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Published: October 19th 2006
I struggle out of bed after an uneasy two hours of sleep with anticipation on the brain. I never sleep well before a trip. Determined to beat the traffic, our group of eight piled into a nine-seater Ford Transit, and headed out of the Park & Ride lot at 0400. Just a bit earlier than oh-dark-thirty. Luckily, gas station breaks provided me with a Nescafe Choco coffee and a sugar-free Red Bull.
Very early in the trip we witnessed first hand how the metal railing along the Autobahn does not collapse like the guardrails in the States, but instead forces one’s car hood to collapse like a condensed accordion. Good to know.
We take Autobahn 5 to A7 to A4, and the sun finally showed itself about 0715, presenting us with a foggy and chilly northern Germany. Rolling hills, scattered clumps of trees, farmlands, and the occasional castle; Germany is always a pretty drive. Civilization includes both small towns of quaint homes, cathedrals, and barns all contained within invisible but definable borders, as well as sprawling masses of industry produced hanger-type warehouses and decaying post-war apartment high-rises. But once you pass the latter, all you see are the wooded
hills and the green and orange fields, and it’s mesmerizing.
Fortunately, the van didn’t seem to top out until 175 km/h (108 mph), even though we stayed closer to 120 km/h (75 mph) most of the time in an effort to conserve gas. Even diesel is expensive when the gas gage is visibly moving. We were making good time, even through the construction and past the semis with only (maybe) six inches between us and them… (welcome to German roadways), but then there’s a steeple in the foggy distance and, again, that’s all I see. At least until the noise-reducing Autobahn privacy walls block out everything for a km or so. And I have to mention that I wasn’t surprised when I fell asleep for 20 or 30 minutes in the morning when it was still pitched black outside, but I do find it ironic that I later passed out with a half empty Red Bull in my hands.
The fog only thickened as we drove north, making for a gloomy entrance into Poland (Republik Polen) at 1045. After a half hour at the border checkpoint, we were on our way. For many of us, it was our
first trip into Poland. And one of the first things we saw was a man on the side of the road, taking a leak, as we entered a dilapidated town I wasn’t completely sure was inhabited. The roads were horrendous, and there was more than enough construction going on for everyone to get their windshields washed by people on the side of the road at a stoplight, whether they wanted to or not. This construction, seeing as how A4 was now a two-lane road, held us up quite a bit, and we had a slow tour through the towns along our path. Many of the homes looked as though they should be abandoned but weren’t, and many other homes had only unfinished concrete for the outside walls. Even the fields looked either dead or overgrown.
We arrive in Boleslawiec at 1200 in a gray, windy, misty 13°C, though it does get colder as the day goes on. We browse through a few pottery stores, including the famous “Three Sisters,” making sure that someone was always watching the van, even though we were smart enough not to be driving a vehicle with American plates, we never left it alone or
out of view. Between all of the stores, I buy myself a soup tureen and ladle, a couple of big ice cream bowls, a decorative Christmas bowl, and a decorated ceramic cross and kitten (that reminded me of my own little Charis), as well as a basket for umbrellas which I just thought was neat. None of the patterns of the Polish pottery I bought are actually consistent, but people generally find that charming. Personally, it didn’t matter to me. Even though Poland is the best place to buy the pottery, prices have definitely gone up over the years, especially recently, as I hear. Either way, I was happy with what I purchased.
We decided to skip lunch, not only because the only restaurant nearby was closed for a private party, but also because so many of the shops close so early, and hardly any would be open on Sunday. So instead we snacked on all the goodies that we’d brought along.
I have to admit that I expected Eastern Poland to be very poor, but Boleslawiec still surprised me. I know that hundreds and hundreds of Army (and other military) wives come to this town and pour
On the Road
This is the biggest European vehicle I've ever seen.
thousands and thousands of dollars (and Euro) into the pottery. It makes me wonder where all the money goes, especially since Americans are certainly not their only customers. I wonder why the buildings in town are falling apart and I wonder why an uncomfortable number of people appear to be wearing hand-me-downs. I’ve never before seen a tourist town that appeared so shabby and degraded, nor one with so few restaurants catering to visitors. Perhaps we simply missed the nice part of town when we were driving around. It’s difficult to judge a place so finally from a mere weekend trip, but I feel a bit silly for convincing myself that buying a few pieces of painted ceramic could really help stimulate an economy that is obviously still in such a desperate state.
