Posts Tagged With: Poland

Day 27: Krakow to Oravice – 128k

2,276km down: 3,949km to go.

Up 1,700 meters today, along highways 964, 28, 95, 47, 958, 959, 520.

This day was hot! I was already dripping hot and sweaty before even leaving the hotel! No doubt it did not help that my phone took the only opportunity it had had all trip to mask a pocket call. Usually it is kept in my pannier on riding days and in my walk around bag on rest days. However I had put it my back pocket today as wanted to ring my friend Pat to wish her happy birthday before starting (due to 10 hour time difference).

Due to the peculiar way the travel sim works, when I ring someone it says they are ringing me, but – it also says this if they ARE ringing me. The phone seized its opportunity today and dialled my daughter Lizzy – so I see she is ringing me and I try to pick up the call, but nothing happens. Lizzy is 34 weeks pregnant and is going to ring me when she goes into labour, so then I started to worry “Oh no, it’s too soon, but at least well within viability etc etc”. I try a few times to ring Lizzy back but can’t get through, by which point I’m a bit worried. I finally get through and ask her what is wrong and Lizzy is like “Um you rang me, and I couldn’t talk to you before because I’m at work with a patient”. Oops! Then my friend the phone considers its work is done for the day and refuses to connect me to Pat! It keeps telling me it is not an option etc. I finally left a message for Pat for a mutual friend to pass on.

We set off from Krakow in a convoy for 19k, it took ages as the group kept being separated by lights etc. At the end of the convoy we were just by the salt mines from last night! The first bit was up a really steep hill with uneven paving stones so I took the cautious approach and walked up it.

It was really, really hot so once again I resorted to pouring cold water over my head at regular intervals and drinking heaps of water. There were some significant climbs (no wonder with climbing 1,700 meters today) we had been told it was easier after lunch. After Dan and I spent two hours post lunch steadily climbing and up a hill that went on for about 5k (we called it the hill that just kept on giving) we decided the person who said it was so easy should have to come and ride it. Thankfully we reached the top eventually and had a couple of kilometres down and then flat for awhile.

I must tense up my shoulders going uphill as I had to stop a few times to stretch them, including at one point lying on the ground outside a dairy (there wasn’t a convenient bus stop handy).

Just before the border we went through town called Chocholow, it had a shrine with a Maori figurine in it in full cloak and dress, certainly not what I expected to see in Poland. Sadly my camera was flat so I do not have a photo but I will google it and see if I can find anything. The houses here were different than I have seen anywhere else, they were four stories high with really steep roofs. We joked that the snow must get really deep and maybe they can only get out of the fourth floor in the middle of winter (I will see if anyone took a photo).

Once again it was not a real, formal border crossing. There were two police down the road from it that laughed as I went past, why I don’t know. We had been told there was very big hill just after the border (oh joy, 100k into the ride ) but turned out that although it was 12 percent it had a good descent just before it so I got a good run up and was three quarters of the way up it before having to do any work.

I arrived weary but happy to be there at the auto camp in Oravice at 5 pm, making it a 10hour day – 1 hour in breaks and 9 hours riding – I was stuffed! Walli and I once again have a room, very basic just two beds and a table and two chairs but inside and across the hall from the toilet.

I had time to clean the bike and have a shower etc, then the riders meeting was delayed as not all the riders had arrived. While we were waiting, and during tea, there was a thunder and lightning storm and lots of rain.

At 7:15pm I headed for bed, the late night in Krakow and the big riding day had caught up with me. Being a Friday night and school holidays, a number of campers had music blaring and there was laughter, loud voices and camp sing songs so I put on the earphones and music, and then had no more background noise worries.

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Rest day two in Krakow continued

The salt mine was amazing. The mine is over 700 years old, it is no longer technically a working mine as it is no longer economically viable. This mine can produce 250 tonnes a day by old methods, whereas the new mines can produce up to 2,000 tonnes a day. This mine stopped being a working mine in 1996 but because it is a major tourist attraction they need to keep pumping out the water that naturally seeps into it. They can’t just dump salty water into the river though, so they extract the salt first – about 35 tonnes a day. Because of this they lay claim to it still being the oldest working mine in the world.

The mine goes down 135 meters, approx 400 feet, and there are about 2,800 chambers. We were there for two hours and only saw 1% of the mine. There is over a million cubic feet of timber holding the mine up.

