This week in bigger pics

  Monday 19th August 2013 Poland Week 113

    Poland: Money saving tip number 232.

    On occasion we are asked to remember those that fell in the field of battle, but rarely, as a society, do we question the politics that put them there. It's worth remembering that European Royalty, obsessed with not having big enough Empires, kicked off WW1, and WW2 was caused by greedy politicians obsessed with power. Remember history is written by the victors, not the vanquished.

    By the end of 1918 the Kaiser had made a right pigs ear of WW1. Germany was broken, bankrupt and going hungry. Inflation was rampant, so much so, that currency had to be frequently over printed. A ten Mark note became a hundred and then a million, simply with an official stamp. The victorious allies, ignoring the plight of Germany, set about carving up it's empire and then demanded, and extracted, huge war reparations from a country that struggled to feed itself. In doing so they naïvely sowed the seeds for WW2 and sealed the fate of millions. When Hitler was appointed vice chancellor one of his methods for turning the countries economy around was to build roads. So he borrowed, mostly from the Americans, and built the Autobahns. This, before turning his attention, elsewhere.

Torun. Looks like an ad for Dulux pastels.

    Being British I pretty much taken roads for granted, only giving them a cursory consideration when I have to pay my road tax. In Britain, or so I'm told, the average pothole can generate a hundred letters to the local council from angry rate payers demanding immediate action. It's not long before the local Gazette prints letters from the concerned elderly home-owners who ask the only question the elderly ever ask: what's Britain coming too?, always adding: it was never like this in my day. Questions are raised in council meetings. And then, when the pothole isn't filled by tea time, an action group, 'friends of Acacia ave' is quickly formed, who just as quickly put on a fete to raise funds for their blossoming campaign. In Poland it never really worked like that. Under communism, if you wrote a letter complaining about the roads, by the time you got home your wife would have been whisked off to Siberia instead of being in the kitchen boiling cabbage. Even today, drivers seem to accept that every so often a car will disappear into a yawning crevasse never to be seen again.

    I was surprised to find the roads between towns and cities, which I thought would be horrendous, weren’t. It's the roads in the towns and cities which are laughable. Over the weekend we drove 150 miles south east to the city of Torun. One long stretch of the 536 was being relaid. Well, now, that’s not strictly true. Most of it was dug up but then seemingly abandoned. We didn't see a single tar stained worker nor any road laying equipment, that’s not counting a couple of wheelbarrows. What we did see - posted photographic proof on Friday- was a couple of very scantily clad ladies loitering around the road workings. Hazel, who took Fridays photo, this I might add against my better advice, suggesting the old tart might beat us both up if she spots her taking it, said she was out looking for gentlemen travellers. I just stamped on the loud pedal when the lights changed.

    Poland is working hard to sort out it's roads. Many of the road works you see, and you see a lot, are co-funded by us, the European tax payer. And as Hitler proved, spending money on infrastructure is a good way to inject money into an economy. If mobility and transportation is the life blood of a country then roads are it's veins.

    Ok, so here’s where I save you money. In Poland you pay to use their motorways. However paying is a tad confusing as a visit to their official web site will prove, so I'll highlight the main features. For many of the motorways you need to buy a: 'Via toll system box'. This sits on your dashboard and happily communicates with overhead sensors and automatically debits payments. On some motorways, that still have toll booths, you can sail through the prepaid lane if you have a box. However, on some that don’t have a prepaid lane for you to sail through you have to stop and pay like everyone else, and yes, even though you have a 'Via toll system box.

    I tell you this because an acquaintance of ours was unaware of all this and was fined 850 Zloty by the police for not having a 'Via toll box'. So you have been warned.

   

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 Tuesday 20th August 2013 Poland, week 113

    And heres another thing.

    You know what? before I leave the fascinating topic of Polish roads and move onto something equally dull, I have one more observation to make, crossing them can be an adventure. Unlike say, the ever courteous German and Dutch drivers, who will stop at crossing even if you stand with your back to it, and who would rather plunge off a cliff than plough into a fellow countryman the same cannot be said for the Polish drivers. You can stand all day at a crossing and few will stop, least not until you have placed an exploratory foot on the crossing. Crossing can be hastened if you shove a wizened up pensioner into the path of oncoming traffic or, seemingly, you're wearing a skirt with a hem line up to your hiney, (Usually, but not exclusively, ladies. Ed) that will bring the traffic to a shuddering halt.

