The place we stayed, an agroturystyka in a large village/small town called Dobra (between Nowy Sącz and Wadowice) was run by really lovely people, great cooking, flexibility at meal times and - at 50 zlotys (around 11 quid) for bed, breakfast, lunch and supper (40 zlotys for children) - a snip. Eddie noted that there was a railway station in Dobra, and given that the weather on Saturday morning was dismal, we thought it would be a good idea to stroll down there to take a look.
The walk through the village (small town really) was long; we got lost, had to ask the way, neared the station (up the hill) and as we neared it... the sound of a steam whistle! Eddie and I simultaneously broke into a jog (I'm delighted to say that this 50 year-old burdened with camera bag can still out-run his 12 year-old son up a steep hill). The whistling continued. Would we catch the train? We made it up to the station - and there it was - a 2-10-0 Kriegslok locomotive, my favourite steam loco of all time ever, manoeuvering around a rake of five two-axle coaches.
To our delight, it transpired that we were in good time for a steam train excursion from Dobra to Chabówka railway musuem. A quick glance at the timetable showed that we were up for a three-hour steam-hauled trip with an hour's musuem visit all for the equivalent of ten quid! The line is spectacular (by Polish standards) for its mountain scenery. It was here that scenes from Schindler's List were shot - both engine and coaches are 100% authentic for the period.
Above: This locomotive (Ty2-953) was one of over 6,000 built in Nazi Germany as an austerity war locomotive, to run over lightly-laid lines (hence the ten driving wheels to spread the axle load). After the war, over a thousand remained in Poland. The design was so good that long after the war, the engines soldiered on across Eastern Europe, both Poland and Romania building more. Poland still has dozens left, only a few still in steam (sadly).
Above: Before the train set off, there was a chance to climb in the cab and see the fireman at work stoking the boiler. Hot work indeed, but on a cool day, a chance to get warm. Our fireman explained in perfect English that it takes eight hours to get this large engine's steam up to working pressures from cold, and that the coal needs to be shovelled evenly onto the firebox floor (not too thin here, not too heaped there).
Below: Closely observed train. The journey to Chabówka took us over the highest point on Polish rails - at the station serving the village of Skrzydlna. From Dobra to summit, our locomotive was puffing and panting for all it was worth, sending up dense columns of black smoke along with the steam. From Skrzydlna it was downhill most of the way to Raba and Chabówka.
Chabówka itself for me was a sorry sight - lots of interesting exhibits resting and rusting, the owners (PKP Cargo) treating the whole thing as a bit of an embarrasment rather than a potential tourist goldmine (the way heritage railways are run in the UK). I did not feel disposed to spend twice the price of adult museum admission to buy a film-and-photography ticket, so put my camera away during the hour's (rainy) visit at Chabówka. Below: The run back to Dobra. The line was built in 1884 by the Austrians as the Transversal Railway, running from Kraków to Żywiec, just south of the Austro-Hungarian Empire's erstwhile border with Russia). From Raba the line climbs all the way back up to Szkrzydlna before dipping down to Dobra.
The train will be making two return journeys next Saturday (23 August), leaving Chabówka at 09:10 and making its last return run from Dobra at 16:50. I certainly hope to be there, if only to catch the 12:00 departure from Dobra for just the one stop up the steepest incline to Skrzydlna, an 11 minute journey. The best shots are from the back of the rear coach, with the engine running forwards to Chabówka. Your final chance this year for this excellent rail journey is on Saturday 30 August.
This time last year:
New housing development springs up
Beyond Warsaw's exurbs by bike
Mud yields to paving stone on ul. Kórnicka
Starlings on the wire
Armed forces day parade