Swiss Hospitality

July 10, 2016

I spent the day walking around Luzern. Being a Sunday, most shops were closed, but that didn’t stop the tourists from coming out. This is a beautiful city, and the weather just invites the crowds to hang out near the lake and in sidewalk cafes.

Part of the old city wall

 

Spreuer Bridge. Originally built in the 13th century, it was destroyed by a flood in 1566, and rebuilt after. It’s one of two existing covered footbridges in Lucerne.

 

Inside the bridge in the triangular structures above are these paintings of the Danse Macabre or Totentanz in German.

 

These paintings were done from 1616 to 1637 and still exist in this open public structure. Tell me where in the States this would exist without being covered in graffiti the first night.

 

 

Some of the paint work on the outside of the buildings is pretty extraordinary.

 

That’s all painted on the outside of the structure.

 

The Jesuit church in Luzern on the left. Unfortunately the interior was closed for renovation.

 

The Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge across the Reuss River. This is the world’s oldest truss bridge, and the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe. A large part of the bridge burned in 1993, but has been restored.

 

 

 

 

I was once again honored to be invited to a family BBQ and gathering at the home of Judith’s brother’s family. Although english is definitely a second (or third) language for them, they were willing to try to communicate with the language-challenged American. And food transcends language barriers. Although I draw the line at grappa. As Lucasz said in Poland, “You can practice for Russia by drinking vodka here”. But Croatian grappa is beyond the limits of this non-drinker.

 

Great food. More great new friends.

 

Alpine Heaven

July 8, 2016

The people I have met on this trip have all been great, and many have become great friends that I hope to keep in touch with.

After leaving Team Poland, I headed west again to Switzerland, and met up with another of those great people that I had met on the road earlier.

Judith in Nicaragua last September.

Last year, I spent several weeks riding on and off in Central America and Colombia with Judith. She had shipped her Suzuki DR-Z400 to Anchorage on July 1, 2015 and was headed for Chile when we met in Guatemala. She made it to Santiago, Chile before having to return to Switzerland at the end of December (I only made it to Lima, Peru by that time, having been sidetracked by a couple of weeks paragliding in Colombia).

Judith (and Jamie) live in Lucerne (or Luzern, as it is correctly spelled here), in a beautiful apartment overlooking the city.

View of Lucerne from Judith’s terrace. Great weather. Perfect temperatures. Very relaxing.

Her apartment takes the entire top floor of the building, with a wrap-around terrace. Spectacular.

As I said earlier, it’s extremely beneficial to have a “local” tour guide, and Judith was willing to show me Switzerland, and especially the Alps, in a way that I never would have found on my own. And she managed to arrange a V-Strom 650 for me to ride, so I could keep up with her Gladius 650 and give my XT250 a few days’ rest.

Judith on her Suzuki 650. Her DR-Z400 (“Suzy”) is in the shop for a major heart-transplant after her trip through the Americas.

Judith laid out a route over nine passes and just under 500 miles. The scenery everywhere in Switzerland is breathtaking, and the mountain passes are just that much better. We avoided a few of the more popular passes in order to avoid the traffic, and instead ended up on some beautiful single-lane roads. Even so, the amount of bicycle traffic is amazing. I have trouble understanding how so many people can pedal up these hills. Then again, at one point we saw four people who looked to be in their 70’s riding mountain bikes, and it wasn’t until Judith later pointed out that they were electric mountain bikes that I lost a small amount of my astonishment. Still, I’m impressed at the energy levels of everyone here.

We also just happened to stumble on the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Lenzerheide.

Just before the Mountain Bike races, we passed through the small village of Filisur. Well, I guess normally it would be a small village. But this week, as we rounded the curve descending into town, we were met with thousands of tents. The “One Love Festival” was happening, and it apparently is quite popular. Lots of bands, DJ’s, music, and other “activities”. 

Most of the passes have a small restaurant/cafe at the summit, usually with an outdoor deck, and nearly every one of them is filled with motorcycles.

Typical scene at the top of one of the passes.

 

The real fun is getting there.

