Marg and Leigh's travels around the world

We are two retired women from New Zealand, busy travelling the world. Our quest is to experience other cultures before they are changed beyond recognition, and see endangered animals and environments before they disappear. We hope you like our blog and enjoy our exploits. We sure have had fun getting here.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Poland – the return

Masurian Lakes area
Crossing the border from Lithuania into Poland, we headed for the Masurian Lakes (Land of a Thousand Lakes) area where our first stop was a little place called Giżycko.  

We had a list of campsites in this area and we thought we would check them all out first as we wanted to have a longish break here. We saw one on the way into town, but followed our GPS to where some of the others were supposed to be.  
Giżycko campsite, Marg
After going in circles for quite some time, we ended up at the Luczanski Channel, which could only be crossed by a small bridge if we were less than 2 metres high (far too low for Vanni) we headed back to the first camp we had seen. This proved to be a lovely spot and we parked right on the lake.  

We settled there for a good break along with lots of Polish folk on their holidays.
Polish people first appear very reserved, and won’t look you in the eye. But we persisted with saying hello to all and ended up with some much more friendly people by the time we or they left.  The family of Mum, Dad and son with a Mohawk hairdo next to us became very friendly, and we found out they were from Warsaw. The family opposite started to smile and greet us after initially being very reserved – a lovely change.  
Luczanski Channel swing bridge
One day, we biked into Giżycko, which is a cute town right on Lake Niegocin. The narrow Luczanski Channel goes through the middle of town joining Lake Niegocin with Lake Mamry.
The bridge over the Channel swings sideways to allow yachts and boats to pass down the Channel to move between lakes. The bridge is one of only two such bridges still functioning in Europe.

Luczanski Channel, Marg
It’s operated manually and you can see lots of yachts and boats lining up in the Channel on both sides of the bridge, waiting for the little chappie to open it at set times throughout the day.  

We enjoyed watching the yachts in the Channel, and then lunched at a nearby waterside restaurant, enjoying local lake fish. That night for dinner, we enjoyed smoked lake fish bought from a man selling them at the campsite – all very yummy! 

Giżycko rain storm coming

During our meal, the sky became very dark and a huge thunder and lightning storm began. It was spectacular, and because it was across the lake we had a great view of it as we comfortably sat outside Vanni eating our dinner. 
Then we noticed that the rain was suddenly sweeping over the lake toward us...whoops, time to pack up! But before we could, a ferocious wind blew in and we struggled to save our awning. 

Hitler's Bunker, Leigh
Thank goodness we were able to get it down pretty quickly and get everything inside, as the skies opened and it absolutely poured! Fortunately, the weather was great for the rest of our time there. 

Leaving Giżycko, we drove through some very small Polish villages to Gierłoż to see the remains of Hitler’s headquarters, ‘Wolfschanze’ (Wolf’s Lair). It is city of bunkers, heavily camouflaged and set deep in a forest.

Hitler's Wolf’s Lair, Marg
Hitler spent a lot of his time there between 1941 and 1944. He made many of his key decisions regarding the Second World War there, and was almost assassinated by a bomb left in a case there. We thought it felt evil....but notwithstanding this, the ruins give you an idea of its immense size and show that it was an amazing feat of engineering at the time. 

We continued on, stopping briefly in Mikołajki which is right on Lake Śniardwy. The place is famous in Poland as a holiday destination and so it was full of Polish tourists.  

Finding it much too commercial, we headed on to just past Olsztyn, and an isolated little campsite accessed through a forest. We parked on a cliff site overlooking a very dark slow moving river. Then the weather became wet and much cooler so we blobbed for the rest of the day.   

Mikołajki waterside, Marg
The next day the sun came out, enabling us to get some washing done and take it easy. It was so peaceful there and because we could walk a couple of kilometres to the local shop for a few basic provisions and the weather improved, we stayed longer than planned.  
However, after a few days the autumn rains started again, making the sloping ground really muddy. In fact, we had quite some difficulty driving up the slope when it was time to leave.  

