My personal A-Z of Poland

My Call to Poland

Sukiennice, the impressive Medieval Cloth Hall, in  Kraków’s Rynek Glowny

You might call me unimaginative, but I’d never thought a great deal about Poland until that strange evening, 12 years ago, when Dad got a phone call from ‘home’.  For 64 years he’d had no contact with his Polish family, leaving the farm aged just 15, and in German custody.  That phone call turned our lives upside down.  Until then Dad had been my only Polish relative.  Imagine, overnight, you belong in an enormous family, who don’t even speak the same language as you.  But who welcome you with open arms.

That’s just how it was, and when Cathy asks ‘what is it that draws you to a place?’ then the lure of family surely has a part to play.  Over at Wanderessence she’s been exploring the reasons why we travel, and so much more.  I’ve always had that restless urge, but my first visit to Poland was a revelation.  I’ve never been hugged and kissed so much in my life.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Outside of family and friends, Polish people are not normally smiling nor especially welcoming.  Given their history, they have good cause to hold a little in reserve.  But Dad was the long lost brother, and was treated like Polish royalty, while I followed along in his wake, smiling fondly but often with little real idea of what was going on.  The language barrier, you see.

Coach and horses have right of way in Rynek Glowny

The country looked so very different to the one I was used to calling home.  The chalet style houses looked different, out in the countryside.  One of the things I found really strange was that pipes often ran overhead alongside the country roads, rather than underground, as I was used.  But in the historic centres of the cities, the intricately painted and decorated facades had me stand and gaze in awe.   Kraków and Wrocław- I’ve been privileged to know both of these beautiful cities, because of my family.

Polish eating habits are different too.  Second breakfast, lunch at 3 in the afternoon, and cake before and after almost everything! (that must be where I get it from 🙂  )  In the previous year, I and my husband had acquired a holiday home in Portugal.  Totally different culturally and in climate too, yet I found myself wondering, if we had known of the existence of the Polish family sooner, would I have been looking for a house in Poland?  I suspect I might.  I’ve always had the sea on my doorstep, and Poland is landlocked on 3 sides.  The Baltic coast is too far from family, but I’ve always been drawn to lakes and mountains too.  A visit to the Pieniny Mountain range, and the spa resort Szczawnica, linger in my memory.  Rafting through the Dunajec Gorge was a totally unforgettable experience.

I have shared some wonderful times with my Polish family, and written about them extensively, while trying not to give embarrassment.  The series My Personal A-Z of Poland has many tales to tell.  Dad died in October 2016 and I haven’t been back to Poland since.  But I can still feel the call.  Writing Easter cards took me back into each of their homes.  New youngsters have been born since my last visit, but my elders are growing older and, in some cases, frail.  I’m feeling the need to return, just once more, before starting my new life in the Algarve.

Dad with Uncle Wlodek, at home in Zgorzelec

I’m linking this to Cathy, on her series A Call to Place.  The lady is a human dynamo, seeking to improve her travel writing and to entertain us along the way.  Pay her a call.  She’ll be so glad to see you.

Jo’s Monday walk : Zawady

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In total contrast to my last, extremely urban walk in the city of Łódź, I’m taking you out into the Polish countryside today.  I’m going right back to where my Polish story began, in the village of Zawady, around 60kms south of the big city.  It’s a different world!  Dad was born in this village, more than 88 years ago.

As you can imagine, changes have taken place, but not too many.  The original farmstead is still there, but much of the land has been divided up between the family.  The photo above is the view I woke up to from my bedroom, on my first day back in the village.  Early morning mist burnt off to a beautiful day, and it was time to feed the week old ducklings.

I had been staying in the suburbs of Kraków, so the difference was considerable.  The daughter of a farmer, with memories of driving the tractor with her Dad, Zygmunt, when she was young, my cousin Jadwiga loves her garden.  But growing vegetables and keeping hens has to come second to her day job, and more especially to her dearly loved grandchildren.  They are seldom far away, as daughter Ania lives in a self build bungalow within the grounds.  Meet Kinga and Nadia, with mum, Ania, and Babcia, Jadzia.

For those of you who might have wondered, ‘what is Poland like?’ let’s slide the gate open, and we’ll step outside and see.  Poland is a big country and land is cheap.  It’s not uncommon to see ‘land for sale’ signs in the woods that surround most villages.

