Wednesday, 23 June 2010

home sweet home

Written 22nd June

Somehow, this little corner of south west Poland which interlocks with the Czech Republic and butts up to Germany, reminds us more of the UK than anywhere on this trip so far.

It is a largely indefinable impression. The road patterns seem familiar, as are the rules of the road and driving style. There are even the same kev boy, heavily modded cars cruising down the roads with their body kits nearly scraping the ground, their massively exhaust pipes and thumping stereos - although much better finished than a lot of the ones you see at home!

The shops are very similar, particularly the shopping centres - proper 'shopping centres' in towns rather than strip malls or commercial parks full of 'sheds' on the outskirts of towns - where, unless you look very closely at the small print on signs and banners, could be any shopping centre in any good size town in the UK. Certainly the fashions, the styles, the colours, the brands, the layouts, the interior design and colour schemes, the escalators, the potted plants and 'features' are all identical.

Its not like we've not seen any of these things in different places, just all of them, all at once here is suddenly strangely familiar and at the same time all a bit disorientating.

Even the people are familiar - a combination we think of the way people interact with each other and with you, and the way they look. In a good way! We are now away from olive skinned Mediterranean complexions and back to paler, northern European colouring - a very subtle thing, Will worked out what it was, not me. This is also pretty much the only country, so far, where you can tell it is Friday or Saturday in a big town because of the police sirens and gangs of drunk kids swaying down the streets. But even that is people out having fun and not out of control - in the way our tabloids report about some British towns! - and is much more 'normal' to us than the university towns we have been to in other countries which have either been completely dead by 9pm or just full of small groups of people walking quietly through the streets or sat on municipal benches in parks, playing cards and chatting. Not that this is bad in any way, it is just not what we get at home!

So, after several days of 'being tourists', a couple of quiet days in sunny and then rainy laybys, 'getting on with things' like fettling and daisy painting. I have now caught up the four countries I was behind - it has just been too hot, paint drying on the brush! - and Will is very, very almost there with the fuelling program. Still using the lamda sensor bounded by the rich and lean maps but a new approach to the target seeking software which has nearly eliminated all the wild hunting which is good. In the absence of a proper oscilloscope he's now also written an ascii display program on the laptop which makes random behaviour much more obvious and analysible and bug fixing much simpler. And it looks pretty, scrolling past :)

He also has a new project - yes another one. It seems Will is not the only one on the quest to write his own ecu. An ex-colleague is on a similar trail - somewhat advantaged by unlimited internet and power resources and a professionally fabbed fancy circuit board with squillions of inputs. A new baby is inexplicably(!) taking priority so Will has volunteered to have a go at the fuel injector drivers for him, although there are further plans afoot for this particular board too... More on that another time...

But back at it on saturday though and into city centre Wroclaw in some unexpected but welcome sunshine.

A settlement in Wroclaw dates back to the year 1000 and was a prosperous Polish trading centre by the middle of the 18th century when it was claimed by Prussia during the 200 years of invasions and territorial partitions by various powers, including Sweden, Austria, Russia and Prussia, which saw Poland as an independent state all but disappear from the map.

As Breslau, it continued to grow, becoming a major textile centre, but it was massively damaged in WWII and by the time Wroclaw was restored to Poland in 1945, there wasn't much left.

But they've set about rebuilding it and today, the historic town centre is rather lovely.

We followed the helpful tourist office lady's suggested route from the Rynek Square - the second largest old market square in Poland after Krakow although, as with Krakow, we're not quite sure how many buildings you can put in the middle of your square and still call it a square rather than, say, some streets...


We saw the Town Hall,

the Plac Solny (the Salt Square, the former home of the salt market),

some pretty buildings,

the 'Hansel and Gretel' houses, connected by their baroque gate, in front of,

St Elizabeth's church with its high arches, stained glass windows and inevitable PJP2 memorial.

The 'most typical street' full of typical art, craft and tat shops.

The university building with its fancy entrance door.

Across the lovers bridge -

again, lacking a padlock so our marriage is clearly doomed, although some people clearly set great store by the place given the fancy, purpose bought, engraved padlocks we saw.

Over to Ostrow Tumski (Cathedral Island), an area of churches including the Church of the Holy Cross and Bartholomew

And the Cathedral of St John the Baptist.

Back across the river to the National Museum - free on a saturday but unvisited as we didn't want to leave the bag with the laptop in the cloakroom - and past the Panorama of Raclawicka, (again unvisited) a 360 degree painting depicting the battle of Raclawice in 1794 in which the Polish peasant army defeated the russian invaders.

Coffee and internet stop and then south  past the Royal Palace to the former jewish quarter - apparently called the 'multi-denominational quarter' now -

and then back to the square for the biggest meat lunch ever.  doesn't look much but was nearly more than we could eat!

 and then a bit of a gnome hunt

commemorating some political party who used to graffiti slogans and then, when they were rubbed out, replace the words with gnomes instead - not sure why...

and then back to the van by way of the Przejscie (Passage) sculpture.

Brilliant, brilliant thing. You could see every stitch in the lead character's knitted cardi and it looked like it should have moved when you touched it!

And more dumplings for dinner. Sara did email us back and confirmed that the previous lot were indeed white cheese and potato (points all round!) and sweet white cheese but advised that supermarkets dumplings are shit and we should only eat home made ones. Which is probably true but as we lack any recipe or ability to make them ourselves, Carrefour it is for now and these more expensive lamb and onion and mushroom and basil ones were commensurately nicer! Especially accompanied by a nice Bulgarian Old Melnik - we can't find a cheap polish wine but this slips down very nicely :)

Our other reason for being in Wroclaw was a flight home as sadly Will's grandma died last week. Only a flying visit - 48h exactly between arriving in luton in each direction at some previously unknown early hour of the morning - and not the circumstances under which we wanted or hoped to be going home.

But the day went as well as these things can be expected to and although a very sad day, it was lovely to see everyone and catch up on all their news. Thank you especially to Vicky and Jeni for sorting out lifts and clothes and shoes etc etc x x

we will miss you grandma x x

It was really strange being home. I can still walk in heels (and like it!), I do actually miss my hair straighteners and hair dryer, I can definitely still appreciate fine wine (and in quantities larger than half a glass at a time!) so there is some hope of successful reintegration into society at some point! But I may have developed a tea threshold! I know!! After about half a litre from Costa at the airport whilst waiting for our lift, that was enough for the day and I couldn't keep up with everyone else for the rest of the day!

By monday night, sat on the sofa watching Lewis, it felt like we'd never ben away and, even worse, would have to go back to work the next day like everyone else.... As if the last nine months was all a dream...

Fortunately it hasn't been a figment of my imagination, my little van does exist and it was still waiting for us, safe and sound, at the airport! Yay!

So here we are back on the road and back to reality - Home sweet van home :)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

picture marathon - all the wy back to hungary

that's three countries ago!

Friday, 18 June 2010


15th June


Just no words.

here are some pictures...