As with the other countries we have visited we have decided to do a round-up of our observations in Poland – it’s likely that this will be a common theme for our last blog post for each country. We’ve spent just over three weeks in Poland, the longest time in a country so far. The weather has continued to be remarkably kind and we only got wet once during a downpour coming into Kraków. Here goes with what we saw….
1. Bold and sweeping statement coming up, but after our experience here, I think that Polish people and Poland can be poorly represented in the UK and I say that as someone from ‘middle England’. This perception, if true, is quite unfounded and unjustified. We’ve found Poland to be a forward-thinking, modern country with well-educated people to at least rival the UK.
2. There is a lot of religion going on here, nearly all of which is Catholic (87% are Catholic) and signs of it are everywhere. Firstly, oversized churches, by that I mean that there are the most enormous churches in villages and towns that don’t seem to be big enough to warrent such a religious venue. Think something the size of St Paul’s in a small village! The insides are amazing though.
Next, shrines to Mary are everywhere along the side of roads, in people’s gardens, dotted throughout villages, towns etc. Some are a simple picture and others more elaborate, see picture below of an ‘average’ shrine. As we went south there were even what I can only describe as stone bus shelters with an alter, pictures, flowers, etc.
Crosses – once again these are dotted just about everywhere including in the middle of forests. The area around them are usually tended, trimmed, and have flowers and candles adorning them. We must have cycled past thousands of crosses and Mary shrines. One last thing on the crosses, they are more often than not about 10 foot high, so quite big, with a tiny Jesus on it, see the ‘average’ picture below.
Finally, the graveyards are immaculate and very well tended, with lots of flowers.
3. The drivers here have by no means been the nightmare we’d expected. We’d heard tales of dangerous drivers, no bike paths and other cyclists coming home early because they feared for their lives. It’s been nothing of the sort – in fact we felt more nervous in Essex than we have here….sorry Essex, it’s true! The roads, on the other hand, have been pretty shite! Though there has been bits of glassy smooth tarmac, in general it has been potholed, repairs on repairs and crumbling edges. This goes across the board – a B road may be nice and smooth and an A road something from hell and vice versa. They like their cobbles in town and bicycles do not like cobbles! But worse than that is concrete ‘shapes’ that are fitted together as in the picture below.
Trust me, this is not a pleasant experience. The garages must do a roaring trade in tyres, shock absorbers and wheel alignment as the drivers don’t seem to notice that the roads are bad and drive at what we would describe as normal speeds! There are quite a few bike paths, especially in towns, but the builders who have obviously never been on a bike, have built them with high kerb stones where cyclists gets on and off – not ideal.
4. If you smile or nod to someone in the UK as you pass on a bike, or perhaps say “morning”, even if you don’t know them, they will generally nod or say hello back. There is no reaction in Poland and people would often just stare at us as we past. We have waved, cheerily, said hello (in Polish) to which we’ve had almost no reaction, even from other cyclists. In fact there’s not much smiling or laughing overall. Having said all of that, there have been moments when random people have waved at us and given us a toot of the horn and/or a thumbs up and a smile from a car or bus, which we love.
5. We’ve mentioned this before, but needs reiterating…ice cream is a national obsession! You may not be able to buy a loaf of bread, but you’ll still be able to get an ice cream! Coffee is nearly non-existent, but when we have found it it has been very good.
6.There are not many pubs, well at least not that we have seen – there are cafes in towns and in the smaller country villages there are what can only be described as a bar in someone’s house – a few beer advertising parasols in their garden and beer pumps.
7. Gardens and houses can vary form nearly falling down with a very unkempt garden right through to immaculate – there is no set standard. Sometimes it can be a combination of delapitated house with immaculate garden or vice versa. However, in nearly all cases the front garden fence has to be perfect and usually elaborate – there is definitely a fence thing going on here! In the northern part of the country they like a certain red rose, which is very vibrant in colour – think it might be because it almost matches their flag, though this isn’t confirmed!
A few last random thoughts:
– dubbing on tv is one bloke narrating the story rather than a cast covering the people in the programme. Makes for interesting TV… Julia Roberts had a very deep monotone voice in Pretty Woman!
– The Polish like their potatoes and serve with most lunch and dinners.
– Recycling is pretty poor throughout the country and considering how many plastic bottles of water are consumed (at 15p for 1.5 litres) is a bit of a shame in such an otherwise forward-thinking country.