, but wholesome and very tasty – I don’t think that I had a bad meal during the whole trip! Accommodation was also generally very inexpensive and clean, with Warszawa and Kraków understandably being the most expensive, but still reasonable. Public transport and taxis were also very economical.
From what I saw, Poland does have a lot to offer to the touring cyclist and tourists in general. Many people do speak some English or recognise a few key words of English, but I feel that a little knowledge of the language would make anyone’s trip more pleasant. As I mentioned, the roads and fast drivers are a concern for cyclists, but nearly all drivers were courteous – I was only passed by too closely twice – on both occasions the cars had German plates!

Without a doubt, the highlight of my trip was discovering some family ties, which gives me extra fond memories of my trip beyond the cycle touring perspective.
My Christmas card list has grown in the matter of a few short weeks!

Adam K. & Basil

Finis!

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