Some final thoughts on our October trip around Poland

Wroclaw dwarf at the ATM Β© Sybille Yates

Wroclaw dwarf at the ATM Β© Sybille Yates

‘Did you enjoy your holiday in Poland?’, is a question we’ve been asked several times since our return to Prague just over six weeks ago, on Wednesday 21st October. My reply is always a very positive ‘Yes’, with the notable exception of the problem we had with the ‘Carly’ when the immobilizer malfunctioned. I hope that some of our enjoyment comes through in my previous eleven blog posts πŸ™‚

A number of people questioned in advance of our visit, whether we were wise to travel around Poland in mid-October, thinking we would experience bad weather. However, in the whole of the fifteen days we were away, we were only affected by rain twice – in the late afternoon and evening when we drove from Frombork to Malbork, and the bulk of the day when we sought to explore Wroclaw on foot.

During the first few days of our trip, when we enjoyed blue skies and bright sunshine during the day, it was inevitably quite cold overnight, with a touch of frost on occasions. But it was never severe and temperatures soon rose, once the sun came up.

There were two major pluses arising from visiting Poland in October. One was the wonderful array of autumn colours we saw as we travelled, which became more pronounced each successive day. The other was the cost of our hire boat on the Masurian Lakes, which was half what it would have been, had we hired it in July or August. But also, because we hired in the late-season, we then had the lakes virtually to ourselves.

The Masurian Lakes more than lived up to my expectations. What really impressed me was the excellent balance that the authorities seem to have achieved, between protecting the wonderful unspoilt environment with its variety of wild animals and birds, and allowing visitors to enjoy and explore the area. I would love to visit again in summer, but it would inevitably be far busier with many more visitors.

Although we travelled from the south of Poland, to the far north, and back again, we were still limited in the number of places that we had time to stop in and explore. And even in the places where we did stop, I often felt that we only scratched the surface of what there was to see and discover.

Speaking of the places in which we did spend some time, my own preference was for Wroclaw rather than KracΓ³w, despite the rain that impinged on our enjoyment of the former. As Wroclaw is no more than five hours drive from Prague, it is certainly somewhere to which I would like to return, hopefully in better weather.

The inevitable question that has been asked is why didn’t we visit the capital, Warsaw. There is a very simple answer – I have to go there next year in late September, as the Warsaw Anglican congregation are kindly hosting the 2016 Eastern Archdeaconry Synod. I hope to encourage Sybille to come with me and we might then add on a few more days of annual leave, and discover a little more of Poland.

‘Did anything come as a surprise?’, is something I’ve also been asked. Probably the biggest surprise was discovering how widely English is spoken, with the exception of when we most needed it to be, when the ‘Carly’ broke down πŸ™ Also, when we offered either English or German, English was nearly always preferred, with the notable exception of the marina at Mikolajki.

The only other surprise, though as a geographer by first degree I should have known, was discovering in reality, how big Poland actually is. Except when travelling on motorways, of which there are currently relatively few, it did take a lot longer than I originally anticipated, to get from A to B.

Of all the eleven blog posts that I’ve written about Poland, the one that has attracted the greatest number of comments has been the first one, regarding contrasts between the Czech Republic and Poland. I’m most grateful to everyone who did comment and it has been very reassuring to receive several affirmations within those comments, concurring with what I wrote.

Mass times Β© Sybille Yates

Mass times Β© Sybille Yates

Firstly, my thanks to Cynthia, an American expat living and working in the Czech Republic and who writes an excellent blog herself πŸ™‚ , saying that she had exactly the same response from Czech people as we had, questioning why on earth she would want to spend time visiting Poland.

Secondly, I appreciated the various explanations, by both expats and native Czechs, as to why Czech people rarely visit Poland. That Czechs prefer the warm Adriatic sea to the cool Baltic sea. That they think it will be the same as the Czech Republic, therefore why would they want to see more of the same? That they have experienced poor Polish food imported into the Czech Republic and presume therefore that all Polish food is poor. That agnostic Czechs feel threatened by the power and influence of the Polish Roman Catholic Church!

My original observations were written and posted after only being in Poland for five days. But what we observed in the following days, only further confirmed what I originally wrote. I mentioned the high level of adherence and practice by Polish Roman Catholics, in contrast to to the Czech Republic. Both Sybille and I were amazed at the number of masses being celebrated at almost any urban Roman Catholic Church. The photograph on the left was one Sybille spotted in Wroclaw.

