Poland was a pleasant surprise for both of us. We both weren’t sure what to expect, I’d spent a few days in Poland before but didn’t have much time so only saw a bit of Warsaw. We drove directly from Berlin to Warsaw in a day the first stop beginning in the old town, namely Warsaw castle. Less than 30% of Warsaw remained after WWII, it was probably the worst hit city during the war. They even contemplated rebuilding else where it was that badly razed. Warsaw castle was completely razed to the ground by the nazis as retaliation after the Warsaw uprising.
As was much of its 17th century old town. The Polish did such an incredible job of rebuilding the old town and castle that UNESCO granted it world heritage status in the early 80’s. We spent some time navigating the narrow streets of the old town as well as checking out the decadent rooms of the Warsaw castle. We were both impressed at authenticity of the rebuild, it still felt like a 17th century city centre.
Before leaving Warsaw we checked out the Warsaw uprising monument. Poland was the first country to be occupied by the Germans after only two weeks of fighting the polish army was defeated. All of the Jewish population of Warsaw and the surrounding areas were forced into a small run down area of the city which was walled of and became known as the Warsaw ghetto. Over 400,000 people were forced to live in an area of 5 square blocks with up to 5 families sharing a small apartment.
Towards the end of 1942 The Jews were being shipped away to concentration camps and ultimately the gas chamber. Those who were left that knew of the fate of the others and were still strong enough to fight took up what arms they could gather and organised an attack.
Their valiant attempt to over throw the Germans lasted 3 weeks, much to the surprise of the nazis. Eventually the uprising was crushed and the ghetto liquidated an estimated 300,000 Jewish people were exterminated. The monument is to the fallen soldiers of the uprising.
The next morning we headed for Bialowieza National Park in Western Poland on the boarder with Belarus. It is home to the European Bison, largest land mammal in Europe. Also has the only remaining primeval forest in Europe, unchanged since prehistoric times. From what we read we were really looking forward to the national park, and we’re going out of our way to find it. Turned out to be a complete let down and waste of time. We were told at the information desk there is an area where you can see the bison roam freely so we went to check that out first. It was just a zoo, with enclosures, less than half of them actually had something in them. There were a few bison in a fenced field. The highlight was probably watching the wild pigs grovel in the mud. So then it was on to the primeval forest. We were told it would not be in accessible to me in a wheelchair so we had to take a 4 hour horse and carriage ride at some extortionate price. Despite not having the time we didn’t think it was going to be worth it so it was onto our next destination the Masurian Lake District in Northern Poland.
If the Bialowieza NP was a disappointment then the Masurian Lakes the opposite. We didn’t know a whole lot about this area but it seemed like a nice place to stop after a days drive and have a days break. We chose Mikołajki out of the three towns that were mentioned in the lonely planet. It was supposedly the smaller and less touristy of the three. We rocked up and found a nice paid campsite by the lake with full disabled amenities. It’s worth mentioning that the Polish are really into their camping, virtually every country town in nice areas has private campsites. We noticed there were many foreign people staying at this particular campsite, a lot of them seemed interested in the vehicle, eventually we were approached and asked about our trip we were then asked if we were there for the WRC. Apparently the Polish stage of the World Rally Championship was kicking off the day after next. Unreal! I always wanted to see the WRC and we just happened to stumble across it. That afternoon we met two German blokes Carsten and Marcus, they are well into the WRC and were really keen to learn more about our trip and hang out.
The next day we rented a nice power boat to explore the Lake District. We decide to splurge and get something with some power and speed, after some haggling it cost us about $200AUD for 3 hours including fuel which we thought was a pretty good deal. We packed the boat with our gear and some food for lunch and hit the water. It felt good to open up all 120hp and feel the thing go, unlike the sluggish 3.5 tonne troopy. The day was looking perfect, bright sky’s, beautiful lake and just the two of us. That was until the weather closed in. It started pissing down hard and we weren’t really prepared as the weather looked fine before we left. On top there was no canopy on the boat and with the rain you couldn’t see out the windscreen. We had no option but to find a nice bay, beach the boat and hide out inside the cabin until the weather passed. It worked out well because by the time we had finished our lunch it had cleared and we were good to go again. We spent the rest of the our time exploring Poland’s biggest lake before dropping off the boat and heading back to the campsite.
Another thing that we happened to stumble across was the Wolfs Lair, Hitler’s secret bunkers and command post which he spent most of his time during the war. Another awesome surprise. It was only 40km from the campsite so we jumped in the car and made a move. We got an English speaking guide to show us through the site of 13 gigantic bomb proof bunkers some with roofs of up to 10m thick steel reinforced concrete. As the soviets approached the nazis destroyed each of the bunkers with 10 tonnes of TNT. It’s amazing to see how intact they still are even with that much explosives used.
We woke the next day to the roar of rally car engines as the service area was just up the road from us and shakedown began at 8am. Started of the day properly with a big breakfast full of Polish Sausage. After spending a few hours tweaking some things on the troopy we were off to watch the first stage. As usual we arrived just in the nick of time with an average vantage point but with not many spectators and easy enough to get to. Got to see the cars close up coming sideways around a corner then take off into the distance. Carsten and Marcus had to go hours in advance and walk through kilometers of fields, jumping fences to then battle hoards of spectators.
Next up was the super special stage at the Mikołajki arena. This is where two cars race head to head on a closed circuit making for some spectacular viewing. We left early this time and went along with the Germans finding a much better spot. Was unreal, the sound the dust through the sunset and the gravel flying. That was us leaving Poland on a high, the next day we were outa there first thing and off to Lithuania.