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Saturday, 01 February 2014

Cycling in the Tatra Mountains, Poland - Page 3

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Making Friends

Spending whole days with strangers presents opportunities to get to know each other, and we quickly found ourselves making friends within our group.  Tomas, our guide, is a Krakow native.  He’s 38, thinly-built and handsome, with dark, curly hair.  He is married, with a 10-year-old daughter who goes to elementary school in Krakow. He is fluent in Polish, English, and German; speaks some Spanish and Russian; and makes a living leading bicycle tour groups in the summer and teaching English and German the rest of the year.   He also runs marathons, which is probably why he is thinly-built.


Zen and Susie live in Australia, where Zen is a surgeon and Susie is a vintner.  Zen’s mother was born in Poland, and he learned to speak Polish from her, so he became our translator.  He also was our hero one evening when he used his Polish and his charm to talk the hotel staff out of a portable heater, came to our hotel room, took our wet shoes to his room, and dried them overnight.  Susie kept us thoroughly entertained with her witticisms and her knowledge of literature, movies, and geography.


Eric and Abby are English (Abby admits to being Cockney).  Abby is a physician in London, and Eric teaches bicycle safety to children.  They had been on several cycling trips, and they enjoyed sharing their experiences with our group.  They had outrageous senses of humor, and they continually mugged for cameras, told us about their wild adventures, and entertained us with their interpretation of life in England.  We looked forward each day to see what pranks they would pull.



Following the Dunajec River

Our first full day of cycling was cloudy and cool – just right for cycling.  We bounced out of bed, dressed, ate a hearty breakfast, and retrieved our bicycles from the hotel storage room.  We cycled along the rivers that flow into the mighty Dunajec, which was roaring from recent heavy rains.  The paths were wet and filled with puddles, and a light rain started to fall.  The architecture changed from Polish to Hungarian, with rounded towers and dark wood.  This area was part of Hungary until 1918, when after World War I it was changed to Poland.  


At the village of Debno we toured the church of St. Michael Archangel, built in the 15th century and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The beautiful painted interior includes Gothic art and highland folk tradition.  Local legend has it that the church was built by highland robbers, to whom St. Michael Archangel revealed himself on an oak tree.  



Their Way of Doing Things

The Polish have a somewhat unusual way of doing things, which we started to notice.  For example:  We had cycled in rain most of the day, and we were drenched and cold when we reached our hotel.  We needed to get dry and warm.  The heater in our room wouldn’t work; the instructions were in Polish, so we assumed we were doing something wrong, and we asked for help.  “The heaters aren’t turned on in the summer,” the woman at the front desk told us, “Only in the winter.”  “But we’re soaked and cold – can you turn the heaters on for a little bit?”  But she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make an exception.  Those were the rules, and they had to be followed.  


Darn, we thought.  Well, we would put our wet gear on the heated towel rack in our bathroom (that’s right, the rooms in these modest hotels had heated towel racks).  So we hung everything on the towel rack, turned it to high, and changed into dry clothes.  An hour later the towel rack was still cold, so we called the front desk for help.  The same woman came up, fiddled with the controls on the towel rack, and announced that the towel racks weren’t turned on in the summer either – only in the winter!  We had been had by the Polish mentality, and we were stuck with wet clothes!



“I Know a Girl in Slovakia”

One of the Germans in our group promised we would see sun the next day – and we did.  It threatened rain in the morning, so we put on our rain gear and headed out along the Dunajec River, cycling on small streets and narrow paths.  The rain held off and the sun came out, which made the dew on the grass sparkle.  As we cycled, Tomas told us his family vacationed here (on the Polish side of the river) when he was a boy.  In those years, Poland was controlled by the Russians, who enforced strict border controls between countries, and Tomas and his family could not cross the river into Slovakia.  As boys, they sat at the river’s edge and talked about what life must be like in Slovakia.  Tomas remembers singing a song with his friends about crossing the river into Slovakia to meet girls, and he translated the song title as “I Know a Girl in Slovakia.”


We crossed the river on a modern footbridge into Slovakia.  The currency changed to Euros and the language changed to Slovak.  We cycled along the river on a beautiful path through a spectacular gorge with the three major mountain peaks (known as the Three Crowns) on our left.  


(Page 3 of 4)
Last modified on Saturday, 01 March 2014

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