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Category: Europe Cycling 2015

Holiday cycling in Europe – Dresden to Orpington

Monday 18 May – into Czech republic

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.


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.


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.


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.

Tuesday 19 May – off the beaten track

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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)

Wednesday 20 May – a hard day

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.


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!

Thursday 21 May – treasures falling into ruin

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.


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).


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.


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.


Friday 22 May – country roads and new friends

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.



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


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.


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.


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!


Saturday 23 May – exhausted

Saturday 23 May – exhausted

Today we exhausted ourselves with a 100km ride. Our route took us through Skorogoszcz – Narok – Slawice – Luboszyce – Turawa – Ozlmek – Zedowice – Kosmidry – Lubliniec.

The route was straight forward and flat. At the start we were going through nondescript semi urban areas with traffic (not too pleasant and slow).

The route improved when we approached the lake Jez Turawskie – nicer houses as well. A highlight was riding on top of an earthen dam wall alongside the lake. It was Kris’s good idea to haul our bikes up there, and we found a few other cyclists and walkers on the dam, as well as fishermen. The lake is huge and there were a large number of wind surfers in the distance.

After this we found ourselves following long straight roads through forests, but with occasional fast passing traffic. This was quite monotonous and my arms were aching badly the last hour or so (Kris was also suffering with his bottom).

It started to rain quite heavily at around 1pm and we stopped to shelter in a bus stop. A little old man was already sitting there, but he beckoned for us to sit down and could speak to Kris in German (though was difficult to understand). He was adamant that we should take the turn off just before the bus stop (the map seemed to indicate the next one), saying that a bridge was impassable. We decided to take his advise and it seemed to be correct as it the connection from the other bridge seemed overgrown when we passed it.

We were happy when we reached the town of Lubliniec where a lot of roadworks were happening. The hotel Lubex was fairly budget style but good. They were getting all set up for a wedding and most of the other guests seemed to belong to the wedding party. It is surprising how many wedding venues are advertised in Poland. Maybe everyone gets married many times.

Monday 25 May – Krakow

Monday 25 May – Krakow

We felt quite revived today for our ride into Krakow. The route went on 791 to Ogrodzieniec – Pilice. Then along 794 through Wolbram, Trzycha, Wielinoza, Skata, Brotowka, Korskiewsku, to Krakow.

It turned out to be an easy 70km as we had a lot of downhill runs as we came closer to Krakow. We also noticed that the quality of the roads had improved today (fewer pot holes and patches), presumably due to our proximity to the big city. We also saw our first other bicycle tourists – one about 30km before the city and a second (a Frenchman) in the centre.

The outskirts of Krakow didn’t look at all promising – with many ugly big square apartment blocks, congested roads and angry traffic. We circled around a bit to get into the centre and it started to rain quite heavily just as we arrived. We found a currency exchange, tourist information (for accommodation) and bookshop (for a map). Once these were sorted the rain had stopped and the place was looking a lot better. We decided to have a meal at an outdoor café on the main square. This was quite a treat, as they had outdoor gas fires that we could sit besides – nice and warm. We both had steaks and beer. We know from previous experience how good red meat is when you are cycle touring.

restaurant1          restaurant2

We then rode around to see the main sights. There were no tickets available for the today or tomorrow for the two things I would have liked to see – Wawal castle and the underground Krakow tour – so we just rode around soaking up the ambience. There are enough museums and tours to keep you busy for a week, and also horse drawn carriages, a real tourist Mecca. All the people in the centre seem to be tourists – we heard French and German, spoke to an Irish couple at the cafe and even saw some Indian and Chinese people. We talked to an eccentric solitary French cycle tourist. I guess we are eccentric too. We hadn’t come across many tourists during the rest of our trip – it seems that they are all concentrated in this one spot. After seeing hundreds and hundreds of cycle tourists in Germany, we finally saw two cycle tourists in Krakow.


After checking into the Okay Hostel (couldn’t figure out if the name is marketing genius or idiocy), which is near the river, we rode around some more on our bicycle (another 15km in all around Krakow). The nicest place to ride is on a bike path alongside the river.


