Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cycling in Poland: Conclusion and tips

Nice road - but many potholes
My two weeks through Poland showed me again that you need a longer time to really appreciate a country. In the beginning I didn't like Poland at all and only after two weeks when I was already leaving again I started warming up to it. So did I like it? Yes and no. I encountered various problems as a cyclist. The most important one was the state of the roads and the amount of traffic. Both was hit or miss. It was impossible to predict from the map what to expect. Even the R1 was routed over small roads with heavy traffic and potholes. And then in the middle of nowhere you come across a brandnew road with a picture perfect bike path along it. So my biggest piece of advice is to get an up to date bicycle guide for Poland to avoid unpleasant surprises. There is so much road construction going on that things change quickly - and Poland wants to improve its reputation as a cycling destination as I could see from various tourist publications.
Housing in Goldap

Also on the negative side were the sightseeing possibilities. So much was destroyed in WW II that there aren't many pittoresque villages left. Mostly you will see drab housing complexes - even in the countryside. Towns usually have preserved or rebuilt one or two historical buildings - usually the church - but outside the big touristy destinations the towns don't offer much to write home about either. Keep in mind that I am writing about Northeast Poland. The landscape is not spectacular, but the forests and lakes of Masuria were great. Here cycling was a real pleasure and I can definitely recommend this region for a bike trip. And if you have an interest in history you will even find the villages and towns with its German past fascinating.

I found language to be a big obstacle. Poland is so big and tourism not important enough that usually everything is in Polish only. This ranges from product descriptions in supermarkets to information boards in museums. You will understand nothing. Sadly enough not many Polish speak a second language - but things are changing. I came across younger people who spoke fluent English - and some older people who still spoke German. But your average supermarket cashier our museum guard will not speak a single word of either language.

Finding drinking water was an unexpected problem. My usual strategy of using cemeteries did not work very well. Firstly there aren't that many cemeteries and secondly most don't have water or at least no drinking water. There are no public water fountains whatsoever. Even gas station don't have accessible water taps. So very often I had to ask for water at shops. Despite language problems this never turned out to be a problem. 

  On the positive side resupply is dead easy in Poland. Every little village has its little store - which I did not recognise as shops in the beginning. You can find them by looking for "Sklep" signs - and usually all the village characters are hanging out in front of it. These little shops also sell bread, so don't look for bakeries. Bread and pastries are very cheap and very good, but all imported food is the same price level as in Germany. I loved the Kefir drinks and even liked the famous Polish sausages. Surprisingly enough for such a Catholic country shops are all open on Sunday. You never have to carry many supplies in Poland. 

Free camping was dead easy in Poland. There is forest everywhere and I could easily find a place to tuck myself away. There are plenty of commercial campgrounds, too. Free wifi was a bit trickier to find, especially in the countryside. But every middle size town had some free wifi - you just had to find the best spot to access it. And not to forget - storks are everywhere...

In two week cycling through Poland I did not meet a single other long-distance cyclist - whereas during the one hour stretch of the German Oder-Neisse-Radweg I met several. I was really surprised to be that alone.

So would I recommend cycling in Poland to a friend? That depends on the friend. If you are looking for easy and uncomplicated cycling you are better off on one of the official bike trails in Germany. But if you are the more adventurous type and are willing to cope with bad roads and traffic once in a while you will like Poland.

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