Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Poland Pics

The guys in ...................

...their pinnies!!!

Tony in his hat

Look Rose...a weeks worth of living!!

One for Em

Polish parking...a new trend!

Like this Pav....

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Auschwitz - Birkenau



Is the old Polish capital and is also situated on the Vistula River and has a population of around one million. Its point of difference with other major cities and town in Poland is that it remained virtually untouched by the Germans.  This has meant that the town has expanded over time from the centre, architecture and roads change slightly as you move away, so that the town is more blended.

Once again we chose to stay in the older part of town, a few hundred metres from the main square. A very large space which holds an agora-style market place in the middle, a large church off to one side and a clock tower to the other. Here the energy comes from tourists and locals; the stall holders in the square; the outside cafes; the commuters; people going to mass(there is an inordinate amount of churches, everywhere you go) – not a formal observation, but an integration, quite a noticeable difference to Warsaw. One of the Kings decided to pull down the wall which surrounded the old town and turned it into parkland by which you can walk around the perimeter.  Incorporated into the old wall is Wawel Castle, a huge fortress which overlooks the river, with steep solid red brick walls encompassing it.  The day we decided to check it out was the coldest and windiest day we had during the week; birds were being pushed by the force of it. Tony was so cold he bought himself a “biggles” hat with ear muffs to keep his ears warm!!!     

We spent our half day, taking a tour to give an overview of the area. We were able to see parts we wouldn’t necessarily see by foot.  We saw the Jewish Quarter; the Ghetto (where Polish prisoners and later Jews were incarcerated before being moved to concentration camps) and Schindlers Factory.  I so wanted to take a tour of this, but it went for an hour and a half and it was already 5.30 when we got there, so unlucky!!
On our last day, we explored every laneway and building in the Old Town.  There are a lot of courtyards hidden behind arched entrance-ways from streets, cobbled and often two storey with greenery hanging from handrails and balconies; museums are often old houses with small shingles hung out the front, we often walk past and had to double back; the square has discreetly placed venues for concerts, theatre and opera, generally in the older privately owned homes, which some space has been “donated” to the performing arts – we went to a Chopin recital in such a place, which we both liked, unexpectedly, as neither of us know much about the Arts.

Wawel Castle
We have got into the habit of eating one largish meal a day, around early to mid-afternoon…it means we can eat up big and work it off thru’ walkingJ Tony likes to experiment with the local food and has been enticed by chicken liver sauté; goose in plum sauce; duck’s breast (several times); potato pancakes with creamy mushroom sauce just to mention a few…I’m a little less adventurous and stick to the safer dishes, still great, but safe!


Warsaw is Poland’s current capital with a population of around 1.7 million.  It is situated on the Vistula River approximately in the centre of Poland. The birth place of Chopin.  We trained overnight from Slupsk on a sleeper…the realities of which certainly didn’t match up with my obviously rose-coloured memories of a twelve year old traveling from Brisbane to Albury!!!! 
We had certainly got enough hints from the locals we knew…Polish trains are worse than they used to be, but I thought how hard can it be?…you get on, lie down, roll over and sleep, particularly as we were smart enough to pay for a sleeping compartment containing only two beds- for Tony and myself.  Apparently, not soL

Firstly, having found our compartment and congratulating ourselves on how clever we were and how good it was to have a room by ourselves, the conducter knocks on our door.  We were told that they had only thirty beds available and forty bookings for them, so unfortunately the top bunk (of 3) was to be available for another passenger.   At least he could speak some English, which was a little helpful, so Tony calmly and moderately explained that we had made certain there would only be the two of us,” yes, yes of course” replies the conductor” but…you have no choice, would you prefer a male or a female to share?”…  Right!!
Secondly in my effort to have ease of access to the loo during the night, and rather than fall off, tread on or fall onto to someone else while doing so, I bagged the bottom bunk.  Thinking ahead, and rather clever of me I thought!  Eight hours of bone-breaking and teeth chattering clunking; head banging and feet squashing (as the train lurches forward and then comes to a complete halt) we arrive in Warsaw, woken at 5.30am by the conducter asking if we would like some tea!

We arrive at our accommodation having been rescued by Martin, as we got lost, and who escorted us. He was great.  The building the apartment was in was owned by Angelique, who leased out three areas for a tea room, coffee bar and pizza house.  Martin looked after the coffee bar as well as keeping an eye on guests of the apartment. He recommended this cute Pierogi café, two doors down..huge servings of traditional dumplings yum! yum!  We also ventured into his coffee bar with numerous choices on a menu dedicated to variety of taste, and flavour to tempt, and that afternoon, leg weary and foot-sore, we had a lovely relaxing tea  in the basement of the building, which housed the tea room.

