Report by Garry Hoffman

Czech Republic and Poland
Prague to Krakow
July 2007

Introduction – For the last few years my wife, Donna and I, Gary, have boxed our bikes, got on a plane and flew to Europe where we biked on our own, carrying our gear with us. The route each year was different and came about as a result of our researching and reviewing trips by others, picking up on some of there suggestions, ignoring others and just plain planning and customizing our own route and schedule. However, during the off season, defined as any time we are not on a trip, I had been surfing the internet and came upon BaltiCCycle and The Crotos Travelers Association, a non-profit Eastern European group which has a main goal of promoting cycling. Their annual rides are organized and led by Sigitas Kucas, whom we came to know as a truly delightful and good-hearted person. Sigitas, I believe, is a University Researcher (Professor?) from Vilnius, Lithuania.

In 2006 they rode around the Baltic Sea. In 2005 they rode from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. In 2004 they rode from somewhere in Lithuania or Poland to Athens for the start of the 2004 Olympics. In 2008 they are scheduling a trip from Olympus, Greece to Beijing, China. From the previous site of the Olympics, to the next site. For 2007, our trip, they where starting in Brussels, Belgium biking to Istanbul than after three weeks biking around Turkey, they were taking a ferry to Cyprus for more biking before ending their trip in mid September.

Anyone can ride with them for any amount of time, 1 day, 1 week, a month or all the way from Brussels to Cyprus. There fees are very low and basically just cover their cost if that. They provide a truck to carry your gear, a map each morning showing your way, and a camping place for each night. Sigitas attempts to have local bike clubs take charge of the group for a day or more to lead us and show the sights as only a local cyclist can. So I talked Donna into it and we signed up. We were going to start in Prague and Donna was going to leave the group after Krakow. I was a little more open ended thinking I might go further with the group.

Thursday, July 5
Our Daughter Kate’s 30th birthday. After driving to Donna’s brother Jack and his wife Norma’s house in the Chicago suburbs and enjoying a light lunch, and a ride to the airport from Jack, Donna and I boarded the Air India Jetliner which took us from Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany. We had no problem checking our boxed bicycles. The flight had a number of babies on board at least one that cried all night. Our dinner choices were lamb and chicken. Each of us picked different meals, me lamb. I guess you can figure out through the process of elimination, what Donna had. At the Frankfurt Airport we bought train tickets which took us directly from the airport, through Dresden, Germany where we changed trains and from there, directly on into Prague, Czech Republic.

Friday, July 6
We arrived at the less than spectacular Prague Train Station about 9:45 PM. After a long day of flying and train riding, the dirty old, lift-less, cart-less train station was not a pleasant sight. We pushed our bike boxes and struggled with our baggage until we managed to make it to the center of the station. It was our 39th wedding anniversary. I went ahead and walked to the main street area and found The Hotel Europa an Art Nouveau style hotel dating back to 1889. I secured a room and walked back to the train station where Donna had gotten into deep serious trouble with the local army. She had pushed a couple of bags forward closer to the door and than would return for the boxes to push them over to the bags all the while keeping all the bags and boxes in sight. Well I guess the army thought she looked a lot like a terrorist, and were concerned that she was not at all times right next to her luggage (bombs in there, maybe). After we got all the stuff together they gave her a break and did not arrest her. On my way back to the train station I attempted to take a shortcut through what turned out to be a limited access freeway. I had gotten across 1 set of lanes before I was stopped by a police car that made sure I returned back across the north bound lanes and took the proper foot path back to the train station. We almost both were arrested and fined this 39th anniversary day. I guess the cops and the army must have thought “Dumb Tourists”.

We put our bikes together at the station, loaded our bags atop them as much as possible and started walking to the Hotel Europa. As we exited the train station area we thought it seemed rather seedy with what appeared to be its share of drunks and homeless. This was only in the immediate area of the train station. We have voted the Prague Train Station as the worst train station in Europe.

Our hotel was in the center of Prague activity right on the main avenue called Venceslas Square. We might call it Wenceslas Square. The hotel cost 50 Euros (cash) with a splendid breakfast included. The hotel has 90 rooms and three apartments. It has large sitting area lobbies on each of the floors. It did have a lift.

After unloading our bikes and bags we returned to the street to view the parade of young men and women up and down the street. The area had many restaurants, clubs and stores. We decided to celebrate our anniversary (can you guess how many years?) by having sausages and Pilsner Urquell before calling it a night and returning to our hotel for a well deserved sleep.

Saturday, July7
So much for the elegant, sophisticated old hotel as we were woken way too early by some guys yelling in the hall. We went for our included breakfast in the hotel B&B area. It was a big breakfast with rolls, breads, cheese, meats, cereal, juices and much more. We ate well and made a take along lunch which we had later in the day.

