Friday, August 21, 2009

Hey Hey Hay

Or - Timber and steam all the way to Germany. We are sure that Poland provides most of the world's hay. There is so much of the country around here being harvested at the moment - and the yield they are getting is amazing, so we see thousands and thousands of large rolled bales - some still drying throughout the fields and some stacked. Every couple of days when we speak with Gen, she begins with hey hey hey, so I couldn't resist the title today!!

The Poznań Tourist Bureau puts out a series of information guides that are based around trails or routes of the best things to do in the area. We followed one the other day when we went to Biskupin and today as we head away from Poznań for the last time we are going to follow another - 'The route of wooden churches and buildings' before we make one last stop in Poland at a town called Wolsztyn and then turn west to Germany and 'Western Europe' once again.

We have left Fancy House in Poznań and already miss it. A home away from home, which, when you are travelling for a long time is not always easy to find. Thanks to Gosia and Kris for such a wonderful time. You have some new long-term friends who will wait for you to visit Australia some time.

We are following the one tour of the 'Wooden Churches and Buildings' route that does not take us too far from the route that we must follow to get to Berlin from Poznań. Except that we are following it in reverse of the suggested direction. We start with the Church of St Martin in Granowo, arriving just after 10 am when the morning sky is still a rich deep blue. The timbered church stands out starkly, but in such wonderfully sharp relief against this background. And there is a rather fancy bell tower adjacent to it. At first we don't think that the church is opened - but we eventually find a door that will open. Inside, the body of the church is grated, but we can see in to a rather plain church, with some baroque fittings but not with walls painted like the one we saw recently.

And so on we push. Now, the towns on this route are typically 15 - 20 kms apart, so we are able to get to see a few in the few hours we have. Next in line was Grodzisk Wielkopolski. At first we can't find it and instead have a look at their old market square with the town hall at its centre and a much later baroque church with some wierd dude atop its rotund tower. Then, as we are about to leave town we realise that the car is facing into the street with the timber church. But even the gate into the yeard is heavily padlocked. A pity really - the Holy Spirit Church is very plain and angular outside, but is the oldest on our trip today - dating back to 1633! A timber chuch that is still standing after almost 400 years.

Ruchocice is our next stop. Just off the 'main' street, St Ursula's Church is very nicely kept and in a beautiful garden of trimmed fir trees - the healthiest I have ever seen. It is obvious that this church, built in 1730, is still in regular use, but again we find the doors firmly closed. Hmm, maybe the locals don't like to share! There is not anything else to see here apart from some old barn buildings. The settlement is quite small.

In Rakoneiwice it is not a church we have come to see. Well, it is not a church any more! Instead, it issues deliverence from a different sort of hell. Once an Evangelic Protestant church (boy, they weren't taking any chances!) built in 1763, this building is very different to the others we have seen this morning. It is of post and beam construction and inside boasted two storied balconies. But we will never know whether it was as plain as we find the interior or whether it had been richly decorated. For today, the building houses the Museum of Fire-fighting in Rakoniewice!

You know, sometimes the quirky and different hide lots of little gems. And this one is no different. We enter, unable to find anyone and just start to walk around. The architecture of this once church is quite stark. But now, it gleams with polished brass of a very different nature! In this building there are fire engines that date back to 1786 when terrified horses were used to get water to the seat of a fire. Can't help but imagine that there were not too many fires that they would have reached in time!! Banners from the brigades of past hang from the two balconies - never to flutter in the breeze again.

This unique museum is this quiet little Polish back town has also got equipment from states and cities far away including Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, Lithuania, Belgium, Hungary, Ukraine and Russia. Wow - what a collection so far from anywhere. By now, I am back in the car (sorry, there is only so much fire fighting stuff a girl can take - I think its another of those bloke things) when finally a young man working for the museum comes in. I don't think that they get too many visitors, so he is keen to show Michael personally around their collection. Thank you Hubert Koler - your generosity was really appreciated.

The other thing that Rakoniewice has are four colonnaded houses that look into a large market square. In the late 1700s the market square was surrounded by wooden arcaded houses that were characterized by two-tier peaks with beam ceilings. The majority of them burned down is the 'dangerous fire' of 1927 and today only four remain. Guess they are safe now that the Museum of Fire Fighting is within spitting distance of all four!

At this point we had planned to turn west towards Berlin, but there is a hamlet called Śmigiel that we can detour through that will only cost us an extra 15 - 20 minutes. So, why go here? Well, the church here is a composite design - part timber and part post and beam. BUT, somewhere around here are timber windmills supposedly so characteristic of this landscape. Despite our best efforts though, we don't see any. In the 18th century there were 3,500 of these windmills, but today there are only a few hundred - and darn we can't even find one! There are supposedly two, but - where? The poet Boleslaw Leśmain described them perfectly enough for us to see them in our imagination:
Rising above a fallow plain
A windmill, opened to all the world around
Creaks its wooden hoopskirt in a dance,
And throws a devil-like horned shadow on the grass...

And so we turn for the west. Each small town we pass through is built around the market square - not a bad thing at all - as this is where the local population would congregate, trade and exchange their news. Some are lovely and shady while others have become more functional place - areas of hot tarmac that provide handy parking! There is one town we go through where the speed limit is 20 kph - we soon learn why though - they have not tarred over the cobblestones like most others have done and to drive over them faster would certainly mean the death of at the least, your car's suspension! And then we come around a corner and see the most amazing sight. Now, to put this in context, we are out in rural rural Poland - well off the beaten track. And right here in front of us is the remnants of a palatial mansion and all the surrounding glory of what must have once been a very impressive estate. This was all once a private estate of the Kurnatowscy family and is only 100 years old. Very definitely it has seen much better days. The local young woman walking with her children could not have been more pleasant as she offers first Michael and then me a warm Cześć (hello in Polish).

Wolsztyn is famous because this is the last town with scheduled rail services that are operated under steam locomotion. As we drive around looking for the station or the Round House (not a turntable as Michael corrects me), we see lots of other interesting things, but not what we seek. So we decide to go back into the one way cobblestoned and chicaned town centre to the Visitor Information Centre for - well, information. And as I turn the corner to head back that way, there they are (Michael almost wets himself). 12 steam locos all in a line - shunted end-to-end, from tender box to nose. AND there are more in the Round House. The smell of the piles of coal in huge boxed pits in the yard takes us back years and if we listen really hard, we can hear the echo of a steam whistle, once blowed.

And the information? Turns out that those scheduled services are only on weekends and special days. And it turns out that our visiting their town is not a special enough occasion!
Before we leave, we have ice creams that we are dubbing the Salisbury Spires - with 14 tight swirls high above the cone (and more to the base of the cone), there is none of this loose Mr Whippy stuff. And it lasts long enough for you to eat it, not slop up quickly melting drips!

Westward we go, travelling where we can on the back roads. We are so over the motorways with big sound barriers erected on both sides. We continue to travel through small towns, observing a slice of the history of this region, and of the lives of the people today. And it is not all easy. You don't want to be a roadworker anywhere here - you risk your life every day with the only protection being the bright orange clothing you wear. And there are a couple more of those working ladies who face even greater risks I fear!

As we near the border with Germany, we have to re-join the highway. This would be a remainder from the days of border controls through non-EU countries. So it is raining lightly. One car dashes out from a service station on the other side of the road, cutting it fine between trucks hurtling past him and into our lane. Almost loses it - heading into a tailspin. Everything seems to go into slow motion, giving him time to recover control over his vehicle before once again we all rush. Boy, it was close - very close. But that was not the last example of the aggressive driving of the Polish. We are on a two laned busy road. But there are very wide verges. We soon learn that if an impatient fellow wants to overtake you, you head into the verge lane, pulling as far to the right as possible. And if you think this photos is bad, there was a worse example when we have one car overtaking us, and in the other direction a car is passing a truck that is overtaking a car - and all racing towards us! Egad!!!

Before we know it we are over the border and back into Germany. All of a sudden, the architecture has changed. More substantial buildings, smaller farming plots. We are headed for a suburb of outer Berlin on the eastern side called Köpernick where we managed to get accommodation. The roads are an absolute mess and the traffic horrific as we get near about 6 pm. The hotel has changed (ungraded???) our booking without consultation or advice - not sure whether we are happy or not, the room sure doesn't present as an upgraded one! But we have to remember that this is a part of the former East Berlin, and so is likely to be of a lower standard. Dinner is OK, a Schnitzel Buffet - try to imagine that. A variety of schnitzels, pork breaded schnitzel and chicken schnitzel in a mushroom cream sauce served with späetzle noodles and mashed potato with a salad bar that had shredded cabbage salad, shredded carrot salad, sliced tomato and potato salad that the Germans do so well. Who cares - we are just glad we have arrived!

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