A-Z challenge

M is for Mariacki and Marysia

Poland-eagle-150squareOne of my very first sights when I visited Poland for the first time was the Mariacki Church.  The splendour of the Rynek Główny in Kraków, Europe’s largest market square, is crowned by this church.  Later, on a guided tour given by my neice Weronika, we crept respectfully around the aisles and I looked up in awe.

Veit Stoss Altar, Mariacki Church

The blue ceiling covered in stars was so joyous.  I almost said heavenly but that sounds too corny, however true.  I’d never before seen anything like it.

The showpiece of the church is the Veit Stoss Altar, depicted on these postcards. With great ceremony the altar is opened at noon each day to reveal the exquisite carvings beneath.

Gilded wood panels of the Altar in close up

Gilded wood panels of the Altar in close up

St. Mary’s Church, or Kościół Mariacki, dates from the 14th century and stands 262 feet tall (80m).  Today it draws the crowds largely for the appearance of the trumpeter, who performs hourly at the top of the taller of the two towers.  The sad little notes die away abruptly.  According to legend this commemorates the trumpeter who was pierced through the throat while sounding the alarm for an impending Mongol attack on the city.  These days it’s a happy occasion and he waves to the cheering crowd below before disappearing.

I don’t often use video clips in my posts but I accidentally came across this one and loved it.  The commentary is in Polish, but you get to see the trumpeter in close up.

The noon-time trumpet call, known as the Hejnał mariacki, is broadcast across the nation by Polish Radio 1.  More details are on this Wikipedia link.

Marysia is one of my Polish cousins.  In the very early days of our reunion with the Polish family I received a lovely email from her, introducing herself and family to me. She is married to Pawel, a musician with a wicked sense of humour. They have a daughter, Kasia, and son, Michał (do you remember that the last letter is pronounced “w”?)

Marysia is another of Zygmunt and Lodzia’s daughters. (I posted about them in L is for Lusia, Lodzia and Lodz)  She lives in the village of Zawady, near to Dad’s original old farmstead, but Marysia and Pawel have a beautiful modern home. Within the family there are many skills, and when it comes to home-making, these are readily shared.  Piotrek, Marysia’s brother, is a fine carpenter and the polished wood floors and banisters are all his work.

Kasia was only 20 when we first met, and had spent the Summer working in Nottingham, to help pay for her university studies.  This was an enormous coincidence as my daughter lives in Nottingham.  You can imagine her astonishment when I produced a Polish cousin living virtually on her doorstep!  A meetup was arranged, of course.

Lisa, Kasia, friend Paulina, me and Leo, in Nottingham

Lisa, Kasia, friend Paulina, me and Leo, in Nottingham

Kasia has now completed her education and, at the time of writing, is working in Germany.  Her younger brother is still studying.  Marysia herself runs a lovely little boutique in Bełchatów.  Confused yet?  I often am, too!

It just remains for me to thank Julie Dawn Fox, who began the Personal A-Z Challenge, and Frizz, who has welcomed me into his A-Z Challenge too.  This week it’s “mmm”!  Follow the links to find out more, and maybe join in?


L is for Lusia, Lodzia and Łódź

Poland-eagle-150squareThis is where my Polish friends might raise their hands in protest.  You see, in Polish there is a letter L and a letter Ł (ł in lower case).  The two are quite separate, but as there are 33 letters in the Polish alphabet and I am constantly short of time, I’m combining them in this post.  To English eyes they probably look very similar, but ł is pronounced like the English “w” in “wet”.

So, the city that I’m going to tell you a little about, Łódź, is pronounced Wooj, or something very like that.  I have never actually visited this city, which is the third largest in Poland, but it has always intrigued me for its name, which translates as “boat”.  This for a city which lies right in the centre of Poland, 84 miles south-west of Warsaw, and doesn’t even have a river running through it.  Apparently the city once had a total of 18 rivers, but they were covered over due to chronic pollution.

A boat, the coat of arms of Łódź- from Wikipedia

A boat, the coat of arms of Łódź- from Wikipedia

The first written record of Łódź appears in 1332 as the village of Łodzia, and in 1423 King Władysław Jagiełło (who you may remember from my J is for Jadwiga post) granted it city rights.  It was always at the crossroads of trade but at this time most of the inhabitants worked on grain farms in the surrounding flat lands. 

