Saturday, 26 July 2008

Through the wetlands, on foot

Despite the recent evening thunderstorms, the watertable in the wetlands at the end of the road has been subsiding. I reckoned it would be dry enough to wade through the reedbeds from one end to the other. Eddie and I donned our Wellingtons and forced our way through over 300m of dense vegetation, tall reeds and bullrushes. I shipped some rather foetid water in my left welly, but otherwise we got through OK. On the way, I snapped some good birdlife - this kite (right - can anyone positively identify this bird of prey?) and three herons that fly between here and the pond on ul. Pozytywki. Below: A grey heron coming in to land, another already perched in a tree top.

At the deepest, the water was some 80cm deep, though the bottom was muddy, our boots would often get stuck. The reeds towered over our heads and their density made progress difficult. The right approach is simply to power through regardless.

It was hard physical work but worth it - this is my first crossing of the wetlands since October 2004 (a year of drought, when the reedbeds were bone dry). Left: Eddie the Explorer manfully making his way through the two-metre high reeds. Having such unclaimed, wild terrain so close to our house and within the city limits is a great privilege; I hope that development and the city hall's desire for Order and Progress does not deprive us of our suburban wilderness. Below: The epicentre of the wetlands. Still quite watery here.

This time last year:
Rainbows and rainfall records
Miserable grey little island

Friday, 25 July 2008

Summer sunset triptych

July is Poland's wettest month. Each day's been similar - fine start, then bit by bit, clouds start building up; by the evening there's a full-blown thunderstorm with a deluge of rain and lightning. Today fitted the pattern perfectly. By sunset, the rain had passed, the sky looked spectacular. Compare with the past two evenings (see previous days' posts). All pics taken from my bedroom window looking north-west.

This time last year:
England's rural suburbias
Best fish and chip shop around?


It started with an almighty wooshing of wind, like the sound of a huge jet plane passing. But the sound did not pass; it intensified. Then the heavens opened and from them poured biblical volumes of rain. I opened a window and held out my hand, it was coming down like an intense spray. The air was full of water droplets. This is a nawałnica, a torrential squall. Within minutes the drive in front of the house was under water; spray bouncing up from the ground. The gutters and downpipes were choking, regurgitating rainwater. An airliner was battling to get into Okęcie, its tail swung out to the left by the fierce easterly wind. A darker cloud moved in, bringing with it steadier, less intensive rainfall. And so it passed.

This time last year:
On the road to... Derbyshire
London - constant, yet constantly changing
Ealing, home from home

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Shepherd's delight?

Eddie ran in just after twenty to nine. "Quickly! Get the camera! Look at the sky!" The result - taken from my bedroom window, is the reddest, most spectacular post-sunset sky I've yet blogged. Another pic worth clicking on to enlarge, then staring at and meditating. Incidentally, nothing tweaked on Photoshop. This is the raw data straight from the camera. Compare to this sunrise, photographed in November, along with an analysis of this hoary English saying. Shepherd's delight? We'll see in the morning.

Morning update: I awoke to a dismal rainy morning. So the saying does not hold true here.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Wheat and development

"Summertime, and the livin' is easy. Fish are jumpin', and the cotton is high...", well the oats and the wheat, anyway. Time for a walk. Up the end of Trombity, across the tracks, to the end of Kórnicka, through Zgorzała, across the fields to Mysiadło, and home past the Rampa.

Arising out of the wheatfields between Zgorzała and Mysiadło is the huge Little Boxes estate, on the wrong side of the tracks as far as ul. Puławska is concerned.

The wind rustles the ripening wheat, cockerels, cicadas and skylarks add to the rustic summer soundtrack - but in the distance the sound of power tools being used by new residents adapting their new homes for dwelling.

How long before this wheatfield I'm standing in becomes a housing estate, a shopping development or a tarmacked road?

