My first journeying ride since rolling into Krakòw just over 3 weeks ago!
Blessed with such great weather again and able to use the extra hour to good advantage. There were quite a few lung-buster hills today, especially the last one which was a misunderstanding!! A mile and a half very steeply up instead of 500 hundred yards flatly along!! BUT the rosy sunset, church top view across to the Tatras was stunning and all forgotten over a huge potato pancake with meat and gravy sauce.
It has been such a beautiful ride through rolling flaming colours. So different now to be seeing mountains and valleys. There are more and more traditional wooden churches in this area, and I came to one which had been beautifully restored. It glowed bright copper amongst golden trees and against a back drop of veiled mountains in a perfect late afternoon blue sky. An elderly woman knelt unselfconsciously in prayer at the open, but gated door and her blue wool coat also became part of the lovely scene. All over Poland this remembrance weekend, the Polish are scrubbing, cleaning and tidying the graves of their departed loved ones before decorating them with wreaths and flowers. At the road, beside the graveyards are countless flower stalls and everyone is knee deep in gorgeous colours.
At the traffic lights in town yesterday, one of the tour buggies pulled alongside and at the sound of English voices I turned to say hello. “oo another Brit! How you doing?” “great, thanks” say I, and then for good measure mention the ride. Another very rewarding reaction, with bicep pumpings and “good on yer girl” and great belly laughter all round. I love these little moments!!
Last night I felt strangely detached about leaving Krakòw and of course, began to discover ever more fascinating places at the 11th hour. I went to a rather flat Klesma concert in the haunting Jewish Galicia Museum.. Beautifully played, but nobody mentioned what they were playing, and I couldn’t help comparing them with Ruth Zimmerman’s utterly captivating and impromptu singing of many of the same songs up on Dartmoor. These went straight through skin and flesh, to the very bones!
I had rather wearily plodded to the Tyniec Monastery that afternoon, along the lovely banks of the Wisła. Such a magnificent sight, high up on the hill, and as ever, most brilliantly renovated, with a delightful and enthusiastic young guide. The brother’s beer was marvellous and I was terribly sleepy when I got back to town! After the Klesma music, I wandered around at night in the exotic and shabby Jewish quarter, first sampling some impossibly rich, thick hot chocolate and then continuing into a really lively cocktail bar… 2 wonderful gin cocktails on top of the 2 vodka liqueurs earlier and the effect on the little hanging lights was almost like (I am told) being high on dope!! On the huge overhead screen was some pretty explicit erotica (are they really allowed to put this stuff on telly?) and although I dimly realized this might not all be for the best with an early start in the morning, was too far gone into the cosy warm boozey glow to care! Last night in town and the hard work can wait?!
No trace of a hangover (ha) and off at 8am, happy to be aboard again. I have begun to get the hang of major roads, what is workable on a bike and when to duck onto minor roads to avoid motorways. Today’s little roads were easy to find and an absolute delight. Goodness, though, as I sit and write, my little muscles have noticed a big difference from trundling along on the level. 37 miles feels more like 60, so I will be planning for less ambitious distances and putting in regular recovery days!!
I have another huge “thank you” This time to friends of Aunty Barabara in Sweden. Piotr and Margaret were leaving Stockholm just as I was about to arrive, and Barbara thoughtfully put me in touch with them. They live in Krakow and with typical Polish generosity made me welcome in their lovely flat close to the town centre. It just SO HAPPENS that they know Slovakia really well as they are keen and unstoppable mountaineers, so they have been the perfect assistants in showing me which way to go and which maps to get. Piotr has been trying to usher me on, as the snow in Poland can arrive very quickly… “you must go!” Marta, their daughter has a cycling boyfriend, Martin, and the night before last we sat on the floor with the maps and he literally described nearly every corner, hill and valley between Krakòw and Szczawnica on the Slovakian border. Such enthusiasm and matter of fact (no question you can do this) support was exactly the right tonic for my pre set-off preparations. They also told me that the roads are in very good condition and they are “empty”, so far from being too daunted, I am really excited about the next leg.
Piotr has this very likable little habit of shrugging off obstacles with “what to do?” said in his light, Polish accent. His parting gesture as he rushed out of the door was to say “if your tent is under 3 metres of snow, I will come” He would.
Oh, by the way, today my odometer says I have covered just over 3000 km.