Like many another Polish city, the history of Łódź is colourful.  It lost its identity to Prussia in 1793, and then at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, became part of Russian Poland.  The Tzar gave territory deeds to German immigrants to clear the land and build factories and housing.  In 1825 the first cotton mill was opened and the textile boom began, with an eager Russian market on the doorstep.  Łódź has been likened to a “Polish Manchester” due to its prosperity from textiles.  Relationships with their Russian neighbours deteriorated rapidly, climaxing in the Łódź insurrection (or June Days) in 1905, which was violently put down by the Tzarists.

Łódź monument to the 1905 insurrection- from Wikipedia

Łódź monument to the 1905 insurrection- from Wikipedia

Many of the industrialists were Jewish, thus, during the Nazi occupation, the Łódź Ghetto was set up.  It was the last major ghetto to be liquidated due to the value of the goods the occupants produced for the German military.  The Germans requisitioned all factories and machinery and transported them to Germany so that Łódź was deprived of most of its infrastructure.  Refugees from Warsaw flooded into the city and in the aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising, Łódź became a temporary capital.  Apart from Kraków it was the only Polish city not to have been raised to the ground.

It’s not all doom and gloom.  I knew little about Łódź, but even I had heard of the National Film School, founded in 1948, and its famous student, Roman Polanski.  The film industry and new businesses locating in Łódź due to its excellent transport links have aided the slow rebirth of the city.  Renovation is ongoing on Ul. Piotrkowska, at 5km the longest main street in Europe. OFF Piotrkowska is a lively complex of cafes, restaurants and designer shops within 19th century former cotton mill buildings.

Sculpture of pianist Artur Rubinstein on Ul. Piotrkowska- from Wikipedia

Sculpture of pianist Artur Rubinstein on Ul. Piotrkowska- from Wikipedia

OFF Piotrkowska- from "In your Pocket" Łódź guide

OFF Piotrkowska- from “In your Pocket” Łódź guide

Even better news is that the rivers I referred to at the start of this post are now the subject of a restoration project.  Who knows where it all might end for the city of Łódź?  Manchester isn’t doing so very badly.

Lusia and Lodzia

Most of my Polish family live in the neighbourhood of Bełchatów, about an hour south of Łódź.  As usual, when I was in Poland in May, I went to see my lovely Aunt Lusia in Zawady.  She is my Dad’s only surviving sister, and lives close to the farmstead where Dad grew up.  Her portion of land is a good size with a lovely pond and numerous fruit trees.  Lusia tended the huge vegetable plots herself when she was younger, but now much appreciates the help of her daughter Theresa, who lives with her.  Granddaughter Edyta completes the household (if you don’t count the rabbits, of which there are many!)

Lusia and Dad

Lusia and Dad

The pond at the bottom of the garden

The pond at the bottom of the garden

Fruit trees and the neighbours

Fruit trees and the neighbours

Lusia and Dad with Teresa and Edyta

Lusia and Dad with Theresa and Edyta

Most of the family have built houses on land from the original farm, and Lusia is now dividing hers to make life easier.  Her daughter Grażyna and son-in-law Marek live in a high rise flat in Bełchatów (I was there on my visit too!) and are now building a house next to Mum.  A widow for many years, I never met her husband  Zbigniew, but have seen photos of them as a happy young couple.  It will help Lusia to have family so close by.  A third daughter, Irena (who will feature in my letter “I”), also lives in Bełchatów.  One last little thing to share- Lusia’s given name is Otylia.  I’m not at all sure how Lusia comes from this, but that’s just how it is.

Just across the lane from Lusia is the home of Lodzia and her remaining unmarried family.  This is my Dad’s original home and was taken on by the oldest son Zygmunt, when their parents died.  Sadly Zygmunt himself died just months before the family reunion which brought Dad back to Poland.  He had tried so hard to find Dad, and maybe things would have gone differently if he had succeeded.

Lodzia has her sons Bolek and Piotrek helping on the substantial plot of land.  Dad remembers taking the cows to a stream when he was a small lad, but the cows are long gone (as is the stream, strangely enough).

