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  • Jamie Shannon

Next stop - Kraków. Thunderstorms and loosing things.

I had only planned to stay in Warsaw for one day. As it happened, I ended up staying for three as the city, despite being comprehensibly flattened during the Second World War has picked itself up, dusted itself off, restored the old town to its former glory and is now a buzzing metropolis with some very crazy and cool architecture, cafes and street life. I liked it very much.

Back on the road - cycle touring Eastern Europe

I was on my way again however after the third night and it took me a good while before I reached the city’s southern extremities. The traffic was incredibly heavy, but with four lanes on each side, I had plenty of room to evade the cars.

I stopped off at a supermarket to get three days’ worth of food which would last me until I arrive in Krakow apart from a few extra items that I would need to purchase along the way. I still can’t quite believe how cheap it is here: three days’ worth of food for less than ten euro’s and that’s even when buying one off things like coffee which would last a month most probably. Brilliant.

I continued south and after 40km’s, stopped for coffee and a rest. Just when I had finished my coffee the rain started to pour down, Having taken shelter in a nearby building for ten minutes, I was again on my way but twenty minutes later the rain again poured down again. This time in a torrent the like of which I had not seen in a long time. I made it into a small town, thoroughly soaked and found some shelter in between two houses where I ended up waiting a good half an hour, putting on some rain gear in the process.

I had cycled out of Warsaw in shorts and sandals and this proved an utter ruinous choice as I was now finding out. The weather had been glorious for the past week and so the shorts had seemed appropriate but well you just never know do you.

Clothed now in proper attire, I had no choice but to carry on south, but with a complete thunderstorm raging overhead, the rain fell down relentlessly and with everything completely soaked, I had no choice but to pull over yet again, this time in a bus stop. It was unbelievable. Just then, as a coach pulled up and upon waving to the passengers, I looked at the front of my bike and saw that my mattress was no longer there. I mustn’t have tied it on correctly when I had taken out my rain pants further back. I couldn’t believe it. It was worth about eighty pounds that thing and was pretty indispensable at night in keeping me comfy and insulating me from the cold ground too.

The rain was flooding down but I just had no choice but to travel back and look for it. Twenty minutes later, I was back where I had stopped for a while but it was nowhere to be seen. Ruing my forgetfulness, I travelled back again along the road, this time on the same side I had been travelling on before. I scanned the road and roadside erratically in the hope of spotting it but it was just not to be. This was not good. It was expensive and just another cost that I would need to incur. I was positively angry with myself and cursing out load as I cycled along.

I stopped a little later to gather my thoughts and realised it was just a mattress, albeit an expensive one, and perhaps maybe I didn’t need to buy another one like this when I got to Krakow. Perhaps a cheap one would do the same job. Sometimes this is the case.

I continued on my way and my mood improved. The scenery was growing more pleasant by the minute and I was now travelling on very minor roads which were almost completely devoid of traffic. Finally. I guess Jon ‘the bean’ was right; this part of the country really is beautiful: laced with vineyards and lush forest in every direction. The torrential downpour had also given the whole scene a damp, humid and mythical look, it was a joy to cycle through.

Being on these very minor roads does mean that often, I have to stop to ask for directions as the map I’m using doesn’t always show me exactly where I am and where I need to go, but this is good as it’s a chance to talk to the locals – with the use of my hands.

I found a place to camp just a little later and got my tent up in the nick of time just before another downpour appeared. I wasn’t looking forward to sleeping on the bare ground but, with a little luck, it might be okay and if I could somehow buy another mattress tomorrow, all will be well again and a good night’s rest will be assured.

I thought I had camped pretty inconspicuously but I was again woken in the morning by a car pulling into the forest where I had pitched. With the music blaring, a man got out and I popped my head out of my tent to see what was up. After telling him I was not Polish but from Anglia, he went off mushroom picking. A little later after he had returned, he rooted around in the boot of his car and brought over two cans of Pepsi for me. Now if the only thing I have to worry about whist camping for free is people giving me Pepsi and the like, well then I’m laughing.

I headed slightly out of my way today to the city of Radon to see if I could find a new mattress. The road was fairly busy, but as was usual, people were giving me plenty of room. I don’t know where I read that Polish drivers weren’t very forgiving but it certainly isn’t true. Even a few trucks were giving me encouraging honks on their horns.

Well, with no internet access, I couldn’t fathom where I needed to head to when I got to Radon. Was there a Decathlon or any outdoor shop here? If there was, then where the hell was it? I knew a Decathlon would be somewhere along one of the main roads leading out of the city but which one? Not knowing this, I headed for the centre and found some people to ask whom told me there was one here and that it was along the number 9 road heading south. Ah! Brilliant. Now I just needed to find the signs for that road and magic, I would have a Decathlon and all without a GPS, sat-nav or smartphone. It can be done.

When I arrived, I didn’t even have to ask to bring my bike in the store; the security guard insisted.

The mattress wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be. I also bought some other stuff which I had been putting off getting and all told, it came to fifty euros which wasn't so bad at all. I left with a new hi vis, some cycling gloves, tent pegs and some spare fabric patches for my tent. .

Sometime later, just after passing through a small town, I noticed a bright light on my right. It was the sun! I couldn’t believe it. What a wonderful sight! I immediately pulled over and got to work getting my tent out in order to dry it. There really is nothing worse than sleeping in a wet and damp tent you know.

