Chapter 10 Poland

 

SLIDE SHOWS SUPPORTING TEXT

 

Arrival And Sochaczewski   Frederick Chopin Birthplace

 

Sobrieski Hotel Warsaw Poland

 

Kolbe Museum Warsaw (Warszawa) Poland

 

Old Warsaw (Warszawa)  

 

Old Warsaw Poland Central Square

 

Zygmunt's Chemical Products

 

Hotel Gotebiewski Poland Mikolajki

 

Mikolakji Poland

 

Hotel Gotebiewski To Warsaw

 

Weglowice Zoo And School At Krall Homestead Poland

 

Sunday Afternoon Weglowice Poland

 

Weglowice Party

 

Weglowice Poland Party 2

 

Cracow Poland Armadeus Hotel

 

Cracow Salt Mine Poland

 

Old Cracow Poland Central Square

 

Cracow Old City 2 Poland

 

Auschwitz Poland

 

Hotel Gotebiewski South Poland And Prague Czech Republic

 

Old Prague Czech Republic

 

Jasna Gora Czestochowa Poland

 

Jasna Gora 1 And Smeteks

 

 

Sunday 13 June Transit to Warsaw

 

Richard got up at 3.40 am, showered, and then aroused me at 4.15 am.  Richard looked bleary eyed, exhausted and badly hung over, after his excessive solitary rum drinking session consuming most of the bottle the night before.  “I’ve got a miserable headache,” he admitted ruefully. By 5.50 the car was loaded and we left the Elms Residence for the last time in the early dawn light.  I had found the unheated concrete walled rooms chilly, confining and very small, so I felt pleased to go.  I’d mapped a route to the city airport using Balmoral Street, the M1 and M2 giving motorway speed to the whole trip.  At this time of the morning on a Sunday the motorways were empty, and we drove the entire distance to the airport in only fifteen minutes, managing the ten odd roundabouts on the motorway correctly.  At 6.15 we dropped off the car, and dropped the car keys and contract behind the Hertz desk because none of their staff were around.  They had left no instructions about key return in that situation.  I felt grateful that I had been able to return the Volvo unscathed from our adventures.

 

We checked our luggage all the way through to Warsaw, but checked the wheelchair only to London, insisting on the wheelchair being at the airplane’s side in Heathrow. I had learned that lesson in Auckland, New Zealand where we had nearly missed our flight because of the unavailability of a wheelchair.  Then we enjoyed breakfast of fresh orange juice and a cappuccino.  Soon, 8.00 am came around and we were boarded on British Midland flight BD83, Airbus 321 leaving Belfast for London, a one-hour trip.  I retarded my watch an hour, and ate a sausage roll on the flight, which sadly set off my coughing difficulty.  The landing was smooth and my wheelchair was waiting by the aircraft.  A quick lift from the aisle chair to the wheelchair, was followed by instructions to walk from terminal 1 to terminal 2 to catch our Lufthansa flight which left in two hours at 1.00 pm.  “I’m busy and can’t help you but don’t worry, it’s easy, go to end, take the lift up, walk along the corridor, take the lift down, and then follow the signs to terminal 2.”  Because our two large bags had gone on to Warsaw we carried only two bags, loaded on my wheelchair.  With my own chair, I’m mobile. “Never rely on getting an airport wheelchair,” I had told Richard in New Zealand.

 

After twenty minutes of pushing, Richard got me to terminal 2, sweating and saying, “Enough, I need a rest.”  I responded tiredly, “Yes, but we have a conundrum. We need to tag the wheelchair, now for the next flight and I’m not sure how to do it.  Do we go through customs and immigration, to get to the check in counter?”   Our gate was not yet posted and I was unsure of the procedure. Actually had I known, the procedures easy as transit passengers may check luggage within the gate lounge room.  Richard asked a security person dressed in a yellow vest and we got incorrect advice.  “Go back to terminal 1 and check in with the transit passenger desk,” he said.  We went all the way back, a twenty minute push up and down lifts and were told at the transit passenger desk, “Return to terminal 2 and check the wheelchair at the gate.”  Richard pushed me all the way back yet again, and he’d been tired by the first push. “This is getting old,” he remarked.  It was now only an hour before our flight left and I’m beginning to get anxious wondering what would happen if we were stuck in Heathrow and our luggage was in Warsaw.  “People aren’t supportive here,” I remarked to Richard.  “It’s like LAX all over again.  I wonder what Frankfurt airport will be like?”  Finally, forty minutes before the flight, our flight gate, five was posted, and then we ticketed the wheelchair.

 

I was soon loaded on the Lufthansa A321 to Frankfurt, a ninety-minute flight.  The seats were unusually crowded and small and I found myself uncomfortable, perched on my roho cushion, on the aircraft seat.  I enjoyed a light lunch with a glass of free red wine, and then we landed.  “Wait for the medical team,” I was told, and I thought, “What a euphemism, for attendants.”  They arrived, looking like paramedics, in pretty white ambulance gear.  One was a young pretty girl, who nevertheless, knew exactly what to do, performing a large lift, raising me over the immobile seat armrest.  I was quickly placed in my wheelchair at the aircraft side, but instead of being abandoned, a Lufthansa girl guided us to a transit train like that in Los Angeles or Singapore and took us to another terminal gate. I was amazed how she ordered people to stand aside and they saw her uniform and obeyed with alacrity.  I witnessed this obedience to authority phenomena again and again.  We came to a lift, with one man in it.  He was ordered out, although there was room for everyone.  He obeyed without question. An Australian would have told the security guard to piss off, but then the German workers are all in smart officious uniforms, not the ubiquitous yellow vests worn in most airports.  “We have a problem,” my bossy guide said. “They are changing aircraft for technical reasons and the take off time is later. I’ll drop you off at the transit lounge and we’ll fetch you in a half hour and take you to the gate.” She escorted us down corridors and lifts, we waited twenty minutes, and then we were taken to another lounge. 

 

Fifteen minutes later, the ‘medical team’ transferred me to the aisle aircraft seat.  “Thanks fellows, good lifts, that’s great,” I said.  “No, you can’t sit there,” an officious, obnoxious purser, asserted. “All disabled passengers must be at the window seat, below this disabled sign.  The medical team must move you right now.”  It was a terribly hard lift for them and I was scraped against the outstanding armrests.  I wanted to swear at the purser and tell him to move me himself next time and that I wouldn’t consent to being moved again.  I was really annoyed.  I told myself, “Relax, he’s only following company policy.  This is Germany and they follow rules exactly here, without questions. Never fly Lufthansa again, that’s all.”

 

The ninety-minute flight to Warsaw was interesting in its views of the tiny patchwork quilt of Polish farms with very small fields and lots of forest.  I enjoyed a red wine and drank a bottle of champagne with Richard to celebrate our arrival in Polish airspace.  We were given good service off the aircraft and my wheelchair waited beside the plane.  An official helped with the baggage and we received express treatment through customs and immigration.  As we emerged, Zygmunt Klimas, the white haired sixty-one year old owner and director of Pak-Chem, (Pakchem@wp.pl) a small manufacturing company of plastic products, waved and greeted us.

 

I had met Zygmunt when he visited Richard in Perth two years before and knew that he had graduated with a Masters Degree in Geography specialising in the location of industry and had taught geography in university for a year before going on to work for the education department in the curriculum field.  He was promoted to a high level by the communist government and regularly flew to Moscow.  “It’s an interesting city and I enjoyed visiting it,” he later told me.  With the collapse of communism he set up his own small plastics processing business, and made lots of money in the mid-1980’s. Zygmunt is in his mid-60’s now, white haired, and has recently fought prostate cancer, so his attention to our needs was very touching. Zygmunt introduced one of his sons Peter, a solidly built muscular young man who lifted our thirty-five kilo suitcase into his car with one hand.  Peter drove Richard and myself to our five star hotel, Jan III Sobieski while Zygmunt followed in his own Korean built Daewood.  We passed Samsung, Pizza Hut, KFC and Macdonald’s, as well as western style petrol stations letting us know that Poland is definitely part of the Western world.  We drove into Warsaw, with a population of two million people, on a freeway with considerable traffic, past hundreds of twenty-five story apartment blocks.  “Everyone here lives in flats.  There is no urban sprawl with housing here,” I was told. “There’s no luxurious housing in large suburbs.” 

 

We arrived at the eleven-story hotel after a fifteen-minute drive from the airport.  The hotel is impressive with stunningly dressed doormen and what appear to be hectares of gleaming marble flooring. It is named after the famous Polish king who defeated the Turkish army in the seventeenth century, giving Poland independence.  The hotel commemorates this king with his sculpture, magnificent portraits, and prints and a history posted along a wall.  We were still a ten-minute drive from the old central city. Zygmunt joined us in our room, while Peter, his son drove home.  The third floor room was unusually spacious, immaculately furnished, with an excellent roll-in shower.  ”I’ll order you dinner with room service, then Richard will join my wife Nina and I for dinner.  I live in an upstairs apartment without a lift so I’m sorry I can’t include you.”  I enjoyed the roast beef meal with a glass of red wine, but was shocked at the bill, a hundred and thirty seven zloty, with two and a half zloty to the Australian dollar, or $60.00.

 

I was finding that very few Polish people speak any English at all.  None of Richard’s friends such as Zygmunt or Jurek spoke English and their comments that I record represent translations by Richard.  I didn’t meet many tourists speaking English. Written English is also rare and is not used on any signs or exhibits.  German is more popular. I reflected, “This would be a challenging country to travel in without Richard’s knowledge of Polish.”   I got to sleep around 11.00 pm while Richard returned well after midnight.

 

Monday 14 June Zelazowa Wola

 

We were meeting Zygmunt today at 10.00 am, but got up at 7.00 am to allow time for a good shower and to enjoy the free buffet offered by Hotel Jan III Sobieski.  The buffet was very large, on a circular table five metres in diameter set in a beautiful dinning room with marble floor; sunroof and glistening beautifully etched glass walls.  There were ten types of juice including black currant, a good range of cereals, many fruits, including raspberries and cream, baked pastries and any cooked breakfast desired.  I commented, “Two large free breakfasts certainly offsets the $200.00 a night room bill here as these meals would cost $30.00 each in Perth.”  Whenever Richard gets a free buffet, he eats an enormous meal belying his small stature and this morning was no exception.

 

Zygmunt met us at 10.00 am saying enthusiastically, “I want to take you to the birthplace of Frederick Chopin, the famous Polish pianist, about a sixty kilometre drive from here, and then we visit Maximilian Kolbe’s museum.”  That sounded good, so we set off together.  The highway, number 2 was part of a direct route to Moscow, filled with crazy Russian drivers, and was two lanes in width with wide paved shoulders. The Polish driving style on this road is to reconceive the highway markings as three lanes, using the white central line as the passing lane for traffic.  We passed or were passed directly into oncoming vehicles forcing them onto their road shoulders.  I felt ill at ease, but the system seemed well understood by all drivers and seemed to work.

 

We passed numerous large heavy cement apartment blocks dating from the communist era, and some large factories including a world famous but now defunct cable manufacturing company.  The demise of communism has undermined and bankrupted some large Polish companies that failed to adapt to the world economy and lost their protected niches. Once in the country, I noticed summer wheat crops in small fields almost ready for harvest. 

 

Arriving in Zelazowa wola, I noticed that Frederick Chopin was big business with a hotel, large restaurant, parking lot as well as a landscaped park and museum dedicated to servicing visitors.  Zygmunt bought me a small tourist book in English, which gave me some background.  Frederick Chopin was Poland’s greatest composer and pianist, born here in 1810 to a middle class family, and died rich and famous in 1849 at a young age. Chopin’s family soon moved to Warsaw after his birth, where he grew up, but in 1932 the Committee of the Chopin Festival purchased the land and the small white cottage of his birth place and hired a landscape expert to develop a unique park-garden, with pastoral English design of freely arranged trees and bushes and a wide range of plants.  Today, the cottage contains Chopin’s piano and is used for public recitals and concerts by famous pianists each Sunday.

 

After being pushed around the garden we passed a large chestnut tree with a plastic strip around it.  “My company Pak-Chem manufactures these strips of plastic and treats the plastic with a pheromone to sexually attract and kill insects harmful to this tree,” Zygmunt informed me.  I was fascinated. We refreshed ourselves with a Zywiek Polish piwo or beer, (piwa for beers). This world-class beer is widely exported and boasts a refreshing malt flavour. Zygmunt berated the hired staff for not having wheelchair access to the restaurant.  “I only work here,” the lady said.  “You need to be loyal to your employer and always work to improve his company,” Zygmunt replied. Thanks Zygmunt. “He’s got a reputation for being very direct, and annoying people,” Richard noted. “It makes him a good negotiator.  It comes from when he was a high ranking communist, used to bossing people. Now people tend to ignore him as he has no authority or power.”

