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15 October 1999, Friday
1999 Photographs from Kazimierz Dolny | Panoramic Photograph | Poland Site Index | Home

Friday morning was an early rise (yet again) for a train returning to Warsaw, continuing to Pulawy and changing for a bus to Kazimierz Dolny. The landscape remained relatively flat for most of the journey into Warsaw. I had already been to Warsawa Centralna railroad station several times, so I felt like a pro making changes for the trains. I was still stumbling through the language barrier but I knew enough cues for the layout of the train station and railway system that I could determine exactly where to go. Yellow posters for departure times, white ones for arrivals. Easy.

Departing Warsaw, I saw a house under construction on the city's edge. It has a traditional form: sloped tile roof, broad overhang, dormer windows and white stucco walls. Even though the forms are traditional, the materials certainly are not and the scale of the building components are completely different. The overall dimensions of the house are larger than one built a hundred or more years ago. The size of the concrete blocks allows quick assembly but are too large for use in any kind of coursing details. Consequently, the material is covered with stucco. The size of the wood framing and trim used at the roofing edges are far larger than those on a historic building. It made me question the forced use of contemporary materials and construction to imitate the forms and assemblies of the past. Different materials may require a different approach. I remembered a summer house Alvar Aalto built. It used brick masonry in its walls, coursed in an experimental manner. Aalto's brick use was contemporary to his time in the design and assembly of the material. His house had an outdoor garden, a fire pit and a low surrounding wall. His house worked well. It may be worthwhile to look at this house again. Is there a lesson to be learned from it?

There is a clear change of the landscape on the route from Warsaw to Pulawy. Vast open fields across the countryside give way to more variation in topography and vegetation between undeveloped space and farmland. Each farm plot seems gently nestled into the forest. The colors vary as well: green grass, yellow flowers, white tree trunks and leaves of orange, red and brown.

From the description in my travel guide, I knew the train station in Pulawy is would not be in the center of the town. The bus station is about 2km away and I had no idea which direction to go. There were no maps. Standing in front of the station, I watched the traffic flow and decided to follow it, hoping it would take me to the right place. After about 20 minutes of walking (repacking the weight of my bags in the previous days was paying off now) I saw a few buses, all turning at the same street. In another 10 minutes, I was at the bus station.

The bus ride required about an hour's time from Pulawy to Kazimierz Dolny. As the bus drove farther and farther, the roads became smaller and smaller. We were defiantly in a rural area. Approaching the town, I recognized a few key landmarks from the map I had drawn with Marek two weeks ago. The bus stopped and I stepped onto the cobblestones of the small town's narrow streets. I found the central market square, got my bearings and walked off to the hotel, nearly 1 km away.

After unloading my gear, I decided to follow the hiking path along the bank of the Vistula River as I went back to the town. Along the way, I saw a farmer taking his dairy cow for a walk. The cow was led by a chain looped around its horns as the farmer guided it towards fresh grass along the river bank. It had been nearly a year since I was this close to livestock. Those cows were brown, this one had white and black spots.

Somewhere I read a passage in a book, "the town of Kazimierz Dolny has been immortalized on the canvas of many Polish painters." It is easy to see why this statement would be true. The town lies at the base of a hill, just above the flood plain of the Vistula. There is a slight bend in the river, giving views up and down its length for several miles. The ruins of various medieval fortifications overlook the town from the surrounding hills and each ruin is situated slightly higher than the next. It is an invitation to climb.

The roads to the various monuments and ruins are tight cobblestone lanes which have probably been maintained for centuries. As I climb, I remember a definition by Christopher Alexander in A Pattern Language: #62, High Places, "The instinct to climb up to some high place, from which you can look down and survey your world, seems to be a fundamental human instinct... To get a full sense of the magnificence of the view, it seems necessary to work for it, to leave the car or elevator, and to climb." There are three different high vantage points for viewing the town, river and surrounding landscape: the castle, the tower and the three crosses. All offer similar yet unique views and the time for walking, ascent and decent between each destination occupies a few healthy hours. The view I had from each location was heightened by the approaching sunset.

Returning to the town below, I took some more time to look at the buildings surrounding the central square and the urban layout of the town. The perimeter of the central square is defined by low two and three story buildings. The surface of the square has a noticeable uphill slope. The highest edge contains a run of stairs leading to a low wall with a portal and gate. This is the boundary of the church grounds. A ring of trees lies just inside this wall, obscuring the lower portion of the church building while the roof, tower and spire ascend above. Behind the church grounds are the roadways and paths leading to the ruins and overlooks in the hills farther beyond. Across from the church, on the opposite side of the square, are several ornate merchant buildings. These were the homes of the most prosperous burghers of the town. Just behind those buildings is the aqueduct and main road to the river banks and marina. The same road continues farther inland to homesteads and other farms.

By this time it was almost dark. The farther areas would have to wait until the morning. My visit to Kazimierz Dolny must have occurred at the beginning of the off-peak travel season. Because very few people were out on the streets after nightfall and none of the restaurants were very busy. The waitress at the restaurant I visited seemed surprised that I actually wanted to order a meal. Despite the initial irregularities, the meal was excellent. I walked back to my hotel along a long, dark country road. I saw the farmer again. He huddled several chickens into their coop for the night and then went into his tool shed.


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1999 Photographs from Kazimierz Dolny | Panoramic Photograph | Poland Site Index | Home


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