Poland into Czech

All our moaning about the weather came back and bit us on the bum – Monday was pretty much rain all day. The first couple of hours were bright enough so we walked into the village to see what was there.  Whilst Bolkow will probably never win any beautiful town awards it has the look of being well lived in, yet well cared for.  Around the town square on three sides were old buildings, once painted in bright pastels, which although they looked like they needed a new coat of paint when the sun came out they looked well enough. The majority of the shops were open, selling the usual stuff we all don’t need with the addition of many, many arrangements of silk flowers.

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Bolkow town square

We had a perusal through the town shops, still marveling that everything is a bargain based on price – whether we need it or not. I couldn’t resist a new oil-cloth for the picnic table at £2! Got it back to camp, put in out, sat and admired it under the awning along with our friendly wasp brigade. Twenty minutes later we noticed a hole burnt into the cloth, that would be the insect repellent bottle that we had left on there. If it does that to the tablecloth Lord alone knows what its doing to our skin so we have binned that one and will be embracing the wasps more often.

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Borlow town 

Back onto  town and the main attraction of the village is the castle, as all good castles should be high on a hill above the town. Built in the 13th century and devastated in the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, restoration work didn’t start until 1905.  The restoration is ongoing, not all sympathetically as lots of very new looking brick work appears around door frames. The central courtyard houses a bar and cafe and an annual Gothic rock festival takes place inside the castle walls – it seems more restoration is to stop it collapsing than to bring it back to its former glory.

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Bolkow Castle

Our route towards the Czech Republic took us over the Giant Mountains, not actually that giant as they are relatively low but despite that they have a climate similar to the Alps with low winter temperatures and a long period of snow cover.

We stopped off at Szklarska Poreba, a popular ski town just before the border. Plenty of new building work taking place with wooden hotels and chalets sprouting in every corner. The ski area covers a massive area for both alpine and Nordic skiers, this along with the low costs here compared to the Alps has seen the whole area growing in popularity with those fans of hurling themselves along in the snow.

Even in summer its busy, a few outdoor shops, lots of restaurants and bars and more ticky-tacky stalls than we have seen since Dracula’s castle. We walked up to the chair lifts to consider a lift up and a walk back down –  deemed pointless though as low cloud meant there weren’t any views that could be seen (phew).

Instead we made do with an evening in the centre of town at a small campsite come hippy haven. An eclectic mix of people who took too much of one thing or another in the 1960’s along with a few motorhomes – everyone rubbed along together rather well.

On our way out of Poland we found a garage selling vignettes, £5 for 10 days, and exchanged our Zloty into Koruna – for the first time in nine months (except the Euro zone)  we have arrived in a country with the correct currency and road tax, we seem to be getting the hang of it at long last :).

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We only travelled a few miles over the border before stopping off at Tanvald.  Not the biggest or most exciting looking of towns, now mainly a winter ski resort but not so long ago the centre of glass making in Bohemia, the evidence of which can still be seem with several gargantuan abandoned factories along the valley.

We cycled to the nearest factory as we had seen a sign for a museum there. Slightly disappointing to find it was a wooden toy factory not a glass works, but still worth visiting and spend a few koruna at the factory shop where Detoa wooden toys are still produced over 100 years after the company started here.  Each factory has a small supermarket area, a sports bar (aka the pub) and two or three blocks of apartments for the workers. Whilst some of the housing appears a bit Eastern Bloc many of the factories were here long before any thoughts of dividing up Europe ever too place, it seems they just replaced the factory worker houses with blocks of flats.

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One of the many Tanvald factories

At 4 pm we were somewhat disconcerted to hear the air raid sirens start, first in this village, then in the next, then the next etc. We had seen the loudspeakers on lamp posts through the villages and lanes and assumed it was for some type of fete. Ostensibly the air raid sirens are still tested once a month through out the country, just to be sure they are working in case they are needed – makes you feel safe here the then!

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The Southern Poles

As we were back in Poland we both felt we may as well travel South through Poland, rather  than cross into Germany.  We love the brilliant Polish roads – not too much traffic, great surfaces for mile after mile through the forests.

