Saturday, 30 July 2011

Poland's Baltic coast as a holiday destination

In my 14 years living in Poland, I've been to the Polish seaside just twice. The first time was in 2006. Kołobrzeg. It was 26 September; 26C in the late afternoon. I'd just been to a business seminar we'd organised in Koszalin, and with two colleagues from the office, we decided to go to the beach before heading back to Warsaw. Late September and the weather was gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky; the beach was almost devoid of tourists. We were walking along the water's edge wearing our suits with shoes and socks off and rolled-up trousers; people who passed us took us for Jehovah's Witnesses and gave us wide birth.

Yesterday, I turned up off the night train in Międzyzdroje; it's late July and as it turned out, it would be raining heavily for Most of the day.

Lesson 1 about the Polish Baltic - you cannot be sure about the weather. Unlike the Med.

The concept of taking a night train there and back, allowing a full day to explore a portion of coast is a particularly fruitful one for the curious traveller. You can gain a vast amount by travelling this way. The train becomes both a means of travel and a place to stay the night in one inexpensive ticket; you concentrate your time on experiencing the destination. [I will post separately about Polish night trains.]

So then. I arrive at Międzyzdroje on Friday morning off the night train from Warsaw (departs W-wa Wschodnia 22:28), and the first thing I must do is to go down to the sea again - that atavist urge of the aquatic ape to smell the tang of the salt spray.

Above: the beach, looking towards the pier (molo). The weather is sufficiently bad to keep the holidaymakers off the sands. One thing that struck me was that the amplitude of the tide here on the southern shores of the Baltic is very small - only a few dozen metres between high tide and low tide. Not the hundreds of metres you'd get around the British Isles. [Incidentally, there's no Polish word for 'tide'. Stanisławski and Getionary both give the word pływ, but that's the first time I've ever heard of it. There's przypływ ('tide coming in') and odpływ ('tide going out'), but how would you say 'the tide's turning'?

Above: large, brown sea gulls, a common gull in the foreground. Anyone know what these are? Does anyone know whether sea birds, like humans, are happier when the sun is out? Do they feel joy on a bright day, in contrast to the ordinariness of an overcast day with rain and wind?

Above: looking east from the end of the pier. The heights above the town, Kawcza Góra, reaching over 60 metres above sea level, are a part of the Woliński national park. Below: view from the top of Kawcza Góra; through the trees you can just make out the sandy beach; on the horizon to the left, former East Germany (click to enlarge image).

Up here, you can smell smoke from the fish-smoking sheds down at beach level. The trawlers (Polish: kutry) bring in the catch; it is gutted and smoked in situ; a plethora of beach-side kiosks and bars offer smoked fish to eat on the spot or to take away. Below: a fish smoking enterprise. At beach-level, the smoke is overpowering. Even up on Kawcza Góra, the smell of the smoke is still strong, like standing in close proximity to a bonfire.

The fish are brought in by trawlers; there are far fewer of them today than when Poland joined the EU. Brussels has been buying the fishermen off, scrapping the trawlers and implementing quotas to ensure that the Baltic retains sustainable fishing. Below: a Polish trawler that brings the fish that supply the restaurants that feed the holidaymaker. Note: at this stage, the weather is so bad that I'm unable to clear the lens of raindrops and condensation before the next shot.

Below: the old communist-era trawler infrastructure is still there, resting and rusting.

Where there are trawlers and trawlermen, there are those in peril on the sea. In the old days, there was a lifeboat station here. This old place (below) is now a bar; the Germanic architecture strikes me and puts me in mind of a favourite old novel of mine that I've read several times - Erskine Childers' Riddle of the Sands. Imagine if you will a building like this on one of the Friesian Islands, sometime very early in the 20th Century...

And here. Gothic-on-Sea; look at the brickwork and copper roofing. A close-up view betrays electrics and electronics; transponders, satellite TV and mobile phone aerials, lightning conductors, burglar alarms and Christmas lights, as well as weather vanes and ornamental finials.

The commercial side of Międzyzdroje - tomorrow (and more on Polish night trains).

This time four years ago:
Stained glass, rainbows and floods


jel said...

I'm sure that gulls feel a joy on a bright day. If the day is cold, windy and rainy they're like humans, rather melancholic.

Lovely photos and descriptions. Thanks for them.:)

student SGH said...

I last visited the seaside in 2004 and somehow don't long for it. I'd surely be happy to take a walk along the seashore on a sandy beach around sunset, but hey, look at how holiday resorts look in the hieght of holiday period. Throngs of people - beaches packed to the limit - no room to swing a cat, streest also thronged, overwhelming atmosphere of rural fete, shouts, smell of fried fish, screaming children. To boot - cool water in the sea and prohibitive prices of food and accomodation - sky-high prices adjusted to befuddled tourists...

But a trip for a day to breath in some maritime air - a lovely, spontaneous idea, great you could follow out your plan.

'The tide's turning' - it depends. If you mean the phenomenon tide in a sea, I'd say zaczyna się przypływ / odpływ. If you use it metaphorically, say los sie odwraca :)

Pistefek said...

Always an enjoyable blog - I ought to read it more often.

I couldn't resist answering your question :I think the gulls in your photo are Herring Gulls, not Common gulls (which confusingly always seem to be rarer than herring gulls) - the brown felcked ones are younger birds. I used to think those were the females, but apparently they are juveniles.

This comment is starting to remind me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail...