A bicycle wanderer doesn't need much. Roads smaller than larger, asphalt, gravel, stony ones, or sandy. The wind will tell the direction, or a mood, another cyclist or local resident, sometimes a designated bicycle route.. Although accustomed to everything, he/she will look favorably on each route designated especially for cycling and will welcome it with open arms.
Probably only a few years ago in South Korea for the first time I found out, what it means to cycle a real cycle route. The network of bicycle routes of the "Four Rivers", this country is entwined delighted me to such an extent, that I had been wandering there for over two months. Smooth asphalt led mainly along river embankments away from car traffic, rest shelters for cyclists popped up here and there, toilets, - there was even a free shower and a camping site – in general, the entire infrastructure made me in awe. It was a different quality of cycling, quality I did not know. Bike travelling bliss.
Now Poland, Now Lesser Poland
This year, turmoil due to the pandemic has made, me go back to Poland. Well then! You praise other countries, but in recent years a lot has happened in our Polish bicycle yard. The Green Velo trail in Eastern Poland was created, network of bicycle routes in Małopolska - Lesser Poland region – called VeloMalopolska, routes in West Pomerania are the larger projects, but new bicycle routes are being created in virtually every corner of Poland. I've been following their FB fanpages and my curiosity was growing. Finally, I have no more excuses, to spin on our bike paths.
So-called. "eastern wall" that is the east of Poland, which Green Velo was led, I know quite well and I am always happy to come back, but Lesser Poland (Malopolska in Polish) not that much. And it was here that I saw a lot was happening in terms of cycling paths - look at the page VeloMałopolska hinted at some statistics: the project involves the construction 8 of cycle paths along the rivers – more than 1000 km of bicycle paths, of which approx. 600 km. It reminded me of South Korea.. Interesting, what will I find out once on the trail. Małopolska for bicycles!
First, the Vistula Bicycle Route. It is a nationwide project, in which a few voivodeships are involved - more or less involved. The long-distance bicycle trail will lead from the source of the longest Polish river, after its outlet in the Baltic Sea. The completion of a project takes years and is at various stages of implementation - from the planning phase to the finished sections, but its Lesser Poland part is almost ready. That's more than 230 kilometers of bicycle route, mainly along the Vistula flood embankments, Its center in Małopolska is more or less marked by Cracow.
Map showing the course and status of works on the Vistula Cycling Route (for the VeloMałopolska website).
The most convenient way to reach the beginning of the route in Lesser Poland is to take a train to Czechowice - Dziedzice.
– Madam, it used to be nice trains in the old times said a passenger on the local train from Katowice- to Bielsko-Biala, who helped me drag myself out of the train in Czechowice-Dziedzice. One could open the door, block it, it was possible to smoke, let the fresh air enter, look around and watch the world, and now in the modern trains – all is automatic and forbiddenhe was clearly disgusted.
I have not discussed the superiority of the new train sets over the old ones - or vice versa. But, one of the older solutions still survives at this station, which has not yet been renovated and I do not hide - it was good for me to use - was a ground passage between the platforms. When you get off in the middle one, you don't have to worry about taking the stairs, or even elevators, which is always burdensome with a bicycle and luggage. Sometimes, as you can see, the old solutions are more comfortable .
The Vistula bicycle route, in short in Polish WTR “I caught” on Kaniowska Street, a few hundred meters from the train station. From that moment on, you could go without looking at any maps (and I had paper ones and electronic applications on my phone, I don't use a gps) - the route signage is perfect. Every few hundred by the road there was an orange plate with a bicycle symbol and the WTR logo. This is still a section of the route in the Silesian Voivodeship. As I remember when Szymon from Znajkraj, went this way in 2017 the signage was poor, now I can assure you - it is very good!
I refer everyone to the official website The Vistula Cycling Route, where there is a lot of information, you can download the current gps track, gpx file and download pdf maps in A4 format for printing.
The departure from Czechowice itself is quite a busy local road, but just a few kilometers further in Kaniów to Oświęcim itself, the signs of the WTRki lead along local, roads with little traffic, among farmlands and family houses. On this section, the Vistula Route joins the European bicycle route, i.e.. Velo Metropolis (this is how the Lesser Poland section of the European route was called EuroVelo 4 – Central Europe Route).
