Monday, August 23, 2010

Polish. Impressions.

From Warsaw the road takes me south and east. The eastern part of the country is quite rural and relatively devoid of tourists. The summer colours are particularly vivid: the endless blue sky; the deep green of pastures and forests, now a mix of oak, elder, rowan and beech; and the gold of the rape and wheat fields (a growing number of which are just stubble dotted with bales of hay, signalling the imminent end of summer). Rickety buses, which surely remember the deep days of the Cold War, ply the pockmarked country roads between towns and villages, keeping the communities alive; even ricketier, rusty tractors labour in the fields. Chickens scramble about in the gardens in the villages. Young storks can be seen in the mornings, circling overhead, as they get flying lessons from their parents in preparation for the long migration south. The topography is also getting more wrinkled, a prelude to the Beskids that form the border with Slovakia to the south.

Sunset in rural southeast Poland.

The more time I'm spending in Poland the more I'm getting by on a mix of Czech and Polish. Although not immediately mutually intelligible the gap is small enough that by learning a few specific words and making some standard alterations then it's no problem to have a simple conversation. I don't bother with English anymore and muddle through in my Czech mish-mash, which I have come to call Slovansky (Slavic). It's become so pervasive that I've even started exclaiming, and cursing, in Czech. When hitching I've adopted a cover story of being a Czech student on summer holidays, mainly because it's far more plausible than the truth and my ability in Polish doesn't stretch as far as trying to explain quite what it is I'm doing (do I even know myself?).

I think that, in general, I get a better reception as a Czech here than as a Western European, which came in handy when I had a run-in with the border police in the town of Przemysl. The town, in Galicia (not to be confused with the region of Galicia in Spain), was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries and was the site of perhaps the largest fortifications on the eastern front during the Great War (larger even than those at Verdun). Even though the fortifications were destroyed after the war and have been left to be overgrown since then, they are still impressive and worth a peek. Unfortunately the best preserved of the forts lies right on the border with Ukraine. So when I got there at dusk I began looking for a spot to pitch my tent with a view to exploring the place at leisure in the morning. Whilst nosing about in the undergrowth a lady, or the curtain-twitching breed, with her dog spotted me and, instead of coming over to ask what I was doing, called the police. So, once I had got myself settled down for the night I got woken by two border policemen with their infra-red goggles (which were pretty cool) and asked what I was doing, where I had come from, how long I had been there, etc., etc. It was all perfectly legal and they were quite sympathetic towards me and joked about, but since they had been called out they were obliged to take me down to the border post and write a report, not only depriving me of some sleep, but also dropping me off several miles away from the fort so that I needed to catch the bus there again the next morning. All of which has taught me a valuable lesson: watch out for old ladies when looking for a spot to spend the night. Oh yes, and perhaps don't try and spend the night only a few hundred metres from an international border.


Anonymous said...

Hi Eric. Very nice post :o) I am happy that you enjoyed staying in Przemysl. As I mentioned, put the tent near of the fortification, few hundreds meters from the border with Ukraine may be not good idea :o) Anyway, its good that everything was good :o) Yes, old ladies can be stressful and you need to watch-out ;o)

Anonymous said...

As for Ukraine, watch out for police officers. They are very corrupt and expect bribe. They chase travellers. However, they can be quite nice, especially if you learn some Ukrainian words.

My advice is to have 5-10 $ prepared in case you are in a hurry and want to get rid of them.

Otherwise, I have several friends who ended up 4 - 5 hours discussing with the police before being set free. That can be an interesting experience, if you are not pressed by time.