Archive for the ‘Poland’ Category

Poland to Czech Republic

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Leaving my river camp site I set off towards the Czech Republic.  It was a cold and wet day, I had run out of gas for my stove the night before so no water for the thermos.  On the bright side it meant I had a good excuse to buy a coffee, sit inside in a dry warm place rather than shelter under a tree, drinking fast enough that my fingers don’t freeze, slow enough that I felt like I had actually had a break.

The cold is a good motivator to keep moving, I made good progress and pulled off the main road only a few kms away from the Czech Republic into a conveniently situated woodland by the end of the day. Crossing into the Czech Republic was going to be, in theory, my first no hassle border of the trip, no passports checks, nothing.  I still half expected there to be something but by 10 am i was in the Czech Republic trying to change my Polish money.  Next to the bank was a camping shop that sold gas, so i was set, it felt strange to be in a new country and hardly noticing the difference.

That evening i found a small patch of grass at the edge of a field large enough to pitch my tent.  I cooked up a big feast and studied my new map.  I was keen to start increasing the distance i was cycling each day. In my mind there were two ways i could do this, eat more and cycle longer.  Cycling longer meant cycling at night or getting up early, the latter is not something i am fond off, but it made more sense.  As i lay in my sleeping bag i mentally prepared for an early start and thanked the kind people at the petrol station that had filled my water bladder and given me 2 Euros, another act of random kindness.

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My early start was great, i had a long playlist prepared on the iPod, it was a dry day and i seemed to be flying along despite the head wind.  By lunch i was really hungry and I had to stock up on food. I found a supermarket and spent far too long in the warm exploring all the exciting new foods.  With a full belly i set off again, as the day progressed, the snow in the fields and footpaths that surrounded me increased. Before i knew it there were piles of snow by the side of the road and the sky started producing more of it.  It fell to the ground with such grace that it made me smile.

Bike ouside Czech supermarket

Late afternoon I rested in a supermarket car park before continuing, the road had started to climb and as i cycled i contemplated my decision to continue.  I had no idea what was ahead of me, and as i got higher the snow by the side of the road got higher too.  I stopped to see how deep it was.  I climbed over the crash barrier that was buried under the snow and fell waist deep into the white stuff.  I thrashed through the snow a little further towards the trees, it didn’t get any better.  I made my way back to the bike and continued on cycling.  The light slowly faded and i contemplated what to do.  I was not in any danger, i was not scared just intrigued, where was i going to sleep tonight, what is around the next corner.  I cycled on until i found a layby that had been cleared by the snow plough.  The snow between the trees was just as deep, but i could pack it down and make a big enough platform for the tent.  I set about transporting the bike and panniers separately down to the trees and the slow task of creating a level platform for the night.  Two hours later i was finally inside the tent and very pleased with the results, although i probably could have built a snow cave during this time! Next time, I said, next time.

Winter cycling camping site

As I loaded up the bike the next morning, a group of cross country skiers were preparing to set off down the track that i had camped next to in the forest.  After probably less than an hour of cycling i reached the summit of the small pass.  The road was covered in snow and the plough was going up and down trying to clear it all.  More people were out on skis.  I started the descent, slowly at first, picking up speed as my confidence grew.  I started thinking about a hotel again, my legs were tired, i was tired and my socks and shoes were wet from all the snow.  I played this over and over again in my head, don’t be a wimp, keep going. Relaxing for a night in a hotel would be good for you, a hot shower, a soft bed.  By the time i got to the bottom of the hill and arrived in the town called Sumperk i was still undecided.  The first set of signs that greeted me were all on one post pointing to about 5 different hotels.  One said the sport hotel,  cycling is a sport i said, lets go there.  15 minutes later i was set up in my hotel room enjoying the piping hot water from the shower.

Winter cycle camping

Hotels are a dangerous thing, especially in the winter, i found enough reasons to stay a few nights before setting off again.  Winter Cycling Czech

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Krakow to Auschwitz

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

This blog contains details and pictures related to Auschwitz, it might not be suitable for some people or children.  If you are under 14 please get your parent, guardian or teacher to read this first to make sure they are happy for you to read and watch.

Having had a good rest over new year I was ready to get going again.  Leaving Krakow I made the silly mistake of not mapping a good route out of town.  I find that cities tend to act as a giant maze and without a detailed map, ending up on the wrong road is easy.  My large scale map was next to useless and the road signs were not helping either.  I stopped by a junction and leaned the bike against a post to try and get my bearings.  A women came up to me and started talking, feeling rather sheepish, at my lack of comprehension, I managed to explain that i did not speak any Ukrainian, she did not speak any English.  Still, I managed to ask her if this road was the way I wanted to go.  She conveyed that she did not know but pointed to a small fast food stand.  She said that she would mind my bike, I trusted her.  The girl at the fast food stand spoke great English and assured me that this was the right way keep going turn right at the next crossroads, then keep going,  great. I returned to the smiling woman who was looking after my bike.  She delved into one of her shopping bags and brought out a large piece of flat bread with a crushed apple topping, sort of like an apple pie pizza.  I thanked her for the wonderful gift and she smiled and waved me goodbye.  A few hours later and it was getting dark, I was on the right road now for sure, the road signs were matching up things were good.  The hard part was over, leaving the warm cosy hostel and the maze of city streets.  I found a small woodland and set up camp.

