Tomorrow….continuing East and then a turn North
16, 17 August ’04. Upon pulling away from Gurdiziadz, our plan was to head North by Northwest heading for our second time to the Baltic. Well, we got about 50km away and I noticed that we were not running as we should. The van didn’t have the power and it was missing on the pull pretty bad. As we pulled into a small village to get gas, I asked if there was a place we could get our oil changed and have someone look at the motor for us. He directed us across the road to a mechanic, so I took the van and looked for advise there. He thought it might be as simple as sparkplugs so I had him change the oil and the sparkplugs. Well, as things would have it, he didn’t carry the plugs that we needed so we made an appointment for the next morning. Another small inconvenience came up then as there wasn’t a campground any closer than 30km. With no choice available, we drove up the road and stayed the night at a campground in Czluchow. This happened to be on a lake and we found a spot right on the shore for the night. One of the problems there, was that the bathroom was about 350 yards away and closed from 9pm to 7am each night. Well, we didn’t check this out very good, because we were not aware of the closing. Lucky for us the girl that closes the place was running late and we were there for our stop at just after 10. We wouldn’t have made morning…. The next morning (17th) we headed back for our appointment and had the plugs changed. Prior to leaving, we met two of our neighbors who both happened to be from Holland. One of the families had just gotten back from a trip to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. As it was, Louise and I had been talking about this trip, but had really put it aside until this morning. We made the decision that if we don’t do it now, we most likely never will get the chance again. Soooo, we back tracked about 80km and are now heading East across Poland and will cross into Lithuania tomorrow afternoon and head on through to Estonia. We would like to be in Estonia on the 20th of August as it is their Restoration of Independence Day. We think that could be quite interesting and fun. We have been traveling through the “Heart Land” of Poland today. The fields of wheat and barley are all being cut and off to market. The road systems are being worked on just about everywhere you go. As of April of this year they are a member of the European Union. One of the requirements of being accepted into the Union, was that the infrastructure be fixed and broadened to handle more traffic throughout Poland and the other countries new to the EU. The road signs at each end of the construction project shows the EU logo and lists all the countries that are participating in the costs of this new construction work. Some of the EU countries are not too happy with having to financially support this kind, or in many cases, any kind of project outside of their own country.
Tomorrow….continuing East and then a turn North
14-15 August ’04. Saturday and Sunday….They are set a side for rest, am I correct? Well that is just about what we did for the last two days. Just sit back a little longer in the mornings, went grocery shopping one afternoon and washed clothes the other. Other than that, we were “beach bums”. We are just outside of Gradziadz in a campground that is on a very nice lake. Unfortunately, Gradziadz doesn’t have a lot to offer it’s self, but it is made up for it here. Our campsite is very much like camping in the woods in Eastern Washington. It has a lot of tall Pine trees and a sandy type of soil. One of the differences, is it also has a lot of White Birch to go with the Pine trees. We are at a resort with a hotel, a large separate reception area that has a small restaurant and bar. The outside dining area is very large and half covered and the other half has large umbrella’s.
This all overlooks the large sand beach and out over the lake. I would guess the lake is about 3 times larger than Green Lake. It is all open to the public except the campground, and it is a secured area for us. We can’t believe that they don’t have some type of admission fee for the use of this beach and all the facilities, but they don’t…. There are very few campers here as well. Last night was probably the most we have seen…about 15 campsites in total. Tonight, about 8. No lines for the showers!!!!(not that I’ve had a problem with lines at any of the sites). Saturday Louise and I were in town and we saw a wedding just leaving the church. Well, about an hour later, the whole crew came down the road and headed to the hotel next door. They had a great party with a band that lasted from 4pm to 4am. It was a goodie to say the least…. We did get some sleep, but when it broke up at 4 we heard them leave….safely I hope!!! Well, clothes washed and some beach time in, I think we will head back toward the Baltic Sea again.
