A long, long time ago in Poland….
As Big ben’s chimes counted down to 2017, or, rather some indecipherable randomite shouted gravelly Polish into Troika radio, I pondered and reflected upon my initial landing in Poland 8 years to the day (minus 1)….
I remember it well. December 30th 2008. As I flew over the English channel to begin my new life in Poland such pertinent questions floated to my mind concerning my new existence. ‘Will they have Marmite”? Will I ever see a premiership game again?” “Will I have to sleigh to work with a pack of huskies?” “Will I actually have WORK to sleigh to”?
As the plane finally touched down in Katowice airport and the doors were flung open by the alluring stewardesses I peered out into the unknown and braced myself. What hit me as I took my first steps from the plane can only be described as a coldness so fierce and bitter that my bones shuddered from the onslaught. Never had I experienced such ferocity. It was only minus 18 degress celcius and yet to peak. (I believe it hit -30 that winter) I trudged through the ensuing blizzard, head down, ready for anything, realising that quite possibly a pack of huskies could well be waiting for me.
After tucking into a plate of sumptious Perogi (dumplings) and getting a fairly good night’s sleep – on a fold down sofa from the 80’s that looked like a granny had been killed – the four of us set off the following morning for New Year’s Eve in Warsaw! A night at the opera!
“Who’s driving” I hesitantly asked that morning. “You are” boomed the reply. My second day in Poland and I would be driving to Warsaw on old, treacherous, communistic roads, in sub-zero temperatures, on the wrong side of the road, in a car that had been nicked named the ‘frog’. A green Fiat Tico. A Limo, it was not. A fear seeped through my body.
We set out on our journey. Not before scraping icicles off the chassis of the Frog and ensuring she was road worthy. To Warsaw we began. This was the trip that would etch onto my brain and encapsulate and form my opinion of Polish road-users for the rest of my life. A five hour journey – wearing full-on winter clothing due to a lack of heating – music bellowing erratically from a mobile as the stereo had conked out and a suave, gangly, 6ft Englishman attempting to drive a tin can. Far from an enjoyable experience but certainly a memorable one.
From this moment onward I discovered the real essence of Polish drivers. Hostile. Bobbing and weaving like boxers, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting driver with a spontaneous burst of speed and careless and unnecessary overtaking. Lacking etiquette and courtesy as well as a complete disregard for speed limits, Polish roads are a danger, and still are to some degree, regardless of the changes to the infrastructure. Why is this? Some tell me it’s possibly due to the past, a lack of patience due to communistic rule; long, insufferable waiting times in most state organisations that have led to this mentality. Yes, it’s changing, but with Poland being one of the dangerous, if not, most dangerous European countries to drive in (on average 2500 deaths a year), who will be the next to suffer at the hands of recklessness?
After several near death incidences, a few ‘birds being flipped’ towards incompetent and overzealous madmen as well as some sharp braking on icy surfaces, and…we made it. Alive and unscathed. A quick change into my dapper ‘whistle and flute’ (suit) in the Hilton and off to the opera. My life was complete. After such a tormenting drive I was rewarded, with, 3 hours of listening to Poles warble a rendition of Andrew Llyod Webber’s – The phantom of the Opera. Did I understand anything? No. Not a thing. Although, mind you, the girls looked great in short skirts.
Welcome to Polsce!