There are heaps of places to eat and drink. We had a beer on a boat restaurant (one of many) and found a superb delicatessen where we bought some snacks and red wine before heading back the the hostel.

Krakow beer

The Okay Hostel is up two flights of stairs (a disadvantage with bikes) but otherwise I would recommend it. It is very cheap and based on the youth hostel model. We had our own room but shared a bathroom. It was not full, so not a problem. An advantage was that they had a washing machine that we could use to wash our clothes.

Tuesday 26 May – more rain, but ending up in a castle

Tuesday 26 May – more rain, but ending up in a castle

Today we we had planned a shorter ride of 62km to Sucha Beskidzka south of Krakow. However this turned out to be long enough as we were in rain after the first hour and there were also a lot of hills.

Our start was delayed as Kris got talking with the intelligent young Pole working at the hostel. It was very interesting hearing his views on Poland and European politics. He spoke about the challenge with Ukranian refugees. His grandfather was lucky not to be one of the 22,000 soldiers executed by the Russians (Katyn massacre) but was deported to Siberia during WWII. Eventually an agreement was reached that Poles could join the allied forces, but they had to get to the allied bases themselves. So they had to walk from Siberia to the border in Turkey. His grandfather survived but the friend he walked with did not.

The start of the route was the most pleasant as we rode out of Krakow alongside the river for about 8km in overcast conditions.


We headed onto road 953 through a series of villages where we encountered road works and it started drizzling. We eventually turned off at Kalwaria onto a quieter road. We passed a huge 17th century monastery on a hill. There were a number of tourist buses but no tourists in sight, it was raining and pretty miserable weather at this time.


We were advised by a couple of people and also a map outside a hotel of a more direct route through to Sucha Beskidzka. This road was in very bad condition with lots of potholes and patches and also had lots of steep up and down hills – lots of them through forests. Road signs helpfully indicate the gradient, most were 9-12% but the highest was 14%. I had to get off and push my bike a couple of times.

We were getting cold by the time we reached our hotel in Sucha Beskidzka. The hotel is on the ground floor of a Renaissance castle and is called Restaurant and Hotel Kasper Suski. We are finding the Polish prices very affordable – for example this hotel costs around NZD 50 for two including breakfast and wifi.


I enjoyed getting warm and clean again. Kris did some maintenance on the bicycle brakes. We had a three course meal in the hotel restaurant – I had trout which was delicious.

Here is a photo of Kris adjusting bicycle breaks in the rain.


Wednesday 27 May – into Slovakia

Wednesday 27 May – into Slovakia

We were relieved to wake up to better weather, the sun was even shining a for a few moments this morning. Today we did 83km from Sucha Beskidzha to Trstena in Slovakia.

We took a little time looking around Sucha Beskidzha and spending the last of our Polish Zloty on new bicycle brake pads and orange juice for the journey. There were many little shops along the main street, an attractive town for tourists.

We headed out of town to the west, alongside the train track and river. There was even a bicycle route for the first few kms. The first town past was Lachowice, then Jesowski Dzial, then Hucisiko. There were a couple of steep hills (both up and down).

Here we had a little adventure at an unmarked intersection. Kris wanted to continue following the train track but wanted to make sure we were on the right road. He stopped to ask a man mowing a lawn nearby, who seemed to indicate we should go back the way we came (which would be a long steep uphill, so we were not keen).


A bus then stopped and the driver began to speak to me. He turned out to be Russian, with only a few words of English. Anyway, he was helpfull and a conversation ensued between Kris, the man mowing the lawn and the bus driver. Another man (pedestrian) also stopped and joined in. Eventually a consensus was reached that we could go either way. We said that we wanted to go on and then bus driver told us to follow him in the bus.


So Kris and I were riding behind this yellow bus, which was soon on a gravel roads with potholes, through a forest, pedalling with effort to keep up! He stopped the bus about a kilometre up the gravel road and directed us from there. He had his daughter, who can speak English, translating for him on his mobile phone at this point. The instructions were to continue up the gravel path for about 1km, turning right at the first main road we came to. Then we would have a long downhill. After ten km, were told to turn left at the next major intersection. Then to keep going until we reach Slovakia.

