Burning down the house

No, nothing to do with the 80’s classic from the Talking Heads, nor the last desperate act of a father on the brink, it’s just that it’s rather cold and we ran out of wood!

But before you worry too much its not the house we are living in that we are torching, despite what you might think about a house of straw they don’t burn that well, rather it’s the old derelict house down by the barn.

Eighty or ninety years old, maybe more, it holds many memories for some of the local people. Only this Boxing day we met an elderly lady who remembers visiting the house as a young girl, visiting your neighbours was all the rage back then. The house itself was considered big for its time and its design is one that typifies the Polish countryside for me, with many examples still sanding, nestled between the modern freshly built houses of the last 20 years. If you ever visit Poland I would suggest a visit to one of the many open air museums, http://openairmuseum.pl/ they offer a unique glimpse of Poland’s past architecture and way of life.

Still we made a deal with my father in-law in the autumn, that if he demolished the house he could have half of the wood for his own winter fuel supply. No sooner was the deal struck then the family and quite a few friends descended, although it has to be said the bulk of the work was carried out by mother and father in-law.  We were left with heavy beams, cut to the length of the van for transport back to the family home, piled neatly under tarpaulins and whilst most made the journey quite a bit was set aside for us.

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In the end half of the house was left standing, the weather turned against us and it made sense to keep the shelter in place as there is still a couple of tonnes of clay in there! Which is handy as I want to build a straw bale cottage there in the years to come.

So here I am, cutting with chainsaw and chopping with axe, almost a hundred years of history to warm a new generation. Marvelling at the giant hand carved dove tail joints that held the old house together, it seems a shame to burn it somehow.

But burn it does and it burns wells, too well in fact as the old dry timbers are a honeycomb of wood worm burrows and rot that has set in over the years. I just hope that it lasts us the rest of the winter as I’m not sure what to burn next…um maybe this bit of old furniture in the basement!

Alcoholic constipation

A condition that many people suffered from in their late teens and early twenties, especially in the UK in the late 1980’s early 90’s; where the cultural consumption of alcohol seemed to explode as the nations disposable income increased and even if it didn’t for you, then having a pint seemed like a good way to console yourself! Alcoholic constipation was born – the inability to pass a pub – without stopping off for a pint!

It was around this time, whilst down on my luck, that I bumped into a chap called Victor Budris, oddly enough in a bookies, in Scarborough. He explained to me that he was heading off to Jersey to pick potatoes to fund his lager lifestyle. The rest as they say, especially if you have read my past post, is history.

A Young Persons Railcard, the key to a half price train and ferry ticket to Jersey, was all I needed to head off into the glaring sun as I headed south.  About 20 hours after setting off I arrived in the land of plenty. Unfortunately my meagre savings and the recent expense of travel left me with less than £5 in my pocket and the prospect of a pint was still over 7 miles (12 Km) away. I later learned that we couldn’t have found a more distant pub in the Island from our starting location, but the calling of a tax free beverage and the possibility of gaining employment was the only incentive I needed to make the hike.

Why the long walk for a pint? Victor explained to me that if we arrived at the pub (the La Ralais de Mielles) around tea time then all the farmers would be popping in for a pint after a hard days toil in the fields; this would be an ideal time to say those immortal words ‘gizza job’ and thus find gainful employment as tuber excavators. As a plan it seemed a bit loose, but Victor had three seasons under his belt so I went along with him; what did I have to lose other than my remaining £5 and some boot leather.

Of course the plan worked, my pint cost me less than 50p and we both had jobs within 20 minutes of walking into the pub, not to mention accommodation which, although basic, covered the essentials for survival in a distant southern Island.

For the season of ‘87 The Ralais, our shortened version of La Ralais de Mielles, became a second home, along with The Bell Tap, The Marina, Sands, The Forge, The Watersplash and Les Sables d’Or; yes you guessed it I had started to suffer from alcoholic constipation, and as I returned to Jersey again for my winter break I thought I would visit some of the old dispensaries.

As is often the case in this modern world of finance, the developers have moved in and little remains of the hostelries that I used to frequent; still the pictures are a god introduction of the countryside and architecture of this wartime German stronghold; more of which on another post.

 

 

No time like the present

OK, you may have guessed that there is no way that I’m going to catch up unless I come up with a radical solution and so, for one week only, I’m heading into a new format to enable me to provide an overview of progress over the last three weeks without having to rely on my memory too much.