 

And then we headed back towards Warsaw to the Franciscan Monastery.  As we approached I was startled by the massive size of the church and the surrounding monastery buildings. This monastery, which supports a hundred monks, is a large going concern with considerable wealth.  The individual monks are pledged to vows of chastity, obedience and poverty as symbolised by the three knots on their belt ropes. We negotiated the services of a monk to introduce us to the museum.  As translated by Richard I listened:

 

“The monastery was established by Maximilian Kolbe and specialised in printing.  Kolbe travelled widely for ten years during which time he didn’t shave.  He worked in Africa and established a monastery in Japan.  During the Nazi occupation of Poland Kolbe subtly resisted and by 1941 he was sent to Auschwitz.  He sacrificed his life to preserve the lives of a number of other prisoners by negotiating his death with the Germans so others could live.  The last person that was saved only recently died.  Kolbe was canonised as a saint by Pope John Paul II.  The museum was to describe and commemorate his life.”

 

We toured the museum and the painstaking depth of historical research and the sense of awe that this man inspired impressed me.  The museum covered posters, photographs, stamps and artistic paintings, sculptures and donations from other countries.  Outside the museum, large wall murals combining Kolbe with angels gave me a feeling of Franciscan propaganda to gain adherents.  This approach to Christianity depicting miracles was, in my opinion, becoming outdated in the western world today, and I was interested to see its acceptance here by queues of families in the heartland of Catholicism. Communist domination had not subdued belief.

 

We moved on to the mammoth sized church with Zygmunt kindly pushing me up a long ramp.  The carvings impressed, as did gleaming marble.  The monks had made a truly beautiful setting, which again depicted the Kolbe theme of self-sacrifice.  “I know where we can eat cheaply, only $4.00 for soup and paragoges, filled with meat,” Zygmunt told us. “Great!” It meant sliding down a steep ramp to the basement of an adjoining building.  The meal was tasty. Served by monks originally the food is now served by volunteers.  Richard and Zygmunt struggled to push me back up the ramp and I prayed.  We made it.

 

Zygmunt drove us back to the Sobieski Hotel about 5.00, saying, “See you at 7.00 pm for a tour of the old city.”  I was exhausted and slept two hours. Richard seemed on a manic high.  He hadn’t slept for two days, but he wasn’t tired and went for a walk. I was assisted up in time for Zygmunt’s prompt arrival, and we were quickly off to the old city.  Zygmunt gave a commentary in Polish so I missed most things but understood about Stalin’s gift to Poland, a soaring ornate brick building which has now become a cultural centre.  Zygmunt pointed out the old Jewish ghetto area, totally razed by the Germans after the Jewish revolt, but quickly rebuilt after the war. The recent film the Pianist had filled me in on this history. 

 

I could tell when we arrived by the tourist industry, statutes, palaces, bars, restaurants, jewellery stores and buskers.  We admired the King’s palace, bombed by the Nazis during their Polish invasion, and then faithfully reconstructed. We admired the narrow four and five storey buildings, rebuilt after the war to resemble the original structures. Most were art galleys, jewellery shops, restaurants or bars. We viewed the original walls of Warsaw, still standing in parts and undergoing restoration. Richard visited a restaurant, took photos and then, like many others, we enjoyed a Dojlidy Polish Piwo or beer under a large umbrella in the square, watching fire dancers with long flaming whips perform under a setting sun. It was getting late, after 10.00 pm, so we headed home, passing the Warsaw Opera House, a gigantic ornate structure.  I got to bed about 11.00 pm. Thank you Zygmunt for a full and wonderful day of sightseeing.

 

Tuesday 15 July Mikolajki

 

Today, Zygmunt will pick us up at 10.00 pm to show us his company Pak-Chem on the outskirts of Warsaw.  Next Jurek would meet us at 2.00 pm to drive us two hundred kilometres north to the resort town of Mikolajki, to stay in the famous four star resort hotel, Hotel Gotebiewski, with twelve hundred rooms overlooking Poland’s largest lake for two days. The weather is unsettled, rainy and about twenty degrees Celsius.

 

Zygmunt turned up on time after we devoured another huge buffet breakfast provided by Hotel Sobieski. “We’re going to visit the factory now,” he announced, and he drove us in his Daewood for twenty minutes over Warsaw’s Visla River to his business.  It was situated in a large two-story building that may also be used as accommodation for the workers.  We meet his two sons, Peter and Martin, both of whom work in the enterprise and two other employees.  The first machine I see makes pork sausage wrappings from collagen, on wide rotating spindles and it’s running automatically.  A second machine glues or bonds foams together to create wetsuits.  Another cuts and welds plastics to create protective covers for metal bits such as scissors.  Yet another machine places a sticky adhesive on clear plastic sheets.  Other machines do other tasks, but, unfortunately, I could not reach the second floor to see things there. In one room is Peter’s home constructed radio controlled yacht and plane. The yacht is almost as meter high.

 

Everything produced here is sold to other manufacturers. I was reminded of a tour through my dad’s workplace Northern Electric as a boy with him explaining that many of the components used in manufacturing there was purchased from small manufacturers operating from home or small warehouses.  “We’re in survival mode now,” Zygmunt told us, “because of strong competition from the Chinese and Koreans.  When I started before competition I made a great deal of money and we worked twenty-four hours a day.  I put my kids through school, and bought a new car and property. Now with the level playing field meaning open competition, it’s very difficult to make much money at all.”  I checked my Internet mail and noted twelve-degree rainy weather in Perth, WA. We enjoyed Polish coffee in glass cups, and I burned by right index finger causing a large blister.  By now I should know better than handle hot glasses.

 

We headed back to our hotel about 1.00 pm.  I bought Zygmunt a tank of gas for $70.00 or about $1.30 a litre. We checked out of the $200.00 a day Hotel Sobieski, and at 2.00 pm Jurek Kall and his pretty blonde haired wife, Zdzislawa arrived in their large new Mercedes Benz SLK van.  The problem was the fifty centimetre height differential between the wheelchair and the van seats. I’d confronted this challenge before with George’s van in Vancouver, and knew that sitting on a high curb helped reduce the gap.  This time we used a loading bay, and hoisted me in the wheelchair into the van itself aided by a missing passenger seat.  I then transferred onto a roho cushion on the van seat facing aft.

 

Jurek was a primary and high school friend of Richards and was his boss for two years in the Polish coalmine near Bytom. “Jurek came from a small farm originally and was poor but he was always the smartest kid in our class and received the highest grades,” Richard recalls. “He was very religious, always praying, and I was sure he’d become a priest in the Catholic Church. We worked together after we finished school in a coalmine. Our mine was the deepest in Poland, 1,100 metres in depth, and was hot, nearly forty degrees Celsius.  The work was dangerous, dirty and extremely hard and I hated it. I eventually gained entry to university and moved on but Jurek worked there for nine years before becoming an entrepreneur. He used to let me skive off in the mine to a deserted tunnel to study for my university entrance exams, which I passed.” Richard added, “Jurek was my mentor. Jurek has now become a large capitalist, establishing a number of large profitable industries, manufacturing furniture, and beef and pork products.  Jurek also owns a large private school next to his nine-year-old mansion with over a thousand fee-paying students.  His wife Zdzislawa, an ex Maths, Physics and Chemistry High School teacher is the principal of this prestigious school.”

 

I found Jurek is a big man, grey haired, and as strong as a bull-ox. He’s dressed in jeans and an American Wrangler or CAT trademarked shirt. It’s obvious that he is also a type A personality, energetic, restless and always on the go. “He’s the hardest worker I ever met,” Zygmunt recalls.  “He’d work a twenty hour day with four hours sleep and keep at it indefinitely. I run a small business but Jurek has an empire.”

 

Jurek was a fast, and I felt a little aggressive driver, passing two, or three, and even five cars at a time, travelling a hundred kilometres an hour or more on a busy, narrow and badly maintained highway with large metre sized trees lining the road threatening to kill unwary drivers.  Simultaneously, he would answer and chat on his cellular phone.  “No point wasting time commuting,” he explained. “I want to get there quickly and relax.” Jurik would accelerate and brake heavily, swinging quickly around bends but because I was sitting facing the back window of the van, I missed the action.  Otherwise, I’m sure I would have been very frightened. Meanwhile, Zdzislawa slept peacefully in the front passenger seat.  I guess she is familiar with Jurek’s driving style and trusts him. 

 

Jurek kept up a Polish stream of conversation with Richard, mostly ribald jokes or comments about women and sexual preferences. I missed most of the dialogue, but Richard translated a joke about a man seeing a doctor because he wasn’t having children.  ‘Try eating carrots for six months,’ the doctor suggested.  The man returned six months later, without success. ‘Put sugar on the carrots,’ the doctor said.  The man saw another doctor. ‘Do you fuck your wife?’ the doctor asked. ‘What’s that?’ the man asked. I thought, “There’s an underlying business aphorism in this story. Get down to basics or don’t beat around the bush.”

 

We reached Mikolajki in three hours, about six pm, and checked into a massive, four star resort Hotel Gotebiewski directly on Lake Snirdly, a huge fresh water lake which sprawls in a network of a thousand waterways across a hundred and forty kilometres of Polish farmland. Our room is not designed for wheelchairs, but has exquisite hardwood cabinetwork, a balcony and overlooks the lakes, filled with sailing boats. The single beds are low, making bed to wheelchair transfers up the sloping transfer board hard work. “We’re lucky to get a room at all since this place is booked solidly all summer,” Richard told me.

 

After a Polish Lech piwo or beer, we ate a wonderful meal in the resort’s best restaurant with voluminous silk curtains.  I commenced with an Australian Lindeman’s Shiraz followed by Polish Pike fish with a very tasty seasoning and no bones. The prices in this lovely restaurant for the main courses in the twenty-five-page menu are reasonable, about $20.00 to $25.00 Australian. We ended with Jurek’s favourite drink Finlandie Vodka.  I was amazed how the staff removed the tin covering from each plate simultaneously. The total cost, in this exclusive restaurant, with linen table clothes, and highly trained staff was about $40.00.  However, for the average Polish worker, this represents two days salary.  I got to bed at midnight.

 

Wednesday July 16 Mikolajki Mazurai

 

Our plan today is to explore the hotel grounds and local town, then take an afternoon boat cruise.  The weather is sunny, twenty-four degrees Celsius and humid.  We are to meet Jurek and Zdzislawa at 10.15 am.  Richard got up at 7.00 am aided by church bell chimes, and finished the BT procedures with me at 9.45 am, giving me time to write my journal.  We get breakfast on a huge second floor restaurant. It is included with the room, and I limit myself to cereal, lots of fruit juice and three cups of coffee.  Richard has plate loads of food, and I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in his weight and stomach size lately. 

 

After breakfast Jurek told us about his friend Tedeusz (Ted) Gotebieuski who built this resort.  “He started a small bakery in a garage and expanded from there.  Today he exports a large range of cookies worldwide.  He bought this land twenty years ago for nothing, and initially started with a cement truck and a few men. Now he operates this huge resort with full occupancy eighty percent of the year.  He has also opened a number of similar hotels in other parts of Poland.  I first met him when I was making furniture in the area, and I got a contract to make some of the furniture for this hotel.  He’s a man I truly respect. I’ve made about seventy-five trips to this hotel in the last nine years.”

 

We explored around the hotel with Jurek pushing my wheelchair.  Trees, gardens filled with flowering plants and rolling green pastureland, surround the hotel. We passed the staff quarters, which included a restaurant and stables for twenty or so horses.  The restaurant is built on an equestrian theme and features large picture windows, which look directly into the horse stalls. One can dine here with a large horse a metre away, nearly looking over your shoulder.  The hotel, of course, gives riding lessons and offers carriage tours and I’m intrigued watching little girls on ponies, having a wonderful time. We looked in at a ceramics studio and admired their creativity in pottery.

 

Next we strolled down to the lake past tennis courts to admire the large collection of sailing craft and motorboats for rent. These were beautiful large sailing craft, not like the little Norburgs I sailed at Camp Comak in the 1960’s. There was also a beautiful sandy beach, near a concert centre.  A large motor launch, the Grazyna, named after Ted Gotebiewski’s wife, offered lake tours. There were miniature golf courses and more dining areas.  Walking around the extensive hotel we looked at the two large Russian helicopters for rent, a hot air balloon and the large outdoor pool, connected by an artificial river with the indoor pool. Jurek remarked, “Ted Gotebiewski visited resorts world-wide to gain ideas for his project and he’s still expanding and adding new things.  However, the government has stopped selling him cheap land now.”

 

Jurek pushed my wheelchair to the tourist town of Mikolajki, a forty-minute walk, where we enjoyed piwa or beers, overlooking a colourful yacht harbour and the lake filled with sailing craft.  Motorboats are banned here.  The town thrives symbiotically off the tourism created by Hotel Gotebiewski, with bars, coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, antique stores, jewellery shops and souvenir shops. Jurek pushed me one handed back, fielding frequent phone calls of a business nature on his cellular phone.  His wife, Zdzislawa followed behind with Richard, saying, “Jurek can manage a full day, two nights here, and then he’s distracted by concern for his businesses and ready to go home.”

 

I typed in my room in the afternoon, with a thunderstorm cancelling our planned launch excursion around the lake.  I caught up with Jurek, Zdzislawa and Richard for another lovely dinner, beef stroganoff flambé, cooked in front of me by a tall-hatted chef, who liberally poured spirits into the hot pan to create a bright flame.  “He’s worked here seven years,” Jurek commented. “The staff all work twelve hour days and are highly trained.  They sleep in the staff quarters over the horse stables.”  I drank red wine and a glass of Finlandie Vodka, and finished the meal with a delightful ice cream, fruit and chocolate Sunday.

