Monthly Archives: April 2013

Animals

Animals

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Whenever we talked about moving to Poland, John said he wanted a dog.

When we got here, we realised we also needed a cat or two, too, to reduce the mouse and squirrel population (did ya see what I did there?). This living in the country is not without its downsides!

Cats

When we got settled at KW24 Rajmund went to the animal shelter in Krakow and picked an adult queen – tabby and white – and a little tabby boy kitten. With Twilight in mind, they were named Edward and Bella.

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Bella (RIP little one) and Baby Edward

Both seemed to settle quickly, but sadly Bella died about a month after she came to live with us – we never found out what caused this – the vet thought she might have been struck by a car, or eaten something poisonous.

Edward grew and we thought he ought to have a little friend, so Rajmund went to the shelter again and picked Jasper, a little black boy kitten. The two have since become close friends.

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Rajmund and Edward

A hypo-allergenic dog

Despite John’s allergies*, his family had always had a Shetland Sheepdog – ever since John’s Xmas gift in 1972. Looking at breeds, and wanting to perhaps get a puppy from a Polish breed, John picked the PON –Polski Owczarek Nizinny or Polish Lowland Sheepdog.

Perhaps it’s inevitable, therefore, that Rajmund bought John a black and silver miniature Schnauzer for his birthday in 2012.

*John spent most of his first 23 years in the country, allergy-free. The onset of allergies, with hindsight, coincides with a change to city living. Since moving to the Polish countryside, his allergies have been greatly reduced – though he still sneezes in bright sunlight! He has no allergic reaction to either the cats or the dog.

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Schnauzers – giant, standard or miniature – are all pretty much hypo-allergenic

On the way to pick up the puppy, John and Rajmund were discussing the names the late Michael Jackson had given his children vs. names for the puppy. John said “Blanket … we might as well call the puppy Tea Pot” and there it was. TeaPot, the little Schnauzer, joined the family that afternoon.

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Edward’s keeping watch, as the newer additions to the family sleep

Plans and developments

In the next few weeks we’re hoping to build a chicken house and run and buy our first chickens. There’s a place over at Chełmiec that sells chicks and POL (Point-of-lay) birds. We’re not sure what will be available, but we fancy breeds which will give us chocolate brown and light blue/green eggs, just to be different – brown and white eggs we can buy at Tesco!

Also on the to do list is a dog for Rajmund. He wants a white English Bull Terrier, and intends to name him Shakespeare. When the time comes, we’ll get a young pup and slowly introduce him to our menagerie. Shakespeare’s arrival may be delayed while we find and assimilate Rajmund’s other target – a white kitten.

Finally, we have goats. Or, rather, we do not have goats. We talked about keeping a couple of goats but there’s a fair bit of work and expense involved – more than we’re really ready to take on. That, of course, has not stopped people offering us goats. We’re pretty sure they would be billies – they smell, they fight, they have bad tempers and the meat is not good, so the poor boys are a waste of space except as neutered pets.

Oh, I forgot, we have a duck pond with goldfish in it. The previous owners built a duck house and stocked the pond with goldfish, but never got around to buying ducks and given the mess they cause, we’re not intending going down that road. For now, the pond has goldfish in it, they survived the winter, and we may add some more water plants this year. We’ll see. But the only ducks we might add are yellow plastic ones.

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Duckhouse, pond, KW24, 26.4.13

We’ll update you if things change. For now, we’re just enjoying our little menagerie, as we hope you can see.

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TeaPot at full gallop, ears in flight mode

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Yup, still snow – late March 2013!

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TeaPot learned to do “cute” at a very young age

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The boys on patrol

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Spring is just starting – 26.4.13

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 Magnolia

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The long May weekend

The long May weekend

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This year, our second in Poland, we have a very long weekend.

1st May is Labour Day, a public holiday, and also the day we join the celebrations on the marriage of our friends Maciek and Sabina.