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Our campsite in Kobylanka was on what appeared to be an old park, just us and a few tents and a few hundred years of rust and rot in the facilities block! We were both very much at the stage of its too hot, not just a bit hot, way too hot. At 36 degrees we were both cooking, so much so we hit the beach on the lake for a dip – like bath water and very clear, too clear as you could see the fish swishing around your feet . A perfect sandy beach but the walk out was endless, after a good five minutes it was still only knee deep but never has a body of water been an inviting to a body.

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Kobylanka lake

The Polish do swimming lakes well, there is always a load of imported sand, cafes, all the blow up swimming aides you could think of and a general feeling of the seaside brought inland.  We were feeling a lot of love for the campsite and village until the campsite loud-speakers burst into the Polish national anthem at 6am  – we dreaded looking out the window in case everyone was up doing star jumps, luckily there were just a few hundred cyclists getting ready for a cycle marathon. We also saw our favourite campervan to date on the site – what it lacked in room it made up for in character and the French owners both strung up a hammock each to while away the afternoon and evening.

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Our next campervan??

Driving down the S3 Southbound we were somewhat stunned to spot a colossal statue of Jesus on the edge of the town Swiebodzin.  At  33 metres (108 ft tall), the crown alone is 10 ft tall, it stands on a mound so the whole thing stretches up over  52 metres (172 ft).  The town residents paid for the construction with donations totalling over €1 million. It’s all very impressive but, if it had been me I wouldn’t have built it right outside a Tesco supermarket and I wouldn’t have piped cover  music of  Michael Jackson’s Heal the World ringing out around the site – both things detract immensely from what is a very beautiful and simple structure.

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It is incredible to see, more so when you consider a small town of 22,000 residents found the money to pay for it. Built in just 5 years it was completed in 2010 and is now the largest statue of Christ in the world (yes, it beats Christ the Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro by 3 metres).  The grounds are still being landscaped and what appears to be a small hotel being built. There were very few tourists there but sure at it matures it will become a must see on the coach trail along with the Hill of Crosses in the North, Poland looks to have secured two of the iconic Catholic pilgrimages of the future.

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It has been a week on excessive heat and thunder and lightning. Every night we have had cracking storms to watch followed by torrential rain, then by the following morning each day the sun has steamed the ground dry and it all starts again. It’s been too hot for our fridge which just couldn’t take the temperatures so we have let everything defrost and eating our way through a few odd mixtures over the next couple of nights to use everything up.

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Beautiful house at our stopover in Przytoczna

Ending the week we are just an hour off the Czech border in the town of Bolkow. The area was once part of Germany but many towns were ethnically cleansed after WWII when the native German residents were expelled and replaced with Poles. Seems strange to think that not only has the town moved to a new country but that the people here are pretty much newcomers.

Here we found our cheapest campsite we have stayed on anywhere in Europe at £5 per night all in – and the all-in includes the town municipal outdoor pool being a few steps from our door. Oddly the campsites off the coast have been all but empty, it would seem holidaying inland in Poland is not de rigueur, so it’s just us and two  other familys on the site.  We have both had a swim in a pool, its old, it’s a bit cracked and worn (like us then) but when the mercury hit the mid 30’s this afternoon we weren’t even slightly picky and joined the town’s people for a dip.

Wrong turn – right good result

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The last few days we have pottered around on the South Coast of Sweden, enjoying the sunshine and working out what to do next. Once we turned the corner from the South East coast it all became more urban, more holiday town, more people and much less the Sweden we have found so wonderful.

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Our final night was just outside Ystad, amongst the dunes with 30-40 vans, all very peaceful and quiet. Come 7am the rumble of wagons, many wagons, the circus is coming to town and pitching up in the next field – yippee! It took nearly 2 hours for all the circus wagons to pull on, at least 50 or so including plenty of proper old fashioned circus caravans.

I was telling Iain about memories of circus having camels and elephants – Iain was laughing that circus don’t have camels – at which stage they start unloading the camels 🙂 followed by a call that can only be the elephants unloading :).

