Dąbrówka Dolna,  Poland

Returning to Poland After 18 Years

Dąbrówka Dolna
Janus Wrzosek
Pierogi

The Place: Dąbrówka Dolna (Western Polish Countryside)

“There’s something ethereal and mysterious about travelling in rural Poland at this time of year… it’s the glimmers of candlelight shining between the trees… the total isolation I felt at Buffalo Ranch; the shroud of silence that enveloped me at nightfall, and nothing but pale light from the moon spilling across fields and flames dancing on stages of wax that give you clues to your surroundings.”

Read About Dąbrówka Dolna

Drifting through the countryside as darkness drew in, I began to appreciate just how lucky I was to be in Poland for October and November.  The world, usually disappearing beyond the reach of my torch, was suddenly illuminated by churchyards that had become beacons, with candles, flickering behind an assortment of tinted and clear glass, turning them into dazzling displays of colour and light. The chill of crisp Autumn nights that I was accustomed to weathering was broken by cemeteries bathed in a gentle orange glow as I came to learn that, with all Saints Day fast approaching, that glow becomes increasingly fierce as more and more candles are lit, and my journey through Poland became brighter.

There’s something ethereal and mysterious about travelling in rural Poland at this time of year. When I look back at that section of my journey, it’s not the Krakow’s, the Katowice’s or the Wrocław’s (read the last interview/article from Wrocław here) that strike me as experiences I’ll never forget; it’s the glimmers of candlelight shining between the trees. It’s the total isolation I felt at Buffalo Ranch; the shroud of silence that enveloped me at nightfall, and nothing but the pale light from the moon spilling across fields and flames dancing atop stages of wax that give you clues to your surroundings. The feeling persists throughout the day, too, as smoke from locals’ fireplaces glides and swirls over the trail ahead, and chickens and goats freely roam the roadside, scattering at the hint of an approaching vehicle. The orange candlelight is replaced by the fiery autumn colours above that rain down in a blizzard with each gust of wind, and the rest of the world seems to melt away as forests, farms and villages like Dąbrówka Dolna roll by.

*Note: Dąbrówka Dolna, a small village with 300-400 inhabitants, was the nearest settlement to my accommodation, but I actually stayed at Buffalo Ranch, located in the countryside beyond the village boundary.*


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Janus Wrzosek, 61, Farmer

“I left the country in 1981 before the martial law started, and lived in Canada for almost 18 years… the communist regime ended in Poland. I came here for a week just to see how it was; would they arrest me? And then I came again after a couple of years and started a business here.”

See Janus' Full Background

I was born in Poland, in the North-East where all the lakes are. I left the country in 1981 before the martial law started, and lived in Canada for almost 18 years. The Marshall Law started on December 13th, and the tanks and army went out into the streets and arrested a lot of people, and that went on for three years. I still travel to Canada every year, sometimes twice, so all my ties are there; my father, the grave of my mother, my sister, brother, my two daughters… all the family.

The first reason I came back was that the communist regime ended in Poland. I came here for a week just to see how it was; would they arrest me? And then I came again after a couple of years and started a business here. But there was another reason. There is a company close to Czestochowa, where you are heading now, they used to stitch jackets for my company. The reason I came back was to check out the production and see how it was going. I ran a business that sold furs, sheepskin coats and leather jackets… motorbike jackets. Do you remember Marlon Brando wearing the jacket with all the zippers? We used to make thousands of them.

 

 What is home to you?

Everything. It’s the place to live, to eat, to raise kids, to meet friends, and family…”

See Janus' Full Answer

Everything. It’s the place to live, to eat, to raise kids, to meet friends, and family; everything. Everybody has got to have a place where you can always come back, where you kids can come back from studying… that’s basically it.

Are you more at home here or in Canada?

“After 10-11 years I could feel more at home in Poland, but still half of my heart is in Canada.”

