Posts Tagged With: Humans are awful

Day 26: Rest day two in Krakow

I stayed in bed until 8am and then I had enough of listening to the trams so I got up – although I had been dozing in between. I had breakfast and then walked over to the Old City and took a city tour. Unlike in the other three cities that I have done this, it was not in a bus. Instead they have these carts, that are a bit like golf carts, zipping around. Some have four seats, and some have up to ten seats.

I chose to do the tour of the Old City, the Jewish quarter and the Ghetto. It cost 370 złoty, which is about NZ$125. If there had been two of us it would have been $195, and even cheaper if there were three, but I was looking forward to spending most of the day by myself and figured it was worth it.

The driver was called Jan and spoke very little English but had a translation system that told me about the sights so we got on fine. Jan also helpfully wrote down the spelling of most of the sights for me after having seen some of my interesting interpretations of what was said and my mind’s creative attempt to spell them. He was nice enough not to roar with laughter, but he did have a wee smile as he went back to the beginning and worked his way through correcting them. After that he just automatically picked up my notebook and did it. The tour was meant to be one and half hours but was about two hours.

We started off in the Old City at the market square with:
Saint Mary’s Church – the main feature is that has an alter carved out of wood
Clothes stall hall, also in market square
Church San Wojciech
Church Saint Fransikin – not sure about the spelling of this one but Jan did not correct. (Editors note: It’s Franciscan)
Bishop Palace – the Pope stayed here every time he came to Krakow
St Andrews Church
Peter and Paul’s Saints church
Wavel castle
Kazimierz Skalka Church – also the site of the alter of the three millennia
Plus a fountain that was good for you to drink – the sign said it was full of minerals, it tasted like egg.

St Andrew’s Church (photo from Wikipedia)

We also saw various town squares (Krakow, town very close, Jewish quarter and Old ghetto).

Jewish quarter
I saw the birth place of Helena Rubinstein (famous for cosmetics, emigrated to Australia with two jars of ointment from her grandmother, which was enough to start her own business and she ended up a very wealthy woman). We also saw a number of synagogues.

Ghetto
Once again this was established in the war, it was in two parts: men and woman, children and elderly. There was one chemist (or Apteka as they are called here) who operated in the ghetto after the war, the chemist was given an award for his services (His name was Miasta Krakowa. I think that was his name anyway).

We stopped in the square where the selections were carried out and people sent to the ghettos. After the visit to Auschwitz yesterday, this had more affect on me that when we had stood in the ghetto line in Warsaw.  We also went to the Schindlers Factory – I am sure you have read the book or seen the movie. It’s amazing the difference one man can make. There were photos of a number of his employees that he saved.

Then it was back to the Old City town walls and the Krakow barbican built in 1498, the walls were 30 meters I think. There were 140 shooting holes and seven gates, the gates were closed at night. There was a person playing a bugle to warn the gates were closing and this would play again in the morning.

Krakow Barbican (photo from Wikipedia)

After I was dropped off I went and had a climb around inside it (people certainly were shorter in the 14 century) then headed back to the cafe in the mall for an apple pie for lunch and to update the blog. We are headed to the salt mines this afternoon, and we don’t get back from them until after 8pm, so I have already sorted out my bags.

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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 21: Rest day in Warsaw

Started off with a relaxed breakfast at 9am today, my first job was to go to the local bike shop and try to get a new screw for my speedometer, some sports rehydration and some chamois cream. There were directions on the board left for us by the tour guides to the nearest bike shop which was a Scott’s bike store( for those non cyclists, this is a well known brand of bike) so we set off with good expectations. It is really hot outside and we have been deserted at the moment by our training friend the wind.

We got to the bike store:
No luck with the screw
No luck with the sports rehydration
No luck with chamois cream.

But at least we got advice to go to a chemist (or apeka) as they are known here. The cream for babies for nappy rash is almost exactly the same as chamois cream. We went to the chemist and tried to explain what I wanted, the chemist insisted he could speak English. Well certainly he could speak better English than my Polish but… I tried to explain that we wanted it for a baby for the bottom rash, tried friction, tried showing rubbing by hands together and with cream. “Ah!” said the chemist, “No you should not use cream for the friction you could slip”.
Hm I thought not quite sure he has understood me, reinforced a moment later by “No no, to stop the friction you should wear gloves, then no friction and no slip”. I thanked him most sincerely, got out of the shop and had a wee chuckle. We bumped in Gareth who asked what we were laughing about and we told him and he said maybe a certain someone else on the trip could go in and mime. That person is well known for standing up in the middle of us and wriggling around inside his shorts applying cream. Yes I said that could be right, or he could be arrested for an obscene act in public!