We than started our sight-seeing of the city. First we picked up some Czeck money at the ATM. We did the Prague walk starting with The Power Tower. We crossed the famous St. Charles Bridge with all its statues looking down on us as we walked across the Vltava River. The area is filled with shops and churches. Here, we purchased a souvenir Prague mug which we carried with us for the next few weeks. We walked to and visited the Infant of Prague church. We watched the Astronomical Clock tick off the hour with its complicated dials, hands and statues. It was a bright, warm breezy day. After much exploring we returned to our hotel, it was the day after our anniversary, to pick up our bikes and ride to were we would be staying the next couple of nights, The Caravan Park and Yacht Club which was located on an island about 4 miles south of the city center in the middle of the Vltava River. We were unable to carry all our gear on our bikes but the hotel was accommodating and said we could leave it with them and we could pick it up later in the day.

We got directions to The Yacht Club and started off pedaling in that direction. The Caravan Yacht Club had a camp ground, restaurant and bar along with places to tie up your boat (or yacht as the case may be). It appeared to have seen better years. Apparently a few years ago the entire island had been covered over by water during a flood. There was another camp ground along with a restaurant and bar. It also had a Czech Navy training area. The island was connected to the west bank by a short bridge way on the south side (furthest from town) of the island. So to get there by bike we needed to bike well past The Yacht Club, cross the bridge and than bike back. Upon arrival at the camp ground we learned they had a passenger ferry that crossed the river (saving going all the down and back again) that left every hour on the hour until 9:00PM. We had our tent with us and set up our camp in the area where we were told the Baltic Group was staying. As we were setting up, the first Baltic Cycle riders rode in. We introduced ourselves to Brian and Alison a married couple in their late 50’s, early to mid 60’s, from New Zealand, Herman and Marie, early 50’s, from Germany and the two Olga single girls, mid 20’s, from Belarus. We politely took our leave and rode the ferry across the river and walked the short distance to the subway station. We rode back to the city center to gather our remaining bags before taking the subway back to the station near the ferry pick up point. We bought some beer and drank it with our sandwiches from earlier in the day, meeting the rest of the Baltic crew, as by than, they had all arrived and had set up their camp. We had a beer in the camp bar with some of the English speaking folks before Donna went to bed to catch up on her sleep. Gary roamed the campground making new friends and sampled the apricot vodka with some of the Germans and New Zeelanders.
Donna did catch up on her sleep, sleeping from 7:00 PM until 8:30 AM the following morning.

Sunday, July 8
Our first morning with BaltiCCycle Group. Sigitas, our leader, has a unique sounding little horn which he blows for meetings and announcements. The sound of the horn indicates something important is going to happen or be announced so you better pay attention and find Sigitas. At 8:30 AM this morning we heard the hour calling everyone to the morning meeting. It was decided that those who wished, could meet at 5:00 PM on the west and south side of the famous St. Charles Bridge for a river cruise that Sigitas was arranging. Be there at 5:00 PM or miss the boat.

After the meeting we had coffee at the restaurant before biking down the island over to the main land where we found a mall and bought our camping gas. After returning to the campground we left our bikes and took the little ferry across the river and made our way to the Prague City Center from where we visited the Castle across the Bridge. The Castle is high on a hill and as we hiked back down we found the 25 Crowns/ ½ liter Pilsner Urgell outdoor café on the main walkway to the Castle. The 25 Crowns roughly converts to $ 0.80 US Dollars. We also found some of the homes and shops we had read about in a guidebook that had symbols and little figurines above there doorways indicating what type of business was there for example, a little violin which indicated a violent craftsman, or the little pig indicating a butcher.

Before long it was time to take the cruise and we met at the designated spot which was previously determined as the place for those going on the cruise. After some confusion we made walked about 10 blocks to where the cruise was to lift off from. The cruise was up and down the river lasting a little over an hour. We met and talked with a Polish couple whom were just now joining the ride. They were greenhorns like us. After the ride we returned via subway to catch our little ferry over to the campground. We picked up a couple of sandwiches on the way back and had an informal snack with others. It had been decided at the morning meeting, that there would be a party at 9:00 PM to bid farewell to those riders who would be leaving and to introduce the new folks joining in. Everyone brought some food or drink to the party and we had sausage, vegetables, sweets, cheese wine, beer, vodka and assorted foods. Sigitas bid the farewells and made the introductions before the party ended. It was a pleasant ending to our day.

Monday, July 9
We had a leisurely cup of coffee at the pier before mounting our bikes and riding back to the mainland. There was to be no morning meeting as this was another lay over day for the Baltic Cycle Crew. We had heard about a bike trail on the opposite bank of the river. We took the bridge across and took the A-2 bike trail to a town 15 to 17 miles away. We stopped for lunch of Goulash with dumplings and potato pancakes. It was a delicious meal at a local café where we ate outdoors under an umbrella.