After we’d had our fill of shopping for the afternoon, we took our fully loaded van and headed towards the Elim Christian Mission in Lwówek Śląski, traveling by way of a tiny, very curvy, non-shouldered road, that slopped down on either side as it passed through a forest. The fields that we passed had numerous telephone poles that were made of some sort of concrete block
A Pottery Shop
This trio of stores is referred to as "The Three Sisters" by everyone I know, but no one really knows why. (Well, except that it's three stores right in a row.)
construction, sometimes with two concrete poles and sometimes with three. I thought they were odd, and a bit unstable. At least, I wouldn’t have built my house under one.
We arrive at the Elim Mission about 1600. The Mission has an interesting history, which begins with a couple from Australia who decided to spread the Good News in Poland by way of a “double-decker Evangelism bus.” Soon God provided this family, and those who had joined them, with a more permanent location: an abandoned palace built in the 1550s. When we arrived, there was a bit of questioning as to whether it would be ok for the boys and girls to all sleep in the same room, even though all three guys were there with their wives, but after that we unpacked into our eight bunk room, got a tour of the palace, and then all the girls crowded into the sewing room, where the nativity sets are constructed, to hear the story. The nativity sets are beautiful hand crafted dolls which are made by the local women in the town. Their website (www.elimcenter.neostrada.pl) shows photographs of some of the women that help make the sets, as well as
Inside one of the pottery shops.
pictures of their homes. One woman, for example, had no running water in her home before the nativity project, but now has a washing machine, bathtub and a toilet in her home. The best thing about purchasing this gorgeous nativity set, is that you know that all of the proceeds go directly to those in need.
We had brought lots of our own food for dinner, since the Mission has a community kitchen, and had a full meal of bagged salad, Pillsbury garlic bread, Stouffer’s Lasagna, and Mrs. Smith’s apple pies, which we shared with a few people from the Mission who joined us. After cleaning up, we talked with a Polish girl living at the Mission, named Urstena (spelling??), for awhile, then switched to the sitting room and played Phase 10 until our combined lack of sleep from the night before caught up with us. We were all in bed and asleep by 2230 after reminiscing about college days in the communal bathrooms, well, except that the water in this bathroom never stayed warm for more than a few seconds, if you were lucky.
Sunday morning we decided not to go to the Mission’s church as the
The Mission's Palace
The Elim Mission is housed within this sixteenth century palace.
service was all in Polish. We had a breakfast of the cereal and boxed milk, pastries and juice that we’d brought along, sharing them with a kid from Seattle who was living at the Mission for four months. Since the Mission didn’t need our help with anything (they’d already separated and organized our donations and didn’t have any other jobs for us), we cleaned up our mess in the kitchen and bedroom, poured some coffee into to-go cups, and got back on the road.
There was less fog than yesterday, so the countryside looked a little healthier and happier. Though, of course, there were still plenty of abandoned or condemnable buildings in the towns and along the highway and Autobahn. We make a few photo stops and find a couple of pottery shops open for shopping, and actually turn back towards home about 1145. We cross the border into Germany at 1230 and, immediately, the sun comes out. Truthfully, northern Germany was a bit desolate, too, but it was blatantly obvious that there was more money in this area, from the road markings, signs, railings, and privacy walls to the condition of the homes and businesses that we passed.
Ashleigh exploring the Palace Courtyard.
We all agreed on McDonalds for lunch. I was good and got a grilled chicken salad and a Cola Light, but then I found out they had Kit Kat McFlurries and, well, I was bad. And cold. But it was worth it. Later we hit a stau on A4 at 1715 and spent the next hour and a half sitting in place with the van off or creeping along at 5 or 10 km/h until 1845. We once pulled off at a field for a pee break, and we also rode for awhile with the van door open for some fresh air, which Ashleigh and I used as an excuse to do a Chinese fire drill. Once we even got the van into second gear… it was very exciting. After our hour and a half on not moving, we abandoned the Autobahn at the first exit (ausfahrt) that we’d encountered since we came upon the traffic jam. We joined up with a country road, smaller and with the possibility of stop lights, but very picturesque and - hey - we were moving. We took a few country roads directly from A4 to A5, bypassing A7 altogether. I was so
Mary, Marc, me, Sarah, Ashleigh, Andrew, Charlotte, and Jason in front of the arched entryway to the palace courtyard.
ready to be free of the van by the time we reached Heidelberg at 2130. As soon as I got home, I took a shower and went to bed, but not before thanking the Lord for the warm running water.
(A special THANKS! to Mary and Marc who planned the trip, rented the van, and bought all the food. Great job, guys!)
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