We tried at the next store and there was a tube of cream with a baby on it so I was feeling quite hopeful, however the store keeper did not speak English. The tube was also next to stuff like toothpaste and denture care, I certainly did not want to find I had been carefully applying baby toothpaste to my bottom! (I guess I would have got a ring of confidence in a whole new way). So I lurked around the shop for a couple of minutes pouncing on the new customers asking them if they spoke English. One lady did a little and confirmed that yes this was the cream for the baby bottom (she did not add that really I also needed a baby, she probably assumed I was a slightly mad grandmother). The store keeper who had been frowning at me was delighted to be getting me out of his shop, and suddenly was all smiles!

There was a rumor going through the tour riders that there was a Laundromat in the old town but no one was sure exactly who had discovered this or the exact directions, so given it is so hot and yesterday’s exercise in futility Walli decided to do what I had done and do it in her room. Unfortunately Walli had no clothes line and I was using mine. I set off to the local store to get cold water. The hotel water is warm not matter how long you run the tap and they charge 8 Lats for a bottle, it’s only 1.40 lat at the store out of the fridge, plus I was still on the drink supplement hunt and had used my last yesterday. While I was there I thought I would try and find a line or at least some string for Walli. Well. That was also funny, there were a couple of very helpful young ladies but with very limited English (but once again better than my Polish, which is limited to hi and thank you) so I tried miming long and thin
“So like you eat?”
“No no like that long, this long” then tried miming pegging (charades has never been a strong point of mine)
* Puzzled look *
So I tried wrapping like a parcel
The girl with the puzzled looks called another young lady over to help
I tied the present, and mimed opening and retying
“Ah” said the new young lady, and beckoned to me to follow, so off we go across the shop and there was gift wrapping ribbon. Well this was exactly what I had asked for really, so I said thank you and bought the bright multi colour ribbon. Walli now has gift ribbon with clothes on strung about her room, but hey it works! And if she should happen to need to wrap a present, well the ribbon is already sorted.

I also had success in the sports rehydration supplements, in the tablet form which I prefer. I like this as it does not have sugar, and it’s easy to carry, and easy to break each capsule in half. Thankfully I came across these quite by chance when looking for string as can’t even begin to imagine what I would have come up with asking for them!

To note there are now snap lock bags at every shop and I have to stop myself some buying some just in case.

Due to the very hot weather and that this is a rest day, once again I am not rushing around madly sightseeing. Walli and I have booked a site seeing tour this afternoon which is 3 hours in an air-conditioned bus and will be taking us to the main sites:

1. The Old Town which is listed on the UNESCO world heritage site list
2. The Royal Castle (home of the monarchs 1596 to 1795 and previous residence of the polish president )
3. St John Cathedral
4. Barbican (Old market square and barbican)
5. Umschlagplatz, the memorial built on the place where the Jews in Warsaw ghetto had to assemble to board the trains which took them to the death camp at Treblinks, beginning July 1942
6. The royal route, royal and aristocratic residences and famous monuments including an urn containing the heart of Fryderyk Chopin
7. The royal park known as the baths and a visit to the place on water
8. The tomb of the unknown solider
9. Praha district was formally independent and became part of Warsaw in the 18th century.

After that I will be looking for a cold beer.

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Day 20: Pultusk to Warsaw – 65k

1,779km down: 4,446km to go.

Warsaw is the 1/2 way mark (in kilometres) for those finishing the ride in Venice, and the 1/4 way mark for those going all the way to Lisbon.

Today we rode to Warsaw. I rode the first 37k independently, then we were going to met at 12pm as a group and have a guide to take us into Warsaw in a convoy.

The sandy road out of camp was not as bad as it could have been, as the damp air during the night made it easier to ride on. The first 10k was a forest road again. I saw the third horse drawn cart for farm machinery, all so far in Poland. We were taking our time as we had three and a half hours to ride 37k. If the camp had not had as many ferocious and hungry bugs we may have stayed around there longer. As it was, they were still taking advantage and having a few last snacks while I was getting up the sandy road. Once you get over about 15k per hour, they leave you alone – apart from flying into you.

We stopped for a drink break but we still arrived at 10am with two hours to kill. There was a lake over the road so Walli and I went for a swim. The water was a bit murky but there were lots of families swimming and life guards etc, plus I figured if the water was unsafe, Poland is not a third world country – they have public health etc – so it would be closed.

The water was great for itchy skin. When we got out we sat on the bank for awhile, but then I felt like I was being bitten. I couldn’t see anything, then it went around my front and starting burning. Turned out I was being attacked by ants that bite! Walli picked them off me and put anti-itch on. Poor Dan had a worse experience – he ate a piece of watermelon and thought “That’s strange, there is something crunchy on it” and he had eaten a wasp which stung him on the tongue! His tongue swelled up a bit and it was a bit painful but lucky he was otherwise fine. The wasps are a bit of a problem, they follow you around and after one just flew up and bit my foot with no provocation, I am a bit wary of them. I tend to jump and twitch around trying to avoid them. They are persistent though and keep coming back.

The tour guy was a few minutes late, and when he arrived he spent a couple of minutes getting organised. A member of the group started getting a bit impatient, saying “Come on, let’s go, we have been here for hours”. I thought to myself – well you rocketed past us this morning like you were going to a fire and didn’t stop anywhere on the way, what did you think would happen with over three hours to do 37k?

The guide took us into the city by going along a canal and then a bike route. It was a longer route than the planned 25k so we did more than the 65k plan for the day, but not much, and it was certainly nicer than previous experiences of coming into a big city independently, watching the traffic, looking for flags and trying not to get run over or lost. We only spent about five minutes in total in the traffic before arriving at the hotel. We are staying at an Ibis Hotel, the rooms are really nice. It is nice to have a shower and not have to cover yourself in bug spray immediately.

One of the interesting bits of this trip is the changing landscape – in a day we can go through forest, farm land, uphill, through small towns – and the differences in accommodation. From one night to the next – a nice hotel, then a tent with bugs, then a cabin with an indoor toliet. The hotels have gone from being really basic with a single sagging bed and no ventilation to a modern ventilated hotel with double beds and a nice shower.

One of the problems we constantly face is laundry – getting our stuff washed and dried and we always hope to do this on the rest day. The past couple of places have had no laundromats in the town that we could discover. Even if we wanted to pay the rates at the hotels, they have not offered laundry services on a weekend. At the last two towns, armed with info from Google and the hotel we have all arrived at a dry cleaner and tried to explain to someone with little English that we did not want dry cleaning, we just wanted washing. Yesterday Gen, Rob, Walli and I set off to the local mall – about a 20 minute walk – to go to what we had been told was Laundromat. After hunting through this enormous mall, we asked for help at the information desk, but he gave us directions to the toilet. We finally found it and it was another drycleaner.

While we were there, Brett came past and told us that Brian, Daphne and Shirley had also been there. Daphne and Shirley had gone as far as finding an English speaker to write what they wanted and took it to the dry cleaner and then took the response back to the English speaker. We got no hint of this from the staff at the Laundromat, faced with the same question and people with bags of clothes within about 20 minutes. Would be interesting to get someone who spoke Polish to talk to them to find out what they thought was going on, maybe they thought it was a hoax?

So it was back to the old method of washing in the shower and hanging clothes lines around the bathroom.

While we were out we had dinner, Gen and I shared a mix of Bravilan Sausages, sauerkraut and mustard and a mixed platter of dumplings . They have a name for it that starts with a p but I can’t spell it well enough to give the iPad an idea of what I want to write. The autocorrect on this is a real pain, if a word has a letter wrong it changes it to what it thinks it should be – often no relation to what you were trying to say. Kelly (who has the patience of a saint and highly developed deductive skills) knows all about this, she has to try and interpret the ones I miss. For example I want to spell Laundromat. Look at what happens when I try it all together, it turns laundro mat into laundro AT&T!!.

