We left Poland this morning enroute to Slovakia. Along the hilly roads we saw women in babushkas, a dog that would not budge from the middle of the road, stork’s nests and a dog corralling cows into a pasture. The earth had become less fertile. It was now yellowish and claylike. Fields were used more for grazing than vegetable production. The surroundings were very rural and houses spread out.
We dropped down into Slovakia through a low mountain pass and first visited the medieval town of Bardejov, a UNESCO Heritage Site. We knew only one Slovak word, ďakujem – “thank you.” At one cafe, where we warmed with coffee and richly flavored hot chocolate, we were given servings of fresh cinnamon torte, “gratis” by our pretty Slovak waitress. Wonderful memories. (more…)
Slav drove an extended van to the airport and we picked up the rest of the family. Zenon even woke early and joined us at the airport on his day off. The family returned to Krakow with Slav and spent hours touring neighborhoods and the Old Town. The under thirteen- year old children enjoyed the sights, even the huge piles of leaves in the park. They practiced using new Polish language expressions. We assigned Polish names to everyone as part of the cultural experience. Their Krakow rating….GREAT!
The previous night, Zenon had scouted out features in the area and told us to plan on seeing the Wroclaw Panorama exhibit the next morning before we left the city. This was not only an exhibit about one of the early, historic Polish battles for independence. It was also a fascinating artistic rendering. The history of the canvas was a story in itself. The massive canvas was painted before 1900, one hundred years after the battle depicted. It was secreted away in a monastery during the twentieth century’s politically incorrect time periods and wartime years. A rotunda was eventually constructed to permanently house the multi-storey exhibit. The panorama now contains 3-Dimensional elements laid against the canvas that bring the scenes to life. Later, Conrad walked the grounds behind the hotel and photographed parts of the ancient city walls, and of the river and ancient churches towering over the historic city beyond the River Odra.
Attractions near Poznan, like the Sroda Treasure museum and Beekeepers museum were not open the following day so we opted to return to the family village and get better photographs. The pastor was not in the village until supper time so our attempts at church research were postponed. This day the fog had lifted and we were amazed to see a restored palace in the park beyond the church. Yesterday we saw a large building inside an entrance gate along a driveway. We imagined the large building was the remains of a noble’s country home, a dwor. Today we realized that the building was only the carriage house and stable for the palace! The multi-storey palace sat opposite, across the park. It had been shrouded in fog the previous day. Following the fall of communism, an heir of the Bninski family reclaimed the property then willed the estate to the University of Poznan, including the grounds with a lake, extensive fields and landscape acreage, palace structures and the carriage house/ stable building. The buildings are now leased for overnight stays and conferences through the university.
We drove south from Bydgoszcz to reach the Iron Age site of Biskupin. On a very foggy Sunday morning we walked through the replicated wooden village of an ancient settlement; the oldest archaeological excavation in Poland. Wood structures were exhibited showing many primitive styles of lean-to shelters, log homes and multi-family long houses that were constructed using ancient tools. Ancient man appeared to have rather sophisticated skills. Movies have been filmed at this site.
Further south we visited the former, noble-owned village of Gultowy near Poznan. The church was shrouded in mist this afternoon, located on a small rise in the center of the village. It was bordered on two sides by an iron-picket fence that separated it from a park with a lake. Being inside the building was a moving experience. It was the parish where my maternal grandfather was baptized only months before he was carried by family on a ship to America. The old baptismal font was located and photographed. The church was constructed of wood; with interior whitewashed walls, plank floors and ceiling. Softly painted religious paintings with border painted, rococo styled, gilded “frames” decorated the paintings and Latin script drawn on surfaces. White porcelain statuettes adorned shelves and side altars. A raised stone grave stood along one wall, holding the remains of one of the noble Bninski family’s deceased. (More graves had been found under the floor of the church during renovation.)
