Some illusions die hard. Most people I talk to say visiting Poland would be depressing. But I’m seeing things that show me how much Poland has changed.
Visiting the village my father grew up in has been an education. Roads that I expected to be rutted and primitive were smoothly paved even if they were narrow. Bus stop shelters were everywhere in small villages. Houses and lawns were cleanly manicured.
I allowed myself just 3 days because I thought I would barely enjoy being here. But after borrowing bikes from the owners of a new bed & breakfast in a remodeled 100 year old house, my english – speaking guide and I rode 45 km in the warmest day of the year. With a good map and GPS we didn’t have to stay perfectly on any course and we found one of the roads turning into logging roads which brought us close to the Slovakian border.
Speaking a few phrases of Polish I learned had me feeling better and better; more and more at home. We rode to a village that had been dismantled and moved a few km, with the big fancy train station empty. Hardly any traffic on the small highways in south eastern Poland with scenery as beautiful as any I’ve ever ridden in.
Some of Poland’s bad reputation – at least this part of Poland – comes from the history of the last 100 years. The German and Russian armies came through and did some very bad things over the years and the simple people were removed, wiped out or they just left on their own. Homes were sometimes burned. My father’s couldn’t be located by talking with older residents from the area. But today I found friendly small family farming people and scattered hostels for cyclists in a setting as beautiful as any I’ve ever ridden in. Enough small stores to stay hydrated and fed.
I didn’t expect to find the original house of my father here, just as I didn’t expect the same 10 years ago not very far away in Western Ukraine. Breathing in and smelling the air and plants, taking in the scenery, exchanging greetings with the people – is enough for me. I plan to return for longer, dropping deeper into all of it.
Tired of America? Try Poland for a little while. Two recommendations – stay at this agro-tourism place -Smolnikowe Klimaty – www.bieszczady-smolnikoweklimaty.pl
And hire polishorigins.com if you have any Polish roots or just want to have the trip customized to your liking.
The pictures will speak for themselves.