Tomorrow….the Baltic Sea (in a different location for sure !!! )
13 August ’04, FRIDAY!!!! Today we left Elblag and it had just started to give us a little light rain. We were heading for the Baltic Sea and a ride along one of the long “spit’s”. The one we chose to ride out was the one that stops right at the Russian border. Well, that’s getting a little ahead of this day. Everything was going smoothly after my fiasco with a gas station, but I wont get into that. On our way up to the coast, about a 50 Km ride (30 Miles), we saw a very large bi-plane warming up for take-off. You know about the size of the bi-planes that are used in the fields for spraying the crops, well, take and multiply that size of plane by 4 or 5 times. It was HUGE !!! Design was about the same, but after that….Wow. Well, as we pulled in to the first village at the beginning of the spit, we came into our 1st really heavy tourist area….people and vehicles were everywhere. We tried not to take too long in getting through and onto the destination of the end of the spit. A short distance out of the first village, we ran into more rain and the roads went to….yes they did !!! So we spent the next 45 km traveling about 15 to 20 miles an hour at max. When we finally did reach Plaski, the road came to a very unusual stop….right in someone’s driveway….beyond that was the Russian border. So time came to turn around and find someplace to park and see for the first time the Baltic. The whole time we traveled this narrow spit and there wasn’t one time we could see the Sea because of the heavy tree’s and high sand dunes. There were parking area’s, complete with attendants off and on all along the coast, but no sea view for those driving. The Sea was just over those sand dunes and trees…. We did find a spot to park (Free), and a trail to take us to the Baltic Sea for the first time. I will remind you, it was raining and the trail had deep and very fine sand that stuck (and is still sticking) to everything. Oh yes, it was up a long sand dune to finally see the beach. We walked over, stuck our feet into the Sea, and walked back…. We’ll stop at a campground somewhere else and enjoy the sea…. The ride back was just a painful as the first, but our destination was the larger city of Gdansk and with all the crowds at the beach and the rain and everything it has to be a lot better. On the ride to Gdansk, we ran into a traffic jam that seemed to last forever before anyone would move. After waiting in this line for about 20-30 minutes, and having lunch in the van, we finally got closer to the problem…..IT WAS A FERRY LINE-UP WE WERE IN IT!!!! Well, we said something that I can’t remember, but we made a u-turn and went looking for another way to Gdansk. As it turned out, and to make this journal much shorter by leaving out the rest of the catastrophe, we fought HEAVY CONSTRUCTION TRAFFIC every turn we made, the rain got worse, we couldn’t find a campsite, and we were getting hungry !!!! We drove completely away from the area as fast? as we could and finally about 8 last night we arrived in Gradziadz. About 120km due South of our first destination. So much for FRIDAY the 13th Tomorrow…..REST !!!
12 August ’04, Thursday. First, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU… Dannie !!!
This morning we were out of bed and heading for the shower by 6am…yes, I know, but this is a true story. We had a boat schedule that we had to conform to and it wasn’t easy for me. Our boat was to take us from Elblag and take us down a man made canal. This is one of the most scenic waterways in Europe and was built between 1848 and 1876. It’s main purpose at that time was to transfer logs from the rich timber forests to the Baltic Sea. It’s total length is 82km but our cruise only took us about 30km which lasted about 5 hours. It wasn’t a fast boat by any means, but it was a once in a life time experience. The water levels of the whole canal rise 99.5 meters in height and must be resolved by a boat being “carried” across dry land by a unique rail and sling system. The direction we traveled took us literally up river, so each of our 4 “crossings” were out of the water and up and over the hill side and then slip into the next portion of the canal. It was really an experience and a marvel that it is still in such great operating condition even today. The longest dry land section we covered was about 550 meters long…..all up hill. The boat was about 45-50’ in length and there were about 40-45 passengers on it. We were one of three boats that left the dock, but there were other cruise companies working this canal as well. It was a good day for a cruise, as the weather was rising into the low 90’s by the time we finished. Arriving back to the campground I wanted to get to the internet café and do some catch-up. Unfortunately, my server was so slow that I couldn’t get anything done. A note about Elblag; it was heavily damaged during WWII. It seems that re-construction has been really slow here. The do have about 6 or 7 houses that date back to 1598 and have not been reconstructed at all. Other than the canal, it isn’t one of the bright spots from our trip. Tomorrow…..Baltic Sea here we come
11 August ’04, Wednesday. We had cereal and coffee for breakfast this morning and then off to Poland’s highway’s (and I use the word “Highway’s” loosely…). We have been doing pretty good lately on finding our way out of town compared to a month or two ago. Our trip is still heading North. After examining the map prior to leaving we decided to make our first stop about noon and it would be in Malbork, Poland. Malbork is famous for it’s Teutonic Castle and the 13th Century St. John The Baptist’s Church. I saw a picture of the castle awhile back and it looked quite exciting. The roads today were in most part really good. I’m glad they were so good because I was put to the test with on-coming passing and passing from my side as well. Just about all the roads are two lane, one for each direction and have a shoulder of about 6’ on each side. I’m guessing the rules are, “if the center line and the line at the shoulder are solid then there is to be no passing. Now if the lines are interrupted, the car or truck being passed must or should move onto the shoulder of the road while the car passes”. All this sounds good until you have a car passing you and there is a car passing at the same time on the opposite on-coming lane as well. Then you can toss in the person or people that are biking or have stopped on the shoulder in their car (sometimes so little they are impossible to see) the same instant that both on-coming and going lanes are being used passing. Believe it or not, it seems to work pretty well. The first few times you’ve got 4 cars or cars and trucks side by side on a two lane road is a “white knuckle” trip. After awhile you do get a little more relaxed about it and you’ve just got to keep your wits about it. Well anyway, we did make it to Malbork and we were very impressed with the castle and St. John’s Church. The castle is HUGE and is the largest brick castle in the world and was built by the Teutonic Knights in the 14th Century to protect the timber industry. I was able to take some wonderful pictures of the castle and the church before leaving. On one of the pictures, you can even see were a cannon ball hit the tower during one of the battles.