 

 

I met these three at the top of one of the passes.

 

In Switzerland, you can get a license to ride a moped at age 14. These guys were 14, 15, and 16. (Note the handlebars, and the Gas Monkey sticker on the back of the box. Gas Monkey is hugely popular in Europe).

 

They were doing a five day tour of Switzerland, including most of the passes that we were riding on 650s. If I had done this at 14, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have waited until I was 55 to do this trip. Too bad this isn’t the norm in the States.

 

 

This was an “art installation” tying the old and new bridges together. Looked like somebody’s laundry to me…

 

Bored of leading the American around already??

 

 

At the end of the first day, we stopped just past St. Moritz (wow, just wow) at Diavolezza. This small hotel caters to skiers in the winter and to mountain climbers and trekkers in the summer. It’s only accessible by gondola.

Quickest way to the top of the world.

 

 

 

 

On the second day we took some smaller passes, and I found my favorite: Klausen Pass. Others may be higher, or have smoother switchback climbs, but the scenery climbing up to the top of Klausen was breathtaking, and the (even narrower) road down the other side towards Luzern was spectacular. Definitely no room for error, especially with the supercars that were coming in the opposite direction, but you’d miss some of the best sights if you were completely focused on the road.

Typical Swiss architecture in the small villages we passed through.

 

 

Small country, BIG scenery.

 

 

 

 

Back at the Suzuki dealer in Luzern with Christoph and Judith. I enjoyed my time on the V-Strom. If I were doing a different kind of trip, I might seriously consider a bike like this. For my trip, it’s still a little too big, and much too heavy.

 

Great rider, great tour guide, great friend. It’s just a matter of time until she’s back on the road on Suzy on her next World Tour. Thanks Judy!!

 

Sensory Overload

July 2, 2016

My mind is having trouble making sense of what I am seeing. I’m nearing the top of the Arlberg Pass in Austria. It’s been raining steadily on the climb up and it’s also getting cold. I’m in a long tunnel, and thankful for the reprieve from the rain.

The tunnel bends, and as I exit the curve, ahead of me is a puffy, bright blue blob. It looks like someone put a blue light bulb in a large ball of cotton and stuffed it in the end of the tunnel. The tunnel’s edges are fuzzy, not defined. It’s hard to tell where the road goes, but the cotton ball is approaching fast. Suddenly I’m at it, and I realize that it’s dense fog. So dense I can barely see the front fender of my motorcycle. I can’t see the road at all, but I know I’m out of the tunnel and on top of a mountain, with drops on each side and little or no guardrails. If I look straight down, I can see the white stripe on the side of the road, but it fades into the fog within just a few feet ahead of me. I’m traveling about 50 kph (30mph), and I’m hesitant to slow down because I know from the tunnel that there are cars behind me. But I have to, because I can’t see where to go. 

I flash my brake light hoping that will help, and begin to slowly lose speed. I can make out headlights behind me, or at least a bright spot, and I’m hoping he can see my tail light. 

Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a guy on a bicycle in front of me, and he’s headed the opposite direction, up the hill. I can see him for all of about two seconds before he disappears into the fog again.  This is crazy, but there’s no place to safely pull over. If I cross the white stripe, I risk riding off the road and/or off the mountain. I don’t think there’s a shoulder, and if there is, it’s not much safer to stop there than in the middle of the lane. 

Within a couple of miles I’ve lost some elevation and the fog is lifting. I’m back to just rain, which before seemed bad, but now is welcome. 

The rain continues on and off all afternoon, sometimes heavy, which prevents me from taking many photos. Even so, the scenery and the roads are beautiful. I’ve entered the alps in Tirol, in western Austria, and headed for Switzerland.

That tower is the top of the Olympic ski-jump in Innsbruck. It’s right in town, with a beautiful view from there overlooking the city.

 

I cross through Liechtenstein and into Switzerland, staying off the motorways and on back roads. The road marked T16 up to the village of Wattwil is beautiful; billiard-table smooth, with fantastic sweeping curves. I consider turning around and riding back down, just so I can ride this stretch of road again.

