If you're talking countries there are not that many places left in the world where bmx tours haven't left marks, but Poland is one of them. Only recently invited into the EU, it's a country still heavily influenced by previous communist ideology and the architecture is becoming an incredible mix of both stereotypical East and West.
I don't want to give the false impression, or hang on stereotypes but East Europe remains a through route to much criminal activity. But such images are built on the minority (as ever) because as we learnt, the country is incredibly rich in culture, really genuine people who'll do anything to help and spots that have never been seen outside it's previously difficult borders.
Since the worlds was going to descend on Prague this time around, it provided the perfect already pretty far east starting point and we left directly after the contest for a trip that would definitely contrast the previous weeks bike flailing.
We'd already experienced something of what was to come just before the Worlds as we called on Andy Menz at his new project. Just before the Czech border, an incredible farm in which he, Flado and the locals are building a mini ramp and flatland area. Situated in a place where whatever shit you might be blowing up, you'd only disturb the local wildlife. I guarantee that this inspired living would get you over town living. We chilled here before getting a grilling (just as we'd done the night before) from the border police for not having the right papers. Great, we hadn't even trashed the van yet and we were already getting a verbal from the rental firm and the border straight jackets. But then if you got handed 9 passports from four countries, I guess you'd also want to give it more than the once over.
Was a bit weird though, got checked and sorted the German side, then drove ten meters and had the same thing all over again from the Czech guys....it did have me wondering what all the Eu stuff is actually about then.
Whatever, contest week over I woke everyone up to get going. Prague was pretty sound, but I was already over tourist trap the centre has become and was more into moving on.
We all figured that the Polish border would still be harder and being the
American on board, Lilly was taking the cavity search flack as best he could as we approached. But as we got waved through, no one could believe it and Lilly was happy cause he got his pass stamped.
Opole was the first stop. This was some small town about 400km from Prague (leaving Prague was a story itself), and the locals had told us about a park and it looked like the street was up there. The drive was hard, narrow roads that looked more like we'd got lost and only glimpses of signposts that made sense it was a fucking joy to get there. Someone was going to meet us there but the groupo couldn't wait and wanted to eat so I hung around. It was here that I realized what a tour visiting Poland meant to the riders here, I was greeted by a 20 plus contingent of riders who'd all come from the skatepark to greet us. Incredible feeling. The locals and the guy who'd help sort a load of stuff out (Busek) really made us feel welcome. We rode the park that night until the borrowed lights went out, then Kodi took us out for a session at another kind of establishment.
It was the same in the Next town, Wroclaw....pronounced more like
Veraslav...but then I wouldn't take my word for it. Here a friend of Kuba, Lukasz sorted us out with a place for everyone to ....check their email, yeah and all of his floor space. Thanks. We rode here for the day, although after blowing the cobwebs from his ride on a few virgin rails Max spent the rest of the day I) missing the pedals on a feeble to whip ii) throwing his bike like a fool iii) repairing his bike in a packed polish diner to the onlooking freaked out locals. Language problems meant that the vegans, despite already ordering were still going hungry. But not hungry for spots as the town was riddled.
Driving through the night to the next tucked away destination meant
following a guy who drove like it was his last day on earth. the roads in
Poland are all single lane, fast as you want, heavy-goods ridden and to be honest just down right fucking lethal. Now imagine following someone who almost wantonly enjoyed the path of oncoming trucks at 160km on roads that anywhere else would be labeled 'danger of death'. I was glad I'd brought spare kegs, even though I was lucky enough not to need them - as was the cat whose life Timo somehow saved for the truck behind us.
Lodz, but don't even try to say it as it looks cause no one will understand what you mean. Here, in the few hours I'd used to shower, some twat tried to rob the van. Got in, cut the steering lock I had and got as far as trying to hotwire it and then thankfully gave up and just took a few smaller things. Lucky call, all the bikes were in there, but piled so I think they couldn't be bothered or intended coming back when I came out at 3am to sleep there. After sitting with the Polish CID for a few hours, with questions like 'Are you sure you rented this van?' and a lot of help from Andrzej and Stefan I
was ready for a sleepless breakfast and another few hours on the phone trying to get a mechanic from Mercedes to re-configure the vans computer thing.
Thankfully Timo and I managed to play with the electrics a bit and with what could also be described as luck, the van started. It was all we needed, cause the bill alone from having a guy come out to a village in the middle of no mans land would have meant us eating used paper cups for six months.
The spots here began with the largest curved wallride in Europe. I shit you not, this thing could eat your entire family and not even notice. then some weird huge flatbank hip and the ditch ended another day. Heavy day but we still had to keep moving and wanted to get to Warsaw as soon as possible cause we knew that there'd be enough there to amaze us.
Another late arrival into what was more like a Hitler youth overnight
training camp than a hostel. 12pm curfew, out by 10, closed between 10-4, no smoking, eating, shitting or looking out of the windows into the west. Too heavy handed for us and we moved the next morning, after what was definitely too short a night for some and a rough one for Timo who because of a beds shortage and concern about the van slept in there. He was woken every couple of hours by the security floodlights coming on.
Warsaw...this place is the bollocks. Weird mix of West and old East. A massive sprawling metropolis where the military can still stop you from lying down in public places and massive buildings exist that the locals hate cause they were 'presents' from the old Russia. The bmx scene here was well connected, knew their shit and wanted to ride. We were tired and needed a break - sorry guys. Marcin from KingKong showed us a take on the cities spots...and how...the place blew a few, if not all away.
All too soon we decided to move on, We'd only stayed two nights but needed to get the van sorted and staying another night would have meant another early wake up call and most were through....on the Poznan. Here was the home town of our friend Andrzej, he'd been with us for almost the entire tour and also sorted us out in Poznan. This place and I think Krakow are on the list for the oldest towns in Poland. It was a few hours drive, this time at a more relaxed pace from Warsaw and after being greeted by some guy with a
gun at one of the petrol stations (think that they didn't accept credit card payments) it was another relief to arrive there.
Between Stanislaw and Andrzej we had someplace to sleep and....party....they have some pretty crazy Polish traditions when it comes to partying here......
Timo again got into some freaky and pretty scary situations in the bars that we visited, we rode some of the best spots of the trip and the locals really looked after us. The father of Andrzej sorted the van out (big thanks for that!) and his mother even kindly invited us to share her birthday cake on the journey back to Germany. Poznan definitely had some stuff that amazed us spot wise. They even had a 'Greenway' so everyone could eat in style.
Setting off back to Germany, and getting over the border relieved a few but Poland was definitely a place that will be well remembered. The tour continued on to Berlin, partly cause Lilly had never been there (not that he got to see much in the end) and also to hook up with Wicke. Lilly had a few too many on-route, and was pretty tired...so when we arrived, he was sleeping and got some shit and half the contents of the van on him. Jens at Mellowpark (where the Rebeljam will be held) also sorted us out (nice one!) big again...the guys (and girls) there are real sound. Wicke popped a move or two on 'his' ramps and we made for the sun street to see some street and to meet old ladies who grassed us up to the police so we ended up scrubbing tire marks off walls....well, trying anyways. It pissed it down, which meant home time. One more Falafel for the road, cause it was gonna be a long drive home.
Can I add some thanks in here...
Props to Andy Menz, Flado, Busek, Kuba, Lukasz, Stanislaw(aka Laurence), Mat, Arek, Stefan, Karol M, filip/bunnyhop and our friends Marcin(KingKong) and Andrzej! Also a big thanks to Kay Clauberg who scarily entrusted part of his photo technology bag to me, I only wish he'd shown me how to use it.
All photos and story by Rob Harrison