Poland

Reminiscences from Poland, 2

If you read Reminiscenses from Poland, you know that I reached Bełchatów, almost without mishap.  Immediately I was enveloped in a warm Zawady welcome, in the place that Dad once called home.  His only remaining sister, Aunt Lusia, lives there still, daughters and grandchildren close at hand.  A long summer evening was spent in her garden, rabbits proliferating, and a cardboard box sheltering the tiniest kittens you ever saw.  I could feel my ankles being bitten, the pond and the sultry air an open invitation.  All in a good cause.  Her arm tucked through mine, we took a gentle turn beneath the apple trees.  Not long since she was in hospital, with family fearful that she would not recover.

As darkness fell and eyes began to droop, I was returned to cousin Jadzia’s house.  Halfway through my Polish adventure.  I had scoured timetables, and lost sleep over how I would get from Bełchatów to Kraków.  In the event, the problem was solved for me.  Jadzia’s daughter Ania and family were driving to the Tatry Mountains, south of Kraków, for a few days holiday.  If I didn’t mind being a bit squashed, they would take me with them and break the journey at Adam’s house.  I’ve never been one to mind a squeeze.  And so it was that me and 2 little girls, with 2 sunhats and a furry green frog, shared the back seat on a 4 hour journey.

We took the scenic route to avoid roadworks, but it was market day in Radomsko, and the car crawled beside the brimming stalls.  Once out in gently rolling countryside, Hubert slipped a CD in and we sang along to Polish nursery rhymes.  Two year old Nadia’s eyes sparkled as she sang, but all of a sudden they were filled with distress and she was being sick.  Swerving off the road into a field, operation clean up began.  “She’s never done that before” Hubert ruefully observed.  “She’s normally a good traveler”.  Five minutes later, in fresh clothes, she was beaming again, and munching a bag of crisps.

At Adam’s house all was suspiciously quiet.  No sign of the two little boys who lived there, but the playroom overflowed with toys.  A lovely respite for two little girls, who didn’t stop till every shelf and cupboard was empty and there was no space to play.  Out into the garden for a quick burn off energy then, fuelled with coffee and cake, Mum and Dad round them up.  Time to say goodbye….

I had a luxurious hour to myself before the onslaught.  Toys swiftly back on shelves, a peep at TV (Rafa was playing in the French Open) and I was sitting on the balcony, waiting.  Hot and mildly harrassed, Weronika and Marta shepherded two small boys through the gate.  Bedlam!  But in such a good way.  My turn to play with Marti, 18 months old and a happy soul, and his rather more cautious brother, Bartek, aged three.  Gradually the household filled as first Adam returned from work, then Wojtek, Weronika’s husband, and finally my lovely neice, Ula.  One member was missing.   Łukasz now lives with his girlfriend and I was promoted to his bedroom.  The buzz of chatter, and patter of slippered feet on the tiled floors, filled the evening as we ate and drank.  And finally, collapsed gratefully into bed.

Fluffy clouds greeted me through the skylight next morning.  Sniadanie (breakfast), and an outing to the park, followed by wolny czas (free time).  When I returned from the city, preparations were in full swing, the house full of bustle.  Adam’s pride and joy is his barbecue room, a design wonder of wood and folding glass panels.  The end wall is solid brick to enclose the grill and a smoker.  Marta’s pride and joy is her garden and the delicious meals she provides for her family.  Between them they conjure up many a feast.

That evening there was a guest of honour.  A gentleman to whom I will always be in debt.  Tomasz, Adam’s business partner, a warm and generous man and an impeccable English speaker, made the phone call to Dad that reunited him with his Polish family. (A night I will never forget, my tearful Dad hardly daring to believe his luck).  Taste is of supreme importance to Tomasz, and is one of the foundations of the bakery business.  Fond of wine and good company, with many tales to tell, you can imagine how our evening progressed.  Adam provided salmon and garlic bread from the barbecue and smoked sea bass to compliment Marta’s salads.  Wine flowed, and then Łukasz arrived, affectionate as ever.  He had spent the afternoon sleeping after an early shift.  The children played.  Sandpit, bubbles and swing, until it was time to haul them off to bed….