After lunch we backtracked to Prague for a visit to the American Embassy where we were turned away from an audience with The Ambassador (a native of Milwaukee) as we had failed to schedule our meeting in advance. The American and German embassies are up a quite side street which is populated by plenty of Czech security personnel. They checked all cars coming up the hill, opening doors, hoods, and trunks and using mirrors to view the underside of the vehicles. The German embassy was further up the street and we hiked up to get a view of the garden which was over run by East German’s back in the days of the Berlin Wall and a separated East and West Germany. Prague was on the same side of the Iron Curtain as East Germany and permitted East Germans to travel there. About 4,000 East German’s climbed over the wall into the garden of what was The West Germany Embassy and refused to leave. Negotiations between the powers that be at that time worked out a plan that allowed the East Germans to move to freedom in West Germany. We had not heard the story before, but the locals and German’s on the trip were familiar with the circumstances. We found the garden and it is hard to imagine 4,000 people gathered in such a small area but freedom has its attractions.

As we rode back to the bridge it started to rain so we ducked under an awning at our previously discovered Pilsner Place (25 Crowns). We spent some time talking with a couple that had come for a long weekend from there home in England. After the rain stopped we headed over to the old Jewish area to look around. Later we biked back to the camp grounds. It rained off and on though-out the rest of the evening. It was a light rain when it did rain. We joined others in the camp ground bar and restaurant. Donna and I had fried cheese and French Fries for our dinner. Brian and Alison, the couple from New Zealand, where sharing a bottle of wine when Julia a young gal from Italy entered. They asked her if she wanted a glass and she said she would. Alison, not noticing that the bartender was sitting nearby reached behind the bar to get an empty glass for Julia and the bartender exploded Yelling loudly at her to get away from the bar. Alison explained she was just getting an empty glass saving him the trouble. Alison was shaken by the scream. A short time later another Baltic Cyclists came in and he was invited to pull his chair around to near the rest of us. We he did so the bartender again exploded Yelling for him to move the chair back which he did. Let me tell you there was no tipping for this hospitality school dropout. Maybe we were keeping him up too late and he was trying to scare us out of the place so he could go to bed. No such cave in by us. However eventually we realized that there was going to be a road to be pedaled and hills to be climbed tomorrow, so we all took our leave and zipped our tents tightly for a good nights sleep.

Tuesday, July 10
Time to ride. We woke to an overcast sky but the tent and equipment was dry. We had coffee and breadsticks for breakfast followed by the Sigitas horn calling us to the morning map meeting. The meeting was in English which is to be the common language while we are in the Czech Republic. Sigitas passed out maps which started after the first 18 miles. It seems the fellow responsible for planning the next couple of days rides had taken a new job and was unable to put together the plan for the day. We left the campsite with the German and New Zealand couples. Marie, the German, seemed to have a knack for following the bike paths and seemed to lead us into the right direction. Donna had a flat tire which I changed about 5 miles into our trip. The others waited while I made the quick change. Soon, all of us including Marie, came to the conclusion we had no idea where we were. Eventually many of the remaining Baltic Cyclists caught up to us and were in the same predicament (lost). Olga, one of the Belarus gals, Bob from Scotland, and Judita from Lithuania seemed to figure out the route and became our leaders and eventually the group made our way out of the city (after a few false turns) and made it to the small town where our maps actually started giving us a point of reference for the rest of the days trip.

The group is about 45 people with Donna and I being the only Americans. We have the aforementioned Bob from Scotland (whom was now living in Wales, between jobs, and a regular BaltiCCycle Rider), the aforementioned New Zealanders Brian and Alison, Celine who also comes from New Zealand and big John from Ireland who are the only people with English being their first language. However, the Germans, Lithuanians, Julia from Italy and some of the Polish riders understand and speak English. A number of us stopped in the small village of Zelenec for coffee.

It rained lightly off and on throughout the day but the roads and paths where beautiful on quiet rolling roads. The roads were very narrow and the houses were right next to the roads and almost all of them had there yards fenced with dogs acting as protectors (fortunately behind the fences) announcing each cyclist. Many of the homes where quaint, stucco and timbered houses, with colorful flower boxes by the windows. Donna and I tried to stick with the riders in our group so we would not get lost. Occasionally we had confidence we knew where we were and we would drop from the group to stop at the store, eat some ham and cheese sandwiches (a staple on this trip) or ride at a slightly different pace. We did stop with a number of others in a small town for another coffee late in the day.

