I was up early in the morning in preparation for the days ride into the Czech Republic. I seem to be ticking off countries at a rapid rate of knots at the moment and today I bid farewell to country number six, Poland.
I really enjoyed my time there and in particular in the 4Friends hostel I stayed in. Like I said before it's not so much about the places you go but the people you meet. I was really pleased to have spent my time there in such good company. One of the guys I met there Adam who I mentioned in a previous blog sent me a link to his website. I knew he liked to do a bit of writing but had no idea that in fact he is a fully published author having written the book “Scratch Beginnings – Me, $25 and the Search for the American Dream” you can check out his websites at http://www.scratchbeginnings.com/ or http://shepardspeaks.com/home/ Truly inspirational stuff and great to see people such as Adam out there making a real difference in society and not just talking the talk as it were but actually walking it too. I will certainly be delving into this book once I'm back home.
I made the most of the free breakfast at the hostel in the morning but did so whilst looking out upon the grew impending clouds which could only spell one thing. I knew the forecast was for rain but you always tell yourself that the weather reporters have got it wrong. This might have been the case many years ago but what with technology being what it is these days it wasn't a surprise to me that the minute I set out on the road it started to rain.
I was lucky in the fact I already knew how to get out of the city having been to the Decathlon sports store a few days earlier. This also gave me the perfect opportunity to finally go and pick up some socks that fit!
The rain eased up in the morning but it was still cold enough for me to need my jacket on; it doesn't seem that long ago that I was thinking how I no longer need it.
For those of you that don't know I used to live in the Czech Republic back in 2001; it's where you could say my whole teaching/working/living abroad thing started. During my time there I became friends with a local guy by the name of Kauli. We have remained in contact if somewhat sporadic over the years and he even came and visited me with some other friends when I first lived in China but I guess it's at least six years since we last saw each other.
My plan was to meet him in Ostrava the first main city once you cross over the border from Poland. Google maps informed me that it was about 168 kilometres so I knew I was in for a long day on the bike but I was quietly confident of making it there for our seven o'clock rendezvous.
I left Poland certainly with a feeling that there is a lot more cycling to do in this country but my pace through the it has been somewhat dictated by my plans to meet up with other people. I have no regrets about this and for any Poles reading this blog my lack of time spent in your country is in no way whatsoever a reflection of what I think about it.
It was a bit of a stop start morning and I made one such stop after about forty kilometres at a small picnic area and after the usual quick toilet break, bite to eat and check of the map I was off again. I had a few Zloty left in my wallet so instead of simply leave the country with them I took the opportunity to pop into a supermarket a further four kilometres down the way to get rid of my odd coins. It was only once I'd spent my money that I realised I was no longer in possession of my phone.
I looked in the handlebar bag the place where I usually keep it but nothing. I then went through all my various pockets but again nothing. When I stop I usually take off the handlebar bag and carry everything inside with me but on this occasion I didn't instead opting to simply put all my valuables in my pocket. Could I have left it by mistake in the bag and someone stole it whilst I was inside? Whatever way I looked at it it was simple, it was gone. Looking back I managed to stay remarkably calm, it's a pretty expensive phone but I sort of came to the conclusion that if it was gone it was gone and there wasn't really that much I could do about it. I decided that while being a long shot I may have left it or dropped it back at the picnic site. So with that I hopped back on the bike to retrace my route there all the while scouring the road to see if it had fallen out.
I had become resigned to the fact that it was gone and even if I had dropped it then surely somebody would have either picked it up by now or perhaps run over it in their car or truck. So it was to my great surprise and immense relief I must say that when I pulled back into the picnic car park there lying on the ground face down on the ground just where I'd been standing was my phone!
First sign showing CZ
Minor drama over and a little bit of time lost I was beginning to wonder if I would make our seven o'clock meet. I was still in Poland and I'd told Kauli that I would try to buy a Czech SIM card and call him once I crossed over into Czech. The roads were proving to be a little more difficult to ride on, lots of up and downs and plenty of traffic to contend with.
The sun finally decided to come out later in the afternoon as I approached the Czech Republic. I finally crossed over after a good one hundred and thirty kilometres and was certainly beginning to feel the effects of the days ride. The clock was ticking and I still had no way to contact my friend to tell him I might be a little on the late side. I'm a real stickler for time so was determined to make it there by seven, it was time to put the hammer down.
Czech Republic finally.
My GPS instructed me to take one route but it always calculates the fastest route by car; there was another way that would see me into the city in just under forty kilometres. I eventually rode past the sign for Ostrava at just gone seven but now needed to navigate my way to the main railway station. I decided to head straight for the centre and work out things from there. On entering the city I spotted the rail tracks and could just about make out a station in the distance. I didn't want to stop and try and buy a phone card as I knew this would take time and besides I'd entered the country with none of the local currency.
The city was a maze of one way streets and road construction and I couldn't seem to find my way to the station. I stopped one local guy and explained my situation to him. I did ask him if I could use his phone but he must have misunderstood me or perhaps suspected I was some kind of thief who was about to make off with it in a flash. He said he was heading to the station and would show me the way. I tried as best I could to explain that I was in a little bit of a hurry as my friend was waiting and I was worried he might not wait that long. So this poor bloke was having to do this kind of half run, half walk behind me as we made our way to the station. After a few hundred metres I regretfully had to tell him that I needed to go alone and that I was pretty sure I could find it from there onwards.
When I got to the station is was immediately apparent to me that I was in fact at the wrong station. I looked around for a few minutes but no sign of my friend. However just as I was beginning to despair a little the very same Czech guy came down to the front of the station. This time he did allow me to use his phone and he was able to call my friend and inform him where I was. Whilst we waited for Kauli to arrive we chatted and it was then that I found out that he was in fact a student of Asian studies and could speak pretty decent Chinese.
Kauli finally arrived after quarter of an hour; I was pretty beat having now ridden over 180 kilometres and it was already beginning to get dark. He asked if I preferred a hotel or camping for the night, I lied and said either was okay knowing full well in the back of my mind that I'd much prefer the comfort of a nice soft mattress. To be totally honest though I wasn't really that bothered it was just so good to see him once again after all these years and especially looking so healthy and active.
We decided that the best bet would be to head out of the city and try and find a place to camp. Ordinarily I'd never do this as it was completely dark by the time we exchanged greetings and made our plan but with another person in tow it didn't seem like such a crazy idea.
We made our way to the very fringe of the city all the time chatting, swapping stories and catching up. We finally found a place on a nice piece of grass behind some superstores but close to a forest. I was exhausted, another day over 200 kilometres.......I'm supposed to be slowing down I thought but I was finally back in the place where it all started, Česká republika.