Above: This aerial view, taken three weeks ago, shows in the foreground just how intensively Mysiadło has become developed in recent years - most of the housing has appeared since 2002. Note also the estate featured at the top of the post (centre), the wheatfield behind it. As the local land use plan suggests, there's nothing to stop all of the land between the tracks, Zgorzała to the west and Nowa Iwiczna to the south, from being swallowed up by intensive housing. Beyond Zgorzała is where the S7 (Puławska Bis) is projected (the long strip fields running left to right).

Above: Puzzling grafitti in Zgorzala. On the wall of the village Hall of Culture, in cyrillic, the words "Min Nyet" ('no mines', or 'clear of mines'). These words were painted by Red Army sappers after the Soviets had occupied Warsaw in January 1945. At huge cost to themselves (Stalin did not count human lives lost in pursuit of his goals of power), these brave sappers cleared Warsaw house by house of mines, booby traps, unexploded bombs and shells. Why has someone chosen to use this slogan here? What does it mean?

This time last year:
Waiting For The Summer Rain
Magnificent July sunrise

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Little Fatso and the Catfish

Seen at Okęcie from time to time, this Polish Air Force PZL M-28B flew in today. This small, Polish-built transport is based on the Antonov An-28, in turn a development of the An-14 Pchelka ('Little Bee'), a most interesting aircraft. Oleg Antonov's original concept was to build a light transport plane with extreme short-take off characteristics that could be flown by a truck driver with just a few hours' tuition! Note the tan/dark green/olive camouflage is applied to under-surfaces as well.

Below: A Piaggio P180 Avanti (SP-MXI), one of two used by the Polish air ambulance service. This unconventional aircraft (props pushing rather than pulling and the nose-mounted winglets that give rise to the nickname) is quite a frequent visitor to Okęcie, identifiable from a distance by its noisy, high-pitched, whining engine sound.

This time last year:
On The Road Again
Visit to Wrocław
Some family history
Poland's best pub?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Take me right back to the track, Jack*

After being cooped up at home for three days with a shoulder sprain, at last I felt well enough to go for a walk this evening. And where better than to catch the evening atmosphere than by the railroad track, hearin' the train go clickety-clack. Above: The setting sun's last rays catch the Kraków to Olsztyn pospieszny (semi-fast) service as it passes Jeziorki station.

Below: A brand-new FLIRT set leaving W-wa Jeziorki, as mentioned in the Comments to this entry. Photo taken with Nokia N95 through windscreen and cropped heavily, hence poorish quality. FLIRT = Fast Light Innovative Regional Train.

Below: At first sight, new rolling stock for Koleje Mazowiekie, as the train passed it was clear this was a re-engineered old-style elektryczka. Indeed, this is a EW60 set that had started life in the Tri-City area before being refitted last year for use on Mazowsze's regional railways.

* From 'Choo Choo Ch'Boogie' by the inestimable Mr Louis Jordan, certainly one of the greatest musical entertainers of the 20th Century.

This time last year:
The summer sublime

Have the moles got the message?

Didn't want to write too soon, but this morning was the third day in a row I woke to find no new mole holes on our lawn. It may yet be premature to say that talpine activity has been halted. My theory is that after three long high-pressure blasts with the garden hose, which (after 20+ minutes each) must have flooded the deepest recesses of the moles' tunnels, there must have been Casualties. The bodies of the drowned moles have started decomposing; the smell must be putting off others from coming this way. The ultrasound sticks are still beeping, some folk remedies have been put to use (bottles on sticks). My fear is returning from holiday and finding 100+ molehills on the lawn; that's still some way off. Until then, it's fingers crossed!

Many thanks to the many readers who've sent in their suggestions for ridding our garden of this particular pest.

POSTSCRIPT (I hope) Back from holidays on 11 August to find no new molehills.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

What's happening around us

Reader KG sent me some links regarding the development of the site south of the Rampa. This link (thanks KG!) is particularly useful, showing precise plans for the development of Gmina Lesznowola, just south of Warsaw. I've cut out the part (below) that focuses on Mysiadło, which is closest to Jeziorki.

The red-brown blocks are "predominantly for intensive housing developments" (flats). Red blocks are "predominantly for mixed services/industrial development" (shops etc). Red squares are shops/services. Light brown blocks are "predominantly extensive housing developments (houses). Because the Rampa is in Warsaw rather than Lesznowola, we cannot see what its intended new use will be. A new road, ul. Kuropatwy ("Partridge St"), will run directly along the border of Lesznowola and Warsaw. Today, Kuropatwy runs as far west as ul. Puławska, and is one of many streets named after birds that are found on the other side of the main drag. On our side of the road, we have musical-themed street names - from Poleczki ("Polka St") to the north to Katarynki ("Barrel Organ St") to the south. The planned Kuropatwy extention, lined with shops on its south side, needs a different name! (Ul. Jazzowa, anyone?)

Note - a new railway station is planned for Mysiadło (another for Stara Iwiczna just south of this excerpt). Concentric circles show us to be 10 mins walk from Jeziorki station (correct). Because this map focuses exclusively on Lesznowola, it does not show the airport limited-development zone.

Note too the heavy black line running north to south across the left side of the map. This is 'Trasa N-S', Variant II of the planned motorway south from Warsaw (below). This is Puławska bis, and as you can see, it runs west of the railway line. The map is tipped over by 90 degrees (north is to the left, east at the top).

Variant I (the cheap and easy option) is an extension of the existing al. Krakowskie beyond Magdalenka; it would not solve the problem of overcrowding on ul. Puławska, and would create extra traffic problems at Janki. Variant II would bring a major trans-European motorway to within less than a mile of our house. Full details of Trasa N-S options here. Note the major motorway interchange towards the left (north) side of the picture. This is where the proposed S7, linking the Baltic to the Balkans, crosses the A2, which, when completed, will link Germany to Russia. So we'll be less than 3km from the crossroads of Europe.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Stormy Sunday

What a corker! A top-notch electrical storm passed through Jeziorki this evening, time to hone my lightning-catching photo techniques... I took many but only two were any good. Rather than fix an exposure time for an arbitrary 30 seconds, I set the exposure for 'bulb', aperture for f6.3 and waited for a strike. Some waits were longer than others. Without a screw-in fixture in the shutter button for a release cable, some pics came out blurred.

Both good pics were taken from my bedroom window and show lightning strikes over the Las Kabacki forest across ul. Sarabandy. The storm, having calmed down, is coming back, time to upload these pics to the blog, switch off and disconnect computer from mains, and rush upstairs to get some more shots!

...And back again, the storm having passed off to the north east of Warsaw. In the meanwhile, I managed to catch this one (left) as the storm made its second pass over Jeziorki. Note the colour of the lightning has changed from violet to red.

Stormy evening

A stitched-up panorama (click to view enlarged image) consisting of three wide-angled shots taken from the very apex of our triangular garden. The afternoon was sunny and fine, but the storm clouds were gathering. By nightfall, lightning illuminated the eastern sky. To the left of the photo, we can see the neighbours' oat field ripening. Our house is invisible behind the trees to the left of centre.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

What's happening at the Ramp

A regular check to see how the site is developing. The ramp itself is untouched, most of the piles of aggregate underneath the pillars have been taken away by lorry for use elsewhere. That's it, no more will ever be delivered. The large number of rubber tyres in the foreground were removed from the embankment where, covered with earth and grass, they were used to prevent soil slippage. Many of these tyres date back to the 1950s. What roads they'd have travelled over!

Meanwhile, the cycling photographer I met here a few weeks ago has had his pictures from here posted on Panoramio. It takes a long time (six plus weeks), but it's worth it. It's good to see that this site has been documented for Google Earth.

Above: The view from the end of what's left of the embankment. Behind me the ramp. Ahead, the embankment has been levelled with the ground. (Compare to this view, taken on 23 May) A large area, ripe for development, remains. What will be built here? A few weeks ago, I talked to an old guy who's allotment is visible to the left of the picture. He says there are plans to build houses, a retail centre, a hospital (!) and linking it all, the fabled Puławska Bis, the long-mooted relief road running parallel to ul Puławska, which is now so choked with traffic that reasonable progress along it is limited to 20:30 - 06:30 on weekdays.

Above: This new embankment (in Polish wał) looks like it's being built as an acoustic barrier between the railway line and a housing estate. I guess that bushes and trees will be planted along the top of this embankment. Note the second embankment to the left. Will Puławska Bis run between the two? Is it wide enough?

Above: Is this the future alignment of Puławska Bis? The rails at the far end of the marshalling yard for the old Rampa have been lifted; it looks suspiciously like preparations are in place for building a dual carriageway to link Nowa Iwiczna to ul. Wirażowa near the airport. I can foresee problems with this road (how and where will it cross ul. Baletowa, for example). My guess is this first bit will be built quickly, dumping tens of thousands of cars onto ul. Karczunkowska, from which a goodly percentage will rat-run down ul. Trombity, Kórnicka, Jeziorki, Poloneza and Poleczki (Connoisseurs of hypocrisy please note: 'my shortcut' is another man's 'rat-run'.)

Above: The levelling of the rampa embankment (12.5m at its highest) means new vistas of the Las Kabacki forest and Ursynów beyond are opened up. I can see the estate agents' blurb now: "Overlooking the green expanses of the Las Kabacki, the Flowers of the Field estate offers luxurious country living within a stone's throw of Central Warsaw..."

Gaze on it in wonder while you still can; the Rampa is still with us - though for how long before its finally dismantled and the steel sold for scrap? Come and see it, photograph it, document it - you will not see its likes again.

Right: The Rampa as seen from the junction of ul. Nawlocka and ul. Achillesa. One last pile of aggregate awaits its final customers at the near end of the ramp; the Soviet-era KAMAZ and Czech Avia trucks will have to look for new loads to transport once this lot's gone.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Stormy Friday the forecasters missed

This was the scene yesterday as I cycled home from work. This is ul. Puławska in Pyry, some 3km from ul. Trombity. From the time I left the office, I could tell that a huge weather system was bearing down on us. Could I outrun it? Not this time. Less than a minute before this photo was taken, the heavens opened, hailstones cascaded down, drenching all in their path. For the next six hours, thunder and lightning played across Warsaw, accompanied by heavy rain.

But how did the weather forecasters see the evening of Friday, 11 July? By 'weather forecasters' I'm not talking about what we get in the media, with all the generic accuracy of a tabloid horoscope, but from academic institutes which use sophisticated computer models to plot weather systems crossing our continent. I've tended to use to tell me what the cycling weather would be. But to get it this wrong? Below: the COAMPS model predicting rainfall for Poland for yesterday evening. Western Poland would have been expecting rain, central Poland, including Warsaw, would have been dry. Not a bit of it!

This time last year:
Summer attractions in Łazienki Park
Gloomy weather affected us last July too!

No garden for moles

I am open to all methods of fighting mole infestation other than poisons. I looked at some yesterday; the packets all have warnings like "do not use if you have a cat or dog in the garden" or "do not use if you grow berries in your garden". Both apply to us, so no poison. Above: ripening blackcurrants on the edge of the lawn, close to the area of greatest mole intensity.

Following last night's attempted to flood the moles out, I woke up to find a further four new moleholes have appeared overnight (two of them pictured right). I responded with a further concerted attack on the moles with high-pressure water. Eddie extended the hose to stretch right across to the far end of the garden, and we poured several cubic metres of water into the other end of the tunnel system.

Our gardener told me this morning that the mild winter has led to a massive explosion in the mole population and the problem is evident in many of his clients' gardens. Nicole B from Hungary has helpfully suggested I use "holunder", which I discovered in Wikipedia is the German for elderberry. I read: "The crushed foliage and immature fruit have a strong fetid smell" There are elder trees on ul. Kórnicka, along the path leading to the railway track. I shall collect some fetid vegetation and pump it into the tunnel system. Our gardener has suggested keeping 'molewatch' at dusk; half an hour after sunset, lie still on the lawn, wait, watch, listen. And be ready to move fast with the spade.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

New roadsigns for Jeziorki

Going for a walk this evening, I noticed that new roadsigns are sprouting up in the wake of the recent paving of ul. Nawłocka and ul. Dumki. We're getting civilised. Unadopted roads are being Officially Named. Once they have Official Names, they will be shown on maps; new houses will spring up and Jeziorki will become just another part of Warsaw. Note: We are Jeziorki Południowe (Jeziorki Pd.) - Jeziorki South. As opposed to that riff-raff from Jeziorki North :-) How long before we get to UK-style post-code lotteries? ("My child's posher than yours, because he goes to school in W5 rather than W13")

Below: The curious stump of ul. Achillesa, which bisects ul. Nawłocka. One leg of Nawłocka stretches between this junction and ul. Karczunkowska, while the other starts at the far end of ul ul. Achillesa (90 metres away from this point) and connects with ul. Trombity. Street-naming confusion is relatively common in Warsaw, as the city hall tries to put some semblance of order of what grew up almost spontaneously in the less well organised past. Even Google Earth is confused (showing a non-existing spur from ul. Achillesa to Karczunkowska at 52° 6'36.39"N, 20°59'51.41"E ).

The optimum means of commuting?

On Tuesday, I cycled into work, and riding home, I narrowly avoided a drenching. Right: On the south side of Dolinka Służewiecka, at the turn-off for Al. KEN, Ursynów's main drag. A pedestrian underpass links one cyclepath with (eventually) the one running down KEN (a housing estate intervenes). Still ten kilometres from home, I looked at the sky and shuddered. I was fortunate, outrunning the clouds and getting home before the heavens opened. Cycling in the pouring rain is miserable. And bear in mind that July is Poland's wettest month.

A day earlier, the morning was wet and gloomy at the outset, so I decided to drive to work. Come the evening, the sky was cloudless and I found myself stuck in the car in a jam (above) rather than shooting past all the stationary traffic along the cyclepath at 20kmph. I'd have to crawl another six kilometres before finally turning off ul. Puławska.

The best weather forecast in Poland (click here) shows, for example, that tomorrow, Friday 11 July will be dry, while Saturday 12 July will be wet. WE SHALL SEE.

Once upon a time, Warsaw had a president who opined that the bicycle is a rural form of transport, not befitting a metropolis like Warsaw. Fortunately, Lech Kaczyński has moved onwards and upwards, leaving more enlightened transport planners in charge of Poland's capital. Left: the new cyclepath linking ul. Agricola and the Park Łazienkowski with ul. Myśliwiecka and Powiśle. Click to enlarge, you'll see seven cyclists using this facility - and I'm number eight.

If Warsaw can grow more cyclepaths like this, I'm sure the inconvenience of a summer rain storm will prove less of a disincentive to two-wheeled human-powered commuting.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Czachówek and the meaning of Alignment

When flying into Okęcie from the south, look out for Czachówek. This is where aircraft will make their final turn before aligning themselves with the approach path. This will take them over Zalesie Górne, Piaseczno, Nowa Iwiczna, Jeziorki and Dawidy before landing at Okęcie's Runway 33.

Czachówek, as I've mentioned before, is a small village in Mazowsze notable for its railway junction where the Warsaw-Radom line crosses the Łuków-Skierniewice line. Trains can switch from one line to the other via four connecting links. (Google Earth users - 51°58'9.94"N, 21° 4'36.79"E) Until a few years ago, when passenger traffic (sadly) ceased on the Łuków-Skierniewice line, Czachówek was served by foue stations. Today, only two still serve passengers, Czachówek Górny and Czachówek Południowy. Click on photo above to enlarge.
Above: Crossing the rail bridge north of Czachówek Górny station, looking down on the station building of the no-longer functioning Czachówek Środkowy. Recently a ticket office opened up here, so if you wish to travel from Górny station, 100m away, you can do so with a valid ticket in your hand. As you can see from the picture, the left-hand track seems less used. In the distance, though not visible, is (or rather was) Czachówek Wschodni station. Beyond that is the traction depot, which maintains the high-tension power lines.

Some 30km to the east, across the Vistula, is another, similar junction at Augustówka/Pilawa. Here the Skierniewice to Łuków line meets the Warsaw-Lublin and the Tłuszcz-Lublin lines. Some rails have been lifted here, but the embankments remains. I must go to Augustówka again. ((51°58'38.82"N, 21°31'8.05"E)

Mazowsze, being so flat, lacks the natural landmarks and waypoints that Alfred Watkin noticed in England in early 20th Century, and how footpaths linked pagan sites (later Christian churches) in straight lines. These 'Ley Lines' now have ascribed to them supernatural qualities. You can believe this - fine, you can reject this notion, fine. My point is that man seeks alignments, coincidences, patterns; it helps make sense of our environment and our lives. Quite how that fits in with looking at the maps of the places we inhabit is a deeper question. Like the small magnetic bone in the skulls of migrating birds, have we something that helps us find our way across the earth?

Human beings are always looking for patterns, alignments, coincidences and meaning. Above: West Hampstead Thameslink station, last week. The sky is criss-crossed by a web of wire and vapour, drawn by compasses and setsquare.

UPDATE: 30 October 2008 - Koleje Mazowieckie run a trial FLIRT from Warsaw to Góra Kalwaria via Czachówek. With a bit of investment, it may be that a regular service will run this route.

UPDATE: 1 June 2009 - Koleje Mazowiecki has inaugurated a Warsaw to Góra Kalwaria service, with one of the five return trains a day running on to Pilawa

This time last year:
Sunshine and rain, like joy and pain

Monday, 7 July 2008

Moles in my own garden

I woke up on Saturday morning to the sight of several molehills on our back lawn. My wife, having taken advice from our gardeners, bought three ultrasound devices, seen stuck into the molehills (above), which give off an annoying high-pitched beep every 30 seconds. The number of molehills has not increased overnight, so it seems effective as a deterent (I didn't want to lay poison traps for environmental reasons; there's lots of fruit growing in the borders. We've not had a mole outbreak like this before; our cat (which has killed several moles) must be getting lazy. Cut back on the Kit-e-Kat! To live, you must kill!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Bike ride to Święty Krzyż

Time for a weekend dad'n'lad bike expedition. On Saturday morning, Eddie and I set off for Piaseczno station, 7km away, to catch the Olsztyn to Kraków (semi-) express, a train which has bicycle facilities (right). I must say, my first reaction at this novel form of cycle storage was a worry that I'd end up with an egg-shaped front wheel. Note my bike (a Cannondale Caffeine F2) has but one front fork. To save weight. It works! The travel of downhill forks (dual crown) but the weight of cross country forks. And yes, I can ride 'no hands' without it pulling to the left.

Two hours and eight minutes later we arrive at Skarzysko-Kamienna, a small town with a big railway junction at the northern end of Świętokrzyskie province. My front wheel is still the same shape. Last week's unemployment statistics show that the Skarzysko-Kamienna district has the highest unemployment in the province (23.2%). Neighbouring Szydłowiec (the previous stop on this line, still in Mazowsze) has Poland's highest, 30.2%.

Above: Eddie crossing the Kamienna river. Note the narrow-gauge rail sections from which this rather ramshackle bridge is built. What would Britain's Health and Safety commissars say!

After a while we come across the marked cycle track that would take us down to the Góry Świętokrzyskie (Holy Cross Mountains). This is the yellow path, with the logo of a mountain topped with a cross above the bike. We would follow this path for quite a while. As we labour over the soft sandy tracks south-east of Skarzysko-Kamienna headed towards Wąchock, a huge dark cloud passes overhead, depositing a short sharp shower on us. No lightning, thankfully.

We press on, arriving in Wąchock as yet another, even more massive clouds blow over. Below: Wąchock's Cistercian Abbey dates back to the 12th Century. The one restaurant in town is closed for a wedding, so we press on and shelter from the storm by some trees overhanding a roadside embankment. Still no thunder (trees being the worst place to shelter under when the lightning starts to flash).

More rain: Just south of Rataje, another heavy rainstorm hits us. Again, we sit it out under a tree by the side of the road (below). Progress is slow; we've not gone far and the afternoon's getting on.