Last day…ostatni dzien… and one last trip into the city.  A tram ride home, stopping to collect a deep red rose bush for Marta, and a bag of cherries.  A whirl of emotions.  Adam, watering the garden after another hot one.  Marta, pottering beside him, relaxed after feeding everybody again.  The children at a birthday party in the neighbours’ garden next door, laughter and occasional tears drifting our way.  The evening settling around us.  Time for more goodbyes… we don’t know till when.  In halting Polish on the way to the airport, I try to tell Adam how very grateful I am.  His eyes twinkle as hugs me….

You must have met Cathy over at Wander.essence?  I’m adding this to her Prose challenge.  It’s the last of my Polish adventures… for now.

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.

 

Jo’s Monday walk : Same river, different city

You might remember, a few weeks ago, I had the bubbly and delicious company of Gilly on the banks of the River Wisła (Vistula) in Warsaw.  Fast forward a mere 5 days and there I was, beside that same river but many miles further south, in Poland’s second city, Kraków.  A mighty river, this one, it begins its journey on the Baltic Coast and flows south for 1,022 kilometres (635 miles).  How I got there is another story, but my mission today is simply to take you for a wander and, as luck would have it, a boat ride.

Earlier that morning I’d been in Kraków’s green and leafy suburbs, assisting with toddlers aged 3 and 18 months on an outing to the park.  Wilting in the heat, the little family had been glad to return home.  A cooling drink, then I hopped a bus into a city that never fails to delight me.

With no particular aim in mind, as I approached the river it was almost automatic to jump off.  If cooling breezes were to be found anywhere in Kraków, this would be the place.  Truth be told, I didn’t get very far before the notion of a glass of wine and an icecream became very appealing indeed.  What could be finer than sitting on the deck of a restaurant boat, facing lovely Na Skalce (the Church on the Rock)?  The steady hum of traffic crossing Most Grunwaldzki became a soothing murmur.  Hooray!  Here comes the paddle steamer, big wheels churning.  And a burst of speedboat cleaves the water in front of Wawel Castle.

I couldn’t sit there enjoying myself all day.  Time to cross over the river.  But scarcely was I on the other side than temptation struck again.  No, not cake!  The first time I ever came to Kraków I walked my husband’s legs off.  He was more than happy to agree to a boat ride, just to sit down.  Unfortunately on that occasion the ride was accompanied by a light drizzle, whereas this was the perfect day to be afloat.  One of those lovely little wooden boats was about to leave the jetty.  It was meant to be, and 30zł (about £6) for an hour wasn’t going to break the bank.

The boat sailed in one direction along the river, as far as the Salwator Church, then returned to the jetty.  This half hour trip cost 15zł, but if you stayed on board it then sailed in the opposite direction, passing Na Skalce and a sequence of bridges before returning to the jetty.  This second leg I found fascinating as the area was less familiar to me.  An idea was germinating that I might return the following day to explore on foot.

Trams and trains passed overhead, but it was the bridge Kładka Ojca Bernatka that particularly captured my imagination, and I resolved to come back for a closer look at the figures suspended over the river.  A building with an industrial chimney and appearing to be clad in corten steel also caught my eye.  On the river bank, the footpath stretches grandly into the distance, stylish riverboat restaurants just calling out to be visited.

Disembarking, I look wistfully up at Wawel Castle.  No time today.  I am being summoned to ‘obiad’, late afternoon lunch with my Polish family.  Walking back to the bus stop I mingle with school trips, and the riverside coach park bustling with vendors.  Billboards shout holiday destinations, demanding my attention, but who would willingly leave this fair city?

Come with me next week and we’ll explore the world beyond that beautiful bridge.  Meanwhile there are many stories to tell.  Thanks for bearing with me as I flit from here to there.  I’m grounded now, for a little while, and looking forward to my English summer.  I hope you’ve got the kettle on as there are some wonderful walks to share.  I’ll go easy on the cake as I over-indulged at an Open Garden event yesterday.

From high in the Alps to the lovely capital of Malta, with my good friend Drake :

Last morning in the Alps

Little pearl in the sun

You can always rely on Debbie to make life colourful and interesting :

Industry and art come together in Seoul

And for Susan to write beautifully, whatever the weather :

Walking Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

32 years together!  Lady Lee shares a special celebration :

Many thanks!

Share an extravaganza of food with Jackie, and then…

Coffee to go

Jesh takes a look at life, always in her own unique way :

Background Jumps

While Jaspa takes us back in history for a closer look at these ruins :

The Step Pyramid of Djoser – Part of the Saqqara Necropolis, Egypt

Persistence rewarded for Eunice and ruins of an entirely different nature at the end of her walk :

Part 2 – Llanlleiana, Porth Wen, and a long walk

Emma treats us to one of Wales’ great beauty spots, lovely paintings, and even a hang glider ride!

