From Kiev we will make our way east to Poland, but take a few days instead of going on the highway. The first day was 418 km to Rivne, but via Korosten and Sarny.
The road surface on the E373 was very smooth. The driving here was civilized and trucks pulled over to the verge to let you pass and if you did the same for a car they gave you the “thank you” flash, This changed totally once you head south at Sarny.
The road surface is deeply grooved and patched and there is no verge to pull over so back to aggressive Ukrainian drivers passing practices. We had booked a hotel down town that had good parking and a very good restaurant next door. We had a splurge meal of 2 large and 1 small beer, 2 borscht, 2 very good pork chop entrees, coffee and desert for about 15$ Canadian with tip.
Today the forecast is partly cloudy however it is totally cloudy, but not raining yet. We set out for a 224 km route to Lviv hoping to get in early to get some laundry done.
We had chosen this cheap hotel because it was close to the only laundry in town. We had not been able to find one in the last 2 towns. The road luckily was good until Lutsk since it started to rain after about a half an hour after we left. It was heavy at times and of course when we on the H17 about 75 km from LVIV, when the road surface for a big section was totally unreal. To quote Dan “horrific”. It was like a sea of massive pot holes with small strips of pavement between. The holes were full of water and there were cars and trucks swerving all over on both sides of the road. Luckily this did not last long.
Ice cream therapy
Arriving to LVIV ( Le-vio) the traffic was terrible and this is because of the 5 separate accidents we saw in the last 6 km. They just drive too fast here. It really started to rain very heavily just after we arrived to our hotel.
The rain did however stop by just after 6 and we walked over to the laundry to drop off all the smelly gear. It was quite amusing trying to confirm that we could pick it up at 9 am the next morning! Thank goodness for the calendar and clock apps on my phone!
Today is a great day the sun is shining, the laundry is clean, and the trifecta…the bikes are washed. Again this guys did an amazing job washing them and then refused payment! Luckily there was another customer there who spoke English and we could find out what the price should be and paid him.
Not sure which smile is bigger!!
We are headed to Gorlice (Gore-leet-say) Poland today in 266 km, but this will take at least 6 hours including the border if we are lucky.
The road surface is not to bad, except for about 25 km west of Sambir, where it is like Swiss cheese. The last 15 are fresh paved.
When we arrived there was at least a km of cars and trucks lined up before the border crossing. We drove by the ling long line and no one said anything. It is 1330 and I’m pretty sure many of them will still be here at dark.
When we arrived to the front the Ukrainian guards came right over and waved us thru to the first gate. They again gave us the little scrap of paper with the plate number on it. Then we were let thru the gate and joined one of the 3 lines since each had about 10-15 cars.
The exit from Ukraine took 1 1/2 hours! There again was an issue with our moto “passport” or title. They kept asking why our plates are Colombian if we are Canadian. We finally got them to understand that British Columbia is a province of Canada. Here in Europe they have country plates and not state or province plates like we have in north, central, and south America. Meanwhile while we did this all the people in the cars behind us are lined up to get there papers processed, but since their cars are all trapped in the line there is no getting ahead of the person in front of them no matter how hard they try. Finally after all this the customs official wanted to look in the luggage (first time in 58 countries) and we rode ahead to the next window. By look I mean we opened the pannier and the dry bag and he looked without touching for about 3 seconds total.
Next to get back into the EU and the Schengen zone. Here the Polish official accepted the Titles, but was again confused with the whole Colombia /Columbia thing. It was much easier to explain here as he spoke English. After he sent Dan on to customs he wanted to chat about our trip, route and plans. When I said we were going to the stans he said “ you know there can be big trouble there” I said we always take safety into consideration in planning the route and current events play into that. Putin is escalating on the eastern border of Ukraine and of course we did not go to the Crimea. He said of course not “it is Jurassic park there”. He then really wanted to know if anything bad had happened to us in Ukraine, I said no nothing and he was surprised. In fact other that the small shake down we had at the Honduras border we have had nothing bad done to us! Despite everyone telling us we were going to be shaken down by Ukrainian police every day they did not even give us a second look for the 9 days we were there. We had no issues. People were just really nice to us. The Poland entry was a quick 30 minutes.