After a fair bit of sliding and mud splatter, we zigzagged our way across the slope to the top, and eventually made it out. It was nail-biting stuff because we were constantly slipping back and sideways toward the cliff and the river!
Elblag houses
We then headed north toward Elblag and the Baltic Sea. En-route, we drove through Paslek. On reaching the other side of town, we saw that our route was closed due to roadworks, so we pulled to the side of the road to consult the map. 

Suddenly, a delivery van pulled up beside us and the occupants spoke to us in rapid Polish. We guessed that, seeing the map, they were asking us where we going, so we blurted out...“Elblag”. Right guess...they then indicated that we should follow them. So we did!

Elblag, Marg
We followed them through a convoluted series of back roads then suddenly, 15 minutes later, there was the sign and road to Elblag...fantastic! What wonderful people! We gave them a beep for thanks; they blinked their indicators and zoomed off. 

Elblag is a very pretty town with lots of restored buildings in the old town centre. We found it very easy to walk around and it had a nice feel to it. 

Sopot beach, Marg
Our next stop was Sopot, a beach resort on the Baltic Sea coast in northern Poland. We found our campsite, which was right by the beach, and parked on a site surrounded by lots of Polish people who were on their annual beach holiday. 

Sopot is one of three towns that are very close together and situated right on the Baltic Sea coast - the other two are Gdynia and Gdańsk.

The coastline along and between all three, forms 10 kilometres of lovely pristine beach, with soft yellow sand and clean (but cold) water. The towns and beach access points are linked along the whole route via a walkway and bicycle track lined with cafes, bars and restaurants. We loved it.  

Amber stone
This whole area is known as the ‘Amber Coast’ because of the large quantities of amber that have been found there.  

Amber is formed from sap that oozed out from a forest of conifers in prehistoric times in the area now covered by the Baltic Sea. The sap eventually hardened into golden yellow or yellow brown translucent lumps that. We bought a piece attached to a wine stopper. Gorgeous colours. 

While in the area, we ran short of supplies and so cycled to the big local supermarket. Arriving, we discovered it was closed due to a National religious holiday – bummer. Not deterred, we asked around and managed to find a little market shop open where we bought some basics.

Gdynia lunch
Later we explored Sopot. The place was absolutely buzzing - people everywhere, restaurants full, ice creams being eaten, rollerblades, bikes etc, and everyone having a good time - lovely.  

The next day we followed the cycle track to Gdynia which is a much bigger port town with a very busy beach by the harbour. We had a nice seafood lunch sitting beachside, watching all the families having a great time in the sun.

Gdańsk Kings Way, Marg
The weather was starting to improve and the temperatures were going up so we decided to tackle the longer ride into Gdańsk - which we made slightly longer by missing the turn off and having to cycle through the industrial part of town!
Gdańsk is delightful - there are so many attractive old buildings and it is very walkable. Notwithstanding the masses of tourists there for the holiday season and a week-long festival, we loved it.

Gdańsk Gold Wasser
Lots of winding little cobbled streets and an amazing number of gorgeous buildings everywhere.  

We really liked it as a city so bought ourselves a memento which was a little bottle of the famous local liqueur called Gold Wasser. However, we found it to be rather rugged. Now weeks later, it still sits on our shelf ¾ full - and the bottle is only 12 centimetres tall!  

We did a big supermarket shop before we left the area, but there was a dire lack of good quality and fresh vegetables. This was a problem for us throughout the Baltic States and Russia too; apart from the lovely fresh veggies in the Riga Market, we have had great difficulty getting good veggies.

Malbork Castle bridge, Leigh
With the fridge and freezer full, we moved south to the large and wonderfully intact medieval castle at Malbork.  

It was getting late by this stage and our only guide to a campsite was a tent symbol on our Polish map! We headed for it and it turned out to be a cute little family run campsite right beside a medieval castle in Swiecie. We were the only ones there until a Czech family arrived to set up their tent. We exchanged greetings as we have Czech plates too!

