On, On.... Around Poland ...

Tuesday 1 June Tychy

It was a good early start, and I was concentrating on getting around Krakow without going through the city. It was not as easy as it seemed, and I had a couple of false starts before getting onto Highway 52 and then branching off on to Highway 28 which took me all the way through to Nowy Sacz. This was a secondary road with a reasonable art of traffic on it at different times, totally uneventful, apart from showers of rain on occasions.

No Internet at this hotel, my telephone tester informs me that had I pluged my computer into the telephone system, it would have fried the modem with the high voltage that is on some of the old telephone systems, so it was worth the $60 it cost.

There are a tremendous amount of churches in Poland, some absolutely incredible in size and design in what appears to be a very small population. What is however is more interesting is the cemeteries are always beside these churches, they are clean and tidy, no wild grass growing, and they all appear to have flowers on the graves. The whole cemetery is a blaze of colour, this is quite opposite to the cemeteries I've seen at home and in many other countries, this must be something to do with the closeness of the family unit in Poland, perhaps to do with the size of the families, perhaps to do with the non mobility of each generation, or if some do move away there is always many back at home.

Poland is rather delightful in so much as I see things that we were experiencing in the 1940s. Put that beside high-powered cars storming through your village, satellite TV pouring in images from the outside world, yet it is still safe to let your beautiful little five-year old daughter walked to school one to two Miles away. In fact you see all of the children walking to school, no mothers in SUV's waiting for the child at the gate of the school.

As I drive through the countryside, I'm very much aware how the average family is dependent on what they can grow in their own Gardens, every house has a major garden, and as is not uncommon to see three generations working in the garden, hoeing the rows of potatoes and weeding the garden.

From time to time you see people on the side of the road selling their produce, in a simple way, no large signs or prices, you just know what is currently available and obviously know what you need to pay.

It is not uncommon to see a man or woman with a Scythe cutting the grass one sweep of the Scythe at a time. In other locations you will see this grass that has been cut, being turned by hand so it dries evenly, being put into small haystacks, build around a wooden frame to let it dry evenly, you see a man and woman out in the field with a horse and plough, the man is guiding the plough in the woman is guiding the horse. They get this plough out into the field by carrying it on their wagon, with the same horse, and this way they move out to the field that needs to be ploughed. The pace of life moves at horse pace, as it has for hundreds of years.

Some other houses that I'm seeing being built four storeys high and quite large in amount of space on the land and any reason I can think of for such a large house is that it will hold two or three generations of a family. The girls that I'm seeing pushing prams through the villages as I speed my way around the country are very young. I am making the assumption that again it is like it was in the fifties when the average girl left school to get married and have children. Whilst this may be an over generalisation of the situation I would suggest that is more of the norm than the exception.

Hitching a ride with a car that is going the direction you want to go, is very commonplace, from young teenage girls, through grandmothers. The situation is of course that almost everybody is in the same economic range like we were in the fifties, so just because somebody is trying to hitch a ride does not place them in the deadbeat category that is often the case in our more affluent society.

I am surprised at the lack of English I am being exposed to, even in Russia and the Ukraine I received more responses to my use of the English language that I am currently receiving in Poland. If they're teaching at school no one is game to use it.

It is a very green country, a tremendous amount of trees, and lots of grass's and crops being grown everywhere. I saw my first tractor pulling hay baler today and to balance that a horse pulled tedder (a mechanical grass turner). I wonder how long it will be before automation really moves into the countryside and if it will create a depopulation like it has in most other countries.

Usually when I get up on high ground I'm absolutely amazed at the numbers of houses I see scattered through the valleys and when I look at the map I'm using of Poland, and see the number of roads in the names of towns and villages everywhere, yet I pass through a lot which are not even mentioned on the map, how many of the these will become ghost villages like we're seen in the West.

I am continually amazed at the numbers of photographers with premises in the centre of town that are obviously able to stay in business. It appears to be one of the very few countries where it is still possible to look forward to an occupation as a professional photographer. I guess the closeness of the families, the communion children, the early marriages all help this state of affairs, and as I said before the lack of the general population possessing sophisticated cameras.

Wednesday 2 June, Nisko

Another uneventful day staying on Highway 28 all away to the Ukrainian border, and then on to my current location, all time driving through a very agricultural based landscape with many people at work in the fields. From time to time a horse and wagon is restricting the line of traffic, and one always has to be on the look out for the many bicycles in use, and where there are no footpaths the pedestrians walking on the side of the road and included in these can be very small children on their way to school or home.

No telephone available or Internet cafe so again I am cut off from the rest of the world. Hopefully the rest of the world will use this moment to its best advantage.


