Helsinki to Singapore: Poland
Eastern Poland provides an idyllic setting for a bike tour, whichever type of cyclist you are.
Poland was on our path from Helsinki to Singapore and so we had to cross it from North to South. Having, in our heads, an unfounded stereotype for Pole’s bad driving, we decided to cross the border using a small dirt path near Berzniki (just off Highway 16 NE of Augustow) as to avoid the busy main road where, we imagined, catastrophe surely awaited.
We were immediately plunged into bike touring heaven; small, quiet, well paved country roads (in Latvia and Lithuania it’s always a coin toss) which lazily go through hamlets and small villages and casually drive you pass small shops and local restaurants which are not only cheap, but also incredibly tasty. Oh, before we continue any further, just a quick tip about this corner of the world; smoked meat.
We always refrain from wild camping the first couple of nights in a new country and our first one in Poland was spent in a campsite in the Biebrza National Park, the biggest of the country. Similarly to The Lake District, it’s well known for its fresh water reserves and wildlife and offers water based activities left and right.
We spent a delightful afternoon swimming in a crystal clear river, which went straight through the campsite, and tasting local beer in the bar. It was, after all, a Sunday!
Next morning we followed a solitary trail to Augustow, a local tourist resort, where we withdrew money (lucky in the campsite we could pay by card) and had early morning ice cream which Poles seem to be dearly fond of. Very yummy.
Our intention was to make our way to the centre of the country to Warsaw, but while licking our way through our ice cones we came across a sign about a cycle route and our minds were set; we wanted to see more of the East!
The Green Velo route is quite simply an amazing way to discover a huge, less known chunk of Poland. Although it mostly shares its path with cars on small roads, with the occasional odd kilometre on main ones (bridges don’t grow on trees), we were happy to discover that Polish drivers are more than courteous with cyclists, hard shoulders are plentiful, wide, and in good conditions and that Poles, in general, are just the best!
It’s technically not part of the Euro Velo network but it definitely is much better than what we had experienced in the Baltics where it’s still pretty much a work in process. We also had the feeling that it was being highly promoted by local authorities as a clean and rewarding type of tourist.
We were welcomed in the Tourist Information Centre of Bialystok with open arms by a friendly team who even went to such lengths as to invite us to coffee and biscuits and called the local campsite to make sure they were open and fully operational. They had plenty of bike-specific brochures with all the bike-friendly accommodation, etc. and a mind-blowing tool box which would get almost anyone out of trouble!
With the occasional night spent in campsites, we spent most of our Polish nights either wild camping in clean picnic areas next to refreshing rivers or in someone’s garden, having been pre-invited, of course!
The Green Velo accompanied us through some surprisingly interesting small cities such as Bialystok and Bielsk Podlaski, whooshing us along the Bielorusse border and regularly providing useful guidance by means of well maintained, purpose-built bike rest areas (with recycling facilities and sometimes even basic tools!) where signs and maps informed us of local sites every few kilometres.
One of the prettiest discoveries, for us, was the small wooden orthodox churches scattered around this part of Poland; their bright blue wooden walls (and grave headstones) with either golden or silver details always popped out of nowhere and made us slow down, or often stop, just to admire their simplicity and striking beauty.
The only reason we ultimately, after about 10 days, decided to get off this trail and go back to using our Garmin for some real navigation, was Krakow. You can’t be in Southern Poland and not visit Krakow!
Not too bad though, again, Poland ranks very high in our “safe cycling” chart, so we slowly made our way diagonally towards the country’s cultural capital discovering astounding places on our ways such as Lublin and Sandomiers.
Due to its hilly topography, cycling in the south of Poland is a pleasure. It’s also very agricultural and, riding around here in June, we got our faces regularly stuffed with berries of all sorts!
We spent a few days in Krakow just walking around eating ice cream whenever we could. Unfortunately, Krakow is one of those cities where you can spend a week and still leave with the feeling of not having tried everything there was to try. In fact, not having had enough, on our way out we stopped at the Wieliczka Salt mine (the biggest in the World) which is definitely a must!
Finally, our Polish adventure was about to end with its final leg being mostly uphill towards the Bieszczady Mountains and the Slovak border. After a stopover in Novy Sacz, we avoided the busy Route 75 and discovered a solitary EV11, took some pictures of our bikes on a sleepy, grassy ski resort and had one last ice cream before crossing the border on a cold, rainy Saturday.
Whatever you’re looking for, Poland is a huge country and an almost infinite universe to discover. Unfortunately, we only had time to cycle a small portion of it but we will, in time, make sure that we cover those regions still unexplored by our wheels. It will amaze you with its friendly people, diverse landscapes, architectural styles and rich cuisine.