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Poland 2010

The 'Oh Dear never mind' Tour

Our plan was to fly out to Kraków in Poland and then tour through the Tartra mountains and then on to the Czech Republic with a flight back from Prague. Unfortunately it didn't work out that way and we had to cut it short!

27.07.10 - Home to Kraków

Our taxi to the airport arrived in good time and there were no delays on the M11 so we arrived at Stansted on time. We had prepackage our Bikes in their CTC plastic bags before we left home so we didn't have the hassle of packing them up in the terminal concourse. In didn't take too long to get our luggage checked in to the Air Berlin check-in and the bikes into the oversize counter. Unfortunately they informed us that the flight might be delayed, as there had been a problem at Dusseldorf with the X-ray machines malfunctioning. Well we delayed by 40 minutes and when we got to Düsseldorf they told us to hurry across to try and catch our connecting flight to Kraków. Well we ran at full pelt but it was in the domestic terminal, which was quite away, and when we did get there we were too late.

I must admit Air Berlin were very good they did arrange for us to get another onward flight, however it was via Frankfurt and then on to Kraków. Unfortunately it did involve a 4-hour stop over at Frankfurt airport but they did provide us with some meal tickets.

We eventually we touched down at Kraków in the pouring rain just after 6.30pm only 6 hours later than if we hadn't been delayed leaving Stansted. It took us about an hour to get the bikes unpacked and ready for cycling. We managed to do this in a quiet corner of the terminal concourse, which was fortunate as it was absolutely tanking it down with rain outside! In complete waterproofs we set off for the campsite, well we hadn't seen rain like it for a while. When people describe rain as coming down like 'Stair rods' that was what it was like, you could feel it hitting you hard and it rattled anything solid. I had fortunately worked out with the help of the GPS a back route from the airport to our campsite, which was relatively traffic free and fortunately took us past a small supermarket. It was nice at that point just to get out of the rain for a while. The last part was up over a small hill and it felt like we were cycling up a river rather than a road as there was so much water coming down it. It was just getting dusk as we got to the campsite and the guy on the gate directed us to a flat area higher up to the right where there were a few other tents. The lower field to the right was well flooded!
There was little grass on the area as it was under some trees, but at least it was reasonably well drained if a little muddy. It didn't take us long to get the tent up and organized, we were just grateful to get there it had been a longer day than we had expected.

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28. 07.10 - Kraków

It was still raining when we woke but nothing like as heavy as it had ben the day before. By mid morning it was clearing up and it was looking like classic post low showers so donning waterproofs we headed into Kraków to find some gas for the stove and a post office to post our bike bags on to the hotel in Prague. We found our way into the city using a combination of roads and cycle paths, although I don't think it was the most direct route. Kraków has a tram system, which connects the suburbs to the main centre so you have to be aware of these at junctions. The tram system then goes around the old part of the city, which still has parts of its city wall intact with some interesting gates. Once inside the old city the roads are generally cobbled and lead to the main square the Rynek G?ówny. It has some impressive buildings with the cloth market in the centre but with the bad weather the square was almost deserted. We found an information place and found out where the post office was and an outdoor shop where we could get some gas. With these things done we had a cycle around the old city before heading back along the cycle path alongside the river Vistula that runs through Kraków. The river was incredibly high from all that rain yesterday and it was almost over the banks in some places. It was a good move following the river as we found a cycle paths that was a quicker rout back to our campsite.

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29.07.10 - Kraków

Well what a difference a day can make. We woke to clear blue skies and warm sunshine bursting through the trees above the tent. We decided that rather than push on south to the Tartra mountains we would have another look around Kraków, as it is one Poland's loveliest cities and there were several things we didn't see yesterday. We were glad we did as the city seemed like a completely different place and so much more alive after the dismal day yesterday. All the café in the market square had their chairs and tables outside and the horse and carriages were there to take the tourists on tours of the city. After a good look around the Rynek G?ówny the market square, we headed for the restored Wawel Castle and Cathedral that dominate the skyline of Kraków. From thee we cycled into the suburbs of Lipowa to have a look at Oskar Schindler's factory museum but unfortunately in was closed by the time we got there.

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30.07.10 - Kraków

Our plan was to leave Kraków and head south towards the Tartra Mountains. As we were getting ready to pack up the tent Frank slipped on the mud trying to get out of the tent in a hurry. We are not sure what she did but suddenly there was an awful pain in her back and she could hardly walk. I could tell that things weren't good from the expression on Frank's face. I ran around to the campsite reception and managed to get them to ring for a Taxi to take us to a hospital, in hindsight it might have been better to have asked for an ambulance, although Frank was in a lot of pain it didn't seem life threatening. The taxi guy took us to the nearest hospital, the receptionist unfortunately didn't speak any English and just pointed us to a door, which I knocked on, after about 5mins it opened slightly, and a rather fierce woman put her head out. I asked her if she spoke English she just shouted 'No speak English' and slammed the door shut! Fortunately for us there was another guy waiting it looked like he had cut his thumb badly, he spoke some English and said he would be going in next and not to worry he would ask for an English-speaking doctor for us. It was really kind of him as we weren't sure what we could do. The guy was soon summoned in by the rather fierce nurse and came out about 20 minutes later with a huge white bandage on his thumb and he told us he had ask for someone to see us. We thanked him and sure enough a doctor appeared at the door and asked us in English to come through. He examined Frank and sent her for an X-ray. It was amazingly quick an orderly took Frank and myself straight around to the X-ray department were Frank was X-rayed immediately and we were quickly sent back to the Doctor who having looked at the X-ray pronounced that Frank had a slight prolapse of one of the discs in her lower back. He said that she should not carry on with our cycle tour but should get back to the UK for medical treatment within the next 10 days and gave us a prescription for something to ease the pain.

