June 17, 2003 GMT
School kids and other reminders of the past.....

After Slovakia, the idea was to move north, to head for the coast of the Baltic Sea. I head no specific plan of what to do or to see along the way. More or less by chance or intuition, I went to Zakopane (famous skiing location in the Tatra Mountains), Czestochowa (location of Jasna Gora, the Polish national sanctum), Warsaw (some very interesting architecture) and Augustow (small town in the northeast of Poland, close to the Lithuanian border).

What looks like an interesting trip through the Tatra Mountains from Slovakia turned out to be less of a challenge. The highest mountains in this range are in excess of 2300m and it looks rather impressive from afar. The whole area is, however, relatively small and rather than crossing it, one goes around it. My expectations of some doing some nice passes are somewhat disappointed. The maximun elevation on this trip over to Poland was about 1250m. Still some nice scenery.

The border gards at a very small crossing point are friendly (to the extent that border guards can be) and I reach Zakopane without problems in the early afternoon.


"Made it to the over side of Tatra Mountains - without problems"

I find another decent campground which offers hostel style accommodation. A big surprise comes in the city center which is crowded with school kids. I am told that it is close to the end of the school year and everybody goes on a bus tour - notably to Zakopane. The city centre bears a striking similarity to Disneyland. Oh well....

In order to avoid the crowds I decide to go on a short hike through a park towards a cable car that would carries you up to about 1900m. Okay .... after about one hour of walking, I reach the base station of the cable car and see --- a long line of school kids in front of the ticket office, all waiting to take the cable car. Progress is slow and I decide turn to other things which are more easily available:


"No long cues to get a snack"

From Zakopane I move north via Krakow towards Czestochowa. I have programmed the GPS using the "shorter distance" (rather then "faster time") option. Well, this leads me right through the city centre of Krakow. Stop and go traffic at way over 25 degrees centigrade do not make this a pleasant experience. - I arrive at Czestochowa in the late afternoon.

The camping ground is easily found and the room (in a small separate building) looks okay - at least it does when I arrive. I hardly notice that some work in being done on the path leading up to the next building. The next morning (and evening, too) I get reminder of my professional past that somehow involved the construction industry. I get a first hand impression of road construction: compact the ground, spread the coarse gravel on the compacted ground, compact the gravel, then pour on the sand, compact the sand then place the concrete tile on top, compact them again.

The construction worker are very busy: they start (compacting the ground) at 6 a.m. and they do not finish until 7 p.m. - By the way: the noise of a small compactor makes the noise on a starting 747 seem, well, rather pleasant.


"Cleverly hidden behind the house"

Oh - I almost forgot to talk about the attraction of Czestochowa - the monastery Jasno Gora. This loacation is something of a national treasure. Reminders of historic battles and modern day events and persons. The image of Pope John Paul II is omnipresent at this location, and in the museum of this place you find among other things the original of Lech Valensa's Nobel peace price (that is the medal and the certificate).


"Jasna Gora - A Polish national treasure"

I leave Czestochowa after two days and I am fully convinced that whatever I had learned about the Polish construction industry is true: it is really very dynamic - I have very direct personal proof....

Anyway - on to Warsaw. I come to Warsaw on the very weekend, that Poland is holding a referendum on whether to join the European Union. Actually, a couple of posters on the street are the only signs that something important is going on. While I do not speak the language, I watch TV that night. On Saturday night (people can vote on the whole weekend) only some 18% of the votes have been placed, but on Sunday evening it is clear: some 58% of the people have voted and there is a majority in the high 70ies for joining the EU in 2004.


"Presidential Palace at the evening of a major decision"

I seem to be increasingly fascinated with the buildings of the places I visit. The one that strikes me the most in Warsaw is without doubt the Cultural Palace - a building from the socialist past of Poland. The proportions of this place are enormous. It includes two theatres and space for exhibitions. Currently on was one of Polish Rock/Pop Stars from the 60ies on. (Do I have to add that I did not know any?). The view from the 30th floor is fantastic, though.


"I my opinion, the most interesting bulding in Warsaw"

"Click for picture of model of the palace"

After Warsaw I move further north towards the border to Lithuania. I visit a place which I have been to with my motorcycle friends Klaus Schrader and Dietger Pudenz (both BMW aficionados) some two years go: Agustow - some 30 km from the border in north-eastern Poland. I had some vague memories of the place: rather dreary not very appealing. Instead, I find an attractive, small town with a nicely renovated town center (small park, restaurants, shops). A much more friendly place than two years ago.


"Augustow - a much nicer place than 2 years ago"

By chance I end up in a small, newly renovated hotel: "Gosciniec Ostoja". Very nicely done rooms, great breakfast, for a very decent price.

With a very positive mindset I set way for the Baltic States.....

More to follow .....

Posted by Heiko Neumann at June 17, 2003 01:31 PM GMT

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