2nd May is Flag Day, a national holiday, commemorating the last day of the Battle of Berlin, when the Polish Army hoisted its flag on the Victory Column in Berlin.

3rd May is Constitution Day, a public holiday celebrating the constitution of 1791. Sadly, Poland was wiped off the map in 1795, not reappearing until the end of the First World War.

One day I’ll write a potted history of Poland, but in the meantime it’s not widely known that Poland had a constitutional monarchy and probably the most advanced constitution long before Germany and Italy existed in their present forms – Germany was not united until 1871 and Italian unification ended just one year earlier.

For now, we are looking forward to Wednesday and the wedding, to seeing the flag flying, and to raising a glass or two of wódka to Poland’s very long weekend!

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The Stena route to Poland

The Stena route to Poland

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The Stena Britannica

The big Stena ferries are pretty amazing – they are amongst the biggest ferries in the world, and are like a nice hotel. Our cabin was spotlessly clean and very comfortable. You have a choice of where you eat dinner – buffet or waiter service – and if you book and pay in advance for both dinner and breakfast, the cost is slightly lower. We had a lovely three course meal, with excellent service, before the ferry sailed. Breakfast next morning is in the buffet, and it’s fairly typical – edible, but you could do better yourself at home.

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The Metropolitan Restaurant on board

The beauty of the Stena ferry? Discipline. No – not that sort of discipline! The ferry timings give you a full day in the UK to do what you have to do (on subsequent trips we’ve spent the day shopping at the big man’s clothes shop in Rayleigh (John), the Nike, Reebok, Le Creuset and other shops at the Freeport mall at Braintree (Rajmund) and getting some of those food, drink and other items we just don’t get at our local Tesco in Nowy Sacz. After a full day, you head to the port to arrive maybe 8 or 9 o’clock and join the queue to board. The boarding process is quick and easy – we always get a space close to the lifts from the car deck because John has to use his wheelchair on the ferry – and the ferry sails at 23:15. If, like us, you have dinner as soon as you board, you get a decent sleep before getting up about 6 o’clock to have a quick shower and head to breakfast (the ferry has a wake-up announcement at about 06:30) and be ready for the call to the car deck a little before the ferry docks at 07:45. The entry process at Hook is sometimes slower – we’ve been “quick-searched (or, rather, the car has) more often than not – but you’re still on the road by about 08:30.

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Comfort Class – not really space for the wheelchair, so left it at the door. Stena have very roomy disabled cabins, though, if you need one, wth excellently adapted wetrooms

On our first trip (with the van) we stopped overnight on the way out to Poland. We’ve found the German B&B hotels are either very handy for the autobahn (ie on a service area) or newer and in town (eg Dresden, Essen). Some of them are part of the “services” building, so you can get a meal 24/7 from the food court. Others have their own breakfast room plus menus for you to call for a delivery pizza. One trip we stayed overnight at the Green Hotel, outside Poznan, which was very nice but slightly spooky (there were only three guests staying that night, including us!) and on the return at a hotel outside Warsaw, the less said about which the better. The B&B and Green hotels all have decent disabled rooms.

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Captain’s Class – these are nice, and have a fair bit of space if you can’t book a disabled cabin

We like the Stena start because we can drive straight through to our home in one long day. It’s roughly 1,400 km and to all intents and purposes, when you include breaks and fuel stops, it takes from getting out of Hook till getting on for midnight to reach Kamionka Wielka. We HAVE done it overnight, after a day out and about in London and Kent and an afternoon Channel Tunnel crossing, but we’d not really recommend it – on top of an active day, it’s just too much. So either Chunnel or Dover-Calais and an overnight stop or Stena and drive straight to Poland.

The different crossings will probably mean your satnav will give you different routes – ours likes the more northerly route from Hook, past Hannover and close to Berlin but the more southerly route from Calais passing Essen and Leipzig to the border.