Fortunately there was a pharmacy just across the road from the hospital so I managed to get the painkillers quite quickly. I had asked the Taxi driver for his card so I rang him to get us back to the campsite. When we got back there was no way Frank was going back in the tent so I asked the lassie at the campsite reception if they had any accommodation and fortunately they had a twin bedded room that was free for the next few days. I got Frank settled in and then went back down to the tent to pack it up and get all our kit back up to the room. Obviously as the doctor said there was no way that we were going to carry on so I rang the travel insurance company to sort out Frank's repatriation.

31.07.10 - Kraków

We spent a very frustrating day on the phone to trying to get AXA to repatriate Frank. Most of the AXA staff hadn't a clue what cycle touring was and couldn't get their heads around the fact that we had flown into Kraków and were returning via Prague in 5 weeks time. They couldn't do anything until they had a copy of the Polish doctors report and asked if we could fax it to them. I asked at the campsite reception if they could fax it for us, the campsite owner made up some excuse about their fax not being able to fax numbers out of Poland, I did say I would pay for the call but she was adamant that it wasn't possible! The lassie who worked for her was a lot more helpful when the owner had gone said she could possibly copy it on the multifunction printer scanner in their office and then e-mail it. As I didn't know AXA's e-mail address I asked her to e-mail it to me as I could pick up e-mails on my smartphone. She then found out that she couldn't work out how to do it as it was a new machine. I did offer to help her but she said the owner might not like that (I got the impression that the owner was a bit of a moody tyrant and as the lassie was obviously on a summer job she didn't want to upset her) she said that her friend that helped out in the evening would know how and that she would do it then.

About an hour later there was a knock on the door and it was the lassie from the reception she had worked out how to do it and wanted me to check to see that it had worked. I quickly checked my e-mail and it had indeed come through so I thanked her profusely. So it was yet another phone call to AXA to get their e-mail address and then get the report e-mailed off to them. Frank was still in a lot of pain but at least the painkillers were taking the edge of it and the bed was a bit more comfortable than she would have been in the tent. There was nothing we could do but wait for AXA.

01.08.10 - Kraków

As I was getting a little 'stir crazy' sitting waiting for AXA to get their act as they reckoned they were now waiting for the Polish doctors report to be translated. I was getting so frustrated with AXA you could never speak to the same person twice so we spent ages explaining our situation again and again. They weren't also very well trained in knowing their policies as one woman told me at one point that they would repatriate my wife but not me! I had to get her to put me through to a supervisor in the end to clarify that I would indeed be repatriated.

Frank suggested that I should get out and get some fresh air. It was another scorchingly hot day but armed with several water bottles I went out on the bike and did some caching in the local area. It was actually a good idea as I relaxed a bit and found most of the caches easily although I gave up on a multi-cache which was based on information that had to be gathered from tomb stones in a Polish graveyard, I'm afraid my Polish wasn't quite up to it!

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02.08.10 - Kraków

Spent most of the day on the phone trying to sort out this mess. We didn't seem to be getting any where with AXA as they wouldn't do anything about repatriating Frank until they got the medical questionnaire form from our GP and the secretary at our local surgery told us that could take 10 - 14 days to get processed by a doctor. We just couldn't believe this as we had filled in a medical questionnaire when we took out our insurance. We decided that if we could get AXA to agree to pay for our flights home we would arrange them ourselves. After a lot of wrangling on the phone I managed to get someone at AXA to say on the phone that they would reimburse us the cost of the flights home under our insurance claim. It was a good thing we did as we managed to get us both on an Air Berlin flight on Thursday, if we had left it any longer the next flight out would have been next Tuesday!

03.08.10 - Kraków

I spent most of the day chasing around Kraków looking for bike boxes as we had sent our CTC bags on to Prague. I must have been to every bike shop in town, several had boxes but they were for MTB's and would have been too small for our tourers. I was beginning to think that we might not be in luck but one shop owner that I visited shop suggested I try a particular street out of town in the suburbs, as there were 3 bike shops along. It was a bit of a trek and I had no luck at the first one but at the second one the owner didn't speak any English but he found his young mechanic who spoke good English. He said I was in luck as the lorry that usually came to take their rubbish away hadn't come that week and he found me two large boxes that would easily fit our tourers. Well I was in luck but I wasn't sure how I was going to cycle back all the way to our campsite which was in the suburbs on the complete opposite side of the city with two great big bike boxes. My only solution was to try and get a large taxi that could carry me the bike boxes and my bike back to the campsite. I asked the young lad if he had a number for a taxi firm that might have a taxi big enough to get me back to the campsite. The bike shop owner was brilliant and had one arranged and it would be here in 15mins. I offered to pay for the call but he wouldn't hear of it.

