Friday 22 May – country roads and new friends

Kris spent hours last night working out our route for today. It was tricky because we wanted to travel on small rural roads and it was difficult to connect them up.

In the end it worked out perfectly, and we reached our location at Lewin Brzeski around 3.30pm, having done 93km. The ride was through flat countryside, making it easier than the previous few days. Also the weather was a lot better, and we even had a little sunshine, though it did begin to get cooler in the afternoon (no rain though!). We passed lots of ploughed fields with various crops, including the same yellow rape seed fields we saw so much of in Saxony. Many of the roads have avenues of trees planted on either side.

We also passed through small towns or settlements every few kms. The main route was: Sobotka – Pustkow Wilczkowski – Borek Strzelinski – Kojecin – Wiazow – Miechowice Otawskie – Klosow – Oborki – Lewin Brzeski.

Even with a carefully planned route, we had to ask directions a number of times. We found that the signposts are not always clear. We also had to be careful about the directions we were given, as sometimes people wanted to direct how they would drive with a car (onto the main road), not through the smaller byways. At times it felt like we were on a scavenger hunt where you go from location to location using various clues.

We were surprised to find a long stretch (about 3km) of cobbled road in the middle of the countryside.

cobbles

 

At one point we also cut through a farm track alongside a field to avoid a busy road.

farmroad

A highlight of the day was a long conversation with a man in the town of Wiazow. This was totally unexpected as it was one of the less impressive looking towns as we rode in, all the buildings looking a little run down. He said he was a cultural ambassador to the town and also a musician (piano and accordion). He spoke in broken German (about as good as Kris’s). He was keen to take us into the town hall to show us a memorial to Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, a war hero who resisted Hitler and was later executed (we didn’t catch everything he said but I looked it up on the internet later).

We were invited for coffee at a cafeteria tucked in a side street for more conversation and we accepted. Other interesting parts of the conversation that I could catch were that the Polish have no love for the Russians due to various massacres, he is a Christian and they couldn’t display any crosses during the communist rule, his father was captured during the war and weighed only 36kg when he was released, the young people are leaving the rural areas and so there are no builders to fix up the old buildings. He also said Polish women were beautiful and Kris agreed.

conversation

A little while later we stopped for a rest alongside an old wooden church in Oborki (St Peter and Paul church). It was all closed up and decrepit with overgrown lawns. I found out from the internet that it has a long history starting in the 14th century and was taken over by the Protestants during the Reformation. The current church was built in the 16th century and now belongs to the Polish Catholic Church.

PeterPaulchurch

I had found our accommodation on the internet, as Lewin Brzeski is a smaller town without a hotel. We were unsure how it would work out. We went to and fro a bit trying to find it and it didn’t look promising. Kris was ready to move onto the next town, but a young man who could speak English directed us to it. This is essentially a bed and breakfast built onto the back of a large home. The father met us but could only speak a little German. Soon his young son arrived who could speak English (we got the impression the mother actually runs the bed and breakfast). In the end they showed us to the accommodation which is the best value we have had so far. Alongside our room we have a little living room and kitchen. And they are washing and drying our clothes!

accommodation

Thursday 21 May – treasures falling into ruin

Breakfast this morning was delicious, with a huge variety in the hotel buffet.

The weather today was overcast and cool at times, but at least the rain held off, apart for a brief shower around 3pm. This contributed greatly to a much more pleasant ride (86km in all) through the Polish countryside.

We started out making an unplanned detour through a place called Wilkow, due to misleading signage out of town. A very helpful woman gave directions to help get us back on track. She spoke only Polish. We are finding that none of the older people speak English. Some speak a bit of German. We also found that it is a bit hit and miss finding a helpful person – some just don’t want to talk with you. Anyway this woman was lovely.

directions

From Wilkow our planned route took us through the little Sichow, Jawor, Luboradz, Konary, Udanin, Imbramowice, Domanice, Tworzyjanow to Sobotka

A lot of the old heritage buildings in the countryside are seriously dilapidated. Too many to stop and photograph. There are also some new houses dotted around the place – it almost seems as though they would rather build new than renew.

ruins1 ruins2 ruins3 ruins4

The most striking example today was in a small settlement called Pyszczyn – a massive building visible from quite far away. When you get closer you see that it is falling apart. I looked it up later and found that it is a palace from the turn of the 18-19th century and for sale together with 8.27ha of parkland (probably for the price of a small house in Auckland).

