Saturday, 27 October 2012

through the mountains

It's trying to rain when we wave farewell to my mum and dad and cycle southwestwards out of Krakow.  Soon we are pedalling up hills, the like of which we haven't seen for some time.  Lunch in a town with a UNESCO badge for the collection of chapels dotted around the hills, but we have no time to look around.  We climb up steep roads and follow ridges in the mist.  Then drop down into the next valley and repeat the process.  Finally we arrive in a small village as its getting dark where we spot a place to camp over the river.  Normally we would camp away from houses, but it's foggy and we're too tired to care.  In the clear morning light, the river has become a stream and we're a stone's throw from someone's back yard.

The day is looking better as we approach the road that takes us through the mountains to Slovakia.  We do battle for the last time with the crazed Polish drivers. (It was only when we reached Warsaw that I understand this nation's predilection for aggressive and fast driving - a learner car passed us from the 'Imola School of Motoring'. )  There follows a heated debate outside a shop as I try and fix the gears on my bike.  It is pointed out to me that I had a week in Krakow to do this and now, after an early start, I am delaying our journey over the border.  After some fruity verbal banter we continue our ride which now takes us up and up, through pine forest, to a pass with an old border post.  There are a couple of money changers, a closed hotel and not much else.  On the other side there are a couple of villages marked on our map but these turn out to be one long road of houses and shops.  As we coast along we can hear announcements being made from loudspeakers attached to the street lamps.  It's all a bit Soviet.  At the end of the day we are climbing again and looking for a camping spot.  There's a flat piece of ground tucked behind pine trees beside the road, but it's fenced in.  However, someone has been here before us and kindly cut a big hole in the fence around the back.  We unload and set up camp happily for our first night in Slovakia.

We're just getting used to this up/down/up/down landscape when we come down to a river in the morning and end up following it for the most of the day.  We see our first hrad - a castle stuck high on the face of a cliff over a river gorge, impregnable. After lunch we find ourselves on one of the main roads heading to Bratislava.  It's full of trucks and cars and is a tad too busy.  Thankfully someone is digging up the road further up and we end up cruising past our very first traffic jam - which goes on for miles in both directions.  This is our third day without sunshine or sight of blue sky and there's definitely a wintry look around.  It's not very inspiring. We stop cycling early, a headwind has tired us out, and we camp at the back of a large field in open view of the main road.

The next day is a tough one - we have a fair distance to go to reach Banska Stiavnica, starting and ending the day with climbs.  In between is a lovely descent and a stop off in Kremenica, a numismatist's delight.  While I'm humming "Are Friends Electric?" Gayle peeks in at the coin museum - the town prospered with gold mining and minting coins for the Hungarian rulers.  I've got "Cars" on my mind late afternoon when, with only a kilometre to go, and as we climb a steep stretch of road, my chain snaps.  We had been debating whether to take a hostel in Banska Stiavnica or camp - this seals it.  We camp below the road on a tiny ledge, mostly out of view.  As we nod off it starts to rain.

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