Well the taxi arrived within 10mins, it was a large people carrier and we easily got my bike and the boxes in it. The Taxi driver fortunately spoke reasonably good English so I asked him if it was possible to stop at a shop to buy some tape. He didn't understand the word 'tape' but it is amazing how a bit of sign language works as I mimicked taping up the box in the back, he soon understood and stopped at friends business and produced a roll of brown packing tape! Well I was then treated to some amazing Polish driving where we spent a t lot of the time on the wrong side of the road and cheerfully said to me "I may be a mad driver but I'm not dangerous"! We did get back to the campsite and his driving couldn't have been that bad as I booked him to take us to the airport on Thursday!

04.08.10 - Kraków

In the morning I went back into Kraków to get some more tape as Frank was convinced that one small roll would not be enough to seal up the two boxes. It was unbelievably difficult to find a shop that sold it. If you had gone to a Post Office or a Newsagent in the UK it would be a synch but not in Poland. I eventually had to ask at the tourist information place and they weren't sure but eventually suggested a place just outside the main city walls. Fortunately they had got it right although the guy behind the counter didn't speak any English so it was the good old mime of taping up a box trick that did the trick and he produced some rolls of 2" wide clear tape so I bought 3. On returning to the campsite I went about dismantling the bikes to get them into the bike boxes. All was going well until I came to undoing the pedals on Frank's bike. We had sent on our pedal spanner with our bike bags to the hotel in Prague. The Shimano pedals did have an Allen key socket but try as I could I couldn't shift one of them with the short Allen key that I had. I decide to cycle into Kraków to try and buy another, well I tried every bike shop that I had been to yesterday on my search for bike boxes to no avail. Most of them had their own to repair bikes but they wouldn't sell them. I even tried the local tool shops as basically it is a 15mm spanner but that is an unusual size and again no luck. I gave up as it was getting late and returned to the campsite. Not one for giving up I gave it some more thought all I needed was a bit more leverage and then realized that the handle of the chain cracker was hollow by slipping it over the Allen it just gave me enough leverage and with a swift wallop with a large lump of 3 x 2 that was sitting under the outside stairs that led up to our rooms I had it loose, panic over!

It is amazing just how much time it takes to box up bikes and how inventive you have to be. To prevent the front chain sets from getting damaged I made covers from some chipboard (which I managed to blag from the campsite owner) held together with parcel tape and cable ties. We bought a very cheap sleeping mat from the campsite shop that we cut up for padding. Some of the carrying holes where broken so I reinforced these with strips of chipboard held to the cardboard with cable ties. I even reinforced the dropouts with pieces of Chipboard held in place with parcel tape, wasn't I glad that I had bought 3 rolls of tape.

05.08.10 - Kraków to Home

Well we were up early and I settled up with the campsite owner in good time before Marek the taxi driver arrived to take us to the airport. He may have been a bit of a mad driver but he was great when we got to the airport, he told us to stay put and went off to the terminal building. He soon came back with a trolley and a lady pushing a wheel chair and then insisted on loading up the trolley with our bikes and luggage and then pushing it to the terminal. He had arranged for the lady to look after us and get us checked in for our flight. I must admit it we couldn't fault the staff at Kraków airport they were brilliant. In fact so were the Air Berlin and Dusseldorf airport staffs, there was always someone there to wheel Frank on the plane transfers. Boy was Frank relieved to get home!

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The Insurance claim

When we got home we put in our travel claim in to AXA insurance for the cost of our return flights from Kraków, the nonrefundable flights from Prague to Stansted and the additional accommodation costs incurred. Well I'm not joking it took us 6 months to get our money back, every time we inquired they made up some excuse usually it was about waiting for the Polish Doctors report to be translated or they have been too busy dealing with all the flooding claims. They wouldn't answer e-mails, they said someone would ring me back but they never did. Eventually we did manage to get a payment out of them and that was only for the return flights from Kraków. When I queried why we hadn't been reimbursed for the missed flights they said that that we hadn't claimed for it, I assured them we had and that it was added as an additional letter, but obviously they seem to have lost that! Fortunately I had kept copies so e-mailed these off and then I was told that we couldn't be compensated for both sets of flights. Even when I quoted him what was written in the policy he still wouldn't have it saying 'it doesn't work like that Sir'.

To cut a long story short I eventually by asking to speak to his immediate boss and then their immediate bosses further up the line and much hassle later managed to get someone who agreed that I was in fact correct and we did get all the monies back that we had claimed for according to the policy that we had taken out. He did grudgingly agree that our claim should have only have taken a week to process and not 6 months, we never got a letter of apology!

 

The End