A slightly blurred photo of Lodzia and Bolek at Jadwiga's home

A slightly blurred photo of Lodzia and Bolek at Jadwiga’s home

You will have seen Lodzia on my blog before.  She is my lovely cousin Jadzia’s mum and we traditionally have supper at Jadwiga’s home, pictured above.  The farmhouse is now very run down and Lodzia does not have an easy life.  She also has the care of a blind son, Adam, who suffered the injury in an explosion many years ago.  Life is never all roses, is it?  My Polish family have had their share of tragedy, but they go on smiling and welcoming us each time.

 This post is part of my Personal A-Z of Poland, for which I owe thanks to Julie Dawn Fox.   I have put links to Wikipedia and my other posts for anyone who is interested.  The logo below will take you to Julie’s A-Z page, and I’m also linking to Frizz’s LLL-challenge, even though, as usual, I’m late!  MMM arrived this morning.


J is for João and “javali”

It’s not often that my A-Z’s run parallel but, in trying to “patch the gaps” in the alphabet, I find that I’ve arrived at the letter J on both my Polish and my Portuguese challenges.  Well, “J is for Jo”, so, let’s try not to disappoint.

Javali means “wild boar” in English.

Wild boarNot always the most adventurous of eaters, I’m happy to say that I can quite happily trough away at wild boar.  It is delicious!  I first experienced it at the end of a morning’s walking with my group in the Algarve.  The reward for our walks is usually a restaurant, known to one of the group as being very good value. (us Brits like a bargain!)  The “wild boar” restaurant was the occasion of a 60th birthday so it was a bit special.  The meat arrived in huge pans and had obviously been slow cooked for hours.

The occasion ended in rather a traumatic fashion, as the partner of the lady who was 60 keeled over and an ambulance had to be summoned!  He suffers from low blood pressure.  The medics stepped in and would you believe it, another member of the party collapsed with heatstroke!  Both were fixed up, and nobody blamed the wild boar.  If by any chance you’re reading this, Jeff and Anne, very best wishes to you both.

João is the Portuguese form of the name John.  According to Wikipedia the diminutive is Joãozinho, but I’ve never heard it used.  I understood diminutives to be short forms, but it doesn’t surprise me that in Portuguese, it’s longer.  The feminine form, however, is Joana, and that’s me!

And now for the history lesson.  There have been six ruling King João’s in Portugal. To see them in context, click on the Wikipedia link.

The wedding of King João 1, February 11th, 1387- from Wikipedia

The wedding of King João 1, February 11th, 1387- from Wikipedia

João 1 was King of Portugal and the Algarves from 1385 to 1433.  He came to the throne after a 2 year period of political anarchy, when Castile was laying claim to much of Portugal.  The overthrow of Castile and their French allies was accomplished with the aid of English troops.  When João married Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, in 1387, an Anglo-Portuguese alliance was secured which exists to this day.

Dom João I, Lisbon

Dom João I statue, in Lisbon 

João II (reigned 1481-1495) was known as the Perfect Prince.  His chief priority was continuing the exploration of the African coast, hoping to discover a maritime route to India and the spice trade.

João III (reigned 1521-1557) has been referred to as the Grocer King.  He extended Portuguese possessions in Asia and the New World, securing the spice trade in cloves and nutmeg.  Brazil was colonised and the Portuguese became the first Europeans to establish contact with China (under the Ming dynasty) and Japan.

João IV (reigned 1640-1656)  The Portuguese Empire reached its zenith, totalling 12,000,000 km by his death.  He was a patron of music and the arts, amassing one of the largest libraries in the world.  Sadly it was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

Dom João IV at Vila Vicosa

Dom João IV at Vila Vicosa, where he was born

João V (reigned 1707-1750) was nicknamed “The Magnanimous”.  He ruled at a time of enormous wealth for Portugal, with gold and diamonds from Brazilian mines filling the coffers.  Money was no object, and the Royal Palace at Mafra was built as a rival to Versailles.

João VI (reigned 1816-1826) had something of a turbulent time.  His kingdom included sovreignty of Brazil until independence was declared in 1825, and he had to flee there when Napoleon’s troops invaded Portugal.  He stayed in Brazil for 13 years, establishing a court and growing to love the place.  The loss of Brazil had an enormous effect on the Portuguese economy, and João was constantly embattled and plotted against on his return home.  His eventual death was believed to be as a result of poisoning.

Phew!  I hope you are not too exhausted by my tale of six Johns.  I’m linking this post to Julie Dawn Fox’s A-Z Personal Challenge and to Frizz’s A-Z.  You can follow their challenges through the links.  Many thanks for staying with me.