See Janus' Full Answer

Well, that’s a problem. When we moved to Canada, I stayed for quite a bit, and then I came to Poland, so I felt like my home was in Canada for many years. After being here full-time, which must have been around 1998. After 10-11 years I could feel more at home in Poland, but still half of my heart is in Canada.

What is special about Dąbrówka Dolna?

“It’s one of the cleanest places in this polluted country… At night there is nothing except the moon and stars… lots of stars.”

See Janus' Full Answer

It’s one of the cleanest places in this polluted country. We have 51 hectares of park, mostly it’s woods. So that’s really nice. There’s clean air. There’s no traffic, and not too many people. Wherever you look, you don’t see people or houses. At night there is nothing except the moon and stars… lots of stars.

What have you learned from living in Dąbrówka Dolna?

When I left Poland I was 22, just a youngster. We had everything stacked against us here. All the experience in running a business I learned in Canada, and some of that I brought back to Poland.”

See Janus' Full Answer

When I left Poland I was 22, just a youngster. We had everything stacked against us here. There was not much food, not enough clothes. So Canada was like a new world, everything was different. I went to school there for a little bit and started a business almost right afterwards. All the experience in running a business I learned in Canada, and some of that I brought back to Poland. That’s why it’s a little bit easier for me, plus I know the language, I know the mentality of the people, so I’m pretty good here.

Do you have any memories from when Poland was behind the Iron Curtain?

“…I remember the strike in Poland in 1970, when the Police killed lots of Polish people. There was a big demonstration in Gdansk.”

See Janus' Full Answer

It was 1968, and we used to live near here. There were some Russian tanks going to Czechoslovakia. There was an uprising there, so I remember that and I thought it was really bad. I was 11 years old. But that’s one of my memories. And I remember the strike in Poland in 1970, when the Police killed lots of Polish people. There was a big demonstration in Gdansk. It was really bad.

Can you think of a time you have been proud of Poland?

Poland was left alone many times by its allies… the ‘Allies’. We have always had to fight for freedom, but we never gave up… We got back on our feet, and we’re now standing on our own two legs.”

See Janus' Full Answer

Poland was left alone many times by its allies… the Allies. We have always had to fight for freedom, but we never gave up. With the Russians, with the Germans. We got back on our feet, and we’re now standing on our own two legs. People keep their heads up and remember what happened to us before. You’re from England, you know that Polish people go there and do all sorts of jobs, sometimes the jobs that nobody else would do. They have to go through this.

What is your main concern or worry about Poland?

“…the EU thinks that in Poland things are going bad, and that the democracy is in danger, the Judiciary system is in danger. It’s all wrong. You have to live here to understand what’s happening and why the changes have to be made.”

See Janus' Full Answer

The whole of Europe… the EU thinks that in Poland things are going bad, and that the democracy is in danger, the Judiciary system is in danger. It’s all wrong. You have to live here to understand what’s happening and why the changes have to be made. I talk too much about politics. I’m talking about P.I.S. Last night was the local elections, and we kind of won but not as high as we should have – 33% across Poland. The opposition had about 26%. But this is only local, not parliament.

What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of people from this part of Poland?

That’s difficult because you have two types of nations living together here. There are Silesians – like Germans who didn’t move back to Germany – and new people from Eastern Poland or even from former Polish territory in Ukraine… it’s a mixture.”

See Janus' Full Answer

That’s difficult because you have two types of nations living together here. There are Silesians – like Germans who didn’t move back to Germany – and new people from Eastern Poland or even from former Polish territory in Ukraine, and they live together, so I don’t even know what to say because it’s a mixture. As a nation as a whole, we have all kinds of freaks living here, good people, nice people, immigrants mostly from Ukraine – there’s about 2 million – and some from Vietnam, China, and recently from Nepal; especially in Warsaw and Krakow. In the countryside it’s like the States or in Canada; you don’t see any black people or anything. Only in the metropolitan areas.

What is the best thing to ever come out of Poland?

“Of course the food is excellent. Many old recipes are in use right now, and are shown on TV. They use the old herbs and vegetables and recipes that have been forgotten for many years.”