 

We then toured the basement with squash courts, bowling alley, electronic games room, billiards room, and a magnificent disco with roving and flashing lights, loud dance music, tables and bar.  “There’s often live bands here and the place is packed,” Jurek noted. I got to bed about midnight while Richard returned to the disco for another hour.

 

Thursday July 17 Weglowice

 

I was dressed by 9.00 and ate breakfast at 9.30 with Jurek, Zdzislawa and Richard. Our plan today includes exploring the hotel this morning, and then checking out and driving five hundred kilometres south to Czestochowa.  This is a city of 350,000 people, most notable for a massive Catholic Church with the Black Madonna and a hundred and six-metre spire. Then we go on twenty kilometres to the Black Village and Weglowice, Jurek’s home.

 

We took the lift to the sixth floor, home of a ballroom accommodating three thousand people, and numerous conference halls.  Butchers paper, charts, and small group discussions by mainly men in business suits indicated that many of the conference rooms were in use. It reminded me of my ten years in the 1980’s running teacher workshops using the Metaplan process, for the Priority Schools Programme. 

 

“Men still dominate here in business and make most of the decisions,” Jurek said.  We then explored the aquatic centre, which included long water slides from the third floor.  “Some years ago, to people collided and were killed in a water slide,” Richard told me.  “Now, at the top of the slides they have close circuit monitors of the inside of the tubes and red green lights telling people when to go.  The only other accident this hotel has suffered is a helicopter crash which killed four people in a frozen lake during a charter flight from Russia.” I later saw in Jurek’s photo album a picture of the pilot who died, a handsome young man. Richard enjoyed using the sauna and swimming lengths but was not up to trying the tubes from fear of killing himself.

 

At 1.00 Jurek checked us out generously paying his and our meal and room bill (Zl 2,500.00 or $1,250.00.)  Our bill, I guess, was around  $600.00 Australian.  Thank you Jurek. “It’s time to join the real world and give up this fantasy,” he said. He tipped the doorman $10.00 to help lift my wheelchair into the Mercedes van, and then I slid onto the roho cushion placed on the seat looking rearward.  I was not looking forward to this eight hour, five hundred-kilometre drive.

 

The trip was like an eight-hour plane journey but imagine that the plane was flying non-stop in heavy turbulence, being tossed around like a leaf in a strong wind.  I thought negative thoughts such as “we’re going to have an accident and die,” and I felt quite anxious. Having broken my neck in a car accident, I’m inclined to be cautious in cars and get scared very easily. I worked hard at being more rational, telling myself, “Jurek has driven hundreds of thousands of kilometres here safely.  He drives fast but knows the roads and driving habits here. He’s a good driver and isn’t going to kill himself. You’re in a brand new over-engineered Mercedes van. You’ll be fine.” I felt better and we eventually but safely arrived at his home at 9.00 pm.

 

North of Warsaw the road was two way and slow going, with rolling wheat lands.  We saw two storks nesting on tall poles.  “They are greatly prized by the Polish farmers and encouraged to return each year,” Richard said. On the freeway south of Warsaw, we passed a number of scantily clad young women hitch hiking at the side of the road. Jurek joked with Richard, and Richard explained.  “They are putanas or whores and service the highway drivers. Jurek asked if I had a condom, as he could stop and pick one up for me.  I like his humour and I know he was joking.”  We stopped for a meal at a large hotel constructed entirely from logs with a large adjoining log restaurant and bar.  “The Polish love log buildings,” Richard said.  “Many of the country houses and barns were built from squared logs, like in northern Canada.”  I ate my chicken and chip meal in the van near Jurek’s table bypassing the need for a lift out.

 

I was amazed at Polish freeways, with vehicles travelling 110 km/hour. Yet these freeways had many pedestrian walkways, and roads and driveways opened directly onto these high-speed traffic arteries. I said, “The design is flawed badly here. Any car stopping for a pedestrian would be hit by a truck.”

 

We found, when we arrived at Jurek’s mansion that Jurek’s son, Czarek had constructed a small wooden ramp for me inside the front door and another at the back of the home.  The four-story house has a twenty-metre long ground floor room, used as a formal dining room, with long polished table and ten chairs, which was given to Richard and I.  Someone found two single beds and foam mattresses, an easy task for Zdzislawa who has a boarding school accommodating boarders next door, and we were comfortable.

 

Jurek invited Richard and I to visit a new two-story log cabin, with a steep peaked roof, which had just been built by his son Czarek, with the help of three other men, over the last two months.  The cabin is intended as a bar and relaxation place for the family.  A small log figure gave character sitting on the wooden roof over the wide door. Jurek explained, “They’ve worked on it twelve hours a day, cutting the logs, and fitting them, cutting timber for the roof to create a dream I had as a child, my own log hideaway.” The cabin was furnished with three large wooden picnic tables from Jurek’s furniture factory, life-size wooden carvings of Polish warriors from 1000 AD, with swords and shields, running beer spigots, and a new cappuccino machine.  A horse saddle is mounted on a post facing a bar constructed from a polished wood slab. Outside, two centimetre logs mounted vertically forms a patio and there is a hitch rail for horses. The floor inside seems to be rock slabs. Atmosphere was created with wooden beer tankards, deer, a kangaroo and wild pigs’ hides and heads covering the log walls, a large fireplace, and a chandelier made from deer antler. 

 

I met Czarek’s fiancée a beautiful young slim blonde lady called Anieska who poured us beers and made coffee.  “I want to migrate to Florida to work with Polish friends there who run a large hotel chain,” Czarek told me, “but the American government refused me a Visa. I couldn’t believe it.”  About 12.00 am I had gone to bed, but Richard returned for another hour’s drinking with Jurek.  “My God, he’s tough,” Richard exclaimed. “He drove five hundred kilometres today, and now he’s up drinking most of the night.  He’ll be up and at work tomorrow by 8.00 am.”

 

Friday 18 July Weglowice

 

Richard slept until 10.00 am, and then got me prepared for the day by noon, a late start.  The goal for today is to give me a brief tour around the estate, and then Jurek is driving Richard into Czestochowa to pick up his mother and brother and to bring them back here to stay until Tuesday.  Richard has not been back to see his mother in eight years. 

 

One of Zdzislawa’s employees bought us breakfast cereal and coffee, a late breakfast. Then we looked around.  “On the basement level, there’s a twenty by eleven metre indoor swimming pool, solarium and other lounge rooms, down that flight of stairs,” Richard told me. “There are two upstairs floors where Jurek and Zdzislawa mainly live. There’s a large ballroom, with stage equipped with band equipment, business conference table sitting twenty-five people, a big bar and a guest wing. The kitchen is large.” 

 

Taking me outside to the left side of the house, Richard showed me a small zoo, occupying a hectare or two of land, with a range of animals, birds and a Silva culture fish-breeding pond. “They breed carp, feeding them offal from the meat business,” Richard said.  I looked at ostriches, swans, ducks, Boers, Vietnamese pigs, roosters, hens, donkeys, miniature horses, some pens with game birds that I didn’t recognise native to Poland and quite a few other animals. This was quite a large collection of animals.  “Jurek likes to gather different species,” Richard told me.  “He had a pet python for three years, that crawled around the house, but it died and everyone was upset. He also got a crocodile but it perished.”

 

Behind the house was an enormous barn filled with horses.  Students were riding these horses in pastures and young children were being taught riding.  Horses were cantering everywhere.  On the left side of the house we watched students playing soccer on an oval.  “My goodness,” I told Richard in wonderment. “They’ve built the private school right around the house.  There’s students everywhere and it’s mid-July.”  “Yes,” Richard replied, “The school was Zdzislawa’s dream and was built in 1988 with the income from Jurek’s food processing industry.  This school includes pre-primary, primary and an academic high school, with a thousand fee-paying students, including boarding students. Zdzislawa is principal and has three deputy principals. We’ll walk over to the classrooms next.” 

 

As we walked down Jurek’s driveway we could see the school buildings directly to the side, a mass of three story buildings, a twenty-five-metre swimming pool and a smaller one for younger children. There were various ovals and play areas. Richard was leaving at 3.00 pm so we headed back to the house with Richard saying, “Jurek owns all the land and buildings around here.  The whole village depend on him for employment and they treat him like a god.  Even the food store we passed belongs to him.”

 

Zdzislawa arrived back a short time later, bringing me freshly picked strawberries and commenting, “This school administration job is like cleaning, it’s never finished.”  Camilla, Zdzislawa’s twenty-four year old blonde, pretty daughter popped in and introduced herself as I sat typing on my laptop computer.  She speaks German and some English and is helping Jurek run his business empire.

 

At 6.00 pm Jurek returned with Richard and his family.  Richard introduced me to Helina, his mother, a grey haired woman in early 60’s, Chris, his brother, with a PhD in Science, Ella, his wife, a trained nurse, and Anna, the eleven year old daughter in grade 6. “Anna’s shy, but very bright and always gets the highest marks in her class,” Richard explained to me.  “She is studying English two hours weekly in school.”  At 8.00 pm Jurek hosted a party to recognise and celebrate the completion of Czarek’s log cabin behind the house. We headed over as a group.

 

There were in total about twenty-five people filling the small cabin, and everyone was quickly poured a 500 ml glass of local Czestochowa beer from the tap on the bar.  This set the trend for the evening with Czarek’s fiancée, Anieska, a beautiful lady manning the bar and doing a credible job of filling everyone’s glass all evening. Czarek and Anieska were awarded with a large cardboard crosscut saw, wrapped in bows with the Polish words for “Saw all you can.” On a sheet of paper below the saw were the lipstick kiss marks and signatures of the girls who contributed to the gift. I naively said, “That’s a nice gift which obviously refers to cutting the logs for this building.” “It’s a double entendre,” Richard laughed. “In Polish the vulgar meaning of sawing is fucking.”

 

We started with a meal, a traditional stew bought by Helina, which filled my stomach for the long night ahead. Zdzislawa arrived with three female deputy principals from the school.  Jurek arrived with two musicians armed with accordions, while Jurek himself played the saxophone.  Jurek launched into traditional Polish polkas accompanied by the two accordions with Czarek on tambourine.  Jurek was an excellent musician as well as being an astute businessman, and astonished me more, when he switched and played the accordion himself.  Soon, everyone was clapping, and swaying, and then people began to dance.  The alcohol and live music definitely set the scene for an active Polish party with bodies flinging around everywhere. A steel pole in the middle of the floor became a focal point for the more intoxicated partygoers, Richard included, for pole climbing and swinging.

 

As the evening progressed, Jurek stopped the live music and made a Polish speech with some nonsense in it about Professor Pugh visiting from a University in Australia.  Richard was introduced as someone whom Mother Nature had concentrated her efforts on giving him an extra large dong, accounting for his short height and small size.  Everyone laughed. Polish humour is very down to earth.  Richard was given an opportunity to tell about the trip to the audience.  He did so for twenty minutes, and I cringed thinking, ‘sum up, Richard, no one cares’ but some audience members nodded and seemed interested. Although the speech was in Polish, Las Vegas got a good referral, though we were only there twelve hours.  I took a three-minute opportunity to tell what I had enjoyed about Poland during my five-day visit to date and Richard translated. 

 

Then, it was back to toasts, and dancing and taking photographs of people wearing Jurek’s authentic Australian leather hat, and women pushing me in the wheelchair in circles around the central pole.  Even the Polish warrior looked cool with an Australian hat. The party switched to Vodka about midnight and grew nosier and more abandoned.  Jurek provided some thick Polish sausages, which tasted delicious.  “He manufactures and sells these meat products,” Richard reminded me. I got to bed at 2.00 am, but Richard stayed up to 6.00 am, watching the sun rise, drinking some more Vodka and swimming with his brother, Chris, whom got badly drunk.

 

The party was a wonderful opportunity for Richard’s mother, brother, wife and daughter to relax and really enjoy themselves.  The mother survives on a meagre pension while both the brother and his wife are unemployed for two years and are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Jurek had invited them to stay in his grand house for the whole weekend.  “They’ve never seen a house like this,” Richard told me, “And probably not had the opportunity to sing, drink, dance and party for a very long time.  I always get negative depressing reports from home so I hope this weekend will cheer them up and give them something to remember.”

 

Saturday 19 July Weglowice

 

Richard dressed me for breakfast at 12.00 am, coffee, cereals, and an apple. I showed the night’s party photographs, which have caught some of the ambience of the evening, allowing the audience to giggle at their photographs in embarrassment. Richard went swimming but his relatives had not bought swim trunks and didn’t know how to swim.  “They don’t get an opportunity to swim much, and its not taught in school,” Richard said.

 

Jurek and his family left to attend a wedding a hundred kilometres away, leaving us in the house. At 4.00 pm Zygmunt arrived from Warsaw.  “He comes from this small village and his parents still live here. He owns a cabin on a lake near here and comes each year to hunt deer and wild Boer near here, with Jurek,” Richard told me. “He also attends business meetings here with Jurek. He has arranged to come and see us again and to drive us to Cracow on Tuesday.”  Zygmunt gave us another tour of the property, but an informed tour.  We started with a 500 ml draft piwo from Czarek’s log cabin tavern, and chatted to Jurek’s dad, a stately eighty-two year old railway employee and farmer who tips his hat, gardens around the house and still rides a bicycle eight kilometres daily to and from work. We then walked to the stables.  “There’s twelve horses here, including a special show stallion,” Zygmunt informed us. “The other half of the barn is part of the meat processing industry and the large and smaller semi-trailers are used for transport. 

