May, 2016

Day-29, May 20,  Sroda Slaska to Legnickie Pole

We trekked for 29 km (18 mi) and we both feel it–hence a short blog. Little intermittent cell service in this village of 900+. Pilgrim-priced lodging ($6.50/person) and food store for dinner–great picnic stuff (big jar rolled marinated herrings, bread, Edam cheese, fresh tomatoes, cold beer—WOW). Life is good.

Couple of pics show the trail. At one point we ran out of trail, finding a dead end at a waste-high rapeseed field. We fought on through waste-high grain and weeds grabbing at my sandals to make me fall–what to do??? We persevered but slowed our pace to a crawl. Then PocketEarth showed a nearby trail that rescued us (mind you, all maps were loaded onto the iPhone back home in California–no cell service needed!). The last pic shows us on an overpass over the A4, an “interstate” traversing Central Europe.

Day-28, May 19, Sobotka to Wroclaw (by bus) then to Miekinia (by train) then on trail to Sroda Slaska 

We followed Jakob’s advice on today’s routing–our friend of the Camino who lives in Sobotka. It worked out well to get in a 15 km walk through dense fields that ended abruptly in impassably high grain (one pic captures that).

Środa Śląska is a town of about 9,000 in lower Slesien, that belonged to Germany up to 1945, then transferred to Poland and ethnically cleansed of Germans as per the Potsdam Agreement. We marveled at the bell tower of St. Andrew’s Church. Incidentally, nowhere else have I seen such majestic structures built with bricks than here in Poland! At St. Andrew’s we also noted the Camino mileage marker–that was a motivator! Only 84 mi. to the German border. 

Day-27, May 18, Sabotka and day trip to Wroclaw 

First some logistics to move from a hotel to pilgrims quarters not far away. While waiting for the bus, we visited the local museum that immersed is in local discoveries of pre-homo sapient tools/bones (100,000 to 60,000 years ago). Then off by bus to Wroclaw for a fantastic sightseeing adventure. We took a 90-minute “golf cart” tour that covered every nook and cranny of the old town: won’t bore you with dozens of pics, only one of the old city hall. We decided to go back afterwards to the national museum–what a gem of medieval art. We only include four unique pieces: a statue of the holy trinity (God the father is rarely depicted); a pieta painting; one of numerous triptychs, each more stirring than the last; and finally, a painting that gave us pause–pilgrims attacked by the local crowds, a practice quite common in centuries gone by.

After returning to Sabotka, we called a “friend of the Camino” whom we met earlier in the morning. He met us at a local restaurant and enriched our experience! The connection of Sabotka to the Camino (recall that we’re 50 some km off the trail) is that early pilgrims used Mount Sleza as a waymarker–a prominent landmark that could be seen miles away. Consequently it became a part of the Camino network with a local St James Church and St James statues (see pic where we’re standing under the main gate into the medieval city of Sabotka.

Day-26, May 17, Brzeg to Olesnica Mala (Then bus to Wroclava and off course to Sobotka)

Today we made it up as we went along. After walking only about 15 km (9mi), we didn’t see any places to stay overnight and a contact to call fell through, so we caught three buses in all deciding to get to Wroclaw (40 km) and beyond (off course) to Sabotka, another 36 km (22 mi) to the southwest.

Sabotka lies on the northern slope of Mount Sleza. Sabotka is on a Polish Camino, one of several that funnel into one in western Poland. Mount Sleza was the site of a sanctuary of the Celtic Boii (a Gallic tribe of the Iron Age) and gives its name to Silesia. I found it interesting that Mount Sleza in ancient times was the pagan Solar cult center. The area was Christianized in the 10th Century. 

We’ll visit the Church of St James (1738) tomorrow, one of the main draws for us. Pics for today include a glimpse of the roads, an impromptu lunch in the forest, and a distant shot of Mount Sleza.

D-25, May 16, Kolonia Popielowska to Brzeg

We left our hunting lodge at around 8 am, and started on the Camino trail expecting about 27 km (17 mi). About two hours into it we found ourselves walking on a levee in tall, wet grass. Our socks were drenched and to top it off, we went in the wrong direction for about a mile! Enough of that! We stopped in the next village, after making up the error, changed socks, and decided to take the highway. The narrow shoulders made it nerve-wracking–never again–we’ll take the wet socks (I have waterproof ones if I get advance warning!).

No pictures–too dangerous from the shoulders. And our $10/person place is still in the suburbs.

D-24, May 15, Opole to  Kolonia Popielowska

We left Opole in the sunshine, but with a chilling wind that made it seem in the 30s–nearly all day. The total for the day was a bit less than the 30 km (18 mi) because our Camino host (and also a guide), Helmut  had us stay on paved roads to avoid construction and mud on the trail. He met us about half way into the walk at a precious Salesian restaurant. The owner spoke German and we wasted no time getting a good beer and German food.

