Friday, August 1, 2008

We made it to Krakow!!!

After three days on the Polish roads (which were quite good, on the whole), we cruised into Krakow this afternoon, a bit sore and weary, but gratified to have made it. (We left the photo card in our room, so photos will be posted tomorrow.) We've had fabulous weather, and the countryside has been very pretty -- lots of farmers working in rich-looking fields. As for those people who insist that Poland is flat: they're not cyclists. Sure, there are plenty of flat parts, but there's also some terrain. We took a shortcut today, which actually got us where we wanted to get, but at the expense of some hills that reminded me of Western Maryland.

We've had a pretty strict division of responsibilities for the ride. Matt's in charge of navigation, repairs, and reminding me to drink more water. (I'm trying.) I'm in charge of trying to survive. It's not a fair division, but (as the Communists used to say, but never meant) to each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities.

The first day was 92 miles -- a bit ambitious. The last two have been shorter and easier to manage. Today, for short stretches, I actually felt healthy and exhilirated. It was foreseeable, of course, all this cycling on a cycling trip. I'll be a better person.

The people in Poland have been friendly, and have indulged our lack of language skills. I can consistently say in Polish "hello," "thank you," "please," and "rest room." Everything else is pantomime and slow speaking, as though that helps. I experience a bit of schizophrenia over the place. The people are gracious, but we've seen some traces of lingering anti-Semitism, which our Warsaw guide described in unhappy terms. It's hard to reconcile the two, especially since there are so few Jews around. Occasionally I ask myself after an interaction with a Pole, "What would she think if she knew I was part Jewish?"

I have been experiencing the shrinking time horizon of the cycling trip. You get up in the morning and think about where you want to get to that day. You're on the road, and think about how far it is to the next place you may want to stop, or the stork that just flew by (we've only seen two sets of storks, so far; a bit subpar). You think about whether it's time to drink some more water (like I said, I'm trying). You admire the view. You wonder about the home you just rode by, or the two little girls carrying a bucket from a berry patch (blueberries?), or the bus stop in the middle of a state forest which has about a dozen vodka models lined up, very orderly. You marvel at the truck that just whizzed by -- pretty close -- without really making you anxious. The road sign announces a new village with one more incredible arrangement of consonants and vowels -- yesterday we passed one that started "Zdz." Maybe it's time to eat something?

The roads are mostly two-laners, without a real shoulder, so you just ride in your lane and hope the drivers will be courteous, which they have uniformly been. On a few bad stretches, I have drifted towards the middle of the road, in search of smoother pavement, which is not a good habit. The drivers can deal with you so long as you just plow straight ahead. That drifty stuff can get you in trouble.

But we're off the road for a few days. We'll be here in Krakow for at least two days. We've got a room on the ring road around the Old Town, which is surrounded by a park that was created when Krakowers (?) filled in the moat. Tomorrow we're tourists again -- no longer bicycle athletes -- and Sunday to Auschwitz/Birkenau.

And photos tomorrow!
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James said...

Congratulations! Watching you two on this journey is so very exciting. It's a remarkable world to be able to be thousands of miles away and yet remain so intimately connected to your adventure. Know that the efforts you are making to post these reports are deeply appreciated.

Anonymous said...

As someone without Eastern European roots who'll never ride a bike farther than around the block, I'm living vicariously through you guys. Happy trails, fellows--and keep those posts coming!
--Maria (though my id says "Maryann")

Tim said...

I remember just what you're describing about the weird combination of lingering antisemitism and the absence of Jews.