My Polish Street: The strange old lady with no chickens

After six years in Gwiażdzista we moved again, this time to Młociny. This was a move of a whole 5 km further north (we don’t travel far!), increase in size from 140 to 180 m2 and nearly double the rent (boo! – ED). Have to say that, yet again, we didn’t choose the place because we feel we can’t live in less than 180m2! Just happened that this was one of a limited choice in the area we wanted to be. We didn’t go out searching for 180m2. Still, no need to be embarrassed about it, most folk think that 350m2 houses are quite normal.

But before we look at my current street I wonder, is there such thing as a typical Polish street because every one I’ve lived in has been quite different? In the UK, you could be taken to almost any town or city and find roughly the same arrangements – three-bed semis, detached or terraced housing – all standing neatly in a row with little front gardens and bigger back gardens. A red post box, decent sized pavements, street lights. That probably accounts for a good 80% of the housing in Britain (outside of old city centres) but in Poland, what do we have?

I suppose there are a few common themes. There are, for example, similarities between:

  • The streets you’ll find in the old town areas whether it be Warsaw, Krakow, Wrocław or Gdańsk.
  • The wide avenues that serve as the main arteries through the bigger cities, something like Marszałkowska in Warsaw. Three or four lanes each side, huge distance between the buildings and ideal for the parading of soldiers and ballistic missile launchers.
  • Throughout the countryside you have good distribution of almost identical, narrow, tree-lined roads connecting the villages and towns. With hardly any hills or other natural features to avoid it is not surprising that these are often straight enough to have been built by the Romans. Only the road surface varies from recently renovated tarmac at the luxury end to concrete blocks suitable only for tanks at the other.
  • The internal roads of the large housing estates. Impossible to navigate, littered with dead ends and with residents letting their dogs toilet the common areas. (or is that “dead dogs and residents letting their ends toilet the common areas”?)

Marszalkowska

Marszałkowska

Such expansive vistas as Marszałkowska, above, are rarely, if ever, seen in the UK, unless you’re in Milton Keynes. They certainly fit the idea of living in blocks more than they do British houses. Imagine how stupid Marszałkowska would look if the blocks either side were replaced with rows of tiny houses! I do find though, that the predominant grid pattern and relatively uniform architecture make journeys a little less memorable, albeit a lot easier for the uninitiated to negotiate. In the UK, giving someone directions is far more colourful and goes something like this – “So, you go down Orchard Street, follow it around four turns, down the steep hill, up again and over the mini roundabout where you’ll see the Crown pub. Turn right there, straight across four roundabouts, past the chip shop by the underground station and then turn left at the Red Lion. Follow that road for about a mile (watch out for the speed cameras, narrow lanes, ford, U turn and blind bends) until you see the Royal Oak. The place you want is on the right just opposite the Swan.” (Editors note – my first ever narrative to include the four most popular pub names in Britain)

non gridLondon spaghetti

In Warsaw, lacking in landmarks, it’s a little simpler – “Straight down that wide road full of big grey buildings, right at the third set of lights down the smaller street with smaller grey buildings, right again at the next junction (don’t get confused because it’s identical to the last street), then second left. The place you want is on the right roughly halfway down.”

gridWarsaw more grid-like

Getting more specific and by way of shooting myself in the foot, my little corner of Warsaw is not at all grid-like. We’re living on the Northern edge of town in an area that used to contain nothing more than a palace and a park but has gone on to evolve (see my previous post in this series) like all good Polish suburbs. Fortunately, the area is constrained by the wisłostrada highway to the west, the Wisła river to the east and south and Młociny park to the north so it is not a large district. It has perhaps eight streets and 75 houses at most, the much larger part of Młociny being the other side of the highway. The place we’re in has retained a lot of the ‘parkland’ feel, which is why we like it.

It’s hard to state clearly what is our ‘street’. Immediately outside the house is a roadway but it’s not used by anyone but ourselves so that’s perhaps more of a driveway. Slightly further along you get to the main road through our estate, which looks a lot like this:

internal road

Internal road

This is still a private area though, the only challenge it presents is dodging abandoned bicycles, so probably doesn’t count as “My Polish Street”.  If you go just round that bend at the top you get to ”Checkpoint Charlie’ and large gate. The security guys are fun. I think we must be getting a discount for employing the least scary security guards in town. Our favourite we call “Batman” because he’s as blind as one. We have remote controls for the gate opening and always click it well ahead of reaching the gate. If Batman is on duty he can be seen staring at the gate, open mouthed, wondering why it is moving (having not spotted the large black approaching vehicle) and frantically pressing his button to stop it. which he manages to do just short of allowing a car through! He finally notices the car with impatient passengers and, satisfied that the gate is not possessed by the devil, he presses the button to open the gate again and then sits there staring blankly out the window at what must appear to him as a black shadow gliding past. He pretends to write down the registration number but I guarantee you he has no clue what it is and just makes something up. Whoever checks the logs must be shocked at how many strange cars come and go during Batman’s watch! Captain Haddock is a much more alert guard (when he’s not feeding the cats), probably from all that time spent in the crow’s nest shouting “land ahoy!”. His mate, Laughing Policeman, is also pretty decent although hard to know if we trust him or not judging by the number of dodgy tradesmen he’s likely to send your way.

