Walking into a furnace; that’s how I felt the very moment I left the air-conditioned airport terminal in Berlin after having flown there from Scotland. Instantly I had to take off my fleece I’d donned all the way from Aberdeen. At that moment I couldn’t possibly know it was the foretaste of what would I experience virtually daily for the next three weeks. However, at that very moment I found respite inside an air-conditioned minibus I’d boarded. The rest of the journey to my Mum’s was pretty much uneventful.
Like hell (temperature-wise)
After a restful, over 9-hour long sleep that night I woke up ready to properly kick off my holidays. Then I received an automated orange weather warning on my phone of soaring temperatures. I was warned. Regardless, I decided to brave the weather and went out… less than one hour later, I was back home. The heat was impossible to withstand for any longer. Inside my Mum’s flat the temperature was far more pleasant, but I became confined within its four walls – completely opposite to my way of spending holidays. To make it much worse, in the flat directly underneath my Mum’s there was major interior reconstruction going on, with very noisy power tools. So, I was imprisoned indoors by dangerous temperatures and suffering torturous noise inside. Holidays from hell…
When I was 12 years old or so I went to the ‘sanatorium’. Essentially it was like a holiday combined with lightweight medical treatment in the surroundings different from that of patients’. I was referred to such a place due to my ill-health, namely frequent respiratory system infections. The sanatorium was located in the mountain range of Góry Izerskie, in the south-western corner of Poland. When I was there, 45 years ago, I caught a bug that I haven’t managed to get rid off since. In fact, it has been embedded deeper and deeper over the years. The bug can be partially blamed for my move to Scotland. All those many years ago the bug I caught was hillwalking.
My friends offered me an opportunity to visit that area and to climb the summit where I had caught the bug. Funnily enough, they hadn’t known that whole story of mine; they simply wanted to climb some hills. The weather was very pleasant and comfortable for walking. The temperature was just right, mainly due to it being overcast. We started at the Anti-Gravity Point. It’s a funny place on the road. I put down a bottle full of drink I’d taken for my hike on the road, and it rolled up an incline on its own, without any push. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I caught the bottle, put it down again and it rolled up again! Strange…
Higher up the mountain we actually walked through the mist, so there wasn’t much to see; on the other hand, the hills there are heavily forested, so there wouldn’t be much to look at anyway. After climbing the summit – a flat glade in the forest – we stopped at a mountain hut, which on the continent resembles a restaurant. After having had some coffee and mandatory local beer we headed down towards the town of Świeradów Zdrój, the main town in the area, full of sanatoria with mainly elderly Germans staying in them. Most places, like shops, restaurants and so on had bilingual inscriptions, Polish and German; some of them German only. It was clear who the main clientele was there. It wasn’t completely surprising – the area used to be part of Germany until the end of World War II, and it had been a popular destination among Germans. After having had a properly traditional Polish lunch in a lovely restaurant we headed for our car, left some distance away. At one point we were passing by an eatery serving locally caught and smoked brown trout. Whole smoked fish were hanging in a smoking cabinet and looked so delicious that we bought three of them plus a few local bottled beers, and took those home. After having returned we had the fish and beer as our dinner. The fish was heavenly!
The grounds of a former lignite / brown coal mine on the Polish-German border, closed down in the 1960s was my friends’ Saturday excursion destination. My Mum and I were invited to go along and we duly agreed. The main attraction of that place were pools of water created in either open-mines or collapsed mine shafts. Water in those pools was of different colours, depending on the mineral composition of the pool. In the last few years the area has been turned into tourist attraction, with walking/cycling/horse-riding paths, viewpoints, information boards, picnic areas with benches and tables, and to top it, a 30-metre high viewpoint tower, built close to the west bank of the biggest pool called Africa. The pool had initially been nicknamed Africa due to its shape; resemblance of that continent. Over the years the name stuck and eventually became official.
The Geo Park as the area is called seemed to be work in progress. There was no circular walk, only linear, which means walking the same path twice to return to the car park. However, I found on my map a path around the biggest pool – Africa – and we decided to find out whether the map was correct, incidentally making a circular. The path did exist, though it was overgrown, or covered with broken twigs and branches, or muddy, or uneven. Yet there were tell-tale signs of preparing that path for upgrade. That would confirm local rumours that the whole project would develop. I hope it will.
Walking in the forested area would provide us with shadows – that had been our assumption for the walk. It wasn’t to be. The paths were wide and – although surrounded by trees – mostly exposed to full-power sunlight. It was exhaustingly hot, in fact verging on unbearable. So, after having finished our walk we needed to eat something and – more importantly – drink something cold.
We stopped in a lovely local restaurant serving Italian food in the town of Żary, where we ordered our pizza and – yes, you guessed it – local beer. By the time the pizza were brought to the table we needed another pint. We asked the waitress to bring some more (a different one), she nodded and went off. We started our really spicy pizza, and after a couple of bites we were desperate for drinks! Our beer didn’t seem to be be brewed yet. Some time later we finally got hold of the waitress and asked about our beer. Poor lass had forgotten! A minute or so later we eventually got our beer. Saved!
