The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
-- Saint Augustine
We kept hearing a trumpet blow in the distance – a mournful tune that abruptly ended. A street entertainer, we assumed. But that night at dinner we heard the Legend of the Trumpeter.
In the 13th century, according to the legend, descendents of Genghis Khan known as the Tartars invaded Poland, burning towns and farms, plundering and killing. The people of Krakow were terrified they would be next, and they established watchmen around the clock in the church tower. One night, when most of the townspeople were in church, the watchman on duty noticed Tartars approaching the city. He blew a warning on his trumpet. The Tartars shot arrows at the tower, but the watchman continued to sound the trumpet until an arrow struck him in the throat. The townspeople responded to the alert and forced the enemy out. The city was saved, but the trumpeter died from his wound. Ever since then, watchmen have stood guard over the city from the church tower, and every hour around the clock a trumpet is played. The song always ends suddenly – in honor of the trumpeter who gave his life for his people.
The Tatra Mountains
We were in Krakow, Poland to cycle in the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland. We had signed up for a one-week bicycle adventure with a Krakow-based tour company. They furnished bicycles, hotel rooms, a guide, and some of the meals. Our job was to show up, cycle, and enjoy.
The Tatra Mountains, part of the Carpathians, are located 60 miles south of Krakow. They form a border between Poland and Slovakia, and the Dunajec River has carved a fertile, green gorge that meanders among their peaks. This was our playground for the week – cycling among the flora, fauna, and the Gorale, a clan of highlanders known for their music, culture, and costumes.
This is an area full of history, friendly people, and beautiful scenery. But it’s not filled with tourists, because it is not as popular (yet) as other European destinations.
This was the largest cycling group we had been part of: 34 of us from eight countries, plus Tomas, our guide from Poland. This was also the first bicycle tour we had been on that combined self-guided and guided groups. There were 10 of us being guided through the Tatra Mountains; the rest were given maps and directions and found their own way.
Everyone in the group spoke some English and we had little trouble communicating with them. We were from diverse backgrounds and a variety of countries – it was a collection of adventurous souls drawn together to explore this beautiful corner of the world.