Yep, it’s a country. With a total area of only 62 square miles, it has the third highest GDP per person in the world, and one of the lowest unemployment rates at 1.5%.

As I near Lucerne, I decide that camping tonight is not going to be much fun, since it’s still raining and everything is very wet, including me. I decide to search for a hotel and quickly find a place with a nice view of a lake from my window. 

I missed the 125th anniversary by one day.

 

Looking out the window of my room this morning. The rain stopped, and the sun is out. I had to carry all of my wet gear down and lay it in the parking lot to dry for a couple of hours.

 

Everywhere around me looks like this. Beautiful.

 

There used to be a dairy advertisement in California that said something like, “Great cheese comes from Happy Cows. Happy Cows come from California.” I’m willing to bet these cows would argue that point. Except maybe in winter. These cows probably dream of California in winter.

Lost in Translation

July 2

Sometimes the language differences can be amusing, but it often takes a native speaker to point them out. Here’s a few recent examples:

This chain of petrol stations and convenience stores is apparently named after a local family. However, in Poland, the word “pieprzyk” also means something much less savory. I won’t say it here, but it rhymes with something like “Little Trucker”.

This one is my favorite though:

As I pulled into a campground in Austria, a guy saw my Texas license plate and approached me. His accent didn’t sound Austrian, but more eastern European, so I’m not sure where he was from, but english was not his first language. He asked, “You are from Texas?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I have uncle in San Antonio.”

“Oh, that’s very close to me. I lived one hour north of San Antonio.”

“He is very old. And dead.”

I almost spit out the piece of bread I was eating, and it took everything I had not to laugh.

Add that to my now-famous “I’m from Vindu, would you like a puppy?” story.

Fortunately, I had this guy to translate for me in Poland. 🙂 Thanks again Michal!

Czech-ing out of Poland and into Austria

July 1, 2016

Riding through Czech Republic, I pass several motorcyclists on beautifully restored (or maybe they are original?) Jawa two-stroke motorcycles. It’s great to see these being used as daily riders and kept in such nice condition. I’m reminded that after all the years I have pronounced it “Ja-Wa”, the correct Czech pronunciation is “Ya-Va”.

I’m back on small roads and really enjoying it. Many of the roads I’m riding don’t have a center stripe due to their width. This is my preferred riding: I get to see a lot more of the local “flavor” on these roads. 

Czech countryside

Approaching a small village, I encounter a detour. The bridge is being rebuilt through town, so the detour takes me several extra miles through the countryside. I somehow manage to miss the turn to head back towards the main road, but according to my GPS, there is another small road about a half mile further that will take me there. 

I turn down that road, and it winds through woods before descending a fairly steep hill. At the bottom of the hill, the road curves to the left around a blind corner. As I come around the corner, there is a woman lying in the middle of the road, with a man kneeling next to her talking rapidly on his cell phone. She appears to be unconscious, and there is a bicycle lying in the grass at the side of the road. 

I park the XT behind them and dig out my first aid kit. She appears to be in her mid-60s and is pretty banged up and bleeding from road rash. As I approach, she is coming to, and the man is helping her to sit up. I stay with her while he runs to his car and retrieves an umbrella (it’s already sunny and hot) and a blanket for her to lay on. I get the water container off the XT and pour some onto a towel to help keep her cool, and we wait for the ambulance. 

It takes about twenty minutes, and the paramedic tells me that she has a broken scapula, and thanks me for stopping to assist, especially in slowing the cars down that have been racing down the hill towards the blind corner. I keep thinking, “why would someone come upon this and not stop?” I’m hoping it’s just more good karma for later in case I ever need it. 

Bicycles can be dangerous. Fortunately she was wearing a helmet.

I ride on, eventually crossing into Austria, and find a terraced campground on the edge of a nice lake. I’m back in the expensive part of Europe again, and camping is more expensive here than a hotel was in Mexico and Central America. 

Bike path? Nope. That’s the road.