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The houses vary considerably, some still old farmhouses, others in a far more modern style.  I peep over the fence at the pond which once belonged to Aunt Lusia.  Now her daughter Graźyna and husband Marek have built a home there, among the cherry trees.

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You don’t have to walk far before you’re at the end of the village, and the woods beyond.  I retrace my steps, on the other side of the road this time, passing by cousin Marysia’s beautifully modern home, and a sign that cautions of the ‘good’ dog that bites!

A crossroads points to Ławy, 1.3kms away, and I am tempted to follow it out into open countryside.  But first I need to complete the circuit, back to the main road through the village.  These decorated crosses are found on many corners, scattered throughout Poland. Number 16F is Ania and Hubert’s house, and the garden design business she runs from home.

As the sun droops in the sky and the children play out on their bikes, I cast one more look at the cherries, and then head off down the lane.

Don’t worry!  I do return, but I wanted to show you the ‘whole’ of Zawady.  It’s not very big!  I hope you enjoyed meeting the place, and my family.

I’ve decided to link this post to My personal A-Z of Poland, which has been sadly neglected in recent times.  Much of what appears there is relevant and will provide good background, for anyone who’s interested.  Time to put the kettle on now, for this week’s shares.

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Many thanks to all of you who make Mondays a bit special for me.  Your support and encouragement sees me through the week.  If you have a walk to share and you haven’t joined me yet… well, what’s stopping you?  Details are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Just click on the logo above.  You’ll be made more than welcome.

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Let’s start the ball rolling with Laura, in Costa Brava’s wild spaces this week :

A taste of salt and honey

Pauline treats us to a glimpse of an Eye, through floral abundance :

A Walk through sunny Southbank, Brisbane

Hop off your bike and take a walk in equally sunny California!

My weekly ramble- John Nicholas Trail

Yvette has her own unique and stylish way of doing things :

Jubilant Walk with Jo (Nature Day 1)

And you know that Drake does too!  Welcome to Kayserberg :

Home sweet home

Geoff spent his April engrossed in a challenge.  King’s Cross?  Well, he might be!

X is for Crosses#atozchallenge

I don’t often think of hill climbing and Jude in the same sentence, but… she did it!

Conquering Godolphin Hill

Thanks a lot for your company, and for your friendship.  I know that this was a very low key walk, but I wanted to share a little more than just a pair of boots.  In the coming weeks I hope to give you a flavour of Poland, seen through my eyes.  Take good care, and enjoy your walking!

I almost forgot my good friends over at Monday Escapes.  Maybe something for the Bank Holiday weekend?

Six word Saturday

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 5 photos, 5 stories- Day 4

Sisters Theresa, Irena and Grazyna with cousin Adam

Sisters Theresa, Irena and Grazyna, with cousin Adam

Today I’m having to combine my Six word Saturday with the 5 photos, 5 stories challenge, which takes place on consecutive days.  It just so happens that ‘5 photos, 5 stories- Day 4’ makes six.

Before I continue with my Polish stories, I must thank Minerva, Nin, Elaine and Viveka for nominating me for this challenge.  I know you’ll enjoy their company and the stories they have to share.

Today it’s the turn of my aunt Otylia’s family.  Lusia, as she is fondly known, is another octogenarian.  The only surviving sister of 4, I’m glad that she can still find so much to smile about.  The photo above includes her 3 daughters, Theresa, Irena and Grażyna.

Theresa still lives at home with her mum, works full-time and helps control their enormous garden.  Her daughter Edyta also lives with them, but is hoping soon to go to university at Wrocław, a couple of hours away.  Sitting on a garden swing seat, I had a long conversation with Edyta (practising for her English oral exam).  Grandma now needs a walking frame, to get around the house and garden she once tended so faithfully.  Aunt Lusia’s potatoes are legendary!

Enter Grażyna and Marek!  For a number of years they have been building a house on half of Lusia’s land, whilst working full-time and living in a high-rise flat in Bełchatów.  It is finally nearing completion, and not before time.  It will be so much easier for them to help Lusia, and Theresa, living here at close quarters.

An occasion with Grażyna and Marek is always one to relish.  A born joker, Marek also loves to sing, often accompanying himself on guitar.  One sunny afternoon, Dad and me arrived at Lusia’s to be met with a lovely surprise.  A family gathering, with Marek firing up the barbecue.