Toran ye olde walled city

    We are in Toran. I'll not bore you with it's long and quite interesting history, I'll only say that it's the birth place of Copernicus the very famous astronomer. I should point out that Hazel told me this, she knows this kinda stuff. Shamefully I never paid much attention at school although I had heard the name. “Is he as famous as the bloke who did the sky at night programme? I ask.” “Way more famous” she replies. “Back in the day when Copernicus was alive did he like, write the horoscopes for the local Gazette, I ask. “No, he was an astronomer, not an astrologer”. “Right, so he knew shite about star signs then?”. She doesn’t rise to my bait, she knows me too well. Astrologer or Astronomer, personally I know which one I would have been. Telling some 14th century dude we were actually circling the sun is nowhere near as lucrative as telling him Mercury has entered his Uranus so he should beware friends wanting favours, and now might be a good time to ask for that pay raise. Some people make dreadful career choices.

    The walled city is both attractive and colourful, much of it still intact. It's not as touristy as some cities we have been to. Clearly, in it's heyday, it was a very grand and monied city. It has some wonderful old buildings and great architecture. Many have been cared for well over the years, but a few have fallen on hard times. It's just a pity old Copernicus couldn't see this coming or he'd have made a mint.

The camp-site we are on is Tramp. That’s not a comment, that’s what it's name, Tramp camping. When we arrived the site was 90% German. Not that that's an issue, older Germans are predictably polite if not a little reserved. There was a French couple who, being French, didn't like anyone so kept themselves to themselves. By 7.30 the following morning the Germans, and with typical efficiency, they were all up, dressed, breakfasted, had used up all the hot water in the showers and were in the process of leaving. By late afternoon, when we had returned from a shopping trip, the site had filled with a mixture of more Germans, Polish, Dutch, Italians, French and no more Brits. It's been almost two months since we bumped into a fellow Brit. We are a rare breed this far East, frankly I’m amazed we had an empire, strikes me we don’t like to venture too far.

    A reader mentioned he'd been coming to Poland for twenty years and I can see why. It's very inexpensive. Food is a lot cheaper as is eating out and accommodation. Its attractive and has great history. And should you fall in love with the country and want to stay I noticed a detached, rather impressive, three bedroom house for a mere 80K.  It's perhaps therefore odd that France, the dearest country in Europe, has the biggest tourist industry. A massive 88 million visits last year or so I'm led to believe. Imagine the boost to it's economy if each visitor spent just a couple of hundred. And this from a country which, quite frankly, doesn’t like anything non French...... and in particular tourists!

    And my thought for the day: If a married Polish couple were not getting on, could it be said they were poles apart...

 

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 Thursday 22nd August 2013, Germany week 113

    De Kroon

    Apologies for Wednesday's break in transmission. We bade Poland a fond farewell this morning and today you find us in East Germany. Yesterday we stopped off at one last Polish camp site, De Kroon near Swiebodzin. Now it's not often I go into detail about camps but this one warrants it.

Camping sites are much like houses, in that their success, in terms of popularity, is dependant on one thing, their Location. Unfortunately this is De Kroons' Achilles heel. It's just off, at least I think it is, the old E30. We got lost on the motorway, a feat which really takes some effort when you consider just how straight they are. We approached a major intersection which indicated the E30 swung off right. However, my road Atlas totally disagreed. In the minutes of confusion that followed I made an executive decision to ignore the sat nav and instructed Hazel to carry on. Not good. The sat nav, for the next twenty miles, showed us crossing fields telling us we were now, annoyingly, navigating off road. Long story short we arrived, how? I'm still not sure.

Torun

    Camp-site De Kroon -I think it's the family name- turned out to be just that, a camp-site in the families back garden, albeit a very large one. The web site showed it had a swimming pool, and suitably impressed I never got beyond that. On arrival we were met at the gate by the portly owner and his dog, which is the image of Dick Dastardly's dog Mutley. I think when he, the owner not the dog, saw me backing away he thought I was having second thoughts so he shot out. I wasn't, I was simply trying to aim the van at the narrow gated entrance.

    “Pitch for a night or two” I asked as he approached. “Stay one night, two night, one week it's up to you” he said throwing his arms wide like a man resigned to his fate while Mutley urinated over my front tyre.

    Surprisingly it wasn’t at all bad. Typically cheap. The showers were better than some we had used in Sweden and Finland (wonderfully hot, plentiful and roomy! Ed). Water was within easy reach and so was power. The site was ringed with plum and apple trees (Yes of course we scrumped some!Ed). It was flat and well cared for. He'd even converted the once stables to a bar. So I forgave him when I saw the swimming pool. I think who ever took the web photo of it should be given an award. He'd somehow managed to make a ten foot square pond look Olympic sized. By no stretch of the imagination could you actually swim in it. As you pushed off from the side with your feet, your finger tips would have reached the other side at the same instant. You wouldn't so much as swim across it as lay across it.

