Stocking up the van in Poland

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Europe » Poland
July 21st 1974
Published: September 26th 2021
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It was an early up and about at 5.30am on the Swedish ferry for another hot shower and to watch the boat approach the Polish coast at Swinoujscie. It was a smooth crossing, and we had quite adequate sleep inside the van. Customs were pretty prompt, and we even managed to persuade the young Orbis lady to give us the student exchange of $4/day required spending instead of the standard $10/day, so we were off and running before 8am.

The drive through the Polish countryside was along poorly sealed roads, especially near built up areas, where the cobbled roads really shook up the van. There were no traffic holdups as traffic was light – a large proportion of all vehicles were motorcycles, and most noticeable were the number of broken-down cars on the side of the road, especially the smaller models. We travelled through mainly small Polish villages, with not a lot of people evident. Those we saw, especially in the morning, seemed to be on their way to or from church, given it was a Sunday. In general, they appeared a fairly colourless, staid looking people, as evidenced in our earlier trips behind the Iron Curtain. The main colour seemed to be in the red and white Polish national flags hanging everywhere in preparation for their upcoming National Day. The countryside was a mixture of bush and forest, with a lot of fairly unproductive looking farmland. The weather was as dreary as the scenery, but fortunately the rain managed to hold off.

We passed through the cities of Szczecin and Bydgoszcz, where we bought breakfast and lunch respectively, both pretty slushy food but cheap at 20 Zls. Our van certainly attracted great attention from all that we passed. We stopped off late in the day at Torun for a look at the medieval buildings and ruins, before taking a general Sunday stroll with the locals, with whom there was a bit of interaction, which was fun. We then pressed on to within 50kms of Warsaw, playing cat and mouse with all the locals dawdling along the side (and sometimes in the middle) of the country roads.

The following day ended up a rather eventful Polish National Day. We made the last 50kms into Warsaw in short time, and booked into Camp Gromada, showered, then made it into the city for the parade. We just made it in time to catch the end of the military section – troops, tanks, rockets etc, with photography surprisingly tolerated. We caught the most impressive 600-man Military Brass Band, and then a 2-hour constant stream of young people representing every field of work, sport, youth group etc, with some also in national costume. We were advised that over 50,000 people from all over Poland had marched during the day. I even won a Polish heart who presented me with her National Day badge as a memento of the day’s events. Late in the day, we managed to catch up with Elzbieta, the tour guide who we had met during our earlier Sundowner’s visit, and we drank cherry brandy and ate various snacks with her and her father until 7.30pm, when we turned to watching a soccer game between Warsaw and Moscow. Following that, we took in an evening Chopin recital in the Park Lazienkowski for an hour or so. After a meal at Bar Praha, we went to the Post Office to get addresses etc for tomorrow’s business dealings, before dropping madam back home and making it back to camp by 10.30pm.

The following day was that sort of day when you feel like packing up the whole travel scene and heading home. We seemed to cover a lot of miles walking around Warsaw but got very little accomplished. We arrived too late for Czech visas, we missed out on black market money, although we managed to get the car fixed up (or should we say partially fixed up) after many hassles, tossed in getting films, and gave up on getting clothes made at the tailors – the least said about the day the better! A more interesting evening followed. We had a drink with some NAT Aussies at the camp before heading into the city for a feed. In our search for black market money, we were ‘picked up’ by an American/Polak who shouted us both a drink at the Metropole. We then took off for the old town, where we chatted for over an hour with a well-travelled German couple before procuring 9,800 Zls for our $120. We didn’t get back to the campsite until after midnight to find it closed up, so we spent the night parked outside instead.

Next day, we checked out of the campsite early, having washed the Kombi having found signs of an attempted break in through the front window. We were blessed with a great sunny day as we took in the Czech Embassy, where this time around we secured our visas ($6 each) with no hassles. Later, we bought a radio (1,300 Zls), some clothes, groceries etc and generally did some window shopping. We took a trip to the top of the Palace of Culture and Science (one of Stalin’s ‘Wedding Cake’ buildings) for a panoramic view of the city, and later afternoon took a stroll around the Old Town. We had no joy in trying to contact Elzbieta in the late afternoon, so after a roast chicken meal at the Bar Praha, we made it down to the student Klub Stodata, where they had disco-type music, cheap admission, but no grog. We will long remember the rendition by a young couple of a dance to an Elton John number. We gave it away by 10pm and camped once again just down the street from Camp Gromada.