Let me describe the house.  2 stories, with a staircase but nothing upstairs.  A roaring wood burning fire in the lounge.  Bare cement floor, and a sea of trestle table and chairs.  Small fitted kitchen (in full swing as Grażyna and Theresa prepared salads- Irena arrived later with hers, straight from a busy day at work).  The most popular room in the house?  The downstairs shower/loo, with a curtain pulled across the doorway.  Singing on the loo is advisable. Doors are the next job.  And did we have fun?  Didn’t we just!  Aunt Lusia on one side of me, Dad on the other, both in their element, surrounded by smiling faces.

So many stories still to tell but well aware that I have exceeded my ‘six words’ for today, I’ll have to ask you to come back tomorrow.  I’ll just tell you that lovely Irena lives on the other side of Bełchatów.  She and husband Arek have a large home/market garden and a small shop in the open market, selling seeds and ‘all things garden’. (and she has a day job in a sweet factory too) Busy?  Non-stop!

Hard to believe that Debbie from Travel with Intent hasn’t been nominated for the 5 photos, 5 stories challenge yet. Lucky me!  It is my privilege to present her.  Please do say hello before you drop in on Cate with your six words (or 500 +, as in this case).  But most of all, thanks for reading and have a happy weekend!

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5 photos, 5 stories- Day 2

Meet Kinga!

Meet Kinga!

Yesterday was Day 1 of my 5 photos, 5 stories challenge and you met some of Kinga’s bears. Today I’m introducing Kinga herself- a shy 5 year old, with all the exuberance a child can bring to a willing playmate.

I should pause here to thank Minerva, Nin, Elaine and Viveka for nominating me for this challenge.  I know you’ll enjoy their company and the stories they have to share.  As the name suggests, I will be posting 5 photos, accompanied by 5 stories, on 5 consecutive days.

What does it say about this family when Hubert (Kinga’s dad), who works full time and also is building a home for his family, has taken the time to make this playhouse/slide before their house is even complete?  Well- they like fresh air, that’s for certain, and are planning to make the most of a Polish summer.  The single storey, but spacious, home now has a bathroom fitted, and the family will move in soon to make that final push to completion.

Dad’s father, Bołeslaw Szustakiewicz, owned a good-sized parcel of land, which he farmed with the help of his sons and daughters.  It was one of Dad’s jobs, as a boy, to take the cows to a stream, before they settled for the night. After his father died, the land was divided between the surviving children.  Dad, torn from his home during the war, was no longer a part of the inheritance.  Returning to his homeland some 64 years later, it is wonderful to see how that land has been used.  My Polish family have introduced me to a new way of living.

My cousin Jadwiga is Bołeslaw’s granddaughter.  She inherited a sizeable plot, on which she and Andrzej built their own home, and a lovely garden.  Daughter Ania (Kinga’s mum) has lived, with her family, in an extension of her parents home while Hubert has been building, in the grounds. It’s now their turn to reap the benefits of all that hard work.  As well as raising a family, in her spare time Ania designs and makes children’s shoes.  Tomorrow we might look at some, and I’ll tell you more about the land and its new owners.

Now it’s time to nominate!  I’m offering this to Viv in France, not with any conviction that she will take up the challenge, but Viv does post her brilliant poems very regularly and I’d love you to read them.  The back story to this post is My personal A- Z of Poland.  Hopefully see you tomorrow?

 

 

 

‘U’ is for Ula

Ula, 'sparkling' at her sister's wedding

Ula, ‘sparkling’ at her sister’s wedding

My neice Urszula, or Ula as she is always called at home, is the youngest of my cousin Adam’s three children.  From the shy early teen she was in 2007, when first we met, Ula has blossomed into a beautiful and stylish young woman.  Today is her 20th birthday and I’d like to take this opportunity to wish her ‘Happy Birthday’.  Wszystkiego najlepszego na urodziny!

My Personal A-Z of Poland has taken me down many routes and shared many stories.  Dad, along with millions of others, paid the price of a war torn Europe.  His family was scattered far and wide, but for Dad there has been a belated happy ending.  I’d like to share with you today a video that had tears streaming down my face, but which also ends joyfully.