I've been thinking a lot about my experiences in Egypt and to my hurried exit, trying to work out why, when I've met others that loved the place. I think my problem is that I go in there and try and live like a local by staying in a local hotel, often I'm the only white face there, so naturally I standout to the extreme, so of course all locals try and get as much money as they can off me, and I sitback dumbly wondering why! Normally when you go to these places you buy a package which whilst it may not be a tour it does place you in a different situation where you are amongst your own and there is less drama on a daily basis. Having finally work this out I don't really have any inclination to change what I do so I reserve the right to complain again in the future.

Thursday 3 June outside Krakow.

This morning I took stock of what I was doing driving around the countryside and thought I should spend at least a couple of days and Krakow because it is meant to be the most beautiful city in Poland. It turned out I was 160 kilometres from Krakow when I made this decision so I took a reasonably direct main road and was in the city about almost three hours later.

Again I was driving through agricultural country, but there was a vast difference in what I saw on a main road to the last few days on secondary roads. Today I saw a lot of tractors and other mechanised equipment being operated on the farms, however there was probably an equal amount of manual labour being used intermingled with the mechanisation.

When I got into the city limits are saw a nice hotel -- restaurant -- petrol station, it was all very new and I thought I should stop there, but No that was too easy so I drove into the centre of the city, stopped at a few hotels, and they will all full, so decided to head out-of-town in either try that hotel I saw, or move on. It basically confirmed to my feeling that all big cities, that are strange, should be avoided where humanly possible if you have a car. It will take three times as long to do what a taxi driver can do in a few minutes, even if he charges you twice the normal rate, you will still be saving money.

So I head out-of-town, of course I took the wrong turning, two hours later after seeing the hotel, that I saw on the way into town, I was outside the entrance, yes they had room, yet I could connect my computer to their network, (not quite sure what is wrong however, I can receive e-mails but I can't send them, may be a problem at the New Zealand end). It is a nice new clean hotel and two minutes walk from the bus -- tram station which will take me right into town.

Usually halfway through my trip I start rethinking my luggage and what I should and should not have, I'm beginning to wonder instead of having one suitcase that is 28 x 14 x 12, and weights packed about 30 kilos, perhaps I should have two which will be easier to carry up the stairs as I had to do many times on this trip and all have the added advantage of possibly having things more accessible. I been travelling and buying suitcases now for at least 30 years, and I would have thought I had all the answers, but am obviously a slow learner.

Friday 4 June

Today I took the bus into Krakow city, it was just a short walk to the depot, but not realising where to get off I visited the city on the other side from where I was located which was interesting, back on a bus is returning to the city and this time I got off an likely spot in so I here I was on the city, walked around, that a few photographs, and then it was a matter of looking at two buildings which could only be described as excessive in every format, the castle up on the hill and the cathedral that was within its grounds. I must make comment that these Eastern European castles appear to have a lot of the original tools of war and are usually in very good condition.

The cathedral was extremely expensively built and decorated. Both would have been built from a labour of the peasants, no I'm not becoming a socialist, I don't mind if somebody makes money through their own efforts and ability, but what I've seen today was the excesses through birthright and the ability to raise taxes, be it from the State or the church. Neither helped the people within the country improve their standard of living in any way.

Going home I had three attempts to get off at the correct stop, the first I went beyond it, the second the tram driver took me past and forgot about me, and the third I zeroed in and made it.

His quite interesting being able to log onto their network, I can clear all my e-mails, upload pages into my website, cruise the Internet to my heart's content, search the Internet, but I cannot send e-mails no matter how hard I try! Some computer genius out there will be retell me what and why this is, but it looks like I'll have to get on to a telephone line again to send any mails.

I've always used a second Visa card overseas to draw money from the ATM machines, because my New Zealand cash card would not work. This time forgetting to update my pin number on my new Visa card meant I had money there but I could not get at it. My cashcard with work in Bangkok but it would not work anywhere else, the cashcard needed a entry as to which account you wished to take the money from, which works fine at home but useless in Europe which does not have that provision. Eventually I thought of getting the National bank to change this for me, they did, so no more money problems, and one Visa card I can cancel when I get home. Just in case you want to use your cashcard in Europe, and you're not quite sure of what I've just said, all you're allowed to do, in Europe, is enter you're pin number, select the amount of money you require, if you want a receipt, and that is it. You have no option of which account you want to take the money out of, so you need to remove this option before you leave for overseas.

I realise I have been very quiet about high-heeled shoes, that is because 19 out of 20 women (approximately) I have observed had been wearing flat heeled shoes or Nike's, most disappointing, however occasionally I do see some that make up for the drought.

Saturday 5 June Chelm

Well today I drove am almost halfway across Poland, I finally got to hotel I could accept at about 530 after starting at 830 this morning. Past two beautiful hotels about 12 o'clock and I thought that is too early to stop, and regretted every 30 minutes for the next five hours. I got to a small border town, on Ukrainian border, the first hotel fortunately had nobody in reception, but the odd bods that were coming and going may me realise I was not tough enough to stay there.

