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Monday, August 16, 2004

"The Hell You Don't Know" Tour: Part I 

We set out last Tuesday morning only an hour behind schedule, which for us is practically right on time, and pointed the minivan in the direction of western Poland. We had a cooler full of juice boxes and water and a box of fruit, sandwiches, and chips. Oh, and Krispie treats--can't have a real roadtrip without Krispie treats!

The drive itself wasn't bad, but it is a solid 8 hours from my driveway to the pottery shops in Poland. The drive through the areas that made up the former East Germany was by far the nicest, as the west has pumped a ton of money into bringing their infrastructure up to par. The highways over there are much more what I envisioned in my pre-Germany days when I thought about the German super-highways--uncrowded stretches of 3 smooth lanes heading in each direction.

Crossing the border was no big deal, but there was a distinct change in the economic scenery. Mom and I agreed that it reminded us an awful lot of little backwoods places in the Florida panhandle. Almost immediately we found ourselves sitting in a traffic jam in a construction zone. Two young men strode up to the van and began to wash our windows in spite of my protests. A couple of euro later, and they were happy to pose for a picture:



After they left, we all laughed about it. Mike said he had been waiting his whole life for somebody to wash our windshield by force, just like he has seen in movies set in big cities. Within 5 minutes, we got to enjoy it all over again when this young man and a friend came along and cleaned us off again:



By the time we pulled into Boleslawiec, the window washing had lost its charm. I started scanning the roadsides for kids with spray bottles and squeegees and adjusting my speed to avoid having to stop near them. We drove through town and got a little bit lost and decided to back track to the Motel Elite, which we had driven past on our way in and which we knew to have guarded car parking. We got our windshield washed another couple of times in the hotel's front parking lot, but then we moved the car to the locked lot and had no further problems.

We got 2 double rooms at 220 zloties (about $62) per room, including breakfast. The rooms were small and simple but very clean. We had supper in the restaurant downstairs (Chinese food) and headed for bed.

As an American headed for Poland, you hear all kinds of cautions: Watch out for carjackers. Careful where you park--your car might be stolen. Oh, the roads are such a mess. Their gasoline just isn't the same as ours. It goes on and on. So when you arrive in the country with your head spinning with this well-meaning advice, you feel rather anxious and defensive. Getting washed against your will doesn't do much to allay these fears. We were plagued by doubts about whether or not tackling this project on our own, without the benefit of a bus tour, was a wise decision.

The next morning, however, Boleslawiec was a different town. The window-washing urchins must have been in school, as we had no further problems in that area. All of the shops that we visited had plenty of parking, and we never felt the need to shop in shifts so that one of us could guard the car. Because we were there in the middle of the week, we frequently had the stores to ourselves.

The kids were not very excited about the shopping part of the trip, but they generally rose to the occasion. Here's Mike enjoying the lack of crowds at one of our favorite stores:



Annabelle probably enjoyed the shopping more, and we have the little Polish pottery animal figurines to prove it:



We started our shopping with the factory shop directly across from our hotel. We were overwhelmed by choice and left practically empty-handed.

We were in a hurry to get to the shop the Americans call the Painted Fence. (Their website isn't much to write home about, but they do have a nice picture of the shop. Plus, the pictures of the kids were taken there, so that gives you some idea of the amount of pottery they have. We bought the bulk of our haul at this shop, which we wound up visiting 3 times that day.

Another good store was Wiza, which was directly across from the factory store next to the Painted Fence. I managed to score a tablecloth printed with a pottery pattern as well as 6 cloth napkins in pottery designs. That store also had wine corks, and Mom and I each bought 4.

After we shopped out the stores in the same complex as Wiza, we realized that we hadn't been doing enough shopping for other people, like my friend Amy, my cousin Julie, and my Aunt Suzie, who were counting on us to bring them back goodies. We made our way across the street back to the Painted Fence, but we were overwhelmed by the choice. It's hard enough to spend your own money when your head is spinning with pottery, so I whipped out my cell phone and we started making phone calls. First I called Suzie, then I called Julie, telling them both: "We're surrounded by pottery. What exactly do you want?" We took their orders and breezed through the store like a well-oiled shopping machine.

We were starting to feel pressed for time, as our plan was to get several hours down the road before stopping for the night. We breezed through a couple more stores, including this one where I bought a half dozen Christmas ornaments decorated in the Americana pattern that say "Operation Iraqi Freedom 2004." Not that I especially want a reminder hanging on my tree, but they were only 5 bucks each, and I'm sure I can sell them in the thrift shop for $12 to $15.

One of the things Julie had requested from the Painted Fence was 6 cereal bowls. After we left the Painted Fence to visit other stores, Mom and I started kicking ourselves for not having grabbed some for ourselves as well. So we went back to the Painted Fence for one final hurrah, grabbed a dozen cereal bowls, and headed out of town.

I still have 1100 miles to account for on this trip, but I want to put all the pottery information together. Yesterday morning we unloaded all the cartons from the van and carefully unwrapped each piece and entered it into our inventory so we could easily straighten out who owes what for which item. If you've ever wondered what 900 bucks worth of Polish pottery (bought, I must add, at obscenely good prices and not all for me) looks like, it looks a little like this:



When we returned home, I had the following email waiting for me from Julie:

The last time I was in Poland (that would be the ONLY time), we had to trade money on the black market, and we were thrown out of our train car so that it could be taken apart and searched. We had to smuggle chocolate in and were bribed for it once by a train conducter, and we called your mom just before going in (to a then-communist Poland) to say over a TERRIBLE connection, "WE'RE GOING IN." I just CANNOT wrap my brain around the fact that you drove your MINIVAN in to go SHOPPING, and called me on your cell phone to place an ORDER! I just keep laughing hysterically whenever I think about it!


I guess it is pretty funny when you think about it. There's something else that's outrageously funny, but both my mom and my husband insist that it is way too raunchy to be included in my generally-PG blog. So if you want to read the dirty details and see the pictures, you're going to have to send me an email.


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