Our ride took us to The Cesky Raj (Bohemian Paradise, as it is known throughout the Czech Republic). It is a maze of low hills, sandstone rock towns and volcanic basalt fingers, all set against a backdrop of rolling woods and farmland. The Cesky Raj rises gradually northward into the foothills of the Krkonose Mountains. This beautiful landscape inspired poets, sculptors and painters of the Czeck National Revival, and it is very popular with Czech holiday makers.

About 75 miles from our starting point in Prague we arrived at our destination campground at Oborsky Lake, during a light mist. The campground had little cottages but when I inquired as to the availability I was informed that they were all spoken for. The ground was quite wet located around a nice lake here in the higher elevation. I noticed another campground across the river and asked the gal at Reception if she would call over there and see if they had any rooms available. She did. They did. Donna and I rode over and scored a little dry, warm clean room for about 18 US Dollars. We showered, had a drink in the restaurant went back over to the original campground to talk to our new friends before returning to our dry home for the evening. When we decided to eat with Big John whom had also scored a room along with a few other bikers, the restaurant was nasty as when we tried to order chicken for dinner we were told in no uncertain terms that it was too late to order food. This came as a surprise to us as we had been told earlier that they served past the hour we tried to order. Oh well, another hospitality school dropout. So we had to be satisfied with chips and soon went to bed in a dry warm room with clean white sheets on a mattress. We were now experienced BaltiCCyclists.

Wednesday, July 11
We awoke to a beautiful day and joined the others for our morning map meeting. We biked out right after the meeting and soon we were at a terrible hill which required walking. After that the ride was wonderful. We stopped with others at an outdoor restaurant for a delicious specialty of the house, lunch. This ride was uphill through a couple of ski resort towns. We did a lot of climbing but the grade was manageable and really not too bad. We stopped in the ski resort town of Vrchlabi where we checked email at the public library before climbing higher into the mountains on this beautiful sunny day. As we approached our destination of Spindlerruv Mlyn “The Aspen of the Czech Republic” we rode into the clouds and light sporadic rain. Our sleeping place was the Skola which was very old indeed at the very top of the town. Donna and I claimed the Chemistry room for our bedroom. This was to be our last night in the Czech Republic so it was imperative that we all spent the balance of our Czech money. We had dinner in a wonderful little Czech restaurant in town.

Prior to going to bed we had to join in the celebration of grandmother-hood held in the class room next to us. We went to bed knowing that we had survived climbing the mountain. Tomorrow was supposed to be down the mountain.

Thursday, July 12
We awoke in our chemistry room and heard the rain on the windows. We made coffee in our chemistry room where the map meeting was held, and we all listened to the new Polish Guides who were going to lead us today. At the meeting the bad news for the non European Country Citizens was announced. The route for the EU people was about 35 Kilometers down the mountain with a few hills to climb. Us non EU folks, Brian & Alison from New Zealand, Olga & Olga from Belarus and Donna & I from the USA needed to pass into Poland through a different Poland Border Crossing. Celine who was from New Zealand had a British Passport as well as a New Zealand passport and therefore could travel with the EH folks. Us non EU’ers had to go a different direction about 45 kilometers more than the others. We started downhill in the rain back through the town of Vrchlabi which we had passed through the day before. The trip down to the town was much quicker than the climb up out of it was. From Vrchlabi we had some difficult climbs up into the mountains but the weather had cleared and the scenery was awesome.

Without the two Olga’s we would probably still be out there somewhere with Alison and Brian. Apparently the Belarus language has enough similarity to Polish and Czech that they could be understood and they could understand the locals. Very few people could understand or speak English. After a long processing at the Polish border which was at the mountain top, we had a wonderful downhill run. 40 kilometers up and 35 wonderful kilometers down, for the day.

After a number of wrong turns and a very close situation were the young Olga was almost creamed by a car (loud brakes screaming and tire smell) we found our home for the evening. We were at a very nice old Polish Campground just outside the town of Milkow, Poland. As we arrived we noticed all our fellow EU riders were settled in as they beat us in by a couple of hours. The campground had a tremendously large dry swimming pool. We figured that the Russian Army must have built it and must have had a camp there. It had many cracks in the bottom. The campground had a nice restaurant and patio where we ate dinner. Fortunately, we were able to convince the lady owner to take Euros as we had not yet gotten any Polish money. All in all it was a tough day’s ride but we made it and the nice campground facilities made us soon forget the hills of the day. We slept well.