The next hotel looked marginally better but the flight of stairs to the floor that had the accommodation seemed to go on forever, and with the singular heavy suitcase I decided I'd rather dry 50 kilometres to the next large town and try my luck there.

I'm finally in what I could describe as an old Intourist type hotel that has had nothing much done to it in the last 15 years, I lie, I just looked around the room and has been painted.

I went for a little drive to find a restaurant, for my evening meal, I found a nicer hotel on the outskirts of town, too late, remember at the next time, did not fancy any thing I saw in the way of restaurants, so went into the food market and bought some cold cuts which I had my room.

No difference in the landscaped I've been passing, still all agricultural, still a mixture of mechanical and manual work being done, everybody is busy hay making at the moment, and is interesting seen them take wagon loads of loose hay to make a haystack in the good old-fashioned way.

The method of passing on the road is rather hair raising, often I have glanced up and seen a car heading straight towards me so I've moved well over to the right, almost off the road and kept on smiling. Two cars I saw earlier however the occupants were not smiling, they were all safe and sound, which is more than I can say for the cars, one was bent in the middle of a field, and the other was bent on the middle-of-the-road, with about six people gathered round, I guess trying to proportion of blame.

I just remembered seeing in Bangkok, a large piece of marble which two men can just a lift, and a moving this large sheet and both men have jandles on their feet, and I looked at their toes and they were all accounted for. I guess to shift this in New Zealand, they would need a forklift, steel capped boots, and probably four men with leather gloves, ear muffs, and hazard pay.

I came across a real interesting old wooden church earlier in the day, it is an old Russian Orthodox church, the wood was unpainted, the power had been disconnected, the windows were broken in some places, but the lawn around it had been mowed, so somebody is still doing the simple basic work around it even though it has not been used for many, many years.

I'm seeing a lot of storks in their nests on top of power poles, and occasionally see one walking in a field that is just been mowed, all the nests at the moment have the young offspring which the adults are busy feeding.

It is very interesting to pass a funeral today, the body was in a hearse, a special large station wagon, not a horse driven one like I saw last year, it had people in the front of the hearse walking, the three men leading the procession, were carrying black banners with some sort of emblems on them, then there were people behind them, in front of the hearse, and then there was what I assume that were the family, walking behind the hearse. It was proceeding through the main street at of course walking pace, but the main point of interest is that probably everything in most town's with the walking distance from any part of town.

Just a few minutes ago a different sort of procession went past, everyone was blowing their horns, I've seen this in the past and this is usually a wedding party on the way to the reception, but the interesting thing was that looking down on it from the fifth story window, there must be in almost every taxi in town ferrying guests from the church to the reception. It is interesting the changes that affluence has on the population, and the businesses that are no longer required on a regular basis.

Sunday 6 June about 60 kilometres out of Warsaw.

This morning I drove to the border town of Wlodawa, so that I could have a look at the Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish border, but must be one for foot traffic only, because I kept on driving around in ever decreasing circles and found nothing.

I did find an old Russian Orthodox Church which did not look like it had been used for quite some time with the weeds growing in the doorways, later I was talking to somebody and he assures me it is in regular use, but the last tombstone was dated 1930, in my roundabout travels I went past several times today Sunday and is totally deserted. You can't however say that about the Catholic Churchs, they have a large volume of people attending, and if going to church is a prerequisite for the afterlife there is going to be about five times as many women there has men, and that is being conservative.

The book I brought about Jewish life in Poland is extremely interesting, and it tells you what you can find in every town with the assumption you can find the locations. The Jewish population was certainly a major part of a lot of the town's activity, that is pre-1941, when there are over 3.4 million Jews scattered throughout Poland, a lot of the major towns had a population that was over 50% Jewish. This is an interesting figure because it represents, last time I looked, the population of New Zealand.

Just think for a second, every person you know in New Zealand, every person in you've ever met, every one of your relations, everyone in your school, everyone, just think if in the next three years all of these people no longer lived in New Zealand, that either been starved to death, shot, gassed, beaten to death, worked to death, or simply just killed, and a few escaped to countries that would have them, and they had to leave for their money behind, and of course this equation includes yourself. This is what I was seeing in Poland, a missing culture that previously played an important part in this country.

There's always been a large question mark in my mind, how 50% of a towns population can disappear and word did not get out to the rest of the world. Let's face it they found out about almost everything else, and it wasn't as if the extermination camps were built up in the Russian Gulag, from what I've seen they were somewhere within towns and all were within populated areas.

The book also reports on friction between the Jews and Christians, and perhaps when the Jews disappeared nobody asked any questions!

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