Ann, or Gallivanta is a warm-hearted lady who is proud of her country, New Zealand.  This week I received from her a link for my Jo’s Monday walk.  It’s not strictly a walk but it is a very moving journey and I thought that it deserved a place here, alongside Dad’s story.

http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/the-story-of-seven-hundred-polish-children-1966

I know that it’s the kind of story that Frizz will find empathy with, and won’t mind me sharing it on his Tagged- U.  I’d like to thank so many people for the love that is shared in our blogging world.  I’m feeling quite emotional this morning and I think it’s time to go back to playing with Polish castles.  Thanks also to Julie Dawn Fox for the personal A-Z challenge.

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‘T’ is for Tatry Mountains

The snow capped Tatry Mountains, seen from Lake Czorsztyn

The snow capped Tatry Mountains, seen from Lake Czorsztyn

Mountains and water are, for me, a pretty irresistible combination.  On my recent visit to Poland, this is as near as I got to the Tatry Mountain range, but what a magnificent backdrop they make!

Situated to the south of Kraków, they form a natural border with Slovakia, and are the highest mountain range in the Carpathians. At 2499 metres Rysy is the highest peak on the Polish side of the range.  Zakopane is regarded as the ‘winter capital of Poland’ but is a highly popular destination for hiking in summertime too.   I was lucky enough to be there for Silver Wedding celebrations in 2009 and Z is for Zgorzelec and Zakopane tells that story.

This post will take a very different path, and includes a ferry crossing on Lake Czorsztyn.

Imagine this view from your garden!

Imagine this view from your garden!

And the ruins of Czorsztyn Castle at the bottom of the street

And the ruins of Czorsztyn Castle at the bottom of your street

On our trip to the Pieniny Mountain range, much lower than the Tatrys, we passed alongside of the lake and I gazed in awe at the spectacle beyond.  I knew that if it were at all possible I would be back for a closer look.  And so my return to Kraków was by a very roundabout route.

To the gondolas?  Or the castle?

To the gondolas? Or the castle?

The castle first, of course

The castle first, of course

And then the boat

And then the boat

The Tatras, as they are known in English (Tatry is the Polish plural) sit tantalisingly out of reach but ever present on the horizon.

Looking across the lake, you can still see the tips

Looking out across the lake, I can just see the tips!

And then we're off, in search of another castle!

And then we’re off, in search of another castle!

Magnificent Niedzica Castle this time, and not just a ruin

Majestic Niedzica Castle this time, and not just a ruin

Another castle sign!

Another castle sign (and a tractor in the background)

I won’t attempt to show you around the castle, because I think it deserves a post of its own.  But I will give you a couple of views from the battlements, to tempt you back.

This one looks down on sturdy dam, blocking off the lake

This one looks down on the sturdy dam, blocking off the lake to the east

And this is my favourite of the castle rooftops

While this is my favourite, of the castle rooftops

And for the foodies among you, some typical Polish fayre

And for the foodies among you, some typical Polish ‘fayre’

I had pierogi a jagodami and delicious it was!

I had Pierogi z jagodami and delicious it was!

We were assisted in our enterprise by a very charming couple from Warsaw, who observed me struggling with the language and the bus timetables.  They had been to the area a number of times and were off on a hiking expedition to Trzy Korony (Three Crowns).  It would have been very tempting to join them, but instead they ensured that we were dropped at the right spot and pointed in the direction of the lake.

They also suggested that we might find a bus connection from Niedzica directly back to Kraków, which we did, instead of returning across the lake.  But not before sampling some typical mountain food- filling but delicious pierogi or dumplings, at “Karczma Hajdur” restaurant, by the lake.  I can highly recommend it!

Just one last shot of the Tatry Mountains, taken on another expedition, on the River Dunajec.

The Tatry Mountains seen from the Dunajec River

The Tatry Mountains seen from the Dunajec River

I’m going to be a little ambitious and link this to three different challenges.  For some time I’ve been trying to complete my Personal A-Z of Poland and this is yet another step in that direction. Many thanks to Julie Dawn Fox for setting me on the path.  I’ve also been joining Frizz whenever I can.  This week he’s Tagged T, which just happens to be a perfect fit.  He’s another very kind host, so do visit and take a look around.

