For the first time in what felt like a lifetime, the sun was shining, and the sky was clear today. The warmth of the sun felt incredible, and we both struggled to remember the last time that we’d had a day like this (the last was probably in Dafto).
That said, it was a long day spent in the car driving. We crossed the border into Poland before lunch, having now driven nearly 23,000km since leaving London back in April. As always, there wasn’t much of a border to be seen, however, this time there was a perceptible difference between the two countries. The roads widened, and the farms and towns appeared more modern. The towns also became much more densely packed, and we were in a constant cycle changing between 50kph urban roads, with brief stretches of 90kph roads between – frustratingly we were having to slow back down by the time we finally got up to speed.
We made a quick stop around lunch time in the town of Augustow. We’d heard that it was a pretty place to spend a little time, but after being harassed by drunks the-very-moment we parked, we opted to give it a quick drive through instead. Travel was taking a toll on our mental and physical energy, and today we just didn’t have the motivation to leave the car and walk around. Sadly we didn’t find anything that grabbed our attention enough to change this feeling, so we continued on our drive south.
We managed to drive to within 100km of Lublin before giving in to fatigue. It was yet another challenge to find a place to park, but perseverance paid off and we found a small clearing in the woods beside a quiet road. Judging by the density of used condoms outside, it fairly well known – and we potentially ruined someone’s evening plans.
Even though it was only 100km along the major road, the morning was a slow grind through a succession of small towns. It’s not unique to Poland, but I really dislike the way speeds are indicated on European roads. Instead of a sign that says what the speed limit of the road is, you have to learn that the sign that indicates that you are entering a town means you have to slow to 50kph. Then, when you later pass a sign that has a cross through the town’s name means you can return to 90kph. The speeds themselves are not shown. Often times we’ll pass sections that tell me it’s the end of 70kph zone – but not if the new limit is 50kph, or 90kph. I’m paranoid that I’ll get caught speeding unintentionally from this lack of clarity, and am constantly consulting with our TomTom to understand the speed limit.
Our guidebook, as well as our Polish friend, described it as a mini Krakow – and without the tourists. It sounded perfect. It was a little after lunch when we found a park, right under the castle on the edge of the old town. It was a truly strange looking castle, and we both couldn’t help but see it as a face.
We wandered through the nearby markets, once again failing to find people roasting shashlik over wooden coals. There was however some truly terrible fashion for sale, as well as the usual fruit/vegetables.
After climbing the short set of stairs from the castle, we were in the old town. It was different again to the old towns of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, though at the same time quite similar. It did look a little like Krakow, but it was much, much smaller and less grand. The murals/paintings on the walls were quite different, and were quite fascinating to look at.
The sun was once again shining, requiring us to wear sunshine for the first time since Amsterdam. It made the city feel much more lively, with people sitting outdoors in the cafes and restaurants that lined the old streets.
As we weren’t able to find anything we wanted to eat in the markets, we needed to buy lunch. The highest recommended restaurant in town was a Jewish restaurant, Mandragora. I’ve never really thought about Jewish cuisine, so we thought it would be something quite different. Even after all the holocaust museums we have visited, I’m still surprised when I think about these areas having a Jewish history.
It was a beautiful interior, feeling like we were in someone’s dining room. The food was fantastic, and also surprisingly affordable. The soup had pieces of cheese curd, which were like delicious edible pieces of chewing gum. Risa got some intensely garlic liver, and I had some amazing fried dumplings – also smothered in garlic. I ordered something else, but as I was unsure what it was, I don’t know if we received it or not – and didn’t realise until we returned to the car.
We noticed quite a few people wearing period clothing, and thought that it was either for a festival, or a tourist attraction. It turned out that they were extras for a WW2-era movie/TV-show that was being filmed here. At least that’s what we guessed after seeing buildings with swastika flags flying from them – there were also camera/lighting crew.
Our path took us past the rather non-descript St. John the Baptist Cathedral. I wasn’t that interested, but we stuck our heads inside anyway out of curiosity. The grand interior couldn’t be further from the simple exterior, with all manner of colour and an excess of gilding. It felt very Italian, and a world away from the austerity of Lutheran churches we’d been visiting for the past month. They also had on display the cloth (or a copy of) that Jesus Christ was wrapped in after being brought down from his crucifixion. I’m still amazed how these relics exist, and my sceptical nature questions it to no end.
We were now outside the main walls of the old town, and in the high street of town. As is becoming a habit for us, we grabbed a coffee (from Dap Dap) to help with a long night of driving – it was cheap and delicious!
Our parking was expiring, so we had to rush our way through the old town. We were twenty minutes late, though fortunately the parking inspectors were not on their game here, unlike in Oslo.
We were in a rush to get to Slovakia for our friend’s wedding, however I needed to buy a new shirt for the occasion – I’d luckily been gifted an amazing bow-tie from our friend in Vilnius that was going to be perfect, too. I thought I’d try my luck in H&M in Rzeszow, as they tend to fit my out of proportion limbs, but even luckier we found a TK Maxx – and had a really nice shirt on sale.
It was now 9PM, and after a quick dinner in the car park of the shopping centre, I pushed on another 100km towards the Slovakian border. The flat roads of the past fortnight were being slowly replaced with gentle hills, and some short sharp climbs, forcing us back into 3rd gear on the motorway for the first time Norway.
When I removed the curtains in the morning I was surprised to learn that we’d unknowingly parked next to a beautiful wooden church here in Haczow. While we were in a rush to get to Slovakia, hopefully early enough for a mechanic to see our car before the part shops close for the long weekend, we still made time to explore.
The large, raw wooden exterior had windows that looked tiny and out of proportion. It shared some common design traits, but wasn’t as elaborate as the wooden stave churches in Norway – nor as demonic.
We were surprised that it was open to public, and completely empty. While it was quite a simple interior space, it was still covered in some beautifully painted decorations.