J is for Jadwiga


This is a novelty, isn’t it?  For anyone new to my blog, you won’t have a clue what I’m up to, or why.  Old friends might just remember the logo.  I’ll explain a little later.

Jadwiga is a Polish feminine name (pronounced Yad-viga).  The diminutive, or affectionate family form, is Jadzia.  The name originates from the German Hedwighadu meaning “battle” and wig meaning “fight”.  You might not realise the significance of this until I tell you about Jadwiga, Queen of Poland.

Jadwiga, "king" of Poland- image from Wikipedia

Jadwiga, “king” of Poland- image from Wikipedia

Jadwiga was queen of Poland, or rather “king”, from 1384 till her death on 17th July, 1399.  She was a sovereign in her own right rather than a mere royal consort, entitling her to the title of king.

Jadwiga was the daughter of Louis 1 of Hungary and Poland, and Elizabeth of Bosnia.  When Louis died in 1382 his eldest daughter Maria was elected queen of Hungary, but the Poles opted to end the union between the 2 countries by choosing Jadwiga as queen.  She was then just 9 years old. After 2 years of negotiations with her mother, and civil war in Poland, Jadwiga came to Kraków to be crowned.  In 1386 she was married to Jogaila, grand duke of Lithuania, to form an alliance of territories much larger than the one with Hungary, changing the balance of power in Central Europe.

Coat of arms of Jadwiga- image from Wikipedia

Jadwiga’s coat of arms- from Wikipedia

The marriage opened the way to the conversion to Christianity of the largely pagan Lithuanians.  Jogaila was baptised Władysław in Kraków before the marriage took place, and they ruled jointly, but with Jadwiga as the leading figure.  She led 2 successful military expeditions, helping Poland to regain lost territories.  When Jadwiga died from childbirth, her husband became Władysław II Jagiello, founding the Jagiellonian dynasty.

Jadwiga was a great patron of religion and scholarship.  From the sale of her jewellery she financed the restoration of the Kraków Academy, which became the world renowned Jagiellonian University.

After her death, Jadwiga was venerated throughout Poland as a saint, and was said to have performed miracles.  Details of these and more of Poland’s convoluted history are to be found in the above links to Wikipedia.  She was finally canonised by Pope John Paul II in Kraków on June 8th, 1997.

Jadwiga's tomb, in Wawel Cathedral, Krakow- from Wikipedia

Jadwiga’s sarcophagus, in Wawel Cathedral, Kraków- from Wikipedia

And now to my personal interest in the name Jadwiga. Time to meet my lovely cousin, Jadzia.  She is one of the daughters of my Dad’s older brother, Zygmunt, who died just months before the family were reunited, and so was never able to greet him on his return to Poland.  I have recounted Dad’s wonderful story in Exploring the Polish Connection, and have already introduced some of my cousins in this A-Z series.

Jadzia with some of her delicious homemade cake

Jadzia with some of her delicious homemade cake

Jadzia, Mam and brother Bolek

Jadzia, Mam and brother Bolek in her lovely dining room (Dad in foreground)

I have many times sampled Jadzia’s wonderful hospitality, and been present at the weddings of both of her children, Ania and Krzysztof.  On each occasion our time together has been too brief.  Jadzia has a little English and I have a very little Polish.  When we exchange emails we do so in our native languages and leave the other to puzzle out the meaning.  Ania is fluent in English, and of course, my Dad is an old hand at Polish.

In writing this post I am linking back to the original A-Z Personal Challenge begun by Julie Dawn Fox.  Life has overtaken me a little so I’ve been slow in reaching completion.  I have pages dedicated to my A-Z’s, both for Poland and for Portugal, at the top of the page, so you can see just how far I’ve progressed.  I would also like to enter this post in Frizz’s A-Z.  I have his permission.  When I began this challenge I hadn’t even “met” Frizz.  Since then he has enhanced my world enormously.


S is for Silves


Silves is a city with a glorious past.  You can’t fail to know this from the second you set eyes on the rust red hilltop castle, dominating the town and its surrounds.  Always a sucker for faded glory, it was one of the first places I visited in the Algarve.  On my recent return, I wanted to inspect the castle gardens development.