Ppalace

A highlight of the ride was a short cut we took through an established beech forest. We started out taking directions from a couple of workers at a small trucking firm. The younger could only speak Polish but the older could speak basic German. He brightened up when we said we were from New Zealand and said – “yes, New Zealand, Wellington!” (note, not Auckland). After riding all day on pot-holed and patched roads we should have been wary when the Polish warned of a bad road. It was bad – started out as an unsealed track with muddy holes between two fields. Soon it took us through a beautiful forest though, where Kris saw two deer, which made it worth while.

forestride

On reaching Sobotka we found Hotel Sleza easily on the central square. It is is a neat little hotel and has a feature arch in the foyer from the 16th century.

hotelsleza

Wednesday 20 May – a hard day

Today was our first day cycling in Poland and also really hard, as it rained for most of the day and we exhausted ourselves with a 98km ride.

We crossed the border from Germany into Poland at the river, about 2km from the cloister where we were staying. We took the 357 to Lubin via Wlosien on fairly busy roads. We kept on hearing cuckoos for most of the morning.

We stopped in Lubin and bought strawberries from an outdoor stand. The woman at the stand directed us to the tourist info. I waited outside while Kris went in. It was still not really raining, only dripping and getting cold, so I put my rain jacket on. Kris got a brochure about a bicycle route from Lwowek Slaski to Zlotoryja (our destination) at the tourist info and we decided to try it. We would have liked a coffee, but after riding around for a bit we couldn’t find a cafe, so decided to press on.

We worked our way over small country roads to Gosciszow and then to Lwowek Slaski, the start of the bicycle route. We discovered that the bicycle route is not an off road route at all, but rather a route along small country roads (in fact, I think we had been on some bicycle routes already as we saw little bicycle signs painted on trees along the way). Our route took us through the small towns of Dworek, Sobata, Twardocice and Pielgrzyroka. Some parts were lovely, riding along tree lined country roads – but were a bit spoilt by the rain which got heavier in the afternoon until we were soaked.

We noticed a striking ruined church at Twardocice and stopped to take a quick photo in the rain. There were plants growing on top of the walls and an overflowing recycling bin was situated beside it. Later I found out on the internet that this is the home town and ruins of a large evangelical church associated with the followers of Schwenckfeld Caspar von Ossing, a 16th century disciple of Martin Luther. His followers were persecuted in the 18th century and 500 left at night with only the clothes on their backs. They made their way to Netherlands, where Mennonites gave them shelter and financed a trip by boat to America, where they settled in Pennsylvania and still exist today.

ruinedchurch

We departed from the cycle trail to take a more direct route to Zlotoryja, our final destination, as we tired and wet. This took us along a busy road with no shoulder, alongside a ploughed field. I heard something fall off my bike and shouted to Kris to stop. He did but misjudged the edge of the road/ field and put his foot down on a steep grassy slope which dropped about 3m to the ploughed field below. Much to my dismay he went sliding down the slope with his bike! I had to help Kris pull his bike up the slope again. Luckily the bike was fine. Kris was also lucky in that he was not more seriously injured, though he did hurt his arm.

So we entered Zlotoryja soaking, muddy and worse for wear. We stopped at a supermarket as usual and Kris bought heaps of good food and some wine. We then quickly located a hotel nearby. It was a lovely, warm, modern, comfortable hotel – more than we would usually expect to pay but well worth it!

Tuesday 19 May – off the beaten track

We were the only guests at our Czech hotel and we had an interesting time talking with owner. He was in the military, mainly with the Russians, so he says he speaks good Russian. He speaks a little German, which he has learnt to talk with German hotel guests, but only a few phrases of English. He was involved in supporting the Angolans against the SA troops. He likes the Russians but knows that politics have changed and he is now allied with the Americans (why not with Europeans?). He also has a house in Auckland – but no interest in visiting NZ!

We were well of the beaten tourist track today, we only saw one other cycle touring couple the whole day. There were also lots of hills!

The first 5km was uphill and hard going, especially on a busy road. Then we had a long downhill run, with through green hills, with blue hills in the distance. The next 4km were up and down through the countryside into Ceska Kamenice, where we saw an 18th century baroque chapel (Chapel of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in disrepair.

ChapelVirgin

After this we turned off onto what was supposed to be a smaller road (263) but which still had a lot of trucks on it. It went through forests from time to time and more hills up and down for next 8km.

