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The Warsaw Voice » Society » July 9, 2008
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Pedal Power in Fashion
July 9, 2008   
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Cycling has taken off in Poland. Once regarded by many as the preserve of those who couldn't afford a car, or for villagers with poor access to public transport, cycling now has a new image. As in Western Europe, health conscious city dwellers with cash in their pockets are increasingly choosing to get on their bikes and to combine sightseeing with sport.

A distinct cycling culture has developed in recent years, according to experts from the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Association-ranging from family vacations and weekend trips out of town to extreme adventures in the most distant and wildest parts of the world. Generally, cycling is particularly appealing to educated and health-conscious people. Many others have simply become fed up with inactive vacations, and instead of lying on the beach in Tunisia they prefer to go on a cycling expedition.

Cycling vacations
In recent years many Polish-language websites have been launched with reports from numerous cycling expeditions and trips, and descriptions of hundreds of interesting cycling routes in all parts of Poland and other countries. Many new cycling associations and clubs have sprung up, and a growing number of travel agencies offer cycling vacations. They encourage you to bike across the central Polish region of Mazovia, the Tucholskie Forest in the north of the country, or the Roztocze National Park and the Beskidy Mountains in the south. Bikers are also encouraged to explore the historical trails of the Cracow-Częstochowa Limestone Region and visit the Mazuria Lake District, the Warmia region or Silesia. Yet another option is cycling along the Baltic coast. In a word, go most anywhere you want, but take your bike with you.

Biking close to Warsaw
Warsaw's suburbs are a paradise for cyclists with hundreds of kilometers of attractive bike trails leading through the verdant Kampinoska Forest just to the northwest of Warsaw and along the scenic banks of the Vistula River. The trails near Warsaw are good for both mountain and trekking bikes, and are largely designated for longer, one-day outings. You can travel 40-60 km on average, but the longest trails may be up to 120 km. Most of them are on an easy terrain-along local surfaced roads, hard-packed roads and paths.

Just a few kilometers off the north-western border of Warsaw is the Kampinoski National Park, the largest protected area in Poland. The park encompasses wide stretches of the Kampinoska Forest offering more than 200 km of marked bicycle trails. One way to start the trip is to get by car to a town near Warsaw: Dąbrowa Leśna, Izabelin, Truskaw or Zaborów. The park has many parking lots and campsites located nearby, equipped with shelters, tables and benches.

The bicycle trails take you through diversified scenery: the virgin forest with wind-felled trees in Sieraków, and the contrasting areas of dunes and swamps at Karpaty and Pożary. With luck, you may even encounter a wild animal such as the moose-the symbol of the Kampinoski National Park.

Another attraction of the national park is its range of historical monuments. These include World War II national remembrance sites, a 1863 November Uprising insurgents' grave in Kampinos, and a cemetery in Palmiry commemorating the mass executions of people held at the Pawiak prison in 1940-41 by the Nazi occupiers of Poland in World War II.

One route through the Kampinoska Forest runs from Warsaw to Zaborów Leśny along what is called the blue trail. You can then take the green trail to Palmiry, and the black trail from Palmiry to Janówek. All the while, you will be traveling through beautiful forest. At Janówek, take the red trail near a cemetery to the village of Roztoka, and from there head to the Karpaty nature reserve and then to the 1863 uprising monument. Then head south along the blue trail to the village of Granica to see the interesting Kampinoski National Park museum, along with an ethnographic park and a nature trail. The Granica nature reserve is the oldest reserve in the Kampinoska Forest. The trail will take you to the village of Kampinos and its 18th-century Baroque church. From Kampinos you can pedal along an asphalt road to the town of Leszno. From there, the trip can be extended to Błonie. Along the way, in Rokitno, you can see a beautiful church with a presbytery, an old cemetery and village buildings. You can also start the trip in Granica, where you can park your car close to the nature reserve. In the vicinity, you will find the nature reserves of Pożary, Nart, Zamczysko and Karpaty.

Those living in the northern part of Warsaw may find it easier to make a trip to Lake Zegrzyńskie, a good destination for people wishing to combine cycling with water sports. It is best to start the trip in Warsaw's Żoliborz district. From the bicycle trail along the Vistula boulevard, head across Grota-Roweckiego Bridge. At the other side of the river, turn from the overpass into Modlińska Street and choose the road along the railway. The road runs along the scenic Kanał Żerański canal, far from vehicle traffic, and ends in Nieporęt.

Meanwhile, the Kabacki Forest offers great cycling opportunities to residents of Warsaw's southern districts. One possibility is to travel along the whole length of a nature reserve in the Ursynów district. During a cycling trip to this part of Warsaw you can see the historical Wilanów palace and park complex, the Ursyn Niemcewicz Palace, now used by the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, and the Natolin palace and park complex, currently occupied by the College of Europe.

You can also go on a trip to the Mazovian Scenic Park from Warsaw's Wawer district.

A longer route-one that can be spread over two days-runs from Warsaw via Otrębusy, Chojnowski Scenic Park, Gassy and Wyspy Świderskie back to Warsaw. During the trip you will have an opportunity to see attractive areas to the southwest and south of the city and visit a vehicle museum in Otrębusy. Near the village of Gassy the route runs along the Vistula embankment to the Wyspy Świderskie nature reserve, which looks like a sand desert.

Many interesting landmarks and cultural heritage sites can be seen in Mazovia if you go on a longer trip including a visit to Nieborów Palace, the Arkadia landscape garden, the town of Żelazowa Wola, the birthplace of 19th-century composer Frederic Chopin, and a folk museum in Sromów. You can start your trip in Płock, then go to Gąbin and Maurzyce, where there is an open-air ethnographic museum, and then head to Łowicz, Arkadia and Nieborów. It is a good idea to spend the night in Niepokalanów, for example in the local Pilgrim's House, and take the opportunity to visit the local monastery complex. On the following day, you can see Żelazowa Wola and return to Płock via Sochaczew, Młodzieszyn, Iłów, Słubice and Dobrzyków.

Pedaling across Europe
A growing number of Poles are deciding on longer cycling trips abroad. These include the most adventurous travels across Africa, the steppes of Asia, or the Andes. The most popular are cycling expeditions in Europe in places such as the Alps, Dolomites, and Norwegian fjords.

Specialist tourist agencies, such as Cyklotramp and Eagle, offer such vacations. Cyklotramp (www.cyklotramp.com) has operated in Poland for several years now, organizing trips to various parts of Europe all year around. These trips usually last a week or two and involve routes that differ in difficulty-from relatively easy rides around the Istria Peninsula in Croatia, the Romanian region of Transylvania, and along the "wine trail" in Alsace to cycling trips to Lapland, southern Norway and even more challenging tours of the Alps and around Mont Blanc.

"Over the past few years, we have seen a 50-percent increase in the number of people interested in such trips every year," says Maciej Gościniak, founder and head of Cyklotramp. "Surprisingly enough, people of every age are ready to take up difficult cycling challenges, which encourages us to come up with new ideas."

Cycling vacations in Austria have become particularly popular. The country offers a wide range of routes and trips-from difficult Alpine expeditions, including trips across the Hohe Tauern mountain range, trips along the Danube valley, explorations of Lower Austria and Carinthia, to trips in the vicinity of Vienna and along the "Mozart Route." Another interesting option for cycling enthusiasts is a trip along the Mur River, regarded as Austria's most varied cycling route. It starts on the fringes of the Hohe Tauern National Park, Europe's largest national park, and leads to Styria, a land of hot springs and wine. Equally attractive is a picturesque route along the Inn river. It begins at the Maloja Pass, Switzerland, and the snow-capped peaks surrounding the Engadin valley, and leads through the area's rocky mountains, plateaux, swamps and lake districts. Many people choose a longer route along the Danube, one of the most popular cycling routes in Europe. It runs from Passau, Germany, to Hainburg on the Austrian-Slovak border, alternately along the east and west banks of the river.

Agnieszka Domańska
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