We walked the grounds and buildings for at least 3 hours and then had lunch prior to heading off to our final stop for the day…..Elblag.
10 August ’04, Tuesday. A “Road Day” and I use the word “Road” with a good deal of sugar to make it sound good. I’ve mentioned it before since our arrival in Poland, but the roads are the pit’s (or should I say one big chuck hole) !!!! We did have a pretty decent road for the first hour, but after that time we and “Bumble Bee”, shook, rattled, and rolled until we thought we just couldn’t take it any longer. Our destination for the day was almost due north to Toruñ. What should have been a 3 hour trip took us 5 which included a gas and lunch stop. The day was absolutely beautiful for traveling, and it also gave the wheat farmers of the area a chance to harvest the grains or in some cases, bale and stack the hay. Toruñ is set on the banks of the Vistula River. After checking into the campgrounds, setting up the van, having a small beer at the camp “Bar”, we headed off walking across the bridge and into the “Old Town” part of Toruñ. Louise and I had already made a pact, “we would only stay here for the night and a little of tomorrow” then back on the road to Gdañsk and the Baltic Sea. Let me tell you, when we saw the town from the bridge and as we walked into it, we realized just how easy it would be to toss our “pact” into the river and stay here for a long time…..Toruñ is stunning and looks like it could be a lot of fun. The old city walls follow the river before making the sweep back to make a large enclosure. The architecture of the wonderful buildings, both residential and commercial, the striking cathedral and the churches, and of course, the ruins of the Teutonic Castle from 1233, the birth place of Nicolaus Copernicus (what more can I say than that?)….It really is hard to tell you just how beautiful we found this town of Toruñ. As a member of the “Hanseatic League” it prospered in the 14th and 15th centuries. Some of the churches go back even before then, back to 1100. We even saw the “Leaning Tower”, one of the many city gate’s, but in this case, the foundation slipped and the gate is leaning quite a bit….it’s still is used as a luncheon/bar. Why not, if it fall’s down, the patron’s most likely wont even know it. Ok, now for a little homework; Who is Nicolaus Copernicus? And, what is he known for ? Tomorrow….”On The Road Again”
Czestochowska, home of the icon of the Black Madonna. We booked a tour of the Jasna Gora for 9:00 this morning. Our tour guide was Ivanna a young Polish woman. We started with some history. The Jasna Gora is a complex of sacred and residential buildings surrounded by fortified walls and a park, on top of a 293 meter-high limestone hill. Jasna Gora means luminous hills, named so by the Pauline Monks who moved here from Hungary. The Order of St. Paul the first hermit was established in the 12th century. St Paul of Thebes the first hermit, was chosen as their Patriarch. They came to Czestochowska in 1382, where they were given a hill with a small church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In it they placed the precious painting of the Black Madonna. According to tradition the image of the Black Madonna was painted by St Luke the Evangelist on a table, where the Holy Family gathered in prayer and to eat. Six centuries later Prince Ladislaus brought it to Czestochowska. In 1430 some Hussites stole the painting along with other precious valuables. They took their swords and slashed the face of the Black Madonna. When she started to bleed they threw down the painting breaking it into three pieces. Through out history the Sacred Icon has been revered and millions of pilgrims come each year to worship at this Basilica. The Icon is in the Holy Chapel of the Virgin Mary.
8 August ’04, Saturday. If you’ve seen one salt mine, you’ve seen them all…. Not true !
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the biggest and dates back to the 13th century. It is the world’s only mine operating uninterrupted since the middle ages. Louise and I were just a part of the 800,000 visitors that come every year, but we definitely didn’t feel lost in a crowd. We started off with a staircase of 389 steps going down and around for ever and finally reach the “Level 1” of the mine. There are over 300km of chambers and shafts in the mine, but only 3.5km were open to the public. As it was, it took 3 hours for our tour and it was almost non-stop. We went down a total of 400 feet or to the 3rd level out of 7.