One last thing, just over the border into Poland you’ll pass the exit for Bolesławiec, the famous pottery town – if you come to stay, we’ll show you our tableware and pottery chicken!

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 The sun’s going down at Kamionka Wielka

Websites

Stena Line  http://www.stenaline.co.uk/ferry/routes/harwich-holland/

B&B Hotels  http://www.hotelbb.de/portal/en/index.html?language=en

Green Hotel, Poznan  http://www.greenhotel.pl/en/en

The big man’s clothes shop in Rayleigh  http://www.sizedwell.co.uk/store/index.asp

Freeport, Braintree  http://www.freeport-braintree.com/

One of several Bolesławiec pottery shops  http://www.boleslawiec-sklep.pl/?gclid=CJH_4d3Z6LYCFYRQ3godVCIAzg

The start of our story

KW24

The 1904 loghouse

Kamionka Wielka

The start of our story

We decided to move to Poland when John took early retirement from his job in London. Rajmund, who is Polish, already had a work offer on the table from Ojców National Park, so we brought forward what had been expected to be a move “in a few years” to “OK, let’s sell the flat in London and go”.

Our first intention was to buy a house somewhere close to Ojców. The Park itself is beautiful – a forested gem in a gorge, with one castle open to the public, another ruined castle, the “church over the water” – and it is hugely popular with Poles from nearby Kraków. Sadly for us, there are very few houses in Ojców and understandably they are snapped up very quickly. We saw one house, but that needed a huge amount of work (for a start, it had neither a bathroom, nor a kitchen!) so we looked around the surrounding area. Image

 Rajmund’s office in Ojców

The country around Ojców is like a lot of Polish landscape – pretty flat and boring – though the nearby Jura area is stunning. On our initial house-hunting trip we found that we were not inspired – plus, because Ojców is so close to Kraków, some of the villages are commuter-focussed and commuter-priced. We’d already considered this and – the internet is a wonderful thing – seen the type of country south of Kraków and the sort of property available there so on that first trip we’d set aside a couple of days on the basis that “if we don’t like the first area we see, we’ll look south” and that’s what we did. Two days … heck, one morning … was all it took to persuade us that our new home lay somewhere in the hills, lakes and mountains of małopolskie (Lower Poland) or śląskie (Silesia).

House hunting in the south

It was some months before we returned to Poland – months spent getting the London flat ready for sale (new kitchen!), listed, under offer and finally sold. We actually put most of our stuff into storage and moved out of the flat after exchange, leaving completion to take its course without us. After a search, we eventually found a van hire company (Bucks Car Hire in High Wycombe) that offered automatics (Rajmund has an auto-only licence and by then I was driving again but not really up to a manual) so we picked up the van, loaded it with the last items from the flat, and dropped the keys through the letterbox before heading for Harwich and the overnight ferry to Hook of Holland. Image

The view from one of the houses we viewed in Silesia

We were only staying for a week or so, but we wanted to get the house search under way.

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The van and the agent’s jeep – just like the one we saw in a ditch the first time it snowed!

We spent that first week in one area we’d identified as a possible place for us to settle – around Żywiec in southern Silesia. The area immediately to the north of Żywiec (famous for its beer) has two lakes, one for leisure, the other more of a nature preserve, and forested hills, but no house for us! We saw several, but none of them quite fitted the bill – too modern, too much work, and/or no view. We both fell in love with an old schoolhouse in Łysina, high on a hilltop with thousand-mile views over a wide plain to the Tatras and Slovakia, but big dreams came to nothing when we got a time and money quote – we could have paid the bill, but we did not want to wait for four builder’s months before we could move in.

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The view that got away

Our next visit was only a week later – John had had to return to London, so we took the van back, collecting Rajmund’s truck on the way out of Poland. Driving to Calais alone was a slog, but thankfully the van and truck ran seamlessly – that van was totally rattle-free and cruised nicely at (ahem) the speed limit for 1,000 miles – and we’d invested in a set of cheap walkie-talkies so at least we could each check how the other was doing. We did the van/truck/car shuffle, dropping off the van, recovering John’s Cayenne and loaded them up and, after a couple of days headed back (via Stena) to Poland.

