SLIDE SHOWS SUPPORTING TEXT
Sunday 13 June Transit to
Richard got up at , showered, and then aroused me at . 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
We checked our luggage all the way through
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
I was soon loaded on the Lufthansa A321 to
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
The ninety-minute flight to
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Jurek was a primary and high school friend
of Richards and was his boss for two years in the Polish coalmine near
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
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
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
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
Jurek pushed my wheelchair to the tourist
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
a coordinated business thrust of ten wealthy Polish manufacturers into the
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
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
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
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
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
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
In ninety minutes, Zygmunt diverted from
the freeway to show us a state forest and
We pushed on to
We went out to the old city and enjoyed a
beer and dinner overlooking a thirteenth century cathedral. Then we headed off
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
Today’s plan includes exploration of the
old walled city of
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
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
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
We passed an old worn 1794 plaque to honour
Tadeusz Kosciuszko. He is known in
“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
We then walked past the
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
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
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
He then took us to watch a fifteen-minute
film on the liberation of
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Saturday 26 July
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
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
Our plan was to find cheaper accommodation
Sunday, 27 July
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
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
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
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
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
Over a 500 ml Tyskie, I asked Tony about
his past as he sounded Canadian. “I grew
up in a very poor family in
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
Tuesday 29 July
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
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
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
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
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
Many displays are closed as the Church
prepares for a mammoth influx of pilgrims next month, who walk from all parts
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
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
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
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
Richard came to fetch me as Jurek was
driving us to
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
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
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
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
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
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
Today is a big day, the last day in
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
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