Today open cast mining has replaced the old method of mining, today’s miners sit in a control room and the machinery does the work automatically. However because they have a strong union the miners still retire after 20 years on a full pension. This was set up originally as it was hard work and after 20 years you would be worn out, or would you? The miners were really well paid, plus got a handful of salt each day, and after awhile there was a practice where the miners would subcontract other workers to do their shifts for them.

There were numerous salt sculptures all done by the miners and they were really good. There was a big sculpture of Pope John Paul the 2nd made especially for a planned visit. Sadly the Pope was ill and never came but the sculpture is a really great likeness.

Salt sculpture of Pope John Paul II (photo from blogspot)

There are also three underground cathedrals, one is huge – you can get married in it. The alter and the wall sculptures are all salt. The wall, floor and ceilings are salt. When we were walking through the mines the tunnels were all salt: floor, walls and ceilings. To get down into the mine we walked down numerous steps but to get back up you go in a lift. As this is a busy tourist spot there is a bit of a wait for the lifts. Unbelievable but there is Wifi in the chamber by the lift, no doubt to keep people happy while they wait so I sent a couple of emails for novelty value from 135 meters below ground.

The underground Chapel of Saint Kinga in the salt mines (photo from Wikipedia)

As the tour had not started until 3:45pm we did not get back into Krakow until 8pm. We had organized to remove Danya’s stitches so went to the hospital first. The Doctor who did the stitching on her face did a great job, once her eyebrows grow back you will not be able to see any scars.

After this we went to find food. We went to the Old Town and went into the first place that looked suitable. Walli and I had Georgian food which was a bit liked a stuffed pizza with chicken etc on top. It was not a pizza though, Daphne and Shirley had pizza and theirs came out of the pizza oven at the front of the shop and ours came out of the normal oven.

Afterwards Walli and I sat in the town square of the Old Town and watched people. It was really lovely, the buildings looked great all lit up with lights, there were numerous outside bars and a constant stream of horses and carriages came trotting past. We stayed out until just before 12am which probably was not the best idea with a big day tomorrow but hey, when will I have the next chance to sit in the square in Krakow enjoying the atmosphere?

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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.

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 23: Smardzewice to Bobolice – 145k

2,057km down: 4,168km to go.

My legs were quite weary today and never really got going well. The morning was much cooler than the day before – only 26 degrees. Once again we set off early to get some riding in before it got too hot. Daphne is still not well so I was riding with Shirley. Lucky for her I was with her as the turn at about 60k was not in our daily notes and Shirley would have totally missed it. I saw the flags, phew. Scott – who is always first – went past it head-down thinking “20k before the next turn” and added 42k to his day. I would have been looking for a taxi!

Although my legs were weary the morning was not too taxing. This resulted in David and Walli deciding to do the whole stretch – they are usually regulars in the truck back to camp after lunch. What no one had told us was the were some significant hills after lunch. Not as bad as Makara but equivalent to the hill up to Johnsonville or the Ngaio Gorge! Shirley is much better at hills than me, although I can go faster than her on the flat. What this means unfortunately is I wait for her on the flats and she drops me on the hills. Anyway, I did not see her again until 20k out from camp!

Half way up a very long hill it levelled out, and I spied a sheltered bus shelter so I went in and had a wee rest on the bench, then headed out there and at it again. At the top of what turned out to be the final significant hill of the day there was a turn to the right which I went past without having a good look at. There was then a great downhill for about 3k. I was halfway down the hill before I thought “Shit! I hope I was not meant to turn back there!”. I kept going, having decided that if I had gone the wrong way there was no way I was going to go back up the hill, I would get to the town, have a beer and find out if there was a taxi service. Failing that I would ring the tour guys and beg. Thankfully coming into town I saw the orange flag at a turn, yay. After that it was 10k mostly downhill to camp.

Once again I managed to get a room shared with Walli, so no camping this stretch. The bugs only get the time I am outside for the riders meeting and during meals to get me. Mind you I guess it is payback as I ride with my mouth open and a few bugs have been harmed on this trip (probably one of my main sources of protein!).

Anyway after dinner I decided I should walk up the road and see the castles, but I only looked at Royal Castle Bobolice not Mirror Castle a couple of kilometres away. Royal Castle Bobolice was in a state of disrepair but has been renovated. The outstanding aspect is it is built on a huge rock. There was an underground tunnnel linking it Mirror Castle but this is shut and Mirror Castle is in a state of disrepair.

