Eleven Days in Poland

The parcel of 12 kg of my books for sale at the Conference, ready for the hold of our Ryanair flight to Łódź.

Rows of Bibles, notebooks and pens – the marks of a proper and serious Christian Conference.

The Saturday evening youth group at the church in Piątków, with Robert and Ella, the pastor’s wife.

Dorothea, our stern guide at Auschwitz, outside the first improvised gas chamber and incinerator. Our English-speaking walking tour of Warsaw starting at the Royal Palace.

On Tuesday 28 May, we drove the 245 miles from Aberystwyth via Birmingham – for lunch with Anne – to Stansted Airport.  The journey is a tedious 5 hours and it rained most of the way.  We stayed overnight in the Holiday Inn and made use of their Park, Stay and Go deal so the car could be parked near the hotel for an almost exorbitant price.

Day 1]  Wednesday was more relaxed.  After a couple of platefuls of Holiday Inn breakfast and the 08.30 shuttle bus to the Airport it was a longish wait for the 11.55 Ryanair flight to Łódź, Poland's third largest city and pronounced ‘Wooj’.  I am a great fan, apparently among the very few, of Ryanair.  They have never let me down, unlike, for example, the unspeakable British Airways.  Anyway, check-in was less formal than usual.  Having weighed, discarded and reweighed our cases to meet Ryanair’s advertised stringent 10 kg limit, a check-in assistant told me that 11 kg is OK and they did not even bother to weigh them – they weighed only my 12 kg box of books for the aircraft hold.  The flight was uneventful and we landed at Łódź just 15 minutes late.  We were met by Daniel Kryston, the pastor of Free Evangelical Church at Piotrków Trybunalski.  He drove us to Spała, a village with a conference centre in the middle of nowhere that was once the hunting lodge of the Russian Tsars.  We had a massive suite, constructed and decorated in the bland and grand Soviet style.

Day 2]  We had arrived a day early so on Thursday morning we explored the area on foot, a forested region of huge mixed-species trees and lakes.  After lunch, the Conference registration process began.  The genuine friendliness of Christians should never be underestimated – it is a predisposed affection.  And it was good to meet again some of the people from my previous Polish trip to Toruń, especially Tadeusz Tolwinski, the driving force behind the Conference and my friend and sponsor, and his dynamo wife, Ewa.

Day 3]  Friday was my first lecture day.  About 50 young people gathered to hear me speak on 'Living the Gospel - Youthfully'.  Mateusz Wichary, pastor of the Christian Baptist Church in Sopot, was my translator and he coped wonderfully, despite some of the more technical stuff on contraception and so forth.

My evening talk was to the full Conference of 200+ people on 'Living the Gospel - Bioethically'.  Robert Miska, pastor of Gdańsk Baptist Church translated for me – again a few biological words were troublesome, but how nice it must be not to know what infanticide is.  The Poles say such subjects are never discussed in their churches, though the issues are topical and crucial.

Realised that my website had been taken down by 123-reg, the UK registration company, despite my setting up a direct debit to pay – was I cross?

Day 4]  Saturday.  Breakfast of cheese, tomato, cucumber, bread, frankfurters with mustard and ketchup – yum, yum.  A morning of talks, lunch and the Conference ended.  Then we were driven to the church at Piątków and greeted by Ella – her pastor/husband and son were in Norway on a regular three-month stint working at a fish-processing plant to earn enough to continue preaching for the next three months – sacrifice!  Shrine to Mary across the road, outside our bedroom.

Day 5]  Preached on 'How to Die Well' to about 35.  Simple service – hymns, open prayer and communion.   I opened the bottle of wine because nobody else knew how to.  After lunch, we were driven the 230 km to Kraków and met there by Dawid Koziel (excellent English – studied at Welwyn), who drove us the 100 km to his home in Żywiec, arriving at 9.30 pm.

Day 6]  Monday, Dawid drove us to the  Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps – utterly, utterly shocking.  Our guide, Dorothea, had a stark message to communicate, and so she did, forcefully.  At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz it is incomprehensible.  Everyone, especially budding bioethicists, should visit this place once in a lifetime.

Day 7]  Eastern Europe and Prague flooded by heavy rain.  Watched the Lords’ debate on the Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Bill – the Poles cannot understand why the need.  Caught the train to Katowice and then another to Warsaw.  Booked seats, comfortable, on time and clean – why not so in the UK?  Stayed in the Ibis hotel next to the church.

Day 8]  Wednesday, moved our stuff into one of the church’s guest rooms.  Took the hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Warsaw in general and a 2-hour walking tour of Old Warsaw and the Ghetto – fascinating.  Bombed to bits during the Second World War, Warsaw has been largely reconstructed in its original style.  The Poles cannot comprehend why anyone bothers visiting the city – we disagree.

Day 9]  Breakfast in the Ibis hotel – enough for the day ahead, but never, never drink two double espressos in succession.  Visited the Chopin museum (and bought a CD of his 24 Preludes) and Royal Palace art gallery – delightful.  Light Polish-style lunch at one of the famous and traditional Zapiecek restaurants.  Popped into a church to see the end of a Mass with about 100 attendees – at 4.30 on a Thursday afternoon!  This is a RC country.  Managed to reinstate my website by credit card payment – was I relieved?

Day 10]  Went to Łazienkowski Park with its Palace on the water built for Stanisław August Poniatowski, the last king of Poland.  Red squirrels, ice cream, sitting and looking.  Walked to the Chopin monument.

Day 11]  Saturday, Ibis breakfast.  Caught a bus to Terminal A, Chopin airport and then, wait, wait, wait.  Ryanair flight to Stansted and the reverse trip via an overnight stop in Birmingham, church, lunch and back in Aber on Sunday evening.

Overall assessment.  Weather – both wet and sunny.  Temperature – from 10 to 27°C.  Food – wonderful, filling and different.  Satisfaction level – high.  People – generally charming, but have evidently suffered, from 1795, for about 120 years, Poland was literally wiped off the map.  Churches – small, but vibrant in a Roman Catholic-dominated country.  I hope to return someday – Tadeusz already has a cunning plan for me to speak at various universities and medical schools.

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