This was another day spent wandering around the city shopping. It was pretty dismal and cold, but at least the rain held off. We gave away purchasing car tyres as a bad idea but managed to pick up some camping gas after an interesting trip. I bought a painting in the old town for 300 Zls, as well as a coat, shirt and cheap pair of shoes. Lunch was a steak and a beer at the Hotel Polonia as a change from the routine. Late afternoon, we finally caught up again with Elzbieta, and after a cuppa and some idle conversation, we made it into the city to watch the movie “Cabaret”, which was really good and ridiculously cheap at 7 Zls (6c Aus at black market rates!). After some further chit-chat, we finally got away by around 10.30pm for a heated up can meal, one of our many purchases made earlier in the day. We then drove out for a further night of free camping just outside the city.

First stop next day was the Mausoleum of Struggle and Martyrdom, a small but interesting museum of Nazi war headquarters. After that, it was more groceries, taking us to a 1,300 Zls total purchases in Poland (meats, soups, veges and fruit), for which we then spent the next half hour ripping off all the labels, so it was not so obvious at any border checks that we had bought it all via black market funds, and identifying each tin in textacolour. We made it back to the campsite for a good cleanup and lunch, which was a magnificent half roasted chicken that cost us the princely sum of 42 Zls, before setting off for Krakow. We finally got away around 2pm and progress was slow initially due to scores of horses and carts, as well as underpowered lorries hogging the road. Bob later managed to pick up the pace however and scored a big 100 Zls fine as a result of a radar check – this ultimately proved to be a cheap souvenir! We stopped off around 6pm, just past the town of Kielce, for a bite before putting in a further 60kms after dinner. We ffinally stopped off for the night beside a farmyard at a place called Miachow, some 25kms short of Krakow.

We made it into Krakow by 9am next morning and booked ourselves in for a single night at Camping Krak – very good facilities for Poland, but expensive at 110 Zls. We made it into the city for a late breakfast after a cleanup, and then on to the Old Town Square. This consisted of ancient houses and many medieval Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches, a couple of which we viewed inside. We also checked out the 16th century castle, Waivel Mount, but decided against viewing inside due to queuing hassles. We had a quick and scanty lunch before driving south to the ancient salt mine of Wieliczka, complete with its show of sculptures, underground lakes and chapels (entrance 25 Zls). We teamed up with Sue from Adventure International Travel and got horrible lost trying to get out – took some 30 minutes before we found the correct exit. Our night activity was at the bar under the clock tower in the Town Square. Some great servings of hot mead were well received, as was the pleasant company from the Adventure bus tour. We left at midnight for a drive through the park (literally!), which preceded a long drive back to camp as we got hopelessly lost.

We got away from the campsite next morning after a van wash at around 10am and made our way towards Oswiecim on a very poor quality back road. We took a diversion and spent around an hour looking around the museum of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, which was interesting & grim, but somehow couldn’t fully convey to me the atmosphere of the obvious atrocities that had occurred there. We had a huge brunch on the side of the road before continuing along further poor roads into Zakopane. It took almost 3 hours to complete the 130km trip, with much farming scenery apparent later in the trip. There were some great looking houses in the snow country – square-based and two storeys with full gables on both sides. The last 12km into Zakopane saw the road flanked by hundreds of locals – of course we immediately assumed that word must have filtered through of our pending arrival, but we suspect the reception was in fact for a bicycle race. We strolled around Zakopane late in the day with what seemed like half of the city out for their Sunday stroll. There was nothing doing at night – instead we drove out of town and camped down beside a fir forest. We even managed to make our first contact with Radio Luxembourg at around 9pm.

For our final full day in Poland, we picked up some more groceries and had ourselves a good brekkie behind a service station around 9am, before making our way down to Kuznice. There we found we had to book for an overhead cable railway trip to the top of Kasprowy Wierch (cost 40 Zl return) later that day. So instead we came back to the township and took the funicular up to Gubalokka for a couple of hours. We were back down by 3pm but we were done out of lunch due to an argument with a local cop who made us walk to the cable railway base. The cable railway was an interesting trip, lasting around 20 minutes each way and taking us up some 2,000 metres over fir forests and sheer rock. Various attractive looking walks were on offer up the top, but unfortunately time didn’t permit. We finally returned around 6pm and drove the 20kms up the mountains towards the Czech border, where we camped beside the road near Lysa Polana, ready for an early border crossing in the morning.


29th September 2021

Exploring Poland
Great prices for lunch. It is interesting what you've been able to find in your notes. Bravo.

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