The Garden: I thought I better give a mention to the much neglected garden, all the work on the house has meant that many a plant has fallen by the wayside, or taken over the way side as they grow out of control. Of course we have had a steady supply of fresh veg and they are part of our daily intake, be in peas, beans, tomatoes, onions or courgettes; you will always find at least one on your plate, but as I look upon the tangled mass of beans and peas I can’t help but think we could have looked after them better, if only by translating the packets and planting the runners with stakes and the dwarf in rows; something that I only half heartedly addressed as I realised our mistake. Still the older beans will be left to dry on the stalks, a fantastic winter staple and any new growth will continue to be eaten. The same for the peas, old stock will be dried for next years seed and anything fresh popped on the plate or in the freezer.

The humanure tomato experiment continues, although we spotted blight in a few of the main crop plants last week so it’s only a matter of time before the experiment has to come to a premature end. However I can report, without the picture I forgot to take, that both plants are bearing fruit on three trusses and look far healthier than their unfertilised counterparts.

The potatoes have taken a hammering from the beetles and much of the foliage was lost in the last few weeks, but we have dug a few up and they are tasting good, so I’m still confidant of a reasonable crop; we’re just waiting for the harvester to turn up along with the neighbours 🙂 the tradition here is to leave them in the ground for as long as possible to prepare them better for winter storage.

The oats are doing well, although we ploughed back about a third of the crop on the top boundary of the field as growth was slow; hopefully this will help as a green manure.

The House:  As you would expect this remains the main focus for us as we try and get as much done as possible whilst we have the weather on our side. Having the help of the volunteers Paul, Alexandra and Iulia was a massive help, the internal window surrounds were remodelled, the entire ground floor received its first clay slip coat, the timber for the terrace was planed, sanded and painted, along with the basement exterior walls to match the rest of the house.

Not to mention our friend Slawek who fired on with the task of getting the terrace ready for the roof; this final task was completed last week and we have since taken delivery of the tin roof to be fitted by the experts as and when they can fit us into their schedule, fingers crossed in the next few weeks. Meanwhile I have started to fit the terrace decking board which we have all had a part in plaining. If anybody is interested we are selling luxury rabbit bedding 🙂

We also had the assistance of our ever helpful friends Steve and Dorota who came over with the tractor and front loader to do a bit of landscaping; saving my back from carting hundreds of barrows of earth; as ever a big thanks for all and everyone’s help.

As the saying goes a picture can tell a thousand word so I’ll save myself a bit a typing

Nature: As ever I seem to forget to appreciate the things that go on around us, but once in a while something happens that I have never seen before and I become focused and appreciative again. I have mentioned the resident buzzard family on a few occasions, in fact I was a little worried that the recent felling of trees by a neighbour had left them homeless and this was the reason why they hadn’t been there usual vocal self, that was until the recent sighting of the first flight training lessons administered by the two adults to their single chick. We have witnessed this ritual for the last three years and it’s always entrancing, but then out of the blue one of the buzzards pulled back it’s wings and went into a dive, more falcon like than buzzard; or maybe not? I certainly haven’t seen them do it before and it was great to watch; as it never caught anything I’m guessing it was just another subject of the training curriculum.

The young hares seem to be ever present, unfortunately for them Zara has a fare turn of speed, and whilst I feel sorry for them if she catches one I’m also reassured by the large numbers that I have spotted in the area; we don’t seem to be suffering from the decline that is news worthy in other areas of Poland.

The young deer are coming closer and closer to the house, thankfully curiosity did not kill the fawn and they easily outrun Zara and Jackie who have so far kept them away from the veg without putting meat on the menu.

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Volunteers: I know that I have mentioned Iulia,  Alexandra and Paul on a few occasions, but I’d just like to say thank you again for all your help, great workers and great company who made a big difference in the few weeks that they joined us. Paul is heading back again in September, gluten for punishment, or maybe just gluten as he loved the food most of all 🙂 We also have two other ‘possibles’ coming to join us late in August so things are looking good and finishing the plaster inside before the winter may be an achievable target.

We did take a farewell trip to Krakow to visit the town of Oświęcim which is more often referred to and better know by it’s German given name of Auschwitz; it’s my second visit, but it was no less sobering for it.  We went for the guided tour, which takes three and a half hours, but I think Paul summed it up well when he said he would had liked the time to just sit and reflect for a while rather than dealing with the information overload as the guide talked through the expansive and industrialised extermination camps. A worthwhile trip and highly recommended to everyone, but if you get a chance take time to reflect, then do, especially when you see Birkenau.

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Up to date :  Well pretty much so, of course we have had a few parties, BBQs and visitors, but that’s just part of life in Poland, especially when the weather is as good as it is. We are back in Rzemien for the usual Sunday lunch that couldn’t be beat and another week is only a good nights sleep away from us, so until next week (maybe) na zdrowie.

