I actually don’t need to write a whole blog about my first encounter with Poland, because two simple words would suffice: very positive! But do let me explain why.
I don’t know exactly what it was, but I wanted to get out of Lithuania and go to Poland. I was quite fed up with the – sorry to say so – maniacal driving style of the Lithuanians. And with the lack of normal (bicycle)roads (pavements with high curbs) in Vilnius it was a real pain in the ass to get out of the city. In Druskininkai my bank card was swallowed by the cash machine. I asked the women behind the information desk at the supermarket (where the ATM was) about my problem. They had a hard time understanding me, one spoke a bit better English and said bluntly I had to call the bank. No sympathy, no will to help me. I met such an attitude in some bookstores in Kaunas as well. When I visited Guras Parkas the woman at the cash desk didn’t even bother to put the phone down. Anyway, in the supermarket was a young couple who immediately helped me by calling the bank for me, because I couldn’t get them on the phone. To keep a story short, in Bialystok I could pick up so called ’emergency money’ after I phoned with my own bank. Of course I had terrific hosts, met other nice people and had a great time in Lithuania, but after these incidents I wanted to get going again (maybe the element of missing my girlfriend played a minor role as well).
But let’s talk about Poland, since I wrote enough about the Baltic Countries. I came into Poland by a backdoor on a lonesome gravel road. I like such crossings when all of a sudden there is a border crossing in the middle of a forest. The sun shone on my Kleine Beer-cap, birds where trying to sing louder than the metal in my ears, the scenery and little villages where downright fantastic. My Warmshower-host in Bialystok warned me beforehand to stay clear of the main road, because Polish drivers wouldn’t have much respect for a cyclist to say the least. Therefore I expected the worst, but I experienced quite the opposite, since Polish drivers are real gentle(wo)men on the B-roads. They gave and give me a lot of space. Even 90% wait on an oncoming car before overtaking me. That was a relieve, since just 10% of the Lithuanian drivers do that.
In Lipske I really needed to refresh my water. I didn’t wanted to bother with my filter, since Tripadvisor says you can’t drink from the tap (actually did that a few times and I’m still alive), so I wanted to buy a bottle (actually against my principles, because of the plastic…). Of course I couldn’t pay with euros, Poland has Zloty! Stupid that I just didn’t think about that fact. I stood there tongue-tied with my two euro-coin and didn’t know what to do with it. The girl behind the register either fell for my natural charm or it was just pity for the dumb foreigner. Whatever it may be, she was unbelievable kind when she said: ‘I’ll pay for it, just take it.’ I couldn’t be more thankful. Luckely I could change a few euros at a gas station in the next town in order to buy dinner and breakfast.
After that I felt like a million Zloty, I wasn’t tired at all. By then it rained, so I didn’t feel like camping already. In that way I made my personal record that day with 160 kilometers. I had my first wild camping experiene in Poland before riding into Bialystok the next day. From Suprasl to Bialystok there was a smooth bike path and cycling into Bialystok itself was easy as cycling into for example København. I loved it! Later on I heard from my hosts that it is a law when there is a new road to be built, that there should be a bicycle lane next to it.
At the Branicki Palace I put up my tent to dry, since I would sleep indoors that night at my Warmshower-hosts’ place. In less than an hour I had about five conversations! That is more than in all those weeks I’ve been in the Baltics. Don’t get me wrong, they’re absolutely not unfriendly, but a bit more reserved, I guess. Someone said literally that in this part you can still smell the old Poland with its nice little villages and wooden houses. Another one said that people are much more friendly here than in the western part. One man began to speak in Polish. When I could interrupt him, I said I don’t speak the language. ‘No problem, welcome!’ he said and walked away.
Well, I really do feel welcome in Poland, I am already am in love of the country and the people living in it. When a grumpy old guy at the bank asked me if I was British and I replied that I wasn’t, he probably wasn’t convinced because he said: ‘In Poland we don’t like Brits, verstehst du!?’ Well, that didn’t break my spirit in the least! I got my ’emergency-money’ (in the long run) and my host let me in to do this writing when he went out again to continue his work. Did I already say I love Poland?