For the second half of our trip in Poland, we hired a minibus and travelled a few hours into the countryside to a town called Sulejow, near to where our relatives lived and originally where the wedding was supposed to be.
As we travelled further away from the city it became plain to see that inbetween farm land and farm land, there was more farm land with a few higgledy piggledy houses. I already knew that there wouldn’t be much to see or do before arriving, but the land was much flatter and barren than expected, unlike towns such as Zakopane in the south of the country which has stunning alpine surroundings to gawp at. I wasn’t expecting mountains but the endless flat fields were unfortunately a little boring to look at. Nevertheless the sun still shone and baked us in a general temperature of 26 degrees throughout our stay which I certainly didn’t dislike!
Before we went to our hotel, we first visited our relatives houses to greet them. We drove through many small villages and forests before finally arriving to 2 lone houses on a narrow road. Being unable to speak Polish I did find it difficult to understand the conversation but even so was greeted warmly like an old friend. It is Polish tradition to welcome people into your home and offer them plenty of food and drinks so we were ushered inside and brought plates of cakes and sandwiches, although as a vegetarian I had to politely decline much of what was offered, which was met with some confusion. Polish diet is very meat, carb and sugar heavy (from a British perspective) so expect little choice and prepare in advance if you have any dietary preferences! Body image is less of an issue in places where the media barely reaches you, and it is considered normal to have a little more meat on your bones, so don’t be offended by the plates of cakes you may be offered if for whatever reason you happen to visit. In terms of food choice, although there wasn’t a lot, I found the city offered more choices for vegetarians as expected in tourist areas and in the farming areas it was considered almost an unheard of concept, as its the norm to upbring, and cook your own animals (although less common these days.)
Food aside, I found it really interesting to get to see what a secluded lifestyle in farming was like. The houses I visited didn’t have wifi, computers or many electricals, besides a chunky TV which looked like one we might’ve owned in the 90’s. It was so refreshing to be able to go outdoors and hear no roads, sirens or even other people, just the birds and the wind through the trees, and watch hares chase each other through long grass. I’m also a lover of astrology so it was a real treat to be able to be somewhere with a naturally dark sky, to be able to pick out constellations and see many more stars than I would in the city at home.
With no attractions and few electronics, there is little to do except enjoy the company of family or farm the land. The houses had tunnels where they grew peppers and cabbages to sell on once they were ripe and ready to be picked. This is almost all of the income that would come into the homes as other forms of unemployment and benefit are few. From listening in to conversations and having some translated, I learned that the minimum wage in Poland is around 10 zloti (around £2.50) and that many people no longer farm animals as it gains no profit. To own a diary cow for selling milk, might get you the equivalent of 20p per litre. It’s from this information that it became apparent to me just why everything in Poland was so cheap, as it needs to be to make the cost of living affordable on such low income.
Inbetween our relatives homes and our hotel was around a one hour drive on long roads of more fields, which is the main reason why I didn’t take many photographs as I spent much of my time travelling, without much to take photos of. Polish roads are not unlike American roads in that they are very straight and go on forever, although I was also reminded of Japan due to the religious shrines decorated at the roadsides with ribbons and flowers. The Polish are well known for their heavy Catholicism in the country and we were reminded if this by seeing churches overflowing onto the street on Sunday for mass.
Our hotel (Hotel Podklasztorze – say it like Pod-clash-tor-je) was an old Abbey which had been restored amd rennovated by Best Western. For a 3 star hotel, I found the hotel really comfortable and beautiful due to it’s history, with old stone and uncovered brick decorating the walls and turrets seen from outside. However the fact both the gym and the pool were closed (facilities I was really relying on for activities) really let it down as there is an obvious lack of other things to do in the area. The restaurant was good quality with lots of traditional choices cooked in a modern style (there was still a lack of vegetarian choice but I managed) which was still reasonably priced for the quality. The hotel also had a lovely green area outside where guests could sit and socialise, with a play area for kids and even a church on site for people to use. This space was also used as a venue for big wedding parties and is popular in the area, which also meant we were kept awake on 2 of our 3 nights stay until 3am, with music so loud our window panes rattled. I must have heard Justin Bieber – Despacito about 10 times and it won’t stop playing in my head.
Thankfully, thanks to a trusty Google search we were able to get out and about on one of our days and took a trip to a local reservoir where boats were for hire. Four of us took a family pedalo (costing us around £4 for an hours hire) and bobbed around in the sun, pulling breifly onto a sandy bank to paddle and swim, and I took the time to quietly do some yoga on the sand. We were all really pleased to have found a great family activity to do so cheaply and went back in the evening relaxed and peaceful. Another google search helped us find a stunning restaurant (Dworek Biały Domek, if you happen to visit, I reccommend!) on our last evening in a village called Smardzewice (can’t help with the pronunciation on this, sorry), named after a mushroom that grows there. The food was fantastic quality still at a very low price, and we had dishes such as confit duck leg with strawberry sauce, pork loin, and Platzki, a Polish potato cake, similar to a hash brown but flatter in shape and served in the delicious local musroom sauce. These last few activities really rounded off the trip nicely for us as it can be stressful trying to please a family of 6 all with different needs and wants.
For once, I was surprised that I was quite glad to get home last night. It might’ve been due to the long day travelling, with a layover in Brussels and myself basically acting like a luggage mule, but I was glad to get back to my own solitary bedroom and a decent cup of tea. Although travelling with family can be fun and it can be liberating to be somewhere off the beaten track, it can be tiring with so many people in tow and being somewhere unknown to tourists is not always the secluded paradise it can be painted as. If you don’t have an agenda for going somewhere off the beaten track, always do your research!
Besides that, it’s been great to visit the beauty of Warsaw and meet relatives, and was a superb opportunity to spend quality time with family before I set off on my lone travels in a weeks time.
Next stop, USA. Thanks, Poland!