This week in bigger pics

     Monday 12th August 2013 Poland week 112

 

    Doh !!! Those Pesky Russians.

    Two days ago I was sitting in 36 degree heat wearing only 'man pants'. Today it's struggling to reach 19 degrees and I’m having to wear a jumper. I don't know what’s worse, the plummeting temperature or the image you now have of me in my under pants? Go figure.

    What's changed? Well today you find us in Poland. We left Lithuania, and in particular the Honey Valley camp site, after enjoying a very pleasant week there. We'd only intended to stay a couple of days but every time I thought about telling the owner we were leaving I just knew his puppy dog eyes would glaze over. He was proud of his camp-site and with good reason. Unfortunately in our week there we'd only seen a dozen campers come and go, few staying more than a night. I think he was starting to hope we'd moved in permanently. As it was, on leaving, he came over and wished us a safe journey and thanked us for staying. He asked if we would tell our friends about his camp site so: if you're ever in Lithuania please check out Honey Valley camping..

We didn’t stay long in Lithuanian, not sure why, but I can honestly say I would like to return and see more which is more than I can say for Sweden or Finland.

    On leaving we didn't take the obvious route because we couldn't. When the Soviet Union collapsed, half a million Russians got stuck in the ex-clave known as Kaliningrad Oblast. Geographically it's separate from the rest of Russia and when Poland and Lithuania became members of the EU, it's isolation grew even deeper. Now all military and civilian traffic from there, wanting to get to Russia, have to pass through EU member states. However, thanks to the kindly EU, it's population enjoys special travel arrangements when passing through EU territory. Unfortunately this kindness is not reciprocated by the commies who insist you get a £75 Visa to drive eighty miles down the E77 from it's northern boarders with Lithuanian to it's southern with Poland, plus jump through numerous other hoops. This meant plotting a route to Poland wasn't the most convenient, made worse by a glitch with the sat nav. (He programmed it wrong. Ed). As if. Consequently we took the scenic route and saw a much larger amount of Poland’s very pretty rural countryside than I had planned.

Suwalki

    Our first sight of Poland proper was at the town of Suwalki. I was immediately impressed. Fair to say Poland has had if rough. The war, The Russians and communism have shaped this country's recent history and not for the good. But in the 90s it abandoned the socialist-style planned economy preferring to pin it's hopes on a free market one. And frankly it's amazing how quickly they seem to have embraced both commercialism and capitalism. Suwalki looked affluent by any EU standards. Busy, bustling and reasonable hansom. Nice looking homes, decent cars in driveways, shopping malls and even large Tescos extra. (Sadly I didn't get to go in. Ed). What Poland clearly isn't, as we are sometimes led to believe, is a needy EU relation.

    So once again I find myself confused. I would be interested to know why half a million Poles have come to Britain, and that number excludes the 200k descendants of earlier Polish immigrants. I know some ill-informed Brits suggest they come because of our welfare system,. But that argument holds little water since they have a perfectly good one of their own. From the little I have seen I'd be more than happy to live here. I'm beginning to suspect, as I suggested a week or so ago, that some Eastern Europeans do view Britain through rose tinted glasses. Perhaps, and this is simply conjecture, they look at our massive defence budget, our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, our NATO commitments, our overseas responsibilities to fourteen other protectorates around the world and believe that, for such a small country, England must be quite wealthy. .

    Oh dear its all getting frightfully serious... think I'll stop here.

 

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 Tuesday 13th August 2013. Poland, Week 112

 

    Wagabunga or bust.

    Today you find us at Wagabunga! which is not an Australian board game nor a sheep shearing station in the outback but, oddly, the name of a camp site in Mikolajki, northern Poland. But a great word nonetheless. The site is basically a large field behind a small modern hotel. It doesn’t sound impressive and it's not but nor is it that bad either, better than some we have stayed at in Sweden. However, I chose it because it fulfils my exacting criteria. That's to say it's cheap and has free wifi, -I don't ask for much in life- So cheap in fact that three nights here is equal to just one in Finland. (It also has a 'free to use' washing machine. Ed). Really?....a washing machine? You mean my clothes are not laundered and ironed by the clothes fairy? Crikey, next you’ll be telling me the bed is not are made by the bed fairy! What ever next?