See Janus' Full Answer

Of course the food is excellent. Many old recipes are in use right now, and are shown on TV. They use the old herbs and vegetables and recipes that have been forgotten for many years. We have many, many historical places; castles, palaces. We have nature; sea, lakes, mountains, beautiful rivers. Everything is in Poland. You can spend time canoeing, kayaking, sailing, skiing… you get everything here.

What do you eat during the Holidays here?

“Typically for Christmas it’s carp. It’s the Jewish dish! The Jewish carp is the best. You should visit Kazimierz in Krakow, the old Jewish quarter.”

See Janus' Full Answer

Typically for Christmas it’s carp. It’s the Jewish dish! The Jewish carp is the best. You should visit Kazimierz in Krakow, the old Jewish quarter. There’s lots of houses still there. Also, we have herrings on Christmas eve, because you’re not supposed to eat red meat before Christmas day. We go for night mass at midnight, and after the mass you can drink alcohol and eat meat and everything. So the first day of Christmas we then eat roasted Turkey, Goose, Pork, and lots and lots of pastries with poppy seeds, and cheesecakes.

What are your favourite and least favourite Polish Dishes?

“I like the birds; duck and goose. They are cooked in a special way with apples or with cranberries, especially the turkey. We pick the cranberries from the wild.”

See Janus' Full Answer

I like the birds; duck and goose. They are cooked in a special way with apples or with cranberries, especially the turkey. We pick the cranberries from the wild. It’s excellent. I have a different diet now so I don’t eat any pork chops and all that stuff. Old men like me have to be on a diet. I can’t afford to have a big belly, so I don’t drink beer at all either.

Reccomendation:

Pierogi! It’s a small piece of dough filled up with meat, cheese, potato and fried onions. That’s the best ones, but there are maybe 100 different types of Pierogis.”

See Janus' Full reccomendation

Pierogi! It’s a small piece of dough filled up with meat, cheese, potato and fried onions. That’s the best ones, but there are maybe 100 different types of Pierogis. There’s one with buckwheat which is nice and not too heavy. You can also get the cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and meat. You have a leaf of cabbage wrapped around it and you cook it with tomato sauce. This is called Gołabki.

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The Plate: Pierogi

“To be honest, it’s a lot of the same to have on one plate, but that can be a good or a bad thing depending on how much you like them, with fans revelling in the quantity of their parcels of starch. Given the consistency, it’s important to supplement each dumpling with a glaze of oil and a helping of fried onions, or else you’ll risk the onset of cottonmouth.”

Read About Pierogi

If there was one Polish dish I was aware of before I visited Poland, it was Pierogi. It is everywhere, whether you’re in the East or the West, or rural or urban areas. It’s cheap, quick to make, and easy to find, so much so that you’d be hard-pressed to visit Poland and not try their version of dumplings. The pride this nation takes in the recipe has given rise to literally hundreds of variations of them, but under Janus’ instruction, I went for Pierogi Ruskie, or “Russian Pierogi”, which isn’t Russian… makes sense, right?

A blend of potato and cheese encased in a blanket of soft, boiled dough, Pierogi was the most exotic food I’d encountered on the Arctic to Asia cycle tour so far, and marked a culinary shift from a Western kitchen, to an Eastern one. Like all polish food, they will fill you up quickly. The dough combined with the potato is a workout for your jaw, and progress can feel sluggish as you press onwards. To be honest, it’s a lot of the same to have on one plate, but that can be a good or a bad thing depending on how much you like them, and fans may revel in the sheer quantity of the starchy parcels. Given the consistency, it’s important to supplement each dumpling with a glaze of oil and a helping of fried onions, or else you’ll risk the onset of cottonmouth. If you’re not convinced on your first encounter, know that basing all your opinions of pierogi on one meal is a bit like basing your opinion of cheese on only halloumi, and that there’s something out there for everyone in the world of Polish dumplings.


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