Trip days can sometimes frustrate best laid plans. We had only expected to do 80 miles from Kraków, to a countryside campsite, to rest up tired legs and eager minds full of thoughts provoked by an interesting few days.
Instead, a wrongly missed exit off the motorway meant we drove 200miles to Bolków arriving wearily in late afternoon sunshine.
Parked alone at an empty municipal camp next to a public swimming pool, we were cheerfully welcomed by two workers preparing the site for its big opening on July 1st – the start of the summer season.
This is something that has amused and perplexed us throughout our trip. Since the middle of May central Europe has been variously baking in weeks of hot weather, yet summer businesses of campsites, activities and entertainments have remained resolutely closed. Officialdom rather than enterprise seems to be the order of the day.
Advised to see the town’s castle we meandered up a steep cobbled street, dressed for an easy visit to a museum.
We ended up skirting the castle walls along the local’s path, clinging to the rocky sides of its curtain wall defences, dodging giant nettles and a loose and barking Alsatian dog before heading gratefully down and into a, by now, overcast and gloomy centre.
The square was impressively arcaded with thick stone buttresses but very run down. The brightest and cleanest building was the church, together with its statue of the Pope outside.
We couldn’t place it but it felt almost Alpine and very much out of season. Which technically, it still being the end of June, it was!
Further west into Lower Silesia we stayed at bustling Jelenia Góra, an open-all-year destination perched prettily in the foothills of the Karkonosze mountain range.
Its charming old square, like Balków, was arcaded with buttress walls but was in better condition and freshly painted along one side. The campsite was open and busy, squeezed amongst hotels and a new supermarket, the car park of which we had to drive through to pitch up.
Spending a day on the bikes we cycled a demanding 50km round route up 850 meters to the mountain resort of Karpacz.
On the way we passed de-commissioned Polish army trucks, disused railway stations, one street villages, a western-style rodeo centre and gorgeous open high pastures dotted with cows and goats.
Karpacz was buzzing with day trippers and hikers tucking into mountainous lunches of meats and salads. We joined them hungrily, before slogging up the final ascent to see the wooden ‘Wang Church’.
Incongruous-looking with elaborate wooden reliefs of leafy vines, dragons and bearded old wizards it made sense once we understood it to be a Norwegian ‘stave’ church from the village of Vang, near the Winter Olympic town of Lilehammer.
It was saved from dereliction in the 1800s by the then King of Prussia. At his considerable expense, it was dismantled in Norway then transported and rebuilt here. The foundation stone was laid on August 2, 1842 in the presence of King Friedrich Wilhelm himself.
Two years later Prince Frederick of the Netherlands together with huge crowds witnessed the consecration of “The mountain church of Our Saviour of Wang”. Vang became Wang because the native Polish alphabet doesn’t contain a “V”.
The number of car parks dotted around the church attest to the claim we read about Wang being the World’s most visited stave church. 200,000 people clearly drive rather than cycle up here to see it every year!
The hair-raising descent on a steep road down the mountainside took us past other, derelict and frankly bizarre buildings.
At home on the south coast where every square foot of space is at a premium, disused buildings get knocked down and built upon. Here was the opposite and the few very ‘grand design’ mountain homes overlooked neighbouring and decaying monstrosities.
Were these buildings former hotels and entertainment venues built under communism and now ownerless and abandoned? It was something to ponder upon.