Reminiscences from Poland

It began with so much angst, and then developed into the most heartwarming experience.  Come with me to Poland?

My 12th floor hotel room in Warsaw was wonderfully luxurious but I slept fitfully, with one eye on the clock, as you do when needing to rise early and excited for the journey.  Tiny beads of red tail lights trailed into the distance until a hazy dawn crept through my window.  Patches of mist nudged the buildings as I gazed down on the city in all its immensity.  I made coffee and the mournful tones of Leonard Cohen filled the room as I showered and gathered together my belongings.  Downstairs in reception a smiling face awaited.  Meg, promptly at 7, to deliver me safely to my coach station, Zachodnie.

Down into the subway we went, that subterranean city maze that bewilders me so, but with Meg by my side it didn’t seem so bad.  The ticket lady understood me, and sunlight beamed down on the tracks at Sródmiescie.  Two stops later we sat side by side on a bench, speculating on which coach it might be.  Trying to cram a world of emotions into dying minutes.  Those hugs may have to last us a long time…..

On the bus my neighbour is an elderly Polish lady, who tells me in minute detail about her health and her family.  No matter that I can only translate one word in ten.  I nod and shake my head vigorously, and attempt a brief family history, and moments later she is fishing in her capacious handbag to pull out a blue and white plastic bracelet with a St. Christopher attached.  She presses it upon me.  Apparently it will bring me good fortune, but I must look very needy, because immediately she’s back in the bag pulling out a red and white necklace and crucifix too.  I am mildly alarmed, wondering if I should offer money or will I give offence and destroy our budding friendship?  I risk all and she merely shakes her head.  We ride in companionable silence but I am shamefully relieved when she gets off at the first stop….

Two hours later the bus stops on the outskirts of  Bełchatów, and lots of passengers climb aboard.  An imperious looking lady demands to know where I am getting off and I mumble ‘na centrum’.  With a toss of her head she declines to sit next to me and moves on down the bus.  She thinks I’m stupid because the bus isn’t going to the centre.  I only realise this when a voice from the back of the bus penetrates my consciousness… ‘Johanna!  Johanna!’  It is Andrzej, my cousin Jadwiga’s husband, waving his arms frantically.  Sent to collect me from the stop, he has had to board the bus to attract my attention.  I have arrived….

Things I can do without language…. almost.  Sit on the floor and piece together a Snow White jigsaw with a 2 year old.  Blow bubbles.  Not so successful with the king-sized version- much twirling and blowing, to no avail, but producing gales of laughter from 2 small girls, so a result in entertainment terms.  Bounce on a trampoline.  Peel potatoes.  Eat strawberries and icecream with Marysia and Pawel.  Take a walk around the neighbourhood.  But the biggest success?  Play dominoes with my Uncle Jakub, rolling back the years to when he and Dad played for many an hour.  He won, of course!  And kiss and cuddle my beloved Aunt Lusia….

Memories….  Andrzej, retired now, with time to ride on his motorbike, feed the rapidly growing ducklings with his granddaughters, and attempt to learn English on his Ipad with Duolingo.  Much scratching of head.  Silly English language!

His wife, lovely Jadzia, drives the bus for the local school for handicapped children.  On an event day in a nearby park, the children flock round her, eager to introduce themselves and curious about her company.  They dance with no inhibitions, inside a tent, and drive buggies, under casual supervision.  Blond and beautiful, Nadia attracts much attention.  Her mind is firmly on candyfloss.  ‘Zielony, prosze’ she insists.  Green….

Cousin Ewa, quietly but proudly showing me the shell of her home, with its rudimentary furnishings.  Her husband Henryk was building it for them when he died 3 years ago, and there is no money to finish it off.  The hardware business she was running has failed and she has moved in to the house to save rent.  ‘At least I am close to family.’ We sit by the open fire in the garden, bottles of beer in hand, turning the kielbasa on the homemade barbecue as evening fades.  Squeals as cousin Marysia plays hide and seek with the children.  And then peace….

The neighbourhood….

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Cathy is throwing out challenges left and right over at Wander.essence.  I thought I would enter this for Prose.  Part 2 will follow next week.


Anticipation and angst

I can’t remember a trip when I was quite so angst-ridden.  I do angst very thoroughly, and most trips, unless it’s my beloved Algarve, as the date for departure approaches I lose sleep worrying over the ‘what ifs?’  In my head I’m a control freak, but reality is often far beyond my control.

