When in Poland

Steve Storey gets prepped for the next leg of the journey outside of another castle-esque trailside café. Table time is important to Central Europeans, be it mid-ride or midmorning.

When in Poland Slowing Things Down in Central Europe

If there’s one thing the Polish enjoy, it’s a good meal.

If there’s a second thing, it’s a grueling bike ride—finished off with a kielbasa, beer and a cigarette, of course. 

Coming from the relatively young, sparsely populated country of Canada, Europe has always intrigued me. It’s a place with cafés older than the Canadian constitution, with an appreciation for a slower pace of life and perfectly crafted beer from centuries-old breweries.

And so, on a sunny spring evening in May of 2016, I found myself crossing the border from Slovakia to Poland, accompanied by photographer and Slovakian-turned-Whistlerite Justa Jeskova. The road twisted through quaint villages, small restaurants and bars filling the spaces between the patchwork of cottages. I excitedly pointed out what I thought were ancient castles, and inevitably Justa would inform me each was just a regular building—things are old in Poland. We were here for two weeks: one in Poland, and then to the Czech Republic for the other. Already the landscape was just as I’d imagined. 

It didn’t take long for us to be treated to an actual castle. Our first destination, Bielsko Biala, was presided over by a fortress from the 12th century. Legend has it that a group of bandits used a different castle in the area to attack passing merchants (a transgression for which the bandits were inevitably executed). Our intentions were less nefarious. We were there to invade the Beskid Mountains, in search of the area’s storied riding scene.

We arrived in the ancient city after dark, and quickly exchanged our car for bikes to explore the older part of Bielsko Biala. The main square was lit up by breweries, cafés and bars, all packed with families and groups drinking and eating late into the night. The vibrant whirl of history and society soon had me questioning my vow to never live in a city.

Early the next morning we headed to Kozia Góra, a nearby prominence covered in a network of trails. While the eateries in town were closed—Justa informed me most places don’t open before 10 a.m.—at the trailhead we found a much earlier crowd. It was just after sunrise, and yet the parking lot was filled with food stands. The smell of kielbasa pulled in riders already returning from their morning loop, and nearly every meal was accompanied by a beer. Apparently, day drinking—or rather, morning drinking—wasn’t just accepted in Poland, it was encouraged. It was a tradition I could easily get behind. 

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