A Polish man went for an eye test.
“Can you read the chart?” the optician asked
“Read it?” he replied, “I know him!”
My home town of Blackburn, Lancashire has a large Polish community, so unlike Czech, I can claim some form with Polish pronunciation.
My Dad once asked how I might pronounce the surnames of two Polish colleagues, Hyrcaj and Dzrombak. For clarity, he spelled them out.
“‘Ritzy’ and ‘Chumbug’,” he told me. I didn’t even get close.
As Confucius says, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
It was a sign of things to come – never think it will be simple to ask for directions in Poland!
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When we departed the Czech Republic a few years ago, we spent our remaining currency on Lidl chocolate marzipans. Unsure how much we needed to pay in cash for the campsite the day before, Mark panicked and withdrew about £200 in Czech crowns. Since the campsite cost only about £12 per night, we now needed to spend the bulk of it before we entered Poland. That was too many chocolate marzipans, even for us.
We filled up with fuel at a petrol station beneath Trosky Castle, where Mark spent a meticulous half hour exchanging every koruna for diesel, LPG, wine and coffee. He emerged without firearms, despite an advert for guns above the door.
Mark’s carefully calculated supermarket sweep came to 119Kč, but he only had 118Kč. The kind man in the garage let us off the 1Kč – about 3p!
The area around Trosky was tourist hell. There were several huge rafting outfits on the far side of the river, but as we pulled away, the scenery became more natural and unspoiled. Near the border, we went through the ski resort of Kořenov, then crossed into Poland, the original geographic centre of Europe – before the E.U., German reunification and Brexit. It was a new country for us all – and our fifth in four weeks.
As we passed a forestry site, I said to Mark,
“We’d never get a job there.”
“Why’s that?” he asked.
In my best Dublin accent, “Because they want tree fellers and there’s only two of us!”
“I said they need tree fellers and there’s only two of us. And one of us is a girl!”
“I got it the first time!” Mark replied witheringly.
“You’d miss it if I didn’t make terrible jokes. These journeys would be boring…!”
Our route was anything but boring as we ventured through further tourist hells. Trollandia – a troll-themed rope park – was particularly memorable. Thankfully things became quieter and more picturesque as we continued.
I was delighted to note that there was a snack stop approximately every ten yards. This gave me hope that Poland wouldn’t be another Romania, where I endured most lunchtimes with a rumbly tum and low blood sugar.
As a lass from the cotton-milling county of Lancashire, I also loved the familiarity of the many tall, factory chimneys that we saw. Sadly, few of Lancashire’s iconic mill chimneys survive, including the stately stack that I could see protruding through the greenery from my bedroom window as I did my homework.
Mocking my fixation for funnels, Mark tried his best to confound my cinematic efforts.
As with the day before, the journey was only about 60 miles, but took a good couple of hours. There were many new roads, so for much of the way, the satnav insisted we were in the middle of field. After a bit of nip and tuck, an overshoot and a U-turn, we finally arrived in Bolków from the wrong direction and stopped outside our planned destination, Basen Kemping. It looked deserted. I tried the gate which was firmly locked. It was definitively closed.
According to the satnav, the next nearest site was about 23 miles away. Parked on the side of the road with traffic flashing past, we grabbed the laptop. Mark was sure that there was a campsite nearby, so he investigated hastily while I took the pups for a quick stretch on the verge. He found Camping Pod Lazem by name, since it was not listed under campsites. It was much closer than 23 miles – it was just around the corner.
We pulled in to find a derelict field containing nothing but two abandoned, mouldering caravans and a man working on the roof trusses of a half-built building. Our hearts sank. Was every campsite in the area closed?
I checked out reception – it was empty and locked. Then the chap on the roof truss waved his mobile phone, which seemed to gesture that he had made a call. I wandered around the back of the campsite and found a few beautifully kept grassy terraces with tents and motorhomes in residence.
By the time I returned from my investigations, Mark was checking in with Richard, the friendly owner. Richard was Polish, but had lived in the Netherlands for twenty years. Naturally, his English was impeccable and his approach very different from the abrupt service we had received at Příhrazy. He gave us a cold beer each as a welcome gift and by coincidence, allocated us pitch number 2, which was the pleasant, shady space upon which I had already set my heart.
Pod Lasem means ‘near the forest’. The site was tranquil, the pitches roomy, and there were no trumpets or trampolines. The Fab Four could run free around our terrace and play with Bo, a bouncy, black Cocker Spaniel. Bo belonged to Marianne and Carola, a chilled Dutch couple who were our only neighbours. Woodland surrounded us and we had two castles, Bolków and Świny, in our sight.
As we contemplated the sunset with our cold beers in hand, we figured we might stay a while!