Thursday, August 17, 2017

travel to Łochów

By way of explanation...

The weather charts predicted rain and storms on the day I was to leave Madison. I said to Ed that I may miss my connections. He pointed out that I fly so frequently, that at some point I will have to miss my connections.

But once again luck is with me. I leave Madison minutes before the weather turns foul and in Detroit, I'm in time for an even earlier flight to Amsterdam and the attendants eagerly put me on it (I smell some overbooking issues motivating their generosity) and so here I am in Amsterdam with four hours in my pocket.

...which gives me a chance to explain why I'm heading to Łochów (pronounced "woh-hoof").

At eleven days, this trip is slightly longer than my recent one week Warsaw- Paris combos. There is reason for it: I wanted to have time to go back to my grandparents' village -- Gniazdowo -- where I lived the first years of my life and spent nearly every summer of my childhood. In the last dozen years, I'd traveled there only twice -- both times in December, which is a really a dumb time to do the trip. I mean, it's icy cold, it gets dark early, and there's no escaping the prickly gloom of a December day in the village. [Literally no escape, as there are no warm spaces to retreat to once you get there: no stores, no coffee shops, no heated spaces at all. You leave the train and walk to the village, moving briskly but feeling cold anyway and you do not warm up until you're on the return train heading back to Warsaw.]

But things got complicated. Always gunning for the cheaper airfares, I had to insert Paris in the middle of the trip (rather than at the tail end, which would be far more convenient). And then, lo, my very close friends announced that they are getting married (a second for both, but hey, no less important!) and yes, it will be within the days of my visit. So I have a Polish wedding before me! And a bachelorette party! And suddenly the possibilities of a visit to Gniazdowo dwindled.

Unless, unless, I go there straight from the airport! Three flights, one bus, a couple of metros, and finally a train ride would get me pretty darn close to the village by evening (if all connections come in more or less on time).

My sister suggested that I overnight in the town of Łochów. There is a 19th century noble family's estate -- one that, after the war, had been converted to workers' housing and administrative offices. In those capacities, the small palace suffered significant deterioration. But in recent years, it has been taken over by a hotel group which restored the place (find it here) to its original beautiful form.

Łochów itself is to the average Pole (let alone to foreign tourists) a nothing place. But I know it well. With a population of about 6000, it is an agricultural and administrative center in the region where my grandparents lived. Moreover, it's on the rail line (of historical significance, as this line was constructed in the 19th century, with the goal of linking Warsaw to St. Petersburg). When we had a lot of luggage or provisions to take with us to Gniazdowo, we would disembark in Łochów. My grandfather would be waiting at the station in a horse drawn wagon (hired from a local farmer) and we would travel back with him to the village home. (At other times, we would get off the train at an earlier station and hike to the village on foot -- a 50 minute jaunt.)

When I was older, I could bike to Łochów, though it's no short trek and half of it had to be done on sandy country lanes. And still I would do it, oftentimes because my grandma would send me there on an errand, especially as my grandfather's health began to decline.

So I know the town -- one of modest commercial activity, of simple homes and small shops serving the needs of the rural province. Has it changed? I'm very curious.

the Journey

From Amsterdam, it's less than two hours by plane to Warsaw. I have such timely connections! I alight at the Warsaw airport at 4:30 and I have no doubt that I will be able to catch the 5:55 train to Łochów.

Yes, it's rush hour in the city and the bus surely takes longer than usual, but it offers pretty vistas onto streets drenched in sunlight. [Warsaw has had a tremendous heat wave. I'm hitting the tail end of it this weekend. Of course, nothing here is air conditioned and I know a number of you would pretty much die on the bus ride, but the air is dry and it all feels pleasantly summery to me.]

 (Here's a cool way to take your little one for a stroll...  though I do not know why both mommy and daughter are wearing warm clothes. It's in the low 80sF -- about 28C -- right now. Snowdrop would feel right at home with her sweater!)


(At the metro stop, a woman sells flowers, shielded from the sun by an umbrella. For as long as I remember there have always been women selling flowers on street corners, at key intersections...)


As metro number 2 zips through the neighborhood of my apartment, on an impulse I decide to get off. Yes, you'll surely recognize this Warsaw street!


I can run in and open the windows to my apartment, dump my suitcase, grab a bottle of water and still make the train. This train. Well tended, as compared to when I last caught it five years ago.


Oh, but the passengers have changed since my youthful travels on this line! Did I really expect to see the peasant women holding baskets with chickens, cheeses and eggs now? I smile at that. So many people viewed postwar Poland as a gray place of no real beauty or excitement. I profoundly disagree with that characterization. Nonetheless, I would admit to this much: the deep countryside was removed from modernity. Even with electrification, television, and auto travel, you still felt a real separation between urban culture and village culture. It was not incorrect to think in terms of the Polish peasant. It wasn't an insult -- it was a way of life.

The train ride now tells a different story.


But the scenery -- the birches, the tall, red barked pines, the golden flowers of August -- the same.



My sister greets me at the station in Łochów (she is spending increasingly more time in the countryside here).

(Small town hanging out, by a store near the station...)


But we don't poke around the town today. The sun is nearly ready to dip behind the clouds hovering at the horizon. I want to check into the hotel and walk down to the river.

A few pics of the property.. The main "palace:" (I'm staying in the more modest -- they call it "folksy" -- carriage house.)


The simple, but clean and comfortable room:


We head out across the meadow.

(An old church, a pond, the setting sun...)


Łochów  is on the same River Liwiec (pronounced "leev-yetz") that runs by Gniazdowo. I think the river defined my summers. We didn't boat in it. We didn't even swim in it really. But we waded, we looked for fish and frogs, we crossed it pulling our skirts up to get to the train station. So I want to see it again, just because my memories of it are so good!


And now it is getting dark...


... and I feel the tiredness of the long journey. I'm hungry, too, so we make our way to the restaurant, where I eat a "greens and beets" salad and a Polish pan friend trout. My sister keeps me company.


Sleep. I need sleep. So very strange to be falling asleep tonight so very close to where I slept for so many years...