    We walked into Mikolajki and found the very small town of only 4000 souls packed with holiday makers. Apparently this is their version of the Lake District, of that, I'd need convincing.

Looks charming right?

    Once Britain’s coastline was littered with holiday resorts catering for the working masses. They were full of attractions. Tea rooms, end of the pier shows, promenades, beaches, amusement arcades, fun fairs, donkeys rides, fish and chips, pubs and piers to name but a few. In short, there was plenty to amuse the whole family. Today these are in decline because the British have become a nation of tourists and sun seekers. We have, for the most part, abandoned being holiday makers in our own country because we are more affluent. Now I know there are some that still swear by a holiday in the England. I once met a guy who told me he'd been going to the same camp site for twenty three years in the UK because, and I quote: “I like it there.”. I suggested he might also like it somewhere else. To which he replied sagely: “yes but what if I don't?”. Annoyingly, for me, he had a point. I worked with a guy who had never left Britain and he was in his sixties. He saw no reason to travel to the 'continent' as he called it. Honestly the urge to taser some people is a powerful one.

Now not so charming right?

    Because of it's still growing economy Poland is still very much in holiday maker mode. Here in Mikolajki, every house is a BB and every street has a hotel - they are fifty of them- and what's neither is a restaurant. To stroll around involved cutting a swath through the throng of human traffic which constantly ground to a halt to gawk at stalls laden with cheap plastic souvenirs. It occurred to me that if there was a cataclysmic accident, on the scale of Pompeii, we could all be entombed in molten plastic. And as unsavoury that idea sounds it would at least give future Polish holiday makers a reason to come here, because I couldn't see why anyone would. It's devoid of any historical or architectural merit. It lacks those aforementioned distractions you’d once find at English seaside resorts. In fact, Mikolajki, has nothing going for it except hordes of holiday makers milling around wondering what they can waste their Zolty's on.

In it's defence Hazel thinks I'm being overly harsh. So in it's defence I will say that eating out is ridiculously cheap.

    Tomorrow how I tried to do just that.

 

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Wednesday 14th August 2013, Poland, week 112

    Best laid plans of mice and men.

    It's not very often you can walk into a restaurant knowing you fully intend to order the dearest meal on the menu, safe in the knowledge you’ll not need a mortgage to pay the bill at the end. I've never done it.

    Generally we don't eat out. This because Hazel is an excellent cook and I'm rather expert at eating what she puts in front of me. There’s also our budget to consider, which, thanks to the Scandinavian leg of our trip has taken a bit of a hammering recently, so we're watching the pennies. This however has been made considerably easier since entering the Baltic states with Poland shaping up to be the cheapest on several counts. Camp site fees are the least inexpensive we have seen anywhere in Europe, fuel is only £1.12 a litre and food is probably the cheapest we've seen. According to my research the cost of living here is around 60% cheaper than the UK. Your pound really does go a long way. In fact I drew two hundred pounds from an ATM and it pumped out a thousand Zloty. I thought I'd hit the jackpot, I was only sorry it didn't light up like a bagatelle machine.

Yes it's defo a restaurant.

    On the way to the restaurant I had already decided I wanted to exercise my carnivorous tendencies and treat myself to a fillet steak. We found a restaurant on the square that had 'Stek' on the menu. Cost? 40 Zloty or £8, and that was the dearest meal on the four page menu. Once seated I asked if they had the menu in English, they did and our waitress kindly brought it over. I checked the wine list. It was small, very small but selective. The dearest bottle was £16. I chose a palatable mid range bottle and when she returned pointed to it.

    “We not have that” she said.

    “Ok, what about that one? I asked.

    “No we not have. We have red wine in glass or white wine in glass”.

    “Not a bottle? I asked.

    “No in glass” she answered.