My first visit to Silves in April 2007- Michael's photo

My first visit to Silves in April 2007- Michael’s beautiful photo

From earliest times, the Arade River was the route to the Portuguese interior used by Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, drawn by copper and iron, mined in the Western Algarve.  With its strategic hilltop position, Silves was bound to attract the Romans, but wealth and prosperity began with the Moorish invasion of 714AD.  By the 11th century, Silves was capital of the Algarve and a rival in importance to Lisbon.

Nothing lasts, and with the power struggles in the Muslim world, Silves was briefly restored to Portugal in 1189.  King Sancho 1 laid seige to the city in a brutal and gruesome episode, only to loose it to the Moors two years later.  By the 1240s the tide was turning again.  The river began to silt up, cutting off the trade route to North Africa.  In 1534 the episcopal se was transfered from Silves to Faro, and the power transformation was complete.

The Roman bridge over the River Arade

The Roman Bridge over the River Arade

The riverside, where there is ample parking, is a good starting point for a journey through Silves.  The narrow 13th century bridge is a little reminiscent of that at Tavira, which perhaps explains my fondness.  Wandering slowly upwards through the historic centre, the streets are still laid out as they were in Medieval times.  The 16th century pillory, or pelourinho, is a reminder of harsher times.

The pillory on Rua Dr. Francisco Vieira

The pillory on Rua Dr. Francisco Vieira

With its back to the ancient city walls, on Rua das Portas de Loule, you can find the Archaelogical Museum.  It contains an Islamic water cistern, or well, from the 11th century.  18metres deep, a spiral staircase now leads to the bottom.

Climbing steadily on Rua de Se, you come to the cathedral, a stern looking structure.  In red sandstone, like the castle, it sits on the site of a former mosque.  The grandeur and sobriety continue inside.  Opposite is the Igreja de Misericordia.

The cathedral, on Rua de Se

The cathedral, on Rua de Se

Manueline doorframe of the Igreja da Misericordia

Manueline doorframe of the Igreja da Misericordia

It is when you finally arrive at the castle that your imagination can no longer resist the temptation to recreate the past.  It is the finest military monument in Portugal to survive from the Islamic period.  Of the eleven towers, two are “albarra”- solid structures, joined to the walls by an arch that supports the walk around the castle walls.  They defend the double entrance gateway.  The doorway of the “traitor’s gate” still exists.

The castle once housed the Alcacova, the Moorish “Palace of Verandas” so described in poetry of that time.  A huge subterranean water tank is the main feature of the surviving remains, but excavation is ongoing.  An attempt has been made to recreate the feel of those Moorish times, but with a modern twist.  The rills and fountains beloved of the Moors today exist in 21st century red brick, and a restaurant has been installed, with modern seating.  I think it’s a brave effort.

The cork industry, dried fruits and tourism were Silves’ salvation.  In high season expect it to be a very warm place.  Whenever you visit, the Mercado, near the riverside, will be bustling.  You could purchase from its numerous stalls for a picnic.  But the delicious barbecue smells of the neighbouring restaurants often prove irresistible.

I could hardly wait to get out of bed this morning to write this piece, having arrived back yesterday evening.  Hope you like it.  Thanks, as always, to Julie Dawn Fox for the A-Z  personal challenge.


D is for Dobry (good)

The village of Poronin, on the way to Zakopane, Tatry Mountains

Dzień dobry  (good day or good morning) must have been the first piece of Polish I ever learned.  At the time I didn’t think about it too literally, being more concerned with how to say it. (dz is pronounced like the ds in odds, according to my text book)

It wasn’t until I came to say “good evening”- dobry wieczór– that I realised the significance of dobry, meaning “good”.   You have also dobranoc- “goodnight”.  Noc is night (pronounce the c as ts) and dobra is the feminine form of dobry.

Język polski, the Polish language, is Latin based and I knew I was starting to struggle when I came to do widzenia- “goodbye”.

From the text book:   dobry = masculine, dobra = feminine and dobre = neuter

So : dobry hotel (m), dobra książka (f) and dobre mieszkanie (n)

Good hotel, good book and good flat

In conversation, I kept hearing dobrze and dobra, appearing to mean “good” as in “ok” or “alright” but hadn’t a clue when to use which.  You’ve realised by now that I do a lot of head nodding and smiling, with a bemused expression, when in Poland.

Just to prove that I have applied myself a little, I thought it would be fun to do a Polish question and answer exercise, using photographs.

Co to jest? (What is this?)  To jest moja rodzina (This is my family)

Only a small portion of them, you understand!  Lynne and George, who live in Canada, were visiting the Tatry Mountains with us for the occasion of Adam and Marta’s Silver Wedding.  Arek is having a little fun with Lynne’s heavy handbag, containing the camcorder (out of shot).

Co to jest? (What is this?)  To jest Balon Widokowy (This is a hot air balloon- literally a “balloon with a view”

On the same holiday, Adam was keen for us all to take a ride in the Balon, soaring over Kraków from the banks of the River Vistula.

Co to jest?  To jest kościół (This is a church)

Older churches are very beautiful in Poland.  This one is similar in style to the one in Poronin where Adam and Marta reaffirmed their wedding vows.

Kto to jest? (Who is this?- spot the change?)  To jest Irena, moja kuzynka (This is Irena, my cousin)

I’m not going to get grammatical here.  Irena is my lovely cousin and the wife of Arek, who was clowning around in the group photo earlier.  They have two great youngsters, Robert and Weronika, and this is taken on their patio in Bełchatów.  Arek runs a market garden and they have a shop to sell the produce and seeds in the town market.  The handsome stranger is, of course, my Dad.  Click here to read his wonderful story.

Kto to jest?  To jest Jadwiga, moja kuzynka (Jadzia)

Me, Dad and Jadzia in her garden in Zawady.  I really am spoilt for lovely cousins.  Jadwiga and husband Andrzej have a daughter Ania and son Krzysztof.  Ania and her husband Hubert have a lively toddler Kinga, and their own self-contained flat in Jadzia’s home.  Krzysztof works in Reading with his wife Marzena.  We attended both of their weddings.

I guess it’s appropriate that Dad is heading back to Poland today and will see all of these and more.

I can’t complete this post without referring to my cousin, Dominik.  When I was considering the options for “D” he was heavily on my mind.  He died recently in tragic circumstances, still a young man, and his loss is heavily felt by the family.  Dad will be going to the cemetery to pay his respects, to Dominik and to all of the family who have gone before.

To end on a lighter note, has anyone told you about Polish cake, ciastko?  I need to say only that it is bardzo dobry– very good.  Bardzo dobry indeed.  Dad will be eating lots!

Polish cake. This is shop bought. The homemade variety is even more delicious.

Googling “dobry” (as you do?) I came across an artificially intelligent “chatbot” of the same name.  I could download him and just natter away, or even teach him simple foreign phrases.  I ask you- does that seem probable?  He’d be sure to prove more intelligent than me.

This post forms part of my personal A-Z of Poland, inspired by Julie Dawn Fox.  Follow the link, or click on the banner below, to read some very interesting posts from all around the world.  I may be late with my responses to any of you who are kind enough to read this, as I’m out of circulation for a week or so, but I will assuredly be back.  I just had to post it now because it was churning inside me.

A is for Alphabet, and also for Aunts

The Polish alphabet (alfabet polski) has 32 letters:

 a  ą  b  c  ć  d  e  ę  f  g  h  i  j  k  l  ł  m 

n  ń  o  ó  p  r  s  ś  t  u  w  y  z  ź  ż

plus these sounds represented by 2 letters

ch  cz  dz  dź  dż  rz sz   

A bit tricky looking, isn’t it?  It has most of the letters of the English alphabet and a few extras with tails, dots or slashes.  Q ,V and X are not used in Polish except in foreign words or as symbols.  And don’t be fooled- even the letters that look like our good old English ones don’t necessarily sound the same, i.e ‘c’ has a ‘ts’ sound and ‘w’ is pronounced ‘v’.

And then the fun begins- speaking the language.  The pronunciation is half the battle, and I’m still in heavily armed combat.  The BBC has an excellent website if you fancy having a play around. http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/polish/soap/alphabet.shtml

My story starts with an Aunt

Aunt Anna

When I first looked at her photograph, 5 years ago this month, I felt a jolt of recognition.  It was not unlike looking at myself in the mirror, but maybe a few years down the line.  I was already 57 but had never met her- had not even known that she was still alive.  But it was due to her persistence, and refusal to believe that my Dad was dead, that we finally came together as a family.

