A Polish Experience

2004 visit to Poland

Impressions from the visit to Skarszewy by representatives of the Sandy community July 2004.

Last summer the weather in Northern Poland was strangely unsettled and cool, just like here. That apart life in Skarszewy continues to feel very different from what we are used to here in Sandy even though the country is modernising quickly and over the past few years we have seen cash dispensers, cyber cafes, pizzerias and even a pelican-type crossing suddenly appear. Combine harvesters are now more common than the traditional horse-drawn ploughs, shops are beginning to permit self-service and sky aerials adorn an increasing number of houses.

There is at present relatively little pollution; the area is rich in wildlife. Roadside verges abound in a wide variety of wild flowers, storks nest on purpose-built perches in the middle of most villages and local children spend much of their summer holidays foraging for mushrooms and bilberries, which they sell at the roadside to raise a few pennies to pay for their school equipment.

Most of the population still live in rather severe-looking blocks of flats, whose exterior and stairwells hold little charm. However bright colours are beginning to appear, window boxes adorn the balconies on the new estate and once inside the apartments impressions change dramatically as we find neat, well furnished living space, cramped by our standards but with most of the usual mod cons. Dishwasher and tumble-drier are frequently found in the bathroom and most of the beds are put-you-ups. Garages and gardens are usually some distance from the living quarters but are invariably neat and tidy. Graffiti is not common but it is beginning to appear with of course English logos!

The Poles eat very well 'though some of the Stratton students running the summer school didn't like the surfeit of mashed potato. Breakfasts are large with cold meats, cheese and sometimes scrambled egg. The one hot meal is taken during the afternoon, anything between 2-5.00pm and tends to be a rather plain meat/fish and two veg. Nothing wrong with the quality of the food. The Skarszewy area is rich in agriculture and most fruit and vegetables are grown organically. Will it last once EU demands sink in? The evening meal tends to be an informal repetition of breakfast, or what you can manage.

The hospitality couldn't be warmer 'though it takes practice and willpower to cope with the vodka regime! They have really good beer, and it's cheap. Moreover they do really like the English. Undoubtedly the biggest impact of the link with Sandy over the past 9 years has been the access to English culture and language. Already more than 150 Skarszewy citizens have visited this area and most had never dreamt of visiting the UK before the link was formed. English teaching is now established in all Primary and Secondary schools in the area, when the link began there was none. The summer schools, run effectively by year 13 students from Stratton Upper, have 'made a real difference' and are enjoyed on both sides. Polish teenagers often know as much about Premiership football and the top 40 in the pop charts as their counterparts here.

Now is a good time to visit Poland. Getting to Skarszewy is easy and cheap now that budget airlines are operating a regular service between Luton and Stanstead and Gdansk. Prices are still relatively cheap. Petrol is around 50p a litre and a litre of ice-cold beer less than a pound. The province of Pomerania boasts the beautiful Hanseatic city of Gdansk, much unspoilt countryside with unpolluted rivers and lakes and interesting resorts such as Malbork castle, the Baltic coast and Gdynia. Amber, silver and glassware are important regional products and still relatively cheap, especially if you avoid the few tourist hotspots.

Local people have had their eyes opened by visiting a very different culture but almost all have returned home with warm memories. Next year we celebrate 10 years of the link between Sandy and Skarszewy. A lot has been achieved during that time on both sides but there remain many untapped opportunities. If you would like to be involved in some way or other in the link with Poland please feel free to contact Max Hill on 681469.

Diary of the Community visit.

Day 1. Departure from Stansted at 09.30. Sitting down for lunch with friends in Skarszewy just after 13.00. Polish time is one hour ahead.

Day 2. Visit to both summer schools in Skarszewy and the nearby town of Starogard. 20 Stratton students doing an excellent job in classes with more than 100 polish youngsters aged between 10 and 20. A few domestic issues to resolve.

Day 3. Meeting with Skarszewy's larger than life mayor Dariusz Skalski to discuss activities for 2005 and the 10th anniversary celebrations.

Day 4. More visits to the summer schools and a barbecue in the country with the Starogard party. Chairman visits local sweet factory and spends time translating all the information on product wrappers into English.

Day 5. Sandy chairman performs the opening ceremony at the new lido facility in the village of Godziewo close to Skarszewy. The main Sandy party arrives in the early evening.

Day 6. Coach visit to Gdansk followed by civic reception in the castle restaurant attended by deputy Mayor Zygmund Wiecki.

Day 7. An early start for the challenge fishing competition. The 3 Sandy anglers are well and truly hammered by a team of semi-professionals. Presentations and lakeside barbecue follow. All the fish caught are taken home for the pot!

Day 8. Last day of summer schools and farewell presentation in the presence of the mayor.

Day 9. Local excursion to an arboretum. Farewell dinner at the castle restaurant. Councillor Peter Blain, the official representative of the Sandy Council, is presented with a good supply of vodka!

Day 10. Departure of community party. Those remaining visit the Teutonic fortress at Marlbork, the largest brickbuilt castle in Europe.

Day 11. Community visit including a historic wooden church, an ultra-modern ventilation factory and an old water-driven power station. Farewell party with LOTS to eat and drink!

Day 12. Goodbye Poland. Lots of happy memories.

Skarszewy has links also with two towns in Germany, Bakum, just south of Bremen and Leck in Nordfriesland. Details can be found at the official Skarszewy town website official Skarszewy Town website

Archives - Skarszewy First Visit 1996 (Press release)

Archives - Skarszewy Visit to Sandy 2003

Archives - Visit to Skarszewy 2007

Sandy Skarszewy 1995 -2007 The story of the link between Sandy & Skarszewy, article by Max Hill.

Sandy Twinning Association - Summer Schools in Poland The story of how the Summer Schools project began. Article by Max Hill