Leaving Dresden we headed north and then north east to take advantage of the relatively flat terrain to try to make up some lost time. We made good pregress now, regularly hitting our 50 mile a day target and sometimes exceeding it up to 80 miles. To be fair the wind helped us, a stiff follwoing wind produced the state of Nirvana rarely achieved by mortal cyclists, bombing along in top gear whilst seemingly travelling in still air.
Crossing the border from Germany at Guben, within the 50 yards it took to cross the bridge, we immediately noticed that Poland had a more lived-in feel to it. Our first night camping by a lake, the owner shrugged when asked how much “I dunno, 20 Zloty OK?” (about a fiver). He then showed us how to fire up the calor gas burner for a hot shower and his wife arrived with tea, coffee, sugar and a pan of hot water and gave us the key to her husband’s private fishing caravan so that we could use the stove to cook and sit under the veranda as a thunder storm passed. Instead of the high-tech showers of Germany where you need a pin number for a pee and a swipe card for a shower which gets you precisely 4 minutes of hot water, we only had to balance the hot and cold taps lest the boiler overheat and cut out, while swallows dipped and dived between the beams of the converted barn that served as the wash-house.
On cycling in Poland, our guidebook tells us the roads are good and the traffic is light. The author is clearly not a cyclist and we began to doubt if he had actaully been to Poland at all. The roads we have experienced are wrist breakers. The traffic may be light by British standardsbut what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in appalling driving standards. We’ve been run off the roads and seen several accidents – but as we go further east and standeards deteriorate we may look back on this fondly.
Poland apparently has about 500 campsites, which may be so but finding the blighters is a problem. The maps are innacurate and there is no definitive list. Once on a campsite, we come across the usual international brigades of motorhomes. The Dutch are the universal travellers of all ages – great outdoorsy people with famously liberal habits, which is OK apart from our middle-aged, slightly slack-bellied, neighbour wearing nothing but tight red speedos verging on a mock thong. A little distracting as we tucked into our dinner of smoked sausage and sourkraut.
We spent a day in Czestochowa, site of Catholic pigrimage to about 5 million people a year who come to see the Black Madonna. This portrait is known as the Miraculous Image because legend has it that it became heavier and heavier as theives tried to steal it. In frustration they slashed her face with knives. Mass is said almost contiuously in the chapel and hundreds of girls and dozens of boys were dressed to take their first Holy communion.
From here east, then looping south, to Krakow. Krakow is the jewel of Poland and we have spent 4 days here. Its galleries and museums far too numerous and what we crammed in, far too numerous to go into here.
We don’t have much opportunity to try local food while we are on the move, but in Krakow we have discovered how delicious Polish food is. We have also tried the Bison vodka flavoured with grass which only grows in one particular forest in Poland.
An unexpected find was a bridge of locks across the Wisla, where thousands of lovers express their devotion to each other with a padlock inscribed with their names attached to the bridge. They then throw the key into the river, although a couple of combination locks suggest slightly less confidence in the eternal nature of love.
From here we go east again into the Carpathian mountains in the Ukraine. With only 3 days left in Poland we will be sorry to leave. So now we are genning up on the Russian alphabet in an attempt to make sense of the Ukraine.