Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

2 Jun 2012

A week off in Warsaw, Wroclaw and Kosow-Lacki

Posted by Will

When I arrived in Warsaw I thought I’d be back on my bike in a few days time. The plan changed though. Seven days later, at 7am, I wheeled my bike and baggage out of an apartment in a different city altogether barely able to take in the latest episode of my cycle odyssey (the Williad as my brother James calls it). A good night out gone horribly wrong? No, just the hospitality, generosity and get-up-and-go of two lovely people called Michal and Ola.

I spent 4 nights in Warsaw, 2 nights in the western city of Wroclaw and 1 unforgettable night in the small rural town of Kosow-Lacki. I think I will tell the story in chronological order.

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My first two days in Warsaw were fairly uneventful but I got round some of the main tourist attractions. I saw the Palace of Culture and Science first as it was visible on my ride into the centre. It is easily the tallest building in Warsaw (230m) and is a must-see if you ever visit the city. The old town, particularly the old market square, looks stunning and is the perfect place to get lost in. During World War II, between 80-90% of the entire city was destroyed (including the whole of old town) after orders came from the top of the Nazi regime to ‘erase Warsaw from the map of Europe’. As a result, the current ‘old’ town is only about 50 years old but you would never know it. From photographs, paintings and other archives, architects were able to put the broken heart of Warsaw back together. Last on my list of buildings to see in Warsaw is the new stadium, purpose-built for the upcoming European Football Championships. Enormous, spiky and decked out in Polish red and white, it will soon be broadcast to hundreds of millions of people around the globe. It looks better in real life though.

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p1000619-800I had met Michal and Ola in a hostel in Riga while they were touring Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia by car. We had started chatting in the hostel kitchen (cooking rice and tomato sauce), they then gave me their email addresses and told me to get in touch when I passed through Warsaw. So, with nothing to lose and everything to gain, I pinged them a message as I approached. Michal wasn’t in town the first night, but Ola greeted me with a big smile, cooked a meal of cold beetroot soup and potatoes and then took me out with two of her girlfriends to a concert played by Portishead Jazz! I spent the next 2 hours listening to great jazz music in the warm fuzz that comes after several vodka shots and a couple of beers. Afterwards, one more drink in the student enclave of the ‘pawilony’ (pavilions) just behind the main drag on Nowy Swiat.

Michal arrived the next day and that evening we all went out to take a tour of the old town. We drank one litre beers on the old market square while we were given a history lesson by an encyclopedia named Honorata, one of Ola’s friends who seemed to know everything about Warsaw’s past and present. That night, we walked around a lot of the city, including the hipper Praga district. Seeing a city by day is so different from seeing it by night.

We woke up late the next morning as it was Saturday and nobody had to work (including me!). Ola invited me to visit her family house in Kosow-Lacki, a small town about 100km north-east of Warsaw, and of course I jumped at the opportunity. The house is beautiful and I spent probably the most comfortable night of my whole trip there. Michal couldn’t come too as he had to go to university classes where he is doing an advanced course in computers/databases. As Michal told me: ‘life is so much slower in Kosow-Lacki’, and he couldn’t have put it better. It’s a small community, where most people know most people, but from my experience it’s a place where they’ll let you in for free. One of Ola’s old friends was hosting a bonfire party in his back garden and so we went along to say hello (‘czesc’ in Polish). For me, it started a little awkwardly as none of the friends spoke any English. However, a couple of beers and Polish vodka shots later and we were all on very friendly terms. We cooked sausages over the fire, taught each other swear words and found amusement in our various differences. Six hours later, as the sky was lightening at 4am, we went home, unfortunately not before some mildly embarassing photos were taken.

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We drove back to Warsaw but I wasn’t there for long as Michal had offered to drive the bike and moi the 400km (250 miles) to the city where he works: Wroclaw. It was a ‘why not?’ moment. Yeah sure. So, at 5am on Monday morning, we piled the bike, baggage and ourselves into the car and started our journey, fuelled by Orlen petrol station’s finest coffee. The six hour conversation that followed was fantastic. I’m pretty sure we covered most of the world’s problems, and all the time Michal was speaking in his second language, English. When we arrived Michal had to jet off to work. He gave me a key and I set out to explore this exciting new city.

I had never heard of Wroclaw before (pronounced ‘Vrotswav’); perhaps it is overshadowed by the more famous and visited city of Krakow. It shouldn’t be overlooked though. It was not so badly destroyed during the war as Warsaw. The ‘Rynek’ (old town square) is surrounded on all sides by candy-coloured buildings with the magnificent town hall standing proud in the middle. Cathedrals and churches are everywhere, as in Warsaw there is a brand new stadium, there are numerous old bridges traversing the criss-crossing strands of the Odra river and if you’re too cool for that stuff there’s some amazing graffiti too. My favourite building was the Centenniel Hall in front of which there is an hourly fountain show complete with multi-coloured lighting and music. Michal, Ola and I watched this performance as the sun set behind the spaceship-shaped building. Another evening to remember.

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The words above serve as a good overview of my week’s rest in the cities of Warsaw and Wroclaw and the pretty town of Kosow-Lacki. However, they don’t go far enough to relate Michal and Ola’s kindness. I feel like I’ve had an insight into Polish living. I’ve been living amongst Polish people, learning the Polish language, eating Polish food and discovering Polish history with Polish people to show me how. What more could a traveller ask for?

 

 

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4 Comments already on “A week off in Warsaw, Wroclaw and Kosow-Lacki”
  1. 10:53 ampermalink
    06 Jun 2012

    Fran

    What an extraordinary experience and seen through the eyes of immensely generous and fun locals. Just what this trip is all about! Well done you! F xx
    It shows in sharp contrast the boring deadline driven life we are living at the moment. J’s next exam on Tuesday, Clare in exams as I write and I have to produce 2 books by the end of the month. AAAAAAAHHH.
    Enjoy your time with the family. G was really excited about it last time we spoke. Lots of love and looking forward to the next instalment!

  2. 5:20 pmpermalink
    06 Jun 2012

    Kirsi

    Nice stuff Will!

  3. 5:30 pmpermalink
    06 Jun 2012

    Kirsi

    I meant to write more than just one sentence…

    I hope you will get a chance to watch also some Euro 2012! Just two more days for that. We will have here supporters for Spain but also for England :) And you know what, probably a French couple cycling around Europe is coming to stay with us this weekend, that’s exciting… and maybe I can use my French :) I just hope they also want to watch the Germany-Portugal game ;)

    All the best,
    Kirsi

  4. 10:13 ampermalink
    21 Jun 2012

    Fran

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WILLIAM! Thinking of you and lots of love from us all, Fran xx