B is for Bełchatów

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Bełchatów is an ordinary town, on the flat plains of Central Poland- 50km south of Łódź and 160km from Warsaw.  It has a football team, GKS Bełchatów, and a volleyball team (the national passion), Skra  Bełchatów.  There is no local rail link, so buses are the main form of transport.  If you look in Wikipedia you cannot fail to see that it has the largest coal-fuelled thermal power station in Europe- a blot on the landscape but a huge source of employment locally.  Quite randomly, it is twinned with Alcobaca in Portugal.  How strange that I visited the monastery there, one rainy day a few years ago.

Monastery at Alcobaca

Monastery at Alcobaca

You would have to dig quite deeply on Google to find out much more about Bełchatów, but for me it is a very special place.  It’s home to a large portion of my Polish family.  Funny how common threads run through life.  Many of my relatives work at the power plant, and in Hartlepool, my home on the northeast coast of England, we have a large and ugly nuclear power station.  Chief employer in our part of the world, my husband worked there for a number of years.

Bełchatów power station

Time to introduce some of my family.  Uncle Jakub lives with his wife Czesława (Czescia) in Groholice.  The oldest suburb of Bełchatów, and once a village dating back to the eleventh century, Groholice has lots of charm.  It also has a large and beautiful church, where Jakub’s son Krzysztof married Ilona.  They now have a lively little boy, Piotrek.

The church at Groholice

Inside Groholice

Krzysztof and Ilona

Directly across Ulica Ogrodowa (Garden Street) from Jakub lives daughter Bożena, with her husband Krzysztof and sons Dawid and Kuba.  At our first meeting I admired Bożena’s distinctive necklace.  When we parted a few hours later she thrust it into my hand as a keepsake.  We didn’t have enough words between us for a conversation, but that gesture spoke volumes.  Husband Krzysia (familiar form of Krzysztof) works at the power plant.

Dad and Jakub

Dad is 15 years older than Jakub and until March 2007 they had never met.  Now they are happy to sit for endless hours, smoking and playing dominoes.  Sometimes when visiting I take myself off for a wander round Groholice, admiring the characterful houses.  My usual route takes me down to the cemetery, full of flowers and beautifully maintained, as are all Polish cemeteries.  It is surrounded by woodlands and open fields so I can browse the headstones looking for more family, or simply enjoy the serenity.

Groholice centre, courtesy of Wikipedia

Jakub’s oldest son Andrzej lives just a short walk away with wife Renata and son Michał.  Andrzej worked the clock round for 8 years, building his own home between shifts at work.  Now they have a lovely home, sheltered by woods, with plenty of open space where Michał can indulge his passion for running.  Now a tall young man with immaculate English, when we first met Michał was a shy child, cajoled by his father into translating for us.  I don’t know who was more embarrassed, him or me!  Polish children, in my experience, are much loved but expected to behave well, and they usually comply.

Renata, Andrzej, Bozena and Krzysztof

When in Poland I usually stay with family, but on one occasion I stayed in a hotel, with my husband Michael.  It gave us an opportunity to look around the centre of Bełchatów on foot.  Not known for my sense of direction, still I was confident I could find the huge outdoor market.  We were attending a wedding in the afternoon and I wanted some flowers to take to the church, and a present for my cousin Jadwiga’s first grandchild, Kinga.  Michael wanted some Polish slippers as he’d taken a fancy to the style!  At each home a supply of guest slippers lives in the hall- the floors are often polished wood or tiles.

Relaxing in Bełchatów

Placu Narutowicza- photo by Rafal Niewiadomoski (Portal Bełchatów)

It was a glorious hot August day and we had been informed that a nearby park was having it’s official opening so we strolled in that direction first.  It had the kind of fountains that squirt high in the air unexpectedly, to the great delight of the local children.  I could happily have stood under a jet of water myself but instead we bought a drink and hitched up on a wall to watch the rehearsals for the evening performance.  A Michael Buble song was being performed rather well and the chorus were strolling through their steps, conserving energy.

Placu Narutowicza by night- by Rafal Niewiadomoski (Portal Bełchatów)

Time to seek out the market.  As usual my sense of direction let me down and in halting Polish I enquired of several locals the whereabouts of the market.  Much arm waving let us know that we were in completely the wrong place and we were hot and thirsty by the time we arrived.  I was quick to purchase flowers and a lovely little frock for Kinga, but we were a long time finding Michael’s size in slippers.  Amazing how many shoe stalls!

Back to the hotel for my next challenge, while Michael sat quietly with a book.  I had bravely booked an appointment with the fryzjerka (hairdresser) as I knew that the Polish ladies would be very soignee.  I didn’t want to let the side down, and how lucky I was!  With little conversation other than that I needed to look good for na slub (the wedding) I was transformed into a swan before my very eyes.  I could have taken her home with me!

Herb Belchatow- the town’s coat of arms

This seems like a good place to stop.  I returned to Poland for a very special wedding in May 2014, and have been back several times since.  Many of the photos here are from outside sources, but I have since acquired lots of my own.  I linked to Julie Dawn Fox’s Personal A-Z Challenge, and to my good friend Frizz. He was playing Mr. Bojangles– one of my all-time favourite tunes.

Why not join us?

25 comments

  1. Hi,
    This is a longshot but my family and I are trying to locate my great-grandmother’s sister who lives in Bełchatów. Her name is Zaremba Czesława and she lives on Dolnoslaskie in Bełchatów. Do you have any advice on how to find her or her children? We will be in Poland soon and would love to be reunited my great-grandmother left after the war and her sister hasn’t seen anyone since.
    Thank you,
    The Rzeszowski’s

    1. Good morning Lacey 🙂 I am not familiar with the address you mentioned but I Googled it and it’s easy enough to find on the map. I presume you don’t have a number, and I don’t know whether you speak any of the Polish language. I can only really suggest knocking on doors, and if there is a church in the vicinity to go there. Parish records should show your great-grandmother and the priest may know her. Our family found us through the Internet so I don’t have much experience to help you.
      Good luck with your search, and please let me know the outcome.

  2. Thank you for sharing your family story! The picture of your Dad and Jakub is really precious; love their smiles! Bełchatów is a beautiful town.

  3. Bełchatów looks like a lovely old town. How nice to be able to experience a place not just as a tourist, but as someone who has a real connection to the area through family, language, etc.

    I’m glad the hairdresser worked out too. That was a gamble!😉

  4. Thanks folks for your lovely comments. Not sure at all what the significance of the coat of arms is. Found it on Wikipedia but no explanation with. Went to the Polish link site but couldn’t decipher enough Polish to help. I’ll have to ask the family!

  5. thank you so much for sharing more about your family with us all – I am so enjoying reading these posts
    and I love the coat of arms – do you know if there is any particular reason for Adam and Eve being on it?!
    looking forward to C … and D … etc!

  6. A beautiful and interesting town, just like your family. Looking forward to ‘C’. You have now given me a challenge Jo…to take a photo of the power station and make it look ‘unugly’ :o)

  7. Thank you for the tour round Betchatow, and for introducing some of your family to us. The town seems very quaint – and very old! It must have a lot of history attached to it.
    Glad you hair turned out good for the wedding!

  8. I bet you felt so frustrated losing all that work!

    I am glad you ended up like a swan…hairdressers can be quite scary!

    Great idea news re Julie’s hub! I did try and leave her a comment, but comments are closed so hope you don’t mind me leaving one here🙂

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