We were right in the Old Town centre.  This was the area where the Warsaw Uprising happened; the place in which only a few partial buildings remained, at the end of WW2; where the people of Warsaw began to systematically re-build their city, firstly as people of the city then as people of a nation as the money became available for restoration, from the government. 

Standing on perimeter of the old wall

Part of the Square
Looking down from the wall

Old fortification - part of the wall
In their effort to replicate the original city, the current Old Town remains walled and separate from the rest of the city…it is beautiful and traditionalThe Royal Way leads away from the old town, past the Palace, to the Square, towards the University ofWarsaw. The plaza is filled with uni students, buskers, skateboarders, tourists and student groups ….teachers leading a line of two by two, the same the world overJ
We went to the palace, the only one this trip. The surprising thing to me was how ornate and rich the décor was; we have seen palaces in France and England, which this one would stand alongside.  I was expecting a more austere atmosphere,because of communism,  but there were gold gilded ceilings, furniture; beautiful crystal chandeliers, reflected in mirrored wall panels, making the room look bigger and more opulent; marble columns and figureheads of statues; a showcase for antiques, national and foreign  artwork..a really enjoyable place to spend time.  Later in the day, I went to find the front of the palace to take some photos and found an exhibition of a Polish sculptress who had never, until now, held an exhibition in her homeland and city of residence, even though she had around the world.  

The Baltic Towns

On our first weekend in Poland, Konrad and Lucia took us to Utska, a small fishing town on the Baltic Sea, about 20k from Slupsk. It was here that the 2011 European Summer Camp was held, and we were able to visit the infamous Gelati bar we had heard so much about, truly scrumptious.
The day was very windy and grey, not to mention cold, so we escaped to a quaint bistro (which happened to be where Dagmara and Raff had their wedding reception) and it was here I was introduced to herrings, and Tony to mixed salata a dish with raw carrot, red cabbage salad and traditional cabbage salad, which funnily enough, he asks for every time we have a meal out!!
According to Konrad, the town is renowned as having the best priced Amber in Poland.  We were hopeful we could go back, to check it out more fully, however……


The following Saturday we, with Konrad and Lucia, travelled by train to Gdansk, 2 1/2 hours away on the Baltic Sea. We met Irek and Magda there and spent the day wandering through the old town and harbour area.  It is very picturesque, and one of the first places in which we heard about the re-building of whole towns.  The Germans were so thorough in their determination to have Poland undermined and destabilized; they completely destroyed the port and its surrounding area.  The port was in a strategic position for the German invasion…and a possible point of attack for the allies, so they destroyed the existing infrastructure to establish their dominance.  At the end of the German Occupation the people of towns all throughout Poland began to rebuild, using the remnants of the rubble of the war.  Sourcing old photos, civic records and paintings, towns were returned to their original condition, as best they could be.  In Gdansk, the port area has been modernised at the same time, hotels like the Hilton ensconced in an “original” warehouse; the Polish Philharmonic housed in a modern amphitheatre overreaching the water; wider paved walkways mingle with the narrow cobblestone lanes…a pretty place we plan to re-visit J

Gdansk in main stree
Port area of Gdansk

Irek and Magda drove Tony, Lucia and myself back that Saturday night to Slupsk, and on the way took a couple of detours to places of interest including Sopot.  Tony wanted to go back and visit for his birthday, which we duly did.  Sopot is a resort town on the Baltic Sea. Many affluent Warszawa’s own permanent holiday homes here, and there is a renovation of the inner plaza area incorporating new shops and malls, busily happening. This has been funded by EU capital, part of a program to get Poland up and running.

We loved it here…it’s very pretty, it boasts the longest remaining wooden pier in Europe; a beautiful reserve and parkland which runs adjacent to the foreshore; a rollerblading circuit within the park and a few areas with play equipment for children; plenty of wooden benches, place around to just sit and appreciate; little eateries; plenty of bird-life, so well fed and plump; and loads of walkers with their dogs, including Labradors, just the thing for us.  We actually spotted this young girl with a black Labrador pup way ahead of us, one afternoon.  We both increased our stride and pace and it wasn’t long before we caught up to them, and from there it was only a matter of asking and this cute 6 week old was jumping all over us, giving us lots of kisses :)

The Pier
Wobbly House

A fisherman in the Baltic Sea....
I kid you not!!!!!