To leave Sweden our options were to drive back through Denmark or catch a ferry direct to Germany. The latter seemed favourite and we found loads of ferries that run from both Trelleborg and Ystad. One of the cheapest options was to catch a ferry from Ystad down to Swinoujscie, which is in Poland but only a few miles over the German border.

We sailed with Unity Line, somewhat old fashioned but have to say a perfect crossing. We asked for electric for the fridge (our experience of the Greek ferry practically cooking the insulin still gives us palpitations), which was no problem but meant they loaded us three hours before the sailing time. So even though it was due to be a six hour crossing we were on-board for nine hours.

We went mad and plumped for dinner out on the boat – everything was bread-crumbed, no really everything – and not a vegetable in site other than some sauerkraut. Maybe not our finest hour in the culinary stakes of travel but it was the first time we had eaten out of the van since Holland, so a treat none the less.

After a mill-pond crossing we arrived in Poland, a vague plan set that we would drive 5 miles along the coast and stay on a camper-stop in Germany. All seemed good even though the ferry appeared to be docking on the wrong side of the estuary.

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Late evening arrival in Poland

Problem one -we needed to cross the estuary to get to Germany – there isn’t a bridge. We found mini-ferry and also found problem two, it takes cars only. No worries we re-routed Sat Nav – 590 km if we avoid the ferry!! It’s a very long estuary. Iain went off to see the ferry man who told us there was another ferry several miles up the road (our Sat Nav obviously hasn’t heard of it).

By then it was nearly 9 pm, we didn’t know the route, we didn’t have any Zloty to pay for a ferry, it was nearly dark – it seemed easier to just head for a campsite in Poland, and there was one 15 minutes up the road in Miedzyzdroje. We arrived as the gates were closing but they let us in to what seemed in the dusk a very busy site.

Woke up this morning to the busiest of busy sites, heaving with tents, caravans and motorhomes. People were everywhere – a massive shock to our system after being used to no more than a handful of vans anywhere. Our pitch was an unpopular one as we were a wee bit close to our German neighbour, so much so we could hear him slurping his morning cuppa – we moved to the next one and avoided any diplomatic incidents.

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Being totally unprepared for Poland we set off on the bikes to explore and more importantly find some Polish money and do a bit of shopping. On the good news front, we can afford anything we like again :). Prices in Poland are incredibly cheap after being in Norway and even Sweden. We did a small shop and priced that a similar basket cost us £24 in Norway, £15 in Sweden and just £7 in Poland – after a few months of watching every penny we spent its fabulous to just shop without counting for a change.

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It does appear we have inadvertently arrived in the Blackpool of Poland! The village has a permanent population of 6000 – in summer this swells to 200,000 (and pretty sure we met most of them walking in the opposite direction to which we were cycling).

The road through the village runs for about tow miles and consists of tourist tack shops, arcades and cocktail bars. To be fair it all looks very clean, its full of people, the atmosphere is a cheerful and friendly one and there seems to be enough things to do to keep people occupied for a week or so.

 We went to the beach where people were squeezing themselves onto the smallest specks of sand, with another few thousand heading their way hate to think what it was like by lunchtime.

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We did think we were going to stay a few days, the sheer numbers of people make it not for us and we have sat out the afternoon in the sunshine (a very warm afternoon at 86 degrees (27 degrees) at its hottest. Tomorrow we will head down the Polish border looking for some peace and quiet and apparently even warmer weather before crossing into Germany somewhere in the South.

 

 

Lakes and canal district

As we were leaving Wasilkow we followed up on a comment on the last post from Alex, mentioning an array of crosses on a hill outside town. Off we went and so glad we followed up on that lead to the pilgrimage site of Swieta Woda – the Holy Water. It’s also known as the Hill of Crosses, similar to the same place name in Lithuania – literally hundreds of thousands of crosses, ranging from over 40 ft to just a couple of inches in height. Hard to photograph the scale as the hill slopes gently backwards, just think crosses as far as you can see and that is pretty much it.