 

Walchsee

 

Unfortunately, in the direction I’m headed, it’s not going to get any cheaper any time soon. I’ve also noticed that the “friendliness” of bikers has decreased dramatically since I’ve headed back west. In Poland, everybody waves. In Czech Republic as well. Once you get to Austria, it’s a rare occasion. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of BMWs and other bikes on the road here, and only occasionally does someone wave. I’ve taken to referring to it as “Snobstria”, although that probably isn’t fair; I’m not sure if they are all Austrian bikers. There are a lot of others riding these mountains as well. 

June Expense Report

July 1, 2016

I always knew from the very beginning that traveling in Europe would be one of the most expensive parts of my trip. But I’m learning some interesting things from analyzing it.

First, some rankings: June was spent in the UK and Europe. June ranked as my #1 most expensive month for fuel cost, and my #4 most expensive month for food cost even though I bought groceries and cooked quite a bit, and (gratefully) had many meals provided by others.

Lodging tends to be one of the biggest daily expenses, so controlling this expense makes a big difference in extending my travel and having reserves for other things. Even though I spent the month in places where the lodging is the most expensive I have encountered, June was #7 on my expense rankings for lodging. This is due to camping and the generosity of others, as I had seven $0 nights, which really add up. I also had my first $0 day of the entire trip, thanks to Michau, Patricia and Lukasz, who provided food and lodging on a day that I didn’t ride so I didn’t buy any fuel.

On average, June ranked fifth in terms of daily average expense for food, fuel, and lodging at an average of $42.76 per day. Not bad for Europe. It could have been even better, but I spent a couple of nights in hotels, which quickly raises the overall average.

A set of tires in Scotland, the ferry to the Isle of Man, and the Channel Tunnel train added to my expenses in June.

Gas: $239.33 (Daily average: $7.98)

Food: $331.50 (Daily average: $11.43)

Lodging: $700.62 (Daily average: $23.35)

Bike maintenance: $206.76

Ferries, Channel Train: $256.14

Biggest lesson learned: accept the kindness of others, and you can afford to travel longer, or in more expensive places like Europe.

Team Poland Tour of The Southwest: Part 3

June 29, 2016

This was my last day to ride with my new Polish friends. It had been a long time since I rode with anyone else, and it felt strange at first, but I was enjoying the past few days, not only the riding and the scenery, but the companionship. My lack of language skills didn’t create a barrier — at least not as much as I feared it would, thanks to Michau and Lukasz’ excellent english — and we were able to enjoy each other’s company.

After packing up our camping gear, we rode a short distance to a bath house.

 

The water here is supposed to be very good for you, so we all drank some. Well, all of us except Ela. She had tasted it before and knew better. It has a very metallic taste, and almost seems a bit carbonated as well. But, when in Rome, er, Poland…

We continued on to a huge fortress in Kłodzko.

Kłodzko Fortress

 

This fortress has existed for hundreds of years, changing hands between the various ruling factions in the area. During WWII, it was used by the Germans as a prisoner of war camp, as well as an extension of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.

 

The fortress has a large labyrinth of tunnels beneath it as well.

 

As you would expect, the views from the fortress are expansive.

 

 

After Klodzko, we rode together across the border into Czech Republic for a typical Czech lunch. I had a beef goulash. Some of the others had Smaženy Syr, which is fried cheese. Think of fried mozzarella sticks, but in the size of a large piece of toast, and typically with Edam. It looked so good I ended up having it for dinner later.

At this point we both had about 90 miles to get to our respective destinations — mine in Czech Republic, and theirs home near Wrocław.

Saying goodbye to a great group of new friends: Paweł, Marcin, Lukasz, Michau, and Ela. I know I’ll see Lukasz and Michau again in Texas or in Poland; I’m hoping the others decide to join them in the States, and if I’m around, I’ll ride with them for as long as I can.

 

It was a great few days hanging out and riding with this group. And the advantages of having local tour guides who speak the language and know the history is priceless. I hope I’m able to reciprocate in the future if these guys come to the States.

As odd as it felt to be riding in a group, it now feels odd to be riding alone again. But I’ll adjust quickly.

