Half-dried lake, Zywiec

The idea of this journey is simple: ride bikes in Polish mountains. Everything else can be done without a plan. Our plan is to follow mountain trails and explore small towns on the  way. The trip is also an opportunity to incorporate a healthy lifestyle, keep up fit and enjoy the beauty of nature at your fingertips. Here we go.

I take along three of my friends. Having some serious difficulties we finally manage to successfully fit our four bikes and full one-week equipment inside relatively tiny Peugeot 206.

Typical application of such a car is driving around town and shopping. However, you can make an exception and sometimes make a bigger use of that. We leave Poznań quite late, so we stop right after a couple of hours drive for a night in Wrocław. The next day we take the the south-east course to arrive to Brenna in the afternoon. It is a strategically located town in the southern part of Silesian province. Strategically located, because within the range of a one day trip we are able visit many interesting places.

A little rustic gazebo

We live in a tiny, dark and cramped summerhouse. It’s actually closer to arbor than a normal house. On the other side, the lodge immediately wins our appreciation. The electrical equipment is simple. Only one light-bulb and high-functioning refrigerator are working. Deep well is our source of running water. It’s also the only thing available for showering. The experience gained at our modest, grassy plot: To be washed in cold water straight from the well (which is about four degrees Celsius) the best is to apply shock therapy. Someone pours a bucket of cold water on you. In my thoughts I scream. It’s time for the soap. Then the second bucket to rinse. The next bucket is easier. What a great feeling it is to be clean again.


Little rest under the tree

Our typical daily schedule looks like this: right after the sunrise however feels like to volunteer wakes up the rest. The first step is a ride to the nearby shop to get fresh bread, meat and vegetables. As soon as we start preparing the food outside, our friendly neighbor handles in a kettle of boiling water. Thanks to her our breakfast also includes a hot tea. During the breakfast we set a route to overcome during the day. As a rule, by nine we are already out on the track. There is no way to avoid a number of logistical issues. We choose the trails to minimize the number of repeated ones. The goal is to see something new everyday, try to avoid traffic and be able to ride bicycle all the time, especially uphill. The latter was a biggest issue, because we underestimated the range of Beskid Żywiecki in terms of the slope of the local mountain trails. There are sections of very hard climbing towards the summit. As we know, effective cycling also requires a minimum downhill braking. As in order to stick to that rule we are setting the fresh records of speed. I am able to accelerate to more than seventy kilometers per hour. Using brakes makes no sense. Sometimes, however, it is the only solution to avoid a close encounter with overgrown oak on the side of the road.

Despite the huge effort and fatigue, our every single trip was worthwhile. We already have ridden up to the summits of the surrounding mountains, including Czantoria, Klimczok and Skrzyczne. We always visit the little towns. Szczyrk is one of the more popular winter resorts in Poland, both among skiers and snowboarders. Located a bit further is Wisła, another friendly town. Interestingly enough, that is where our famous ski jumper Adam Małysz comes from. Another day we visit the origin place of Zywiec, one of the most respected and recognized Polish beers. The thirst-quenching golden brew took its name after the village of Żywiec.

Complete darkness

The area surrounding Żywiec is very scenic. We ascend up to the a semi-dried lake. It has broken and muddy banks, the water is barely visible in the distance. Feels like a desert. This is our longest and most distant trip.


Viewpoint on the way to Klimczok

On the way back is becomes completely dark. On the top of that we run out of food as we had only a few bananas and a bottle of water. There are still two notable peaks to deal with. What should we do if at the moment we are only halfway to the top of the first one. There is no way to retreat, as we have to keep going forward. Every now and then I look around and check with my feet if the path is still here. Why it is today that we have a new moon a the cloudy sky, the worst combination.  At some point I can’t see anything, literally anything. Does this path exists at all? No faintest idea which way to follow. As a rule of thumb, we try to go uphill hoping there would be a place to stay for the night.

It was not easy, but after a severe struggle there appears to be a ray of hope. In the vicinity of the summit (Skrzyczne, 1257m) we meet a highlander with a flashlight. Surprised enough to see us, he says ‘What an increadible night has seized you, guys!’. He showed us the path leading to the mountain shelter. On site we realized that arriving the same day back home would be an unrealistic illusion. This would require the ascent and descent of another summit in the complete darkness, lurking among the sharp, irregularly scattered stones the size of a bowling ball. I dry my wet shirt using hand dryer in the toilet and rinse upper body. Afterwards we sit in the lounge on the shelter’s ground floor along with a few other backpackers lost during the night. The evening turns nice as we seize cold beer, have an interesting conversation and listen to each other’s different story.

Kraków, the former capital of Poland


Just the right size of trunk

Let’s go to Kraków today. We quickly gather up and take a short, hour and a half ride. It is worth to mention that Krakow used to be a Polish capital several times, the last time, however, just in the end of the eighteenth century.

Some time ago I met Ewelina, a nice girl who lives in Krakow. That makes a great opportunity to meet and have a local guide at the same time. We meet in the Old Market in the evening.

Ewelina enthusiastically gives us a nighttime tour around the city. We take the extensive walks to see the historical part of the city. Later on we get to know the atmosphere of the city, its architecture along with filled clubs with lively music near Old Town. So we hop in for a beer to one of these interesting places. We are somewhere in the depths of the narrow streets. Wherever you are in a big city you always would find something interesting. So I find a pub with a table to play chess. After the longer-than-expected game and a few more beers it becomes really late. Now it is time to sleep.

The next day we begin to explore the daylight image of city starting with Sukiennice, the Cloth Hall. There are many stalls with local crafts and handmade products. Textiles, porcelain, wood and metal. Diverse and colorful, memorabilia and figurines. My attention is drawn to noteworthy chess sets. So many designs, sizes, colors, styles, materials and techniques of performance. In addition, everything at an affordable price. As soon as I noticed the wooden, hand carved, solid and reliable chess set I realized it is something that I have long been missing. In the afternoon Ewelina takes us to a great Aqua Park, where we spent few hours racing on different high-speed slides.

Conclusion

During this week we have been biking a lot. We have also seen a really interesting area, sometimes quite remote and not popular with tourists. On the other side, so popular that before the time I took it for granted. I visited Krakow for the first time. There are many interesting places that are often ignored when planning a trip. Ewelina showing us around the Wawel Castle, Cracow’s major monument, acknowledged that the last time she had seen it was eight years ago.

September 2003