Daily Archives: August 6, 2012

Day 25: Rest day in Krakow

I slept reasonably well last night. The hotel shakes every time a tram goes past, which is most of the night! There is no air conditioning so you have the choice of opening the window and letting in the street sounds or being too hot. Once again I am so thankful to have ear plugs and music on my phone. The duvet here has a cover so I was able to remove it and use the cover as a sheet! Another common practise amongst the riders is using the rubbish bins in our rooms as foot spas. We are leaving a trail of glistening clean bins behind us.

Today I did not have a sleep-in as a number of us had booked a tour at the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial and Museum. I had read quite a bit about it over the years. I was aware that over 1.5 million people were killed there – Jews, Poles, Gypsies, Russians, POWs, retarded people and anyone else felt to be undesirable, but to be there, it’s hard to even describe the sheer scale, the brutality and the systematic approach. Most of you will know a lot more than me so I will just pick out what were a few key points

  • The room full of human hair
  • The room full of children’s shoes
  • Standing at the selection point where 80 percent of all arrivals were sent straight to the gas chamber
  • Standing in a gas chamber, having walked through the changing area to the chamber, and then past the crematoriums (the biggest chambers could gas 2,000 at one go).

The punishment cells will long linger in my memory, where prisoners were sent to starve to death or to suffocate, the standing cells where up to four prisoners had to stand in a space as small as a phone booth for days, the execution wall and the group hanging gallows. We walked from the selection platform down the same path to the changing area of the big crematoriums (two of these were destroyed by resistance fighters within the inmates and two by the Germans just before the Russians arrived, their remains are still there) but after the tour I got to turn around and walk back out of the gate and get back on the bus. I will be reflecting on this experience for a long time to come, I suspected it would affect me but in a strange way I feel it is the only way I can show my respect to those who perished, and acknowledge that it happened.

Auschwitz Gates (photo from Reserve123)

When we got back it was about 3pm and I had arranged to met Shirley, Daphne and Walli for dinner later, so in the meantime I went across to a cafe in the mall as the Wifi connection at the hotel is hopeless. The mall is huge, it’s three times the size of North City Plaza or Queensgate. It is open to 9pm every night, when I was there at 7pm it was really busy, but I guess the population is of course much bigger.

For dinner we went to a traditional Polish restaurant called Jarema Polska Kuchnia Kresowa (they call them restauracya here, in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia they are called restorians). The restaurant advertised “Come and sit in our outside summer garden” – this was actually three tables and flowers in a pot on the pavement! Anyway, I had a very nice medium rare steak – called Przysmak Jarem – with baked potato and black pepper cream sauce, it was very nice but I could not help reflecting on the usual food allowance at Auschwitz – half a litre of water with a coffee substitute for breakfast, a bowl of watery soup for lunch with rotten vegetables, and dinner was 300 grams of bread. On the wall of one of the bunkers were photos of some of the men and woman prisoners. From my observation the woman lived about 2 to 3 months on average, and the men about 11 to 12 months. The diet was not enough to combat starvation, and they had to work 11 hour days, plus endure roll calls over a couple of hours, twice a day.

I will leave this sombre subject for now. Tomorrow the plan is to sleep in then visit the old town, then in the afternoon I am off on a tour to the salt mines. The Wieliczka salt mine is centuries old and has an extensive underground city with a chapel, can you believe, 101 meters under the ground?

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Day 24: Bobolice to Krakow – 91k

2,148km down: 4,077km to go.

Great, we thought, 91k today – easy. Also it was 10k less than we had originally thought! So I set off with a positive attitude even with legs that were not at all cooperative. I was pleased that I had not made the effort to go the extra couple of kilometres to Mirror Castle last night as our route took us right by it.

The positive attitude lasted about 5k, until we met our first hill, and then it was hills for the next 65k. We climbed up, then down and then up again. Some of the hills were like Makara, some like Tawa to Johnsonville, and one sharp but short one that I was not sure I would get up, and was also sure I would not be able to get out of my cleats either – thankfully I made it. I am pleased it was not as hot as the first day of this section, it was not raining either, it was just grinding it out.

One of the games I play with myself when riding and I get tired, and it is coming into lunch or the end of the day, is measuring out the distance to go and comparing it to known distances at home, like 15k to go that’s just Johnsonville to home you can do that, 10k is from Tawa to home etc. 50k is into work and back, and then I imagine where on the trip I would be. If that is not working I play the game I used to do when I was running – count slowly to 1,000 and if I want to stop at 1,000 I can. I find with cycling – the same with running – that by the time you get to 1,000 you are up that hill or finished that stretch and can keep going.

Just before lunch I was grinding my way to the top of a tough hill and I was huffing and puffing, and a local man was smiling and gesturing and telling me something. I was not sure what but it turned out that we then had a great 4k downhill ride to the lunch stop, in really interesting countryside (place called Ojcowie, it had a castle/ church) and interesting rock formations. I could almost see it as a setting for a Peter Jackson movie. I got to lunch with only four riders behind me but was feeling a lot better for having taken it slowly. We asked Ciran if he knew what the remaining 25k was like, he assured us it was all downhill and said every other rider had asked him the same thing.

Well it was stunning countryside, because it is a national reserve park. People with houses can drive their cars on the part we were on after lunch. There were more amazing rock formations plus a fantastic wooden church built over the river. Kaplica w Ojcowlie: The chapel of St Joseph the Craftsman otherwise known as the chapel on water. The reason it had been built over the river is the Tsar had said no new buildings were to be built on the land, so they built it on the river instead!

Church on a river (photo from Wikimedia)

After we left the reserve we were back on Highway 794 and it was busy! Getting into the city and dodging the traffic was a mission but we made it ok. Some helpful soul had removed a couple of orange flags and we had misunderstood one instruction but we figured it out and it only caused a slight delay.

The hotel is Hotel Polonia, it is quite nice, a bit boutique like and old fashioned antique type furniture, high ceilings etc. I am back to the narrow single bed but beats a tent and the bugs can’t get me.

First on the list – as always – find the Laundromat. Good news is that Krakow has one! Armed with instructions Walli and I set off, it took awhile to find as we were looking on the wrong side of the street. Unbelievable when we got there, there was no wait, the staff were nice, and there was an outside bar and an inside bar where you could get a beer. Jan and Danya were also there, but nearly finished. We chatted to them for awhile until they left. While we were there we managed to drink two beers which turned out to be a bad idea sitting in the sun and feeling wary. Walli had wanted me to come out with her and some friends that were meeting her and staying for our rest days. Sadly I was not up for it, I was only interested in a quick bite to eat and bed. I bumped into Michele on the way back to the hotel, he had the same idea so we headed to the enormous mall complex around the corner and had a Panini. I was back at the hotel and toes up by 9pm.

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