Saturday, July 10, 2010


After a looooong drive we arrived in lovely Zakopane. This is a big holiday destination for many Poles. The town sits at the foot of the Tatry mountains bordering Slovakia On the Danajec river. This is the Polish highlands. The town is beautiful. There is a basic style of house here but with many decorating flourishes that I could spend days looking at.

We took a rafting trip yesterday. The raft consisted of five narrow, flat bottomed square boats lashed together. It is steered by two pole men. The river is wide and shallow. It winds through tall spires of rock and trees along the border. In fact, there are several times that the river strays into Slovakia. Horay! Bonus country! Our lead boatman had worked the river for 30 years. Eryk, our unofficial American guide, speaks fair Polish and was able to to a rough translation of the highland dialect. Apparently the highlanders have dirty minds.

The river was very gentle with only a few mild rapids. We didn't even wear life jackets. At the end of the journey the boats are unlashed and stacked on trucks to head back up river. We head to Krakow today. Luckily the drive will be a short one. Smaller tour group means smaller bus and I can barely squeeze into the front seat with one leg in the aisle.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Observations and Rezkow

some small herds of cows are kept in the countryside, however there are few fences containing them. Instead they are connected by a long chain to a stake in the ground and thus cannot wander into the road.

As in Italy there is a half width lane on the right and left of many roads. This is to help facilitate slower vehicles and passing and makes a great deal of sense.

Buildings tend to be of brick with stucco in muted colors. On old buildings there are figures or geometric shapes and flourishes cut into the stucco and highlighted with contrasting colors. Marble is not evident and seems to be used very little.

Drove much of the day through light rain. Mid day we arrived at Zamosc, called "the perfect Renaissance town" as it was planned and built from the ground up by Jan Zamoyski, who was quite a clever monkey. Unlike most towns this one is built along a grid with a large central square. There were distinct neighborhoods with houses built to exact specifications. It was meant to attract twealthy traders as well as the intellectual elite. Surrounded by an extensive wall it was never taken by force.

After touring a museum which was once the home of an Armenian trader we had lunch in a basement restaurant nearby. By the weirdest coincidence our waiter (who spoke pretty good English) turns out to have been at the Klushyn reenactment last week!

Drove on to Rezkow for the night and had a small accident. While pulling up to the hotel our driver hit a kind of curb, crunching the bottom of the passengers door. The damage wasn't too bad but he was upset. These guys pride themselves on their driving skills.

I tried Polands version of Pizza and while is was certainly edible it was pretty damn salty. This country loves it's salt. It revels in it. Foods are so salty that we, as Americans, notice it. That says something.

Stopped in a pub and watched Germany loose to Spain in football.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Lublin Day 2

Today we visited an outdoor living history museum. It was amazing. The grounds were beautiful. There are about a dozen buildings on site from the past 400 years or so of Polands history. There was a windmill and a Manor house as well as two churches. We had lunch in a small inn dating from 1688. A small part if the park was closed off for filming a movie.

From there we went to a large Palace filled with precious art and furniture which was quite cold and impersonal, despite the opulant setting. Rossana would have far preferred living in the modest log homes of the museum and I agree with her.

We returned to Lublin to dine and enjoy the ethnic music festival. There was a Latvian, Czeck and Polish group but the highlight was an African group that rocked the old town square. In fact on the last song the polish accordion player came on stage and jammed with the drummers as the various Slavs in assorted ethnic garb did a kind of conga line.

Monday, July 05, 2010


We left Warsaw and drove to the scenic town of Kasamirez dolny. The area is known for it's quality honey and mead. I purchased a small bottle in what was the old Jewish quarter. We then continued on to Lublin. We walked the streets of the Old Town until we found a stage with several music groups performing. First was a band from Holland, then a folk group from the Balkans. At one point a group of 20 or so teens left the crowd and started a traditional line dance.

