The 1904 loghouse
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Then, and still only two months after our final departure from London, we moved in.
Ojców National Park http://www.ojcow.pl/english/index_1_en.htm
Hotel Krak in Myślenice http://www.hotelkrak.eu/
Park Hotel in Łyson http://www.parkhotelŁyson.pl/lang,en
Park Miniatur http://parkminiatur.com/lang,pl