I’m sure most of you know Cee.  She’s a legend in the world of photo challenges.  I have joined in on her Which Way challenge in the past but have struggled to find the time lately, so I’m hoping she won’t mind “sharing me”.  Cee loves directions and signposts in her challenge, and wherever I go now, I find myself snapping away every time I see a sign.  It’s addictive!

So there you are!  I hope you’ll find the time to join in on one of them, while I think about where you might like to go next. banner4

‘S’ is for Szczawnica

Plac Dietla and Cafe Helenka

Plac Dietla and Cafe Helenka, in the upper town

Well, where else should it be?  If you saw my Monday walk this week, you’ll know that I have a new Polish love in my life.  The thermal spa town Szczawnica in the very south of Poland, where it meets Slovakia, was a rich discovery for me.

Alkali sorrel springs and a temperate climate make this an ideal base for the treatment of respiratory and digestive ailments.  In the mid 19th century a doctor, Jozef Dietl, saw the potential and began the development of  hydrotherapy treatments unique to Poland at the time, turning Szczawnica into a spa town.  An Inhalatorium equipped with pressurised rooms was built, and in the woods, Willa pod Modrzewiami (villa under the larches).

The start of World War II halted developments and in 1948 the spa was nationalised by the government and used for the treatment of miners and metalworkers.  It was not until 2005 that the ownership of the resort was returned to descendants of the Stadnicki family, the pre-war owners of the estate.  They invested hugely to restore the spa to its former glory.  Dietl Square was rebuilt to its historical design, with Cafe Helenka at its core, and, in 2oo9, 5 star Modrzewie Park hotel replaced the villa.  A museum dedicated to the project soon followed.

Fretwork shadows

Wood is everywhere- I love these delicate fretwork shadows

Cafe Helenka and its wide terrace

Cafe Helenka, in its lovely situation

Facing it, across Plac Dietl, the spa museum

Facing it, across Plac Dietl, the spa museum

Brightened for me by a flurry of Spring flowers

Down in the lower town, a flurry of Spring flowers!

the park

The park is a lush green

No shortage of water

And naturally, there’s no shortage of water!

There are pretty riverside walks

There are pretty riverside walks

And bridges by the dozen!

And bridges by the dozen!

And did you ever see a quirkier souvenir kiosk?

And did you ever see a quirkier souvenir kiosk?

Not for us the 5 star hotel!  I had chosen to stay in a lovely old dark wood chalet, ‘Willa Danusia’, in the upper town overlooking Plac Dietl.  Naturally that meant a steep climb home on an evening, but there’s always a price, isn’t there?  Inside the villa, the wood was pale, while the view from our lofty porch provided wonderful views.

One evening we dined handsomely in the ‘Willa Marta’ in the lower town.  It also was constructed from dark wood, but most of the town had a more modern appearance.

'Willa Danusia', high on the hill

‘Willa Danusia’, high on the hill

'Willa Marta', hotel and restaurant

‘Willa Marta’, hotel and restaurant

An evening stroll through the upper town gave me a chance to breathe deeply and make the most of the tranquil atmosphere. I know that I felt better, just for being there!

Nymphs in the woods

There are nymphs to admire in the woods

Looking down on the square

Playing their pipes

Stylish hotels

And 5-star Modrzewie Hotel, among the larches

The picture of health?

The picture of health?

As the light fades the fountains begin to change colour

As the light fades the fountains begin to change colour

Glimmering in the dusk

Glimmering in the dusk

Evening falls

The lights come on around the square

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Looking down, we climb the hill back up to the villa

From the porch the tiniest crescent of moon is visible

From the porch the tiniest crescent of moon is just visible- can you see it?

Just visible through the trees, from our porch

While down below, the lights twinkle goodnight

‘Romantykaly’, as they say in Poland.

Willa Danusia cost almost nothing for a basic bedroom and a very fine breakfast.  Willa Marta was perhaps a little more stylish but definitely wouldn’t break the bank.

I had intended my ‘S’ post to be all about the Sukiennice in Krakow.  Maybe I’ll find time to write a second.  Meantime I’d like to thank Frizz for providing the incentive this week with Tagged ‘S’, and also Julie Dawn Fox for her Personal A-Z Challenge.  I can promise you a wonderful read at either website, and perhaps you’d like to join in with the challenges?

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