The next day was spent wondering why all the shops were closed, it turned out the 6th is Epiphany and a public holiday, it is a continues to amaze me how little I know.  Fortunately I had plenty of food so all I had to do was get to the town of Oswiecim for a visit to Auschwitz. Here are the remains of one of the Nazi death camps from the second world war.  There are plenty of intact buildings now serving as Museums, as well as the remains of other buildings that were destroyed.

The death camps had one purpose: to kill people, mainly Jews.  It is hard to describe a visit to a place like this, it’s not like going to a Museum where you can come out and say ‘wow that was great, I really enjoyed that’.  The mood of the group that I toured with was sombre throughout and I left with a strange feeling.  Despite this, it is worth visiting, just to know that this happened,  the museum severs to educate people as to what happened so that we will never forget. Over 1.3 million people were killed here whilst the death camp was operational.

My words will not do this any justice but I hope that these pictures try to.

More information can be found with the links below, there is a camping site 700m from Auschwitz, follow the signs from the Auschwitz Museum car park.  It is only open during the summer, i found a free camping spot nearby.

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My New Year and Happy New Year

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

I decided to spend New Year in Krakow, I felt like being with other people to celebrate and I was not disappointed.  On my second day my 10 bed dorm room was populated with a group of German students who had come here for a New Year’s break.  We got chatting and it turned out they had a spare ticket for a New Years Party.  Perfect, although I was a little apprehensive about being in the same space as 1000 other people.  I was pleasantly surprise at the large venue, with tables laden with food for each group.  I spent the first half of the night chatting, it continues to surprise me how well non-native English speaking  Europeans can speak English.  We talked about all sorts, but what struck me the most was how level-headed everybody was.  I don’t think I was that worldly at 19.

The New Year was brought in with various Polish songs that I did not know although one of the tunes was familiar.  After that I was keen to hit the dance floor, for those of you that know me, I like a good boogie but need a fair amount of space for my octopus style dance moves.  I danced till the small hours of the morning and strolled back to the hostel feeling very contented.

A big thanks to the Chameleons for letting me join in with your celebrations.

So the new year is here, whilst this adventure is drawing to a close it does not mean that my life will get any less interesting.  I am lucky enough to have found someone mad enough to marry me, so we shall be swapping the tent for a house somewhere in England and we will be striving to accomplish some of the many things we have talked about doing over the two years.

I wish everybody that reads this all the best for 2012.

Aim high, dream lots, do more.

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L’viv Ukraine to Krakow Poland – Rambling thought from solo Cycling

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

I gave my last wave to Liz as she passed through the small airports security check point.  Outside it was still dark and cold, the taxi driver was still waiting thankfully, he flashed the cars headlights and I got in for the short journey back to the hostel.  The street lights flashed passed me and my memory drifted back to last winter.  Whilst a winter ride back through Europe would be a whole lot easier than cycling over snowed covered mountain passes in China,  I still needed to prepare myself for being alone.  Last winter I had not really registered just how accustomed to living with another person 24/7 I had become and was surprised when I struggled more with the mental challenges of self-motivation and isolation than the physical challenges of cycling over 4000m peaks.

I spent a few days at the hostel in L’viv sorting out some equipment problems, I waved goodbye to a friend and set off for another adventure.  There has been a lot of discussion this year in my internet world about adventure.  What is it, why do we do it?  I hope that in one of the next blog posts I will be able to summarise some of my thoughts on this.  There is a box below this blog post where you can sign up for email updates or an RSS feed of the blog if you don’t want to miss anything.

Cycling out of L’viv was quite easy, there was one main road to follow, however I stopped to check the map a lot just to make sure.  Liz usually does most of the navigation so I was adjusting to trusting my own skills again, to get me home.  The further away from the city I got, the easier it became and I was soon following road signs to the border town that would lead me to Poland.  Despite the grey day and constant light snow I felt good about things,I was looking forward to following weeks, and kept reminding myself that this feeling of loneliness was temporary. In a week or so I would be used to being on my own again.

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I set up camp in a snow covered forest just before last night.  I contemplated what Liz would make of this and whether she would be enjoying it.  She would like the enchanting forest but not the cold, which I seem to have a higher tolerance of, allowing me to continue to enjoying travelling in the winter.