As I was sat down and my tent was drying, I noticed some heavy looking dark clouds approaching and got to work packing the tent back up again. It wasn’t quite dry but I wasn’t going to take the chance. No sooner had I got everything back on my bike than the rain began to pour down yet again. I decided to start cycling as it didn’t seem so bad but man alive it rained heavily. By the time I got to bus stop number three of the day I was soaking from head to foot.

I waited for twenty minutes there, chatting to a young guy with the use of google translate. Peter I think his name was. He told me that the city coming up next had been under a foot of water the previous day so to watch out and you know what, I would watch out, for a bus stop that is.

Well no sooner had I left the city of Starachowice and began to climb up into the national park area than the rain got underway yet again. I was eating some sandwiches and had just began to cycle along the forest road when a thunderstorm appeared overhead. There were no bus stops in sight now and so I had to just leave the bike resting against a tree whilst I dived into the woods to take some cover. I stood there for twenty minutes watching my bike and bags get a good seeing to. Big fat rain pummelled down relentlessly for fifteen straight minutes.

When the rain eventually stopped, I trudged over to my bike which was by now 4 pounds heavier with water and cycled a few minutes up the road to where I found an entrance to the forest. Along the track inside, I tried to find an open spot but everything was completely water logged. Just walking through it with the bike became difficult and I was kind of afraid that perhaps during the night, if the rain continues like this, I might be flooded with water as I slept.

As is often the case in life, bad times breed brilliant times. Life is a series of ups and downs and sometimes you have to battle through the troughs in order to enjoy the highs and I guess this journey is no different.

Waking up the next morning brought brilliant sunshine and a fine, fine day. I mean it just couldn’t have been more perfect. Peering out of my tent at sunrise, I was confident and thus content that today would be a complete turnaround.

I set off in the vain, vain hope that I could cycle over 110 km’s which would leave me with less than fifty to cycle the next day to Krakow. This was of course foolish. I just didn’t know how tough it would be.

After some brief but difficult climbs, I stopped for an hour to get everything dry whilst I had breakfast. The good thing about buying decent gear, is that it tends to dry in a matter of minutes. This was good news as the sun kept disappearing the behind clouds.

After an hour or so I was well on my way again and I would continue to cycle around the national park area climbing and then descending over and over again in what seemed like a pattern that would never end. On a more positive note though, the scenery was indeed beautiful and I was very grateful my days of cycling on endless straight highways were over. It was hard though.

After thirty km’s, the hills ended but the stunning scenery continued and I just carried on in a seemingly blissful state, listening to my music and feeling about as happy as I could ever be. I was really enjoying Poland. I had imagined a country of farmland and industrial waste before I came here and just how wrong was!

When I came to a small town called Stopnica, I was again faced with the unpleasant prospect of cycling on the highway. On the map however, I could see that I could take a ‘short cut’ of 15 km’s or so through yet more farmland thus I chose this route.

I don’t know why I do this to tell the truth because, well, I know I always get lost on these minute roads but I did it anyway. I must have spent two hours or so wandering round these small lanes in the hope that eventually they would take me somewhere, anywhere. There were no signs to be seen and no one to ask and so I just had to follow my instincts, my nose and my trusty compass.

I cycled another twenty km’s along the highway, replenished my water at a petrol station and found somewhere to camp for the evening.

I was now about sixty or seventy km’s from Krakow and I got underway by half eight. I had a minor problem in that my camera had run out of battery. I couldn’t quite believe it! It usually lasts a month you see but then I remember vividly that I had been taking lots of videos thus the battery had been drained far much quicker than usual. I might buy a spare.

After three hours of taking pictures using my very forgetful memory and about twenty km’s shy of Krakow, I decided it prudent to find somewhere to actually charge my camera battery up. In a small village, I found a hotel where I could thus restore life to my camera. I didn’t realise it at the time (really I didn’t) but the hotel was actually called hotel Maria which is kind of strange. Anyway the good news was that I charged my things and as an added bonus, the lady gave me a huge plate of food from the breakfast buffet which, as you can imagine, I was very pleased about. I love food you know and I love free things too and so when you combine the two it’s like, well heaven. It really is.

Arriving in Krakow and trying to find a hostel

It was an uneventful ride all the way into the city really, just one loooong straight road. I did get lost a little once there but with some help from a local I found where I needed to be.

The problem was actually finding the hostel I was booked into. It was nowhere to be seen. I found the street and I found the number but there was no sign or indication that there was in fact a hostel present. I walked around and around and asked a few shop owners but they had never heard of it. There were a number of other hostels in the vicinity but they were always very uniquely and precisely titled ‘hostel’ which didn’t really help me. I was kind of tired and just wanted to get rid of this bike so I could walk anonymously around. Why couldn’t they just put a sign outside? Can it be that difficult?

In the end, I walked into an ice cream parlour just around from where the hostel ought to be and the girl helped so much, I vowed I would be back to buy an ice cream later. After walking to the building that I had been to before, she showed me a sign that said ‘hostel 4 U’ behind the glass, about 4 x 4 inches square and hidden behind lots of dust and dirt - very clear indeed. Well I thanked her and made my way inside. I was there at last. Thank goodness.

Tomorrow I'll cycle to Oswiecim, forty km’s west to see a man about a Jew. Oswiecim is of course better known by its German name though. Go and Google it.

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