Poland: Baltic Coast & First Impressions

We had a smooth crossing from Trelleborg to Swinoujscie, with flat calm seas and swelteringly hot weather. I can’t remember the last time I willingly sat out on deck on a ferry crossing:

We arrived bang on time at half past three on Monday afternoon. We didn’t see too much of the town as we came into the port; there were some architecturally uninspiring blocks of flats but nothing particularly grim:

Mark has been counting and Poland is country number 11 on this trip….

We found our way to our first night’s stop without incident, though we did notice that what we’d read about Polish drivers does seem to be true. They really do go in for kamikaze overtaking. Mark says that after Costa Rica (kamikaze overtaking on blind bends) he’s ready for ’em……

We’ve since confirmed that what we’d read about Polish roads is also true; a lot of them could definitely use an injection of cash from the EU road building pot…..

We spent our first night at a closed-down camp site near Wolin. The facilities were all locked up / turned off, but it was free and there were a couple of other vans there.

Since then, we’ve been trundling slowly Eastwards along the Baltic coast.

We’ve come across a good few seaside resorts packed full of Poles enjoying the weather. They’re a bit like a Blackpool of decades past: real family bucket & spade stuff. Lots of little hotels and stalls / small shops selling food offerings that probably aren’t that good for you, inflatable all-sorts (sharks, turtles etc), fishing nets on poles, in fact everything you could possibly need for a day at the beach. Not forgetting, of course, a myriad offering of tat seaside souvenirs….

The landscape we’ve driven through away from the resorts has been flat farmland, with a large tractor or combine harvester seemingly around every corner (well, it is that time of year…). The villages we’ve passed through don’t have the instant appeal of villages in Sweden, but there’s nothing obviously “wrong” with them. They’re clean and tidy / free of rubbish, even if some of the buildings could use a lick of paint.

One thing that has struck me though is…. net curtains. The Poles do seem to love their net curtains, and the twiddlier the design and / or the hanging arrangements, the better. After the Swedish windows we’ve been carefully examining in recent weeks, the Polish net curtains are a bit of a let down, it has to be said.

They must have deep window sills in Sweden, as there is “stuff” sitting on every one, and everything matches and is placed with millimetre precision. So you see double-fronted houses with matching windows either side of the front door displaying, for example, identical lamps on the left, then a matching ornament, then the same type /size plant in the exact same pot on the right (even though, being either side of the front door, the windows are in completely different rooms). By our last week in Sweden, checking out the window arrangements as we walked round any town or village was becoming a bit of an obsession….. I don’t think we’ll be paying the same level of attention to the Polish net curtains….

Venturing out into a new country is always a bit of a voyage of discovery, at least for the first few days until you suss out how everything works. We’ve been checking out the food shops as we’ve come across them. So far we’ve been in Biedronka (which we are calling The Ladybird Shop; see logo below), Leclerc, and Lidl.

The Ladybird shop looks very much like an Aldi or a Lidl on the inside, with some fantastic bargains to be had of the “when it’s gone it’s gone” variety. Leclerc was a bigger shop but without the standards of presentation we associate with Leclerc in France. Some of the aisles looked a bit like a jumble sale…. Lidl was exactly as we know and love it 😁 (with the good selection of fresh meat and veg. they do tend to have outside the UK). Overall, everything “made in Poland” (pork, chicken, veg.) is astonishingly cheap. Most imported stuff seems more expensive but still not ridiculous.

As ever, the thing that always strikes me when we hit a new country is how things are never uniformly expensive or cheap relative to the UK. Poland seems very cheap overall, for example, but shower gel is no bargain and we saw Alpro soya milk this week for £2.50. It’s £1.30 in Tesco in the UK, and currently on offer at 3 for £3. The cheapest soya milk I can find here is £1.25, which is just over double the Tesco own brand price and not far off the price I was paying in Sweden (£1.39).

So far, Mark’s tried some Polish sausages and declared them to be better than Swedish ones (which I’d describe as “frankfurter style”, definitely falling into the category of processed meat – though they must be popular as most supermarkets had one side of a whole aisle dedicated to them). He says the Polish sausage was more meaty, but with a different texture to “our sausages” (yes, I fear he is turning into my late grandmother….).

