Friday August 18th, 2017 – Długa podróż.
The third time I went to Katowice I had a rare old time, I had never, in all my life, dank so much vodka and not been utterly Brahms and Liszt by the early hours. I was going to write ‘absolutely’ there, instead of utterly but that may have implied some sort of brand placement, albeit with a slightly different spelling, but it was Polish vodka, not Swedish, and it didn’t happen Katowice, but in Racibórz some 100 kilometres south west of there.
I was on my way, ostensibly, to the Ino-Rock Festival in Inowrocław which was on Saturday, August 26th. I arrived at Katowice airport on Friday, August 18th because before I got to Inowrocław, I had a another and as it turned out, far more enjoyable event to attend.
The previous time I’d arrived at Katowice Airport, which was my second time in Katowice, the first time I’d arrived by train, I’d missed the bus connection to the town, 30 or so kilometres away; this time I had no intention of trying to catch that elusive bus and had budgeted for the taxi fare.
I’d left home that morning at 07:00 and by 10:00 I was at Stansted Airport. Sometime just after 14:30 I arrived at Katowice Airport and after queuing for passport control and waiting to collect my bag I strode out into the Silesian sunshine and hailed a taxi to take me to Katowice railway station.
At a few minutes after 16:30 I was on a train to Racibórz where I arrived two hours later. I was going to a wedding. The groom, Bartłomiej, had asked me some months before if I’d like to go to the wedding and I’d said “Yes” in a heartbeat.
Bartłomiej and his fiancée Aleksandra (OK, that’s enough of that, from now on they are Bartek and Ola) met me at the railway station and drove me to Ola’s parent’s house on the outskirts of the town where I was accorded the best of Polish hospitality despite the language barriers, well, more like hurdles than barriers, they can be negotiated. Ola’s family had by all accounts just finished their evening meal but I was welcomed in, fed and watered and the food was not only very good but very welcome after my near 11-hour journey.
After a suitable rest I was then driven back into town by Bartek and Ola, to the hotel I would be staying at for two nights. I was shown into the hotel, Bartek booked me in and then we all went up to the room. In the room next door to me was another friend, Ela and we all trooped into Ela’s room to say hello to her.
I’d met these friends, and many others, via the internet initially through a love of music and listening to a radio show, and then later I’d met them in person while going to concerts. We are all ‘into’ the same kind of music, we are a musical family, that’s how I look at it, we’re a family of music lovers.
I thanked Ola for the hospitality accorded me at her parent’s house and I thanked Bartek, for organising the hotel room. They left, and I went back to my room and unpacked my ‘posh’ clothes in readiness for tomorrow’s big event.
By now it was dusk, and I went out to find a pub, but first I had an appointment with a lady in green who I had seen briefly when I first arrived in Racibórz and then again when I was brought to the hotel which was opposite the railway station.
There, mounted on a short length of rail in the centre of a traffic island, was a Tw53 class steam locomotive. Built in 1955 and retired in 1985 the locomotive has been christened “Halinka” and is a narrow-gauge (785 mm) locomotive of the 0-10-0 wheel arrangement. A beautiful brute of a machine looking somewhat restored but sadly stuffed and mounted.
After a photo opportunity with Halinka and little wandering around, I found a good pub in the rynek, “Browar Rynek” which translates as Market Square Brewery and they did indeed brew their own beer. I settled down to sample a few beers and then, in spite of my earlier ‘feeding’ I felt a bit peckish so I ordered a pizza and I sat there thinking that yes, I’ve fallen on my feet here.
Flashback to 2015.
I first met Bartek in February 2015, at a concert at Łódzki Dom Kultury in Łódź. Top of the bill was a band from Lithuania called ‘The Skys’ and they were supported by two bands from Łódź, ‘Leafless Tree’ and ‘Maze of Sound’. The concert was really enjoyable. The Skys had obviously been prepped that they weren’t the only ones from ‘out of town’ that night and halfway through the set I heard my name being mentioned from the stage. I went to Poland to see a band from Lithuania and they gave me a name check, how cool was that?
