To Novy Targ - Krakow to Salzburg 1999 - CycleBlaze

August 25, 1999

To Novy Targ

To my great surprise and relief, I awoke feeling almost well.  Not perfect, but close enough that I decided to risk a day on the bike.  After a final breakfast at the Pollera (cheese, bread, OJ, muesli, coffee) we packed up for departure.

Our destination for the day was Novy Targ - the first stop on a planned route through Pienniny National Park, a raft trip on the Dunajec river, and then continuing on through Slovakia and Hungary by way of Kezmarok, Levoca, Kosice, Tokaj, Eger and Budapest.  We had a long and difficult debate about which route to take south out of Poland.  The rejected alternative would have gone a bit further east through Novy Sacz and Krnica.  We had been anticipating the raft trip on the Dunajec for several months but nearly dropped that option as too risky - longer days, possibly busier roads, and less certain accommodations.

Before leaving the hotel, I asked at the desk for advice on the best route out of town, and was helplessly bemused as four natives debated the options.  After about five minutes of animated discussions they finally quieted down and presented their conclusions.  After thanking them I followed my own instincts anyway, which proved fine.  we did very well at navigating our way, and an hour later we were leaving the last of the suburbs behind on a fairly quiet road through rolling farmland.

The Polish countryside (at least the little of it we were ultimately to see) has superficial similarities to Hungary and Slovenia - the fields are filled with people laboring over their crops with little more than a small tractor or horse and hand tools.  At this season, hay making was the dominant activity - hand raking it into small stacks and then piling it into horse or tractor-drawn wagons.  It made a very pastoral and romantic backdrop to our ride, even though it represented poverty as much as anything.

In the Carpathian foothills, south of Krakow.
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The native architecture in southern Poland is unlike any we’ve seen before.  Wood is the primary building material in older houses, although everything newer seems to be built of brick or cinderblock.  The wooden houses, although aging, are quite attractive.  They are finished with wood slats carved at the free end in a variety of patterns and painted in flat green or light blue.  The windows are framed with intricate latticework.

Even on fairly quiet roads though, cycling is somewhat perilous.  The narrow lane is shared by everyone - walkers, field workers with rakes and scythes, cyclists, cars, and the occasional horse-drawn cart.  By early afternoon though, traffic increased significantly as we neared the foothills of the Carpathians.  We quickly discovered the primary drawback to biking in Poland - where few routes are available, everyone competes for the same space on their narrow-lane, shoulderless highways.  

The final two hours to Novy Targ became increasingly stressful and finally outright dangerous.  We experienced a ride similar to an awful day in Portugal three years earlier, when we intermittently left the road to avoid getting crushed by large trucks passing at high speed with no room to spare.  Oddly, the cars often travelled at little more than our own speed as we climbed a fairly lengthy grade.  Many of the trucks appear to be severely underpowered and labored up the hill at about ten mph.  With no shoulder on this narrow road, it had the odd effect of creating a traffic jam in the middle of the country as dozens of cars crept behind the trucks ahead.

In the small village of Rabka we njoyed a break feom the Highway with a visit to a delightful domed wooden church that has been converted to to a museum.  It, along with the other wooden churches of southern Poland and Slovakia, was a lot of drew me to this route in the first place.  Fortunately, we arrived at the museum just before closing and the curator left it open a while longer for us to explore.  It was quite fascinating, built entirely of wood down to its marble-like columns.

The 17th century larch-wood church in Rabka.
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The Rabka church is now the site of the Władysław Orkan Museum.
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We arrived in Novi Targ quite tired and stressed from the traffic, and in my case still recovering from my illness; and we soon discovered a second drawback to touring in Poland - their tourism industry is in its infancy, at best.  There were only two hotels in town - one, quite run down in appearance, and full; and the other even more run down in appearance, and also full.  We had great difficulty communicating with the woman at the second hotel, with us sharing almost no words in common.  Finally, she followed me out to the sidewalk; and after seeing Rachael reconsidered and sold us an attic room with four single beds for 50 zloty ($13).  We were of course tremendously relieved and not inclined to complain about its numerous drawbacks: very thin mattresses over slat framed wooden cots; very poor lighting in the room and halls; paper-thin walls; and four or so loud, drunken and boisterous men who woke the hotel when they returned to their rooms late at night.

At least it was dry, and had hot water and a shower.  After refreshing ourselves we stepped out to seek our dinner fortunes in Novy Targ’s small central square.  Our only option was the Primavera, a reasonable-looking pizza place which fortunately listed its offerings in both Polish and German so we were able to guess a bit more intelligently at what we were ordering.  

And, at the best looking restaurant in town, the Primavera was an example of the third major drawback to cycle-touring in Poland - once you leave the city, the food options are limited and quite wierd.  Our pizzas weren’t too bad, but the salads were grotesque.  They were topped with a layer of mayonnaise at least an inch thick.  I scraped mine off onto a saucer as best I could, where it made a repulsive mound - but then I couldn’t bring myself to eat the rest of it either.

When she served us, our waitress asked if we wanted catsup.  This baffled us, until Rachael theorized that it was to mix in with the mayonnaise as a sort of thousand island dressing.  We soon understood the real reason though - as we left the restaurant we passed a diner happily cutting into a pizza covered with a wall-to-wall layer of catsup.

Today's ride: 90 km (56 miles)
Total: 90 km (56 miles)

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