Saturday, 6 October 2012


We have camped in woods about 50 kilometres from Warsaw (or Va-Va as it appears on one map).  I can't imagine doing this outside London.  We are brewing up and packing our panniers and performing our morning ablutions.  It seems only Magali and I heard the deer barking at us last night.  Gayle and Jean-Baptiste slept through it.  We are certain a stag came upon us and stalked around our encampment, barking aggressively.  It's the rutting season.  They all want to fight.

Jean-Baptiste returns sheepishly from the bushes.  It seems he may have disturbed two men sharing a can of beer in the woods.  He was squatting down and looking towards our encampment to ensure no-one disturbed him, when he suddenly heard the crack of wood underfoot behind him.  Two men were standing up and walking away, probably in disgust at the sight that had greeted them over their liquid breakfast.

The ride into Warsaw is quite straightforward, especially once we find a bike path crossing the motorway and the Vistula river.  We seemed to have arrived into a different Poland from the small-town rural Poland we've cycled through.  Or is it just that everyone is wearing brighter clothes?  We are greeted by Daniel and Marta at Daniel's house and given a very warm welcome.  It's a shock to suddenly be in a 'civilised' situation but also very nice to be sitting around a dining table, eating great Polish food and having a beer out of a glass.  Like all Warm Showers hosts, Daniel knows exactly what we need.  Ironically, his only difficulty is his broken-down boiler, which he has warned us about.  

Marta and Daniel show us around the reconstructed city centre on Sunday.  This is a remarkable achievement.  At the end of the war only about 15% of the city was left.  With the Russians about to arrive, the Polish Resistance launched an uprising against the German occupiers.  This was after 4 years of occupation and deprivation.  The uprising failed.  After three months of fighting the Poles surrendered.  In those three months about 200,000 Poles were killed.  Stalin had stalled his armies deliberately to allow the defeat, realising it would save him the trouble of dealing with nationalist Poles.  Hitler demanded the city be razed to the ground in revenge.  And now we are wandering the attractive streets of the old town - a remarkable reconstruction based on photographs and paintings of the city before the destruction.  Daniel cannot resist taking us into a bar - a nostalgic re-creation of the communist-era - where we have vodka shots and pickled herring.  A sozzled man sat at the bar explains to us that in communist times this was one of the few pleasures a man could have.  He looks about 31 years old.

After getting our bikes, our clothes and ourselves cleaned and spruced up it's time to say goodbye to Magali and Jean-Baptiste who are taking a bus to Prague to speed their homeward journey.   We're not sure if they can take their bikes on the bus, but Daniel has suggested offering the driver a 'thank you' in advance of him waiving the rules.  Sure enough, the bribe works and in a last-minute hustle the bikes and trailer are loaded and we say au revoir.  Daniel is pleased it all worked out but we all get that sad 'goodbye' feeling.

We have time for one more meal with Daniel and Marta and their friends, who describe where we have cycled as Poland B.  Poland A is west of the Vistula River.  The next day we set off southwards and soon find ourselves back in this 'Poland B'.

Poland B doesn't look so bad

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