That was the start of house hunting in earnest. We’d completed on the sale of the flat while away, the money was in the bank, and we were homeless.

Our search continues

We checked into the Hotel Krak in Myślenice  – disabled room, very warm and welcoming place, close to, but secluded from the main highway from Kraków down into the area we were interested in. The road from there to Żywiec, which we came to know well, was amazing – right up to the tops of the hills, through hamlets and one decent sized town, and with incredible views. But sadly, Żywiec was not to be.

Nor was that stay at the Krak, as they were booked solid for a week so we had to clear out. One night at a hotel on the shore of Lake Żywiec was enough, and we moved again to the Park Hotel Łyson at Inwałd, surely one of the most surreal places we’ve ever stayed. The hotel itself is very nice, but here – close to Pope John Paul II’s birthplace of Wadowice (itself a bit of a JPII-themed pilgrimage stop – is not one, not two, but three mini theme parks – Dinolandia and all that goes with it, including the equally large (or is it small) Park Miniatur, and the dungeons and dragons of Warownia. All on the doorstep of the Park Hotel.

Our house search went on, around Żywiec – gave up – around Mszana Dolna, Myślenice, still no luck. But there was one house, too far away we thought, which niggled at both our minds. We’d seen photos, we’d tried to arrange a viewing the very first time we came to Poland, but we’d not seen it.  Eventually we gave in and Rajmund rang the agent – could we see the house in Kamionka Wielka?

Finding our new home

The day we first saw KW24 it snowed. There had been no snow in sight, but that day about a foot of snow fell – so we put the Cayenne into gear and headed off to meet the vendor and his fiancée outside McDonalds in Nowy Sącz (when only a Maccy D will do). Of course, they were whizzing around in a Polo, and we struggled to keep up with them! They took us to the house, and wow! Love at first, second and third sight. Before we left, we’d discussed a price and told them we’d be in touch with the agent.Image

From there, things slowed down (by Polish standards). Our vendor had to get a paper to complete the set needed for the transaction the agent had put together. Otherwise, we’d have owned the house in a couple of days. As it was, we met with the vendor and the agent at the house the following week to sign the contract and a couple of weeks later at the lawyer’s to complete (complete with translator and cash). We walked out with the keys, owners of KW24 and no longer homeless.

Of course, it did not end there. The front steps had no hand rail and probably needed replacing in a year or so anyway, so we got new steps with two friendly handrails made and fitted. The shower room was a bit old-fashioned and the shower stall was tiny, so we got an Italian builder (yes, all the Polish builders are in London, or so it seemed) to take it apart and make us a fully tiled and modern wetroom. The kitchen … well, there was a sink unit and a shelf, so that very quickly came out and Maciek made us a beautiful dark unit to hold all our kitchen goodies – sink, oven, induction hob, washing machine, a big fridge-freezer and Rajmund’s baby … the dishwasher I’d refused to let him buy during all those years in London.

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Then, and still only two months after our final departure from London, we moved in.

Websites

Ojców National Park  http://www.ojcow.pl/english/index_1_en.htm

Bucks Van Hire  http://www.buckscarhire.com/?gclid=CI7-sP2X6LYCFchV3god6VkA9Q

Stena Line  http://www.stenaline.co.uk/ferry/routes/harwich-holland/

Hotel Krak in Myślenice  http://www.hotelkrak.eu/

Park Hotel in Łyson  http://www.parkhotelŁyson.pl/lang,en

Wadowice  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadowice#Culture_and_sightseeing

Dinolandia  http://www.dinolandia.pl/

Park Miniatur  http://parkminiatur.com/lang,pl

Warownia  http://warowniaInwałd.com/19-warowni

Maciek  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Maki-meble/262927267097146