After dinner we went back to the hotel to do our washing, and to catch up on the blog. On the way back to the hotel we came across a line where the ghettos had been in the Second World War. First there were two and they were really big – thousands of acres – so it was not such a problem but then all the Jews were forced into the smaller ghetto and many starved to death. Many more were killed when they revolted and the ghettos were set on fire, others were sent to extermination camps. Approximately 300,000 Polish, Jews lost their lives there.

As mentioned before, on Thursday my iPad decided to go on strike. I tried charging it, and Yarn tried to get it going on his charger but there was no response. However when we got to the hotel I thought before going to the iPad store I would try once again and for about an hour nothing happened then it came up with “battery low needs charging” then it must have worked out actually it was on a charger and had been for the past hour, and started happily charging itself. So I have decided not to take it to the store here as we are only here for one day, the next rest day we are in a town and have two days so will do it then.

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Other riders, the lunch truck, and a cow

There are 19 other riders in total, and I thought I might share a bit about all of them. We have the front three, the back three, and those in between. We have mostly settled into groups with some movement in the middle riders.

Front three
Making up the front three are the honeymoon couple from Canada: Jan (pronounced Yarn) who is 29 and Darnya who is 30, as well as Scott who is in his 50s, a retired accountant. He was born in Australia but has lived in Canada for years. He met his wife there and they moved back to Australia at some point, but he didn’t really like it so moved back to Canada. We do not see them all day once we leave camp until we get to the next one. Their average riding speed is about 32k. Jan is Mr PC Savvy and sorted my iPad for me. He has also helped me get and install the app for Skype, so I will have a go at using that sometime soon.

Back three
At the back are Walli, Rob and Jen. Walli (who’s real name is Walburga) is a 71 year old income tax consultant. Walli was originally born in Germany but moved to Canada 18 years ago. Walli is the same age my mother would have been if she was still alive, hard to imagine my mother at 71, even harder to imagine her on a bike. Walli is not built like a biker and trails the field, she has done one ride with this company before, and plenty of other rides. Walli does not always ride a full day, and will either go in the lunch truck at midday on to camp or to the lunch spot and bike from there. Everyone admires her ability to keep going, often we have set up camp, had a shower, done our washing and a cold beer before Walli arrives.

Rob is a 67 year old retired accountant from Australia, and his daughter Jen is a 26 year old registrar on 6 months leave. Neither Jen or Rob have done a lot of road bike riding, though they are reasonably fit. In preparation for this trip, Rob did a couple of 50k rides, and Jen bought her bike in Singapore on the way over. These are the only two who have spent every night in a tent, even on the wet miserable night. They are quite used to tenting and happy to stay in a tent. I say any time I can have an indoor toilet at a reasonable cost I’ll take it.

I was talking to Gergo – one of the guides – and he told me about a women who turned up to do the Tour d’Afrique African tour (4 months cycling 12,000kms through African desert etc). She took her bike out of the bike box and said “I haven’t done much riding”. The first day was 150k through desert – hot, deep sand, the longest day of most of the riders lives, the next day was the same but 160k. Gergo said there were tears along the way – and not just her – but she made it.

Those in between
Jules (mid 60s) is an architect from Israel and he is still working. Rodney is in his 60s, I think he either ran/runs or owns/owned a hotel in Israel. Don is 60 and is Canadian. He works as an ED consultant as a locum part time, and the rest of the time he minds his 14 month old. All three are friends and have done rides before. All three are very nice and have a good sense of humour. Rodney and Jules leave us in Warsaw and Don left us in Vilnius – what a day to have as your last ride, doing 170k!

In Riga, Walli and I were looking at the Wall of Remembrance for the victims of Stalin and Hitler. While we were looking at it, Jules and Rodney came past. Jules was talking to us about his personal history with his family. There was one photo on the wall which bought me to tears – it was a photo of a group of teenagers, a couple of young women and a small girl about two years old, on the beach just before they were shot. Their crime was being Jewish!! How can this happen, and yet it is still going on in parts of the world as I write this. 6 million Jews – the population of New Zealand and half again.

Dan is in his early-to-mid 60s, and is a Canadian retired accountant. He has done about 3 of the Tour d’Afrique tours before. Garth is also Canadian, he is 67 and works in the film industry. I am not sure if he has done any of these rides before but he doing really well. He is a nice person, and married to Louise. Louise has done rides before, but not sure if they were with Tour d’Afrique. I am unsure of her age, she is a volunteer and also Canadian.