Lake Czorsztyn in the Pieniny Mountains

I well remember being let loose by the Polish family in the Pieniny Mountains.  A trip river rafting in the Dunajec Gorge was in the offing, but where to catch the bus?  My other half always reads timetables meticulously and was unconvinced either that we were in the right place, or that the bus would turn up.  This despite a visit to Tourist Information to enquire.  ‘You’re the one who speaks Polish!’ he said, accusingly.  If only this were so!  The sun beat down, and we waited.  And waited.  Eventually a tiny minibus pulled to the curb, destination unknown.  We looked at each other.  This one?  Fortunately a good-hearted, English speaking couple had witnessed our confusion.  They were going hiking in the Gorge.  “Come on!  We’ll tell you where to get off.”  Huge relief and, ultimately, one of my best ever days in Poland.

But I digress.  What makes this particular trip so worrisome?  I had always known that I would return to Dad’s homeland one day, even though Dad was no longer with me.  The Polish family were so kind, and so accepting when we walked into their lives after all those years of absence.  Dad was welcomed with open arms.  Here I was, going back alone, and still without the benefit of Polish language, try as I might to make sense of it.

You might recall from My Call to Poland that I have elderly family.  The need to see them is pressing, but I want to cause the least possible inconvenience.  This means not flying into Kraków and expecting to be driven 3 and a half hours north to the family home, which is what always happened when Dad was alive.  A wild notion had occurred to me.  My lovely Australian friend, Meg, was back in Warsaw for 6 weeks.  This might be an opportunity to see her again, however briefly.  It all hinged on whether I could find transport from Warsaw to Bełchatów.  When Gilly leapt, with gay abandon, onto the scene, announcing she had booked 3 days in Warsaw and was going to see Meg, it was just the catalyst I needed.

A sequence of emails took place.  Kind Adam, in Kraków, declared that I was welcome in his home at any time.  Lovely Jadzia in Bełchatów said that my timing was perfect to celebrate her birthday with her.  Meg, more than generously, offered to put me up for the night on my arrival in Warsaw.  I didn’t contact Gilly,  hoping to surprise her.  Now all I had to do was pore over online timetables.  Endless timetables!  Until my head hurt.  It wasn’t simple, but finally I secured a prized bus ticket from a Russian company- the small print indecipherable.

And speaking of language, it was again time to seek out my ‘Colloquial Polish’.  I started a course at a local college about 10 years ago and purchased the required book.  The course was discontinued, due to funding, long before I reached the end of the book, but I did acquire a lasting friendship- another lady with a Polish Dad.  Each time I have visited Poland I have started the book again, with renewed enthusiasm.  Never have I reached the last page, but it has accompanied me proudly on each of my visits, and sat on the table as a declaration of intent.  This time it must stay home as I need to travel light.  A pocket dictionary will have to do.

Transferring from Bełchatów to Kraków is equally problematic.  The train service I relied on has changed providers and disappeared.  Buses go in random directions, sometimes taking as long as 13 hours.  I could reach the Pacific in less time.  Angst heightens.  Meantime, Gilly asks questions about my visit.  Nothing to do but confess and hope she won’t mind my gatecrashing her meeting with Meg.  Assuming I can find them in the teeming metropolis.

And just as I’m about to embark on this journey, I discover that I’ve lost the coach tickets to visit my daughter in Nottingham, scheduled just days after my return from Poland!  I can’t reprint them because I don’t have the ticket number.  Much hunting and an email to the coach company.  It can only get better?  By the time you read this I should know the answer.

Meantime I’m linking to Cathy’s Anticipation & Preparation: Spain and Portugal in 2013 on Wander.essence.  It holds many fond memories for me.

Jo’s Monday walk : Bełchatów


I may have misled some of you, but I’m staying in Central Poland for this week’s walk.  I expanded on a little of the family saga last week in Zawady, the village where Dad was born.  Today we’re taking a stroll around Bełchatów, the county town, some 7kms and a bus ride away.

B is for Bełchatów covers much of the town’s history, so we can simply concentrate on how the place looks today. (Bew-ha-toof is very roughly how it’s pronounced)  The Tourist Information office is small but friendly, and perfectly placed for our start, on Ul. T. Kościuszki.  Ignoring the map in my hand, I’m drawn to a passage beside the TI, with a glimpse of green space beyond.  I follow it and find myself in rather a nice park.


I cross the bridge over the lake and notice a canal leading off through the park.  The imposing building in my opening shot proves to be Muzeum Regionalne, a late Baroque listed manor.  I wonder about its contents, but my curiosity about the water is greater.  I follow it, out beyond the park. On the map it’s shown as Rakówka, and Olszewski Park.

I wander a little way to see where it leads but, when it seems I’m getting too far from the centre, I double back through the houses.  A street corner church thankfully looks familiar, and I’m back at the junction of 9 Maja and Kościuszki.

I look at the signs on shops for clues as to what I might buy there, hoping to purchase a few small gifts for the family.  My niece Ania and husband Hubert are shopping at the new shopping gallery and Tesco’s, but this has little appeal for me.  I prefer the more traditional shops, but they can be a little mystifying.  I’ve come full circle now and am back at the museum.

Opposite the TI stands Kościół Narodzenia, the church where Ania and Hubert were married.  I remember it as being very beautiful inside.

Beside the church, a new addition, Park Narutowicza, provides entertainment with it’s ever changing fountains.  And a little street art, too.


From being a beautiful balmy day, the sky has begun to darken, exactly as the forecast had indicated.  I look for shelter, just in case, and am drawn to a sign, ‘Giganty Mocy’.  Not at all sure what I’ll find, in I go.  The gallery space is a revelation.

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The rain is spotting when I come out again.  A nearby florist provides the first of my presents, and I pause to read the synagogue sign. I backtrack a little way to a small indoor shopping centre, where chocolates and brandy are easily purchased.


The sky gets blacker and the rain starts to bounce.  People scurry for cover.  Nothing for it but to seek shelter until Ania and Hubert have finished their shopping expedition.  ‘Degustacja’ meets my requirements perfectly.  There’s cake, of course!

Bełchatów has become a big town, with numerous housing estates, largely due to the proximity of the power station.  My walk today centres on the older part of town, and nearby there’s also a huge outdoor market.  I think it’s fairly typical of many Polish towns.

This website will give you a few facts about the area, including my recently featured Zbiornik Wawrzkowniza.  I have one more small town to show you before heading south to Kraków.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the series and can come along with me.  Meantime, coffee, I think.  Don’t you?

walking logo

Many thanks to all my contributors this week, and to my readers too.  As always, there are some great walks featured below.  If you’d like to join me, details are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Just click on the logo.


I remember Peebles covered in snow and freezing! Lovely to see it through Smidge’s eyes :

The Tweed Valley and Neidpath Castle, Peebles

Jackie goes into a little history of an art form :


Roll up!  Roll up!  Get your tickets here!

T is for Theatreland#atozchallenge

Becky reminds me just how beautiful the Algarve can be in Springtime :

A quick stroll near Olhao da Restauracao

While Jude is having such a fine time in Cornwall!  Almost makes you want to move :

Walking around Trencrom

I am in awe of this lady!  Tish, doing ‘qi gong’, surrounded by dappled lushness.  Wouldn’t you want to be there?

The power of green and dappled sunlight this morning on the Linden Walk

From nature to architecture, with Jaspa :

The remarkable houses of Bello and Reborati, Montevideo, Uruguay

Do be careful Drake’s green-eyed monster doesn’t get you!

Airborne walk

And please help Esther up the hill, should you see her struggling :

Misty Morning Walk

Pauline gives us lots of reasons to visit Brisbane, and even goes interactive!

Final few hours in Brisbane

I knew about Dumbo in NYC, but I had no idea about this wonderful walk :

Brooklyn Bridge Park

I’m rounding off with a blog that’s new to me, but a place I’ve long wanted to visit.  Great photos, too :

Wye Valley: Symonds Yat Circular

That’s it for another week.  The weather here has turned dreary, but that’s Bank Holidays for you.  I have much catching up to do.  See you soon, and happy walking!

Zbiornik Wawrzkowizna


Life is pretty busy for my Polish family, so when I was bundled into the car for a swift outing, between shifts of work, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Staying in rural Zawady, I seldom did.  Language so often seemed to get the better of me.

With interest I gazed out of the window as we passed through our local town, Bełchatów, and soon after that turned down a path signed Zbiornik Wawrzkowizna.  I know!  Not the easiest place name you ever saw.  Dad insists that Polish is simple.  You just spell out each letter, slowly. Mystified, I followed, as we left the car in woodland parking.  A complex of buildings sat off to one side, and a gate led to a small animal farm and stables.