We stopped at small village called Chribska for Kris to look at the maps – there were some woman with babies sitting by the village fountain.

fountain

A steep uphill out of the village again (getting pretty tired of the hills by this time). We passed through the outskirts of Warnsdorf and stopped at a supermarket for pastries, so that Kris could get rid of his Czech money before we crossing the border.

When we crossed the border back into Germany it was just a sign on the street with a woman hanging washing in the garden opposite – Kris asked her if she was German or Czech and she adamantly stated that she was German. It was noticeable that the villages were much neater again once we were back in Germany.

border

We coasted into Zittau – which was quite a busy little town and had a look around the old town. There was a bit of construction happening in the main square, otherwise it was very neat with beautiful old buildings (the usual churches, museums etc). We ate an ice cream at a cafe near the centre and talked to a curious old man who passed by.

As we were leaving town the weather suddenly began to change with dark clouds overhead and it began to rain. You could smell the hot dust as it came down. We stopped at a supermarket just in time to avoid the major downpour and bought some food for the evening.

Then we had a magic ride along the Lausitzer river to Ostritz. The ride is on a tarred bicycle road through a forest with Germany on one side and Poland on other. The two countries are identified periodically by poles painted in national colours. The only downside was lots of little miggies (flying insects) – meaning that you had to keep your mouth closed if you didn’t want extra protein.

magicride

We reached the Kloster St Marienthal at around 5pm, having done 76km in all.

StMarienthal

We stayed overnight at the cloister, which was not such a good decision. I wanted to stay because it was so beautiful, however there was no wifi or breakfast and the accommodation was very basic for the price (E66)

Monday 18 May – into Czech republic

Today was the first day of our cycle tour and it was a beautiful day. We got up early to drop our car off in Dresden, and were on our bikes by 10am. The drop off point was in a commercial/ light industrial area, so it took us a while to find our way back to the Elbe river.

Once on the river it was very pleasant cycling with heaps of other cyclists, regular beer gardens and scenic river views. The whole cycle route is very well organised, there was even a marked detour where they were doing works on the cycle road at Pirna. At one stage we cycled through a bright green forest with spots of sunlight falling on the path before us.

We passed along some of the spots where we had been with Elsbeth on the day we went to see the Elbe Sandsteingebirge (Bastei). In fact it was a lot easier to find them with the bicycles, as the cycle route took us right past, where you couldnt go with cars, giving us a good view from the opposite side of the river.

JennyBastei

We also passed along the river below the Konigstein fortress, a huge castle that covers an entire hilltop overlooking the river.

We crossed over a bridge at Bad Schandau, a very pretty resort town with a large spa. We crossed the river again at Schmilka, as we were told that it was more scenic on the other side by a local woman walking her dog. She also advised us to take this ferry, as it goes more regularly. The first time we took our bikes on a ferry – only E2 per person and bike.

ferrycrossing

We had an impromptu picnic with some of our leftover food on the other side. We noticed the Czech republic border on the other side of the river just after Shmilka, but we were still in Germany for a little bit. When we did pass the border it was just a sign in the middle of the cycle path.

czechborder

The language and roadsigns changed immediately but the route remained scenic until we reached the immediate outskirts of Decan, which were littered with post soviet style metal works on the river banks.

We entered the Decan city across a bridge and at first it looked promising. However getting into the centre we found it a bit decrepit – even though there were some nice old buildings they weren’t well cared for. It was also quite busy and noisy with lots of people about. We rode around a bit looking for a tourist information office – there were lots of “i” signs but no office and we couldnt understand the notices. There was also a hotel in the centre but it wasnt very appealing. So Kris decided to take us out of town a little bit. We found ourselves going up a steep street with roadworks and traffic, also a driver doing a wheelie out of a side street. Kris spotted a supermarket alongside a number of high rise apartments and proposed buying some food. At this point I thought that we would be alright if we at least had some food, as we had the emergency tent with us and could sleep alongside the river.

I stayed outside the supermarket to guard the bicycles, as we have been warned by numerous people about theft. Interesting looking at the people going by – very different to the Germans – for example fat woman in track suit pants, and a woman encouraging a toddler to urinate on a patch of grass directly opposite the supermarket entrance (nobody turned a hair).

Kris spoke to some locals in the supermarket and found someone he could communicate with in German – they advised of a hotel a bit further up the road. We found it easily and were quite relieved when Kris could speak to the proprieter in German. The room is basic but clean and cheap (E47).

We are pretty tired after our first day but feel we have done well, covering 72km in all.