Gower Coastal Walk : Rhossili Bay

Who IS that mysterious lady on the beach?  Walking with Meg always makes me smile :

Eurobodalla beaches : around Tuross

It’s a while since Jude took a walk.  She’s usually too busy in the garden.  Wild orchids and butterflies, a lovely reward :

A Walk to the Lighthouse

Another orchid, I think, from my lovely Gilly, enfolded in lushness with a dramatic dragonfly :

Walking to the mill

And in complete contrast, Cathy finds spellbinding beauty in the desert :

Upper Ute Canyon & the Coke Ovens Trail at Colorado National Monument

A magnificent collection and many thanks to one and all.  Join me any time on Jo’s Monday walk and I’ll try to make you welcome.  The sun is still shining here in the north east and it’s time I rejoined my English walking group.  Wishing you all a lovely week!

Six word Saturday

Shout it from the roof tops!

It’s June, and Becky’s back again with a brand new series of squares.  Knowing how much everyone enjoyed the last series, I can’t help but feel I’ll be missing out, but I’m off to Poland tomorrow.  Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square) in Warsaw will be my only contribution to Roof Squares for now, but I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on those roof tops.

No Monday walk next week, but I have a post scheduled for Thursday, when I hope to be on my way to Kraków with a fistful of happy memories.  Apologies if my responses are slow.  Till then, have a great weekend and don’t forget to share your Six Words with Debbie.

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.

Piotrków Trybunalski

IMG_6661I’d like to spend just a little more time with my Zawady family, before returning you to the big city sights of Kraków.

We sat out, on my last night, under the stars and beside a roaring bonfire.  Myself and Jadzia, with husband Andrzej and sister, Ewa.  I was quiet, letting the conversation flow around me, while Jadzia and Andrzej took turns to stoke the fire, the kiełbasa bursting and sizzling on the grill.  My head was still full of the day’s excitement, with Meg in Łódź.

Broad smiles and hugs had greeted me when I pronounced the day ‘fantastyczny’ on my return.  Ewa was quick to produce a bottle of something soothing to rub on my black eye, which was rapidly developing after the previous night’s misadventure.  How is it possible to walk into a lighted porch lamp?  I’ve no idea, but I knew that an early start was intended next day.

If you look closely you’ll see Andrzej, sitting on the hammock.  For the past 50 years he has wanted a motor bike.  Finally, as he approaches retirement, Jadzia is considering letting him buy one.  And so we went to the Saturday morning market at Piotrków Trybunalski.  The last place it would have occurred to me to go looking for a bike, but sure enough, bikes there were.  And just about every other conceivable thing too.  We stowed our purchases (but not a bike- they were all too old!) in the car, and drove into the town centre.

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Seldom have I seen a sleepier Saturday morning than at Piotrków Trybunalski, yet the grandeur of the main square hints at its illustrious past. Medieval Piotrków was an important trading centre, and much later became the seat of the Sejm, the Polish Parliament.  In between times it was home to the Polish prince’s tribunals or law courts, including the Royal Tribunal, the highest court in Poland.  I knew little of this, as I strolled through the peaceful square.

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Under Austrian occupation in World War 1, Piotrków became a centre for Polish patriotic activity and a headquarters of the voluntary troops, the Polish Legions.  The town had a large Jewish population, and in October 1939 became the site of the first Jewish Ghetto of World War 11.  Fierce fighting took place but the town was subsequently occupied by the Germans for 6 years.  The Great Synagogue, listed as one of Poland’s most notable architectural buildings, was destroyed by the Nazis, but renovated after the war.

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As we wandered, Jadzia pointed out the school she used to go to, catching the early bus from Zawady each morning.  She was proud of the connection with Copernicus, and I was happy to be there with her.

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It was time to return to Zawady, but first a very swish motor bike shop, and a stop to collect cake.  Just one last coffee before we set off to meet Dad, for the journey south.  And then the hugs, goodbye.

Paula has a new approach to Thursday’s Special this week.  I think I might just squeeze this under the heading of Transience, don’t you?  Family meetings and former glory.

Zbiornik Wawrzkowizna

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.