My cousin, Jadwiga, smilingly explained that she sometimes comes here to ride, and pointed out her favourite horse.  It was dimly lit in the stables, so I can’t show him to you.  Soon though we were out in bright sunlight, beside a swiftly flowing canal and heading towards a vast expanse of water.



Nestled in amongst the trees were a series of tall, green Toblerone-shaped chalets, several of them occupied.  A few youngsters lounged on the steps, idling the day away.  It felt a little like ‘Center Parcs’ and I realised that it was, in fact, a sports and recreation centre.  In Summer there would be an admission charge, but in low season it was free to wander, and we did.



It was wonderfully peaceful, with just the odd angler, casting a line.  Fishing competitions are held here sometimes, and in high season there are kayaks and pedaloes for hire.  A small child, well-wrapped up despite the warm temperatures, was digging in the sand on the man made beach. Her Dad hovered indulgently nearby.  Looking out across the lake at a certain point it becomes impossible not to see what everyone takes for granted around here.  Smoke rising from the chimneys of the power station that brought employment to this area. A blot on the landscape.



It’s rather sad, isn’t it?  But no-one seems to mind.  Jadzia had happy memories of distant summers, spent splashing around in those waters.  And we had no time to linger.  Her husband was off to work- at the power station, of course.

N is for “Nie rozumiem”


I’m having great fun trying to keep pace with both of my A-Z challenges, at Frizz’s weekly pace!  On Tuesdays the new letter comes out, so yet again I find myself leaping from Portugal to Poland.  It’s quite a stretch!

Can you guess what “nie rozumiem” means?  “I don’t understand”.

It’s probably the expression I have used the most in my visits to Poland.  Despite the best of intentions I struggle to get my ear attuned to Polish, and you can’t really say “please will you write it down so I can understand”.  It doesn’t seem polite somehow, and rather impedes the flow of conversation!

The mine at Belchatow

Another thing I’m not great at understanding is feats of engineering, but even I could see the type of industry that was going on when the family took me to inspect the nearby mine at Bełchatów.  This is Europe’s largest coal-fuelled thermal power station.  There are huge viewing platforms from which you can observe most of the process.  It’s the chief employer in the area and many of my family have worked there.  The technology looks impressive.

Seldom have I been photographed at an opencast mine

Seldom have I been photographed at an opencast mine

It's a monster!

It’s a monster!

Imagine having a lovely home like this right next door!

Imagine having a lovely home like this right next door!

I rather like the Polish style of fencing (but not the view!)

I rather like the Polish style of fencing (but not the view!)

We drove all around the enormous site to a lakeside location with sports facilities, and, you’ve guessed it, a cracking view of the power station!  Apparently it’s very popular in Summer.  Bełchatów is far from the seaside.

Lakeside chalets

Lakeside chalets

The view!

The view across the lake

But the family were happy and smiling!

But the family were happy and smiling!

Left to right they are- Uncle Jakub, cousins Adam and Bożena,  Kuba in the background (Bożena’s younger son), cousin Marta, who is also married to Adam, and Czesława, Jakub’s wife.  I hope you are paying close attention.  There may be a test!

It was a warm day and afterwards Adam took us all for icecream.  There was one more treat in store.  Back at Jakub’s, Czescia cooked “ziemniaki z smażony tłuszcz”- potatoes with fried pork scratchings.  It was explained that the dish was very popular in the days when people had nothing in Poland.  Potatoes were an important staple and I have tasted some of the best potatoes ever, homegrown from Aunt Lusia’s garden.  I have to say that today’s dish was not much to my taste, but Dad and the family made short work of it.

Enjoying "old style" Polish cuisine

Enjoying “old style” Polish cuisine

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little venture into Polish culture today.  I have to thank Julie Dawn Fox for starting the Personal A-Z Challenge, a long time ago, and Frizz at Flickr Comments for helping me to catch up.  The links and logos give more information.

I can breathe a sigh of relief now because I have already posted the letter “O” for both Poland and Portugal.  You can read them from my A-Z pages.


H is for Hotel


You may remember, when I started my personal A-Z challenge on Poland, I gave you the briefest of introductions to the Polish Alphabet?  Well, “h” is one of those letters that is very little used, at the beginning of a word, in Polish.  More often you will see “ch”, which is pronounced as in the Scottish word “loch”.  Thus “chleb” (bread- very delicious in Poland!) sounds a little like “Hleb”.