My friends arranged a BBQ party on a Sunday afternoon in a village some 20 kilometres away from my home town. As the weather forecast promised rather pleasantly cooler temperatures I decided to walk there; I’d wanted to do it for a number of years. Walking along the main roads was out of question; it would neither be safe nor pleasant, and the distance would be significantly greater than going in a relatively straight line through the woods and fields. However, there wasn’t a ready-made route there (the village by all means isn’t a tourist attraction) so I had to produce my own. I managed to do so with maps and satellite images for most of the walk, all but the final 8 kilometres or so through a large forest. No roads were marked on the maps nor visible on the satellite images. I had an educated guess there should be some paths or forest tracks, and I hoped to find some. At the worst case scenario I planned to walk along the edges of the forest and fields around it.
I started my walk at about 9:30 in the morning and expected to cover the distance in about 3.5 hours’ time to get there just in time for the party. While walking through the fields at one point I stumbled upon a hare. Rather surprisingly it hopped a few steps to make the distance between us a couple of metres greater, then sat in one rut of the farm track and looked at me. When I made a few steps, it moved unhurriedly away, then sat down and watched me. That happened a few times, then it eventually left the track and disappeared in tall grass. Judging by the noise (or rather lack of it) it sat down a couple of feet away. Overall, pretty much unusual behaviour for this kind of wild animal.
When I reached the edge of the ‘uncharted forest’ I found a forest track. It looked unused for a long time, massively overgrown by all unpleasant kind of plants like stingy thistles, nettles and brambles – quite challenging for a walker in shorts!. I sprayed my legs with insect repellent to avoid picking up ticks, and headed forward. Soon I had to spray my arms and head too to get rid of flies buzzing around me and mosquitos desperate to get their ‘five-a-day’ of my blood. A moment later I had to produce ‘a machete’ – a long curved stick to clear my way through the thickets. I was quite happy to see the edge of the forest ahead, and even happier to find a bit more accessible farm track running in the right direction. Imperceptibly it morphed into a rather even, solid dirt road, still going in the right direction. Pleased with my discovery I briskly walked along the track, thinking about lovely food awaiting about 5 kilometres away, when suddenly I heard a noise that cannot be mistaken for any other wild animal in the area. In the thickets beside the track there was a wild boar, a potentially dangerous, even deadly animal. Judging by the noise, it was close and disturbed be me. If it had been a female with young it would have been even more dangerous. I stopped at once and looked round to find a climbable tree, just in case. Boars are hunted in Poland so they are afraid of people and avoid contact. Unprovoked they rather move away, they attack only when feel threatened. That’s why I stopped – to give it a chance to move away. The sound of trampled undergrowth and the boar’s noise were moving away, so the plan seemed to be working. After a while I continued my walk, though a bit more watchful. I congratulated myself for not using earphones as I occasionally do; I wouldn’t have heard the boar had I used them.
When I was some 3 kilometres from my destination and very happy with my progress I reached the end of the forest. There supposed to be a farm track running all the way to the village. Instead there were vast fields full of ripe wheat and rye. Unlike our Prime Minister I didn’t want to be naughty and run through the fields; I respect farmers’ hard work too much. In the distance I spotted a raised hunting hide; I assumed there should be a path from it towards a farm track or something similar. But to get to the hide, I had to walk through tall grass; in places as tall as my chest. Two cranes rose from the ground and flew away, but I was afraid of more dangerous wildlife, potentially hiding in the grass: adder and boar. So as I kept struggling through the thickets I clapped along to alert any animals to my presence. Every now and again I came across spots clearly used recently by wild boar, so the idea of clapping seemed justified. After a while I reached the raised hide; to my disappointment there was no path. Instead the tall grass now was mixed with similarly tall nettles and thistles. After a while I spotted farm tracks running through the field of cereal, a few metres from the edge. Fortunately, there was a very narrow path towards it, made most likely by roe deer. So, without too much guilt I followed it over already broken stalks towards the farm track. It was the one I had found on the map, its part close to the forest seemingly ploughed and sown. From there it was plain sailing, though by now the temperature was unbearably high. I felt exhausted but happy when I finally reached the BBQ party held in the back garden. At one point a wee bird, extremely unusual in the area, was spotted flying over some flowers. A hummingbird. I know, it’s impossible, Poland isn’t their natural environment. Yet there was one flying and eating from the flowers. Some photos were taken as proof.
The last couple of days were sad. A priest who had made a great positive impact on my life suddenly passed away. As it happened, the last Mass I offered on Polish soil this time was for the repose of his soul. I couldn’t stay for his funeral, scheduled for Friday after my return home. But I manage to bid him farewell in the church he had spent so many years. May he rest in peace.