View of our hotel from the pier
Main Street

Parkland Area

The staff here loved us, particularly Tony…chatty, smiley, willing to answer questions about Australia and talk about Poland.  They surprised him at breakfast with this unbelievable scrummy cake…chocolate. The waitress pushed it out on a trolley, the cake alit with this Roman Candle sparkler fizzing away.  They were stoked at Tony’s reaction, who was obviously very surprised.  He managed to eat the slice they cut him, mine which I had “saved” and two more before we had to leave…the things you have to do to show appreciation.

The Nether Regions

This marvellous machine massages tired, sore muscles, draining through the lymphatic system…or so the blurb says. It is actually very successful at doing that.  You don’t feel the fatigue in your legs after a day pounding uneven pavements, followed by a gym session.

To achieve these miraculous results, one places themselves on a stool and places a body part on the machine to be massaged, as shown in the photo.  Some parts to be massaged require that person to lean over, straddle, sit on, and suspend themselves, hanging onto the side while pushing up against the rolling timber corrugations…not at all for the faint hearted!  Of course, the physiological differences between male and female are obvious: needless to say Tony has not been “himself” for a few weeks, and any subsequent treatments have been modified to a more suitable placement.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Poland - The People

The Assembly

Lucia and Konrad
Lucia is Swiss, Konrad Polish.  They met while Lucia was visiting relatives in Perth, Konrad was busking on a street and she stopped to listen.  They married in Switzerland in 2002.  For five years Konrad worked as an orthopedic technician and Lucia as a nurse; and every so often Konrad would go back to Poland and while there would be telling people about his experience with the Lord.
 In 2007 they moved to Slupsk to support the growing assembly.  Work here was hard to find and they lived off their savings for 12 months until  they found employment, as English teachers.  As time moved on, they opened their own school – Lucia works there while Konrad is still employed by another school.  Konrad is now Pastor and looks after an assembly of twelve from around Poland.

Dagmara and Raff
We arrived the day Dagmara delivered her baby…Anya.  We went to visit the following day, she was in the hospital at Utska, her home town. The hospital dynamics are reminiscent of the fifties, a nursery for the babies- no rooming in; a dragon lady matron who was in full force, and Dagmara had to sign a waiver so that we could see the baby!! ..who is gorgeous

Lucia checking out out Konrad!!

Irek, Magda, Dagmara & Lucia

Annette and Wiktor
Live in Slupsk….  she has part-time work and Wiktor is an auto-electrician for Scania buses.  He is also the master-mind behind the conference Skype which operates between the three locations where there are church members.  So each time we meet Wiktor sets up the laptop, sound etc and makes sure everyone is on board before we start.  He is a typical Pole; he has an enormous capacity for food, especially the cakes!!! He says the plate is for Annette, and then he downs the lot…very funny.

From the left: Wiktor, Patricia, Pawel and Annette

Not a bad the extra cream!

Patricia and Pawel
Live a 6-8 hour drive (depends on the day and driver, I guess!) from Slupsk. A jazz blues musician, who occasionally plays the odd gig for extra money.  By day a store-man.  A larger than life personality, animated when talking, loud, a big laugh and facial expressions to rival Marcel Marceau (look him up if you don’t know!).  He speaks very little English, says “translate” to whoever can, so we can be involved…but he doesn’t really need it, you get the picture anyway, he makes us laugh.  His wife Patricia is obviously his opposite, a little more reserved….she admits to Pawel to being her rock.

Magda and Irek
Live in Gdansk…about 2hrs from Slupsk.  Magda is a very outgoing, open and warm woman, who has a great love of God; her husband is more serious and totally besotted by her.  He sits and watches her with a bemused expression; married only in December 2010, I just love watching themJ …He is a very considerate man, who spends a lot of effort speaking to us in English, to include us in what is happening at the time…

Food is important :))

....and our new friends

Kasha and Angela
Kasha owns the gym we’ve joined. Angela is her 20 year old daughter who is an instructor and after whom the gym is named.  We head down 3 or 4 times a week and so we’ve established an easy - going rapport.  Once again I think our friendly Aussie smiling manner has placed us in good stead, as it’s certainly not our Polish!! or her English.  I have developed a very friendly attachment to Kasha’s dog, which comes to the gym every day with her.  He now follows me around the floor every so often… tho’ I reckon that this might have more to do with the fact I feed  him cabanossi when I come, rather than the fact that he actually likes meJ.
Angela and Kasha