I should perhaps say that I don’t believe security is necessary in Warsaw and it was certainly not one of our criteria for choosing a place to live. It is a genuine accident that both this place and the last one had security as part of the package, we would have chosen the same places even without security. It helps, of course, but it is by no means a “must have”.

Once through the rigorous security checks you hit the public part of our street, which looks like this:

our street

Our street in all its glory

Yes indeed! One lane, potholes (because nobody wants to admit to being responsible for its upkeep) and an eclectic mix of residences. In the picture above, immediately to the right (see the shiny new white gas/electric box?) is a brand new house built last summer and not yet lived in. This is a very modern design, somewhat Le Corbusier in style with its boring grey arse and garage pointing into our street and the main facade pointing towards the river / park. In stark contrast directly opposite, to the left in the picture, is this place:

old house

Where the strange old lady lives

For many months we assumed this place was abandoned judging by the poor condition it is in. This house has seen no maintenance for at least 100 years and must be so dark inside as to require lighting 24hrs a day. Hard to imagine the facilities are up to much either, although that’s not the end of the world. It was surprising therefore to see one day a little old lady leaning on the gatepost chatting away to a neighbour. Well, we think it was a neighbour, might have been someone offering to buy the plot for half a mill. Anyway, she didn’t accept any offers and so this is where the mysterious old lady still lives.

A few doors up from the old lady you have this place. Considerably more substantial but not the largest place on the street. The whole street is perhaps 50-50 between places like this and others more akin to the old lady’s shack. I suspect the shacks have been in the same ownership for many years whereas the larger houses have been built by those who bought the shack-lands after the owners died or were finally tempted by suitcases full of cash. Here’s a laugh, the owners of the next house along from the one in this picture have just repaved their driveway including a tiny part that is outside their gate and fence line. This part is perhaps 1m wide at best and perhaps 10m long running along the side of the street. For reasons best known to themselves they have found it important to place on this useless strip of paving two devices to prevent anyone else from using it; a kind of home-made metal bollard thing with “look at me” fluorescent tape around it and also an upturned kerb stone!

I can hear them plotting now – “Jacek, we must be sure to prevent our neighbours from driving on our brand new paving. You know what these bastards are like, any excuse and they’ll be popping a wheel on there to avoid a dog and all sorts of things they haven’t paid for!! Pop down to Castorama and buy a couple of really awful looking neighbour defenders will you, rybcza?!”. “But kotku, it is a very narrow street and where we are it is useful to have just a little elbow room.” “Jacek, stop being so bloody stupid! What did our neighbours ever do for us? Now go buy the crappy looking bollards, there’s a good slave chap!” What utter, utter plonkers they must be.

new house

More recent development

Having got to the end of our little street you reach the bigger one that connects us to the main arteries of Wisłostrada or Marymoncka. This road used to be a popular rat-run for those going north on Wisłostrada who didn’t have the patience for the queue on a bank holiday Friday, hence the speed bumps, one visible in the photo. They’ve blocked one end of the road now so there’s no access back onto Wisłostrada but they left the bumps there, just to annoy me and provide an element of protection for the lunatic dogs and doddery cyclists. This road has fewer shacks than our street although there are still a few undeveloped plots. The entrance to the Bruhl palace is here as well as a fair sprinkling of those “oops we ran out of money” unfinished houses. Being a Polish ‘burb, it also has a few businesses run from houses, a Klima service yard, a tyre shop and a beauty salon, mostly at the far end by Wisłostrada.

main street

Old man on a bike gathers speed before attempting the hump

All in all then a pretty quiet rural backwater. One where the sight of Polish farmers walking a couple of cows across the street wouldn’t be out of place and yet only 20 minutes from the Palace of Culture.

It just struck me, I’ve never seen any chickens running loose. This is unusual. There must be chickens somewhere around here as there are plenty of homes where keeping chickens would be de rigueur. Perhaps they keep them inside around these parts? Time to don the chicken-detector……


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5 thoughts on “My Polish Street: The strange old lady with no chickens

  1. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    The chickens were devoured by the strange little lady and her minions, one of whom you could see “talking” to her (he sure was making an offering, you got that one right).

    The guards may seem un-scary to you, but they aren’t there to stop a burglar, you know.

  2. airam says:

    There’s one common thing for these wide avenues – most of them bear the name of Jan Pawel II or alternatively – Grunwaldzka.
    My home town used to be an exception not having Papal street nor road within its borders. This of course could not last too long and our brand new city bypass sees the ‘Jan Pawel II’ name tables stick along it. Yupee, we are back to the fatherland!

  3. […] Polandian, “My Polish Street” series – here, here, here, and here. Also, a post on “drifting” into “voyeurism” in Krakow: “Having a […]

  4. […] Polandian, “My Polish Street” series – here, here, here, and here. Also, a post on “drifting” into “voyeurism” in Krakow: “Having a […]

  5. […] are pathetic and I am incredibly lazy so perhaps it is not the best idea. There is a great article here by Ian Scattergood about Polish […]

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