After visiting all the healthcare services the Czech border had to offer, Fanny and myself accompanied by the swollen, wheezing but on the mend Bani crossed into our seventh country of the trip. Not having any plans other than a ferry from the northern port of Gdynia we were free to roam the west side of Poland at our leisure. Not that we found much to roam around.
Distracting himself from his medical troubles Bani bombarded me with some Polish Trivia. To help the miles pass quickly I was treated to such facts such as “Burek” being the most popular dogs name, 30% of Poles live abroad and that Polish derives from “Field People”. The latter made sense as all that we had seen for a hundred miles was flat, endless fields sprawling out in all directions. The uninspiring landscape didn’t offer much in terms of visual stimulation, other than the occasional tractor or spluttering sprinkler and I was left to concentrate on the bumpy roads and the task of avoiding deadly potholes. Everything on the van has broken at some point, other than the suspension so the fear of completing a full house of repairs often inspired caution as we weaved across the old roads. The drives seemed attractive enough on approach as tall trees broke the humdrum of infinite farmland to line the intersecting roads but the tarmac itself was an obstacle course of cracks and holes, as well as hurtling farm vehicles forcing us onto the side as they flew past. As we had opted to avoid the toll roads and motorways the satnav had taken us off the beaten track and through the rural communities of Poland where sometimes houses and villages would break the monotonous views of crops. The natives showed significant affection to the van, more than the roads anyway, or perhaps it was bewilderment at why an old Campervan from Britain was shaking past their farmhouses, miles from any large town or tourist attraction.
Somehow, the hypnotic repetition of field, farm, astonished local lulled me into driving for almost six hours without even knowing it and we had made a large dent into our cross country drive.
The city of Poznan broke the cycle and provided the opportunity to escape the driver’s seat to stretch my legs around the old town. The layers of the city reflected the turbulent history of both the city and the country. On the new outskirts stood the modern shopping malls and large infrastructure projects such as the huge man made lake Malta, surrounded by western brands like Gucci and Zara. Further in lies the industrial communist buildings and the bland office and apartment blocks. The heart of Poznan is a picturesque old town, with a mixture of old renaissance buildings and those which were reconstructed after the devastation of the Second World War. We cycled through in this order, after going around the lake and ending up in the old town square. Full of life and full of colour the centre was vastly contrasting to the outskirts. Small shops and busy restaurants lined the perimeter and in the middle stood the town hall, which now houses the Museum of Poznan. Eager to learn about the history of the city we popped in for a look around. With only a 20p entrance fee we thought we couldn’t go wrong, but somehow, even a fee that low felt like a rip off when we re-emerged into square. Four stories inside the old building and barely a single interesting artefact. We entered with the hope of getting some info on the history of Poznan, as the museums name suggested but all we encountered were old portraits with potentially informative text in Polish, broken crockery and some stuffed goats. The top floor did house some more useful photos regarding the destruction of the war and the soviet liberation but nothing worth hiking up the creaky staircase for.
Even if the signs could have explained the infatuation with goats the trip would’ve been worth it. After a great fire laid waste to the city the town hall was rebuilt with a fancy new clock and to celebrate the grand opening there was to be a marvellous feast for all the town and several famous people. The making of the main dish fell to a young kitchen hand who in the excitement of it all took his eye of the roasting venison which burnt to cinders. Terrified after his mistake he stole two billy goats from a nearby field, dragged them back to the square to be cooked where they broke free, ran to the tower and started head butting each other in front of the crowd. The mayor was so amused by the spectacle he pardoned the poor cook and commissioned the construction of the fighting goat clockwork which rings into life at noon each day at the clock tower. Even that little story explaining all the goat souvenirs would’ve been worth it.
Having wasted the afternoon not learning about goats, having a beer and walking aimlessly through the rest of the small old town we bid farewell to Poznan and continued north.
The next marvel on our Polish road trip was the castle at Malbork. With the fancy title of “castle of the Teutonic order” is was worth stopping at to admire the construction. Boasting the titles of largest castle by land area and the biggest brick building in the world it is an impressive old thing with huge turrets sticking out from behind a labyrinth of walls and moats. Built by knights eight hundred years ago it was once the largest fortress in Europe and is four times larger than Windsor castle. We walked around it twice to appreciate its size and ridiculous number of bricks before repeatedly hitting some of those bricks with the frisbee.
After discussing ways to take the castle, Bani opting for a siege or just climbing the walls, we returned to the pot hole infested roads and found another field to stay the night in.