 

We walked by the zoo and this time I spotted the four llamas that I had missed yesterday.  Zygmunt made some funny noises and soon had the donkey braying noisily. “Jurek likes to collect and plant different trees around the house,” Zygmunt told me, and he proceeded to give each one its full Latin name.  “This is a Pinus Montana, or Montana Pine.  I learned their names in university and I’ve never forgotten them.”  We then looked at Jurek and Zdzislawa’s garden with onions, radishes, tomatoes, strawberries, gooseberries, cherries and black berries as well as tall colourful yellow sunflowers. We ate some fruit.  “They both love to garden,” Zygmunt said.

 

We walked down Jurek’s driveway to the school.  “They run a summer programme here,” Zygmunt said.  “That’s why there are so many young children about.  Here’s a primary classroom that we can view.  All the desks and furniture comes from Jurek’s furniture company.” A stone fountain in the corner of the large classroom intrigued me.  Next we wandered through a full sized gymnasium, locker and dressing rooms and then we walked around the front of the gymnasium and headed back to the log cabin for more cost-free piwa.  We sat, enjoying the heat of the setting sun, and the sunset, drinking beer for the next two hours, while Zygmunt headed back to his cabin on his bicycle.

 

Czarek was busy preparing a price list with his young friends.  Beginning this evening he will be running the log cabin as a pub, charging all his friends for beer.  “I thought he’d built it for fun,” Richard sighed, “But he’s like Jurek.  Everything has to make a profit.  He’s saying that if this pub makes money, he’ll build another log cabin six times bigger.  He’s already thinking about toilets, parking, insurance and licenses. He did say we could drink for free.”  “Perhaps, that’s why he drives a new SLK 200 Mercedes sports car,” I replied.  As it grew dark, the temperature dropped and we headed indoors for a quick dinner.  I was in bed at 11.00 pm.

 

Sunday 20 July Weglowice

 

Richard ate his breakfast downstairs with the Krall family, and then returned distressed.  “Jurek is very scathing with his daughter, Camilla, and she went to work in tears. She’s a lawyer and manages the business. I told Jurek that he must treat her politely.  She can’t work effectively if angry and upset, and one day she might quit on him.”

 

Richard got me up at 11.00 am saying, “I’ve organised for a shower for you beside the downstairs swimming pool today.  I’ll have to push you around the outside of the house to a patio on the north side of the house overlooking the zoo, to gain entrance to the basement level. Chris has volunteered to help.” The weather was hot and sunny, and I covered myself with a sheet for this excursion, past mobs of school kids around the house. The shower went smoothly and I was dressed by noon.  Richard seemed disheartened. “My mother and brother are very anxious to go home today.  They complained that they couldn’t sleep because of the donkey braying.  I don’t understand them, as this was their first opportunity to get away from their homes for a long time, drink beer, relax, swim and they want to leave already.  I don’t think they feel comfortable with the wealth here and I guess they may feel out of place. Jurek’s involved in a meeting all day, so I don’t know when they’ll go. Jurek has said he wants them here until Monday, and they have no transport themselves, so I guess they’ll stay.”

 

Richard, Chris and I drank beer outside of the log cabin tavern, and then I joined Jurek and Zdzislawa for Jurek’s home cooked lunch meal. “Jurek loves to cook and he’s good,” Richard asserted, as we ate potatoes, salad and a meat dish with a red cherry compote drink.  After the meal I watched Jurek clean and feed some of the zoo animals.  A continuous stream of local people walked up the driveway, past the house to watch the animals and horses.  Richard was fascinated with the Vietnamese black pigs with low bellies rooting in the mud, snorting, and shaking off water in the afternoon heat. The donkey brayed and rolled on its back. The llamas ignored everyone. This zoo was obviously a Sunday afternoon focus and activity for many in the villagers who live around here. 

 

We then headed over to the large swimming pool outside the school where three hundred people were swimming or sunbathing on the school lawns.  “Normally, it’s a dollar to swim, but on hot summer days the pool is open to everyone in the village, gratis,” Richard told me.  Many shapely girls in bikinis impressed me.  I joined a group sitting with Jurek and Zdzislawa, and drank free 5.7% Tyskie Piwo, brewed in southeast Poland in Tyskie until the sun began to set. I thought, “This school isn’t like Perth’s private schools with walls and closed gates.  It’s integrated into the local community. Jurek’s empire is like a seigneury, with Jurek displaying paternalism and a strong social conscience.” Everyone left at 8.00 pm and the school grounds were totally clean, not a single bottle or piece of paper anywhere, and no one had tidied up. “They respect this place,” I thought.

 

Jurek had purchased two fifteen year old redundant amusement rides of Russian manufacture, which for ten years have been used in the school for funding raising at fetes, at a dollar and a half per ride. A teacher demonstrated both rides to Richard and his brother.  Young children flocked to sit on the free ride today.  I returned to my dining room bedroom, and went to bed at 12.00 am, while Richard attended a business meeting with Jurek, drank Vodka and came to bed at 5.00 am.

 

“Jurek’s planning a coordinated business thrust of ten wealthy Polish manufacturers into the Ukraine, about four hundred kilometres distant,” Richard shared. “Poland is part of the common market, has no tariffs and faces world competition.  The Ukraine has high tariffs on everything imported to the country, much like Poland was twenty years ago. The consortium intends to set businesses up in the Ukraine to enjoy the higher profit margin that high tariffs permit. Zygmunt’s Pak-Chem will manufacture Styrofoam there for housing insulation and he hopes to start in the next month.  They plan to produce windows, tiles for roofs, and food for the Ukrainians.  The Chinese have built a good network of highways there so transportation is easy.  The Ukrainians hate the Russians, but get on well with the Polish so things should go ok. Jurek has been selected as the overall director because of his extensive contacts, social skills, and problem solving abilities and will receive twenty percent of the business profits from everyone.  He’s made a hundred trips to the Ukraine setting this business venture in place and has high hopes for making money. I am planning to return here soon, to learn some Ukrainian and get a job in the project. After the excitement of this long trip, I’m bored with my old static routines and inactivity in Perth and being classified as a migrant every time I speak.  Here, I’m accepted as a local.”

 

Monday 21 July Weglowice

 

Richard was up at 9.00 am after four hours of sleep, and I thought I might have an early start today.  I was getting annoyed with the midnight to noon routine, and found it difficult to be unable to communicate with anyone but Richard over the last week. It’s frustrating sitting in a group conversation for two hours and not being able to understand anything. The day was bright and sunny, a high of thirty-five degrees Celsius, the first real summer day.  Unfortunately, Mondays involve the BT procedure, so I was finally dressed by noon. At that time, Chris came to give his farewells, as Jurek was giving Richard’s relatives a lift back to their homes near Czestochowa.  The family shed tears. I ate cereal and fruit, and then at two o’clock, Richard gave me a push outside to the zoo, to enjoy the hot weather and type on the laptop computer.  I looked over at the school’s swimming pool, which was again packed with people. As we passed the log cabin a large truck pulled up filled with logs.  “Czarek’s planning a fence and more log cabins,” Richard chuckled.  “He’s really entrepreneurial, cutting the trees himself, transporting the logs, stripping off the bark and sawing timber when he needs it.”

 

Around 3.00 pm we headed over to the log cabin to drink piwo, and were joined by Jurek, Zdzislawa and a relative of Jurek employed as a furniture salesman.  Jurek bought out road maps and we plotted our route to Cracow and Prague. Then we looked at Jurek’s glossy furniture brochure and catalogue describing two hundred and sixty furniture products.  Jurek also did stable products. He showed us a new brochure for his pork and chicken pate, which he had found a market for in Chicago. Jurek is visiting Chicago shortly with a complementary flight by an American businessman and he showed us his ten years US Visa.  Finally, we looked at his Australian photographs, where he visited the Pinnacles, Albany, Margaret River, Kalgoorlie, Kambalda and the wheat belt during his three-week visit in 2001. 

 

The talk turned to horses. “Women really like stallions,” Jurek commented. “They’re big, powerful and have such large dongs. I’m doing poorly at the moment compared to my past success,” Jurek lamented, “and I’ve cut back a lot. We’ve let some thoroughbred horses go.  We used to run a Polish horse club, JKS “Mustang” and a gala weekend event, attracting horses from all over Poland, but the expense made us terminate the feature. Fortunately, the school’s going well and I’m hoping the Ukraine project will restore our fortunes.”

 

At 5.30 pm Zygmunt arrived to join us for a piwo, and then to take us to his cabin for a meal.  As we drove down the tarmac road, Zygmunt told us, “The villages are all located on a single street, houses close to and stretched along the highway, with the fields behind the houses.  The line of timber, cement or brick houses is unbroken, but each kilometre of houses has a different village name. The villagers are very poor and we lack a good social security umbrella.  Farming is unprofitable now and some of these houses are empty as the older inhabitants die and the young people move to the city in search of employment. Four thousand dollars would buy one.  An old couple that died owned my house and the house was empty for five years.  I renovated it was plastic cladding and a new roof and use it odd weekends, and the occasional week in summer.”  Zygmunt’s house indeed looked new, a pretty white single story building with new red roof, and a large barn shed behind it.  The interior of the house was decorated with hunting trophies.

 

Zygmunt had fixed up the back shed as a hunting lodge and dining room, covering the walls with remnants of his Polish hunting and farming past. Deer antlers proliferated, and stuffed game birds were mounted. “Here’s a scythe and cycle, used to cut wheat,” Zygmunt said as he handled each item. “This stick is used to thresh wheat. Here’s a range of kerosene lamps and a miner’s carbide lamp, used until fifteen year’s ago.  This is a woodcutter’s hatchet, this a spinning wheel, and this a horse collar.”  Zygmunt and his wife Nina served us fresh blueberries picked from the nearby forest, strawberries, cherries, olives and a tasty cake. Zygmunt poured a bottle of Sophia Bulgarian Cabinet Sauvignon, and we toasted.

                                                                                                                  

Then, we walked down the road, with Zygmunt cheerfully pushing me and chatting to the locals.  “I love riding these roads on my bicycle,” Zygmunt enthused. “People come out and talk, there’s shops, and not many cars.”  We reached a caravan at the road’s end called Two Worlds Ranch, and went in to see old farming tools on display, a plough, hay rake, sled, wagon wheels, horse collars, hand operated singer sewing machines and so on. We admired caged native Polish rabbits.  Finally, we walked to the edge of the public forest.  ‘This forest extends for fifty kilometres,” Zygmunt told me. “Recently, I saw a magnificent stag here, and we hunt here each autumn. The forest is important in Polish life.”  Zygmunt named more flora in Latin.  “Once a geographer, always a geographer,” I joked and he agreed.

 

We walked back to Zygmunt’s cabin and we joined another man and his wife for more wine. “In vino veritas,” Zygmunt said and I understood the Latin after studying it for four years. I was now using some Polish words, ‘tak’ for yes, ‘dziekuje’ for thank you, and ‘dzien dobry’ for good day. I’d learned to say others, like the word for good evening, good, ok, no and enough but couldn’t spell them. Zygmunt added, “This friend was a coal miner for thirty years, but he made shrewd investments and he retired well off.” I drank wine until 9.30, and then Zygmunt gave us a lift back to Weglowice. I was in bed, an early evening by 10.30 pm.

 

Tuesday 22 July Cracow

 

Richard was up at 8.00 am and had me dressed by 9.00 am, an early start for us. The plan for today was to meet Zygmunt at the mansion at 11.00, and then we depart for Cracow at 12.00 noon.  “It’ll be a tiring day,” Richard warned.  Cracow is a big, crowded city, and the streets are medieval, and poor for traffic. It’s an exciting city, though, and my favourite place to be. It has a population about three quarters of a million people, with lots of restaurants, bars and nightclubs.  Camilla often goes there with her friends for a night to party.”  

 

The morning rained incessantly with flashes of lightning and echoing thunder.  Richard went off with Jurek to see a banker and drink schnapps together. I worked on the laptop.  Zygmunt arrived at noon, and was a little annoyed because he was ready to go and Richard was no-where to be found. I giggled as I thought, “I’d like to tell Zygmunt that he’s gone for a pee, as Richard constantly seems to disappear for this reason every half hour, but my communication skills are too poor.”

 

About 1.30 pm we left for Cracow with Richard a little intoxicated after sharing a bottle with the banker. The houses were either stone or boring unpainted concrete block. “Polish villagers are poor, and many choose to build their own houses with free limestone slabs collected from their fields, rather than buy bricks,” Zygmunt explained cheerfully as he drove through the rain.  I was amazed at the number of women selling blueberries in the rain, on the highway edge, and counted twenty vendors in a row.  “There’s high unemployment here,” Richard commented.  Zygmunt told a story about escorting a Bulgarian tourist group, who kept repeating, ‘hora.’  It means sick in Polish and Zygmunt thought his passengers were all unwell. Later he learned it means forest in Bulgarian.