Aunt Anna- I was named for her.  I have a huge lump in my throat writing this as she died on 25.11.09.  All those years of waiting and then so little time together- but we made it count.  My lasting memories of her: regally enthroned at the table at the Hotel Wierzynek, looking every inch the Polish Royalty for which this hotel was designed; more simply pottering about at home, setting the table for food and chattering, chattering.  Her hands were often painful but she used them expressively.  I was so new in the language that it was all I could do to nod dumbly and smile.

Dad, Anna and me

Dad, Anna and her son Adam, at home

Dad, Aunt Anna and grandson Lukasz, Hotel Wierzynek

Ciotka Anna (Aunt Anna) was bound to steal the show, but I have another surviving aunt.  Ciotka Lusia (given name Otylia but always known to me as Lusia) lives in a beautifully modernised bungalow on part of the farm land originally owned by my grandfather.  He and my grandmother had terribly hard lives and thinking about them makes my Dad sad.  I never met them as he was taken from the farm by Germans at just 15 and never saw them again.

Ciotka Lusia is a joy.  Always close to the land, she has a huge plot which until quite recently she managed to cultivate, growing all her own vegetables.  Ciotka Lusia’s potatoes are legendary!  Her daughter Teresa and granddaughter Edyta live with her and help to share the work.  Edyta is a beautiful teenager now but when we first met she was a shy child, cuddling her rabbits.

Dad and Aunt Lusia in her garden

Aunt Lusia, Teresa and Edyta

Edyta with one of the many rabbits

Some of the original farm is intact but much of the land has been divided between the children and lovely family homes built on it.  No doubt they will be the subject of a later post- it’s a big story.  For now I need to conclude with the fact of my other aunts, Urszula, Krysia and Sabina, all of whom died before Dad could be reunited with them.  So many family photos I have looked at.

The whole of Dad’s story (in brief) is told here:  https://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/exploring-the-polish-connection/

My personal A -Z of Poland

My personal A-Z of Poland

There are folks out there who’ll think I’m greedy, or just a glutton for punishment- I’m not sure which?  Couldn’t help myself, I just had to raise a hand in the air and shout “me, me!” when the prospect of a personal A-Z of Poland came along, even though I had already committed to a Portuguese A-Z.

You see, the Polish journey for me is a relatively new and very special one.  It’s just 5 years ago this month that I discovered that I had any Polish family at all, apart from my Dad, but I’ve since acquired loads!  I have already written about this in https://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/exploring-the-polish-connection/ and it is for me a very emotional subject.  It would be a privilege to share a little of what I have learned about Poland, and my wonderful Polish family, here in these pages.

I wasn’t encouraged to learn the Polish language as a child- Dad was busy integrating into the English community.  I have sincerely regretted my own lack of application since then, and have struggled mightily to be able to communicate with older family members.  The youth are great, and go out of their way to speak English to me.  So, a few Polish phrases may slip in now and then, but I will be writing in English, sadly.

I’m itching to get started, but first must give credit to Julie Dawn Fox, who developed the original idea of “A personal A-Z of…” with her post on Portugal  http://juliedawnfox.com/2012/01/10/a-personal-a-z-of-portugal/

In the spirit of this challenge I’d be more than happy for bloggers out there to write their own A-Z, in English, Polish or whatever your native language is.

Can’t wait to post this then I can move on to “A is for…”  See you soon!

A is for Alte

Why Alte?  It wasn’t an easy decision because here in the Algarve I also love the border town of Alcoutim, pretty Alvor with its wide estuary, and the lovely island of Armona.  I expect we’ll visit them later in this A-Z.  I’ll sneak them in somewhere.

Casa d’Alte- sounds like home?

The images that you see everywhere of the Algarve are beaches (of course!), and golf courses, but there’s so much more to the Algarve.  Alte represents that other Algarve- the world away from the coasts, with natural springs and lush greenery.  I’ve heard Alte described as the prettiest village in the Algarve, and I wouldn’t disagree.

We first passed through en route for Monchique 7 years ago, and were charmed by the place.  Coming from the Eastern Algarve we had taken the scenic route along the N124, passing pretty Salir, the endless cork trees and imposing Rocha de Pena.  We were in search of the natural springs that we’d heard about, with very little idea of what that would entail.  On that occasion we saw just a fraction, but the idyll of ducks beneath the bridge, and the azulejo tiled pictures at Fonte Pequena (little spring) delighted us.  The gardens and nearby Fonte Pequena Inn are dedicated to local poet, Candido Guerreiro, whose work is displayed by the springs.

