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Saturday, 01 February 2014

Cycling in the Tatra Mountains, Poland - Page 4

Written by Dale Fehringer
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Here life hasn’t changed much for hundreds of years.  Wood is still cut and piled for winter home heating, and homes have large vegetable gardens for eating and canning.  Women gather to gossip and horse-drawn carts rattle past, taking locals to town and hauling hay to farms.  


In the afternoon, we cycled back across the river into Poland and followed the river through farmlands and villages.  Along the way we noticed hay in fields stacked in narrow piles as high as a man.  The Polish refer to these as “hay soldiers,” and they make an interesting sight from a distance.  We spent the night in Szezawaca, a modern spa and tourist town on the river. 



“Mother, Mother-in-law and Son”

Rain was threatening the next morning, but it stayed away.  (Our German friends took full credit).  We cycled through the Dunajec gorge along the river with green hills on both sides.  It was an easy downhill ride, along a path built for hikers and cyclists. 


This is why we travel by bicycle:  We saw gardens of peonies, irises, and pansies, which turned the countryside into a kaleidoscope of color, and we heard storks talking to each other from chimney tops.  Religious shrines stood guard in front of cottages, villagers waved and wished us well, and school children chimed “good morning” to us in English.


We enjoyed an excellent lunch of potato pancakes and strong homemade plum brandy at a charming roadside restaurant.


The afternoon’s ride consisted mostly of cycling up three large hills the locals call the Mother, Mother-in-law, and Son.  It was tough going, and as we struggled up the “mother-in-law” hill, a group of self-guided Germans from our group came up behind us.  They were uncharacteristically quiet, so we asked if they were OK.  “Hans led us on the wrong road and up the wrong hill,” they told us.  Hans was visibly upset, but as they went by his wife just shrugged.  “Shit happens,” she said with a smile.


We spent the night in Rytro, an old feudal village at the bottom of castle ruins.  



Heroes and Heroines

Pope John Paul II is a hero in Poland, and we saw many statues and posters with his image: a smiling Pope; a waving Pope; a blessing Pope.  Born Karol Józef Wojty?a in the nearby village of Wadowice, he went to college and seminary in Krakow before being elected Pope.  His first foreign visit was to his native Poland, and he traveled there often as Pope.  


In the village of Stary Sacz, we explored the Sanctuary of Saint Kinga, one of Poland’s heroines.  She was born in Esztergom, Hungary, the daughter of the Hungarian king.  She married Boleslaw V the Chaste, and became a princess when he ascended the throne. During her reign, Kinga was involved in many charitable works such as visiting the poor and helping lepers, and when her husband died, she sold her possessions, gave the money to the poor, joined the sisters of the Poor Clares, and spent the rest of her life at a convent.  She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in June, 1999 and is the patron saint of salt miners.  


Travel:  A Learning Experience

We cycled to Nowy Sacz for lunch and a tour of the city, followed by a bus ride back to Krakow.  This ride felt different than the one from Krakow a week earlier – this time we were sharing it with friends; and we were talking, teasing each other, telling jokes, and singing.  


Our farewell evening in Krakow consisted of dinner in the Jewish quarter, followed by beautiful and soulful Jewish folk music.  


We walked back to our hotel with our new friends chatting about the weather, politics, and what was waiting for us back home.  It all seemed so natural, somehow, to be sharing our final evening in Poland with these people.  We had spent the past week with them – cycling, eating, exploring, and learning – and we felt a bond with them.  We were comfortable telling them about our lives, our hopes, and our dreams.  And yet, we knew that after we got home we would probably never see them again.  That’s travel.  We experience it, we share it, and we learn from it.  



©Dale Fehringer

Photos © Patty McCrary


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

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