The next morning it was dry and crisp, my thoughts drifted from topic to topic, and my mind slowly started to  adjust to being alone.  I stopped at a roadside rest stop to have lunch, my daydreaming was interrupted by the phone.  Liz was calling, it was a welcomed interruption, just to hear everyday news from friends and family.  After lunch I cycle the last few kms to the border, changed the last of my Ukrainian money into Polish money and started the process of crossing the line that divided one country from the next.  I was directed to the non-vehical crossing, the grumpy man in the small box flicked through the passport looking for the relevant stamp and then handed back the passport.  I tried to appeal to any sense of empathy he might have by trying to push my heavily loaded bike thought the turnpike.  Hoping that there was a side door that could be opened.  Instead he motioned for me to lift the bike over.  I gave a half smile, half shrug and got the same response.  I started the laborious task of unloading the bike and transporting each bag across.  Reloaded and pushing to the next hurdle I mentally kicked myself, don’t get grumpy, smile and be patient. Luckily the Polish side was slightly more convenient with a large door for wheelchairs and bikes.  After a slow 5 minutes I realised the buzzer to open the door really did not work and that I would have to knock on the door. Loud enough so they could hear, but not so loud so as to give reason for the rather stern looking customs officer to make my life difficult.   Eventually I handed my passport to the last person, a friendly looking Polish lady that welcomed me to her country.  Free again, I navigated my way to the main road and started to pedal.

If I was being honest to myself I would have recognised Ii was on an emotional roller coaster dealing with a new country, the challenge of communicating, finding maps, food and water as well as adjusting to being alone and the fact that the trip was coming to an end. I also was trying to make sense of all of the experiences from the last two years and work out what I was going to do when Ii got home.

As the day drew to a close I was energised by the smiles from the petrol station attendants and that I was living my dream.  I pulled of the main road and lay down my sleeping mat and bivi bag down.  Tonight I would sleep under the stars.

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I woke the next morning happy that I had slept, thankful that I had not been disturbed in the night and most of all that Ii had been warm.  In the light of day, the road was much more enjoyable and I slowly got into the cycling zone.  Sometime after lunch it occurred to me that the next day was Christmas and I really ought to get some food for the next few days as the shops would probably be closed.  I poked my head into a building that looked like a supermarket and was greeted by sight of a colourful array of fruit and vegetables.  I wrapped the lock around the rear wheal and trailer, took off the two bags that contained my most valuable items and trusted the world not to steal the rest. I entered a new world, a small Polish supermarket.  I drifted up and down the isles looking at new and familiar items, and left with an rather exciting stash of food that would easily see me through the next three days.

I peddled on, back in my own world and as the daylight started to fade I knew that at the top of the next hill I would need to start looking for a place to camp. As I crested the summit, a car with hazard lights on and a man beside it were waiting for me.  He flagged me down and with a big smile he told me in broken English that his house was 1km away and I would be a welcomed guest.  I accepted his offer and was soon taking off layers of clothes and being introduced to Adam’s wife and three children.  Two of whom were at university and one had recently graduated and started working.  One of them spoke excellent English and were were soon chatting away.

It was Christmas Eve and my understanding was that in Poland the meal this evening was just as important as an English Christmas day dinner. It is tradition that one extra place is always laid at the table for the unexpected guest or passing traveller.  Today I was that person.  It took me a while to adjust to being sociable again.  I had hardly spoken to anyone over the last few days, but I was made to feel very welcome and soon started to relax.

Before dinner, prayers were said and then we tucked into my first Polish meal.  It was completely different to England, except that there was lots of food.  We started with fish and moved on to soup with some type of dumplings, potatoes and a dish that literally translated means pigeon, although it was a rice based dish wrapped in what I think was a flour tortilla.  Everything was delicious and all homemade from scratch with pride.  After dessert came presents and singing. Adam handed out presents to each member of his family, including the two grandmothers that were also at the table and  had entertained me with their smattering of English words and stories that had to be translated.  I was handed a large box of very posh chocolates.  I don’t think anybody but Liz will realise how amazing this was, I love chocolate!

I was asked if I was religious and if I would like to attend midnight mass.  Despite not partaking any form of religio,n I am very interested in it and welcomed the opportunity to experience a Polish mass.  After dinner I was left to rest.  It was about 7pm and I did not realise how tired I was, within minutes I was asleep and I awoke briefly as the family were about to depart for mass.  I felt rather guilty but decided I was rather tired and sleep would be much more preferable.  Adam seemed to understand and smiled again as he left me to sleep.