Where we’re at and what to do

A few people have asked me our location in Poland and whilst I may have occasionally dropped hints and names into posts I have never really explained in depth, so I thought I would try and provide a few links to explain our location and provide a feel for the surrounding area.

This post will eventually become a page at the top of the blog so if you would like any specific information added about the area or available activities then please let me know and I will amend accordingly. Remember we want to take guests in in the future so this will hopefully become a guide for guests.

The nearest village is that of Pstrągowa although we tend to use the village of Czudec for any shopping trips; it has a population of about three thousand and as a consequence has more than just the one shop; the journey through the forest is also great fun in our trusty Niva 🙂 We have friends nearby who own a number of four wheel drive vehicles and they have toyed with the idea of providing excursions over some of the more challenging terrain, so watch this space.

The area caters well for walkers and mountain bikers, with many marked routes and paths through fields and forest. The laws in Poland allow free roaming over private land, provided there are no signs displayed stating the opposite. Mushroom picking is the national pastime and foraging trips will be organised when the season allows.

The City of Rzeszow is around 30-40 minutes away by car and we visit there on the first Sunday of every month to check out the antiques fair; it could be described as a flea market but I thought I should big it up as its amazing to see what they have for sale; from war time antiquities to hand crafted copper baths! I will do a post about it after our next visit.  A trip to Rzeszow also gives you the chance to peruse the big name shops which seem to be springing up all over since the expansion of the airport. Rzeszow itself has quite a history and can be an interesting day out if you visit the old parts of the city even if you can’t help but notice the communist influence on some of the buildings as the town expanded. In the summer there are a number of cultural festivals with food and music often laid on for free in the central square.

Back to the ranch and the countryside; it’s the reason we choose to settle where we did and the Google map below gives you a good idea of how remote the area is. Try the co-ordinates below to explore the area on Google Maps and Google Earth

49°57’52.85″N    21°45’37.66″E

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This is part of the real charm for us, only one road in, no close neighbours and a reassuring number of green tones on the map. And even though the land is predominantly agricultural, a big farm in considered big at 10 hectares (24 acres) and most are just 1 or 2ha; many of which are no longer farmed. The farming also seems to be done in a traditional way and the only additive I have seen used is lime and copious amounts of animal manure. Odd, to me, is the lack of boundary walls or fences; with the exception of the occasional electric fence to protect against wild boar, most fields are left with a little strip of scrub land to mark their border.

One of our closest neighbours runs a dairy farm of around 18 cows so many of the surrounding fields are devoted to fodder crops and hay; he is obviously doing well as he is the only farmer in the area with a tractor registered in this millennia. The standard mechanised plough puller predates my birth and there are a number of Heath Robinson devices running around, built by the ever industrious and inventive farmers of the land; horses are also still used by many and it’s not unknown to see ploughs pulled my manpower alone! We buy our milk from a small nearby farm and the hand milked white stuff is delivered by one of their children when ever we need any; one day we hope to produce our own.

There is no denying that this is the poorest region of Poland, but for me that makes it the richest.

As you would imagine all this countryside lends itself to bird and nature watching and we are lucky to have a pair of buzzards that nest close by; I have enjoyed watching them bring up their young for the last two seasons and the acrobatic training can be mesmerizing. As well as the wide variety of bird species deer and fox are a common sight, not to mention slow worms, lizards and newts; I hope to study and learn more about the diversity once we are settled.  It’s also worth mentioning that in this remote area, devoid of street lights, the night skies are dark and clear; perfect for the stargazers out there.

Despite the natural beauty that surrounds us we still like to travel to the Bieszczady Mountains and we have scaled many of the peaks on our trips there; it is very reminiscent of the Lake District without the lakes, with the exception of Solina which you pass by on the way. Many of the hill tops go beyond 1000 meter (3280 ft.).

It only takes a few hours to drive there and once there you have a choice of hostels, hotels and lodging houses to choose from depending on your required level of luxury. We normally stay in one of the Hostels at around 25 Pln (£5) per night; communal kitchen’s and dining areas are the norm, but they are always warm and inviting and you have he opportunity to meet some interesting people. The StayPoland website is a great source of information if you are wondering what you can get up to in the area.

I have yet to ski in Poland, but it is something I hope to do in the future and as well as Bieszczady we have a few more local slopes within an hours drive; nothing too taxing, but more than a challenge for my armature talent.

Of course there are many other things to see in the area, the history of old Poland is all around and there are state funded outdoor museums named skansen throughout the country. They normally cover a wide area of land and showcase the buildings of the last three or four centuries, which are painstakingly moved from their original location and reconstructed on site to create mini villages through the ages. These include some very impressive wooden churches that have survived many hundreds of years.

