The heart rate raising effect of coffee, Silesian-style!
This delightfully descriptive expression came from Eva at just after 7am when she should have been languishing with an almighty hangover!! But I think she is made of stronger stuff and although she was wonderfully merry the night before, she came to meet me at breakfast as promised, to give the names of a couple of hostels in Cracow.
The previous day’s ride was another gorgeous route with a pretty heart-busting hill away from Olsztyn so I was very happy to stop after 25 miles in the hotel Jura, Kroczyce. It also meant I was perfectly positioned for a good 30 or so mile ride the next day, which would put me in a beautiful area and within spitting distance of Cracow.
With my nose in the iPad, I really was quite oblivious to the happy din going on somewhere on the landing above me until Eva appeared at my side to ask if the noise was disturbing me. A training group was in full swing, but very shortly they would be done and would I like to join them? At dinner I had teasingly said that although I can’t speak Polish, I could tell from little hints like “rover” (isn’t that a lovely name for a bike?) and Angielski that they were giving me a mention and to be careful…. ! I joined a wonderfully lively group of people all talking at once and so told some of my story, with lots of laughter and translation in between, as well as some hefty swigging…. And then somehow or other even though my 50th was 4 years ago, I was treated to a lusty “Happy Birthday to You” only this time in Polish!!! fabulous!
Having had over 300 miles of level if sometimes rough ground, I thought progress would now be a lot slower but of course, I had forgotten that what goes up has to coming whizzing down and the next day, 30 miles seemed to go by pretty quickly. Without a plan for the night, and 4pm approaching, I just turned off the main road at a whim really, to start asking where I might find a room for a night. I had been going to continue to Skała but the lady I first asked, adamantly shook her head and pointed me down a long hill in the direction of the nearby castle. I am wary of going down long hills when I am getting tired, in case I have to come back up again, but down I went and SO glad I did. Not much further and a few more pointings and “proste” (straight aheads) was a lovely agroturyst farmhouse with hoards of children having a barbecue and playing team games.
This was a perfect place to spend an extra day, as the castle, Zamek Pieskowa Skała, is gorgeous and sits at the head of one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen…the Ojców (pronounced something like Oytsoof) It also looked as if there could be a promising route out of the valley and into Cracow, without having to go back up the long hill and onto a busy main road. So yesterday I ambled along, free from luggage exploring and almost giggling with how easy it was to go up a couple of huge hills just for fun!!
When I set off from Totnes, I had fantasised about being somewhere ‘magical’ like Slovakia for the autumn colours. I could not have wished to be anywhere more enchanting with such a variety of trees in all their autumn garb, clothing spectacular limestone promontories. Another dramatic castle ruin perches high on these white rocks and all along the valley floor, alpine style chalets and lush green river banks. The long winding hill up to Wielke Wies was cobbled all the way with miniature cobbles….! I have been blown away by evidence of the extraordinary labour that goes into the paths and roads… and rumbling down again made my forearms tingle! A very snarly dog came pelting out from somewhere and I am pleased to say that I stopped the bike and gave it such a “whot ever” look that it gave up and simpered away!!! Ha!
TODAY I RODE INTO CRACOW ( for those of you, myself included, who like figures, my odometer says 1753 miles) alternating a stupid grin with tears of incredible reward and satisfaction. In the late afternoon sun and with an apparent forecast of rain tomorrow, I impetuously got into one of the very fine horse and carriages that stand in an elegant row along the side of the square and was taken around the old town. In my scruffy traveling clothes I waved regally to some happy passers by and then felt just as regal, sitting in a red wrap as the sun set, having a slap up meal on the corner of the old square. (so slap up that I am sleepless!) On the hour, every hour, a trumpet plays and rings out above the bustle even at 5am!!
There is something that really gets me about the sense of completion and growing appreciation in journeying this way. The toil, perhaps, and the only very gradual arrival from place to place makes the sense of freedom and achievement all the greater. Another aspect is the feeling of such gratitude for all the help and friendliness along the way, that is so easy to bypass in other more insular modes of travel.
Just to finish, if ever you are in Cracow, you really should pay a visit to the Cracow City Tours office. They know nothing at all about information, despite the big white ‘i’ above their door and in perfect English proceeded to give me all sorts of useful info that I very much doubt I would have found in a proper tourist info kiosk! When I said that what I so enjoy about the Polish is the combination of liveliness mixed with melancholy I was given a wonderful display of dark humour, asked to prove a point by pronouncing “unfortunately” and roundly told off “can you hear yourself?” when I said I couldn’t be bothered to go up a couple of flights of stairs. This is the sort of service with a smile that makes my day! Thanks guys!
A few pics. Catch the blue bath hat, Ben!