Friday, July13
Yes Friday the 13th. We had breakfast at the campground and Gary changed Donna’s tube which had deflated during the evening. We had our morning map meeting before we pedaled out to the road where there was a little confusion as which direction to go when we left the camping place. Eventually we figured it out. For the first 2 hours we climbed a rather steep mountain but once we hit the top it was pretty much down hill for the rest of the day. Donna and I did a lot of riding by ourselves. We stopped at a little market where the lady shopkeeper prepared delicious sandwiches for us. We were unsure were we were until Martin & Anna came by and led us for a good while. They led us up a rocky mountain bike trail which Donna and I abandoned after finding it unsafe for our bikes. By coincidence we met up with a bunch of the Baltic Cyclists at a market not far from our campground destination for the evening. We all shopped and than rode to our ZERO STAR camping place. This camping place was just down the road from one of Adolph Hitler’s Polish bunkers. It rained a bit as we set up our tent next to a babbling brook. We had dinner of Perogi and Chicken at the camping place restaurant. By the time we had settled into our sleeping bags the rain had stopped.

Saturday, July 14
Today we were headed to Wroclaw, which was out first touristy city in Poland (think big center city square). The weather was warm and sunny. We had a very easy ride with few hills and good directions for most of the ride. Donna and I rode alone together for much of the day choosing when and where to stop and eat sightsee and/or rest. We did actually get lost later in the day as we the map at this point had us traveling on a dirt bike route which we missed. We rode on highway 35 which was very busy this Saturday with cars speeding by. Eventually we reconnected with our route for a wonderful quiet road to near the outskirts of Wroclaw.

Our route into Wroclaw was a busy 4 lane superhighway. The road eventually calmed down into an urban 4 to 6 lane highway. We passed the very large military cemetery guarded by two old military tanks. We made it to the old city center and found our campground along side the river after a few false turns. Our campground was termed “The Mosquito Swamp” by Ireland’s Big John. I do not know of anyone who disagreed with him. Our facilities were beyond description (not good).

Donna and I had been assigned the name “Team America” by Junita the multi linguist from Lithuania. She could speak many languages and had become Sigitas’ unofficial assistant. She is young, bright and can ride all day. She has a great sense of humor and shifts from being a Vegan to eating a steak depending upon her appetite. We enjoyed her presence on the trip.

Most of the Baltic Group gathered together to bike the 5 kilometers to the wonderful Wroclaw City Center with its large Square. We had dinner together and an outdoor restaurant before we biked back to our new home and went to bed with our tents tightly zipped (mosquitoes, you know).

Sunday, July 15
Today is a rest day, that is to say, that we do not bike on to another location. We did however, bike. After breakfast the majority of our group biked to the City Center where Ewa, a Polish bike rider, started our bike tour of Wroclaw. Prior to our ride, Gary was interviewed by Lithuania television. Our tour took us thru colleges, parks, neighborhoods, famous churches and ended at “The Panorama”. After having dinner alone, Donna and I cycled back to the mosquito swamp where we again zipped up tight before turning in for another good nights sleep.

Monday, July 16
At our morning map meeting, we were introduced to members of the “Na Prazelaj” (no problem?) Bicycle club from the town of Brzeg whom where going to lead us for the day. The leader led us all riding in one large group, through town across the bridge to the canals of the Old Odra River. We rode a nice cycle trail for many miles before the trail seemed to end in the middle of no where. Our leader huddled with other seemingly knowledgeable bikers and we pushed on. The path had become an overgrown single track rut. Everyone assumed we were hopelessly lost until we found a farm, biked through the field and found the road. Apparently we were not loss, just slightly disoriented. It was good to be on the road again and many of the approximately 30 riders rode together in a group to the city of Jelcz were we met more Brzeg cyclists at the petro station. Bob, from the UK, broke his seat post and rode all the way from outside Wroclaw to the town of Jelcz without being able to sit. Fortunately he found relief in Jelcz (obtaining a new seat post).

At the petrol station, we broke into two groups. The first group taking to the forest tracks while the second group went on asphalt roads. Donna and I joined the asphalt riders. We had a lovely ride through the countryside into the town of Brzeg where the groups met at The Castle of Brezg’s Piasts which dates back to the year 1235. It was quite old. We meet in the castle court yard where we listened to the local major and officials welcome us in Polish. Sigitas said a few words before presenting the major with a Baltic Cycle flag. Next door to the castle was the old St. Hedwig church. After the formal remarks by the dignitaries and Sigatas, we had a team ride out of town with a police escort. We were VIP’s this day in Brezg. We rode through a forest trail to the town of Krzyowic where we stopped at the fire brigade building. Here we were treated to a homemade, absolutely delicious meal of wonderful and varied Polish food. It was almost beyond belief. Soup came first followed by steaming platters of hot food of every Polish dish I had ever heard of and some that I had never heard of. After stuffing ourselves the local lady cooks suggested we visit the local church while they prepared for dessert. We walked over to Pogorzela a gothic church dating from before the year 1420. In the church is a polychromy dating from around the year 1420. After a little explanation from some of the town folks that traced the history of the church, we returned to the fire brigade for a delicious dessert. Soon it was time to move on so the old fire truck, siren blaring, led us out of town. We rode through the Riparian Forest located near the Nysa Klodzka River to the open air museum of Mrs. Franciszka Drozd where we camped for the night in her garden. There was a gravel pit about 800 meters from the garden which was filled with water and was our shower facility for the day. The good lady, Drozd, had live music consisting of a keyboard and her singing. She danced and we had a bon fire. Her Garden and museum were truly unique. Our group pretty much used every bit of space available in the garden and tents were literally right next to each other. After the fire burnt out we all settled down to a good nights sleep dreaming of the wonderful dinner we had earlier in the day.