Through the ponds in Brzeszcze
At the beginning the WTR trail is a bit full of holes, but very picturesque one through the Brzeszcze pond and forest complex, backwaters of the Vistula and Soła rivers. Perfect place for a short stop, is a protected area within the European Ecological Network Natura 2000. silence, singing birds (and this year, mosquitos) there will be plenty of it on the Vistula route.
If I had to pick one place, that touched me the most, emotionally along the entire route, it was the exhibition "Labyrinths – "Cliches of Memory” in the monastery - St.. Maksymilian Kolbe and the Franciscan monastery in Harmęże, a few kilometers from Oświęcim.
That's more than 200 artist's drawings, Marian Kołodziej, who arrived with the first transport to KL Auschwitz from Tarnów in June 1940 year. He survived in captivity over 4 years. After 50 years of silence, when he was partially paralyzed, he returned to the dramatic years of his life creating a series of works entitled "Clichés of Memory. labyrinths ". It's poignant, realistic works, which would probably be difficult to fully understand, if not for the fact, that a guide shows you around the exhibition – Franciscan monk. It presents the history of the exhibition, Marian Kolodziej's story against the background of the realities prevailing in the Auschwitz camp.
„Late afternoon 14 June 1940 a year enraged superman with a brutal kick threw me out of Tarnów wagon directly into the swamp of Auschwitz"
„The real Auschwitz is here”Ks. Prof. Józef Tischner
Practical tip: It is best to call and ask about sightseeing. You pay as much as you like, no official price list. I spent about 1,5 hours.
In Oświęcim, I first took a break. At the entrance to the city there is a so-called. MOR – that in Polish means: Cyclist Service Point. MORs can serve you in many ways – you can sit and rest, under a shelter protecting from sun or rain, take a break, eat something (and even make a barbecue !), use the toilet (which, although this toi-toi type is well maintained), repair the bike as basic tools are provided on a rack (may there be no need), check the route and nearby attractions on the map placed there. One MOR served me for many hours, as it was raining :). This type of multifunctional place is an absolute novelty on our Polish cycling scene. There are a dozen or so MORs along the entire Vistula route, placed every 15-20 km. They were usually well taken care of by local authorities, clean, although there were cases of partial devastation – scribble or leftover rubbish. These were sporadic cases, but let me appeal to everyone – let us take care of the common good.
At the time, when you least expect it, barracks fenced with barbed wire appear on the horizon among the green fields – buildings of the concentration camp in Brzezinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau II. It was in this section that the mass extermination and "final solution of the Jewish question" were carried out. And here's a note - the Vistula Route does not run past, but some hundred meters away. It's a pity - I highly recommend turning and cycling along the fence of the Birkenau camp – the view is impressive and touching.
Immediately afterwards, the Vistula Bicycle Trail leads to the city of Oświęcim and runs near the main Memorial and Museum - the former Auschwitz Concentration Camp.- Birkenau. Symbol of terror and genocide, place, almost every human being has heard of. Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp (1940-1945) was the largest Nazi concentration camp, that is, the site of the extermination of prisoners and, at the same time, the largest center for the rapid extermination of Jews. For this sad reason too, it is the only extermination camp on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
– Tomorrow!! Please come tomorrow, we will open 1 July… I found out from the lady in the parking lot, standing in front of the main gate. Well yes, pandemic and related restrictions… I admit, that I forgot about her having the comfort of being over 2 months away from the world in the Masurian countryside. A lot of places, which I wanted to visit and visit were still closed, or planned to open in the near future. Later on I remembered about it, to make sure, check the sites' websites, call and best to book tickets online, because due to the restrictions, much less people are allowed in at once.
I have already visited this place twice and after the exhibition in Harmęże I had a little bit enough of depressing stories and images, that's why I chose not to wait, but for people, who have not had the opportunity to be there yet, it should be a must-see place. Its rank is evidenced by the fact, that it is one of the most famous and most visited places in Poland by tourists from abroad. It proved to be true when in every corner of the world, I said I'm from Poland I heard associations – Oh, Poland! Auschwitz. Well, and yet – Lewandowski..