Royal Castle of Bobolice (photo from Wikipedia)

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Day 22: Warsaw to Smardzewice – 145k

1,912km down: 4,313km to go.

We set off at 7am to avoid the traffic out of Warsaw, it also helped that it was a Sunday. The biggest hazard on the road on the early part of the day was people going to church, walking three across along the road. 98% of the population are Roman Catholic and there are a lot of churches so lots of opportunity for meandering church goers. I was riding initially with Shirley and John, as Daphne was still not well. It was really, really hot today even when we got out of the hotel at 7am. We stopped for a drink after a couple of hours and I bought a bottle of cold water and tipped it over my head! Lunch was at 75k, another bottle of water over the head. It was so hot that I did not really want to eat but had a sandwich, but did not make a takeaway one (silly me).

After lunch it was hotter, and uphill. My bike was sounding so loud people were turning around to look! I had chatted with Ciran who looks after the bikes (during day he alternates the lunch truck with riding sweep) and he said it was not doing any damage. It seemed a really, really, really, really, long way today, I was really pleased to get to camp! I will have to get used to riding in the heat as it is just going to get hotter and hotter as we head south. It was so hot today that I have a heat rash on the front of my legs, at least that’s what I figure it is as it is not itchy, but I covered it in chamois cream after the shower as well.

Everyone else is tenting tonight, but Walli and I have got a room – at a cost of $15 NZ. I want to give the bug bites a good chance to heal before taking on new ones. Also because of the heat we are leaving at 7am again tomorrow, so it is much easier to get dressed and apply the many lotions in a room, and not have to pack up the tent etc.

Miles has rejoined us and his arm looks much better, it is nearly healed. Danya and Yarn had a great time in Warsaw with Yarn’s relatives. Danya can only speak about 10 Polish words. The Grandad came to our hotel a couple of times and seemed a very nice man. Danya said she was amazed at his energy and he nearly walked them off their feet yesterday. She thought he maybe taking it easy today but no he had a full itinerary planned once he said goodbye to them at the hotel (he came this morning about 6:30am to see them off). Danya’s injuries are healing well. Talking about injuries, I managed to get my daily accident over and done with before 6:30am today by walking the wrong way into the revolving door at the hotel.

Ciran has now fixed my bike, so it should be easier to ride and a lot more peaceful tomorrow. We have bike shop at 4:30pm every day and we are meant to help work on our bikes however when I offered to help Ciran said it would be easier for him to do it by himself and told me to go and have a rest. I’m sure that this was not influenced at all by me having taken my speedometer to him for the first 10 days every morning for him to set. I don’t know what I was doing wrong but it just would not set for me. I don’t have this problem with my one on my other bike. He had to turn it off and restart it each time. I have it sorted now! It could also have been influenced by my question “What is the bottom bracket?” when I was told it was loose.

Anyway I got to have a shower, do my washing and sort stuff while my bike was being fixed. I bought him beer and we were both happy. Not only did my bike have a problem with the bottom bracket, but also the head set and the front hub! Must be all the dirt and bone shaking roads we have been on.

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Day 21: Rest day in Warsaw continued

The tour was good but really, really hot – 34 degrees, I felt like I was going to melt. I had to keep pushing the thought out of my mind that tomorrow we will be biking 140k in the heat.

Dan, Shirley, Daphne, Brian, John and I had dinner at an Italian restaurant in the old town. I had Pasta with chillies and olive oil and salad. We had ordered what we thought was a platter of antipasto (Daphne is married to an Italian and she ordered it) until two pizzas came out, luckily the mains were all correct . We all headed home for an early night as we leave at 6:30 am tomorrow to get out of city early and we have 140k to do. However it is a short riding week – 3 riding days and then two rest days in a row. I am really looking forward to that.

The clack clack sign on my bike turned out to be a problem with my bottom bracket being filled of sand/ gravel etc and will keep making a noise until it is fixed. We have not had bike shop for past 2 stops (which is wear the tour guys help us with our bikes) but have been assured it just sounds bad but will keep going, so guess this will be tomorrow night’s job.

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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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Day 19: Nowograd to Pułtusk – 113k

1,702km down: 4,523km to go.

