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Happy Accidents In The Mountians

May 27, 2013

Here are some pictures… okay a lot of pictures, from my jaunt to the mountains, a couple weeks ago.

This will probably be my last big bicycle trip for a while, since my bike was stolen last week. It was my own fault; I left it chained to a lamp post on a major road for 5 days.  Stupid.  I’m not too busted up about it; it was a cheap old bike.  I’ll get a better one eventually. I do generally prefer walking for exercise anyway.

But back to my little adventure.  My first stop was the Rybnik train station, where, due to misreading the schedules, I had most of a day to kill.

RYBNIK

Which turned out to be a happy accident, because I finally found myself in the diner during its limited and unpredictable operating hours.  It was everything I had hoped it would be, exactly the kind of thing I had hoped to find in Poland.  Shuffling old gents in raincoats and a stocky, be-aproned matron, serving greasy fries and instant coffee.

I will be back there, you may be sure.

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“Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”

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More fine Polish vegetarian cuisine.

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The passageway to the platforms at the Rybnik train station.

TO BIELSKO-BIAŁA

I think I’ve posted enough pictures from trains, so I’ll spare you.  (For now.)  It’s only a little over an hour’s ride, anyway.  I got off the train, hoisted up my pack, looked at my handwritten directions, and hit the road.

I didn’t get off to a real super start.  Between backtracking, missing turns, and stopping for coffee and a look at the map, it took me well over an hour to reach the edge of town, only about 5 km from the train station.  It was pitch black and beginning to rain. I wasn’t sure I should try to cover the remaining 17 kilometers to the hostel, in the dark, through the mountains, on unknown roads.  Difficult bordering on dangerous.

As I was about to leave town, I passed a hotel.  Shoot, I thought, face reality.  I swung back around and went up to the reception desk.

Showing up soaked in sweat, dressed like a roadie for the Dead, obviously a zero-budget backpacker, does have one advantage; they don’t waste their breath trying to upsell you any luxury packages.  I got a room for about $55—far and away the most I have ever paid in my life—but still cheaper than any of the rates on the board.  They let me bring my bike into the security office.  I went upstairs, ready for a luxuriously hot shower and some fresh towels, which came through so smashingly they were almost worth the money.

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View from my hotel in Bielsko-Biała. Doesn’t it look like a lovely day for a 17 km bike ride up two mountains?

TO MIĘDZYBRODZIE-ŻYWIECKIE

The next morning it was pretty rainy, so I took my time slurping coffee and double checking my route on google maps.  (Generally accurate, though a bit scant on information in the village.)  During a pause in the precip, I loaded up and lit out to get some lunch.  I figured if I left town around noon, I would have more than enough time to get there by dark.  Turns out that was true, but just barely.

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Pack that mule and hit the trail.

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Imagine several hours of this.  Beautiful?  Yes.  Steep?  Even more so.

After a few hours, I made it over the hump of the first mountain. I figured I had done the most of it.

Wrong.

I descended into a village, where I stopped for a meal.  I then crossed a lake on a bridge and began to ascend yet another mountain.  The map showed that it was only about 4 km, but it was much steeper than the first mountain. I got a good ways up and it seemed like I had passed the level at which people had settled.  I rode back down a bit to the last area with houses, stopped and looked around. Nope.  The numbers were too low.  I got my notebook out of my pack, looked up the number, and called the hostel.

The woman who answered spoke little English, but she was able to tell me I had a ways to go, another 30 minutes to an hour of pushing my bicycle up the mountainside.  “Up, up, up!” she said, laughing.

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Hostel Gora Zar/Góra Żar. It’s completely unmarked, except for the address, which wouldn’t have been visible in the dark the night before.  (Or any time it was dark, I guess.)
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There you go… number 64.  And that’s how you know this is a hostel.

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In a final laugh of fate, I had to climb these steep stairs to my room.

I got to the hostel around an hour before dark.  I had meant to get out and explore, but I was pretty tuckered out.  I laid around, read, checked my email, like that.

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Looking out the window of my room… DOWN on clouds.

I got to bed pretty early.  I was the only guest.  It was wonderfully quiet.

ON MOUNT ŻAR

The next morning I walked up the road toward the mountaintop.

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A shrine to the virgin Mary in a Polish mountain village.

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Wouldn’t mind if these were the steps to my house.

Towards the summit, I got off the road and hiked into the misty forest.

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Around here, the going got rough; more like climbing than hiking.

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Who’s a hippy in the woods?  Me.