The city tour was over. Bright and early Zenon appeared to begin the drive through rural Poland. Driving the back roads is an adventure in itself. Narrow village streets and twisted bands of paved highway are framed by close set houses and thick trees, planted too close to the road! Cars, trucks of all dimensions, bikers with no reflectors and even pedestrians fill the roadways. Steep ditches fall away on either side of the roads in the country and spacious fields stretch out in all directions. A few hours outside of Warsaw we reached the first ancestral family villages in the Kujawy district. The topsoil in the fields was deep and black, freshly plowed fertile soil. Crops of sugar beets were being harvested and piled high along the roads throughout central Poland. Sugar refineries were seen in many communities.
My husband’s earliest known ancestors lived in hamlets that were part of the parish of Lubraniec. In the cemetery we saw the first evidence of our family’s surname (relationship unknown at this time.) Our hearts beat a little faster as we searched for familiar names. Deaths before early 1900 were not shown on markers. However, we know that Conrad’s great-grandfather was buried in this parish cemetery.
After breakfast this day, Slav took us for a nearby walk to the tomb of the unknown soldier. It is guarded around the clock each day of the year, with a scheduled change of the guard. The tomb sits under a stone arcade, the only remaining part of a palace that once existed on the site that is now an open square. Behind the tomb is a massive decorative fountain and a landscaped park that was once part of the palace gardens. Old Town Warsaw is like the Phoenix…risen from the ashes of its former destruction.
I planned an unusual itinerary for our stay in Warsaw and Slav helped us schedule a special stop. One of our requests was to see the Museum of the Polish Devil. In Poland the devil is known as Boruta. He shows up in many disguises, sometimes as a nobleman, a farmer, a friend, a soldier, etc. Sometimes he is even a patriot. But you can recognize him by horns and a tail. The museum is private, kept by an elderly man in his own home, who has been collecting folk art depictions of Boruta for 40 years. After his death, the collection (already owned by the government) will be housed in a public museum.
Slav met us bright and early the next day and after breakfast we hit the street wearing our walking shoes. It was cool and crisp outside but the sun warmed us as the day progressed. Across from the hotel stood buildings that were once part of a palace compound. Now a huge iron gate topped with a family crest closed off the few of the remaining buildings.
Old Town Warsaw buildings are new since the 1950s. Slav explained that Hitler ordered the city be destroyed near the end of World War II, even as the Nazis were losing the war. Poles who fought in the underground resistance movement had dared to stand up to the Nazi invaders with street fighting and sabotage and Hitler retaliated by destroying their city. Centuries old buildings and palaces were turned to rubble. The inhabitants were given a week’s notice to evacuate before the bombings took place. The medieval looking Old Town buildings we see today were re-constructed after World War II.
My husband, Conrad and I left Michigan on a Monday night, flying to Frankfurt, Germany on Lufthansa airlines. That meant a short layover in Frankfurt, the next morning, where there was time to explore the airport and sample the large pretzels for sale from kiosks. We re-boarded and arrived in Warsaw before noon on Tuesday. Arif met us at the airport with a hotel driver. It was misty and cool but the driver said that with luck we would soon see a “golden Polish autumn.” We were to experience many golden memories as well.
Slav met us at the hotel within a few hours and we shared a light lunch and made updated plans for the next two days in Warsaw. He had arranged for reservation and delivery of concert tickets for a performance held that evening. Slav delivered us by cab to the venue where Brit Floyd (a Pink Floyd tribute band) played. We felt perfectly comfortable being on our own once we arrived at the right location. Waiting for the concert to begin, we took advantage of the coffee and Red Bull concession stands. Those drinks helped offset the jet lag we began to experience.
When we left the arena, the weather had changed. A heavy downpour caused the rainout of an international football/ soccer match that was held nearby that evening. The roof of the stadium could not be closed and the field was underwater. Most cabs were directed to the stadium area to pick up the hundreds of fans who were in town from England. While it drizzled, we searched for a cab. That was our first adventure…but we did it with humor and managed to get back to the Old Town area, only a bit damp.