Mark has wasted no time whatsoever in making his unintended polish purchase 😂 He seens to do this in most new countries, generally in the dairy aisle…. In Denmark we had “Not Mayo”, which was remoulade. He said the squeezy bottle looked like a mayo bottle….. In Norway he discovered “Not Milk”, which was some kind of cultured milk, not the “normal” milk he thought he was buying. That raised a shriek when he poured it into his tea, though not as loud as the shriek the other week when he accidentally grabbed his strawberry yoghurt from the fridge instead of his milk and poured that into his tea 🤣

Luckily, the Poles sell yoghurt in little pots, not milk-sized tetra-paks….. Mark only discovered there was something odd about the yoghurt he’d bought when he started eating it:

Yes, that’ll be red pepper and strawberry…. He said it did have bits of red pepper in it, but he didn’t find any chunks of strawberry. At least he managed to drown his sorrows later in the day in his newly purchased bison grass vodka…… (500ml for a fiver)

We haven’t tried out some of our other purchases yet. The pack of 8 loo rolls for 50p could be interesting….. 🤔

We had our first taste of Polish campsites on Wednesday. We’ll need to go to a camp site at least every third night to “fettle” Kampington – fill the water tank, empty the loo etc. We’ve driven past a lot of old, tired-looking campsites as we’ve made our way along the coast. Intriguingly, they all had a number on the sign (“camp site 346”) as well as a name; a throwback to communist-era camping perhaps? The place we stayed was one of a newer breed of camp sites. It was basically someone’s large garden that’s been turned into a camp site, complete with all the facilities you could want. It cost us 10 Euros for the night. We haven’t worked out why they charge in Euros (luckily we have plenty; there didn’t seem to be an option to pay in zloty). We’re used to being charged US Dollars for anything remotely touristy in many developing countries around the World, but hadn’t really expected to be asked for Euros in Poland….. Most of the foreign tourists around here seem to be German; maybe paying in Euros is what the locals think the Germans want? We’ve seen lots of German (but no English) on signs at the tat shops, restaurants etc (listing some of the wares for sale as well as “pay in Euros here”)… and the camp site folk had learned a few words of German (the girl there managed “langsam, langsam” and some arm waving to tell me to pay later when the guy in charge, possibly her dad, got home). Ironic then that on their site they had 2 dutch, one swiss and one british van, but not a german in sight!

We had a full afternoon of dossing at the camp site. Mark made the most of the glorious weather to work on his suntan:

On Thursday we stayed on the edge of the Slowinski National Park. From the car park, a path lead to an observation tower and a jetty overlooking a lake. Mark spotted some nature – a few frogs and some red deer.

Friday saw our first visit to an official Polish tourist attraction, an area of huge sand dunes on the Eastern side of the same national park. You can get there as a day trip (2 hours on the train) from Gdansk, and we also saw a couple of German coach parties while we were there.

We had to pay to park (£1.75 an hour, which seemed quite a lot), then pay to enter the national park (£1.50 each – bargain).

We were supposed to pay the previous day as well as technically we were in the park when we walked to the observation tower. It did say in small print on the regulations sign at the car park that a fee was payable but gave no clues as to where to pay (presumably miles away). If they’d put an honesty box in the car park we’d have put some money in it. Luckily it seems like we only diddled them out of £3.

After paying to enter the park, we then had to cycle 5.5km to the dunes. There were plenty of bicycles for hire, or people could pay to take an electric bus. Luckily, we’d come equipped:

We stopped on the way to the dunes as people were taking photos of something in the undergrowth at the side of the road. “What’s that?” I asked Mark as we approached. “hmm, it looks like a racoon dog” replied Kampington’s answer to Dr Dolittle:

This begged the question “what’s a raccoon dog?”. They’re a member of the canid (dog) family native to East Asia but introduced across Russia between the 1920s and 1950s to see where they’d do well; they were wanted for their fur (looking that up online has brought up lots of really grim information about modern-day fur farms in China 😞😞😞 poor little raccoon dogs….). This one was very tame and clearly used to being fed. As soon as Mark started unzipping his bag (to get his ‘phone out and take a picture) it scampered right up to him with an expectant look on its face:

Talk of non-native inhabitants reminds me of something else we’ve noticed in Poland. Norway and Sweden had a substantial proportion of the visible population who were not ethnically Scandinavian (though there’s no way of knowing how recently they or their ancestors arrived, or indeed where exactly they came from). The striking thing to us was how they were spread out across the country, even in very remote areas including the far north (you don’t see that in the UK, for example). In Norway, they all seemed to be going about their daily business, gabbling away in fluent-sounding Norwegian. In Sweden there was one “compulsory beggar”, as Mark called them, stationed outside each supermarket. In Poland, every single person we’ve seen so far has been decidedly white…. Hardly a surprise when you think about it (the Eastern European countries being in a spot of bother with the EU at present for refusing to take migrants) but I still don’t think we’d anticipated Poland being quite so caucasian. Maybe things are different in the cities?

Anyway, back to the sand dunes…. Quite sensibly they’ve cordoned off an area you’re allowed onto:

After another night’s free camping, today’s destination is Gdansk, which is supposed to be one of the most fabulous cities in Northern Europe. We’ve booked onto a campsite for two nights: Camp Site number 218 here we come !!!

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