1st AUGUST 2018
I leave Kock after absolutely gorging myself on the enormous All You Can Eat breakfast buffet laid on by my hotel. Many of the choices seem to be more suited to main meals than breakfast – fried chicken, salads, pastas – but that doesn’t stop me consuming most of my recommended daily calories in one sitting. Also eating are four big guys whose military outfits suggest they are in the Polish army. They don’t have much breakfast, but instead buy around twelve bottles of spirits from the bar as they leave.
The road out of town is infested with roadworks, which is an annoyance at first as I often have to stand in the hot sun waiting for red lights to change. Then I begin to realise it’s a good thing as it holds up traffic for me once I’m through the roadwork. I don’t mind pulling over to let a line of vehicles past if it means I get the road to myself for five minutes afterwards. Then I take quiet roads for 20km, riding through wheat fields and villages that always seem to contain an unhappy-looking religious statue, a couple of big scruffy stork’s nests and a dozen barking dogs. Thankfully, all the dogs so far have been fenced in, because all I have to defend myself are a water bottle or the sole of my boots. I’ve heard of some cyclists who carry pepper spray in case of dog attacks, although I’ve not quite reached that stage yet.
When I rejoin the main road I’m plagued by lorries and motorway redirections until the town of Pulawy, where I cross the Vistula River for the first time. This is the longest river in Poland, flowing from the Carpathian Mountains in the south to Warsaw and eventually all the way to the Baltic Sea. Once I get across the river I’m faced with a long, slow climb on the other side and there’s not a puff of wind to cool me. Sweat is running between my eyebrows, down my nose and dripping from the end like a leaky tap. My God, it is hot.
I’m back on minor roads towards the end of today’s cycle through pleasant countryside of corn fields, wheat fields and wooded areas. At one point I hear a loud thumping, which turns out to be a red squirrel charging around on the forest floor like it hasn’t a care in the world. It can’t hear my freewheeling approach due to the racket it’s making, and I get to within a few feet before it spots me and scampers up a tree.
By late afternoon I get to a roadside Penzion run by a bloke wearing a red ‘Polska’ t-shirt that makes him look like a football hooligan. My room upstairs is small and has no curtain or blind on the skylight window, so I’ll have to blindfold myself with a towel if I don’t want sunlight to wake me up at 6.00am. I open the window as the room is stiflingly hot, but after sunset this only encourages a squadron of mosquitos inside. It takes a while to dispose of these intruders, but I have to close the window and lie listlessly in the heat to ensure a bug-free night.
As my Penzion is in the middle of nowhere there are no breakfast options, so I just munch on my road food leftovers to get me started. The target for me today is reaching the town of Sandomierz, but it’s straight down the busy Number 79 Road and I’d rather avoid that. I try to find a route that will get me there using quiet roads, but it looks like they all involve huge detours and riding extra, wasted kilometres. Then I think outside the square and consider going down the other side of the river. Even Google Maps didn’t think of that one. It would mean re-crossing the Vistula again, but it looks like it will be quiet and won’t add too many unwanted extra kilometres. I decide to go for it as the smaller roads have been improving since I left Eastern Poland and, consequently, so has my arse.
However, I seem to have conveniently forgotten yesterday’s uphill struggle from the river, which today I have to repeat in the opposite direction. The temperature has also risen a degree or two, which means that this time I end up even more breathless and sweaty. Once at the top though, I find I’m surrounded by apple orchards and can get a good view back over the river at some spots. The payback comes in the form of a lovely descent when I have to get back down to river level to cross once again. The final 25km to Sandomierz are on a fast and increasingly busy road, which I speed along in an effort to beat some ominous dark clouds that are hanging low over the town. I get to within 5km before a torrential downpour sends me scurrying into a yet another bus shelter to escape a drenching. Within ten minutes the cloudburst ends just as suddenly as it began, but it does bring some welcome relief from the heat. I’m still relatively dry by the time I reach the street my accommodation is on. I get to within twenty metres and am waiting to cross the road when a passing car goes through a puddle, sending an arc of water right up onto my belly. I swear out loud, using a duo of really bad words.
As I’m checking in I can’t help but notice a huge print hanging on the wall behind reception. It’s a stunning aerial view of an Old Town square and I ask the bloke if the town in the picture is Sandomierz. He confirms that it is, and then says that it’s only a 200 metre walk away. With my lack of research this is a real bonus for me as I didn’t even know Sandomierz had an Old Town. Off I happily wander to be greeted by medieval churches, cathedrals, an old palace, towers, arches, cobblestones, bars and restaurants. All the attractions are within a short stroll so there’s a nice cosy feel to the place, especially as everything is bathed in that magical yellow light you get in the hour before sunset. A Scottish family stop me to ask if I can take their picture, without realising I’m from Scotland. I keep quiet for as long as I can, while trying not to laugh, before I finally surprise them by asking where their accent is from. I spend a while chatting with them and then visit a supermarket where I have great fun miming ‘mosquito spray’ to a shelf stacker.
I was hoping to stay two days in Sandomierz, but unfortunately my accommodation is already fully booked and other places are quite expensive. But, nonetheless, I’ve been really impressed with the town. It’s always good when you stumble upon a place that you take to instantaneously. And all the better because it was so unexpected.