    “Ok, fine I'll have that”..

    “One glass or two?” she asked.

    “Well it's our anniversary lets go with two” I said. -I can't resist satire- . Off she went returning moments later with said wine.

    “Right, I'd like two fillet steaks please, one rare one medium”. I flipped shut the menu and offered it to her smiling.

    “No got”.

    “No fillet stek?” I asked .

    “No”. I opened the menu again. She disappeared. She returned. Not wanting to be outdone I chose the next dearest thing on the menu. “We'll both have the Tenderloin of pork in brandy and pepper cream sauce please, yum!.”

    “No got” she said poker faced.

    Oh for the love of.....“You don’t have that either” I asked with a hint of exacerbation creeping in.

    “No”. Most of the other things on the menu seem to centre around potatoes and boiled cabbage. “Do you have any fish?” I asked nervously fearing the worst. “Yes fish we have”. I spot sole on the menu and order two. She smiles and walks off.

    Now I've always thought that those people who purport to be able to speak to the dead are charlatans. They ask, “Do you know a Peter? I have a Peter here”.

    “No” you say.

    “Maybe it's Paul”. I'm definitely getting a 'P' here.

    “Nope” you say.

    “Hang on it might be Philip... or could it be Patrick or Percy”. Eventually you settle on Dennis a guy you vaguely knew at school. You're led down a path, and by eliminating all other possibilities you are left with just one outcome. The clever part is that you arrive at Dennis believing it was a free choice. Well that’s how I felt as she placed the fish in front of me. Perhaps that day she had a glut of fish. Oh and cost? 90 Zloty or £18.00 for us both.

 

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Thursdays 15th August 2013 week 112

    When a house is not a home.

    Last week I was asked about the differences I found moving from a caravan to a motor-home. I realised afterwards that I'd missed out one important consideration.

    According to the Psychology Professor Abraham Maslow in his: A Theory of Human Motivation, mankind has a number of basic needs. This theory is perhaps better known as 'Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs' and is depicted as a pyramid. Second from the bottom, and therefore the second most important, is safety, represented by a home. The first being water, sleep, food and sex and not necessarily in that order.

    Now I bet there’s not a reader that doesn’t remember fondly their childhood home. I bet if you were whisked back it would bring back happy memories. Obviously this won't apply if you were a victim of some long term kidnapping and kept in a shed. In that case your first home probably sucked. I hope it didn't. But generally our first home has a special place in our hearts. Us humans are hot wired that way.

    Why am I telling you this? Well when I sold the caravan recently and watched it being towed away a lump came to my throat. Like an idiot I blubbed to the new owner something along the lines of: 'take good care of her' as if 'her' was an ageing relative I was leaving in an old peoples home. I think he'd seen my look before because he said, “Don't worry, I will”. I felt comforted. Now I'm not given normally to sentimentality or mushiness, I still think Bambi's mother got what was coming to her and, bearing in mind we only had it a couple of years, and I'd spent much of that time swearing and cursing every time something snapped, broke or failed to work, which it did with monotonous regularity, I surprised myself when I had to swallow an emotional lump.

Homes are important as Maslow says and that’s what the caravan represented, our home. It gave us shelter from the elements, a degree of comfort and offered us safety and protection in a small package and you can't ask for much more. So psychologically it fulfilled one our most basic needs and that’s why we grew emotionally attached to it.

Yesterdays meal and yes I know its fish and bloody chips.

    I once said that motor-home owners never seem to stay as long on camp-sites as caravan owners. I suggested that, from my experience, three or four days seems to be the limit. This may have something to do with mobility. The vehicle may be your 'home' but it's also your means of transportation, so when you need the weekly shop it's that you take. And that then becomes a good time to move on. With the caravan we always stayed at least a week. However, even with the scooter, we have started staying only a few days before moving on. We have only stayed at two camp sites for a week and that's surprised us. I've given this some thought and I realise it's the motor-home itself. No matter how hard it tries it doesn’t feel like a home in the same way the caravan did. It's a vehicle masquerading as accommodation. It will always be a vehicle first and a temporary home second. I think when it does come time to selling it I won't give it a second thought (we'll see! Ed).

    I see a caravan as a trusty, slightly dopey dog who, regardless how you treat it, is always pleased to see you. Our motor-home is a converted Italian truck and as such, to date, lacks a personality.

    Just as an aside my attention was draw to this shocking headline

    Seven million Brits have never used the internet!. According to the office for National Statistics a staggering 33% of over 75s have never browsed the world wide web. However this is hardly earth shattering news especially when you consider that’s about the same number of over 75s who don't even know who they are. End of...... (ouch! Ed.)

 

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  Friday 16th August 2013 Poland week 112

    Technology.

    The evolution of technology is a wondrous thing. Take for instance the car. It's been around for roughly a 100 years and during that time has come an awful long way. -If you own a Rover 200 that statement doesn’t apply- There have been a couple of half hearted attempts at getting it to float and one of getting it to fly, but the boat-car sank and the flying-car never got off the ground (Boom Boom! Ed). After a 100 years of mechanical evolution it's still a car transporting us from A to B, much as the first one did. Well actually the first car was built by a French chappie and so probably broke down a lot, so no guarantee it got you anywhere.

15 miles of this and not a workman in sight

    The washing machine is another good example of technology. It has always been a washing machine, whose primary function has been to launder clothes. The designers of washing machines, I bet, never once considered incorporating say, a toaster, or fitting it with a CD player. The television too has only ever shown us pictures it doesn't, for example, double as a microwave. The point I am making is that successful inventions, like those mentioned and the many more I haven't are designed to do one specific task and at that, they excel. And that’s the marvel of technology.

    This is all a far cry then from the ubiquitous mobile phone. Mobiles are today’s equivalent of the Swiss army knife where communication is concerned. They double as diaries, cameras, radios, MP3 players, mini computer and satellite navigation devices. As well as an important social networking tool. My phone has an instant upload facility to Twitter and Face-book. At the press of a key I can upload my every thought and keep my friends and family abreast of what I'm doing at any given moment, thankfully I don't. Trouble is, they do. Only the other day my friend posted he had lost his car keys and then found them, Phew! Another told me he was having a coffee and, apparently, I would have enjoyed it. Someone else I know told me they were waiting for a train and I'm thinking...... do I really give a shite? No of course I don't. And I'm left wondering, are my friends egos so large they believe their every word and action should be documented and recorded for posterity. Come to think of it who really wants to be in touch with a friend 24/7? I sure as hell don't. A while ago someone took an unflattering candid photo of me on their phone, within a minute it had been posted on Face-book. It was one of those pictures taken mid facial gesture, I actually look like the proverbial bull dog chewing a wasp. I got my own back by un-friending them!

    In defence of the cell phone you can fill it with applications or 'apps'. You can then discover all manner of fascinating facts about things you never knew you were fascinated by. I know someone who’s glued to his. A question is asked and he delves into his phone for the answer. He fails to see being a clever dick is not a charming attribute.

Just this work lady, day shift maybe.

    The trouble with mobiles, unlike the car, the washing machine etc is they perform none of their various functions particular well. For example: If the photographer you hired turned up with just an iphone you'd tell him where to go. If the Disco you hired consisted of a guy with some lights and a Samsung galaxy you’d send him packing. And if you wanted to circumnavigate the globe you surely wouldn't trust a mobile phone to find your way. And lets be blunt here, if you really needed to make a life and death call you'd look for a phone box, knowing, as you do, you can't always rely on getting a signal. No, the mobile only attempts all those functions and achieves none with any grace or aplomb. However none of the above stops us all wanting the latest. And we'll spend £600, or tie ourselves into a two year contract costing us a thousand pounds knowing that the next generation of phones is just around the corner.

    Unfortunately knowing all this, as I do, I still couldn't resist upgrading my phone. The other day I found an 'app' that allows me to turn my phone into a torch. But at diminutive three candle power it doesn’t even do that well!

 

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