The “tunnels” were really quite wide at approximate 6’ wide and 6’2” high. The staircases were mostly wooden, but in most cases the floors and passages were “salt”. The salt in this mine is black salt…if you were to purchase any from the store it would be a darker gray in color. There are a number of “salt” carvings throughout the mine, with the largest being the Chapel of St. Kinga. It features many fabulous salt sculptures and 4 huge salt chandeliers. This chapel is so large that it could and does have a number of large weddings and other celebrations throughout the year. Mass is held in the chapel every Sunday as well. The chapel really is larger than most we have been in. This was only one of many chambers on the tour. When the tour was over, we were given the opportunity to shop and/or eat in the stores and restaurant on the 3rd level, or go to the exit and ride to the top in an elevator. As we approached the elevator in a group of 8, we started to wonder just what the heck we were about to do…. This elevator was soooo small. We were packed tight together from top to bottom, and side to side. It was TOTAL DARKNESS all the way up. We bounced and banged, in a stuffy little crate until we hit the street level and then a gust of wind rushed in to refresh us…..WOW. What more could you say (I could have used a few additional word’s, but held it for later)? For Louise and I, we could hardly get to the exit door fast enough, but as we did, we were met with a violent rain and thunder storm. It didn’t really didn’t faze us as we went through that door, out into the rain, looking for a hide-out or better yet a drink. Now I didn’t mention the bus that got us to the mine….it was one of those mini-buses. Normally that isn’t too bad, but under the circumstances that we had just gone through and, as we got on to the mini-bus to return, our bus turned out to be totally packed. You couldn’t breath (although we did get seats)…. you had people that were standing (I don’t know how or why) and, they were constantly bumping or dropping an elbow onto your head. Now this is a most enjoyable ride.
Tomorrow….. Travel time north to Czestochowa
We started our tour in the 600th Anniversary Museum where you find Historical exhibits. There were seven century old books, musical instruments, paintings, votive offerings from John Paul the 2nd and many historic items. One of these is the Nobel peace prize of Lech Walesa. We then went to the Knights hall, which is one of the oldest parts of the Jasna Gora. Then on to the Chapel of the Holy Virgin where the Black Madonna painting is, there was a mass in progress and many pilgrims on their knees circling the altar in prayer. It was very moving. The walls at the back of the chapel were lined with crutches from people who have been healed here. They have to remain well for 5 years before it is accepted as a miracle, with cancer patients they have to wait 10 years. It is overwhelming to say the least. Next the Basilica, built in the 17th century because the chapel was too small to accommodate all the pilgrims who come each year. Then on to the treasury, where they house votive offerings (things given by visitors). One of the things was a rosary made of bread from a prisoner from Auschwitz. Also a ring given by John F. Kennedy, when he visited before he was president. After our tour we walked around the fortified walls where they have beautiful bronze stations of the cross. We could hear singing and shouting and when we looked out towards the town we saw hundreds of pilgrims arriving from Krakow. They carried banners and different colored balloons. They were singing and praying, an incredible sight. It is impossible to put all the sights sounds and feelings into this journal! Tomorrow, another day of travel.
6 August, ’04, Friday. First, I want to bring you up to date from yesterday (Thursday). It seems like we have been doing our laundry chores for the last week, and Thursday was no different. Getting a load in, up to dry, folded, and put away, we headed into town for a “later night” adventure. We didn’t get in to town until closer to 4 and hopes of staying way past dark. As we arrived we first noticed flag banners across all the streets. One of the flags was red and white which is the Polish flag, and the other was blue and white, which turned out to be the flag of Krakow. They had set up a large stage on the plaza, and everyone was being entertained by singers and folk dancers. It was what appeared to be a political rally. There was a contingency of military people there in the crowd and even some that spoke with a lot of enthusiasm and occasionally got the crowd teary eyed.
We didn’t get back to camp until after 11pm and we had a big day Friday to look forward too.
Our tour started just after we hung-out our laundry to dry. Hope it doesn’t rain…. The bus was over 20 minutes late this morning because of a HUGE pilgrimage to Czestochowa. I couldn’t possibly give you an idea of the count of people in this pilgrimage, but it went on for miles on miles. It was well organized and with the distance (71 miles) that they had to walk, it will take at least few days to get there. Getting back to our bus, all the traffic in Krakow was slowed to a slight crawl all morning long so that explained why we all stood waiting so long. It was quite a site. Czestochowa is the site of Black Madonna, which we plan on visiting soon. Our time was to be spent sightseeing the Jewish district of Kazimierz today. We were going to follow a walking tour that is available by book. Kazimierz was the historical center of Krakow’s Jewish religious and social life. We were able to see homes, businesses, synagogues, and prayer houses that dated back as far as mid 1500’s. We saw the buildings that were taken by the Nazi’s….we saw the enameled dish factory of Fabryka Oskara Schindlera (Oscar Schindler of Schindler’s List). We must remember, Oscar Schindler personally saved the lives of 700 men and 300 women from places like Auschwitz by keeping them all “employed” and indispensable.
Time and the clouds came up on us real fast so we decided to head back. As we stepped off the bus we both felt the first drops of rain and made for the van to remove the clothes from the line….just in time !!!! Tomorrow….Salzbergwerk ( The Salt Mine ) in Wieliczka