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Crosses are hung on crosses obscuring some and making others larger, it is a sea of crosses. It has become a place of pilgrimage and coaches were arriving and leaving regularly whilst we there there. The church broadcasts Mass over a loud speaker system, due to sheer numbers of visitors they would never be able to fit inside despite it being a large church. For us both one of the most amazing and moving sights we have ever seen. We bought two small wooden crosses and left them in memory of those from each side of our families who are no longer with us. Thanks Alex for a great tip 🙂 .

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May 3rd another bank holiday, this time Constitution Day. As we were driving through a small town we spotted a parade in the square and stopped off for a look. The firemen on parade were more interested in our van than what was going on, several popping behind the fire engines for a quick smoke and a look. Lots of certificates being given out and a small band playing, very few spectators though other than the fire brigade, us and a handful of proud parents – so not the super celebrations we were expecting.  We did pass a convoy of Polish military vehicles heading towards Warsaw and the parades there, strange to see them have a police escort – would have thought they had all power needed to get through, the thought of Warsaw and all that traffic meant we agreed that the convoy was enough of a military display for us.

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Fire brigade out in force for May 3rd

As we head further North campsites seem to be pretty much marina based. It’s a bit like the lake district – minus the hills – small villages and towns set around lakes with sailing and water-sports a plenty. On our our campsite at Borki Marina there are Dutch, Finnish and Estonian – not a local registration to be seen but would guess in high summer its heaving with Polish holidaymakers too. The Estonian here on site is possibly the most stern and scary looking camper we have ever met, we both think Russian Mafia – but not sure they take their holidays in a caravan! We are keeping out of his way just to be sure.

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Borki Marina 

Augustow is a mix of old and new in terms of houses, shops and the marinas. Plenty of development has taken place with marinas springing up right around the lake and several very ‘bling’ hotels. Prices in the shops here are at least 50% cheaper than at home. We found a brilliant bike shop in town, if we had the space on the bike rack we would have been bringing home a couple of new Giant bikes. instead we made do with a new bike lock each and Iain bought a handle-bar bag. When he went to pay the guy said just pay for the lock! We didn’t get why, a decent bag which had a price on it – I am now worried he didn’t say what we thought and we have stolen it, well if the police get involved Iain has stolen it – nothing to do with me!

With so many lakes and cycle paths we have had the bikes off the van again, it’s a seriously good cycling country, we have done more miles in the last 3 weeks than the last 3 months. Poland has amazed us with the quality and quantity of cycle paths, it has also thrilled us with being so flat, since we came around the Tatras we have not seen hardly a hillock let alone a steep climb. As a bonus there is a canal here too complete with tow path, the Augustow Canal runs right through the border and into Belarus. Sadly they will not let us in without a visa so we can’t do the whole canal, we have made do with a good few miles around this area.

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Augustow canal

Along the canal we came across another of the little villages of teeny houses on miniature small holdings that we have seen regularly throughout Poland. These small plots of land, called dzialka, are very similar to allotments as home but they all have some form of house on them, some no more than sheds, others quite elaborate timber dwellings scaled down to dolls house size. In all cases the plots are used to grow vegetables and or flowers and usually the families that lease them use the little houses as weekend and or summer homes. There is supposedly waiting lists of 20-30 years to gain a lease at a dzialka as they are so popular.

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Dzialki dwelling

We (I) have been investigating whether we could go to Russia, or to be more exact Kaliningrad. It’s the little exclave between Poland and Lithuania and seemed like it would be easy enough to pop in over the border whilst we passed. Even a day trip on the bus sounded like a plan as we are so near. Alas it isn’t going to happen, the only exception to the Russian visa process is for cruise ship passengers into St. Petersburg – motorhome day trippers still need to apply for visa’s before they leave home so that one is out and we will be heading straight into Lithuania instead towards the end of the week.

The sink leak has reared its ugly head again! Nowhere near as bad but the whole sink was out re do the pipes again – on the upside we left a piece of the glass cover under the sink last time and really couldn’t be bothered to take it to bits to get it out – its now retrieved. Iain is determined the sink will not beat him, they still have another six months to battle it out – my money is on Iain but the sink is currently putting up a splendid fight.