 Tony on his favorite machine

The view from the treadmill


Is our Italian teacher whom we see twice a week, a colleague of Lucia’s; she  has two degrees and currently works as a teacher of Italian, German and French; she can also speak English and some Russian.  She is a Pole who has probably spent the last thirteen years out of the country, living in France, Germany and for the last 10 years, in Italy.  Not only has she tried to teach Italian to us (we are way too Australian to be able to pronounce Italian the way it should sound, tho’ Tony has a more realistic accent….when he gets his hands moving!!); but she has talked to us about life in Poland.
She is passionate about her country…has moved back with her daughter, to live with her parents in a three bedroom flat. Her grandparents on one side were taken from Slupsk to Germany, during the Occupation to work in German labour camps; her other set of grandparents were taken by the Russians, to do the same, however, in Russia. Her father is an architect, who went to Uni under Communist rule.  When he graduated, all his year were sent to work in factories for two years….common for every graduating year under communism.  Out of his class, he was one of only a few, who continued his chosen profession.  The Russians paid low wages, and made Vodka readily available, so the majority ended up as alcoholics who couldn’t keep a job.  Alcoholism is rife here…encouraged under communist rule…it dulls the senses and strips away any desire to improve your circumstances, therefore rebellion. 
She talks about the “mentality” of the Poles…as being down-trodden, un-enthusiastic, made so by being  under German then Russian rule; she has such energy, fighting against the norm, wants to make a better life for herself and her daughter.  She can see an opportunity in years to come as more EU money comes into the country….she has been our steepest learning curve. 
She and Tony spend ½ of our time exchanging stories about Australia and Poland!!!!…she is very earthy, and heaps of  fun.

Poland - The Day to Day Stuff

One of the things I like most when you travel is the fact to do anything or go anywhere, you have to walk.  Of course with the length of time here, we could use the bus..however in Slupsk there is no concession made towards the English speaking, so in fact it is much easier in the end, to walk.

This gives rise to seeing much more...of our environment, the people, the buildings, shops, way of life etc.  In some ways this is a real eye on our daily 2k walk to the gym, come rain, snow or shine; our trips to buy groceries; coffee with Lucia and Konrad; to meetings and visiting, we see a lot of how it is here.

 Slupsk is mainly a working class town, light industrial, with a high level of unemployment. Poland has just come thru a very tough, cold winter..people have found it hard and it shows in their faces and demeanor. The town center reflects the occupancy of Germany in it's architecture....slightly more ornamental buildings,some  re-constructed from the original rubble of war.  As you move away, the buildings show the uniformity and lack of originality that is synonymous with communism....  Color is rare, occasionally a splash of something vibrant - purple, red - but mainly it is grey, black, brown.  You may say this is normal for winter and yes it is, but couple it with bleak, grey buildings, a lot in disrepair, it paints a drab picture, and the people wear it.  So when we walk down the road with smiles and  Good mornings , we are an oddity ( it may not help that we stick out like sore thumbs, Tony in his VERY white new gym shoes, and me in 3/4 tights, runners, a winter coat, hat and scarf..I reckon we'd look pretty odd anyway!!!)
Getting ready for gym
We cross over the railway line
to get to the main part of town

Looking from bridge

View looking over the other side- from
the bridge

Lucia and Konrad  helped us hugely in the first few days with groceries, showing us the stores ..ones which were better value etc.  Shopping can be quite fun, as we try and source food which we are used to eating..... Tony was after some sliced turkey for lunch, and we spotted some chicken but couldn't see any turkey.  Of course everything is in Polish so no help there.  In the end he pointed to the chicken and shook his head and then mimed "gobble gobble" and bingo ..there we have it.  It's called Indyki...absolutely nothing to indicate its resemblance to Turkey :)  It was only a few days ago that I found fresh pouring cream, rather than the UHF product I'd been's all trial and error.

  On the whole the food here is great, lots of pork, chicken turkey and fish, less beef and very rarely lamb.  Tho' not fully part of the EU, there are still a lot of products from other European great cheeses, salamis,olives,coffee; Lucia showed us this fantastic F&V shop, which has fresh greens, good quality fresh and dried fruit and an abundance of cake, pastry and bread shops.  The Polish cakes and pastries are light in texture and not as sweet as their more European counterparts;  the bread is awesome, with plenty of varieties to choose from.  I have discovered a partiality for Herrings!!!!   I must own to being very surprised as they one of the most unappetizing things to look at....all rolled up and squished together in their white sliminess :)

On the way to Lucia's - near the town centre
Off for a coffee!!

A street in town center