I also wrote that virtually the only area where I had observed any similarities between Poles and Czechs, was in their fashion sense. As in the Czech Republic, throughout our travels, we continued to see many men having long hair and tying it back in a pony tail. And it certainly seemed almost de rigueur, in virtually every bar-restaurant we patronised, for young female waitresses to wear short stretchy black miniskirts or mini-dresses πŸ™‚

I finished that post by saying that since passing through the border area just north of Ostrava, we hadn’t seen a single Czech registered car! That continued to be true until three days before the end of our trip, when we were passed by a Czech registered car, just north of Wroclaw. But we didn’t see another until a few kilometres before the Polish-Czech border near the ski resort of Harrachov, on our drive back to Prague.

One major attraction that I omitted from my post about Wroclaw, were the dwarfs that can be found throughout the city. Apparently, there are now over three hundred of them! Our favourite of the ones we spotted, was the dwarf using the ATM, at the beginning of this post. Below is another.

Wroclaw dwarfs pushing a heavy ball Β© Sybille Yates

Wroclaw dwarfs pushing a heavy ball Β© Sybille Yates

10 comments to Some final thoughts on our October trip around Poland

  • I like the dwarves! We have similar figures in the NYC subway station on 14th Street@ 8th Avenue.

    • Ricky

      They’re great, aren’t they Stephen? The original one was erected to celebrate the ‘Orange Alternative’ movement, opponents of the communist regime, who used a dwarf as their symbol/logo. Since the first one was erected in 2001, their numbers have multiplied!

  • Sean Mccann

    Hi Ricky,
    I’d be interested in hearing why you preferred Wroclaw to Krakow, both Kate and myself felt the same way having visited both places. We thought that for all Krakow’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’ tourism status there was very little to choose between the two cities historically, architecturally and culturally, while Wroclaw felt more human and more welcoming. Our views might have been coloured somewhat by the weather we experienced in both places – a lovely 25 degrees in Wroclaw rose suddenly to an alarming 37 degrees on our arrival in Krakow! Thank you for a great summing up of your trip, thanks, Sean.

    • Ricky

      Hi Sean,
      To answer your question – As you so excellently put it, we too felt that Wroclaw was ‘more human and more welcoming’, than KrakΓ³w. Wroclaw also had far fewer tourists. And we loved the dwarfs πŸ™‚

  • Em

    So much catching up to do on your blog, Ricky!

    Well you’re selling Wroclaw. I’ve been to KrakΓ³w in Poland and that’s about it. Poland should be paying you a stipend for your posts!

    I have an uncle who works on and off in the oil industry in Gdansk, and therefore has traveled through much of Poland. He loves the place, maybe even more than the U.S. Both of you (and Cynthia) are inspiring me to plan another trip πŸ™‚

    • Ricky

      Thank you, Em, for ‘catching up’ & leaving several much appreciated comments. Just to assure you, I’m not on the payroll of the Polish Tourist Authority πŸ™‚

      As I wrote in the first paragraph of my post about KrakΓ³w, Sybille & I have taken the view that whilst living in Prague, we should take full advantage of our location and explore the surrounding countries. Why not do the same? I’m glad to have provided inspiration, along with Cynthia & your uncle!

  • Thanks for the shout out, Ricky! πŸ˜€

    That is really interesting that the more time you spent in Poland, the more your original suspicions were confirmed! I really hadn’t thought about it before: that the religious culture might be a bit overwhelming for the Czechs! It is definitely hard to miss, isn’t it? I remember particularly an August Sunday evening in Warsaw (maybe it was a special holy day? not sure) where people were positively crowded around a simple, neighborhood church to hear the mass! Even if they couldn’t get in, they were sitting outside on benches or craning for a look from near the entrance. Really incredible.

    And yes, it’s clear from the interest in Italian and Spanish languages in this country that the Czechs long for those warmer climes πŸ™‚ I definitely have a similar experience with English vs. German, save for the beach resort town I visited on the Hel peninsula.

    • Ricky

      Very happy to give you the ‘shout out’, Cynthia πŸ™‚

      That first post, about contrasts between the Czech Republic & Poland, was very much a spur of the moment post, rather than being carefully crafted beforehand. But as we travelled around, we continued to see examples of the very same things we’d identified during the first five days we were there. I too, hadn’t thought that the strong RC religious culture might put off agnostic Czechs from visiting Poland, but it was the suggestion of a Czech Protestant young lady in a comment. As you say, you certainly can’t miss it!

      Regarding languages, it was often the case that people could speak both English & German. But when offered the choice, English was normally preferred. And certainly Czechs prefer to head south for their holidays. We went to Croatia for two weeks in the summer of 2009, nine months after moving to Prague, and were told by several people that we were being ‘very Czech’ πŸ™‚

  • An informative round-up, Ricky, particularly as it made me realise I’d missed your very first post on your Polish trip, an omission I’m about to rectify. πŸ™‚

    • Ricky

      Thank you Perpetua, for this & all your previous comments which I’ve now managed to reply to. I’m off to approve & reply to your final comment πŸ™‚