The day started off with good news. We had thought it was going to be a 130k ride, then we were told it was 123, then we were updated this morning – the route was actually only 113k.

Daphne was not well so I started riding with John and Shirley. I got about 15k up the road and had to make a quick dash into the trees, then again soon after. At this point John sensibly rode off and Shirley and I rode the day together, with me stopping a few more times along the way. I had chicken liver with pasta and a cream sauce the night before, and although I did not eat much of it I wonder if it disagreed with me.

To start off the day was overcast and cool and then it drizzled slightly. It was flat or slightly down most of morning. Just before lunch the weather cleared up then it was really hot! Same type of land as the day before: farmland, shrines, small villages, churches. In the afternoon there was a bit of uphill but not really anything substantial.

There was an interesting site set in the middle of the forest, I would not have been surprised to see a hobbit or two. Talking about seeing a hobbit, there have been lots of animal signs, first for moose, then the bobcat, then deer today. Whilst on the outskirts of town I saw a deer race across the road not far ahead of me. And just before turning onto the road to the camp I saw a squirrel at the side of the road. They are much smaller than I had imagined – I had always thought (for no good reason) that they were about the size of a possum. As Brett said they are like a rat but with a tail, and actually yes they are.

I had been hearing a clack clack noise on my bike so at lunch Ciaran removed the reflector from the front. The clack clack continued so I thought it was the Speedo as the bit on the wheel where the screw is stopped working, and I have not been able to get another so far.

The lunch truck, photo from the blog of another rider on the trip

I had my daily accident at the town just near the end of the day. We were just about to get back on the road by a crossing when an idiot on a motor bike roared through blowing his horn at the people on the crossing who jumped out of his way. I got distracted and forgot when I leant over to take my foot out and over I went. First time I have done that for awhile, luckily no damage apart from a slightly sore knee.

The last couple of kilometres was the old favourite: sandy dirt road. I arrived at camp hot, sticky, and badly in need of a shower. When the tour guys had checked out the camp the night before they had said it was pretty much deserted. On the way down the drive we noticed a few older women painting in the field but did not think anything of it. Well it turned out there was a painting retreat and the camp was full of artists. A couple were in that European style – dressed in not very much at all, although they had an awful lot to cover.

We had hoped to get cabins but it was tents again. The bugs are really vicious over here, it does not matter what sort of spray I use, they find the one spot not covered. They bite through your clothes. I keep reading the warning on the spray-bottle that says excessive use is dangerous. Hopefully that means weeks not days at a time. So I am covered in various lumps and bumps and bruises. Putting on all the various lotions after a shower and in the morning is becoming quite a task: anti rub, anti itch, insect spray, sun screen, chapstick stuff etc.

At camp there were only about two power outlets available and 19 riders wanting access, so my phone ended up only being charged for an hour.

I was lucky enough to get Yarn to upload my photos for me. Yarn was also trying to sort out Skype for me as mine will not recognize my password. At the same time we were helping Danya craft an email to her parents about her injuries, that would not be too alarming. So we coached her with starting it “I have minor injuries from an accident on my bike, the cut on my face is not disfiguring” etc.

We had moved outside, but the Internet connection was pretty patchy, you could only really get it inside the bar/restaurant. The artists were having their meal in the restaurant so Yarn suggested waiting until we could go back inside again. After awhile I thought I would show Gen my photos. I opened my iPad and there was nothing! I took it and charged it for an hour but still nothing. I took it to Yarn who tried his connection and tried charging (and he checked it was turned on etc) still nothing. Yarn was at a loss and could only suggest I try it in the morning as sometimes you just have to leave them for a couple of hours. He said if we had no luck then we could take it to the iPad shop in Warsaw (we arrive there tomorrow). The screen was completely blank – nothing!

I was upset as I had been looking forward to being able to finally send photos, I was not looking forward to trying to get an iPad fixed overseas, I was tired due to the lack of sleep the night before, I was covered in insect bites, I had been feeling off colour all day, and I had come off my bike. It was all too much, so I retreated to my tent for the night. Thankfully everyone knew I had been unwell so thought nothing of it.

Unfortunately as mentioned earlier my phone did not get well charged, I had music on with head phones but the battery went dead about 8:30pm. Sadly the artists enjoyed sitting outside talking and having a sing song much longer than that.

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