Team Poland Tour of the Southwest: Part 2

June 28, 2016

There are now eight of us on seven bikes: Ela is the sole woman, riding on the back of the V-Strom with husband Marcin. We’ve taken to referring to our group as The Princess and The Seven Dwarves after the gnomes in Wrocław. (“Snow White” isn’t used here).

After breakfast we travel to another place that defies description: this one hidden in the forest. We ride a short distance to a parking area, then hike up a trail into the forest.

Beautiful road through the woods.

If it wasn’t so well marked today, you would never expect to find this:

It looks like a fairly small entrance to a mine or cave in the mountain. However, once you enter, the enormity of it is mind-boggling. This is Osowka, part of the “Riese” (German for “Giant”) project initiated by the SS during WWII. A series of seven individual underground complexes that were intended to be joined together, but were never finished. The intended use is still not known today, but it is theorized that they were to be used for manufacturing. The tunnels are large enough to easily drive large trucks through.

 

The complex is so large that parts of it have not yet been explored. This huge complex, with all of its’ tunnels, caves, rooms, etc, is part of what supports the legend of a “gold train” that is rumored to be in one of the tunnels. The story is that the train was loaded with 300 tons of gold, jewels, weapons, and works of art, and was then placed in the tunnel and buried by the Nazis. In 2015, two men claimed to find the train using ground penetrating radar. Later exploration by a Polish team of scientists discredited the “find”, but nobody has dug down to the tunnel as of today. There seemed to be a lively discussion amongst our group — some believers and others naysayers. As Michau put it, regardless of whether it exists or not, the rumor is good for tourism and the local economy.

We left the Riese and headed towards the Table Mountains and further into the Sudety mountains.

A very wide variety of motorcycles, and the Table Mountains, a bit like our Colorado mesas. L-R: Michau (Honda VT650), Lukasz (BMW F650), Paweł (Kawasaki ER500), me (Yamaha XT250), Grzegorz (BMW 1200), Mariusz (KTM640), Marcin (Suzuki V-Strom.

Further on we passed a ski resort, and then to Kudowa-Zdroj, and the Kaplica Czaszek, or Chapel of Skulls. This small church (The Church of St. Bartholomew) is adorned with the skulls and bones of over 3,000 people. Another 21,000 skeletons rest below the church, and you can see many of them through a trap door in the floor of the church. The bones were collected in the late 1700s from mass graves of people who died of cholera and during the Thirty Years War.

 

They didn’t allow photos inside, so I had to borrow these off the internet, but yes, it looks exactly like that.

 

Looking through the trap door to the skeletons in the basement.

After the Chapel of Skulls, we stopped for a great late lunch of local fish (trout) & chips, and then said goodbye to Grzegorz and Mariusz as they were headed home.

Lunch break.

 

Fish & Chips, Polish-style, with sauerkraut.

 

Saying goodbye to Mariusz and Grzegorz after lunch.

Down to five bikes, we headed for our camping destination in the mountains. We had been riding along the border with Czech Republic for a while, and the road now followed the river that was the border, so we stopped at a short bridge for some border crossing photos.

Entering Czech Republic

 

Re-entering Poland. No guards, no official documents needed. Takes about two seconds to cross the border. Much different than in the past, or in present-day Latin America and Africa.

 

Friendship Border photo.

At this point I handed my camera to Ela and she took some photos while we were riding to our camp.

 

 

This is the first time I’ve seen how big I look on the bike. It is way more comfortable than it looks in the photo.

In the evening we camped at Zajazd Gosciniec, a beautiful spot in the remote mountains. Our campsite was decorated with mannequins and Halloween decorations. It was a little weird to step out of my tent in the middle of the night and have people looking at me. Each time I was startled before I realized they weren’t real.

This is as close as I came to picking up Polish women. 🙂

 

Don’t ask. I have no idea.

 

There were these cool old ruins behind our campsite.

 

Right next to our campsite we noticed was a depiction of the Princess and the Seven Dwarves. So we made Ela pose for us.