 

In ninety minutes, Zygmunt diverted from the freeway to show us a state forest and Ojcowsp Park with unusual limestone pinnacles, cliffs, caves and outcroppings.  The Catholic Church had preceded us, and established shrines and chapels in the better locations.  A palace, now a hotel towered precariously on the edge of one magnificent cliff.  Thatched roofs of older barns added colour, amidst bright green meadows and the gold of ripening wheat crops.

 

We pushed on to Cracow past a huge power generation station powered by coal and a massive steel smelter. Traffic increased as we penetrated the concentric ring roads that surround the city.  Zygmunt had booked the Amadeus Hotel, built in the sixteenth century, an exclusive small boutique hotel charging $300.00 nightly inside the old city, the Centrum or focus of action. The hotel had pictures of previous guests including Prince Charles and presidents of Poland and Russia and other presidents from eleven countries.  We arrived and to my dismay there were four steps up to the front door.  Smartly groomed young men hauled me inside and our room was lovely with wide doors and wheelchair accessible shower. I know there’s a tendency called cognitive dissonance that when one pays a lot of money one tends to exaggerate one’s pleasure with the product to justify the decision to have purchased something so expensive. There were steps up the front and the breakfast dining room was inaccessible, but nevertheless, the décor was lovely, and the matching identical twin blonde receptionists striking and charming.

 

We went out to the old city and enjoyed a beer and dinner overlooking a thirteenth century cathedral. Then we headed off to the Cracow salt mines, operated since 1290.

I recognised the souvenir stores and restaurants, telling me this wasn’t an operating mine, but a busy headframe wheel hinted at authenticity. After paying $125.00 for an English private tour, our guide, a big man in a blue double breasted uniform, hard hat and miner’s lamp, informed us, “This mine shut in 1996, due to declining salt prices and an influx of water. A thousand and a half miners were dismissed, but we employ five hundred people now in the tourist operation.  We have seven hundred thousand tourists annually, five to six thousand daily in summer.  The mine started with a few miners in 1290, but salt became a ‘green gold’ during the industrial revolution to preserve fish and meat.  By 1900, two thousand miners were employed. There are three hundred kilometres of tunnels and two thousand caverns, but we currently are backing filling with sand to leave three hundred. Let’s start.”

 

He took us to a genuine miners lift, much too narrow for my wheelchair. “Lift the back of the chair, slip off the big wheels, and then push me in on the anti-tip wheels,” I exhorted. They got me in ok. “There are nine levels going down 350 metres, but the ninth is flooded,” the guide said. “We’re off to level two, at a hundred and ten metres.”  Wind whistled through the cage indicating this shaft provided ventilation for the mine. Bells chimed loudly and we dropped quickly. Fourteen degrees Celsius, but I had fortunately bought my jacket.  I was manoeuvred out of the tiny lift. “No dripping water, but salt dissolves in water,” I thought. The tunnel possessed wooden walls and a brick floor, indicating a lot of refinement for tourists, instead of rock and dirt and getting around in a wheelchair was easy. Zygmunt volunteered to push me. “A considerate helpful man,” I thought.

 

The first chamber was five stories high, with a matrix of immense old timbers. Life size statues stood of a carpenter and a miner.  “They work hand in hand to build the mine,” the guide said, pointing to the timber. “This salt is ninety percent pure, but a clay gives it a green shade.”  We push along a long stretch of tunnel to a second cavern, which dropped a hundred and thirty six metres from our platform.  “It’s been used for bungee jumping and a hot air balloon ascent,” the guide told us, “for the Guinness Book of Records.”  We took a normal elevator to the bottom.  “This lift was installed last month,” we were told.  Looking up was awe-inspiring. A salt portrait commemorated Stanislaw Staszic, a Polish geologist. The guide told us, “The Germans in World War II, started to manufacture aircraft engines here using Jewish POWs.” We returned up the lift.

 

“Next is the chapel,” the guide informed us. The chapel was a large cavern, lit by four huge brightly illuminated chandeliers with biblical scenes carved and illuminated on all the salt walls, and there were full size statues, including one of Pope John Paul II, Jesus and the Virgin Mary. There were salt lecterns, tables and a high alter. “These were done by nineteenth century miners.  Notice how the perspective exaggerates the apparent depth of the salt carvings, particularly, the last supper work.  Do you recognize Judas holding the bag of money?  Church services are conducted here four times annually.  The Pope was to visit here so we removed the stairs, but he was too ill to visit.”

 

Next we passed a cavern used for music recitals, a small cavern with carved figures, and a large cafeteria and souvenir shop installed in a cavern.  “In normal tours there’s a twenty minute break here,” the guide told us and I admired a series of large wooden carvings of the mining process.  Next we visited a huge cavern, well lit and set up with tables and chairs and a balcony on one side.  “I’ve been here for a New Year ball. The room holds five hundred people,” Zygmunt said. “It’s also used for trade fairs, conferences and so on.”  We missed the museum, but did see displays of salt crystals in many forms. We finished up waiting twenty minutes for the lift.

 

I found the tour interesting and the effort taken to accommodate wheelchairs pleased me. A thick low cloud of smelly polluted air lay over the city, a product of burning coal for power and extensive heavy industry.  Zygmunt made a wrong turn on the way back to our hotel and put the car on a freeway ten kilometres out of our way, and he had lived here fifteen years. The hotel gave me a welcome surprise; a small staff operated stair-lift up four stairs at the side entrance. I got to bed at 10.30, while Richard went out on the town until 1.00 am.

 

Wednesday July 23 Cracow

 

Today’s plan includes exploration of the old walled city of Cracow on foot rather than car after BT’s at 11.15 am.  I enjoyed a pleasurable shower in the room, though the water pressure was surprisingly poor and a room service breakfast of cereal, coffee juice and scrambled eggs was complementary with the hotel.  Zygmunt turned up with a retired engineer, Richard Novak, a friend from his days in Cracow. Zygmunt chose to push my wheelchair with occasional help by Richard Novak. We pushed from the hotel a few hundred metres to the main square. Zygmunt knew a lot about the town and pushed Richard hard to translate. “This square is four hectares in size and was constructed in the eleventh century. By then Cracow was known throughout Europe and had become famous for its salt, crystal and as an early university town.  Streets radiate out from the square in a star pattern and each street had its own trade.  There were seventeen gates in the city wall, with each gate operated by a trade.” 

 

I looked at a tall brick tower with clock.  “This was the administration centre for the square for a few centuries,” Zygmunt said.  “Now there’s a large complex of bars and restaurants below this building.” Next we crossed the square listening to numerous buskers singing, and playing instruments, through crowds of pigeons numbering in the thousands. Of interest was an ensemble from the Ukraine dressed in native costumes, and two young boys aged about five and nine, playing violins, who were still there playing six hours later. We reached a long building of medieval construction filled with small shops selling amber jewellery, sheepskins, crystal and many other products.

 

Our next site to visit was the vast medieval cathedral of Gothic design, constructed from an unusual size brick.  “These were some of the first bricks in Europe,” Zygmunt told me.  “They were still learning how to make them.”  We went into the church whose ceiling loomed inspiringly far above our heads.  Everything seemed to glitter with gold leaf, much more so than the cathedrals I had visited, Notre Dame in Paris and the York Minster.  We set soaking in the atmosphere for a full half hour and I regretted the rule prohibiting photographs. We finally moved on.

 

We wandered past the city buildings, all freshly painted with frescos, sculptures and plaques, with shops at basement and ground levels and apartments on the upper levels. A Ukraine girl played a large unusually shaped stringed native instrument. Artists displayed their paintings for a half kilometre along the city wall. “There’s no posted prices as you negotiate with them,” Richard said.

 

We visited a Polish university, which holds a prestigious rank today.  Richard exhorted, “If you graduate from here all doors are open to you,” I looked at a statue of Copernicus whom I had studied through Koestler’s book in University, reading about his conflict with the Pope when he stated the earth revolved around the sun. By now it was 3.00 pm and Zygmunt looked tired from pushing me for four hours.  Pushing in Central Square on the level paving stones was easy, but uneven brick or worse, cobblestones made transit challenging on the side streets and I have seen my plastic front wheels shattered by a hard push against a protruding brick in Singapore last year. 

 

We passed an old worn 1794 plaque to honour Tadeusz Kosciuszko.  He is known in Australia because Australia’s highest mountain was named after him.  “He had a vision here he’d win independence for Poland, but I think he was defeated and fled to the US,” Richard said. We waded through pigeons, passed a school group singing below a central statue and listened a short time. Then we met a Taiwanese family from Taipei with the mum in a wheelchair and chatted.  “I’ve visited Taipei in 1984 and enjoyed the computer shops there,” I told her.

 

“We’ll relax and drink piwa, and then return you to your hotel so you may rest for two hours, and see you at 5.30,” Zygmunt suggested and being tired, I readily agreed. I enjoyed 500 ml of beer while being serenaded by two gypsy buskers and then I slept for two hours.

 

Zygmunt returned on time and Richard was fifteen minutes late, annoying him greatly. Zygmunt left with me and then, of course, Richard couldn’t find us in the crowds of the Central-Square.  At last he caught up while I watched an impressive ‘frozen’ couple, in straw hats, painted gold, and sitting motionless, come to life to perform a ten second act, when donated money. We walked into the Restauracja Chlopskie Jadio, which served traditional Polish farm food, while sitting in tables made from farm carts or sleds cut in half.  Bread with pig fat didn’t appeal so I had a coffee while Richard ate soup contained in a hollowed out half loaf of bread. A farm cart filled with straw was next to me and I eyed horse collars and horse gear tacked to the wall. A Polish gentleman in a wheelchair sat next to me, the first local in a chair that I have seen, other than a pitiful creature lacking legs and one arm begging. Richard took photos of the kitchen and basement.

 

We visited another Gothic designed cathedral, boasting of a display of the Calun Turynski, I think being the burial wrappings of Christ. Richard photographed it, while I stared at a priest snoring in a confessional booth, apparently asleep. Outside we looked at a monastery. I have seen many nuns here, most old but a few surprisingly young.  From there we visited a large park with a UNESCO international travelling exhibition. Three hundred blown up photographs mostly taken from helicopters by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, photographer, were displayed emphasizing aspects of the landscape in a striking manner. As an illustration, I copied the photo of Mount Everest, the mountain that I’ve flown around with Lily in 1986.

 

We then walked past the Royal Palace with the dead kings below in their catacombs. “We’ve abandoned the monarchy now,” Richard commented, “But you can see how enormously wealthy, the king was.”  Richard and I ate at a student self-serve cafeteria, about $5.00 for chicken, potatoes, three salads and two yoghurt drinks. No red wine though.  Unfortunately, the food made me cough for two hours.  I’ve stopped having these coughing attacks with every meal lately.

 

About 8.30 we returned to the hotel, and I was in bed by 10.00. Richard went to bed as well.

 

Thursday 24 July Auschwitz

 

Zygmunt had informed Richard strongly that we must be ready to go at 9.00 am, not 9.15 or 9.30 am because he had booked an 11.00 am guide at Auschwitz. “I’m getting you up at 5.00 am,” Richard told me, and he did manage to shower and dress me by 7.00 am. Richard packed while I typed, and then at 8.00 am I ordered room service. When Zygmunt arrived at 9.00, Richard kept him and me waiting ten minutes while he did postcards.  The day was sunny and hot, thirty-one degrees Celsius, like an Australian summer day, making the Daewood an oven.

 

At 9.15 am we left. It was nice to have Zygmunt navigate, but his method was to stop and ask directions at least ten times. This is Richard’s method as well.  I asked, “You are a geography graduate and you don’t use a roadmap?” He laughed and said, “I do use the sun!” His habit of slowing to fifty on freeways to read the road signs scared me, while cars zipped by, as did some U turns when he was lost.  At least the Daewood was easy to transfer into.  I continued to be saddened by the atmospheric pollution, which was terrible. We arrived safely but sweaty and hot in the unairconditioned car by 11.00 and I paid $80.00 for a private English guide for the three of us.  Zygmunt pushed my wheelchair.

 

It quickly became apparent that no attempt whatsoever has been made here to cater for a wheelchair tourist other than take his money.  The roads were the original uneven brick and impossible to push over easily. The guide gave an introduction.  “This area, named Auschwitz I, was a Polish army camp before the war with these thirty large brick buildings already here. The prisoners expanded the camp in 1941 with new buildings and second storeys added to the existing buildings.  It was selected by the Nazis in 1940 because of good rail transport, a friendly local German speaking population, its proximity to industry and coal mining and its central location in the new German Reich.”

 

He then took us to watch a fifteen-minute film on the liberation of Auschwitz. Most of the shocking footage I have seen before in my three years as a history teacher in Wawa, when I ran film festivals on World War II. I did learn that Birkenau, twenty five times larger in size was built nearby from modular wooden horse stables, and possessed two much larger gas chambers and crematoria. We could visit but the wooden buildings burned at the end of the war. Then we set out to the main gate with the cynical German motto, ‘Work Will Set You Free,’ surrounded by two tall fences of electrified barbwire.

 

To my dismay, all the buildings possessed six entrance steps and here the exhibits were located.  There was no solution except being carried up and down the stairs of a few of the key exhibit halls, ignoring the second floor exhibits.  I guess I reached ten percent of the camp displays.  I did see enormous piles of the personal possessions of the gassed inmates, glasses, hair, shaving utensils, prosthetics, suitcases and so on.  The Jews had been told they were being relocated, and then were gassed immediately on arrival.  Their possessions were stored in huge warehouses called Canada I, II, and III.  Only Canada I in Auschwitz I, survived the war. I also looked at some of the detailed documentation kept on each inmate including death certificates with cause of death being heart failure rather than lethal injection. 