The evening ended in a bar in a cellar in a building – somewhere in Łódź, to this day I’m not sure where. I was at the time suffering from a head-cold and by midnight I just wanted to lie down and sleep but there was a party atmosphere and beer was being consumed and hey, The Skys were there too, so I summoned all my strength to stay in party mode, but by the early hours of the morning I was zombified, walking dead.
I first met Ola at Katowice bus station in July 2015. I was travelling with anther friend, Asia, another member of the musical family, from Katowice to Toruń, en route to a two-day music festival in Park Wolności, Gniewkowo. It was early-ish and we had almost seven hours of journey ahead of us before we got to Toruń, Toruń being the nearest town to Gniewkowo where the bus was stopping.
Asia went to a small kiosk and procured some braided, bread rings; well, that’s what they looked like. Krakowskie obwarzanki – Krakow bagels. The dough is boiled, and the resulting bagel is sprinkled with salt and poppy or sesame seeds before being baked. They’re actually quite tasty.
Krzysiek, the presenter of the radio show that had drawn us together had asked Asia if she and I would meet Ola at the bus station for the onward journey to Torun and then Gniewkowo. An inbound bus arrived and there amongst the decanted passengers was Ola. There were stilted introductions, neither Asia nor Ola spoke English to any extent, and I had only a very, very basic Polish vocabulary but nevertheless, we introduced ourselves and waited for bus to Toruń arrive.
When we got to Toruń, evening was falling and Asia went off to check the bus connections to Gniewkowo; having been there before the previous year I had a feeling that any buses weren’t going to be particularly frequent and I explained this to her and suggested that maybe we ought to get a taxi for the remaining 20 km or so of our journey.
The taxi deposited us at Park Wolności where preparations for the following two days’ concerts were taking place and a small group of ‘the family’, including Bartek, were already in attendance.
In a branch of Żabka some cold cans of beer were purchased, and in the warmth of the night after a long journey, that cold beer was very welcome. The more astute amongst you may have already worked this out, but there and then was when Bartek met Ola.
Saturday August 19th, 2017 – Dzień Ślub i Wesele
Saturday started out as a grey affair, I went down to the hotel restaurant, had breakfast and then went out to explore Racibórz, a small town in the south of Poland some 10 km from the Czech border. The previous day had been sunny and warm, that warmth remained but the skies were overcast as I set out on my ramble.
There was Halinka, just where I’d left her last night but somehow not looking so alluring in the daylight against the backdrop of commercial units that had been built in front of the railway station. I turned left and walked. I crossed a bridge over a river, I had to Google it – see? mobile phones can be useful.
The River Oder which rises in the Czech Republic and flows into the Baltic Sea via the Szczecin Lagoon on the border between Germany and Poland. I walked on, taking the occasional right-hand turn and hoping that eventually I’d end-up, more or less where I’d started from. It began to drizzle, then rain. I took shelter under the overhang of a tree.
The rain subsided and I walked on, back across the river, under the railway and back to the hotel. I went up to my room, collected my travelling umbrella and went back out again, this time going up towards the rynek that I’d only seen in the dark the previous evening.
I wondered around the Rynek, up and down side streets, just passing the time in idle curiosity. The rain had returned and gave no sign of abating, eventually somewhere around mid-day I sought refuge in the pub I’d visited the previous evening, ordered a beer and surveying the menu ordered a bowl of żurek, which was, as always, delicious.
I sat for a while, people watching, those inside and those hurrying about in the rain. The wedding service was scheduled for 14:00 at the large church I’d passed on the way to the rynek, I had plenty of time, I ordered another beer.
After a while, the rain seemed to be easing so I left Browar Rynek, deployed the umbrella and made my way back towards the hotel. In Plac Długosza, just south of the rynek a fair or something was being set-up, little wooden kiosks and fairground rides. It all looked so forlorn in the rain but there were people gathering, curious to see what was happening.
