Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Road To Białystok

Just as advertised, traffic out of Warsaw was very congested. We began to get to know each other as he made his way through town, pointing out interesting landmarks and describing the history as we went. Wojtek took a call after some time while weaving in and out of traffic, and soon decided to take an alternate route.

A couple of the most notable things we saw were a very large road building project and the crossing of the largest river in Poland. The purpose of this and other road projects in Poland is to provide much needed road expansions between key cities in Poland. The major highway between Warsaw and Białystok is largely the same as it was when built by the Soviet Union post WWII, and after our drive that Friday afternoon I can confirm that this expansion has been a long time coming. Białystok is the key transportation hub for the northeastern part of Poland (, so the economic benefits of this project should be seen for some time. The project is largely being funded by the EU. Details on this national project for those interested can be found here:

Soon after the road project we were crossing the Vistula River, the longest and most important river in Poland. The river runs clear across the country and into the Baltic Sea in Gdańsk. The bridge was long and gave a great view of both Warsaw and some of the surrounding rural areas. The Vistula is famous for being the place at which the Bolshevik advance was stopped in 1920. While in Poland, a movie called “1920” was released that goes into detail about the conflict and the battle, which I will get into much later.

Once we were out of the city, the scenery reminded me a lot of Wisconsin. The drive was long even though Wojtek was driving very fast. The numbered signs on the road I thought to be the speed limit were actually just the upcoming route junction number, which Wojtek got a good laugh out of. Driving on the rural roads is an adventure; Polish drivers drive aggressively as a necessity since the roads are too small for the amount of traffic they carry. As we were driving, I noticed the large number of bus stops in the middle of nowhere. They were not as nice as the ones in the city, but good enough for the limited riders that used them.

At about the 2/3 point we pulled into a gas station to get some coffee and to make use of the bathroom. The gas station looked like any typical KwikTrip or SuperAmerica in the states. We were soon back on the road and heading towards Białystok once again.

As we came close to Białystok, Wojtek turned off onto a side road and took the long way around, as he had a surprise for Kasia in mind. After about 20 minutes or so of driving through very small, sleepy Polish towns we arrived in Białystok. She was very surprised at the sight that awaited her: the intersections that were near her apartment were completely redone. Gone were the small intersections of the past, and in their place were a series of large intersections with new bus lanes and bus shelters, and large green areas fully stocked with young saplings everywhere and various shrubs. I can imagine what a sight this will be in 10 years or so once the saplings and shrubs have some time to grow and mature. The U.S. could learn a lesson or two about building a road from what I have seen here.

We pulled up at Kasia's apartment and began trudging up the stairs fully loaded with baggage. Thankfully for us Wojtek lent us his back to help with the bags. J A knock at the door and we were greeted by Kasia’s mom, Zena. After the introductions were made we were quickly escorted to the kitchen where she had a large dinner prepared for all of us. Shortly after sitting down to eat, Kasia’s sister soon joined us for a bit to eat and for desert while we all talked and learned about each other and caught up on life.

Upon eating ourselves into food comas, I was given the tour of the apartment and we were shown where to sleep. The apartment was pretty spacious. The living room had a wall of windows and a door that lead to a decent sized porch. The bathroom was very spacious and modern in design. There was a general closet of sorts in the center of the apartment, and to the left of it was the den. The den was long and narrow, and had bookshelves that ran the length of the room on the right, from floor to ceiling. The bedroom was just big enough, and the kitchen was nice.

As the day drew to a close, the whirlwind that had been the past 72 hours was catching up to us. Kasia and I took the liberty to freshen up a bit, climbed into bed and feel asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows.