Over six months in 2018, the Lower Lonsdale resident biked through 26 countries to 24 capitals in Europe.
This past December, Laszkiewicz received a welcome surprise in the mail when Guinness World Records certified he’d set the record for the most consecutive capital cities visited by bicycle.
“I was pretty happy,” says Laszkiewicz. “I love travelling.”
Starting from Gibraltar, at the foot of Spain, in March 2018 and ending in Rome six months later, Laszkiewicz biked through much of Central Europe and as far north as Denmark before heading south, crossing through his native Poland, and eventually landing back in Italy.
“I had to keep all the receipts, I had to keep a log book, I had to have a witness statement. They had lots of forms,” Laszkiewicz says of becoming the first record holder in what is a new category for Guinness. “I’m outdoorsy … but no, I didn’t have any experience of that much magnitude.”
On the road
What Laszkiewicz did have was a goal and support in the early stages of his ride. His goal was to check off another item on his bucket list with plans to travel Europe by bike.
It was his younger son’s idea to submit his itinerary to the folks at Guinness since Laszkiewicz was planning to cycle to all those capital cities anyway, he notes.
Guinness said he’d need to cycle to at least 20 capitals and could only stay in each city for a set time to qualify for the record, adds Laszkiewicz.
He was joined on his European adventure at first by his girlfriend and by several friends and well-wishers along the way. Laszkiewicz was cycling solo by Madrid. And that’s when the trip took on another dimension, he notes.
“From that point on I was on my own. When you’re on your own, you’re forced to talk to people, and meet people, and sometimes you depend on them. They hosted me in their houses, they allowed me to pitch the tents in their gardens, they fed me, we got drinks together,” he says. “The people were incredible, more or less, all over Europe. I met so many strangers.”
He recalls sitting at the kitchen table of an older couple in Belgium who hosted him along his route. They mostly communicated using online translation tools, which was beautiful to be a part of, he notes.
At 22, Laszkiewicz emigrated from Poland to give his young family a better life. He landed in Winnipeg in 1986 and eventually settled in the Lower Mainland. He’s been a North Shore resident since 2005.
“I had a two-year-old child and I couldn’t see myself living under the dictatorship there and a communist regime. Canada became my home,” he says.
There were bumps along the road on his journey to Canada. Upon leaving Poland, Laszkiewicz lived in a refugee camp in Italy for a year. He even wrote a memoir about it, 333 Days: Personal Memoirs from a Refugee Camp, which he published in 2012.
“It was not positive,” he says. “When you don’t have money and you rely on others, you hope for the best scenario.”
Although Laszkiewicz had returned to Europe many times since leaving as a young man, his record-setting bike trip also included another first: he revisited the site of the old refugee camp in the city of Latina, 60 kilometres south of Rome.
He recounts working for one family he had become close with while living in the camp, and during his 2018 journey he was interviewed on Italian television after reconnecting with the family.
“I always wanted to go revisit the refugee camp, which today is part of the local university – they have the department of economics in that place,” he says. “My ticker was going like crazy,”
While the world is full of hardships, from harsh refugee camps to a constant stream of bad news, Laszkiewicz says he found peace and solace revisiting the old place – and he learned a thing or two while biking Europe and setting his world record that he won’t soon forget, either.
“I think there’s a hope for this planet,” he says. “I met so many good souls who I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t done this trip or I hadn’t opened my life to them.”