Once you cross the border it all changes. The road is smooth, there are curves and hills. You can read the signage, which helped when we found a nice restaurant 10 minutes later for a traditional lunch.
From the border to Gorlice it is another 2 1/2 hours (211 km) of good road, but one half of the way is on the busy 28. Arriving to the town we stocked up at the LIDL since our homestay had a full kitchen. Yeah home cooked meals.
We had met Rafal on the ferry to Iceland and he is in fact the one who told us about the Schengen zone “issue”. He lives in Copenhagen and Krakow and since he is in Poland now he invited us to stay with him. We only had to get to Krakow in 132 km, but since we had all day we did a loop into Slovakia and planned to visit the salt mine at Wieliczka Poland as well.
We rode south directly from Gorlice to Bardejov Slovakia.
This is over a mountain pass with a nice set of switch backs on both sides. So nice in fact we rode back and did it again. At Bardejov (which has a very nice market square) we turned almost immediately and headed north west towards Krakow.
We arrived to the salt mine just after 430 and the next English tour started at 5.
The tour continued down to the 3 rd level of the mine at 135 meter deep and just under a 3 km walk. These are the old rock stairs the miners used and while they carried very heavy loads. Looks treacherous.
“The Wieliczka Salt Mine opened in the 13th century, the mine produced table salt continuously until 2007, as one of the world’s oldest salt mines in operation. Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding. The mine’s attractions include dozens of statues and four chapels carved out of the rock salt by the miners. The older sculptures have been supplemented with new carvings made by contemporary artists. About 1.2 million people visit the mine annually. It reaches a depth of 327 meters and is over 287 kilometers long. The rock salt is naturally grey in various shades, resembling unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look.”
There are a number of chambers to visit, you can see the progression of equipment used by the miners, there are several underground lakes and a huge cathedral.
There is a legend about Princess Kinga, associated with the Wieliczka mine. The Hungarian noblewoman was about to be married to Bolesław V the Chaste, the Prince of Kraków. As part of her dowry, she asked her father for a lump of salt, since salt was prize worthy in Poland. Her father King Béla took her to a salt mine in Máramaros. She threw her engagement ring from Bolesław in one of the shafts before leaving for Poland. On arriving in Kraków, she asked the miners to dig a deep pit until they come upon a rock. The people found a lump of salt in there and when they split it in two, discovered the princess’s ring. Kinga had thus become the patron saint of salt miners in and around the Polish capital
After the tour another employee “guides” you on a walk for at least 20 minutes back to where the elevator shaft is an this transports you to the surface in about 20 seconds, but you still need a guide to show you back to the start of the tour above ground. This is another 10 minute walk. That said we finally made it back to the bikes after 730.
Luckily it was only a 25 min ride to Rafal’s place and that we had given him our SPOT so he was not waiting around for us. In fact he was out front to greet us!
We settled in and then headed into the city for a tour of the old Jewish area called Kazimierz (Ca-gee-mesh)
“Since its inception in the fourteenth century to the early nineteenth century, Kazimierz was an independent city, a royal city of the Crown of the Polish Kingdom, located south of Kraków Old Town and separated by a branch of the Vistula river. For many centuries, Kazimierz was a place of coexistence and interpenetration of Christian and Jewish cultures, its north-eastern part of the district was historic Jewish, whose Jewish inhabitants were forcibly relocated in 1941 by the German occupying forces into the Krakow ghetto just across the river in Podgórze. Today Kazimierz is one of the major tourist attractions of Krakow and an important center of cultural life of the city.”
We stopped for a local street food favourite Zapiekanka or “Polish pizza” at Endzior on Plac Nowy Square.
We headed to the famous Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa vodka and beer bar where it still looks like it did in the “Communist” time. Shots of vodka and mixed shots are 1 Euro we you ordered by the half dozen! The best shot is a Krakow specialty the “mad dog” shot or Wsciekly Pies.
To finish off the evening we went to a very cool bar that is in an old house and we got seat in the kitchen!