Are you following me so far?  When it came to choosing a word to represent “H” in my A-Z, I had few choices.  My first thought was “Historia”, but it would take a far better woman than me to tackle Polish history in a single blog post!  So, I had “Hiszpania” or “Holandia”- not very appropriate in a blog about Poland?  Or “huśtawka”- a lovely word that means “swing”; “hokej”- a game I was rubbish at in my schooldays, or “humor”- couldn’t we all use a little of that!

Dad with cousin Irena, on the swingseat (hustawka) on her patio

Dad with cousin Irena, on the swingseat (hustawka) on her patio

It was when I thought back to my first ever Polish lesson that the solution became clear.  I pounced with delight on the word “hotel”, leaping out of the text to embrace me.  Pronounced, of course, in the Polish way, but a familiar and welcome sight, never-the-less.  It is one of a dozen or so words that have been adopted into the Polish language.

To date, I have stayed in three Polish hotels.  I mentioned one of them in my post B is for Belchatow.  Because I am visiting family when I go to Poland, and am made very welcome in all of their homes, I seldom have need of an hotel.  When my husband, Michael, accompanied me, on the occasion of Krzysztof and Marzena’s wedding, we needed a little privacy, and opted to stay for a few nights in the Sport Hotel.  Large and central to Bełchatów, it made a great base for exploring the town.  But then, as now, my Polish was a little shaky, and on a sweltering hot day we were served piping hot soup with our breakfast.  Michael’s faith in my ability to negotiate the Polish language was severely dented.

Water features in the park at the centre of Belchatow

Water features in the park at the centre of Belchatow

Visiting family in Wrocław with my Dad, I again stayed in a local hotel, though Dad managed to squeeze in with the family.  Living in a 3-bedroomed flat, with 3 children, dog, cat and terrapin, private space is a luxury for my cousin, Wojtek and his lovely wife, Agnieszka.  Despite this, I have seldom met a happier, more close-knit family.  I could not have been made more welcome in sharing meals and family time with them.  Both work, but were at great pains to show me their beautiful city, and once I’d got my bearings, set me loose to wander, returning when I was hungry.  I’m not known for my sense of direction, so this sometimes took longer than planned.  I haphazardly changed trams and buses half a dozen times, and walked and walked till I found them again!  But a smile, a hug and a plate of food always awaited, before I returned to the hotel for the evening.  I never ate breakfast at the hotel- goodness knows what I might have ordered!

Wroclaw's colourful tram junction

Wroclaw’s colourful tram junction

You might know I'd squeeze in a boat or two

You might know I’d squeeze in a boat or two

Qubus Hotel, Wroclaw

Qubus Hotel, Wroclaw

The foyer in Hotel Jan Pawel on Ostrow Tumski

The foyer in Hotel Jan Pawel on Ostrow Tumski, Wroclaw

Super stylish Hotel Monopol

Super stylish Hotel Monopol

Agnieszka and youngest daughter, Kasia, on Hotel Monopol's rooftop terrace

Agnieszka and youngest daughter, Kasia, on Hotel Monopol’s rooftop terrace

Rooftop view from the Hotel Monopol

Rooftop view from the Hotel Monopol

My third hotel experience occurred in the small village of Poronin, in the Tatry Mountains area, and was the most joyous of occasions.  Not unlike a large Swiss chalet, the Hotel Weronika (don’t forget to pronounce the “w” as “v”) provided food and shelter for a huge gathering of us on the occasion of Adam and Marta’s Silver Wedding.  The setting was beautiful, and the hotel grounds provided lots of space for the youngsters to use up energy. (theirs, and ours!)  And then, in good old Polish fashion, we ate, danced and drank till we could do it no more.  Adam’s oldest daughter, funnily enough called Weronika, is getting married in May 2014.  What a celebration that will be!

View from our hotel gardens of the church in Poronin

View from our hotel gardens of the church in Poronin

I think that’s enough to tell you about my hotel experiences in Poland, for now. You can find more of the ups and downs of my reunification with my Polish family on my personal A-Z of Poland page.  Meantime, if you’d like to join in with Julie Dawn Fox’s A-Z challenge, the banner below will take you to the main site, where you can have a good look around.


B is for Bełchatów


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?

A tale of three weddings

To call a Polish wedding an explosive occasion would be no exaggeration.  I have vivid recollections of fireworks raining down from the pinnacle of a sparkling tiara of wedding cakes.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual.

It all started one April with two wedding invitations, for back to back weekends, to the offspring of two different Polish cousins.  Fortunately both lived in close proximity, in the neighbourhood of Belchatow, Central Poland.  It was only a year since we had been reunited with our Polish family, and neither Dad nor I could wait for the experience, which we had been warned would be “lively”.