Practical tip: For a guided visit to both parts of the camp, you should reserve approx. 4 hours. It's best to book a ticket online on the museum's website, the ticket costs approx. 60 PLN . In hours. 16-18.00 you can enter for free, however, without a guide.
Oświęcim was a nice surprise. No, not the Nazi concentration camp, but the city of Oświęcim. More than 800 years of history of this place was almost entirely associated with a concentration camp and World War II, and rarely to anyone, including myslef, would think, that there is .. cool place, nice and there are many places of interest. Above the city, in the place where in the 12th century castle and village was located, the rebuilt Piast Castle – now the seat of the municipal museum. In addition to the exhibition related to the history of the city, the "Game for Independence" Historical Historical Route was opened in the tunnels under the castle hill very recently. Catholic and Jewish communities coexisted in the city, this history can be learned by visiting the Synagogue and the Jewish Center. Well, at the end of June everything was still closed, but from what I can see in July it is already operational – best to check with the tourist information.
What, I could see and what everyone can see are the murals of Oświęcim– paintings by leading Polish artists (for example,. Dwurnik, Pągowski, Bagiński) on the walls of buildings in different parts of the city. They are devoted to the subject of tolerance, peace, breaking down barriers – contemporary Oświęcim calls itself "the city of Peace" and it creates such an image.
Practical tip: Oświęcim is also a very good place to plan an overnight stay. For those interested in pitching a tent, there are two places: right on the Vistula route – Center for Dialogue and Prayer ul. Maximilian Kolbe 1 (very nice area, 44 PLN / os) and a less known area at the International Youth Meeting Center,. Legionów street 11. (www.mdsm.pl) - 25 PLN / os.
When you pass Oświęcim there begins, what's the best about the Vistula route. Perfectly smooth asphalt stretching to the horizon. The route along a river embankment is completely separated from car traffic. WTR and Velo Metropolis signage - plates with logo every few hundred kilometers. Relief for the ears – silence all around, eye relief – it is green around, and above all, safe. This is how cycling routes should be designed these days.
In the late afternoon there are quite a few local amateurs cycling a bike and rollerskates. A couple of bike travellers from abroad pass by, what a pity, that they went so fast. In the evening, when the sun has green behind my back and the colors are extremely intense - great scene for photos, I had to take advantage of it, though mosquitoes start be active like crazy. Taki mamy klimat 🙂
After the village of Gromiec, the passage through the embankment is temporarily closed, detour of appx. 2 km is marked. 2 km by a quiet dirt road. Then return to the path and pedal on a smooth surface to Mętków.
Cycling along the river embankment, despite all its advantages, can become a bit boring sometimes, in the middle of the day it can be quite hot, wind gusts may or may not favour us (i was constantly favored by wind from the west), but that's okay, to adapt the trail to shorter trips, when something interests us in the area. leave, stop, wander around, make loops.. Anyone else like me loves slow travel? Not for speed record breaking, but to see and visit?
I had several such places selected, but they grew in direct proportion to the kilometers traveled, read leaflets, flipped maps and length of talking to local residents, it was real then slow…
As planned, in Mętków I left the route – a few kilometers north, in Wygiełzów, there is a Vistula Ethnographic Park and ruins of the castle in Lipovets. On a clear day, it is difficult to hide from the sun, and in the open-air museum, where there are placed over 20 wooden architecture objects: cottages, barn, granaries, chlewik, forge and oil mill, as well as the historic church from Ryczów from the beginning of the 17th century among trees, you could breathe and feel like you were in a Małopolska village from years ago.
– Over there, can you see? that's, on the left.. it's Babia mountain! the gentleman guarding the area instructed me. Too bad, that the castle in Lipowiec is closed, on such a clear day, you can also see the Tatra Mountains praised.
From the Vistula Cycling Route, only one wheel turn south takes us to the Carp Valley. So I turned.
Most of us associate the town of Zator with the recently advertised (as my friends told me) Energylandia entertainment complex, where young adrenaline amateurs have a chance to test themselves on roller coasters and similar attractions. It's not for me – these structures are enormous, and I just prefer to be closer to the ground, but there were many people that need such experience. The Carp Valley cycling trail runs through Zator – long kilometres of cycle paths mainly through fish ponds and charming backwaters. It belongs to the Greenways network of trails and forms a loop with a length of almost 90 km - I cycled just a part of it . Peaceful area, silence and singing of birds, because it is a Natura2000 area. Besides, it is a great starting point for the area, which offers much more. Carp was bred here in the Middle Ages, and the Zatorski carp are a brand registered by the European Commission. And local specialties - for example Zator fudge – the most original was pizza with smoked carp (The Revel restaurant on the market square also has many other local specialties). What would the Italians say to that??