 

I was astonished at the close proximity of the electric fence to the building and the general lack of room between buildings. We were shown a model cattle car where passengers were packed for days without water, the death wall where many inmates were shot and the bogus courtroom, where trials always sentenced the inmates to death. In the basement in September 1941, the first experimental use of Cyclone B was used to gas six hundred Soviet prisoners and two hundred and fifty sick Polish prisoners taken from the hospital. We looked at methods of torturing inmates, from keeping them in roll calls for hours in the cold, once for twenty hours when a hundred a fifty prisoners died or suspending them on stakes off the ground. Towards the end I was left feeling quite sick from the exhibitions. At the end we visited the gas chamber, a dismal cement bunker previously used to store munitions, but which was really shockingly very large.  We saw where the poisonous gas was injected in the ceiling. Directly adjoining was the crematoria, with a narrow gauge track for loading three bodies simultaneously for the fifty-minute cremation fuelled by coke. The newer gas chambers in Birkenau were five times larger but were destroyed by the Germans in 1944/5.

 

By 1.00 pm the tour was finished and I was glad to leave. We then visited a very large chemical factory nearby.  “I’m doing business with them,” Zygmunt explained. “That factory was built by Auschwitz slave labour, because the Germans worked to transform coal to diesel for tanks mired in the USSR front.  Slave labour was used to develop this whole area and the work was to a high standard because the Germans expected to win the war.”  We then drove back in the heat to Weglowice, passing huge electricity generating stations, coalmines, Fiat assembly plants, and chemical factories. These complexes are gigantic, spread over many hectares and excite my interest. “These factories support Poland’s forty-five million people,” Zygmunt said, and he would add lots of supporting information that I would have liked to hear. “I don’t care, I’m not interested with this shit,” said Richard refusing to translate. I could see where the persistent heavy layer of smog originated. 

 

At Tyskie, a small village, home to Tyskie beer, we stop for half-litre glasses of Tyskie Piwo, selling for $2.00.  Then we continue on, Zygmunt stopping six or seven times to ask directions.  I filled his car with $60.00 of petrol and we arrive at the mansion about 5.00 pm. I thanked Zygmunt, as this was the last time I’d see him.  He was going to the Ukraine next week.  He had been wonderfully supportive to me, though we couldn’t communicate except through Richard and I was grateful for his friendship.

 

We retire to the log cabin tavern where Czarek guarantees us free unlimited Tyskie piwa.  We drink two litres each by 9.30 pm, while Richard chatted with Jurek, and I admired Anieska, Czarek’s fiancé, an exceptionally well-endowed beautiful blonde in miniskirt, who handles the beer spigots.

 

I was assisted to bed by 10.00 pm, and then Richard joined Jurek for a ten-minute drive to Zygmunt’s cabin.  “They talked about how hard priests were to do business with, ruthless, all take and no give, but owning enormous estates and wealth through the Church. We joked and drank three bottles of Vodka and by 2.00 am everyone was badly drunk,” Richard told me.  “Jurek drove me back and I was very worried about our safety.  I hate this Polish heavy drinking culture, and I told Jurek that next time I’d stay sober and drive. Zygmunt drank all night, yet he had to be up at 7.00 am to drive to Warsaw for a wedding tomorrow, and he’s sixty-five years of age.  He’d already drove four hours today and pushed you for three hours, helping to lift you up and down four flights of stairs.  Jurek will be up at 7.00 am as well, supervising the harvest.  These Polish people are tough; they drink all night and work all day.  I can’t do it.  When I got back the log cabin tavern was packed with young people at 2.00 am, the place was really swinging and Jurek wanted me to drink with him there. I opted for bed instead.”

 

Friday 25 July Weglowice

 

Richard looked hung over and tired when he got up at 10.00 am, to assist me for my two hour BT procedure which concluded at 12.30 pm.  I listened to the rhythmic roar of threshing machines at work around the house as I spent the afternoon on the laptop. Then it rained and Richard told me, “The harvest is postponed so we might go with Jurek to Prague Czech Republic tomorrow.”

 

At 1.00 pm Richard disappeared and by 4.00 pm I was getting thirsty and wondering where he had gone to. One of the dining room double doors was locked so I couldn’t get out. I talked to Camilla briefly who told me, “I’m very tired. I drove to Warsaw and spent two full days promoting our Pork and Chicken Pate in Supermarkets.  We’re selling in six out of twenty-eight supermarkets so far. The drive back without air-conditioning yesterday was hard.”  He reappeared at 4.30, badly drunk, slurring his speech, after making inroads into a bottle of French Cognac at the bank director’s workplace. “There’s a big party Tuesday night, free booze,” he slurred.  “You’re becoming an alcoholic,” I teased him.

 

He gave me a hand over to the log cabin, talking to me incomprehensively in Polish, where I could work at the outside tables, and watch the horses.  I joined Richard, Jurek, and Jurek’s grey haired friend for Jurek’s home-cooked dinner, outside the log-cabin bar at 6.00 pm, fried potatoes, fish fingers and pickled cucumbers. I enjoy a beer and Richard’s into a half-litre glass of Tyskie.  “Jurek’s friend runs four restaurants and two bars around Poland,” Richard explained. “He’s here to install freezers for ice-cream, in Czarek’s cabin and to promote the Pate products. Czarek is expanding his tavern products and hopes to sell loads of ice-cream.”  We finished the meal. I watched local farm workers, usually looking battered, missing a tooth or two, and unshaven, approach Jurek, greet him and shake his hand, when they are in his presence.  He’s given number one priority and I think they ask permission from him to sit down off to one side on a back table under a tree or to enter the log cabin tavern.

 

At 7.00 pm, I asked Richard to push me back to the dinning room where I read an ebook, one of six hundred on the laptop while Richard drank and partied with his friends. By 9.30 pm I thought, “What if Richard gets too drunk and forgets me or passes out,” and I felt a little anxious. “Don’t be silly,” I told myself. “Richard’s always a hundred percent reliable.  Be patient, he’ll turn up and do his job. Let him relax and enjoy himself.” I relaxed myself and stopped worrying.

 

Richard returned at 10.00, a little unsteady on his feet, smelling like a distillery.  “I’ve been drinking Dutch Vodka for the first time,” he slurred.  “Adam, the local police chief is here and I’ve reconciled him with Jurek. They went to school together, but had a falling out two years ago at a hunt club and haven’t spoken since. We’re leaving for Prague tomorrow but I’m getting pissed tonight. They think you left because you’re scared.”  “No, just bored because I can’t understand anything,” I replied. “They’re your friends and I want to give you private time to enjoy yourself.”  By 10.40 I was in bed and he returned to drink and party until 2.00 am.

 

Saturday 26 July Prague Czech Republic

 

Richard was up at 8.00 am and I was dressed by 9.00 am. Then he packed for the trip.  “I feel ok,” he boasted although he looked haggard from lack of sleep and two days of heavy drinking.  The day was bright and sunny after yesterday’s rain, a good day for driving.  I was thinking, “I wonder if Jurek’s ok to drive? He might still be intoxicated from last night and he drives so quickly that one moment’s inattention means that we’re cactus,” and again I worried a little. I told myself, “Jurek does this every night. It’s his life style.  He’ll be fine because he’s driven hundreds of thousands of kilometres like this. Relax.”

 

Jurek with help hauled my wheelchair into his Mercedes van and I transferred sideways onto my roho cushion into the seat looking aft.  We dropped into the village where I met Rudolph Zimmerman, a German, speaking English, who works for the European Common Union.  Then Jurick drove rapidly for two hours to Wisla, location of Hotel Gotebieuski, Wisla, located in the Polish mountains.  I enjoyed looking around the hotel, an updated and more recent version of his hotel in Mikolajki.  “This hotel hosts international conferences from all over Europe, and really buzzes during skiing season in winter,” Zdzislawa said. Unfortunately, a thick layer of smog obstructed the view of rolling verdant alpine slopes.  This polluted air covers all of Europe, I think, but Richard said, “It’s much less polluted now than when I was a boy.  My white shirt would be black at the end of each day.”

 

We all drank a coke, and then pushed on over the mountains through villages with wooden alpine architecture, until we stopped briefly for lunch at 3.30 pm.  I ate chicken and chips, a meal, which set off coughing, periodically as mucus accumulated in my lungs. From there we pushed on over narrow hairpin roads to Katovice and on to the Czech Republic border. The border crossing took about twenty minutes, followed by a three-hour drive to Prague, the total distance being five hundred and fifty kilometres.  I tried to enjoy the scenery but Jurek’s driving was like a racing car driver, pass, accelerate, brake heavily, taking corners at speed. He has excellent reflexes and concentration but I wished he would slow down. I was impressed by the large size of Czech industry with an LG Philips plant stretching for a kilometre.  Czech farms are much larger than Poland and the roads are generally better. With my coughing, the drive was becoming unpleasant, and the air-conditioning was more and more chilling me. Then, about 9.00 pm I began coughing incessantly, and wheezing as I breathed in and out.  My lungs seemed to be filling with mucus.  Things were becoming a nightmare for me.

 

Our plan was to find cheaper accommodation outside Prague, but we could not see any motels as we approached the city at 11.00 pm.  At a petrol station Jurek paid a taxi driver two hundred Kroner or $30.00 to guide us to the nearest large hotel, but it was booked out.  “The Rolling Stones concert is tonight and the hotels are all full,” the receptionists warned us. We began driving to the central city, and at 11.50 pm, we passed a small hostel, advertising beds for $15.00. Jurick stopped; Richard investigated and told us, “They’ve four single beds in a room for $200.00 on the second floor up fifteen steps. They close in ten minutes.” We took it, and the manager helped pull me up the stairs tilted backwards, Jurek and the manager on the back and Richard holding the front. He told us he was fully booked for tomorrow.  I was helped to bed at 12.30 am, coughing and wheezing. I refused to entertain thoughts like, “I’ve got pneumonia and I need medical attention,” and instead focussed on my beliefs from my previous attack three weeks ago, at the Elm’s Residence. “You have a chill, and once you warm up, the coughing and mucus issue will disappear.” Because this belief had been tested and validated previously, I was confident and I kept my anxiety level low. I was coughing at 2.00 pm when I fell asleep.  I agreed with Richard’s summation, “It’s been a fucking hard day.”  Richard stayed up and chatted with Jurek for an hour.

 

Sunday, 27 July Prague

 

I awoke at 8.00 am still very tired and headachy, feeling as if I had a hangover, but with clear lungs and normal breathing. I felt relieved and drank only a coffee for breakfast. The trip down the stairs was easier than going up; we boarded the Mercedes and headed into old Prague.  Jurek paid for parking near an ornate pillar with twenty statues from cherubs to angels and Popes and kindly volunteered to push me.  We were two blocks from the oldest and most famous bridge across Prague’s large and polluted Beltana River and he pushed me across the bridge to the central square. Unlike Cracow where the central square has been repaved, pushing a wheelchair on Prague’s ancient uneven cobblestones and bricks was difficult with the wheelchair bouncing and becoming stuck against cracks and jutting stones. The streets were packed with thousands of tourists. The day was hot and sunny, the temperature climbing to thirty-eight degrees Celsius. Jurek pushed the chair, and took it slowly, unlike his racecar driving, humming tunes to himself.

 

Building construction everywhere was baroque, a stunning mosaic with pillars, freezes, ornate religious statues, balconies, stained glass and heavy ornamentation. The doors are massive wooden structures studded with bolts, beneath decorated portals carrying crests. Every building seemed in immaculate shape on display for tourism and churches abound. Souvenir shops, T-Shirt shops, change booths, bars, restaurants and specialist shops selling crystal, jewellery and beer steins do a steady business in the heat along the streets, and are packed with people.  I buy a fridge magnet bearing a photograph of the bridge for $5.00.  We pass through an arch, through the wall lined with crests next to a tall ornate stone tower.

 

On the bridge, which is pedestrian only, licensed street vendors sell artwork and jewellery, while buskers perform on a wide range of instruments.  The bridge is lined with life size statues or clusters of statues every five to ten metres, darkened with soot and age. The river banks are lined with large buildings, the water is busy with sight seeing craft and a Viking longboat takes tourists for cruises.  We reach the watchtower and arch at the opposite end of the bridge and pass through.

 

Fortunately, cars are banned from the central square, which is packed with people and horse drawn carriages. I feel that I’m being watched as we pass a building with twenty life size stone statues on its balcony and roof. By this time, I’m feeling hot, having worn a long sleeve shirt in preparation for cool air-conditioning during the six hour drive back to Weglowice this afternoon. I am unable to sweat because of my paralysis and cool myself from a fountain by drenching my hair and shirt.

 

A tall tower containing a famous astronomical clock dominates the central square while a large cathedral behind the square overlooks the activity. Spires, statues, churches and ornateness encircle us while a jazz quartet plays tunes on trumpet, banjo, drums and base violin. We sit outside the Zovarna Restaurant for lunch, and I avoid any food, drinking only Light Coke and water to avoid another coughing attack. “Should be good to reduce my weight,” I think optimistically. In such a popular location food is expensive, roughly $150.00 for three meals without beer. We watch the astronomical clock strike 1.00 pm, with small doors opening to reveal rotating carved figures.