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I found this dirt road out of the forest because I heard some voices.

In the evening, the proprietress, Kamila, invited me into her quarters for a home-cooked meal.  It was absolutely fantastic.  I didn’t want to make a fuss about my vegan diet, so I ate what she served, which was roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, slaw, salad… I can’t remember what all.  It was amazing.

I talked quite a bit with Kamila and her teenage daughter Olga.  Her two-year-old was hilariously terrified of me and would not sit at the table while I was there. I’ve opted out of family life myself, but as a traveler, when people invite me into their homes, I do enjoy the warmth and comfort of domesticity.

The next day, she let me ride into town with her. I felt honored to put some groceries in the trunk.  That’s one hard-working Polish innkeeper.

DOWN THE MOUNTAIN, UP THE MOUNTAIN, DOWN THE MOUNTAIN, WITH NO HELP FROM THE BUS DRIVER

Sunday morning, I set out at 9:15, which is quite an early start for me.  But it had taken me most of a day to get to the hostel, and I didn’t want to miss my train, which left at 4:47.

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This is a school for hang-gliding.  It’s a couple hundred meters down the mountain below the hostel.

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I’ve gotten to where I can mostly read stuff like this.

At the bottom of the mountain, I found a bus stop.  I checked the schedule and sure enough, there was one to town coming in a few minutes.  I unsaddled and waited.  There was an old man there, waiting, smoking a cigarette.  I asked him in my bad Polish if he thought I could take my bike on the bus.  He seemed at first to say no, but then just shrugged.  I waited.

When it came. I stepped up and asked the driver, reading from a slip of paper the difficult word przewozić the question, Can I transport my bicycle? He gestured around the interior of the bus theatrically and said, with an air of exasperation, “Gdzie?”  (“Where?”)

Thanks, buddy.  Not the greatest customer service I have ever received.  But I said thank you and got back on my bike.

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Back to the mountain we go.

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Looking across the lake, back toward the mountain village from whence I came.

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The long, slow ascent begins.

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Hey, it’s ulica Piękna! I know all about this place from my Pimsleur Polish mp3s. Plac Zamkovy must be nearby.

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I was surprised to reach the summit at exactly noon. I guess the overall slope is much less steep going west.  The descent down the mountain into Bielsko-Biała took me a whole 8 minutes of high-speed coasting.

BACK TO CIVILIZATION: BIELSKO-BIAŁA

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I made it to the train station easily and by 1:00, I had bought my ticket and chained my bike to a post, right by where I would board.  I had a few hours to wander around the city and drink a couple of beers.

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Didn’t make it down to the square named after the Utopian language Esperanto.

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Lody means ice cream.  Polish people really dig ice cream.

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I sat in a pub called The Dog’s Bollocks for an hour, drank two beers and wrote in my journal, looking out the window on the square..

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THE TRAIN BACK TO ŻORY

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Kawa czarna = black coffee.  I had exact change, but the machine wouldn’t take my smaller coins.  It also wouldn’t give me back my money.

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Sorry, can’t get through a travel post without a couple of train pictures.

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Back home.  The most people I have ever seen at the Żory train station were there on this Sunday afternoon, meeting returnees from Bielsko-Biała.

I’d like to go back.  My neighbor says she’d like to go.  I want to give Kamila some more business.  I really hope her business strategy of hosting vacationers in the mountains allows her to live the life she wants to live, out there in the country.  And I’d like to climb some more in the woods.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Norbert Beaver permalink
    June 3, 2013 10:06 am

    The Dog’s Bollocks. Where fine Polish maidens with trays full of fine Polish beers will stare at you creepily through the windows.

    When you got to the part with the hang-gliding school, I almost hoped that the next picture would be of you gliding over the mountains!
    That is a very high hotel. Personally, I would have started to panic at the point when I discovered that the hotel was above the hang-gliding school on the mountain. They should assign you a Sherpa or something.

    In my hotel we never discriminate if somebody turns up sweaty and bedraggled. We give them the same poor standard of service as we give everybody. We charge more for it though.

    • June 3, 2013 11:24 am

      I don’t think I should hang glide. It doesn’t seem like a sport for the clumsy. I probably shouldn’t even use a fork. So if I do ever stay in your fine establishment, don’t send up the good wine glasses.

      • Norbert Beaver permalink
        June 3, 2013 12:21 pm

        They’ll probably all be stolen by then anyway. I’ll send up a plastic one we give to the kids, and some toddler cutlery.

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