Thursday, May 15, 2014

Olsztyn

I turned off the R1 at the earliest possibility - at Kwidzin. And after a couple of hours of more cycling on busy roads I was suddenly where I had imagined Poland would be. I had now entered the Polish provinces of Warmia and Mazury (former Ermland and Masuren) and here cycling was a pleasure again. I was on small roads with hardly any traffic - only the state of the roads was still bad. But what I liked most was the surroundings: Huge forests dotted with plenty of lakes - which were unfortunately still too cold for swimming but good for a refreshing washing up.

Before 1945 this part of Poland belonged to Germany and my cycling guide explained the former German names and history. Some of the villages even had information boards showing old photos of pre-1945. It was interesting to visit the cemeteries (which I had to do anyway to get water): in the modern part it is usually all Polish names but often there is an old overgrown part with German tombstones. 
 

The weather - now in May - was still typical April weather. It rained about once per hour for 5 minutes and then the sun came out again. I grew a strong liking to the bus shelters along the road but I could not always make it to one in time. It is nice to cycle in the sun but mornings and nights are still pretty chilly.

This region is also stork country! Huge stork nests are in every village and I can observe the huge birds mending their homes. Seems I am as migratory as the storks as I had last seen a huge stork population in Southern Spain this January at the end of my hike through Southern Europe.

After cycling non stop for over a week I needed a break now. I was longing for a real shower, washing my hair and my clothes. I decided on Olsztyn because my guidebook said it had a quiet campground. The campground was indeed so quiet that I could hardly find it. I asked a local and he talked 5 minutes to me in Polish which did not make me any wiser. And when I finally saw the first campground sign the dirt road leading to it was blocked by a fire brigade. Was the campground being evacuated? I started to worry... The solution was quiet less spectacular: this was a fire brigade school and they were just having a training session.
Sanitary building

Also caught in this road block was a German camper van and I asked them about the campground. In a friendly chat I learned that the campground was indeed open but nobody was there right now. "Just make yourself comfortable and the owner will arrive sooner or later." The campground itself was rather idyllic next to a lake but this being my first time on a Polish campground I was not prepared for the state of the sanitary installations. To make things worse the warm water had been turned off and my long awaited shower was a rather cold one. But soon I was clean and my clothes drying. I was just preparing lunch when the owner appeared who spoke fluent German. He apologized profusely for the lack of warm water but as he charged me only 20 PLN (5 €) I could not complain. I pitched my tent and hopped on my bike to explore town without panniers and drybags.

Now another surprise: After struggling with Polish roads for a week I found the perfect bike trail all the way into town. Well designed and brand new I was just flying into town! First stop was the old castle with its local museum that focuses on Nicolas Copernicus who had lived and worked here in Olsztyn.
Olsztyn castle

But more interesting than the museum was a visit to Olsztyn cathedral where I talked a long time with the church guardian. He was born in 1943 as the 13th child of a German family. His family story made the local history palpable. Olsztyn had survived the war relatively unharmed but was then burnt down by the Red Army. Only the churches were spared thanks to the initiative of a local priest who is now honoured with a memorial inside the cathedral. Like many local men his father was deported to Russia where he barely survived. Eventually most of the family stayed in Olsztyn and he married a Ukranian woman who had been deported by the Russians. (After most of the Germans had been expelled many Ukrainians were moved in by the Russians.) Luckily modern history in Olsztyn is not that sad: it is now a university town which might explain the many bike paths.
Campground toilets

Back at the campground the water was now lukewarm - and two more guests had arrived. I learnt from the campground owner who had formerly worked in Germany that most of his guests are Germans - more than Polish people. Before 1989 his campground was a popular meeting place for German families divided by the wall. East Germans could not go to West Germany but were allowed to visit Poland. So many family reunifications took place here.

No comments: