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  • Poland Day 6 – Auschwitz and the Tatras

    Up way too early – woke up at 5 or so due to the guy one bed over felling entire forests. Underwater. Dozed until 6 and then got ready. Luckily breakfast was available much earlier than advertised so I got a quick bite before heading off.

    Once on the road the GPS said it was only an hour to Auschwitz instead of the two Google had said last night. Oh well, at least the roads were pretty clear.

    Auschwitz did not have as big an impact on me as Buchenwald had a few years earlier. Either I’ve become desensitised or the exhibitions in Buchenwald were more graphic. Auschwitz was mostly just the buildings and pictures, whereas in Buchenwald a lot of the old Nazi equipment was still on show. Terrible regardless.

    From there I wanted to see the other camp, Birkenau, only a couple of miles away, but some busybody parking attendant wouldn’t let me park in an unused corner of the staff carpark and told me to park in the commercial car park half a mile away or so despite a security guard having earlier told me it would be finev for me to park in that corner.

    So instead I rode around the camp on the bike and then headed to the mountains.

    Unfortunately I discovered that the south of Poland is very different to the north, or indeed most places.  Instead of having villages consisting of a cluster of houses with a couple of streets they just build the houses along the main street. Cue villages which are tends of miles long and hence a mostly unenjoyable ride as it was all at 50kmh.

    I did take a wrong turn at one point and ended up in Slovakia for a few miles.  The road just near the border was awesome as it went up into the mountains and there were no houses. Yayy.


  • Poland Day 5 – Warsaw to Krakow

    Instead of the originally planned route, which was mostly highway, I took the 79 all the way. This meant quite a detour but I had no other plans for the day.

    The road was well paved but at times very frustrating. The first 20km or so out of Warsaw was extremely slow moving traffic. Then there were some very long stretches at only 50kmh. But still better than highway.

    Later in the day I got to some very nice open stretches with little traffic and even some small hills and corners.  Moments like those are worth all the other bits.

    For lunch I stopped at a service station in the middle of nowhere which had a nice looking restaurant next to it. They had strawberry-filed peroggi! So I called them lunch with a cup of coffee.

    Later in the afternoon thunderstorms abounded. I managed to avoid them all, sometimes by minutes as the last rain fell and the roads were soaked. But about 20km from Krakow I slowly but surely entered a downpour which persisted on and off until I parked next to Wawell castle. Combined with some roadworks the bike now looks like I’ve been plowing fields with it. Need to find some bikini girls to wash it now! Lol.

    In Krakow I soon found a Tourist Info, but this time without riding into the main square. Just as well, plenty of cops about. I booked into Momotown Hostel which was easy enough to find. A nice hot shower later and I was ready for dinner. The weather wasn’t..  so I had a good conversation with a chap called Dave until the weather cleared as I hadn’t thought to bring bad weather clothes for walking around.

    I had been told about a herring bar so resolved to try and find it. But the spot were it was so posed to be only had a closed up shop next to a Cabaret and a sex shop. Hmm. 2 young guys hit me up for some money for wine (at least they were honest about it!) while I was standing there a little aimlessly, which I refused. Nevertheless they said they knew of another herring bar just around the corner and walked me there. It turned out to be the smallest bar in Krakow (space for about half a dozen people), and a really neat place to boot.

    I invited Jacob and Piotr (the aforementioned winos) for a couple of vodkas while I ate (the vodka apparently being essential while eating the herring) and had a great chat with them for the next hour or so. Might catch up with them again tomorrow.

    But for now, and somewhat inebriated, I need bed as it’s an early start tomorrow.


  • Poland Day 4 – Warsaw

    Had a quick brekky at the hostel and then rushed off to make the free walking tour of Old Town.

    Our guide was called Bartosz, or Bart for short, and gave us an interesting 2 hours guided commentary around the sights, statues, and people who have populated the area for the last 600 years or so. The highlight for me was seeing Marie Curie’s birth house (I never knew she was originally polish) but I also liked the narrowest house (from the front only, to avoid taxes) and the story about Shit Hill.

    After the tour I had lunch (a very yummy steak tartare and polish sausage in mustard sauce, washed down by a couple of beers) with Bart and a mate of his Blazej, and later on Blazej’s girlfriend joined us too.

    From there I headed to the tallest building in Poland, the “Palace of Culture and Science”. It was presented as a gift to the Polish by the Soviet people, but many consider it to be a sign of Soviet supremacy over their capital city. As such there is some controversy over it. Nevertheless I got a ticket to go up to the 30th floor which has the public viewing gallery. I picked a bad time and had to wait for at least a million school kids to go up on only 2 elevators but finally made it. Nice views from the top but not entirely sure it was with the wait.

    Having reached ground level again I walked to Łazienki Park, another 2 or 3 km away.  By now my feet were complaining bitterly, as the sandals I had with me on the trip were apparently not very suitable for much walking. So unfortunately I did not enjoy the park and palaces as much as I had been looking forward to, but still had a good slow wander around with a few pauses to take in the sights. I even got some pics of a peacock and red squirrels!

    To get back to my hostel I cheated and used a bus.. nice long hot shower and I’m rather contemplating skipping dinner and just going to bed.. Off to Krakow tomorrow!

    Oh, btw, the centre of town is quite civilised with plenty of free wifi around.


  • Poland Day 3 – Malbork to Warsaw

    Had a pretty good sleep but still didn’t get going until 9. I really don’t like mornings!  Packed the bike and took a photo of my hosts before heading off.

    The roads today were all good to excellent with only a short section fair.  All by western standards.  In fact,  a lot of the roads today beat the British ones hands down!

    Poland also seems to be a train spotters paradise.  On the first day I saw an electric locomotive from the 50’s pulling a freight train.  Last night there was a supermodern high speed express train similar to the shinkansen in Japan crossing the bridge in Malbork, and this afternoon there was an ancient diesel engine pulling freight cars alongside the highway. I really wish I could take photo dumps of my brain!

    The first stretch was lovely winding road through mostly rape-seed fields before I turned onto a highway.  I had breakfast at a highway services together with the first fuel stop not long after. I was planning to leave the highway in 60km anyway but when it turned into a massive building site and one lane road with lots of traffic I was convinced.

    I nearly regretted it as the town I turned off at had cobbled streets but the road out of town was great tarmac with beautiful countryside and forests. Unfortunately it was also mostly straight with only a few corners here and there but overall great.

    I ended up detouring through the centre of ??? Instead of bypassing it and it was well worth it although I then got lost for a bit on tiny tracks through the countryside until I found the main road again. The 62 going to Warsaw is straight and we’ll paved but has loads of traffic so I didn’t enjoy it much.

    Just before getting into Warsaw prophet I spotted a hardware site while stopped at a red light.  A quick bit of lane shuffling got me to the driveway and while they had nothing to fix my saddlebags which were all but falling off by now they happened to be next to a bike mechanics who were awesome.  A and b spent an hour helping me adjust the clamps I had bought in Germany a few days earlier,  even welding up an open tang.  No charge.  Really absolutely fantastic guys so if you ever need to get anything motorbike engaged sorted while near Warsaw do look them up!

    From there I headed into Warsaw and soon found the old town but no tourist info. A guy on the street told me about a hostel inside the old town itself and said I should just ride in – nobody would mind with such a special bike.  And indeed most people gave a thumbs up as I parked in the market place.  The hostel was full up abs the adjustment they rented was only available one night so I headed to another hostel which I had gotten from the tourist info place on the marketplace.

    They put me up in a 4-bed dorm and even had secure parking for my bike. After logging the luggage up 4 flights I had the first proper hot shower  in days! Bliss! Then a quick wander into town to get some food (peroggi, sour dough soup, and a beer. Yum!).
    Shouldn’t have had dessert – hit apple cake and a mug of hot fruit compote.  Food coma!

    In town were hundreds of online skaters getting ready for a night skate.  Apparently it happens every 2 weeks or so and is supported by ambulance and police. Fantastic.  I also found rental bikes – first 20 mins free then 1zt (20p) for half an hour, and just use your mobile number to register.  The Boris Bikes in London have a lot to live up to!

    Off to bed now ready for a full day of sight-setting tomorrow.  What luxury not to have to pack up at 9 to get going again!


  • SREU Star Party

    Up early for a 6:30 departure.  Had a pretty good run down to Folkestone, and still made my scheduled train despite stopping to top up the tank.Chatted to a Harley rider on his way to Karlsruhe for his sons wedding anniversary.  Said the Route 43 in France is very nice. 

    Made a brief stop just after Antwerpen in a village for petrol.as I was getting pretty low on fuel and didn’t know how far to the next highway services. 30 miles earlier there was a rather nice highway services but I saw it too late to pull off. Tried to find lunch in the village as well but the only place which looked to be open didn’t sell food, only beer. Oh well, lliquid lunch.From there it was another 200km or so to the Ponykamp, the last bit of which I did on country roads as I was sick of highways by then. After another fuel stop in Balkbrugg I quickly found the Ponykamp and the WSFH welcomed me to the party.

    While setting up camp Robert (rally organiser) brought me a big rissole in a bun – fantastic chap!  First food since the Chunnel. Next tent over were a couple of germans, Micha(!) and Bernd, who I had a good chat to, and ended up spending most of the evening in their company with their mates.

    Dinner was in the big hall, afterwards party in the smaller barn with a live band of high-school students.  Pretty good going for a couple of kids, blasting out a believable repertoire of the classic rock songs.  Rounded out the night with another hour or so at the fire. Had a fanstastic day and met a great bunch of people.


  • Upgrading my Samsung Note II (N7100) to Android 4.4 “KitKat”

    A friend posted to let me know that Android 4.4 “KitKat” had just been released for the N7100.

    Install:

    So I backed up all of my data on the phone (using a combination of Titanium Backup, SMS Backup+, and LifeSaver), and downloaded and flashed the firmware the new firmware using Odin.

    Lo and behold, a (very slow) reboot later, pretty much everything worked.  All my apps and settings are still there, which is nice.

    Tweaks:

    * Reinstall a custom recovery (TWRP)

    * Re-rooted

    * Deleted startup sound (/system/media/audio/ui/PowerOn.ogg)

    Issues:

    ADWLauncherEx is quite laggy; so perhaps it needs updating for the latest Android. For now I’m using the updated TouchWiz (the Samsung launcher), but it’s still limited to a ridiculous 4×4 icons per screen.  Ridiculous, at least, on the Note 2 which has a very nice large display; might make more sense on a smaller phone. Should be configurable though.

    Impressions:

    None yet, really.  Will need to use it for a few days to see whether there’s any real differences..  So far most of the advertised differences aren’t visible, such as the camera button on lock screen, nor does it feel significantly faster than before.


  • Android VOIP clients

    For years I’ve used CSipSimple but lately it stopped working properly on my Note 2 after the last system update.

    Looking around I found Zoiper, another free client,  which seems to work.

    I’ll update this post as and when I try out other clients.

    For now:

    CSipSimple
    Integrates well with Android dialler. Many  calls, usually good quality. Worked very well up to Android 4.3, since then dodgy. Tried the nightly builds but not much better.  Free and no ads. Worked with DrayTel.

    Zoiper
    No dialler integration but can read address book.  2 calls so far,  one great quality the other shoddy. Free and no ads. Works with DrayTel.