More Polish meanderings

Today we got a car, which made things easier. After spending some time at the railway station to check out which ticket I needed to get to Prague, we had a quick walk around the shops and onto an industrial estate.

This might sound a strange to do on holiday, but on this estate are the Polish offices of Soft Solutions – Gosia and my old employers. There is still a chap there who knows us both and to say he was shocked to see me there is an understatement! Hey, Artur!

We just made it in time for Gosia’s dentist’s appointment and tried to visit her church but mass was just starting so we couldn’t wander around. Always tomorrow.

Up at a shopping mall, I was introduced to Mrs Gosia – Gosia’s mum. We snacked on ice cream and then Mrs Gosia drove us into the country for a rather delicious meal in one of Gosia’s favourite restaurants – Chata Za Wsia (“cottage outside village”). She’d had her university graduation meal here (stuffed piglet – which has to be ordered five days in advance) but we settled on Hungarian pancake (“Placki po wegiersku”). The closest thing I can think of is lasagna, although the pancakes don’t normally have cheese on top as this one did. Filling, but not so filling that it didn’t warrant a desert afterwards.

Nearby was a small military vehicle display, I think owned by the man who was collecting the small entry fee. These were all Russian technology and mainly field command vehicles, RADAR carriers and one helicopter. All of them can be climbed onto and into, and even have the witing blueprints and technical manuals inside. OK, I can’t read them but they looked cool. As I thanked the man on the way out, He gave me a sharp, deep bow from the waist and a huge smile – obviously a man who likes to show off his toys!

I (rudely, I’m sorry) snoozed in the car as Gosia’s mum drove us for almost ninety minutes out to Krzeszow Monastery in a town I didn’t catch the name of. The area around the building has several other structures, including a church and a crypt. There is a small entry fee which covers them all and it seemed that Gosia and I were the only ones there. The church has been restored – in fact is currently being restored – and the before/after images no display of the paintwork is stunning. The original images were, in places, almost unrecogniseable but are now as bright as if they’d just been painted for the first time.

The mausoleum of the last Piast royal princes & princesses was closed, which is a shame as Gosia says it’s nice and creepy but we did get to climb the main tower which isn’t normally allowed. The view from the top is pretty spectacular and gives a lovely overview of a typical Polish village.

Mrs Gosia then drove us for another long distance to see some of Gosia’s friends in Karpacz. More typical Polish hospitality resulted as we were fed delicious cakes, tea and (non-Polish) beer. I was also let loose on the internet for ages as Gosia caught up on gossip.

Then a taxi back to Chez Gosia, more granny-supplied nibbles and bed once more. I could get to like it here.

I bet I spell these all wrong

Another abbreviated post and it’s all Gosia’s fault for managing to squeeze so much into my short visit to the west of Poland! And my fault for not understanding Polish so I have to skip over so much rich details.

We slept a little later than intended (I’ve noticed that’s getting to be a theme on this blog) before catching the bus to Szklarska Poreba for a wander in the hills. During winter, this is popular skiing territory as can be gathered from the shop signs and availability year-round of ski lifts.

Sadly, the weather sucked. Gosia had picked this week to head home as it’s usually such a nice time of year but Poland (and Europe as a whole) was getting the tail end of the torrential rains being thrown down on the UK. Between heavy downpours the sun was lovely and hot, but just not out and about often enough.

We decided between us to go for a shorter walk than planned, so got the chairlift halfway up the hillside instead of to the top. Rain and fast winds would not have been pleasant to deal with. This hill is called Szrenica (“frosted” or “frost covered”) and it is the second-highest peak after Sniezka. We took a break for a hearty lunch of chocolate bars, crisps and soft drinks (yum) and began our hike down.

Around halfway, we paid a few Zloty to stand at the base of a waterfall called Kamienczyk and get all wet again after having just dried off. Hard hats were provided as part of the entry fee – though this didn’t save a woman and her child a 34 years ago when a huge rock worked loose and crushed them as they viewed the heavy falls. After this accident, the waterfall was closed to the public for almost 20 years. I steered clear of the rock faces and took my chances with the heavy spray.

We walked through the forest to the bottom of the hill and said “hello” to some working horses before returning to the town. Gosia did some jewellery shopping and we enjoyed more Polish beer before catching the bus back to base.

Granny Gosia fed us a traditional Polish dinner (delicious) before we struggled zombie-like into our respective chambers.

Dzien dobry, Polska!

I staggered to the airport bus stop as the time drew near 4am and hopped into the express which would wing me to the distant Frankfurt-Hahn. Worth noting if you get a budget flight to/from Frankfurt – check the actual airport. Frankfurt Airport itself is barely 15 minutes from the city centre. Not that it made much difference to me. I was asleep within three minutes of buying my ticket and didn’t open my eyes again until we pulled into the airport parking lot.

Unlike on the bus, I could barely sleep a wink on the plane. No real reason, I just couldn’t nod off. We landed early, and I made my way through the immigration at Wroclaw (pronounced Vrotswahf) and onto the number 406 bus, getting off at the main train station and waiting for my guide and hostess, Gosia. Gosia and I worked together at Matrix / Soft Solutions for a couple of years and I’d not seen her since some time before I left the UK. It didn’t take her long to appear and it was great to see another friend again after so long. This European jaunt is turning out to be full of reunions!

Gosia loves Wroclaw and it shows. We spent a good day walking around, from 10am until after 9pm. Basically, dig out the Lonely Planet, look up Wroclaw and we did everything. And then some.

The church off the main square (though we couldn’t get up the tower), the two small buildings in front, beer in one of the oldest bars in Wroclaw, ice cream in a lovely little restaurant, KFC in a mall (yay!), the beautiful town hall, the university buildings with their stunning painted walls, street statues, the museum (which wasn’t that great to be honest), the Panorama (which was), cheap internet (this is where the Berlin idea bit the dust)… Wroclaw’s got a lot, particularly if you like churches. There are some fantastic buildings, and some near bridges.

I apologise to Gosia for rushing this post and not giving all the proper names of places. I’m just so far behind on posts right now I’ll need to return to this one when I have more time and beef it up! Even better if I can get to somewhere where I can easily insert Polish characters for that authentic “I know what I’m talking about” feel. Even though my attempts at speaking the language sound like a lisping man trying to speak with a mouthful of water.

I will rattle on a bit about the Panorama of Raclawicka. This is a huge circular painting created in 1894, showing details of a battle which took place 100 years earlier. The building in which is is housed was erected in the 1970s (if memory serves) and really showcases this 114m x 15m artwork well. “Real” objects lean up and “into” the painting, some so indistinguishably (there’s a new word for you) as to look like they just ooze from the canvas. It gives the whole thing an amazing sense of depth.

Entry isn’t cheap at 20 Zloty (around UK3.50 – expensive by Polish standards) but includes a mandatory guided tour and entry to the museum over the road as well. No photos or video allowed at all. Shame, as it really is something special – but if it encourages more visitors then that’s fine by me.

By the time we had one last beer in a street cafe, it was getting cold and dark. We just squeezed onto the last bus to Jelenia Gora for the 90 minute ride to Gosia’s home town. And indeed the very house she grew up in!

It was definitely dark by the time we got there, but her granny was still up to welcome us home. You couldn’t meet a more stereotypical grandmother – shorter than either of us, hair drawn back with clips and a lovely granny smile. I felt welcome the second I walked through the door. Of course, we were fed and watered before bed. A whole room to myself – luxury!