Tranquil Fonte Pequena

Azulejos decorate the springs at Fonte Pequenal

A return visit in May 2009 had us wishing we’d brought swimwear.  It was unseasonably warm and we were amazed at the volume of water in the “stream”.  A lovely area for picnics this.  And then there’s the village itself, with its winding cobbled streets, some of them quite steep.  Everywhere is whitewash and bougainvillea.  Shops and cafes are strewn about the village, a welcome source of browsing and shade in the Summer.

Bougainvilea rules!

Oh for a swimsuit! Too hot at Fonte Grande.

Can’t stay out here much longer!

As with most Portuguese villages, the church lies at its heart.  Igreja Matriz de Alte, devoted to Our Lady of the Assumption, dates from the 13th century.  It was built at the direction of the wife of the Second Lord of Alte, to give thanks for his safe return from the Crusades.  The vault is sublimely decorated with azulejos.

Igreja Matriz

I’ve not yet had the privilege of attending the Folklore Festival and Wedding Ceremony for which Alte is most famous.  It takes place on the second Saturday in August.  Bridal Party and numerous folklore groups parade through the streets, culminating in a toast to the “happy couple” at Fonte Grande (large spring) and a traditional wedding feast.

A Folklore Festival is also staged on May Day and in 2012 I managed to be there.  For a while I didn’t think it was going to happen- the skies opened and the rain bounced for almost an hour.  Patience paid off in the end, and the procession made their way across the lavender strewn cobbles to the stage at Fonte Grande.

Fonte Pequena in May

The littlest ones start the dancing off onstage at Fonte Grande

Then they were a little older

Skirts began to twirl, feet to stamp

Quickly, before it rains again!

Young and old combining expertise

Numerous other celebrations take place in Alte throughout the year, including Carnaval, this year on February 21st.  Confetti is available to throw at the passing floats.

A full list of events can be found on  http://www.alteuncovered.com/events.aspx  together with a lot of useful parking details and opening hours.

This is the first in a series of posts, related to Julie Dawn Fox’s Personal A-Z Challenge. There are links in the logo in this post and in the sidebar to take you to the main site, where you can happily read for hours.

Just to get you started, how about:





My next task is to start my A-Z of Poland.  See you there!

My A – Z of … Portugal!

Back to front but full of enthusiasm as usual, I wrote my first post for this series and then realised that I hadn’t done an “intro” blog- not my strongest suite but here goes:

Funny how one idea sparks off another.  There seemed to be a lot of A-Z related challenges about, starting with Alyson Sheldrake’s lovely ABC Award.http://thethoughtpalette.co.uk/abc-award/.

Julie Dawn Fox came up with the idea of writing “A personal A-Z of Portugal”http://juliedawnfox.com/2012/01/10/a-personal-a-z-of-portugal/– her adopted country.  Each letter of the alphabet was to be the basis for a post on any aspect of Portugal.

Seemed like a good idea and I was all set to join in when “PigletinPortugal” (may I call you Carole?) decided to take it one step further and “Go Global”.http://pigletinportugal.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/my-a-z-of-portugal/

A dilemma! I love Portugal and have lots of wonderful places and memories I’d love to share.  At the same time, I have Polish family and am aching to introduce people to my father’s homeland, and some of the lovely folks I have met there.  Even worse, I currently live in England and have done so for most of my adult life, and, guess what?  I love England too (in spite of the weather) and have written quite happily about my native Yorkshire Moors, Dales and Durham coast.

What to do?  Well, I guess I’m going to be greedy.  I’ve already made a start with Portugal, but intend to follow up pretty soon with Poland.  Piglet has said that there are no time constraints, which is a darn good thing in my case.  Mrs Speed, I am not!

So let me extend the challenge, or invitation, to you.  You can write about places, food, people, experiences…anything you feel is pertinent to the country of your choice.  We already have quite a few posts up and running and Alyson has created a logo for Portugal:

while Piglet’s is the controlling site where you should register your interest, and comply with Piglet’s directions.  Or you can just turn up for a highly entertaining evening’s reading.

My fellow A-Z ers are:






Checking on Piglet’s site today interest is growing and I think there’s now a willing volunteer for England (phew!) and certainly one for Chile.  So, what’s stopping you?  Come along on the journey.  Next instalment coming soon.