Practical tip: Zator and its surroundings are also a good accommodation base, Villa Natura in Przeciszów is worth recommending, also rents bicycles. Overall, however, it is quite expensive. I haven't tracked down any campsite.
These are the mountainous surroundings... to Wadowice
Who gets tired of riding flat, or does not get bored, but wants something more in the area to see I recommend taking a side cycling route on the Papal Trail straight to Wadowice where he was born. It's mountainous area already here – Beskydy on the horizon, the hills begin and it feels! Shortness of breath guaranteed, but also the views are great. And that it's some kind of 20 kilometres from the Vistula route? You can zigzag, zygzakiem, or go straight on, you can also go backwards, jak kto woli 🙂
In the small village of Woźniki I was surprised by the sight of "the blackest of blacks" (I called it this way) churches. A beautiful example of wooden architecture that Małopolska is famous for - this is the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Why did the wood take such a color?? Do not know. The mass has just ended - it's was a good time, to slip inside and see the interior with a baroque altar.
And then the last straight strech of road to Wadowice.
And there, it doeasn't matter whether religious or not, it really doesn't matter, because the Museum – The family home of the Holy Father John Paul II is a piece of the history of Poland and the world shown through the prism of the Pope. A museum with an idea, equivocal, breaking patterns. It's modern (open again in 2014 year), alive, a multimedia museum that tells a story. No, no need to wear felt boot covers anymore, to get in there :). It is one of the best museums, which I have ever visited seriously. Maybe it was influenced by emotions accompanying the pictures, triggering childhood memories.
Barbara and Jarosław Kłaput, the creators of the museum are also the creators of the unusual exhibition at the Warsaw Uprising Museum in Warsaw. This is how they talked about working on the exhibition (let me quote. Gazeta Wyborcza - Cracow):
We want to build the plot of the exhibition the same way, the narration of a book is constructed. (...) We want to show the Pope not in bronze, but of flesh and blood. How to talk about important things, but without pathos. Visiting the museum will mean walking with the Holy Father, first through his small homeland, later through Krakow and the history of Poland, finally Rome and the world. Finally, we have a pilgrimage inwards, to topics close to every human being, such as: life value, family, suffering, vanishing. (...) We will not let visitors fall into monotony.
Here, however, one should also remember about the changes in the organization caused by the pandemic.
– Unfortunately, we can't show you around and only let us in 5 people making 15 minutes, you have to book tickets (20 PLN ) the museum employee said earlier. Last year there were crowds from all over the world at this time she added. In this we cannot show you around, only individual tours remain. Too bad.
Fortunately, I stayed overnight in Wadowice (I highly recommend the intimate and inexpensive Mini-campsite), because tickets were only available for the next day. The benefit of the current rules was fact, that there are no crowds in the museum, but I missed a guide help .
The Vistula Route farther and farther, but it is only a dozen or so kilometers from Wadowice to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska! It is the only calvary in the world (that is, a group of churches or chapels symbolizing the stations of the Passion), which was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The criteria are interesting, which decided to enter it:
1.) Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is a unique cultural monument, in which the natural landscape was used as an environment for a symbolic representation in the form of chapels and roads of individual stations of the Passion of Christ. As a result, a beautiful cultural landscape was created, marked by spiritual values, in which natural and man-made elements combine into a harmonious whole.
2.) The Counter-Reformation at the end of the 16th century. led to the flourishing of the founding of Calvary in Europe. Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is an outstanding example of this type of large-scale landscape works, combining natural beauty and spiritual goals and the principles of the composition of the baroque park.
I've never been here, that was the argument for - why not tour, make a loop, visit and return to the Vistula Bicycle Trail? A hard uphill was awaiting though, but whatever. By the way, I advise against cycling the main road, busy one.