Tuesday, July 17
We were up early and had our breakfast at the picnic table in the garden. We had a nice ride through the countryside with little to no automobile traffic. We came to another very large swimming pool just outside of the town of Tutowice. The difference between this pool and the pool back at the campground a few days ago, was this pool held water and had a rather good size crowd of locals in attendance. Most of our group stopped and spent a number of hours just relaxing and cooling off in the pool. It was a hot day with a blue sky and a bright sun. A perfect day for some pool-time. Some of the BaltiCCyclists pretended they were volleyball players. Gary had a plate of Kiel Bassa, kraut, bread and a delicious brown mustard. The plan was to meet in town at 3:00 Pm to be led through the forest to our camping site near the stables behind the castle in the town of Moszna.

At the appointed hour the folks started forming for our trip through the forest. After a few toots on the Sigitas’ horn and a few folks doing some last minute shopping (Celine and fruit) we headed into the forest. We rode past a green cross, a red cross, a white cross, a large stone, and castle ruins all which had been called to our attention at our morning map meeting and were highlighted on our map. The weather suddenly changed and we were pelted with rain as lightning and thunder echoed over our heads. The forest track became muddy ruts and a number of people had flat tires requiring the entire group to stop while they the tubes were replaced (Donna’s flat was changed by Michael the school teacher from Poland who spoke excellent English). If they where left behind they would still be out there, lost and cycling in circles. Our forest group consisted of about 30 riders and we were soaked. Peter, from Germany, took off all his clothes other than his underwear and biked in his new wardrobe. A number of times we stopped while Sigitas took a GPS reading. At one point he announced that he had figured it out and that we had a straight direct shot to our camp site. About 200 meters down the road we came to a T and another GPS reading had to be made.

Eventually we made it out of the forest and into the small town of Lacznik. Most everyone made a market stop and Peter purchased a large bottle of water and a scrub brush and on the sidewalk in front of the store he proceeded to scrub himself clean.

Soon we were at our camp site which consisted of an overgrown field next to a little river. Parked in the area was a large old water truck apparently left over from some army of yesteryear. These were our facilities for the evening. Sigitas had arranged for pictures of our group to be taken by the local news media so we had to hustle up to the castle for our press conference. After our photo op we were treated to dinner at the castle. It was lighter than the fire brigade dinner but was welcomed never the less. After dinner a number of us wandered into town and enjoyed some refreshments until well after dark before returning to sleep at the overgrown camp site which had its share of mosquitoes.

Wednesday, July 18
We went as a group up to the castle where we were given a tour of the old place. During our tour it was raining hard outside. By the time the tour was finished we were in luck as the rain had ceased. Today we were to be led by the kids from the Opaolo Bicycle Club. Much of the day was a wonderful ride through the countryside with beautiful weather. We had to cross a river on a manually operated little ferry which the bikers provided the horsepower. After the ferry Donna and Gary rode with Sigitas on a long climb up the mountain to the monastery and St. Anna’s Church. There was a young persons mass happening outside the church. We had a wonderful lunch at an outdoor restaurant on the mountain top. After lunch we rode six or seven miles down the mountain to our destination for the evening, the school house of Stari Kuznia. Donna and I slept inside the school after a hearty meal obtained from the local market and enjoyed on the picnic benches outside the school with our new European friends.

Thursday, July 19
We were up early and after the map meeting we headed out with Big Irish John. The morning ride of 25 miles to Rybnik was easy and traffic-free. In Rybnik we had a combination breakfast lunch in a nondescript place at the main town square. From there we had a very busy road for 20 more miles. We tried a bike path that went down by the lake and rode that until it ended. We took a side road outside the town of Zory that was low traffic and pretty. However the last 10 miles into Pszcyna where not fun as we were on a busy high speed road. As we entered town we spotted our green luggage truck and the driver led us to tonight’s destination “University Internal”. Donna and I grabbed a private room on the second floor and settled in. It was our first private room since the rainy campground night many moons ago. We discovered a washing machine in the basement and did a load. We than biked into town and had dinner at an outside café under a beautiful, warm, evening sky. We walked around town before riding back to our dorm room for a great nights sleep on a comfortable mattress.
Friday, July 20