 

We finished the meal and headed back past the Marionette Theatre and across the bridge towards the car, conscious of the six-hour drive ahead of us. Zdzislawa has an important appointment tomorrow.

 

The day was hot but the air-conditioning quickly cooled the van.  I felt very tired, so closed my eyes and relaxed, perhaps even slept as we rocketed back to the Polish border passing every vehicle on the road. At the border, the guard said the words every traveller fears. “We have a problem here.  Your visa is only good for one entry. I can’t let you cross the border.”  At that moment, I wouldn’t recommend Flight Centre in Australia to anyone. They had organised my Czech Visa so knew I’d need a multiple entry visa to Poland but hadn’t requested one or picked up the error.  I too should have checked the visas carefully. Jurek and Richard chatted to the guard, who helped us to apply for another Visa, $50.00, and send faxes to Australia, Warsaw and the US. 

 

Richard said, “I saw three of the officials comparing your photograph with Ben Ladin’s saying in Polish that you look like him. Actually I think there really are similarities.   They marked on the application that you were ‘a little disabled.’ They are really bureaucratic since September 11th and suspect everyone of being a terrorist.  Normally, it takes a week to get a visa and we’d have to stay and wait in the Czech Republic. They were being nice to you because of your quadriplegia.”  Three hours of idling the engine to run air-conditioning to avoid sitting in the heat, and then the visa was issued and we were allowed through.  We reached Weglowice, at 11.15 instead of our planned time of sunset and I was in bed by 12.00 opting to skip any dinner.  I’ve never done a day without food before. I am thankful to Jurek for his tolerance of my mistake in not checking my paperwork and for his patience and his night drive. 

 

Richard joined Jurek and managed drank two litres of beer and Vodka at the log cabin tavern, until 3.00 am. “Czarek doesn’t drink at all,” Richard said. “He’s proud of his income, four hundred people and seven full kegs of beer sold last night.”

 

Monday 28 July Weglowice

 

Richard got up at 8.00 am, went for a swim, and completed the BT routine with me by noon, saying, “My mother’s very annoyed with me. She can’t understand why I’m not seeing her while I’m here in Poland.  I need to visit her in Czestochowa this afternoon.  I’ve bought seven bottles of liquor as gifts.”  I ate cereal and a peach for breakfast setting off a persistent irritating cough all day until 9.00 pm. The day was in the mid-30s, so I retired to type on the laptop in a cool basement lounge room for the afternoon, listening to a braying donkey and neighing horses while Richard gained a lift with Jurek to Czestochowa. Polish children came and went using the basement swimming pool, but I was mainly by myself until 8.00 pm when Jurek returned with Richard.  By this time I was feeling lonely, and had finished another ebook on the computer.  I drank a glass of red wine before the evening meal of pork and fried potatoes, without triggering any further coughing, then accompanied Jurek and Richard to the log tavern through the rain. A bright warm fire burned in the cabin, offsetting the cool damp weather outside.

 

I enquired about Richard’s mum and he replied, “I enjoyed seeing her but quickly got bored and went off for a ninety minute bath. I couldn’t live with her; she lives in the past and quickly annoys me with her talk. She was able to invite a friend over for a drink and that was good.”  At the tavern, a group of teachers had arrived from England to teach a three-week English summer camp at the school.  I spoke with Tony, a white haired sixty-four year old, who had arrived yesterday by car from Lincoln, UK with his forty-year-old girl friend Amanda and her children Chris and Rachael. Tony explained, “We get free room and board, a one week cultural tour and a twenty pound payment at the end.  There are thirty teachers; we have two teachers for each class of about twelve students. This is my third summer here and Amanda’s fourth and it’s a good holiday.  The Polish students pay to attend so they are from well to do families and they are nice kids generally.”

 

Over a 500 ml Tyskie, I asked Tony about his past as he sounded Canadian.  “I grew up in a very poor family in Sheffield, UK and at eighteen years of age I migrated to Toronto, Ontario where I attended Ryerson Polytechnic College in business. I worked in a bank in accounting and then got a job with a pipeline company building the first natural gas pipeline through the Maritime Provinces. I did land acquisition, negotiating with farmers a fee to put the pipeline through their properties, with almost a hundred percent success rate. I ran my own consulting company, but Morris Strong and the NDP government disavowed all previous contracts and put me out of business. I was so angry I returned to England recently.”

 

I chatted with Amanda as well who was drinking beer and to my disgust smoking as well.  She told me, “I’m a high school teacher but I’m working on a PhD in Education. I’m looking at four of the new English teaching assistants, whom with the teaching shortage now teach classes and I’m trying to determine if student outcomes from these teachers are as good as regular teachers. I’m struggling with methodology at the moment. It’s hard to teach all day and then come home to study.”

 

Chris, the fourteen-year-old son was voluble and has already travelled a lot.  “I really want to visit Australia in the next year,” he told me. Rachael, his sister was shy, but loves the horses here.  At 1.00 am I had consumed two litres of beer and felt very mellow. The coughing had stopped. Czarek shook a Polish farmer who had passed out and escorted him to a seat outside in the rain and cold.  “His son committed suicide last year,” Richard told me. “He drinks himself to oblivion. Czarek’s delighted with the English contingent, a full tavern every night for the next month. He’s already planning to double the cabin size.”  I got to bed at 1.30 am.

 

Tuesday 29 July Czestochowa

 

I awoke at 8.30 feeling tired and a little hung over; grateful now I refused all Vodka glasses placed in front of me last night. I was dressed by 10.00 am and drank a little red wine before my cereal, averting thankfully a coughing reaction. The plan today is to visit the huge church in Czestochowa, home to the Black Madonna. We set off with Jurek in the Mercedes van at lunchtime and stopped at Jurek’s Black Village furniture factory, a two hundred-metre building filled with machines about three kilometres from Weglowice. Jurek said,  “I started it in 1989 and we were the third factory in Poland making furniture for forty million people.  We ran twenty-four hours a day for ten years and made money.  Now I operate eight hours a day and there’s a hundred and fifty factories in Poland.”  We continued on and picked up Richard’s brother Chris, wife Ella and daughter Anna at his mother’s Czestochowa apartment; and then we drove to the cathedral, called Jasna Gora or the illuminated hill.

 

My guidebook purchased for me for $25.00 by Chris and Ella, who are still unemployed after two years, gave me insight into the significance of this site for the Polish.  The church contains a painting of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, on a wooden board, painted in the Byzantine icon style of the sixth to ninth century.  It was donated to the Pauline Monks in 1382 with a gift of an elevated two hundred and ninety three-metre limestone hill with chapel in Czestochowa near the Warta River. Catholic myth accepts that Christ’s disciple Saint Luke did the painting on a tabletop during dinner with the holy family. Prayer to this picture of Saint Mary, as mother of Jesus, is believed to lead to Saint Mary becoming ‘mother of every man,’ one’s advocate, guide or intermediary in the spiritual world. It is thought by some that she possibly heals infirmities in this world. 

 

The fame of the painting drew many pilgrims to the site, leading to the church being vandalised in 1430, with damage to the icon, and then fortified in 1621 with a wall like a medieval castle.  The Swedes sieged this fortification in 1655 and their defeat in Czestochowa was attributed to the intercession of Saint Mary, mother of Jesus. Jasna Gora became identified with nationalism, religious fervour and an independent Poland. The walls of Jasna Gora again resisted foreign invaders, Swedes in 1704/5, and Russians in 1770/1. Poland was partitioned in 1773/5 and divided between Austria, Prussia and Russia, disappearing as a national identity for a hundred and twenty years. Jasna Gora united the three torn fragments, the icon of Saint Mary remaining as a mainstay of faith and a nationalistic symbol of one free motherland. The defeat of the Russian Bolshevik army in 1920 was ascribed to St Mary’s intervention, with growing pilgrimages to Jasna Gora. In World War II, the Germans tolerated Jasna Gora, prohibiting pilgrimages while under the communist regime a reproduction of the icon circulated through Poland for twenty-three years strengthening the faith. Jasna Gora hosted Pope John Paul II three times leading to a growth in pilgrimages to eight million annually as Jasna Gora has become more entrenched in the mind and life of the Polish people as a symbol of their culture and nationalism.

 

I was amazed approaching the church because of the broad three kilometre avenue leading to the five hectare sanctuary, whose one hundred metre baroque steeple soared at the end, much like, I thought, the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Like the Eiffel Tower, this bell tower may be climbed, but without a fee.  A large park and parking lot surround the church, which is still enclosed within its medieval walls. Entrance through one of four gates permits access to a compact architectural complex with range of buildings. Besides the cathedral, there is a monastery, refectory, knight’s hall, basilica, treasury, museum, arsenal, library, Marian room and first aid building.  We visited the fifteenth century gothic cathedral first, with a number of wings, all glistening marble, statues, paintings, gold leaf paint, chandeliers and candles. The walls are crowded with votive offerings, plaques, medals, antique crutches and prosthetics and other gifts donated by the faithful. 

 

The church is packed with people, not tourists but worshippers who fall to their knees and pray in the middle of the floor obstructing traffic. The numbers and piety astound me, as I have never seen anything quite like this devotion. Bizarrely, paradoxically, no one looks happy and some people sob openly. Richard suggested, “Perhaps, their lives are miserable and they are hoping for a better life in the future.” Eight million registered people conduct a pilgrimage to this church annually and many more, like us, appear without registering.

 

Heavy steel bars block access to a gold screen that hides the painting in the chapel.  Richard investigated. “This is like a theatre,” he commented.  “The Catholic Church is better than Hollywood. They only show the iconic picture every four hours for a few minutes. Next showing will be at 1.30 pm.”  That was thirty minutes away, so we join the rapidly growing thong of people, filling the church, perhaps numbering half a thousand. At 1.30 pm a bugle sounds, drums beat heavily, and a trumpet plays a loud stirring solo for three minutes as the gold screen agonizingly raises upward to reveal the ancient painting, roughly eighty by a hundred and twenty centimetres, the object of mass veneration.  My vision is obstructed by hordes of people and the image is a long way away, but it’s not something I’d buy at a garage sale or hang on my wall. It’s called the Black Madonna for good reason, as the paint has become dark with a half millennium of age. We look for a moment, at this Miraculous Picture showing Mary holding the baby Jesus, surrounded by precious stones and golden gifts, and then leave for the baroque style basilica lined with its religious frescos, statues, and gold leaf.

 

Many displays are closed as the Church prepares for a mammoth influx of pilgrims next month, who walk from all parts of Poland in an annual organised pilgrimage to the church, singing and laughing and giving testimony to their faith. For some it is a day’s stroll; others march for up to two weeks.  Photographs show a vast sea of faces such as occurs in Mecca. 

 

We do visit the museum filled with an excellent collection of medieval weapons and armour that definitely caught my attention. However, I miss the treasury, filled with frescos, murals, paintings and precious votive offerings of jewellery, arms and tableware donated by kings over five centuries. Sadly, I also miss the library with its medieval manuscripts and frescos and knight’s hall, with votive offerings from soldiers and military banners.  By mid-afternoon we walk down towards the large complex of stores, souvenir shops and restaurants, past a huge modern bronze statue of the Pope, and another of the Pope’s parents. Jurek picked us up at 4.00 pm and I returned to Weglowice for an early 8.00 pm night’s rest.

 

Wednesday 30 July Weglowice

 

Richard was up at 6.00 am, and commenced BT procedures at 7.00 am, so I was dressed and in my wheelchair by 9.00 am.  His plan for the day was to gain a 9.00 am lift with Jurek to his brother, Chris’s home, about a twenty-minute drive from Czestochowa. I breakfasted on cereal, and a peach, with a small red wine.  Richard left as planned, and I worked on my journal until 8.00 pm, a ten hour stint without interruption, sitting alone in the dining hall. The weather was cool, overcast and a little rainy. I felt good about my achievements and the time flew quickly, without any sense of boredom or loneliness.

 

The only distraction mid-afternoon was fifteen minutes of loud shouting downstairs, apparently a domestic disagreement between Czarek and Agnieszka.  She is a happy, young, shapely, well-endowed, beautiful blonde, who demurely works a ten-hour day doing meals and serving drinks, always with a greeting and warm smile. I couldn’t imagine shouting at her and chatted to Richard. “Czarek’s a macho person,” Richard explained, “But Jurek and Zdzislawa also occasionally lose their tempers and scream at each other. It’s a Polish trait and means nothing.”

 

When Richard returned at 8.00 pm he told me, “I only reached my brothers at 3.00 pm because Jurek stopped for business. However, we did take my mum, Helina so we were all together.  We enjoyed ourselves, drank lots of Vodka and went for a bike ride to a local hotel, restaurant and lake.  His house, which I originally bought, is three stories and stands off the road in a park of trees.  He’s finished it off beautifully.  I stopped off at my mum’s two bedrooms flat and took photos.  It’s pleasant, with fresh paint, nice wood panelling, new carpet and nice furniture near Jasna Gora and the park, and I’ve been given the opportunity to purchase it cheaply. She’s on a small pension so I’m amazed at the quality of the flat and I think Jurek may have helped her. I’ve organised to go out to a restaurant for dinner with Jurek and a policeman at 10.00 pm.”