A few more days mooching around the Polish Lakes and into the Baltics by the weekend is looking like a plan 🙂 .

Dutch folk dancing – we must be in Poland!

Flashing Pole dilemma sorted – both our main-beam headlights were out (we know not why the warning didn’t show on dashboard). All makes sense now, they aren’t just super friendly just warning us we were heading for a fine. Bulbs changed and not a flasher since 😦 .

We are still sticking to fairly minor roads, mainly because we tend to see a bit more of the country that way. Mile after mile of straight single carriageway, mile after mile of forests and mile after mile of people trying to kill us playing chicken! They overtake no matter what so its just a case of pulling over as far to the right as possible, forget double white lines – means nothing here. It’s not just the Polish who drive like nutters, cars from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania and United Arab Emirates are all in on the game of terrify the oncoming “passenger on the wrong side” motorhome.

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Polish roads – amazing when no traffic aiming at us

Outside the towns the roads are lined with timber houses, many so old they look like they are held up with just good will. The majority though are well kept in large plots with beautiful gardens. Postcard views at most turns, maybe our routes but we have seen very few ugly municipal apartment blocks here even on the edges of the larger towns. In the towns and villages there is a mix of older timber homes and the much grander, newer three or four storey homes.

Timber houses at every turn

As we drove into Kazimierz Dolny it looked our kind of place; alongside a river, prerequisite town square, castle, couple of major churches etc (why do we get told Poland is ‘new’ as everything was bombed? not where we go it isn’t). Kazimierz is also famous for artists, at least 50 galleries and shops selling everything from paintings and pottery to stained glass and sculptures – prices to make your eyes water though even if they are in Zloty. In the main square several gypsy women trying their hands at badgering people to have their fortunes read with a pack of old playing cards, when I explained we only spoke English one just shrugged and said it didn’t matter – no idea how that was going to work then?

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Kazimierz Dolny – town square

As always a town square clinched it for us, we decided to stay for a few days so time to check out the campsite. Could have been the 2 km long high wire adventure assault course around the top of the site or the 20’ish school kids arriving who were about to use the assault course – it wasn’t for us. As we drove out of town I noticed a motorhome stopover sign, brakes slammed on and about turn. With a lot of gestures and no common language we were booked into the front garden of the familia Grzegorz! As good as it gets for us –  even the outdoor ablutions area where you could wash whilst you watch the traffic passing by.

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Wash and watch

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Perfect camping courtesy of Grzegorz front garden

Brilliant cycle paths along the river – some with signs pointing as far as Warsaw, a bit out of our comfort zone. We then took bikes into a historic town, why is a mystery to us even now, it was near impossible to go anywhere without lugging them up steps or the sides of hills. The Three Crosses, dedicated to the memory of plague victims, are on a hill above the town and looked to offer amazing views. We clambered up the hillside steps as far as we could with the bikes, then left them for the final sprint. As I arrived I saw the ticket office! All that way and either pay up of miss out, cheeky sods should have a sign at the bottom. I paid quick before Iain caught up as I knew on principle he wouldn’t want to pay and I was seeing the bloody crosses after all the effort.

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Worth the money for the views

Then we attempted the castle, being clever we didn’t take the bikes up the steps, we went right to the top of the hill behind the castle on the road, to find the castle closed that day! The most loved fact about this place has to be it was founded by ‘King Wladyslaw the Elbow-high’, has there been a better named monarch? The village is recognised as one of the most beautiful in the country and is a very popular tourist destination for the Polish; very easy to see why as there are historic buildings a plenty, cafes, bars and plenty of river cruise boats which appear to carry more alcohol than your average supermarket for a very merry experience.

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The ‘closed’ castle

We came across some very authentic looking Polish folk all looking very jolly and approachable. We cycled over and realised they were Dutch! A coach load full who told us they had come to dance in the town square, we went along and watch for a while – tourists loved it,  the locals just looked a bit stunned. All this took place whilst local dignitaries arrived in fire engines and flash cars dressed in their finest with gold braid galore and large wreaths of flowers– we thought it was all part of the cultural exchange – but no they were there for a funeral, all very bizarre with the two events taking place at the same time in the square.