Up and ready to ride on this beautiful sunny morning. At our morning map meeting, Sigitas mentioned that we would be having a party night at our home this evening. After loading our bags into the big Green Truck we set off with Big John in search of our new destination Wadowice, The Polish Pope’s, home-town. Soon the temperature turned hot and we were under a cloudless blue sky. Along the way outside the city of Oswiecim we visited the notorious Auschwitz and Birkenau German Concentration Death Camps. The camps have been turned into a tourist hotspot with the intention of remembering forever the terrible things people can do to others. We climbed the entrance tower at Birkenau and looked out over the area where more people were killed than any other place on earth. Some of the barracks and the train tracks were people were unloaded and chosen for life or death still remain. It was a chilling site. We biked further up the road to The Auschwitz Camp where we toured and also watched a movie detailing the history of the two camps. We passed under the famous sign proclaiming “Work will set you free”. That sign was one of the greatest con jobs of all time. We ran into a fair number of BaltiCCyclists at the camp. Everyone wanted to see a bit of this horrific history.

Eventually we headed out of town and after a few false starts we made it to Polanka Wielka a nice city along the way. Our ride this day was longer than we anticipated and as we approached Wadowice we were happy to be nearing our destination. Signs throughout the city declared there reverence to the Polish Pope. After all this was his home town. There were many faithful pilgrims in town paying there respects. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant across from the Pope’s Church, along with Martin, Anna and Big Irish John where we enjoyed some Pope Cake. At the table we noticed Big Irish John’s infected and swelling hand. Apparently he had been bitten by some kind of local spider or bug. It looked worse than Big Irish John indicated it felt. After finishing our Pope Cake we mounted up biked to our destination campground at the local sports soccer center. We found and area near the fence were we used as a pitch (tent site).

As Sigitas promised we had an evening party that for some folks lasted quite late into the evening and following morning.

Saturday, July 21

It rained during the night and when we got up we attempted to shake the water from our tent and rain-fly. We were surprised to see the mountain of garbage from the previous night’s party. Everyone joined in and in a short time we had cleaned the entire area. By now our tent and rain-fly had dried so we loaded our stuff into the Big Green Bus and after our morning map meeting, Donna, Big Irish John and I started biking out of town. Our route followed the busy main highway 52 for about 2 miles before turning onto an unmarked side road. Big Irish made the decision to continue on the busy highway 52 rather than follow the local roads shown on the cue sheet. His route would certainly be shorter, more direct, faster and probably a lot flatter.

Donna and I headed down the side road by ourselves. In the small town of Lekawica we became unsure of our route. We followed directions provided by a local guy who was drinking a bottle of beer at this morning hour and rode about 5 miles in the wrong direction before some English speaking local bikers stopped to help us. They indicated that we needed to retrace the 5 miles and turn left instead of right at the intersection where our beer drinking friend sent us the wrong way (Morale – don’t trust directions from people drinking beer in the morning).

After retracing the 5 miles (which were not level), we were able to get directions and even an escort by another local cyclist around the various turns and through intersections until we saw Michael, the English Speaking Polish teacher BaltiCCyclist, riding with two of his friends. We decided to stick to them like glue. They weren’t any better at map reading but they could speak the language and understand the locals giving directions. Ever riding with them we had a number of missteps if you will, and some backtracking.

The day was getting hotter and we were doing a lot of climbing. With Michael, his 2 friends and an older Polish woman Donna and I were headed to the country mountaintop Church which was a favorite of The Polish Pope. The route was substantially uphill but there was a downhill run before climbing a long grade. The Polish lady riding with us was about 100 yards behind Donna and fell when she hit some loose gravel. A truck stopped and she hoped into the truck which took her to the local medical center. Michael who was right with her said she was bleeding profusely as apparently the handlebar had struck her abdomen. Later we learned that she was rushed to a hospital in Wadowice where she underwent surgery to stop the bleeding from her ruptured artery. We also learned that the surgery was successful and although her BaltiCCycle Ride was over, she was a survivor. We took her bent and twisted bike to a local home where the owner agreed to watch it until our Green Bus could pick it up.

Michael and his friends biked on to the medical center to see how she was doing. Donna and I biked on to the mountain top church which was filed with tourists. We explored the area before getting back on our bikes and pushing on. The rest of the ride was very difficult and we were forced to walk probably over an hour up various difficult hill tracks before we could find a reasonable road that we could ride.
The ride this day was long and strenuous. At some point we met up with a number of other BaltiCCyclists and stayed with them until we found our destination, at the gymnasium at the Jagiellomian University in Krakow. Most of the group slept indoors on the gym floor. After getting organized and refreshed a good many of us rode into the Old City Center in Downtown Krakow where we ate at a vegetarian restaurant, 6 items for a big plate. After a while Donna and I biked back toward what we thought was our home. It was quite dark and we got lost. We checked with some police who where not helpful as we could not remember the University name. We finally figured out the proper direction and some local cyclists led us right to our University where we called it a night.
Sunday, July 22

Sunday was a rest day and Donna and I made the decision that we were finished riding with the BaltiCCyclists for this year. Yesterday had been a really difficult day and Peter the German Mechanic had indicated that now the hills begin and the ride will get interesting. We had had enough hills for awhile and also if we biked further east it would have been difficult to find transportation back to Frankfurt where the Air India plane was waiting.

