Personal Journeys


October 31, 2004|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

A look inside small-town Poland

By Don Miller


My wife decided to return to Poland to visit her cousins, whom she had last seen 41 years ago. My adult son and I accompanied her to the small town of Kietrz (pronounced "catch") in Silesia near the border with the Czech Republic. It was wonderful to relax in the slower-paced countryside after touring major cities.

Kietrz has about 1,000 people. Although there are cars and tractors instead of horse-drawn wagons and plows, daily life in Kietrz retains the feel of a bygone era.

People walk everywhere, buy fresh bread each day, and on Sunday after church visit the cemetery to place candles and fresh flowers on the ornate graves of their loved ones.

A short walk in any direction presents cultivated fields enhanced by the glorious sight of golden canola-seed plants.

My wife's cousins still live in the same house in which she grew up. They now use propane instead of coal for cooking, have a TV and recently got a telephone. But they still rely on a bicycle for transportation and use an outhouse in the back yard. The outhouse was an interesting experience for our son, who grew up in the Washington suburbs.

We were feted to a combination welcoming / birthday party. My wife and one of her cousins were born a month apart. There was good food, a cake and lots of vodka. After a half-dozen toasts of nazdrowie! -- to your health -- followed by a shot of vodka each time, our hosts took pity on my son and me and let us withdraw from the liquid celebration.

Another evening we had pizza and beer for dinner. The town doesn't have a restaurant, but it has pizza delivery. The food we were served -- chicken, ham, eggs and butter -- all tasted better than in the big city.

It's best, though, to stick with basic Polish foods such as pierogi and kielbasa. I ordered a hamburger at a rest stop on the highway, and it came with red cabbage and mayonnaise on top.

Each evening and morning, we walked a mile to and from our basic hotel accommodations to the cousins' house. The hotel had no desk clerk -- actually, there was no staff. We had a key to the front door and locked ourselves in for the night.

The Poles are a rather somber people, not given to smiling in public, and they are rather fatalistic. My wife's cousin said that with his luck, if he went into a wooden church, a brick would probably fall on his head.

But the Poles do have a sense of humor. We were told that so many cars are stolen in Germany and brought back to Poland that German tourists are urged to visit Poland -- because their cars are already there.

We loved visiting Warsaw, Czestochowa and Krakow, but Kietrz made our visit to Poland truly come alive.

Don Miller lives in Bethesda.

My Best Shot

Ruth Crystal, Baltimore

In Jerusalem, a vision of hope

My husband and I joined a global exchange group that traveled to the Mideast to meet with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists. I met many wonderful people, on both sides, who are working hard to find a solution that works for all the region's people. After 10 days of speaking to settlers and those whose homes had been demolished, seeing soldiers at checkpoints go out of their way to be pleasant and others who were unnecessarily rude, after talking to those who said peace was possible and those who said it wasn't -- we were back in Jerusalem's Old City. I looked at the Western Wall, one of the holiest places for Jews, and the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest places for Muslims, and saw their physical closeness not as a problem, but as a sign that the two could someday coexist in the same beautiful way.

Readers Recommend

Palermo, Italy

Ingrid Castronovo, Timonium

The Piazza Pretoria in Palermo has a beautiful -- and controversial -- fountain. It has been called the "Fountain of Shame" by some because of its nude statues of nymphs, satyrs, mermen and mermaids. It was originally intended for a viceroy's Tuscan villa but was palmed off on the Palermo government by a descendant of the viceroy in 1573. The fountain was placed in front of the town hall.

Bath, England

Tami Daniel,


While visiting the ancient city of Bath, I came upon the most beautiful park along the Avon River. The park is so precious to the citizens of Bath that they charge a small admission fee. You can see why.

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