    Regretfully it's the location of the site which stops it from being a money spinner. The surrounding area is flat farm land and wood. The E30, a major road east and west, has a constant convoy of articulated trucks stampeding through 24/7. There are filling stations every few miles, John Deere tractor outlets, gargantuan truck parks and a spattering of dubious night clubs. The type that have models of female legs in neon light above the doors, this presumably for said truckers. It's bleak, unattractive and not the best place for a camp-site which explains why there was only two of us there, and this peak season. It has no wifi or internet. I tried to connect using my phone but couldn't get a data signal on my 3G, all singing, all dancing mobile. But, on a positive note, the torch function works a treat.

Yer main man.

    We did pop into Swiebodzin on the scooter. Towns near borders can be grim but not Swiebodzin. It's a delightful little town blessed, some might say, with a 200 foot plus statue of Jesus. However, thanks to a newly built Tesco, not 500 meters away, his open armed pose looks more like an advertisers endorsement of the superstore than a gesture of religious welcoming.

 

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 Friday 23rd August 2013 Germany week 113

    Poland...

    I have to speak as I find, so I'm delighted to report the Poles we came in contact with at camp-site receptions, in shops and cafés were not only polite but charming, more so than other nations I'm biting my tongue not to mention. This was not entirely a surprise. I once sold a table through the classified ads of my local paper to a Polish couple When I delivered it he proudly introduced me to his young wife, who practically curtsied, and his two small children who stood as if glued to the spot..

    In Poland I got the impression they really try, were eager to please and blessed with a simple and refreshing directness. The country has been historically abused by just about all of it's neighbours, and yet this doesn’t seem to have diminished the Poles. Although we noted, there is amongst some of the older women, a slight reserve in making or keeping prolonged eye contact .

In town

    The country has masses of interesting history. It has some wonderful architecture and, unlike most of Europe, is not yet a tourist Mecca. And there’s no mistaking that Poland has the kind of countryside England use to have when Wordsworth wrote poetry about it. OK the roads are toast, but they are a work in progress. Today, many towns are dominated by 60's apartment blocks but they are not grey faceless slabs of concrete. They've been painted with bright cheerful pastel colours which means someone knows it makes a difference. While Poland may not an obvious holiday destination for us Brits, if you do go I doubt you’ll have any complaints. Certainly at the moment you can treat yourself to first class hotels and restaurants without breaking the bank. For how much longer, who knows? Poland is on the up. Right that’s as much as I'm going to say, I'm beginning to sound like I work for the Polish tourist board.

 

Outta Town (tweaked slightly)

    In the sole interest of investigative journalism and to give me something to write about I have commented on the attractiveness of Eastern bloc women before. I think it fair to say Polish lasses, if not the prettiest, do certainly dress the most provocatively. I could describe what some of them wear, or almost wear, but Hazel has suggested I'll come across as a pervert. Suffice it to say therefore that Lycra is the material of choice for cut off shorts and figure hugging mini skirts. Not that that would draw complaints from me. As my Dad used to say; Son, -he was never sure of my name- just because you're eating you're dinner that’s no reason you shouldn't look at the menu, a sounder piece of fatherly advice you'd be hard pressed to find. This abundance of slim (bony in my opinion, seriously they all look as if they could do with eating more! Ed) attractive young ladies does lead to something of a testosterone filled atmosphere amongst the lads. Not unlike the male peacock who does all the work to attract the female peacock, young Polish lads are turning to pumping themselves up to attract and compete. There are shops that sell only body building supplements in shopping malls and every other young man you see is wearing a track suit and carrying a Puma sports bag. Being macho and looking it, seems to carry Kudos. In Ilawa, there were two of those 'test your punching power' machines. These are machines which measure the power you can put into a punch by hitting a hinged punching ball. Rather than give you any meaningful results like: Congratulations! that measured 98lbs of Newton force per inch, it flashes up an illuminated biceps muscle. The bigger the punch, the brighter the biceps and, I fancy, the dimmer the IQ. These machines were just in the street. With the abundance of pretty girls these guys, and this is not solely my own observation either, do have a reputation for being all a little, well... Claude Van Dam. And it would seem, as Hazel is want to point out, size matters (This may be why the girls are underweight! Ed), Women like to feel protected and maybe just more so in a country whose views towards them has been, and still can be, historically one dimensional.

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