Friday, 26 June 2009

Poland's short on mountains, really!

I have been less than charitable about the Polish Tourist Organisation's depiction of Poland as 'land of mountains and sea'. The latter is too cold for my tastes. The former - well, if one uses the most demanding definition of the word 'mountain' in English - height above base of at least 2,500m, then Poland has no mountains at all!

Above: You may need to do a double take on this pic, looking south along the road that runs from Nowy Targ towards the Slovakian border. Rearing above the gentle undulations are the Tatra mountains. The highest point in Poland, Rysy, is 2,499m above sea level. All the peaks in the Tatras over the magic 2,500m reside in Slovakia. And my guess is (correct me if I'm wrong), that the horizon in this pic is composed of Slovakian peaks (this being taken north of Białka Tatrzańska).

Part of the problem is linguistic. The Polish word for 'hill' and/or 'mountain' is góra. Just as Polish does not have separate words for 'arm' and 'hand' (both are ręka). Yes, there are diminutives of góra (górka, pagórek), but to 'go upstairs' is iść na górę, 'go uphill' is iść pod górę. While I find it difficult to find lexicographic evidence, I feel that Poles (and let's face it, 97% of us live at less than 500m above sea level) are more inclined to be liberal with the 'm' word.

See this post, in particular this photograph*, in which the overcrowding in Poland's Tatras becomes all too apparent.

But this is not to heap disrespect on the undulating south. Poland has much in the way of attractive and interesting upland, generally unknown to most Poles and foreigners alike. From the Sudety in the south-west to the Bieszczady in the south-east, there is much excellent walking territory here. And indeed, the fact that Eddie and I have returned to Dobra in the Beskid Wyspowy for the third time in a year signifies that for us at least, there's upland charm in abundance around these parts.

*Photo by courtesy of Ewa Świętochowska


Bartek Usniacki said...

the first translation that occurred to me, before reading the whole elaboration is that "hill" is simply wzgórze, which is smaller than góra and according to the definition in my EN-EN dict is suitable.

'm' word - we just don't attach so much importance to it.

baduin said...

In that case, "mountain" in English would be a rather unnecessary word.

"The ten tallest mountains in the UK are all found in Scotland. The highest peaks in each part of the UK are:

Scotland: Ben Nevis (Aonach Mòr, 1,344 metres)
Wales: Snowdon (Snowdonia, 1,085 metres)
England: Scafell Pike (Cumbrian Mountains, 977 metres)
Northern Ireland: Slieve Donard (Mourne Mountains, 852 metres)"

Michael Dembinski said...

I've cycled up Snowdon. In 1911, a Model T Ford was driven to the top of Ben Nevis. Britain is not a particularly mountainous country.

My own definition of 'mountain' is a peak that cannot be climbed on foot. Once you start needing hands and ropes and crampons, then you're talking mountain.

pinolona said...

seriously?! I've been beating myself up for the past two years for not being able to remember the Polish word for 'arm'!! :D
In salsa classes they refer to anything below the shoulder as 'łapka'...

I'm with you on the Tourist Board thing. I mean, yes, there are definitely mountains at one end of Poland, and definitely sea at the other, but (coming from someone who lived in Scotland for the best part of five years) there's an awful lot of flat stuff in between.