We spent a few days back in Poznań, before we were told our truck was ready for collection after the completion of the exhaust modifications. We took a Uber taxi from Poznań to Kalinski’s, a thirty minute drive, cost £10.
Tony was delighted with the stainless exhaust modifications, the Manager spoke excellent English and stood watch whilst Tony carefully backed the truck out of the workshop. We drove for another half hour to deliver the truck to the metal fabricators who would fit the frame that will support the habitation box.
Quote from Otto Thierack. Minister of Justice to the Third Reich:
“We must free the German Nation of Poles, Russians, Jews and Gypsies”
Our official tour guide collected us from our camp site and drove us by minibus to Auschwitz and Birkenau. We were surprised how busy it was – the car park was full of coaches. The site had 2.2 million visitors a year, many were youngsters. Our guide explained that it was expected that all Polish school children visit the extermination camps at least once.
After lunch our guide took us on a tour of the nearby city of Kraków. We saw the once prosperous Jewish Quarter from which the Nazis forced thousands of Jews from their homes and herded them into an overcrowded ghetto, surrounded by concrete walls. Many Jews perished in the ghetto through disease and starvation.
The city’s tramway ran through the ghetto but the trams did not stop. People on the outside would risk brutal recrimination trying to help the ghetto dwellers by throwing them food and medicines from the trams. Beyond the ghetto we saw the building which had been the factory of Oscar Schindler (Film: Schinder’s List). We saw the Ghetto Heroes Square which was a memorial to those who had died. In the square were displayed a number of oversize bronze chairs, symbolic of the Jewish diaspora.
I foolishly remarked to our guide that the arrival of the Communists after the war must have seemed a softer option than the brutality of the Nazis. He disagreed saying that the Russians caused more harm to Poland than the Nazis ever did. In order to avoid opposition to the Communist regime, Stalin ordered the annihilation of all Polish dissidents. The military leaders were murdered as well as doctors, professors, lawyers, accountants and teachers. Poland’s educated classes were completely destroyed.
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” George Santayana.
Between 1940 and 1945 the Nazis deported 1,300,000 people to Auschwitz – Jews, Poles, Roma (Gypsies) and prisoners of war. 1,100,000 of these people died in Auschwitz, the majority of them in the gas chambers.
Polish roads were notoriously poor. Except for the two main motorways, one going west to east and the other north to south, there were very few trunk roads, in spite of Poland having received £billions from the EU, initially to improve roads in time for Poland hosting the World Cup in 2012. We were told that bribery and corruption meant a lot of this investment ended up in people’s pockets rather than used to build motorways.
The road surfaces, even on the motorways, were often sub standard making the ride bumpy and noisy. There were potholes and uneven patches and repatches as well as long ruts created by heavy lorries in hot weather – which made for interesting steering. We saw some lorries running along the hard shoulder to achieve a smoother ride.
On this visit to Poland we realised for the first time that all vehicles over 3.5 tons had to pay road charges through viaTOLL, the Polish system for collecting tolls from HGVs. After two days of searching we eventually found a viaTOLL office hidden away in a DAF truck dealership where we were able to purchase two electronic boxes (one for truck and one for camper) for £20 each (refundable). We then could preload our account with toll money. Thereafter, our mileage was recorded as we travelled on the main roads, our box giving a single beep every 10 minutes or so as we passed a sensor. When our balance ran low, the box gave a double beep reminding us to top up our balance. This was easily accomplished on line later in the day.
We drove east almost to the Belarus border (we were the blue dot) to visit the DanWood factory where they build prefabricated houses. We got a warm welcome and were shown around their modern premises and saw several examples of show rooms. We were very impressed. They even gave us lunch in their staff canteen. On the way back it was getting late and we were a long way from any camp site so we parked up for the night in a lorry park outside a café; someone came round and collected ZL10 for our overnight stay (£2).
We left Poznań for a four hour drive east to Warsaw, the capital of Poland. It was very cold and an hour before we arrived snow had begun to fall heavily. The main roads remained clear but side roads collected 10cm of snow. Our camp site was 15k from the city centre.
We chose a sunny day to visit the city but the temperature remained below freezing all day. It was so cold I was forced to buy a fur hat!
The old part of the city had been restored after heavy damage during World War 2. Despite its Communist past, Poland remained a deeply Catholic country and we admired Warsaw’s gothic churches as well as its neoclassical palaces, one was home of the Polish President. The wide squares in the old part of town were surrounded by pastel painted buildings. We didn’t stray from the old city and avoided seeing the ugly Soviet era blocks and the modern skyscrapers further out of town.
The temperature that night dropped to -10° and although we were warm enough in the van, the icy conditions caused the boiler freeze valve to release all our water (a safety device). The next morning when we realised we had no water, poor Tony had to spend ages refilling the tank with 120 litres of water from a distant unfrozen tap, using our small watering can – definitely a blue job! The next night we left our gas central heating on to keep the water system above freezing.
We spent a week in Poznań, hiring a car so we could travel around more easily. The weather was very cold, barely getting above 0° but it was mainly dry.
Throughout history Poland had been under constant threat from its more powerful neighbours. From 1795 the country was partitioned between Germany, Austria and Russia and became independent in 1918 after World War 1. In 1939 Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and, after World War II, Soviet Communism took power. The Polish People’s Republic was established in 1989 and the first elected Prime Minister was Lech Walęsa. Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and a son of Poland, one Donald Tusk, eventually became President of the European Council in 2014.
Many restaurants offered traditional Polish food as well as international cuisine. Everywhere you would find pierogi which were made with dough wrapped around a savoury or sweet filling and cooked in boiling water, sometimes fried afterwards for a crispy result. Potatoes were often served, perfectly boiled or baked in their jackets and sprinkled with fresh herbs. The flavour of the potato was strong and earthy, reminding me of freshly dug from the garden. Beetroot and red cabbage were common, often topped with a hunk of meat – pork, rabbit, venison or duck. Every variety of soup was offered, highly seasoned with some surprising ingredients lurking below the surface – a bowl of meaty soup I had contained half a lightly boiled egg.
We also had these soft steamed bread rolls instead of potatoes, served with a delicious gloopy sauce. They were memorably called pyzy drozdzowe. The meal pictured above cost around £7, including a beer and coffee afterwards.
We left the UK in the icy jaws of the Beast from the East, travelling north east through France, Germany, Holland then Germany (again) and on to Poland. Although we spotted patches of melting snow by the roadside, the roads were dry and clear, the worst of the weather was definitely behind us.
We made three overnight stops in Germany – at Bad Bentheim, Hatten-Kirchhatten and Magdeburg, arriving in Poland on the fourth day. En route we called in to Groningen in the north of Holland to say hello to John Stalman, a colleague in the boat business who ran Van den Bosch Yachting for a number of years. John and his wife, Sabina, owned a beautiful marina on the Paterswoldsemeer. It was almost ten years since we had seen John but he hadn’t changed one bit.
We were travelling to Poland to see the progress on our 2003 fire tender truck being converted into an expedition truck.
The project had begun over a year ago when we purchased the truck from a dealer in Preston, Lancashire and had it shipped by low loader to Poland where they stripped back the chassis, painted and serviced the vehicle. They fitted larger fuel tanks, an air pressure system for the tyres and they removed the rear twin wheels and replaced with single larger ones.
After settling in to our campsite at Malta Lake in Poznań we went to collect our truck from the local Mercedes Benz dealership, who had been carrying out some modifications to the vehicle. We were very excited as it was the first time we had seen the truck since the day we purchased it. Tony was able to get behind the wheel and, after a practice circuit of the dealership, we drove the truck for forty minutes to a company that would carry out exhaust pipe alterations.
We then visited Campersol, the company that was building the habitation unit that would sit on a galvanised frame that had been specially constructed to fit the chassis. The habitation unit was made of a grp foam sandwich. There would be a lot of work on this box over the next few weeks, fitting it out with all the paraphernalia needed to keep the Morgans warm and comfortable on their travels.