After a quiet but wet night, we walked over to the Swiecie Castle to explore. 
Swiecie Castle, Marg

Later we walked into town which was based around a wide treed square. We found a café for a snack and then the rain came back so we headed back to Vanni. When we left the next day the woman owner gave us big hugs and kisses to farewell her New Zealanders, which was really lovely.  

Next stop was Toruń, which proved to be a lovely city on the Vistula River (but not as nice as Gdańsk, we thought). Toruń has an intact city wall with lots of gates and it was an easy walk around to explore.  

We stopped at a restaurant - which we discovered had won awards for the best one in Poland - for a very tasty lunch before heading back to Vanni.

Toruń-Brama Monastery Gate, Marg
We arrived back just in time to beat the parking warden as our time had run out! Marg indicated we were leaving and he waved us out so we didn’t linger! We then drove west through Włocławek and onto Płock where we had a little wander around before heading on toward Warsaw. 
By this time, it was raining and getting steadily wetter until it was a torrential downpour and the roads were afloat. It was also getting dark and we still had a way to go.

Warsaw, Leigh
Eventually we got to Warsaw outskirts, but roadworks blocked the bridge we needed to cross to get to our campsite. Dark, and pouring with rain, we made several illegal turns but found we couldn’t get on to the bridge from any direction! 
Then success, as Leigh found another bridge on the map that would take us in the right direction, and Marg crossed 3 lanes of traffic in rotten conditions to get us across.
We still had a very stressful 30 mins of wet night-time driving to get to the camp but we quickly found a pitch and settled, very relieved to be off the treacherous roads.

While we were there, a German couple parked their van next to us and he was very excited to find we were from New Zealand. He came over wearing a NZ T-shirt and explained that his son had met a NZ girl from Te Puke while in China; they had got married in Tauranga and now lived in Germany.

Marg overheard him on his cell phone later obviously talking to his son and telling them about the wohmobile (campervan) next door to them with New Zealanders in it!

Marie Curie Museum, Leigh
The next day he arrived to show us his ‘special’ NZ cap – we found it all very lovely!

A few days later, a 15 km ride along mainly marked cycle tracks brought us to Warsaw’s Nowe (new) and Stare (old) Miastro (city) of Warsaw. We enjoyed our walk around the city, and especially our visit to the Marie Curie Museum – clever woman.
It is amazing to know that Warsaw had been 90% destroyed in WWII. Since then, it has been reconstructed in a way that is faithful to its origins, and has for some time been recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage city. 

Warsaw Ghetto Line
We found it very moving when we saw a brass inscription in the pavement indicating where the Warsaw Ghetto was from 1940 to 1944.

We also saw a wonderful monument commemorating the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 where a huge number of people were killed fighting against the Nazi occupiers in an unequal struggle that lasted 63 days.

Warsaw Uprising monument
There were numerous plaques and photos around the city showing that this part of Poland’s history is not forgotten. We found it a very sobering experience but were impressed by the way people remember the uprising and celebrate it with pride.

We liked Warsaw (although we felt that Gdańsk was a more impressive and more vibrant city).

Poznań-Chopin Park, Leigh
After a good long break in Warsaw, we moved west to PoznanPoznan was a total surprise as it contained so many incredibly old buildings and the oldest church in Poland dating from the 12 century. We had an enjoyable wander around finding the local market for some veggies before heading back to Vanni and on the road again.  

With our travel through and around Poland over the past few months, we have spent about 38 days there all up....and we liked it a lot.

Poznań shops
It is very green with every village, town and city having a huge amount of parks and street trees; heritage is valued; the environment is protected in most places and there is a huge amount of rubbish recycling; people are very friendly and helpful and the villages, towns and cities are extraordinarily diverse.  On the whole, there is a positive feel about it. We are looking forward to coming back here in 2014.
Meantime, we are now driving west to Germany.


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