Thursday, 18 October 2012

is the bear a catholic?

quite unsloth-like
In an attempt to judge cultural norms (as you do) we'd asked Daniel in Warsaw if it was okay to crack pope jokes in Poland.  "Depends which pope", Daniel shot back quickly with a wry smile.  On a sunny Sunday morning as we ride the country road into Krakow we pass through a few villages where Sunday Mass is taking place.  The large churches look full, although it's hard to tell if the fellas standing around the door can't get in because it's packed or whether they're just having a crafty fag. We stop for a break in the woods where there are a few cars parked by mushroom-pickers.  A woman looking rather worse for drink starts chatting to us.  We tell her we don't speak Polish and she gets even more garrulous.  She's still gabbling as we set off again and wave our goodbyes.  A few hours later as we ride one of the cycle paths into the city of Krakow we pass the same woman sat on a bench.  She looks as surprised as we do.

Our first two nights in Krakow we are generously hosted by Magda and Maciek, two other cyclists.  I say generous because Magda is due to give birth at the end of the year, they are about to move out of their studio flat and, er, it's a studio flat, which means we're sleeping in their lounge/bedroom.  It takes us a while to realise how much we are imposing on them - Maciek had suggested we leave any baggage on the bikes that we didn't need in the store room - and Gayle mistakenly thinks the wardrobe in the corner leads, CS Lewis-like, to another room.  However, they are so relaxed that we instantly feel like old friends.  They have toured the length and breadth of Italy, Corsica and Sardinia and for their honeymoon, Morocco and it's great to hear about their experiences.  Magda reflects that when they prepare more for a trip they lose some of the excitement that unpredictablity brings.

Our stop in Krakow is scheduled to include some bike maintenance and Magda helps us by translating for us at their local bike shop.    It occurred to me while cycling with Magali and Jean-Baptiste that Gayle was overdue a replacement chain, and rear cassette and chainrings.  She has cycled about 12,000 kilometres with the same set.  Needless to say it's much cheaper to replace here than back in Blighty.  It occurs to Maciek that they could be getting a discount at their local bike shop as they're always taking cycle tourists there for something or other.  
despite Magda and Maciek's best efforts I still screw up the photo

On the Monday evening they take us into the old town for our first glimpse of the sights, some Polish fast food and a natter over a beer in a sailor's pub (yes, a sailor's pub.)  We talk and talk and talk and talk and at one point I have to remind myself we're in Poland.  For the first few days we cycled in this country I smiled at everyone we passed in the villages and along the road.  The Poles are not naturally smiley people.  I only stopped smiling when I read in the guidebook that here people do not smile at strangers - it is considered stupid.

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