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Dutch Captain Birdseye or what???

Friday was May 1st – celebrated with a National holiday in Poland – we had no idea until it pinged with the miles of traffic heading towards the river. Three hours later we arrived at a little town where we thought there was a campsite, there was but it has shut down! The next site we knew of was a good couple of hours away, but we decided to continue. Waste of time though as when we arrived there wasn’t a campsite anywhere in sight. Iain popped into a hotel and they told him the site  hasn’t been there for 10 years. They gave us another address – and that is how we came to be camped at what must be the most authentic Soviet era campsite / hotel complex we have come across to date.

Lots of steel buildings, tons of concrete, a massive lake dug out next door for swimming and of course a concrete diving tower. The facilities were last updated and possibly cleaned when the Soviets ruled the land, but on the upside we have electric, free wifi, and a view of the water for less than £6 a night – we can cope with the dirt! On the car-park is a shop which looked a bit dubious, but inside was the best delicatessen we have seen since France – incredible salads, meats and breads – we bought a ton or so for less than £4 – that’s us sorted for the bank holiday weekend 🙂 .

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campsite lake

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Iain on the high board – na he didn’t!

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Hotel / Campsite Jard – the best

Salt mines and stripey flint

Much as we could have spent another week in Krakow we needed to move on to keep to my well planned itinerary (aka couple of handwritten lines on a sheet of paper). Yet again camper folk proved to be dead friendly, our Dutch neighbours, Francis and Cees, sent us off with a box of tea for Iain as he is running low, then gave us the tea strainer to go with it, along with their address, we hope to stop off in the Netherlands and catch up with them if they are back from their RV tour of Canada.

At the Wieliczka Salt Mines we were directed, very formally, into the car-park and charged  £4 to park on a grubby old piece of waste land, the real car-park was 100 metres up the road for half the price! You have to give it them for ingenuity, I maintain I would rather they make a few euro from the tourist in a scam like this than pick someones pocket or mug them, we could have driven out but for £2 standing in roasting heat all day they can have my cash.

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Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Salt Mine has been going since the 13th century, the tour takes in various caverns and even two of the chapels carved out of the rock salt by miners. It goes down over 1000 ft, we took the steps down over 300 ft and that was far enough. A very dry and witty Polish guide gave a running commentary in English as we fairly sprinted along the corridors for nearly 3 kms. There isn’t much time to stop, another tour is always right behind you so you are constantly jogged along. We wrapped up warm as it was going to be cold down a mine, saw all the other Brits in shorts and sniggered to ourselves at how clever we were. Wasn’t even slightly cold! we were way hot and pretty sure everyone else thought we were overdressed.

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Just needed to start playing “It’s a small world”

Strangely enough half way through the mines they have built a gift shop and refreshment stop – too commercial and a bit Disneyland, they don’t need gimmicks. The highlight was St. Kinga’s chapel where even the chandeliers are actually made from rock salt and not glass. The tour takes nearly 3 hours and you see less than 1% of the mine, the biggest cash cow we have witnessed so far – stunning to visit but felt like we were on a whirlwind, even at the end instead of just waiting for the lift out another guide took us on a 20 minutes hike around tunnels to keep from queues forming. Even the guide told us the salt used to be a big money maker – now the tourist makes the money.

Salt mine carvings – St. Kinga’s chapel

Next stop Sandmomierz, four hours North East, taking mostly minor roads cross country. It’s a small town and another that has faired reasonably well in terms of lack of war damage.  As with anywhere in Poland its been invade numerous times – the first time we have come across the Swedes as culprits – they invaded back in 1655.

There wasn’t any industrial development during the Soviet era hence its a tourist heaven of historic buildings in beautiful countryside. Other than the history its supposedly famous for its striped flint, which they push in jewellery, ornaments and general nicnaks, as the flint is only found here they have christened the town the “world capital of striped stone” – probably not the catchiest tagline to date!

