Week 6 - On into Poland

3rd - 9th July 2017


If it’s Monday it must be . . . moving day.

Today we moved into Poland, our first new country for three years. We seem to have been covering old ground for quite a while and are looking forward to exploring somewhere new.

The area we are going to first is south of Wroclaw, close to the Poland/Czech Republic border. The area has alternated between being part of Germany and part of Poland for many years, indeed it was part of Germany (Prussia to be exact) at the start of the Second World War.

OK, I know we both popped into Poland last week to get the viaToll box and of course I pulled a caravan through Poland in 2001 when I visited The Ukraine for the first time. The group I was with just drove through stopping only on garage forecourts or cafe car parks when we got too tired to drive any further. We stoped one night in Poland traveling east and two nights when going from east to west as we stayed an extra night to visit Auschwitz.

We were pleased we had got the viaToll box early as we had hardly got over the border when it gave its first loud bleep, it then bleeped at regular intervals for around 3/4 of the journey but we saw not one manual toll booth, this was explained by the owner of the camp site we are on. The majority of Poland toll roads charge only commercial vehicles 3500 kg and over, catching cars and large caravans is an - erm - anomaly of the law which could explain why the lady we got the box from was confused, she probably has very few non-commercial drivers asking for boxes.

The site we are on is Agroturystyka & Camping Forteca it is owned and run by a young couple, he Dutch and she Polish. They have spent twelve years turning an abandoned sand pit into a restaurant/camping/water activity park.

We ate in the campsite restaurant tonight, not usual for us but Sunday in Germany is still a family day of rest, shops don’t open and lorries don’t drive. We had forgotten to get tonights dinner last Saturday so camp restaurant it was. It turned out to be a good mistake, the food was good, we had duck cooked and served in Polish style with a bottle of house red the whole came to PZL 100 or about £20.00

The nearest town to the campsite, Dzierzoniow, and having been told it was worth a visit, and knowing from Google that it has many supermarkets including a Tesco, we toddled off there for a wander round. The town was interesting and by asking in the tourist information office the young lady unlocked the door to the tower in the town hall to allow access, for which there is no charge and from where there were splendid views of the town and surrounding area. One small problem was the 160 steps to the viewing gallery.

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Dzierzoniow Town Hall

The tourist office has also given us a map (in English) with a tourist route and things to see marked on it as well as some details of each attraction. It was interesting if, like us, you happened to be in the town but would have been disappointing had you travelled any distance.

In full tourist mode today but still not venturing far just 25 km (15 miles) north-west to the town of Swidnica, like Dzierzoniow, it has a tower on the town hall and, like Dzierzoniow, if you ask the lady in reception she will allow access for free. The good thing here is that there is a lift to whisk you up the first eight flights of steps so you need only walk the final two - magic!! The views were again stunning and we were able to orientate our map and look at how to get where we wanted to go. First place we wanted to see was The Church of Peace - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a stunning building that was built with severe restraints, they were to be built of wood and clay but without the benefit of nails or screws; they could not feature a tower; and their construction was to be completed within one year.

We had more to see in Swidnica but were forced to leave with much still to see, perhaps we will get time to return.

Still in full tourist mode we visited Jaskinia Niedzwiedzia (Bear Cave). A cave system first discovered in 1966 that date back a staggering 4.5 billion years. When discovered a crack in the rocks led to a small chamber later called the Bear Hall. There was a vast muddy area with many bones of big mammals, these were mostly cave bear bones.

When we arrived in the area we discovered that the caves were 1.5 km, around a mile, from the nearest car park so off we went on shanks's pony only to discover when around half way that the cave was closed Mondays and Thursdays, but we continued to the cave entrance and when we arrived were pleased to see the coffee and souvenir shops open so went in for a brew and a hot dog. While enjoying our drinks we noticed that people seemed to be going in the cave, and were told that it does open on Thursdays in high season and although we had not booked (pre booking is usually necessary) we could be added to a tour leaving in ten minutes. The tour guide obviously gave the commentary in Polish but we were given audio guides. The caves were fabulous - without any doubt the best I have ever visited. A word description is useless except to say how BIG the formations were.

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Bear Cave rock formations

We arrived back and without the will to start preparing meals so we went back to the campsite restaurant. This time we had cod, again in a Polish style, which was delicious and so filling we ate just the main course.

Still in full tourist mode we headed off this morning to Lubachow Bystrzyckie Lake formed when a dam was built in 1911. It is a quiet place with a pleasant, though short, walk across the dam. On the banks of the lake but not in view from the dam was our second objective of the day Grondo Castle. Previously called Kynsburg, the castle was built around 1270AD as a defensive structure and was privately owned until 1776 when it fell into disrepair. The ruin has been partially restored a task that is continuing.

In one of the dungeons is the skeleton (said to be genuine - oh yea!!) of Margaret whose father betrothed her to an elderly but wealthy suitor. Margaret was in love with a young prince and on a long walk with her old suitor she pushed him from the mountainside, killing him. Her father put her in prison and sentenced her to death by not allowing food or water. Time passed and Margaret still lived, it was then discovered her young lover was supplying her with food and water. He was killed and his head hung from a rock as a warning to others. Margaret’s skeleton remains in the dungeon where she starved to death.

After three days in full tourist mode we stayed on site to recover. When taking a shower each day I was struck by how noisy the facilities block was with bird song but until today had not noticed that above the shower stalls was a House Martin’s nest complete with five young. I say young they were as big as the poor parent birds trying to feed five “babies” and with ferocious appetites. Fortunately for the parents by Sunday afternoon all had flown the nest and peace reigned in the showers again.

We drove into Wroclaw today, it is the capitol city of the Lower Silesia region and although we only explored the small city centre found it a buzzing place filled with tourists enjoying a hot afternoon.

One of the city’s most popular, memorable and iconic attractions is not a cathedral, not a castle or monument, but a legion of little people: ‘krasnale’ (Gnomes). In Wrocław’s city centre these merry figures are everywhere - dotting doorways, alleyways and street corners; constantly underfoot but only seen by the observant.

Appearing at first a tourist gimmick, gnomes have long held a place in Polish folklore, and their current iconic incarnation as symbols of Wrocław actually has a direct link to the political climate of the 1980’s. Under communism gnomes became the calling card of the 'Orange Alternative' movement – an underground protest movement that used absurdity and nonsense to stage peaceful, yet subversive protests specifically ridiculing the establishment’s attempts to censor public space.

Under communist rule, any anti-establishment graffiti or public art was quickly painted over by the militia; upon seeing fresh daubs of paint, the pranksters of the Orange Alternative quickly painted over them yet again...with gnomes. As the movement gained popularity, gnomes became inexorably linked with the Orange Alternative and Wrocław, although they soon began appearing in other major Polish cities as well.

The first of the statuette gnomes was Papa Krasnal who in 2001 was placed on the corner of Świdnicka Street and Kazimierza Wielkiego Street, near the subway where Orange Alternative demonstrations often took place. The gnomes now number some 350 including around a half dozen outside the city in the LG factory. Children with a “special map” ticking each of the gnomes as they see them is a very common sight.

© S W Ghost 2017