Helmut walked the next 15 km with us showing interesting sites. The first was St Rochus church–his statue hints at pilgrims (the walking stick, the shells). Then he showed us a special spring on the trail with healing powers. It was time to take a rest–and what better place.

Then we finished our second half at a hunting lodge–not quite as rustic as I expected. We each have our own room. Helmut’s father-in-law came to bring food for the morning, to pick Hrlmut up, and a photo session (we’re undoubtedly the first Americans to stay here).

D-23, May 14, Opole-Paczkow and back

Caught a bus at around 9 am for a 2-hr ride southwest to the medieval town of Paczkow. We began exploring by walking around the old wall then visited a few spots: the small plaza with old city hall, on the left, and the church dating back to 1300s. The church on the right in the duo, in fact, was used as as a fortification having a spring as water source inside.

When we arrived back in Opole, we focused on its Cathedral and its inside (one duo) and beautiful painting of the Madonna (standalone pic) renown for its having been the source of miracles. We always strive to get our credentials stamped–not always easy!

Then we walked back to the main plaza with its city hall, across which stand a row of very old, similarly styled houses.

Day-22, May 13, Kamien Slaski to Opole

After a self-serve breakfast, we headed out to Opole, a city of over 125,000 and once the capital of Upper Silesia, itself having a colorful history spanning over 1000 years. Silesia, since medieval times, has changed hands countless times and has been fractured with pieces belonging to Moravia, Bohemia, the Austrian Hapsburg Empire, Prussia, German Empire, Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, Germany and Poland–it’s enough to make your head spin.

Along the way, an Opole TV Crew caught up with us for an interview. I caught them in a few pics, too. The waymarkers also began to have an international flavor. As we neared Opole, we walked along the north/northwest flowing Oder River. It, in fact, becomes the border between Poland and Germany for quite a stretch. We landed a small but adequate room at a Jesuit educational facility on a “donativo” basis. We’ll stay two nights to do an excursion tomorrow to the medieval town of Paczków, also called “Polish Carcassonne” or “Silesian Carcassonne” thanks to its well-preserved medieval fortifications (I’ve seen Carcassonne in France and am ready for a real treat).

The modern statue I’ve included honors the warriors who fought for the independence of Upper Silesia. It was so imposing and beckoned me to capture its image!

Day-21, May 12, Toszek to Kamien Slaski

A wonderful day and one hard to bid farewell to such lovely hosts. We ended the evening before with my first drink of vodka in Poland–and a Finnish vodka at that–they know how to discriminate, and then a superb fresh-mint tea. 

This day started with a hearty breakfast and then a departure to Mount St. Anne, a very popular Carholic Pilgrimage Site here in Poland. At 36 km. (23 mi.) from their house, it bumped us along our trail by two days, and helped build more slack time into a tight schedule. The mount of St. Anne, where a pagan shrine already stood during pre-Christian times, has a most unique geology: it’s a monadnock, an isolated small mountain that rises abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plain. This Upper Salesian area is also strategic to both Germany and Poland and both languages are visible everywhere.

We admired the site, obtained the stamp for our pilgrims’ credentials, and marched on to Kamień Śląski. Here we encountered a popular, nicely appointed Sanatorium at $15 per person incl. breakfast (and they spoke German).  A hundred meters before this health spa, we soaked our feet in a cool wading pool just made for pilgrims (even if we did only walk 15 km/9 mi).

Tomorrow we expect rain and the next two days as well–but it’s fun to walk in the rain as well: pura vida!

Day-20, May 11, Zbroslavice to Toszek

An exciting day! But the first pic I must show is a picture of the gifts the Camino folks gave us–truly from the heart–thank you! The socks with the arrow–how can you go wrong.

 Eddie woke up feeling lousy with nasal and sinus drip and congestion, and felt like taking a day of rest, then changed his mind and decided to go for the 17 km. (11 mi.).

A short way into the walk while accompanied by rapeseed fields on our sides, the TV crew rang us trying to set up a meeting place for a shoot. We finally made it work after at least a half dozen calls. At Lubie, we met them and were involved with the crew for over an hour and a half–interviews in English and Polish–wow!

Then a wile later, a friend of the Camino (my term), picked us up and saved Eddie the last 5 km of walking. He took us to the castle in  Toczek. The town dates back to the 9th/10th century and the castle to 1246. One can just imagine the long winding history.

To top off the day we were invited to stay for the night. Our hostess is not only literally the architect of the house but a great cook besides–the gowabki (spelled golabki) were fantastic.