 

I hadn’t been outside all day so I suggested a quick beer first at Czarcia Chata, Czarek’s name for his log tavern, and enjoyed a half litre of Czarek’s Tyskie draft.  Czarek shook my hand as always and was happy because thirty teachers from England had arrived today and spent their afternoon in his pub. Then at 9.30 pm I went to bed and Richard went out.

 

At 2.00 am I awaked to find, to my consternation that my right leg had spasmed off the bed, and my urn bottle had fallen to the floor. I thought, “Richard won’t be back until 3.00 or 4.00 am. I’ll wet the bed, and lying at this angle may give me a pressure sore.  My leg weight may pull me onto the floor and the one metre fall onto a hard tile floor may break my hip.  There’s none to call for help.  What a catastrophe.”  Then I disputed my negative thoughts, telling myself, “Hang on a minute. This is a classic example of catastrophic thinking, assuming the worse.  Stop.  You won’t fall out of bed, and even if you do, it’ll be a slow slide.”  I came near to panicking, particularly as I spasmed more, and slid more towards the edge. I chose to shout ‘hello’ loudly every fifteen seconds and after ten minutes Zdzislawa entered the room, quickly lifted my leg onto the bed, and placed one of her beautifully carved, embroidered chairs against the bed to stop a repeat performance.  Problem solved in sixty seconds. Thank you Zdzislawa.  I relaxed, and Richard returned at 3.00 am.

 

He said, “What’s the bottle doing on the floor?” I explained and he checked. “No you haven’t wet the bed. Everything’s fine.”  Richard repositioned me, strapped the bottle correctly and I felt calm. “I ate like a pig,” Richard said. “There was a huge amount of food. I drank some, but Jurek and the others drank and drank, bottles of Vodka.  I felt ill, watching such irrationality. Jurek’s worked hard today and he has to be up by 6.00 am tomorrow. He’ll develop a major health problem doing this day after day.  He was in fine form though, joking, telling stories about his experiences with venal Ukrainian businessmen and government officials.  Every transaction there needs to be greased with bribe money. He loves the challenge and business opportunities though and has high expectations.”  We both slept.

 

Thursday 31 July Weglowice

 

Richard awakened at 9.00 am and I was dressed by 10.00 am feeling well rested. Richard commented, “You’ve lost some weight around your middle. When we started there were three rolls of fat and your pants were too tight, now the fats gone, the trousers fit better, and the belt’s loosened.” I replied, “Yes, I’m skipping meals, eating only once or twice a day, an unintended bonus from my aspiration difficulties. I think of my coughing and it’s easy to refuse a snack. I keep reminding myself of George’s comment that we really only need to eat once or twice a day.”

 

I breakfasted lightly on cereal preceded by two swallows of cabinet sauvignon, digesting the meal without coughing. The plan for today is to burn a cd-rom of our photographs this morning, and then visit Richard’s bank in Czestochowa in the afternoon to transfer money.  We fly out from Warsaw to Cairo via Frankfurt this Sunday and our Polish visit is rapidly drawing to a conclusion.  I’m eager to get going again, though I’m most appreciative of Jurek’s unlimited hospitality.  Already, he’s driven us over two thousand kilometres and wined and dined us free of charge. Yet I am repeatedly frustrated by the language communication barrier, which interferes in every activity all day.

 

Today the first ninety of the planned hundred and twenty children, whom have registered for the three-week English camp, are arriving individually by car, bus, train or plane.  The logistics are immense, all handled by Zdzislawa.  I contemplate the amount of work in organising and operating a profitable residential language camp of this magnitude across language barriers, hiring English speaking teachers when you don’t speak English yourself and supervising, boarding and feeding the children twenty-four hours daily.

 

Richard pushed me over to the school accommodation to chat to the teachers.  I met some of the teachers, a mixture of boys and girls, mostly about twenty years of age and entering university in second year in the UK, in September.  “I saw an ad on an university employment bulletin board,” one girl told me, “And I plan to teach on my graduation from university.  I thought the experience would look good on my curriculum vitae when I’m looking for a teaching position. I’m also excited about the free week cultural bus trip at the end to Prague, Cracow and Warsaw, visiting all the royal palaces of the Polish kings.  I’ve prepared some activities for teaching already.  We teach in pairs more formal English from 9.00 am to noon, and then we run leisure English such as drama from 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm.  The children are between eleven and fifteen years of age, are pretty respectful and nice and are supervised by Polish teachers the rest of the time. Classes start on Monday.”

 

Richard came to fetch me as Jurek was driving us to Czestochowa to visit the bank. We got away about 4.00 pm and back at 7.00 pm, for a dinner of veal, fried potatoes and cucumbers with red wine and no coughing.  I enjoyed eating a substantial meal. Then we headed over to Czarcia Chata.  “What does it mean?” I asked.  “I don’t know, but I think Czarek combined part of his name with part of the Polish word for the devil, but in this pious Catholic country such a move would be outrageous, so he denies it. Chata is Polish for log cabin.” We were joined by Tony and Amanda, and by other Polish and English people. 

 

By 10.00 pm a party was in swing, and musical instruments were bought out, Jurek on the saxophone, accordions and a keyboard.  Every half hour, toasts required compulsory drinking of Vodka, but I sipped mine cautiously making a glass last all night.  I drank two litres of beer happily but felt rather bloated and was assisted to bed by Richard at 1.00 am.  Richard returned to carry on drinking and talking.

 

“I partied until 4.00 am, I think,” Richard said.  “We sang and danced, then went over to a disco at the high school, I talked with various girls and finally we played basketball. I love this place and feel at home. I’ve been invited out Friday night too by a rich man to another big party with more food and booze.  I don’t ever do any partying in Perth, just swim and sit around. I’ve decided to leave Perth and return to my homeland for good and work here as I’ve really had enough of the boredom of Australia.”  I was quiet but thought to myself, “I do think you’d be happier here Richard, but there’s a big difference between being an honoured guest for three weeks with unlimited free booze, and living and working on Polish salaries here. None of these rich Polish gentlemen made their money as employees, their entrepreneurs and business people. I really wonder how you’d go.”

 

Friday 1 August Weglowice

 

This morning, I’m trapped in bed, lying on my back unable to move, wanting to get up for two hours, as I waited for Richard’s attention. I’m thinking, “I’ve had enough of Poland. I really want to move on to Warsaw tomorrow to catch our 10.00 am Lufthansa flight out on Sunday to Cairo, Egypt and a new adventure.”  Richard actually started getting me up today at 11.30 am and finished at 1.30 pm, a time much too late for my liking and early morning life-style. I meditated,  “In this setting, I’m with a carer who’s intoxicated all night, and then asleep or absent all morning. My needs aren’t being catered for.” I felt myself feeling irritated and made myself dispute these beliefs and reconsider. “Really, Don, he’s been very good seeing he’s at home here with his family and friends and I’m an extra responsibility for him. Be tolerant and patient as we’ll soon be gone and back to our normal routine for the remaining thirty days of our trip.” I felt more relaxed thinking and accepting my new belief, ‘we’ll be back to our usual routine soon.’

 

I skipped any food urging myself to continue to lose weight by eating only one meal a day. Once dressed, Richard left me for two hours, trapped in the dining hall with nothing to do, getting bored as my computer had been left with Tony in the hope that he would backup our pictures on cd-rom that I could mail to Lily.  Finally, to my relief, Richard returned with my computer saying, “Tony can’t help us as there’s a malfunction in their computer. What do you want to do?” I chose to work outside as the weather was hot and humid, but thunder growled in the distance and it rained, cooling the air around 3.00 pm.

 

I work until 4.30 pm, when Richard appeared again.  “We’ve been invited downstairs for dinner now, and then we’ve been invited out for drinks by a wealthy friend of Jurek.” Going would be a change of activity and venue but I declined the invitation out saying that I’d had enough drinking. I do not like travelling back with a drinking driver and can’t follow the two or three hour conversations. In addition, Jurek is wonderfully hospitable host in asking me, as he lifts the wheelchair a metre vertically to get it into the van so staying here protects his back and simplifies his life.

 

Dinner is like last night, veal, potatoes and pickled cucumbers, with a little red wine and no coughing reaction. “I don’t like Polish food at all and think it’s fattening and unhealthy,” Richard stated. “”I like eating Japanese and will have to employ a special cook when I return to Poland.” “You’ll need to bring Hisako,” I suggested.  Richard left at 6.00 pm and I worked on the laptop four hours until 10.00 pm when I decided to transfer on to a bed. At 9.00 Agnieszka had bought me a large beer saying, “Sorry, I can’t speak English,” so I was happy and satisfied with my work and thankful for her unsolicited thoughtfulness. 

 

Generally when travelling, new things are happening so rapidly that the journal requires all my spare time to record my daily experiences, and I go for weeks without rereading what I’ve written. It is embarrassing; full of grammar errors, and sentence fragments and usually needs painstaking editing. My stay in Weglowice, with free food and accommodation has given me the opportunity to complete some of this editing process. It was satisfying rereading my adventures, since many of the journal details had already been forgotten by my short-term memory and the journal account brings it all back, my experiences, hopes, enjoyment and worries. At 10.00 pm Zdzislawa entered to say that Richard would be back soon, and she stayed to look at our photos taken in Prague, London and Malone Bay. While watching she learned English words for things in the photographs such as boat, bridge, and river and she remembered the words well, clearly a clever woman. 

 

Richard arrived back at 11.00 pm, awed by thirty-nine year old Christopher Radlak, a wealthy friend of Jurek’s, his pretty blond wife of eighteen years, and by the house Chris had built.  “It took five years to build and it’s four stories,” he exclaimed.  “The quality of the furnishings is impeccable, comfortable leather couches and hardwood furniture. There’s a big pool, tennis court, beautiful landscaping and lovely décor everywhere, accented by beautiful chandeliers and modern spot lighting.  The bathroom is gigantic, all marble, blue ceiling and a huge spa. The large kitchen is integrated with the dining room like your home and is state of the art. This man runs the Coke franchise for Poland with a hundred and fifty transports and over a hundred and thirty employees. Christopher has made all his money in the last fifteen years and he started with nothing saying he was just very lucky. We drank in the luxuriant back garden under an immense umbrella and discussed recent politics.  Paradoxically, they were saying that life was more interesting and less stressful under communism, than in this twenty-first century era which has made them wealthy capitalists.”

 

I was in bed by midnight but a high noise level of shouting, laughter and music from Czarcia Chata kept me awake well into the morning. I regretted not being able to visit the tavern that night to chat again with Tony and Amanda. Running a tavern directly outside your house does have its downsides.

 

Saturday 2 August Warsaw

 

Today is a big day, the last day in Poland and the end of this long Polish journal chapter. I’ve survived this trip segment in spite of my anxieties, fears of the language barrier, car accidents, pneumonia, and falling out of bed. I’ve experienced new things, seen heaps and had a good time, visiting a large new country that few Australians have sampled.  I’ve learned a lesson in hospitality from the Kalls and will try to be more generous with my guests in future. 

 

Richard had me dressed at 9.30 am, and at 10.00 am he wheeled me down to Kall’s general store beside the school to buy a new bottle of red wine. I’d finished my Prague wine after five days of sipping each meal enjoying a week without coughing, wheezing or blowing my nose. The weather is hot, wall-to-wall blue skies and rising to thirty degrees Celsius.  The new Polish language students are excited and happy, busy swimming or playing sport in the ovals.  What a wonderful country setting for them to learn English.  A large union jack waves lazily from the flagpole bearing the Polish words below for ‘English Language School, Weglowice.’

 

I worked on the laptop until 1.00 pm when Richard announced that we were leaving.  Jurek entered the dining room and I presented him with my Australian leather hat and thanked him for his unmitigated hospitality and kindness in driving us around and looking after us so well for three weeks.  Jurek looked pleased and made a three-minute speech, which kept Richard busy in translating. He said, “You’re the first Australian to have visited Weglowice and we enjoyed having you as a guest.  Our friends also spoke positively about you.  We hope to visit you again in Perth, Australia, like we did two years ago, but if not, we hope you will visit us again.  I hope we meet again.”  I presented two books to Zdzislawa for the school library, and autographed them.  Jurek, Czarek and Richard lifted my wheelchair into the van, I transferred onto my Roho on the car seat and we set off at a furious pace for Warsaw, three hours drive, two hundred and seventy kilometres away with freeway most of the way.

 

We stopped once at a log cabin Stoakski restaurant for water in the humid thirty degree Celsius heat, and arrived at the Warsaw Hotel Jan III Sobieski at 5.00 pm, to be greeted by Zygmunt who warmly embraced us.  We obtained room 245, with its wonderful high-pressure roll-in shower and spacious quiet environs. Jurek headed off with Zdzislawa for a meeting with Zygmunt, I enjoyed a red wine, then ate my first meal of the day, Sphagiti Bolognese followed by a long shower and bed at 7.00 pm.  Richard left to drink with Zygmunt, singing and partying with a group of Polish mountain people until midnight. Zygmunt promised to pick us up for the airport at 7.30 am tomorrow

 

 

End of Chapter 10