I woke up on Christmas day feeling refreshed, I was keen to cycle.  I was more than welcome to stay for Christmas day but I had a very strong urge to know what it would feel like to cycle on this day.  I had said that I would only like to stay one night when I arrived.  I was also keen to try to get to Germany for New Year to meet some friends and my goddaughter for the first time.  As I packed my things Adam and his wife woke and breakfast was prepared for me.  Adam used the computer to help us translate each others languages as Ii filled up on bread, meat and coffee.  Half way through breakfast I was hit by a wave of emotion as I grasped the magnitude of this situation.  I, a stranger had been invited into this family and treated as one of them. I fought back the tears.  I was given a huge chocolate cake and made my way downstairs to the garage.  I packed the bike and was given water and some cola for the journey.  Adam even tried to give me one his bicycle seats to replace mine which is falling apart.  I tried to explain that while it was falling apart it was quite well moulded to my bottom and Ii was quite happy.

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I took a picture with Adam and waved goodbye and said thank you for the last time before setting off without looking back.  I had read another cyclist’s book before this trip, he described a similar breakfast scene where he was unable to fight back the tears until he was alone on the bike.  At the time I though he was a bit of a woose, men don’t cry, but now I get it.  For me it was not this one breakfast that made me cry.  It was as if the kindness shown to me by every person that I had met on this trip had been wrapped up into a small package placed inside me and suddenly exploded.

Christmas day, I mused as I cycled on.  What was the significance to me and why did I want to cycle rather than be with people.  The day continued as many other days do, cycling, eating cycling, eating and so on. Perhaps it was the rain perhaps I missed my family or the company of others. Either way it was not my best day cycling but I am still glad I did it, just to know what it felt like.

After a detour though a small town due to the main road not allowing bikes I found a small woodland that would serve as a home for the night.  I sent an email to my family had my dinner and went to bed.

I convinced myself that i was hidden enough to risk having a lie in. Last nights consultation of the map told me that i would have to cycle about 110km a day for seven days to reach Germany in time to see my friends, unlikely.  I had breakfast, gave the bike a clean and found the main road i had left the day before.  After only 10km i stopped to use the loo at the petrol station and found the golden arches were next door with free wifi and tempting cheeseburgers.  I indulged in both and managed to have a brief chat on Skype with my Mum and Liz, by the time i was done it was dark again.  I cycle through the nearby town looking for a cheap motel.  I passed a sign for an expensive looking hotel but the thought of lugging wet muddy bags up stairs and worrying about getting cream coloured carpets dirty was far less appealing than the plot of land by the petrol station that would conceal a tent for the night.

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Cycling into a town at lunch time the next day to find some gas for the stove i reflected on the last few days.  I was tired, mentally and physically but also tired of travelling.  I have always seen myself as a traveller, a nomad not attached to one house or country. At 25 I could not imagine ever not wanting to travel but here I was 5 years later wanting something different.  I had changed and it was scary.  I also realised i was being a little hard on myself, wanting to have a shower or a hot meal in a restaurant, setting myself unrealistic daily targets on the distance i should cover.  There was no doubt in my mind that i wanted to cycle the last weeks back to England, it would feel strange to finish this journey any other way. But i needed to relax, go with the flow and enjoy it.

One the way out of town i met a local girl on her bike, she invited me back to her house for a cup of tea and cake.  She was so excited to meet another cyclist and she had plans to do some touring in the future.  She has lots of energy and i left her house with a smile her energy and kindness having rubbed off on me.  A short way out of town i found a great place to camp by a river and set up home for the night again.

I was slowly starting to feel normal or balanced again.  The freedom to camp by a river near a big town, the time i would spend on my own, the acceptance that this adventure was coming to an end and there were other types of adventures waiting for me.

The next day i took my time packing up, enjoyed my coffee, savoured the bread and honey and decided that the van that had driven past me did not care i had camped by the river. The weather was clear and the road was smooth.  I entered the zone and cycled until lunch with only a few stops for snacks.  I sat in a nice bus stop for lunch, i felt energised, strong happy.  I smiled at the people in the slow moving cars as they past me.  Some stared in confusion, others waved some smiled, but the majority of people seemed pleased to have seen me.

I drew closer to the Polish city of Krakow, my goal for the day.  I had decided to spend New Year here, have some fun, make some friends go dancing. There was still a few days till new Year and the woodland to my left looked like a good home for the night.  Why push on into the night. Wait until tomorrow, you will get to see the city it will be a lot easier.  I pulled off into the forest and cycled around the trails until i found a suitable spot for the tent, my home home for the night.

It had been a good day, and the stars shone brightly though the trees that night.

By mid morning the next day i was cycling the last few kms into town.  I arrived at the hostel, ready for a break, a bed and a shower.  It had been an interesting week a small journey of self discovery with big highs and lows.  This phase of my life, this journey, was drawing to a close and i needed to appreciate all that has happened, learn from my experiences, look forward to the future and not to forget to enjoy the last weeks of this incredible adventure.

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