The directions worked out pretty perfectly even though it was a bit different from the route we planned. Here is a photo of the gravel road we took through the woods. It is a short-cut not shown on any map.


The road to Slowakia took us through lots of little tourist settlements, very pretty and green. There was lots of accommodation around, we suspect for winter skiing. The route was the 945 (which was part of our planned route), which is called the 521 in Slovakia.

There was a long long hill climb just before the border, going through forests, where there was some logging going on, and alongside a little stream. The border is on the top of the hill and it is all downhill from there.


Our first impression of Slovakia is that it is very scenic. We passed a flock of sheep some of which had bells around their necks, so they were clinking as they grazed. There were also regular road-work stops along the route. We reached a huge lake called Orava about 20km from the border. The main town on the lake was Namestovo. It was getting really cold at this point (less than ten degrees Celsius). We pressed on around the southern side of the lake, crossing a dam wall with hydro generators. There was a final hill climb just before we got to the town of Trstena, where we are staying. Here is the view looking back at the lake from the top of the climb.


We were feeling cold when we stopped at the Trstena tourist info and in a hurry to find our hotel. Luckily it was really nearby, and we have a huge room with heaters!


After cleaning up we went to the pizza cafe at the bottom of the hotel and bought the biggest pizza we have ever eaten (50cm diameter) and also some draught beer. The draught beer cost less than NZ$2 and the pizza around NZ$15. And yes we did eat it all and it was good.


Thursday 28 May – Super Slovakia

Thursday 28 May – Super Slovakia

Today was a real treat – a manageable 64km ride through super scenic Slovakian countryside, with good roads and little other traffic.

We started out going west along the 520 from Trestna, passing through the towns of Liesek and Cimhova. Here we noticed loadspeakers broadcasting music along the main street again. We first heard this when we entered Trstena and find it very intiguing.

At Vitonova we turned onto the 584 to follow the Oravica river south.

Here we also passed heaps of accommodation, mainly bed and breakfast advertised on private homes, the reason became apparent when saw a ski lift just as we were leaving the town.

Along the 584 we found a wonderful cycle track, the best cycling infrastructure we have seen since Germany. It came to an end at a large ski park that had a ski lift and large warm water spa (you can just imagine it buzzing in winter).

cyclepath         path2

It was a clear but cold day, so we stopped for a coffee at Zuberec in working mans cafe – there were heaters on alongside the tables and I could warm up my feet. Even though it was only 11am, there were a couple of workers there eating very hearty looking food and some more came in while we were there. We were very tempted to try the food, but it wouldn’t have been a good idea to eat a big meal while cycling.

A little while later we stopped for another coffee at a smart cafe along the mountain pass – just before a steep climb! This was a newly built lodge, all made out of wood with sheepskins hanging from the rafters, a roaring fire and stunning views. The patrons were business men and day trippers.

We had a long climb to the top of the mountain in low gears, and then a wonderful downhill run.


We cycled through Liptovske Matiasouce, Liptouska Sielnica, and then to Liptovsky Mikulas. We passed a huge hot bath/ water park/ zoo/ movie entertainment complex just before town. The sun came out and it warmed up as we arrived in Liptovsky Mikulas.

The town had a very smart tourist office with a young lady who could speak good English (it seems like tourism is one of the main industries here). She helped us organise our accommodation at the Penzion Boniface. The main bonus of this place was that it has a huge bath (only showers up to now) – so we could have a good soak.

The town has a large central pedestrian area with cafes and bars. We found a “beer garden” down an alley off the main area – with parking for bicycles right outside. The bar man called someone over who could speak English from among his customers to help us chose a beer, and we ended up with a very good beer that rivals any Wellington craft beer. We enjoyed sitting outside alongside the locals – and especially some of the music, that was some sort of Slovakian rap/ rock.


We had dinner at a traditional style restaurant not far away – cabbage soup and a shared plate of local specialities – potato dumplings in sheep cheese sauce and cheese filled dumplings, something like ravioli. It was very good, just the type of thing you can imagine eating after spending the day on the mountains with your sheep. We finished our evening off with another beer at our new favourite pub.