Daphne (72) and Shirley (69) are both retired ex-nurses. They have both done two rides with this company before and plenty of other rides. David joined us in Vilnius and is going to Barcelona. David is from Melbourne, he is a lawyer and semi retired. Michele is a 60 year old retired Canadian. Brian is 60ish, he is retired also but was a stock broker, from England. John is a 67 year old retired professor, from Canada. Brett is also retired, he was a Sea Captain. He is Australian, and is 60 years old.

The riders that are going all the way to Lisbon are Brett, Jan, Darnya, Michele, Dan and myself. John and David are going to Barcelona, Rodney and Jules are leaving us in Warsaw, and everyone else finishes in Venice.

Rider’s Priorities
The rider’s priorities depend on the time of the day: in the morning we are looking for coffee, as soon as we get to camp we are looking for a cold beer, we have hardly drunk any wine at all. The next concern – but very secondary – is whether there is Wifi?

The Lunch Truck
The lunch truck parks along the route each day. There have been a few occasions where the locals have turned up and have wandered around looking at the food, picking up the lids, obviously thinking it was a good stall.

A tethered cow – as mentioned previously

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Day 15: Rest Day in Vilnius

I slept reasonably well; I woke up at 5am but managed to doze off again and woke about 7am. Walli and I had agreed not to meet for breakfast until 9am so I read and mucked around until then.

After breakfast I gave my bike a really good clean and got all the grease out of the chain, degreased it and put more lubrication on it. I was lucky enough to catch Gergo outside by the bikes putting together David’s bike (Australian joining us here until Barcelona) so he had a look at my bike and gave it a bit of an overhaul – it had gotten a bit clunky and stiff.

I told Walli that I would met her at 12:30 as I decided that I actually needed a rest day, not a rushing round taking in all the sights day. So we met at 12:30 and we did another bus tour for an hour and half around the main sights. It was a good bus as it had open windows which were good for taking pictures from. It made a couple of stops; one was the St Peter and St Paul’s church – another beautiful church.

St Peter and St Paul’s Church (photo from Wikipedia)

We went past the Museum of Genocide Victims which is in the middle of Vilinus, and is the former KGB palace. We did not go in – you can go in and see cells, solitary confinement and the execution chamber, but I chose not to. It was sobering enough looking at the bricks of remembrance outside – a stone for each freedom fighter that was killed. Some of the ones I saw inside were just young men in their early twenties. There were 200,000 thousand Lithuanians sent off to Siberia between 1944 and 1953. Before Hitler, Lithuania was known as the Jerusalem of the East and 28% of the population was Jewish. The Jews were all forced into a ghetto and then finally killed.

We saw the Peace Park Memorial complex and the Presidential Palace. Outside there was a group of people protesting but as I can’t read the local language I do not know what they were protesting about.

Presidential Palace (photo from Wikipedia)

We also saw the Vilnius Town Hall and the Vilnius University – one of the oldest in Europe – and the Gate of Dawn, the only remaining gate in the defence walls built in 1600. There is an image of the blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy on the eight oak pieces that make up the gate and there is a chapel above the gate. This gate is believed to have magical healing powers.

Gate of Dawn (photo from MyWorldTravelGuides)

Plus we also saw many other beautiful buildings such as the International Church of Vilnius, National Museum and the Applied Arts Museum.

National Museum (photo from Wikipedia)

We then had a snack as it was 3pm and we had a beer – a Svyturys, unfiltered with lemon, as we had not had lunch, to hold us until tea time. Then we headed back to the hotel to regroup for tea at 6pm with Shirley, Daphne and Walli. We set off to find a restaurant that some of our group had been to called The Kitchen which they had thought was pretty good. We found it but it is closed on a Sunday. Most of the shops here are also closed on Sundays. So Shirley then said how about the Lithuanian restaurant so we headed off to look for it. We found the street but she could not find the restaurant. I asked at another restaurant and they directed us, it was about 50 meters up the road. We also collected John on the way down the street.

The restaurant was called Dvaras Lietuviski Patiekalai. It was a nice meal, I had potato pancakes and herring and fish pudding which is fish pie, plus I shared a bottle of dry red with John. The waitress was wearing tartan which is part of their national dress, so not just the Scotts! I am now very full and quite sleepy and need go pack for tomorrow.

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