I flew yesterday, 12th July, to Gdansk with Ryanair, or rather Buzz its Polish affiliate. All worked well with no delay or lost baggage or bike. Then a night in an airport hotel, which was as cheap as chips. I think Poland generally is going to be cost effective. My bank manager will be happy.
First impressions, besides the cost of living here? Well, except for the fact that they speak Polish, I could believe that I was in Germany. No surprise there, because most of the Gdansk / Danzig region was German at various stages, until most recently after WW2 when Poland took over German lands as far west as the Oder-Niesse line thanks to the agreement about the post war settlement of borders by the Big Three at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam. The new borders and spheres of influence were settled with the aid of matchsticks on a map showing the new disposition of borders. Poland moved west, gaining lands that had been German, and lost territory in the east that became Russian. The Russians had already taken those lands in 1939 following the German Russian / Molotov treaty.
I need to do my homework about Poland, but as far as I understand it, other than some existence as a principality / kingdom / state at various stages and then being absorbed variously in to the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire before WW1, modern day Poland was resurrected and came in to existence thanks to the Treaty of Versailles and succeeding treaties at the end of WW1. It had a ‘corridor’ to the Baltic Sea, cutting East Prussia off from the rest of Germany. Gdansk, or Danzig as it was then, was a German ‘free city’ that stood isolated surrounded by Polish territory. All that changed thanks to the post WW2 settlement of borders, and at the end of WW2 the Germans who hadn’t already fled were kicked out back to what remained of Germany and the areas they left populated with Poles, some of whom will themselves have been expelled from the territories in the east that had been taken off the Poles in 1939 by the Russians, who now consolidated their 1939 expansion in to eastern Poland. I’m sure the forced movement of populations was not a pretty thing. Tens of millions were up rooted from places where they had lived for generations and moved to where they might possibly find themselves more welcome.
The architecture and the landscape of the bits I cycled through after leaving Gdansk are Germanic, and the population conceivably German looking. And very monochrome. No hijabs here. No wannabe Dubai beauties with big hair and head scarves and the scent of oud wafting behind them. I notice those things coming from multi-cultural and diverse Birmingham. Largely to be celebrated, sometimes presenting challenges. So, as I say, it looks and feels very much like the real teutonic Germany of erstwhile. I’m aware that their government here in Poland is very right wing. It’s called The Law and Justice Party, which says it all (think Tory Law and Order but with a somewhat more sinister edge to it) and has that clear authoritarian ring to it. Their president and prime minister have that clean cut rimless glasses appearance. Always a worrying look. I’m not sure that the culture here, very Polish, patriotic and Catholic, is very welcoming of diversity, difference and otherness. I don't think it's a good thing to stand out too much here. They were very keen to be seen to welcome the Ukrainians who look and sound like them who fled to Poland recently, but they were as keen to push back any Syrians who have tried to come to Poland for refuge and asylum. If they do get in they are moved on pretty quickly. Same in the equally right wing, authoritarian Hungary. Even though I feel somewhat uncomfortable with the overarching authoritarianism and nationalistic patriotism of this place, and its dominant and triumphalist Catholicism, I’m intrigued by the history and shall do my reading and research to find out more as I wend my way south along the Vistula towards Warsaw and Krakow Expect more.
I’m staying tonight 12 July in a little cabin by a lake in Jelen, and writing this on a balmy evening. You know that one of my concerns when travelling is food and drink. Well, my first meal on my second night in Poland did not disappoint. Nowhere and nothing in two months in the USA compared with anything like I have enjoyed tonight. Except perhaps a trip to Ashland in Oregon where I ate very well with Jimmy and Barry. They have a Shakespeare festival in Ashland. Imagine ?! Oh, and a couple of lovely meals with Jerry and Bijan in Camarillo (home cooked artfully by Bijan almost out of nowhere), and some nice meals with friend Art in San Diego. But that is all West Coast, and generally a huge cut above the generality of what is on offer in the rest of the USA. Anyhow, my Jelen meal was steak tartare, a favourite of mine, followed by wild boar goulash, as suggested by the chef who came to advise me, and Polish beer. Delicious. And less than 15 sterling. (By the way I haven’t succeeded in finding the pound sterling sign on my laptop. Because it’s a new one which I got in the USA when I spilled my beer over my previous one and it stopped functioning. So no pound sterling sign, because I can’t be bothered to find out how to change the keyboard. There are more important things in life. And a reminder to self o be careful with my beer !)
My ride today through Gdansk and toward the Vistula and then south to Jelen was a pleasant ride, along nice cycle paths by the side of most roads with a helpful breeze which was both behind and to the side of me at various stages. You knew I would mention the wind, didn’t you ?! I’m looking forward to my trip, getting to know more about Poland and its history, culture and food. Then I’ll venture in to more familiar territory when I get to Vienna and head west along the Danube, a route I’ve done several times before.
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