The weather helped 'of course' (as the Poles love to say). The whole weekend was cloaked in soft golden sunlight and a warmth that had me wishing I'd taken an entirely different set of clothes. But there were other aspects too which surprised me and endeared this 'most horrible' of Polish cities to me.
For a start, it isn't horrible at all. Never having been to Poland's gems, Krakow and Wroclaw, I had no yardstick with which to beat Katovice, and while yes, it is old and in many respects crumbling, it has a faded, and indeed, shabby elegance that I like much more than places that have been restored out of their intrinsic character.
But even that wasn't it; because what makes this city is its people. My first impression was of a lively, buzzing atmosphere. A city full of open, friendly and very decent folk. A city where there is little or maybe even none of the hostile atmosphere that normally seems to come with such industrial areas.
Take this little hoodie for example. He looks like mischief waiting to become a menace. Well, maybe in some respects he is, but the reason he is squatting on the floor here is because when I got on the tram, he immediately got up to give me his seat. No questions, no hesitation, just instant courtesy. And that's what I met everywhere we went. Smiling faces, softly spoken with ready exchanges and good manners. It seems that even if they live in graffiti covered hovels (as many do), there is still a strong core of decency in their behaviour that makes for a very happy feeling in the environment.
Still, perhaps the highlight of the weekend for me, apart from some riveting tram rides, was the amazing beauty of the celebration of the All Saints feast day. I've never thought of cemeteries as being lively places. Well you wouldn't, would you? A contradiction in terms, in fact. Not so in Poland. The end of October and beginning of November is a period of three to four days when almost the entire population, including all generations, come together as families to honour their departed loved ones. The Poles flock to the numerous graveyards with flowers, candles, brooms and gardening tools. Together, they make a ritual of cleaning the grave stones, decking them with a profusion of flowers and lighting the myriad lamps made from multi coloured glass. The grave stones glow with polish. The crysanthemums glow with rich colour and the lights gleam in the gathering dusk giving comfort to the souls lying beneath them. It is extraordinarily touching to witness, and Koos and I felt very privileged to have been there.
Unfortunately, my photos cannot tell the whole story, but I hope they give some idea of the rare beauty of this occasion. If you go to Koos's Flickr site, though, you will find some of his magical images there too.
Apart from this, the weekend was made special too by the positively riotous tram ride we took on tram 27 which seems to duck in and out of secret passage ways, behind people's gardens, up banks and through semi-rural countryside on its hopelessly wiggly rails. Then there were the old mineheads, which I always love, and the walks in and out of a gloriously sunny and balmy city.
I have the feeling this was just the tonic I needed before settling in for the inevitably wet and windy winter that we have here in the north. It feels that way, anyhow, so my thanks go firstly to Koos for introducing me to his special world, and secondly to Katovice itself for being such a welcoming host on this moving and celebratory weekend.