Our crossing into Poland was over the bridge at Guben/Gubin and onto a rather natty cycle path of two tracks of paving in some rather attractive cobbles with municipal planting alongside, not how the Germans had described cycling in this part of the world at all. We took advantage of our surroundings and shared our elevensies with a welcoming party of half a dozen pigeons. I remarked that their plumage was much darker on this side of the border, not dreaming that this would also be true of the skies and our moods by the end of the day.
We set off along the posh cycle lane, a bit like setting foot on the yellow brick road, full of optimism. This lasted a good 100m and then the reality of cycling in Poland kicked in. On a positive, we had a great tail wind, something we were to be increasingly grateful for as the day got longer and the weather worsened. Initial impressions as we set off into the countryside were of a less manicured version of Germany, which is no bad thing. Finally spring flowers on the uncut verges and meadows. The farm buildings looked very ‘lived in’ although we saw barely a soul for miles, save passing traffic, which started to become heavier as we headed east.
We were both keen to spend some time in Poland, me having been named after a Pole and Chris being half Polish but our occasional stops along the way in towns did not offer any opportunities for interaction. The silent stares were unfamiliar after the regular greetings of passers by in every other country, but we did find some lovely warm old men in the villages. Every time we stopped for a break one would appear, chatter away in Polish, gesticulate energetically and end up kissing me repeatedly.
Unfortunately the day got colder and wetter as it went on and the lorries bigger and faster. We ended up, heads down, legs peddling like fury and wincing as each approached from behind and skimmed past us. There would be an occasional scraping of brakes as one clattered and juddered to a halt right on my tail, then sit revving until a tiny gap allowed the front part to get by, unfortunately the rear wheel always seemed to swing back in before it was even level with me. The forest started to look dark and uninviting as we clung to the edge of the tarmac and I started reading the names on the roadside memorials marking the places where so many final journeys had ended. They were appearing every hundred kilometres or so at one point, along with three deer lying dead in the ditches.
After 85 miles we made it to the campsite marked on our map. There were wild camping opportunities but we were wet through and freezing. It was in the grounds of a Chinese restaurant on the edge of town, a rather rusty camping symbol hanging on a chain link fence. Apparently the site closed some time ago and we were told its only 40 km to Germany so we should go there if we want camping. It was now very dark, freezing cold and pouring with rain and we were shattered. After huge effort on Chris’ part, the owner of the restaurant drove down and said we could camp for about a fiver but no facilities once the restaurant closed. We slept.
The next day the weather has deteriorated still further and we were soaked before setting off so decided to head towards Germany and find a site to get dried out. Our arrival in Gorlitz was bizarre. From the stress of a noisy and busy stretch of road, we peeled off towards the river and a footbridge and suddenly silence fell. Order was restored. It was like Dorothy’s house dropping in to Oz out of the tornado.
I still want to visit Poland, I would certainly never hold the weather against anyone and all the individuals we had contact with were warm and friendly, but I would be very careful in choosing where I cycled. We may have been unlucky and picked a main lorry route, but our experience of the drivers was exactly what had been described to us by several German cyclists. If we go back, I’d really like to try heading to Krakow from the south as it looks beautiful and I’m sure on a sunny day riding along quiet roads is a pleasure in Poland. Unfortunately Krakow is currently suffering the worst floods for forty years.