Here I will divert a bit to speak on some details of Poland and its people. In general one cannot tell the difference between the Poles and Western Europeans or Americans. They are quite friendly although there are still strong feelings about the Russians. In the countryside one can see a kind of thatched log cabin which is very pretty. In the old towns the buildings actually lean away from the street or have recessed upper floors, which is quite different from the mediavel buildings of England and Germany. This leads to wider and brighter streets. Churches pervade the cities and small shrines can be found every few miles along the roads as the country is strongly Catholic.

Eryk, the guy who puts the tour together is a good Catholic boy. This has led to a few "moments". I won't say they were awkward or uncomfortable. But Rossana isn't going to convert, okay? It's not gonna happen. Today we stopped in a church and I asked what was inside a glass case in a side chapel. "They might be holy relics,. You know what this is, right?. The Sacristy. You're Cathllic right? I mean, your Polish, right?"

I was taken a little aback. "I'm Syrian too, but that doesn't mean I'm a Muslim".

I'm hoping to avoid conflict but I am not a Christian. I believe in showing respect to a host countries faiths but I won't be attending mass any time soon.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Battle

At long last the Battle of Klushyn! Of course, there were a few details to work out. Saturday we went to the site on the edge of the city. It was a strange affair because the site was open to the public as well as the reenactors. This meant that some of the cool vendors we've seen at market days like bread and ale and hand made swords were next to tacky tchotchkes, modern militaria etc.

We wandered onto the field but the rehearsal was mostly for the horseman and organized field units. The battle is a fairly complex one and these guys weren't going to oversimplify it. After half a day Rossana and I opted to skip a parade to Polands unknown soldier tomb and return to the hotel. I had fulfilled the promise I'd made to my wife and not taken off my Zupan or jacket despite the heat. I returned later for the "sarmatian feast" which no one could find.

Being a hungry lad I foraged for sausages and tasty pierogi on my own. The "feast" turned out to be a kind of stew which my fellow pollacks described as "curious". Things picked up when we learned that a group of visiting Vikings were selling mead in the back of the camp. We stopped by and talked a while and sampled their product which was super tasty. By this time we had picked up some Russians and the drinking began. We settled at a table near the battle field and made many toasts as the sun slowly set. Some kind of folk band played nearby and modern world melted away into the darkness. Upon returning to the hotel Hussar traditions had to be upheld so. It was off to the bar for vodka served on the blade of a cavalry saber. The favorite vodka of Poland is named after a native bison and has several blades of grass in the bottle. It is not for the feint of heart. I wobbled off to bed after midnight but the rest of the troup stayed until 2.

Today we arrived at the battlefield like everyone else, slightly rough. The public was pouring into the park to see the battle. There was a demo of horse archery and then it was. Time to get our battle on. I'd like to state that the situation struck me as a bit of a cock up on our part. We stood under a tree on the "Polish" side of the field and the Hussar began to arrive in real numbers. Maybe 80 in all, decked out in full armor with lances. They were an awesome site. And that was it. No infantry. In the actual battle the Russians and Swiss outnumbered the Poles about 6 to 1 and the infantry was very small in numbers so some Poles had to play Russians, including our group leader. Having no idea what to do we just stayed near the trees and tried not to get trampled. Easier said than done since there were about a hundred muskets and arquebuss on the field in a addition to several cannon. The Hussars made many charges down the field to engage the enemy , sometimes sword to sword. This is something that would NEVER be allowed in the US. Eventually some Polish infantry showed up but they were a well drilled unit so we just stayed put. Make no mistake, we had a very good view of the battle, the only better one would be in the ranks of the Russians. I'm told by the three guys who left our group to play Russians that it was pretty damn scary to stare down a cavalry charge. I just felt like we were in the way. There were only 5 or 6 other reenactors in the area. All of us were taking pictures. I mean it would be a crime NOT to. But I felt like a tourist.

Given the noise and poor condition of the field I'm amazed that there weren't any serious injuries. A few horses got spooked by very loud shots and a few riders were tossed but nothing serious. I'm glad I didn't invest on the lovely, but expensive, saber. I was eyeing. Overall it was a great learning experience. This was a new event and with time I think it could be awesome. The people we met were all very nice, despite the language barrier.

Tomorrow we leave Warsaw and head into the country.