Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Poland - a country in a state of flux

On Friday 1 May, we arrived in Poland at Katowice airport, a small, but bustling terminal thirty one kilometres from the city itself. It was dull and drizzly that day, but it was the start of a fascinating five day adventure during which I experienced so many impressions it's still hard to absorb them all.

One of the regions numerous charming old trams

I've always pictured Poland as being cold and grey, decrepit and forbidding; an image built up from memories of war films and photos, all of which seem to depict the country in winter for some reason. True, Koos has often been there in winter too, so this impression was confirmed by his snowy photos of trams at dusk, dark streets slick with rain and people wrapped like well-padded immersion heaters.  I really didn't know what to expect except somewhere rather bleak, and our arrival to grey, damp and cool conditions threatened to support these ideas. But not for long - luckily!

The following days were mostly sunny and warm and our wonderful Rambler 5 day public transport tickets took us by tram and bus over an incredible distance - all for a grand outlay of just 10 euros each. We did try the train to Krakow, but even a snail would have got there faster, so we came back by bus instead. I asked Koos why we didn't buy return tickets on the train. Now I know. They don't sell them…probably because one way is enough for anyone's patience!

One of my favourite things:  deserted stations. This one has
brand new platforms but the station buildings
are quite derelict

Poland is a country in transition. I loved its beautiful towns - Gliwice, Bytom and (of course) Krakow, but also the areas of crumbling decay, all of which are destined to be improved and renovated. There is a huge amount of building going on; however, at the moment it all seems a bit haphazard. Just as an example, all the railway platforms are brand new, but many of the stations themselves are dilapidated in the extreme. 

Old or new rails - I'm not sure which!

The station cat: she was so sweet I wanted to take her home
Another draw was the old mining areas and the quiet suburbs around them where most people have their own charming, informal gardens full of flowering thorn trees.

A working mine outside Zabrze
Then of course there are the waterways. The Gliwice Canal ran just behind the station of Gliwice łabędy where we were staying. It was first on our list of places to visit as we'd intended to go to a festival in the marina there. We never quite made it and saw the boats disappearing off down the canal. After a 6km walk, we gave up trying to catch up with them, but didn't really mind as the peace of the tow path was soul food enough.

You'll never keep me from the water for long. This
is the Gliwice Canal seen on our first day

Old industry seen from the Gliwice Canal
The Polish people we met were helpful, kind and welcoming in the nicest possible way. They appeared quite reserved, until contact was made, but then the warmth of their interaction seemed very genuine. Having said that, we were helped quite spontaneously on several occasions when we couldn't figure things out, and that was lovely. I enjoyed every encounter we made.

There is so much to tell, I can't do it all in one post -  so I'll save the rest for another post or two, but I'll finish with a photo of Gliwice town square, one of the most beautiful I've seen in a long time.

Gliwice town centre. I liked it even more than Krakow


JO said...

Thank you for this. I, too, have an image of Poland as grey and univiting - but I was educated during the Cold War, when everything the other side of the 'curtain' was described as drab and miserable. I was astonished, when I went to Prague, just what a beautiful city it is!

Carol Hedges said...

My ancestors came from POland, several centuries ago. I don't know it well, having fiends in the Czech REpublic, but I guess it is fairily similar, judging by your lovely pics..

Vallypee said...

Jo, that's probably it, isn't it? I never thought of the Cold War influence! I haven't been to Prague, but I can definitely recommend Krakow. I hear too that the social scene is great there. Lots of cultural and music events in bars and cafés. It sounds like a place to linger longer!

Vallypee said...

It probably is, CarolStar! I haven't been to Prague or anywhere in the Czech Republic, but it's probably the same mix!

A Heron's View said...

Thank you for showing us Poland, the sights of which I found was very interesting. Over the years I have met and made friends with many Polish people and have always found them to be warm and friendly.

Vallypee said...

They are very kind, Mel. I agree! Added to that, they love having visitors to their country who show a real interest in what's happening there!

jane B said...

Thank you for showing me this slice of Poland - look forward to reading more about your visit Val.

Vallypee said...

Thank you for visiting, Jane! I'm about to write another post as it happens :)

Anne-Marie said...

Thanks for letting us travel along with you. xx

Shilpa Chandrasekheran said...

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