Jelen - Bydogoszcz 

14 July 2022 

70 Miles

The Vistula is hard to catch a glimpse of.  The nearest road following the river always seemed to be a good mile or so from the river bank, and followed the flood defence / dyke.  I think I worked out that they built the flood defences quite a distance from the river itself in order to allow a flood plain to absorb some of the bulk of the river in flood, with the dyke defending what is beyond, which is mostly small farms and allotments.  What glimpses I did get of the river showed it to be really wide, just like the Danube, Elbe and the Rhine.  However, unlike those major European rivers, the Vistula doesn’t appear to have much traffic on it, no barges, no cruise boats etc.  Not sure why ?

I worked my way to Bydgoszcz, which isn’t a particularly pretty city, and took a long time trying to work my way through it to my hotel, which just happened to be on the other side of town to where I left the river.  Bad planning !  This wasn’t helped by roaming problems with my phone which made it difficult to get mobile maps etc. in order to find my way.  Anyhow, when I finally got to the nice hotel, with restaurant, at 9 pm, the rather stern waiter told me that the kitchen closed at 9 pm and that there was no food.  I tried reason, I tried pleading, I asked for pity, I  used my best uncharacteristic charm, but to no avail.  Until he suddenly came back and told me, again rather sternly, that all I could have was a Greek salad and bread.  One of my tactics must have worked.  Was it the charm ?!  After that he was less stern and was positively charming the next morning when serving me my breakfast.  Is it maybe that Eastern Europeans sound stern when speaking English ?  I’ve encountered a Bulgarian and a Bosnian cleaner at home in my time, and both always sounded stern when speaking.  The current Bosnian lady who does for me told me off when I came back last year after an absence away cycling, because the cooker was dirty after I had commenced cooking again !  I had to gently remind her that I lived there and it was my home, my kitchen, and my stove. Anyhow, Bydgoszcz was a handy stopping off point, and the Greek salad, beer, and bed and breakfast did the job.  

Bydgoszcz, along with Gdansk, and I suspect most big towns and cities here, has a multiplicity of communist era apartment blocks.  They are still there but not looking as grim as they probably did when they were first built, having been prettified with jaunty paint jobs.  Actually, they don’t look bad at all and appear well maintained and kept.  Further out of the city the housing looks pretty good, with lots of new build houses, and well tended allotments and small holdings.  To be honest, it does very much look these days like housing in other parts of northern and central Europe.  Equally, the infrastructure is good.  Good roads, well kept, trams and trains and buses, all pretty modern and no doubt the result of much European Union funding.  My sense is that Poland is well on the way to catching up.

Cycling infrastructure is good too !  Certainly in towns there is an extensive network of dedicated cycle paths, and on most roads out of town you will find a cycle path paralleling the road.  It’s as good as you get in Germany, and infinitely better than the lame offering I have to put up with back in the UK.  I could go on !

Churches abound here.  No surprises, I guess.  In the north they look more German, brick built.  Which, of course, they are. The largest mediaeval brick built church surviving is in Gdansk, St Peter and St Paul.  What I’ve really noticed are the huge concrete monstrosity churches that appear in most big towns.  Presumably built after the war to replace churches which were destroyed.  They really, for the most part, are ugly, dominating and brooding over the housing estates where they find themselves.  There’s something uneasy about huge constructions like these speaking of authority and dominance surrounded by the housing of the common people.  No doubt they were built when the Catholic Church in Poland was at its height and they were a symbol of resistance to the regime of the time.  I do wonder now if their cavernous spaces are ever filled with people.  Poland has changed much since John Paul II and his stubborn resistance catholicism.  I think the Catholic church here has taken a battering too, for the usual abuse stuff, which was characteristically tolerated, minimised, covered up, denied, and then finally accepted with much breast beating.  Anyhow, beautiful these concrete monstrosities are not, and they will not survive anywhere as long as the bricks and mortar of the imposing St Peter and St Paul Gdansk.