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Sandomierz Castle

The town square is home to all the  usual, pavement cafes and trendy tourist shops. bakeries, a few hotels and a 14th century city hall slap bang in the middle. We strolled around with hardly a soul in sight, then suddenly primary school children started to appear from every side street – hundreds of them all in two’s heading towards the square. No idea what was going on, we made a break for the Opatiwska Gate where Iain climbed the steps to the top – all 30 metres of it, I on the other hand stayed on terra firma. Sandomierz boasts a castle, a cathedral, the oldest college in Poland, a palace and two monasteries. It might not be Krakow but it’s not too shabby on the historic buildings scene.

We have been on a lovely campsite on the edge of town, just across the road is a major DIY centre so a bit more stocking up on essentials to hold the van together means we are comfortable of taking all our bits and pieces with us for the next few months. As the budget is looking very healthy we shopped in Carrefour this week, we felt the need to vary our diet a bit, we may go totally mad next week and try Tesco.

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Views from the tower

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City Hall in the centre of the town square

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Opatowska Gate

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Collegium Gostomianum

After a day exploring town on foot we set out next day on our bikes for a ride around “The Apple Trail of Sandomierz”. Mile after mile of orchards with old fashioned farm buildings dotted along the roads together with roadside shrines and wooden or stone statues and crosses at every corner. Not sure where we could have found for a prettier bike ride at this time of year with the orchards in bloom everywhere was covered in pink and white blossom as  far as we could see.

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Driving in Poland has, so far, been a pleasure. The roads are great, we can understand the signs as they are in the Roman alphabet and with the exception of one small piece of motorway its toll free. We have found though the Poles have a habit of flashing their headlights at us – we know not why. Once it was as we expected for a police radar trap but only once. Every time we drive someone flashes at us every few miles, we keep thinking something has fallen off the van. They don’t wave or smile, just flash the headlights – it’s probably a game to make motorhome drivers paranoid, if so it’s working :).

We have now hit the half way mark of the trip, six months to go. Its all going rather well, we are loving everything and everywhere (easily pleased). Everyone said “it will fly” – it hasn’t – we both feel we have been away for years. What we have experienced so far has exceeded all our expectations and then some. It is without doubt so much easier than we ever thought it would be, once we got over the language /money / driving traumas in one country the others followed on easily.

We don’t have a Lonely Planet or a Rough Guide or anything other guide books , we just choose a place on the map that seems the right distance from where we are and in the right direction, we are continually amazed that around every corner is something totally worth seeing. So its nine countries done and possibly ten to go – the plan is still there but as always our motto is “keep it vague”!

Krakow and repairs

Our van is mended!!! Things all work as they should again, for a while at least. First stop was Elcamp – motorhome dealer just a few km away who stocked all the parts we needed – sadly just not in UK sizes :(.  Not to be thwarted by minor details the guy there gave Iain a steady supply of bits to try.  We parked in their forecourt and Iain spent an hour modifying parts – hey presto water now runs in the manner and the places it should.

We couldn’t get a new ignition for the oven – a lighter works anyway, but hotplates do ignite again. Loo door fixed – things that should be private can now be kept so. Lastly, the LED strip has a band-aid over the flashing bits – no more cab disco. Yes we know the power of sods law is something will fall off next week. But why carry a big box of tools if you aren’t going to use them? Iain is still glowing with his status as motorhome Super Hero and is available on all campsites for repairs (though not wearing his pants outside his trousers)!!

Krakow – holy moly we didn’t expect even half of that. We walked down to the tram (we love trams) cost £3 to ride all day. There isn’t just one type of tram there are loads – old fashioned, new, retro – its tram heaven. Our plan was to jump trams for the day, nothing organised like knowing where to go and get on and off – hence at the end of the day we found ourselves leaving the city in the wrong direction – just a good excuse for another tram ride.

