Still in Gdansk.
I can’t get enough of this city.
Beyond the Old Town there’re the sparkling new shopping centres that deliver a fully modern retail experience in a relatively compact space.
The Old Town itself seems to keep giving more, and this morning the sun was bright and the sky blue making for much improved photographs.
The Pirate Ship Tour.
For people who don’t often follow anything organised we have been joining in big time recently and today we hopped aboard the Galeon Piracki Golden Hind for a boat tour.
The modern (maybe electric, it was very quiet) ship leaves its mooring in the heart of the Old Town and sails down the Wisla and on into the Vistula, Poland’s main river. While the river itself is interesting, it’s the banks that make this trip so good.
First we pass ArchieVan at his mooring. Our new German friends who we’re sharing a table with are impressed and intrigued at the van.
Soon after we’re passing the ship yards where some boats are being built again, and many repaired.
We pass the coal docks that were built in the mid-1980s as Poland spotted an opportunity created by the striking miners in the UK. Who’d have considered that the death of an industry in one country would see the birth of one elsewhere?
Further along there’s the poignant reminder of Poland, and the world’s, horror as we pass Westerplatz. This is the peninsula attacked by the German destroyer Schleswig-Holsteinon the morning of 1 September 1939. Supposedly on a courtesy visit, the ship opened fire on the Polish garrison and in so doing started the Second World War.
Back on dry land.
After wandering the streets for a while we went to the old fruit and veg market to buy a few bits for dinner. After all that morning activity a snooze is now in order. Thankfully ArchieVan is handy by with very comfortable beds.
Later in the evening we sat on the Wisla bank with Laura and Felix, German travellers in their old Mercedes drinking German whiskey, oh yea!
After three nights in this exciting city we’re off to pastures new in the morning.
The hard roads of Poland.
Poznan is our target, but we won’t get there in one drive.
We cover about 130 miles. That takes at least four hours largely on pretty awful roads with deep truck ruts that pull you towards the centre (where the trucks drive). These ruts are often up to 12 cms deep, they’re serious. After that I’m drained and glad to sit still for a long while.
In England I regularly drove the 430 miles between work in York and home in St Just. I couldn’t possibly do 700kms in one go here.
I commented previously on overtaking being a sport in Lithuania.
Here it’s worse.
Here if you haven’t committed 27 death defying driving manoeuvres before age 18 you don’t get your license, 5 of those must involve forcing the other driver to leave the road.
For heavens sake please no one take the above as fact, but the sentiment is intended. In Columbia and India the driving is definitely worse, but they have crap cars that only do 50 mph so the likelihood of an accident being fatal is minimised.
I no longer flinch when I look in the mirror and see a car or truck so close to the bumper they can read the small print on the number plate.
But I do wonder why? They don’t get anywhere faster.
And phones. I’m sure 20% of drivers have a phone clamped permanently to their ear. They’re the ones that don’t stop at pedestrian crossings, they don’t have enough hands to change gear as well.
And speed limits? Built up areas have a 50kph limit, at most junctions it’s 70kph – both are ignored unless there’s a camera, or in the case of the lorries, if there’s been a police check radioed through.*
The Polish Lorry Phenomenon.
While on the subject of the roads, let’s also deal with the Polish lorry.
The high volume of Polish lorries on British roads should be a clue to what it will be like here.
There are thousands upon thousands.
No matter where you go lorries are a major feature of the roadscape.
And they thunder along.
Overtaking as if they were cars.
Scaring the pants off drivers from more orderly countries.
Rumbling through otherwise pretty towns and villages, disturbing the peace.
Perhaps, I ponder, they’re Trojan Horses. Gradually filling the world. Until the night when Polish revenge is exacted in one massive manoeuver in which 50 crack troops leap from every truck. The subjugated take ultimate control, but then they loose it again next day in a vodka hangover.
Back to real life – Bydgoszcz.
A big town in the middle of a massive road building programme that may alleviate some of the issues above.
A big town that’s interesting for its high number of tower blocks. I’m not talking a dozen. There are hundreds. And they look like decent places too, brightly painted, well spaced, with their characteristic names and numbers writ huge and high on their walls.
We missed the town itself. Looking online now I see that it’s probably an interesting place that grew wealthy on trade. We’re becoming more aware as we go along how much you just have to pass by if we’re to cover the ground we have planned.
Camping at Skarbienice.
After the long drive we pulled into an Agroturism campsite in the no horse village of Skarbienice.
Immaculate showers and loos.
A long and enjoyable swim, and a good nights sleep. Thank you.
Poland’s economic success story.
As you approach town the crenelation of tower blocks that bristles along the hills leaves you wondering what sort of place you’re driving into. You needn’t worry.
With growth based on the services sector as well as building and industry, Poznan’s output is eclipsed only by Warsaw which is three times its size. It has a vibrant student population, full employment, and feels much more than a tourist town.