The Passion-Marian Sanctuary in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is a church and a monastery, but also a complex of chapels and churches located along the so-called. Kalwaria paths of Jesus and Mary. I had in memory the crowds, that are on pilgrimage and take part in the realistically played out Passion Devotion on Holy Thursday. Nevertheless, it still surprised me, how vast is the area the chapels are scattered all over. It was Sunday, there were many people on the paths of Kalwaria. It is indeed, a special, holy place.
Practical note: There is a Pilgrim House in the monastery, where you can spend the night - price - depending on the standard of the room – starts from 20 PLN . You can also set up a tent, but the price is the same - 20 PLN / os.
And at the end of the detour from the Vistula Cycling Route – two kilometers of pushing the bike up the hill to Lanckorona village made of wood. It is a small village on the slope of Lanckorońska Mountain, which artists liked several decades ago – time passes slowly here and the picturesque views from the village located on the slope of Lanckorońska Mountain favor the artists' spirit of creation. The biggest pride of the town is its wooden buildings and a market square situated on 9,5% a steep slope, where is worth stopping for a coffee. Unfortunately it was cloudy during my visit, with nice views of the thread, but at least it was easier to cycle.
The Vistula Bicycle Route to Krakow
Let's move again to the vicinity of Zator to the Vistula Bicycle Route. assuming, that there were no detour - between Rozkochów and Okleśna there is a renovation of the Vistula embankments and a marked detour along quiet local roads. In fact, it's even a nice diversion.
In Okleśna we have a choice - continue on the northern side of the Vistula along the local road - here we have the only one uphill to the village of Kamień., or take the ferry to the other side to Spytkowice and take local roads (it is the old Vistula route in fact) to the village of Łączany. I chose the latter variant (which runs mostly along local roads), to gain some time - it was getting late, and I wanted to go to Tyniec for the night.
"When a man is in a hurry, the devil is happy" - according to this proverb, at the moment, when the time was the most important to me, to make it in time 21.00 to reach a hotel in the monastery in Tyniec, I got lost on the detours. The Vistula embankment on the Kolna section – Tyniec – Skawina is being modernized, I didn't check it, MEA culpa, but with the help of local cyclists, I finally found a detour (with an uphill!) and two minutes before 21.00 I turned up at the hotel in the Tyniec monastery - just, to find out, that there was a mistake and there are no free rooms for today. Well, it was a loooong day of J, I found the room a few kilometers away.
Benedictine abbey in Tyniec is the next place, which I did not want to miss. It is the oldest existing monastery in Poland, over 1000 years of history. Several times I have admired them picturesquely located on a limestone escarpment on the other side of the river, view point near Piekary, but I have never been on this side of the Vistula and never visited. After sleeping off the previous day, I returned to the monastery hill, just to hear again..
– Sightseeing? Now it is only possible on Fridays and Saturdays, sorry.. There are not so many visitors yet, to hire a guide available all day.
Too bad, that the information on the website of the monastery was unfortunately not up to date (but when I write these words, the situation has changed again, new tour dates and hours have appeared, it's best to check and call. I visited what I could, what was available to see – museum with an exhibition of herbs (the Order has a long tradition in the manufacture of herbal products), I looked into the monastery church with a beautiful baroque interior and went to greet the royal city of Krakow.
Entry to Krakow
In the Tyniec - Kraków section, the Vistula Bicycle Route runs along river embankments, which "throw" us onto Krakow's Vistula Boulevards in the vicinity of the royal Wawel Castle. The path offers a picturesque view of the green hill of the Bielańsko-Tyniecki landscape park located on the other side of the Vistula and the white sihouette of the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Vistula Cycling Route is getting crowded - both professional and, as well as the local, cyclists who went for a ride alone, in a group or with families are plentiful. There are also bike tourers, of course! Krakow is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Poland.
To my surprise and disappointment within the borders of the city of Krakow, the marking of the Vistula Cycling Route is very poor. Temporary information on detours also helps somewhat. The city plans to modernize the trail and only then put the signage – may as soon as possible, it's really a shame.
Krakow is like Krakow – does not disappoint. Who hasn't visited yet - should stay at least for a day. Ja zostałam nawet dłużej zanim wyruszyłam w drugi etap jazdy Wiślana Trasą Rowerową na wschód od Krakowa – o tym jest w następnej części relacji.
Map of visited places