I love to visit them whenever we come across a new one, especially enjoying the frequent open days showing how life was in the past; artisan craft demonstrations, food markets and enactments of past farming practices, all make for a great day out.

Krakow is around a two hour Journey and has so much to offer that it would warrant several pages, so I’ll leave it to the experts and point you in the direction of http://www.krakow-info.com/ ; the site has a few less adverts than your usual city guide. My personal favourite place to visit is the historic square, which has yet to succumb to the madness of weekend ‘stag do’ tourism; it does happen, but the seedier industries that normally go hand in hand with this kind of weekend are hidden away and tend not to spill out into the street.

I feel I should also mention the Milk Bar which serves a traditional Polish set menu for less than a fiver, fantastic food and one of the few times we actually eat out; well worth hunting down.

I just noticed I’m into 1300 words so I can imagine this post will be broken down further when it becomes a page; so if you would like me to add anything then I’d appreciate your feedback, what would you like to do on a holiday to Poland?

Hall of Residence

The one thing I can say about my sister is that she has taste, which is probably why she had her own interior design company once upon a time; back in the day she was very well known and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Kevin McCloud before he hit the TV screen, and refitting a fifty room manor houses was not unknown. Sadly a number of reasons, including ill health, have meant that she is no longer whisked off by helicopter to Chivas whiskey distillery to rearrange the decor.

But true to form, when she moved back to Yorkshire from Spanish Galicia, she picked an absolute gem of a house and in a perfect location.

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Hillary Hall in fact, late 17th, early 18th century, grade II listed building; my new temporary Hall of residence.

Of course the downside to living in an listed building is that the landlord was unable to put in double glazing or make too many alterations to try and keep the heat in, and it gets a bit nippy; my first job of the day is to get the fire lit 🙂

In saying that, with all this cooking and baking I’m doing the kitchen stays nice and toasty and I have a decent view out of the window when I’m busy cleaning up MY mess 🙂

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I wish I’d have taken the pictures yesterday when the sun was shining, although that may have been a false representation of what the weather is normally like ‘up north’ Maybe once I’ve finished sprucing up the garden I’ll get a few more shots, rumour has it that the sun may shine again later this month.

Knitting with nails

I just love hearing some of the stories of how people used to cope when they lived under communism, todays tale of a women who learnt how to knit with nails, as knitting needles weren’t available, put a smile on my face. It also spurred me on to write a post; although I’ll probably have to go off subject!

As the snow has started to melt with the rising temperatures of the last few days I decided to take the dogs on an alternative walk and take a few photos of the nearby palace, or fortification as it is referred to on Wikipedia, before the snow and ice completely disappear.

The palace is just behind Gosias parents house and I would be able to see it from our window if it weren’t for the trees; it was recently renovated for the reputed cost of five million zloty (about a million quid). Its worth taking a look at the Wikipedia photo for the contrast, although I have just looked through my archives and found a couple from 2007, which gives you a good idea how things have changed. Money well spent I think, although its a shame that its not open to the public; instead the new owners have decided to fill up the moat that encircles the property and erected a fence to enclose the extensive patch of land that comes with the dwelling. I can’t blame them, but I had to laugh when I saw that the local kids had found a way in and where happily sledging down the embankments that surrounds the house.

The surrounding area of land is a public park, with a school and other educational facilities nearby. Gosia said that she could get out of bed and be at school in under 5 minutes if she just happened to sleep in. The gate in the fence at the back of the house is still used by the local children as a shortcut to the school; a number of them even park their bikes in the garden before morning registration.

Whilst the school has seen recently development and appears to be in a good state of repair there are a number of other buildings that could do with a cash injection; the one below, in particular, seems ripe for renovation and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone puts up the money; as long as they don’t end up fencing it off.

In amongst all of this history you still find the occasional sign of the old communist Poland which I find just as fascinating and I wish Gosia were here to help me out with the explanations of what things were in the past. My favourite if the old mill that used to process the grain for the surrounding area. I’m sure much more went on than just milling grain, but all it is now is a derelict shell; very reminiscent of the textile mills back in Yorkshire. There is a rumour going around that the owner of the palace has his eye on the place and is looking to develop a hydro electric plant, so who knows what it will look like in a few years.

Progress is already leaving its mark on the area, which is one of the reasons I don’t often take this walk anymore, not because of  the renovation or the fact that they have resurfaced the old track and they even make an attempt to keep the area tidy once a year; no something more subtle than that. With progress comes control and as the recently erected signs clearly state (if you can read Polish) dog shit will not be tolerated! Sorry, but I left my poo bags back in the UK.