 

Pietr showed up from Czech Republic (which is actually only about 30 yards away from here). He rides a Honda VT500 and attends a lot of rallies in Poland and Czech Republic.

We had another great BBQ dinner, cooking kielbasa sausages over an open fire. And more vodka, of course. Including Lubrowka Bison Grass vodka, another first for me.

Team Poland Tour of the Southwest: Day 1

June 27, 2016

Up early to do a little bike maintenance before heading out on the first of three days riding through Southwest Poland with a bunch of great guys from the local area. I needed to change front and rear brake pads, lube my chain, add some oil, and update my gps maps.

All done, and the first of the riders shows up to meet us at Michau’s house. Grzegorz is riding a heavily modified BMW 1200GS. I hesitate to call it a GS, as not even the frame is from a GS, but from an R model. The front forks and wheel are from a KTM. Every single piece that isn’t necessary to ride the GS offroad but still be street legal has been removed. It looks more like a large but proper dirt bike, and he rides it like one as well. It was great fun to follow him on some two-track dirt roads through the fields.

Sporting a 2RideTheGlobe sticker on the pannier…

We picked up Ela (Lukasz’ sister-in-law) and headed off towards Lubiaz. On the way here, I had passed through Lubiaz, and by this absolutely enormous building. I had to go back and see what it was all about.

It’s impossible to get the whole place in one photo. It’s just massive.

 

 

For centuries, this was a Cistercian monastery. Parts of it dates from 1175, and it is one of the largest Christian architectural complexes in the world. During WWII it was used by the Germans as a laboratory and for production of components for V1 and V2 rockets using prisoner labor. Much of the building was damaged after the war during occupation by the Red Army, and it fell into disrepair. Only a portion of it is open to tour today, and renovation has been ongoing since around 1990.

Considering the enormity of the place.

 

The Prince’s Hall.

 

Interesting artwork: the entire ceiling is painted, but there is one body painted on the ceiling that extends out of the painting and onto the surrounding facade (just above and to the right of my head) in an “illusionist” style.

 

 

In 1997, Michael Jackson toured this massive complex, considering purchasing it as his residence (a European Neverland). Apparently the renovation expense was too great for even him, and he passed. I’m not sure how a place like this would fit in the hands of a private celebrity owner, especially considering that there are 98 mummified former dukes buried under the church in the center of the building.

Next stop: KZ Gross-Rosen. This was a WWII concentration camp that housed up to 100,000 prisoners. It was a hard-labor camp, where prisoners were forced to mine stone from a nearby quarry. The stone was used to build roads and buildings during the war.

I had been to Dachau many years ago, and was prepared for the experience of touring a Nazi concentration camp, but it is still a very emotional experience. Prisoners here survived an average of three months, due to the hard working conditions and poor nutrition. The average weight of the prisoners was around 35 kilograms, or 77 pounds. Built in 1941, the original small crematory quickly became overwhelmed and three larger ovens were built just to keep up with the death rate.

 

Two to a bed.

The German companies Blaupunkt, Siemens, and AEG all operated laboratories and manufacturing facilities during the war at Gross-Rosen using prisoner labor. Among notable prisoners, Simon Wiesenthal was an inmate at Gross-Rosen.

At Gross-Rosen, we were joined by Mariusz on his KTM640. Marius led us to Świdnica, and to the Peace Church. This large wooden church has an interesting history.

 

 

After the Thirty Years War ended in 1648, the Roman Catholic church allowed the Lutherans to build three churches, but under strict conditions:

  1. The churches had to be outside the city walls, in less prestigious areas.
  2. They had to be built from perishable materials, such as wood, sand, straw, and clay.
  3. There could be no belfry or tower.
  4. The exterior had to be atypical of a church.
  5. Construction time had to be less than one year.

All of these conditions were met, and three wooden churches were constructed. These became the largest wooden religious structures in Europe.

From Świdnica, we rode to the small village of Jarkowice, where we spent the night at a guest house, and I was introduced to Pigwowa, a fruit-flavored vodka that tastes a lot like Choya, or Japanese plum wine. I tend to drink about one alcoholic drink every one or two months, so as Michau said, Poland is “practice for Russia”. I’m not sure how much practice I can take!

At Jarkowice, we were joined by Ela’s husband (and Lukasz’ brother) Marcin, on his Suzuki V-strom, and Paweł, who was riding Ela’s Kawasaki ER500.

Wrocław

June 26, 2016

Michau and Lukasz had clearly put a lot of thought and effort into showing me around their part of Poland. For our first day, we headed to Wroclaw for a walking tour.

Wroclaw was known by the German name Breslau prior to World War II, as it was part of Germany prior to the war; throughout history, this city has been part of the Kingdom of Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, the Austrian Empire, Prussia, and Germany. After the war, it became part of Poland and officially adopted the Polish name Wroclaw. Both names sound very similar when pronounced properly, even though they are spelled completely different.

We began with a walk around Ostrow Tumski, or Cathedral Island. This is a beautiful spot on the Oder River.

 

 

Lovers place these locks on the bridge pledging their commitment. This bridge looks like it weighs twice what it was supposed to.

 

 

 

In several places there are these photographs on the walls showing the location just after WWII. I tried to take a matching photo of some of these to compare the war-damaged buildings to today’s rebuilt structures.

 

Same as above, but rebuilt.

 

 

Same general area today.

 

Next we walked through the old market square and past the old Town hall.

Old Town Hall

 

People keep making fun of the small bike I’m riding….so I got a bigger one.

One of the more odd sights that I was interested in seeing in Wroclaw was the Krasnale, or Gnomes. It all started with the “Papa Smurf”, a gnome-looking figure that was placed at a location where the Orange Alternative, an underground anti-communist movement, met in the 1980s. Much later, these small gnomes began showing up in various locations around the city. Eventually, they became an attraction themselves, and today there are over 200 of them around Wroclaw. It’s very easy to walk right past them and never even notice, but if you want to search them out, one easy way is the Gnome Finder app. I downloaded this free app and it shows the location of every known gnome in Wroclaw.

A bit hard to see in this photo, but there are three gnomes in this piece. They are inside an ATM machine, and are the actual inner workings of the ATM. Placed just next to the real ATMs.

 

Another one on a window sill.

 

This guy is on the steps of a church.

After a bit of gnome-watching, we stopped for a lunch of traditional inexpensive Polish food at Setka Bar. This place had a great atmosphere.

Great food, and cheap. Oh, and Polish-style means your lunch comes with a shot of vodka. As Michau put it, “Poland is great practice for Russia”.

 

Usually pictures on the menu help when you can’t understand the language. Not so much here.

After lunch we did a quick sprint up the spiral stairs of the tower at St. Elizabeth’s Church for a great view of Wroclaw, before sprinting back down and over to the Racławice Panorama. This incredible painting is over 45 feet tall, and over 7500 square feet of total surface area in a circular presentation that you stand in the center of to view. It was originally painted in 1893, but was hidden away during WWII to protect it, and spent many years in storage before a new home could be built to present it again. It depicts the battle of Racławice which took place in 1794. By adding special lighting and three dimensional items, the painting really comes to life. I found it difficult in several places to distinguish where the painting ended and the 3D pieces began.

Part of this is a painting, and part of it is actual materials. For example, a portion of the fence extends out of the painting into real fence materials and sand. It is done so seamlessly that it’s difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.

 

 

Again, part painting, part real materials. It’s so well done, it reminds me of the Pageant of the Masters in Newport Beach, California.

After viewing the panorama, we took the train back toward Jary, and Patricia joined us for dinner at the house of Lukasz’ brother and sister-in-law. His dad was also there, and I had a great time talking with him, even though he speaks limited english. He was very excited to have an American come to visit in their small town, and was interested in my travels. He had a large World Atlas and we spent some time talking about my route through South America and Africa.

Dinner with the Dobrzanscy family. Just another example of great friends, great food. I would have a lot more of these experiences before leaving Poland.

After dinner it was back to Michau & Patricia’s to rest up and prepare for our riding tour of southwest Poland over the next few days.