Kazimierza Wielka - Kraków 

20 July 

40 Miles. 

A slow start to the morning, because my ride today to Krakow will be shortish, again through lovely villages and countryside, and then through the not so lovely industrial outskirts of Krakow, until finally I found my way to the old city, where my hotel is for the night.  Actually, for two nights, because I am taking a little break here to do some sightseeing, do some laundry, change a slow puncture on my front wheel and generally pause.    I also have to decide what to do from here on.  Stay in Poland ?  Go in to the Czech Republic and head in to Austria and along the Danube ?  Decisions, decisions !  I would like to pass by Auschwitz on my travels, so that might happen in the next couple of days.  It won’t be fun, but I feel it should be a place to be visited and remembered.  A few years ago I visited Dachau outside Munich and was moved by the horrors and suffering that took place there.  In the museum I moved swiftly through because I wanted to get to to the end and find out what had happened to those who ran the place right up to the end of the war.  Mostly, they were tried and hanged.  Seems about right.

Riding along I have come across numerous small memorials and wartime graveyards.  Some I have worked out are where atrocities took place, people executed etc.  Difficult to know for sure because all the inscriptions are in Polish.  The place has evidently been fought over fiercely, most especially during WW2.

The other thing I come across regularly are statues and memorial to John Paul II, the Polish Pope.  I feel very ambivalent about him. I think he was monumentally instrumental in the demise of the communist bloc, by his own personality and by knowing the system that he was up against, as well as by behind the scenes influence.  There were others that were instrumental - Solidarity, Walesa, Gorbachev etc - but JPII was a big player in his own right.  He was, however, a man steeped in the monolithic authority and power of the Catholic Church, and did as much as he could to bolster it against outside forces as well as protecting it from its own internal dysfunctions.  “Santo Subito” they cried in St Peter’s Square no sooner than he was dead, and he, along with Mother Teresa, were catapulted forward with indecent haste to canonisation, without allowing time and history the space to judge. Which it will inevitably do over time.  Both are already the subject of revisionist history, and JPII does have some question marks against him and his time.  However, here in Poland he is definitely their man.

Krakow is lovely, it is sunny, there are lots of young people about, I guess because it is a university town.  I don’t note huge numbers of other tourists.  Most of what I hear on the street sounds Polish to me.  Just across the road from my hotel is a covered market, and I’ve spent some time mooching about there and looking at all the lovely delicatessen, cheese, and fruit stalls which there are in abundance.  They are big in to cooked meats, mostly pork, and sausages of every type. Cherries are in season at the moment and ripe and juicy.  

The other thing I’ve noticed is real live hard core nuns wandering around in the most nun like Sound of Music habits.  You don’t see that anymore in the UK, or Ireland as well.  

Tomorrow, Friday, I will be heading further east and see if I can follow the River Oder up towards Germany and work out a route from then on.  I've decided not to go the Austria / Danube route westwards (I've cycled it several times already), so I will push further in to western Poland and follow the Oder-Niesse line / rivers and head towards Berlin.  I'm enjoying Poland so shall take the opportunity to explore a bit more before moving back in to familiar territory.  I guess I will head eventually for Berlin.  And then take it from there.