Someone (Ken Spence, actually) once told me a story about the Olympics of the past - I don’t know when. A man from the press walked up to a male contestant and asked, “Are you a pole vaulter?”
He replied, “Yes, and how do you know my name?”
We left England on the 3rd of September 2014 and did a quick dash through Belgium – very flat - and into Germany, finally slowing down in Kolenz where we camped outside the camp site (cheeky) and began our Rhine experience. It was lovely: the castles, the river, the villages, everything. A bit busy though – and far too many motor-caravans (we thought we were special, in Germany everyone owns a motor-caravan). We enjoyed Heidelberg, Bamberg and Meissen, then finally by-passed Dresden at 1,500 miles and achieved our goal: Poland.
It’s not so different here. Hmmm, oh yes it is different. They do not have the Euro, the roads are mostly terrible, they drive maniacally and have their own wonderfully unique language. Hangman cannot be played here. Many of the town names lack vowels entirely: rhythm would not be an exceptional word in Polish hangman.
Our first Pole was not called Walter, but Yollande. She was incredibly helpful when we were lost, shaken (from the roads) and despondent in Swidnica. She mounted her beloved bicycle and guided us to a campsite near the centre of town (we do not usually use them, but Swindica threatened) following slowly as she pedalled through the streets. She has a daughter in England and showed us the photos on her smartphone, many of them of the daughter’s dog actually. We thanked her effusively for her help, but she declared, to our surprise, that she did it for Jesus. So disappointing, I thought that she did it for us.
Our first meal in that city cost less than £12, including five beers. Who cares about bumpy roads now then?
Our next Pole was called Kamila, not Walter. She was the daughter of the innkeeper whose garden we cheekily parked next to for the night. He came to complain – I thought. He kept pointing at our bicycles as if this was the final straw. Here he was running a hotel in remote and rural Poland and cheeky chappies arrive from England, with bicycles strapped to their camper-van, preparing to sleep right next to his hotel. We shared no language so he finally called his daughter Kamila and she joined us to explain that her Dad thought the bikes might be stolen: would we like to store them overnight in the hotel! Next morning Kamila served us tea in the hotel and told us that nearly all of her school friends had emigrated to England.
Our third Pole was called Yan, they often are. We met him amongst the meteor craters north of Poznan. He translated the signs for us and described his life as the proprietor of a company supplying sinks and taps to kitchen installers. We also discussed the possible independence of Scotland – bizarre and expensive – and the current economy of Poland
Polish people, at least the English speakers with whom we interact, are so nice, so helpful. Can they possibly be the same people who have cut me up on the roads, shattered my wing mirror and who wake me at six o’clock in the morning by assembling in the car park where I am sleeping in my motor-home solely in order to start a cycle race?
Tomorrow Krakow: Poland for the tourist? We will see.