Left: We sit out yet another heavy shower in a bus shelter in the village of Rataje. As we did so, we observed this old woman walking through the pouring rain; her baggage (patched rucksack, plastic bags) indicating that she's a vagrant. I wondered what personal tragedies beset her life and caused her to wander the village roads of the Świętokrzyskie hills. Once, she must have had a sweetheart...

After Rataje, we entered the Sieradowicki Landscape Park. The road through the park - over 8.5km) was mainly straight, cobbled (hard work, even for front suspension mountainbikes) and undulating. We watched a rather ludicrous cavalcade of 4x4 drivers wasting petrol and a Saturday afternoon driving up and down this road. (Like, guys, don't you have enough of driving during the week?)

Out of the forest and into a gorgeous late afternoon. The scene above set something off in me emotionally. That old feeling that I've been here before, except not here, but somewhere identical in 1930s USA. The play of the light on the trees, the clarity of the sky, the greenery, the wooden fence - this is not something from my UK childhood memories.

With light fading fast, we make it through Bodzentyn, Św. Katarzyna, Krążno and Porądbki. En route for Bielany Kapitulne, we pass this house fire, lit by a fading sun. Round the corner we see the fire engine racing to the scene.

At Św. Katarzyna, my determination to get to our hotel - the Jodłowy Dwór situated at the foot of Święty Krzyż before nightfall - was challenged by the presence of a large number of agroturystiki (rural B&Bs) in the town. All now have mobile phone numbers advertised, so you can check vacancies from outside. But Eddie's no quitter - he insists on going the distance. So we press on. At Huta Nowa we turn uphill and start winching our way towards Huta Szklana, where our hotel is located. We walk the last kilometer, it's just too steep for Eddie's tired legs (he's done well - we covered 67 km today!) and arrive at the hotel at 21:25. Too late for hot food, but some sandwiches get rustled up in the kitchen. Bikes stowed, we clean up and get some well-earned sleep.

After Sunday breakfast, we set off up Święty Krzyż on foot. The mountain (or rather hill, a mere 594m above sea level) was a place of pagan cult. Note the rock rubble (gołoborze) in the foreground. A little further on, we pass a TV transmission tower (which reminds me that we're at the highest point of Poland north of the Tatras).

As it is with these things, along came the Benedictine Monks and turned a place of pagan cult into a place of Christian cult. This monastery reputedly houses a fragment of the cross of Jesus (hence the name of the mountain range). Brought to Poland by Emeric, son of the king of Hungary, the fragment soon had an entire 12th Century monastic infrastructure built up around it.

Sadly, the crypt (with non-decomposed bodies of 18th Century monks and local aristocrats) does not open until 12:15 on Sundays (rest of the week 9am), so Eddie missed out on this.

Worth looking at this page and this page (both in Polish) for pics of the monastery interior plus the crypt.

I've been here three times - the first two times popping up during breaks from training seminars held at the Jodłowy Dwór hotel at the foot of the hill. Tourism has come along nicely since my first visit, in 1998, helped by EU pre-accession funds with more on tap. As long a places like this don't turn out as crowded as Zakopane and Kazimierz Dolny.

The monastery is a popular pilgrimage destination (we saw two large groups of pilgrims making their way up the hill, each headed by a priest with a megaphone and a man carrying a huge cross. Above: The east gate. The place attracts tourists from all over Poland and from as far away as the United States of America.

The road home was less eventful. The road to Kielce has been improved with EU funds; there are proper cycle paths along the edges and smooth tarmac, so we made good time. Eddie proved to be an excellent cyclist with huge stamina, he kept up a cracking pace, to the extent that we arrived at Kielce station over an hour before our train back to Piaseczno!

Eddie took a photo of me at Kielce station, triumphant at our combined feat.

Total distance cycled this weekend - 119km, plus another 5km walking to the top of Święty Krzyż and back. What makes Eddie's acheivement all the more impressive is a) his bike weighs a whole lot more than mine and b) he doesn't have pedal clips as I do, which make a huge difference to pedalling efficiency.

This time last year:
Memorable day out in Lublin