We had a fine parking spot on Cathedral Island, the birth place of the Polish nation, right alongside the country’s oldest church. From there the walk into town took us over the Warta river which is being developed with modern pavilions and bars that’ll attract the young, and probably drive the drunks from their summer home.
Ah yes, drunks. There were far more drunks in Poznan than we’ve seen elsewhere, and the police presence is big too, but despite that it felt peaceful enough, certainly not threatening.
The towns, old and new, have many bars and restaurants that seemed to be thriving even in early September. It’s beautiful Old Town square has to be the most impressive that we’ve seen so far, and we were there at mid-day in time to see the head butting rams that pop out above the gothic town hall’s clock.
We enjoyed a hipster’s dream breakfast of avocado and eggs in a new town café. It offered so many coffees it was hard to decide how to take your caffeine injection. I chose a Chemex, it doesn’t sound great, but it’s a slow drip filter rendering a strong and rounded flavour from the Kenyan beans I’d chosen. Despite this being an expensive place our breakfast still cost less than the coffee alone at home.
If we ever build another house (I hope we will, it’s the most nerve shredding but brilliant experience) then I will come to Poland to buy some art. I love the quite different approach that I recognise from a few Poles working in Cornwall.
We’re meeting my sis in Krakow on Monday so we must keep moving, but there’s not too far to go and we can afford shorter drives.
We park up by a lake in smelly Jezioro Balaton. Where Archie came to a rest there were only flies to contend with, but move 10 metres in any direction and you were hit either with the smell of rotting fish, or drains. Nice! Nonetheless we slept well and headed off early to the country’s 4th largest city, Wroclaw (pronounced something like Wrodslav, or was it Rod Stewart? things are far from phonetic around these parts!).
The road to the city defies all the criticisms I’ve levelled against the highways so far.
It’s a new two lane motorway. It’s calm, empty, and has good clean services. Even the streets into town were easy to negotiate.
Easy – and dramatic too, our route goes over the Odra river at the huge and impressive university building.
Minty has found us a great parking spot in front of the Radisson Hotel, a secure space for coaches and motorhomes at about £11 a night. There are no services, but to be so central in a major town is fantastic. Again!
Poland’s history is complicated, Wroclaw’s is even more so. It grew as a German city during partition and challenged Berlin as the country’s financial centre.
With Poland reunited as an independent state after WWI, Wroclaw’s population was still largely German. As early as 1933 the city voted itself under Nazi control and both Polish and Jewish communities suffered under the regime.
It managed to escape the fighting throughout the war, but the Nazis wanted to hold the city against the advancing Red Army in 1945. That resulted in a six week siege during which 50% of the old town and much of the residential areas were destroyed, with huge loss of life.
After a calming half an hour during which we read up on the city we head into town.
Wow! Is it possible that the most beautiful German town is not in Germany but here in Poland? The Rynek, the central square, is vast and dominated by the town hall, with beauty all around it. The sights, sounds and smells are intoxicating. A thousand cakes, each taller and more wonderful than the last. Fifty micro breweries, none of them charging a fortune, and some of them creating very good brews. At least a hundred restaurants, we chose Bernard, and despite being in tourism central it was a beauty. Under the town hall there’s a vast beer keller – the Spiz, and that’s worth a visit for a meal or a drink, or just to have a look.
We haven’t seen the level of public art that is so common in the Baltic countries, but here in Wroclaw there’s plenty and it’s exciting too.
Away from the old town, the cathedral island is only a short riverside walk from our parking spot and there the atmosphere is quieter, set by the vespers being sung in the cathedral as we pass. On the way there Polly and I walk past the National Museum before getting to the banks of the Odra as the early morning sun beats down.
It feels that all is well.
Perhaps that calm makes the memorials to the horrors of the past all the more thought provoking. Behind the van there’s a beautiful piece that commemorates the Katyn and other Soviet massacres, there’s another nearby of contorted skeletal bodies. As the Swedes go to the polls tomorrow I want to show them these reminders of the not too distant past and plead with the moderates to get out and vote to stop a swing to the right.
On Monday we’ll get to Krakow. I can’t imagine what it can offer that will be even more impressive than this interesting town.
How can we possibly still be worn out by wandering around beautiful places? Will our bodies never get used to the slow tourist shuffle that seems to be so much more tiring than a good fast walk?
Similarly puzzling…. where does the time go?
I used to have two serious jobs and a small one as well, yet still we’d find time for friends, the pub, dog walking, cycling and more. Admittedly I was always either on the verge of exhaustion, or collapsed in a heap somewhere, but we did it.
Now we get up, walk the dog, maybe drive a bit, maybe sight see, yet still the time flies by.
The lesson must be to pack in as much as you can and to live longer through having more and more varied memories rather than necessarily living more years.
*I checked up on road deaths statistics. The Polish figure isn’t bad at 10 per 100,000 per annum. The global average is 17. The UK is surprisingly good at 2.9 with only a few countries better. Norway is the best of the real countries (i.e. those with a decent number of cars at 2.0).
A few favourites from around town.