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Our first Krakow tram

Once off the tram in the city we were approached by a milk float – trips around the city, old town, Jewish quarter, anything from 30 minutes to all day on a little electric buggy (they were swarming everywhere). We did the old town, just us for £7 each, the tour took in 40 historic buildings or monuments. Not sure I could, even if I wanted to, tell you all we saw. Our eyes were out on stalks and heads spinning trying to take everything in. Everywhere there were palaces, churches, mansions and theatres with incredible historic architecture. Loved the Archbishops palace with a permanent gigantic portrait of Pope John Paul II gazing down from a window to celebrate his time as Archbishop of Krakow, he is without doubt a much celebrated son of Krakow (even though he was born up the road at Wadowice!).

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Krakow old town

The medieval square, the largest in Europe, is without doubt dazzling. In every direction there were buildings that took our breathe away. Add to the whole mix a good touch of Polish early summer and just enough people  for atmosphere but not chaos and it was perfect for us. We loved St. Mary’s Basilica, where on the hour, every hour, a bugler plays a trumpet signal. The tune stops mid-stream, to commemorate a 13th century trumpeter who was shot in the throat sounding an alarm before a Mongol attack – over 800 years and still remembered every hour – that is some recognition of the original guy.

krakow (72)St Mary’s Basilica 

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An alternative to the electric milk floats

From the square there were horse and carriage rides around the city, street entertainers varied from lads doing street dancing, jugglers, clowns to the opposite end being a couple singing traditional Polish songs with an accordion who you could have your photo taken with for less than 50p (I so had mine done).  We loved the square, we had lunch there sitting in a pavement cafe watching Poland pass by, has to be one of our trip highlights.

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What a job!! loved them and was sure they wanted me to join 🙂

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We planned to walk down to the Jewish Quarter and find Oscar Schindler’s factory. What should have been a 15-20 minutes walk – took well over an hour. Krakow is good at many things, street signs are a bit rubbish though. A couple of lads came and asked us if we knew where to find the factory, as we were all at a blank they asked a taxi driver who waved in the general direction of over the river. We walked more, we turned left, right, back you name we couldn’t find it, we asked locals who stared blankly and had no idea what we were on about.

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Vistula river (wooden Polish flowers)

Whilst we were slightly lost we did however happen upon the fragment of the ghetto wall that is still in place in the Jewish Quarter. A small plague was placed there which reads

“Here they lived, suffered and died at the hands of the German torturers. From here they began their final journey to the death camps.”

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In the end I went into a printers where the owner kindly showed me on a computer then printed off a map. The factory has been restored as part of a city museum for arts and a history of Jewish life in Krakow, there is an inscription plague to Schindler and also many photos of many of the survivors who he helped to save. I was disappointed it didn’t have the factory sign. Another must visit but by then we had been on the go for seven hours and were shattered so we took a few photos and didn’t do the inside tour.

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Oscar Schindler’s Factory

Back at Kemping Smok (favourite campsite name to date) we have experienced a phenomena not witnessed for the last 4 months – other campers – motorhomes are turning up every day. We have a German couple one side and a Dutch couple the other and we have traded life histories between the six of us in 3 days. A young English couple also on site who have toured Europe for just under 2 years sleeping in the back on their jeep – more power to them.

For the last two days we have attempted to see as much as Krakow as we can from the cycle paths. Cycling and inline skating are both very popular around Krakow – there is a definite dress code probably more expected in the French Rivera than here – there are cycle paths everywhere. Yesterday we rode 20-ish miles along the superb River Vistula path out of town to Tyniec, a small village with a ginormous benedictine abbey and a river-side beach just right for a Pepsi stop. Coming back on the other side of the river was Kolna White Water Rafting Centre, only £2 a trial lesson – no way, we both wimped out and made do with spectating.

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Kolna – white water rafting

Today we rode into the city, paths along the river right through the centre and out to the shopping centres (needed a new camera as ours have both gone into meltdown). So many people, too many people, it was a gorgeous day sun blazing but way too busy for us.  The river has views of many of the buildings in the old city but that bit of distance that allows better perspective. We managed 20 miles around and about before collapsing in a heap back at the campsite this afternoon. Four days in Krakow and fairly sure we could have done another four days and not seen and experienced everything the city has to offer. We are confirmed non city folk but this place grabbed us both totally.

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Wawel Royal Castle