Donna and I biked to town where we took the bus to the fabulous salt mines just outside of town. They were impressive indeed. After returning to Krakow we visited the square, the old town and the castle before checking the train schedule for our trip back to Frankfurt. The trip was going to be long with train changes. It was not looking good. We found a Zimmer where we could stay the next 2 nights as the Baltic Cyclist were going to be moving on and there would be no room for us at the gym. We had dinner outside on the square before pedaling back to our home. A number or riders where finishing in Krakow so we had a makeshift party with cake beer and vodka where many of us said our goodbyes before going to bed.
Monday, July 23

We convinced our Green Truck driver to give us a ride down to the city center where our Zimmer was. Big Irish John was also leaving the trip and gotten a room in the city center so he rode with us. We packed up all our gear and off we went. Donna and I were able to move our stuff into our room and than headed out for more Krakow exploring. Although most of Poland seemed to be a third world old Russian influenced country, Krakow was with the modern ways as far as tourism and restaurants etc where concerned. We visited the old Jewish area were Schindler’s List was filmed. We visited an old Jewish museum in the area which had free admission on Mondays. While walking around town we ran into Big John (The Irishman) who said upon checking his room he decided to move elsewhere. We made plans to meet for dinner later in the evening.

We tried to get my Air India ticket changed so I could go home with Donna (originally I had planned to stay with the Baltic group for a longer time but now I was exhausted and ready to travel home). I was unable to verify a ticket change but Donna and I were able to score 2 airline tickets from Krakow to Frankfurt via Lot Airlines that were the same price as the train and would get us there a whole lot quicker. We also booked a hotel near the Frankfurt Airport.

I kept trying Air India and finally I got through o the Frankfurt Reservation Manager and that I should just go the airport and fly standby. She said it may take a few days but eventually I should be able to get on a flight. She took my information and suggested I call her back the next day. Hmm, maybe things would work out.

At 8:00PM we were at the designated meeting area and Herman and Maria and John showed up. John had heard of a very traditional Polish Restaurant named “Chlopskie Jadlo” so we set out looking for it. Donna had a very interesting selection of four different soups and I had the salad bar and beef goulash on potato pancakes along with bread on the side. We all thought our meals were delicious. After dinner we said our goodbyes and Donna and I headed home to bed.

Tuesday, July 24

We awoke expecting our breakfast to be brought to our room. I went upstairs to ask the manager what happened and he pointed out to me that it was two hours earlier than Donna and I had thought (we had read the clock wrong-go figure how we did that). He said breakfast would be down soon and it was. After eating we mounted our bikes on another beautiful day and rode along the river for a couple of hours. When we returned to town we again called Air India and YES I was confirmed on the flight with a 65 Euro ticket change charge. We checked the local train schedule for the train to the Krakow Airport and had a relaxing day meeting Big Irish John for dinner again. After dinner we said our goodbyes and went home to bed.

Wednesday, July 25

Time to start heading home. We had our in room breakfast and headed over to the train station. It was a cold gloomy day, the first since The Czech Republic. The train dropped us at a transfer station where we boarded a bus to the airport. At the airport we removed our pedals, turned our handlebars and deflated the tires. No boxes were required by Lot Airlines. Our flight was delayed for a good period of time. Eventually we took off for the 250 mile flight to Frankfurt. Upon arrival at the Frankfurt Airport we checked the availability of purchasing bike boxes and they were available at 40 Euros. However we saw some folks who were arriving with bikes and asked them if they were finished with their boxes. They said no they would use them when they left. I started looking around and sure enough I saw some empty bike boxes in the trash. Donna and I were able to pick out two and we saved ourselves 80 Euros. What good luck. We called our hotel shuttle which came and picked us up and took us to our sleeping place for the evening. Across the street from our hotel was a big campground which had a good Italian restaurant where we enjoyed our last European dinner of the trip before returning to a wonderful nights sleep.

Thursday, July 26

Up for our included big breakfast than off to the airport aboard the hotel shuttle. We climbed aboard our Air India flight for a long trip to Chicago where we claimed our bikes and bags, cleared customs, called our daughter Kate to come pick us up. We spent the night at Kate’s house before driving back to Milwaukee the following day. And so next year Donna wants to plan our vacation.