Back in the hotel room I divested myself of t-shirt and jeans and stuffed myself into shirt, tie, waistcoat, jacket and trousers and smart shoes; oh, how I hate neckties. Hate? Maybe that’s a bit strong. Let’s just say that I’m not a big fan of formal attire, but when I am called upon to wear it, I like to at least try to wear it well, as somebody once sang. In my mind, the tie has to be done properly and not be loose with a great space between the knot and the collar button.
Eventually I was dressed for the occasion and ventured back out onto the street where I met Ela. The heavy rain had mercifully relented, although there was still a very fine drizzle. Ela and I walked, under umbrellas, from the hotel the short distance to the church where a small group of people in posh frocks and smart suits had assembled.
I will admit that I know nothing of Polish wedding customs and was slightly taken aback when a car festooned with red and white balloons arrived carrying both the bride and the groom, Bartek got out and unfurling an umbrella held it for Ola as she got out of the car. It wasn’t really raining by this time but there was still a few spits and spots.
The congregation was ushered into the church and in short order the ceremony began, I didn’t really follow much of it, being in Polish and Latin as it seemed to be. Bride and groom walked down the aisle together and sat in chairs for most of the ceremony. I tuned-out and took to surveying the church which was highly ornate on the inside in a bit of a contrast to the almost plain brick exterior.
The ceremony ended, we all filed out of the church and people were throwing coins at the newlyweds, another custom of which I was unaware. I could see that the coins being thrown appeared to be mostly 1 grosz and 2 and 5 grosze coins which are thankfully fairly small, meanwhile the bride and groom were collecting the coins.
People began to drift away; I was ushered to a minibus with a small group of others and we were taken to the venue for the wedding reception which was in a small outlying village.
There was food and drink and music and laughter and party games and more food and more drinks.
The food came sporadically, at one point a small detachment of staff emerged from the kitchen carrying wicker baskets and patrolled the tables depositing bottles of vodka as they went. It was a fun evening. I had been placed between Ela and Dominik, a friend of Bartek who had very good English and had been charged with explaining to me what was going on, at least I think that was the plan, but what can I say? Everyone had a good time.
I was roped into dancing with various people and, in spite of me keeping my head down, a few of the games being played. At one point I surreptitiously crept out of the hall to get some fresh air. There was a group of the usual suspects who had all also crept out for a crafty cigarette. The rain had gone, the sky was still cloudy but it hadn’t rained for some time judging by the dryness of the tarmac on the road.
The venue was, as I said, in a small village somewhere to the south of Racibórz and the hall itself was on the edge of the village. A road stretched before me past fields of crops, the sun was making an effort to put on a show for sunset, the clouds on the horizon were coloured in hues of yellow and dusky orange, to the colours of which my phone camera totally failed to do justice.
More food, more dancing, more games, more vodka, coffee, midnight, bigos, vodka.
I noticed eventually that people were drifting off, there were not nearly as many people here now as there were at the start of the evening, yesterday evening. Bartek and Ola had left some time before leaving the revellers in their wake.
In the first photo above I’m standing with the newlyweds, this was as we arrived at the reception venue, before the vodka had commenced…
There’s a photo there of me posing with a young lady, a friend of Ola and Bartek. I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember her name, but we both agreed that we needed to pose for that photo.
I was wide awake and not roaring drunk, for all the vodka I’d consumed. Dominik, my English-speaking chaperone appeared and said that it was probably time to go and sleep, I looked at my watch, it was 03:30 and suddenly yes, it did feel that sleep would be a good option.
It was gone 04:00 when I eventually got back to the hotel room. I could see Halinka from the window, she was sitting there, impassive, impressive and yes, now I did feel weary.
Tomorrow… today, I had a free day, and I would go exploring a bit more of Racibórz. I got into bed, tired and slightly tipsy but very happy, and the room wasn’t spinning as I laid my head on the pillow.