As Ian has returned from holidays, he has passed the holiday baton to me, as I have been partaking of the few first days of my two weeks off work. Last year my wife and I went to Italy by car – this time we decided to hit the Polish seaside, namely Ustka in Pomorskie. Below are some observations.
Gradual road improvement
A definite positive to come from the European Championships being held here was the push for infrastructural improvement in order to facilitate travel between venues. This was highlighted on our way from the south to the north, with two experiences showing the past/present against the present/future. The town of Włocławek seemed to be one big set of road-works, with most roads being dug up and the remaining ones being an obstacle course in pothole-avoidance. However, not long after the A1 highway began, bypassing Toruń before continuing about 200 kilometres to meet the edge of Gdańsk. From leaving originally to reaching Gdańsk, it took us about 6.5 hours, which seemed faster than expected. Now, it was a Sunday morning when we did most of the driving, and if there was any traffic, most of it seemed to be travelling against us, back to the south or centre of Poland. However the road improvements look like hitting home, although with the Euros finished, the impetus to continue might not be there.
When Polish friends and colleagues asked where I was about to go for holidays and I said “the Polish seaside”, the immediate response was almost always, “The water is sooo cold there”. I have to say that I have not felt the extremity of the coldness that everyone was warning me about. For example, yesterday the air temperature was 23 degrees, while the water temperature was 18 degrees. Of course, the water is not exactly warm at that temperature either, but considering that it’s the Baltic Sea, and perhaps factoring in the small difference in air and sea temperature, it did not feel too bad. Perhaps it would be different in the peak of summer in July, with a day of sun and temperatures of 30+ degrees.
Here fishy, fishy
Fresh fish can be seen as a luxury, at least in the south of Poland. There is an understanding in Kraków that if you want to sample the best of the ‘fruits of the sea’, then you have to order fish on Thursday evenings, Fridays or Saturdays, as fresh fish only arrives in town on Thursday. The closer you get to the sea, this luxury becomes a bounty. The past few days have seen menus of dorsz (cod), fląder (flounder), łosoś (salmon), pstrąg (trout) and halibut presented to us, all caught within the previous 24 hours. It almost makes me think twice about being a devout meat-eater. Almost…
Nostalgia – it ain’t what it used to be
The Polish seaside retains a certain charm about it, although more and more Poles will find themselves choosing between going abroad or staying at home for their summer holidays. The seaside has personal historical significance for many Poles as it would have been the main options for holidays when they were growing up. This would be true even down to the locations which people would visit. My wife told me the story of how she was discussing the Polish seaside with two colleagues from work and found that the three of them all went to the same little town north of Gdynia, even though they come from three different locations in central and southern Poland and would have travelled to the seaside in different years, based on age differences.
The heady mixture of salt air, fresh fish, sand between your toes and the sound of the lapping waves builds memories worth holding onto, which shows why large numbers of the fellow tourists we encountered tended to be Polish families with small children (usually infants younger than school-going age). The only requirements for a successful holiday for them would be a bucket, spade, bathing suits, sun-tan lotion and plenty of gofry and ice-cream. Thus for Poles the sea will always maintain that mystical nostalgia which will continue to bring people back.