On Tuesday 27 December 2005 I drove to Cologne to board my Germanwings flight. A few hours later I arrived in Krakow, where Magda picked me up from the airport. We explored the city and had dinner at a typical Polish restaurant, before driving to Katowice. At Magda’s aunt and uncle’s house we had some more dinner while snow started to fall. Later that evening we joined the birthday party of a Polish girl who set up a language school. Definitely a rushed first day.
Wednesday was a bit more relaxed with sleeping late, having a long breakfast and waiting for a ride to the Katowice bus terminal. There we got in a bus to Oswiecim, better known under the German name of Auschwitz. Since we arrived mid-afternoon, and the museum (the former concentration camp is now a large museum) closed at 3 PM, we only had the chance to see Auschwitz I. This is the oldest and smallest concentration camp with good exhibitions about the atrocities commited. Seeing this historic place with the infamous “arbeit macht frei” gate covered in snow (it was still snowing) was very moving. On one side it became imaginable how cold and hard it must have been in winter, on the other side it was difficult to look beyond the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of the present. But as George Santayana once said: “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”
After this moving experience we got a bus back to Krakow, where Magda walked around Wawel Castle, before taking a night train to Gdansk. The 650 km journey took some 9 hours, and we arrived pretty tired in Gdansk. There we explored the city centre with its rebuilt Hanseatic houses for a short time, since the constantly falling snow was not making the sightseeing any easier. Gdansk was not the main destination here, but Malbork, some 40 minutes by train from Gdansk was. Malbork houses Poland’s largest castle, and we spent the entire afternoon sightseeing the place. In the evening we got on a train to Lodz, but it broke down half way. So there we were, in a small Polish village, -15 degrees Celcius, in the dark, waiting besides a broken train. Luckily within the hour another train arrived, and with a stopover we managed to get to Lodz right after midnight. So far for the rushed part of this trip.
Friday I got the chance to sleep late in Lodz, since all we had to do was get to the forest cabin before dark. That turned out to be quite a challenge after all, since road conditions were terrible because of the continuous snowfall (there was now some 30 cm of snow), and the bad connections to the forest cabin. Magda, Ashka, and I travelled together from Lodz to a place where we got into a taxi to the edge of the forest, and from there the forest ranger brought us to our cabin. The cabin “Kobyle Blota” is beautifully located in the middle of the forest, but there is no electricity, gas or running water. So we had to use candles for lighting, cut wood for heating and cooking, and get water from the well. But there was plenty of food, lots of alcohol and a great atmosphere. Altogether there were some 12 people staying in the cabin, and I was the only non-Polish, so I could not always follow the conversations, but enough to join in the fun.
On Saturday 31 December 2005 we prepared for the New Year’s party. We decorated “Kobyle Blota” as well as we could, and cut lots of wood for heating. We also helped the forest ranger with feeding the wild boars. The snow had stopped falling, and the forest was absolutely magical with 40 cm of snow on the ground and all the branches of the trees covered with snow. A great place to start the new year. The party in the evening was a lot of fun, with large amounts of food and alcohol, and even some fireworks at midnight. When it comes to New Year: the most unusual places are definitely the best.
1 January 2006 was a day of resting, packing, cleaning, and leaving. We all helped cleaning the cabin, and clearing snow from the road to the cabin. The drive out of the forest was rather slow, because a Polish father was pulling six kids on sleds with the towball of his car. A lot of fun for the kids, but probably forbidden in Western Europe. At the main road we took a taxi to the nearest train station, where I said my goodbye’s to Magda and Ashka. They were going back to Lodz, and I went on to Warsaw. In Warsaw I checked in at the “Oki Doki” hostel, and walked the city a bit. Especially the largest and tallest building of Poland was pretty impressive: the Palace of Culture and Science. This huge Soviet building was a gift from the Soviet Union and now the Polish do not really know what to do with it, so they light it up like a Christmas tree. It makes for excellent photographs at night.
I spent my last day in Poland exploring the city centre of Warsaw. Unfortunately the Royal Castle (the main attraction) was closed, so I had enough time to get to the airport for my flight. When I returned at Cologne/Bonn airport my car was waiting for me, with only 25 euro in parking charges. After this short and rushed visit of the Polish highlights, I certainly have to return to Poland on a more in-depth trip.