Jemy, pijemy, tanczymy-“we eat, we drink, we dance”, sums it up, and we certainly did!  A Polish wedding is a very traditional and religious occasion, both romantic and innocent in a heart-warming way.  Prior to going to church, the bride, groom and parents assemble at the bride’s home for a blessing.  Bride and groom then travel together to the church in a car adorned with paper flowers. The guests follow them in a humorous cavalcade.  Road work barricades may be set up at intervals, to be bypassed on payment of a bottle of vodka!  The guests toot car horns and heckle.

The church service, around 5pm Saturday, is a solemn and beautiful occasion.  Then, the fun starts.

At the reception, the tables groan beneath their load.  Pyramids of fruit and sweets are surrounded by savoury platters.  Cake cuddles up to the vodka.  We raise a toast and sing the traditional Sto lat– 100 years.  Comes my favourite part- the bride and groom take to the floor, at the centre of a heart made from the guests floral tributes, or perhaps candle tealights.  The guests join hands and slow dance around the room.

Food next, accompanied naturally by vodka, and copious quantities of fruit juices, herbata (tea) and kawa (coffee).  Laden trolleys approach and the tables are heaped with soup, then chicken, pork, fish, pasta dishes, it just keeps on coming.  At every pause in the conversation, someone proposes na zdrowie- good health, and another shot of vodka disappears.  Just as your stomach is protesting “no more”, the band strikes up and the whole room are on their feet.  A gentle polka becomes faster and faster, the room whirling past.

Several numbers later the band subsides and it’s back to the tables, where yet more food is being delivered.  The vodka bottles are replenished as soon as they are empty.  A hot beetroot drink, tasty in small quantities.   Beer for those not drinking vodka.  Not wise to mix them, but Dad has left his sensible Polish head at home.  Still he gamely gets up, walking stick in hand, when the music starts up again.  Which of the nieces to gallantly partner?  A kiss on the hand, the reward for a dance, bestowed by every Polish gentleman.

At midnight the lights are dimmed and a hush falls.  The wedding cake makes its entrance, fizzing joyfully with giant sparklers.  Oohs and aahs, then it’s distributed and eaten and we’re dancing again.  This is how the night passes by, eating, drinking, dancing, laughing and smiling.  As dawn breaks the feasting comes to an end.  But only for a little while- the party reassembles after a bit of a nap. At 4pm Sunday we’re ready to go again!

Astonishing to English eyes, the soignee, sophisticated bridal party don jeans and grab mop and buckets to clean up in readiness for the next guests, then back into the glad rags!

Let me introduce you to Ania, daughter of my cousin Jadwiga, and her new husband Hubert.  We had never met as they had been working in Reading to finance the wedding and a fresh start in their homeland.  None-the-less we couldn’t have been made more welcome, to the extent that the bride’s parents sacrificed their own bed for us.

The second wedding was for my Uncle Jakub’s son Krzysztof and his partner Ilona.  We stayed with Jakub and his wife Czescia and no-one was displaced from their bed.  The wedding was at the impressive parish church at Grocholice.  Construction work had begun on the marital home- a joint effort with family contributing skills and labour according to their abilities.  Till completion they would live with Ilona’s parents.

It’s obvious that stamina is a requisite for Polish weddings.  At the poprawyny (the second wedding celebration) more emphasis was placed on younger members of the family.  The odd solo was performed on stage by the least shy of the little ones.  Silly games were entered into with gusto, a favourite being a “family” version of musical chairs.  The prize was invariably vodka.  Most memorable of all was the presentation to my Uncle Jakub of two delightful baby goats.  He has a good plot of land with hens and beehives.  The kids were a huge hit with the grandchildren.

Eating, drinking and dancing continued throughout the celebrations, till my legs were turning to jelly.  Ania contrived to extend her wedding into the Monday.  I’m not sure if this was due to an excess of food or a larger than usual family.  For Krzysztof the party ended and the cleaning began after 10pm on Sunday evening.  A party and a half!

You’re thinking I can’t count, aren’t you?  It was after Ania’s wedding that it was confided to me that her younger brother, also a Krzysztof, was to marry his sweetheart Marzena the following year.  Both of them live and work in Southern England and we were delighted to be asked back to Poland the next August to take part in a third wonderful Polish wedding.

Since then, babies have been born.  But that’s a different tale altogether.