During April, I was lucky enough to do a bit of travelling. The next few posts will bring you snaps from the films that I shot along the way…
Earlier in the year, my wife had told me of her plan to visit her family back in Poland and I decided that rather than join her on this occasion (I go quite often), I’d take the opportunity for a week long road trip with my friend Iain to Scotland, heading to see the Kylesku bridge and exploring the carscapes along the way.
My plans changed when I discovered that while in Poland, G would be travelling south with her mother and sister, to Hungary to see some very old friends for the first time in a decade or more. The trip, travelling through Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary sounded too good to miss. I’d get to see a new country, meet some new people and have time take photographs as I did so as we’d have a couple of willing baby-sitters in tow.
So I decided to join them for the journey south, leaving them in Hungary before travelling back to the UK, meeting up with Iain and heading to Scotland. It was a pretty busy looking itinerary, but I’ve never been a fan of going places to just sit around…
As usual on my travels, I kept a ‘Track My Tour’ log which you can see here. It gives an idea of the ground I covered in the two weeks. (TMT is an app that I love to use, allowing me to look back on trips in the years following and keeping my mum up to date with where I am!)
I decided that I’d shoot both trips only using black and white film. I’d travel light for the first leg in Eastern Europe, carrying only a Leica M6, 35mm lens and Ilford film. Back in the UK, I’d carry the same and add the Fuji GW690ii and a bit of Neopan for the grand scenery.
Monday 17th April – Cossington, UK to Wioska, PL. 1493km
Being early on Easter Monday, the roads were quiet but the airport packed. It was our daughter’s first flight in her own seat and she loved it. On arrival in Poland, we had an Easter-egg hunt around my mother-in-law’s garden – each of us finding a hand-decorated basket of goodies, mine full of beer; an instant reminder of the hospitality that I love in Poland.
After a magnificent lunch, I set back out into the torrential rain, making for nearby Wrocław. It’s a city that I’m getting to know better with each visit. Each time I go, I look for new, photographic subjects and areas to explore. I’ve written before about how I enjoy the challenge of trying to photograph the place in a way that represents my experiences of the country – see this previous post for a better explanation.
My target this time was an area north of the city called Popowice (Pop-o-vee-tsuh). I’d seen a concrete sculpture in a park that looked to be worth a visit. To my delight though, I found an abandoned cement works, next to a disused river dock and impressive bridge over the Odra river – right up my ulica!
Nearby, water pipes run from the city’s power station to heat the housing estates in the suburbs. I find this legacy of Communism fascinating – both the sociopolitical concept behind it and the engineering practicalities of delivering it.
The huge, insulated pipes are a common sight in Poland. They become part of the scenery despite tearing through urban streets, allotments and parks. They are kept above ground to avoid freezing in winter and so that means convoluted constructions to avoid roads and railways.
On the way back from the city, I took a tour of a few of the villages that are now bypassed by the S8 motorway. After years of trucks travelling through them between Wrocław and Warszawa, Poland’s fourth city and capital, the villages rest, shabbily bearing the scars of decades of thundering traffic.
I also took a closer look at Pasikurowice and its odd power-distribution installation. Under the huge skies of the plains of central Poland, pylons march out in all directions from this strange hub. How the power arrives here in the first place is not clear.
Back to Syców, the town closest to G’s mum and this irresistible arrangement…
I got through the beer that the Easter bunny had delivered and set a 4:30am alarm call. Our plan was to begin our journey towards Hungary while Emily was still sleepy…
Tuesday 18th April – Wioska, PL to Bratislava, SK. 595km.
That 4:30 alarm call came and went unnoticed, but we still got on the road early. The whole journey was to be on motorways; a daunting prospect if you’re from the UK. But Polish/Czech motorways aren’t like those at home and despite being only two lanes in each direction, traffic just flows, drivers are sensible and progress easy.
As my passengers dozed, I ticked off the kilometers through Poland and into Czech – enjoying the run-down industrial structures and huge amounts of concrete pumped in service of the motorcar around Ostrava.
From Ostrava to Brno, we seemed to follow a line of hills to the North that were forested, green and an apparent MTB heaven. Once again, I made a commitment to myself to get back to this area and explore it on a bike.
Approaching Bratislava, we crossed the mighty Dunaj (or Danube), mainland Europe’s largest river, and the river that passes through more countries than any other in the world (ten countries – go ahead, see how many you can think of. Answer at the bottom of the page…). At the point that we crossed it for the first time, the river had already run 1000km, with another 1800km to go before it reached the (Black) sea, and yet it was already huge; a mighty, swirling, unstoppable brown juggernaut of water.
Being a native Northern European, only familiar with rivers emptying into the North Sea, the Danube was exotic and seemed distant from home. It was truly captivating and I’d spend quite a bit of my brief stay in Bratislava marvelling at it.
As usual, when visiting new places, I’d dropped a few pins into a GoogleMap beforehand marking things that I wanted to see. Top of my list, and the reason I chose the hotel that I did as it had a view, was the Most SNP (the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising), the iconic UFO bridge across the Danube. It’s a magnificent (and bonkers) piece of Socialist Modernism, revolving restaurant and all. After checking in to our hotel, I rushed straight back out to try and take a decent picture of it.
Crossing the pedestrian and cycleway that is slung below the vehicle deck, the whole structure shook with each passing HGV. I wondered how the bridge had reached its 45th anniversary given the pounding it seemed to be getting from the traffic.
I tore myself away from the river and bridge and took a stroll along the sun-bathed pedestrianised boulevard that is home to the embassies of many nations (only the American embassy had a cage around it and armed guards) and gave Google a three word challenge: Craft Beer Bratislava. The reply was a list of three options. The nearest within a couple of hundred meters. After the early start and a long drive, the first two Slovakian brews offered by 100 Pív went down very well.
Also on my list of places to visit was the equally bonkers Rozhlas a televízia Slovenska – the radio and television building. Designed in the sixties (obviously) but only completed in the eighties, the building, unlike many Eastern-European architectural icons, is in excellent condition and daily use.
It’s been listed in the world’s most ugly building, but I can’t agree. It is striking, unique and importantly, functional. What hadn’t come across in the pictures that I’d seen prior to my visit, is quite how steep those sides are. Those outer offices overhang the floor below by quite a distance – I’d love to have had a look around inside.
I met up again with my family for a late lunch of traditional garlic soup, served in a hollowed-out loaf. It was excellent.
We took shelter from a downpour in a café with grand pretensions. Emily enjoyed the pianist’s performance and gave him some free-form, interpretive dance accompaniment…
Leica M6 – 35mm Summicron-M ASPH
Ilford HP5+ in DD-X
Another storm sent the ladies back to the hotel while I took a walk through the old town and up to the castle – not to see the castle of course, but to have a better view of the river and bridge!
The walk took me past #2 on Google’s craft beer pubs list and so I sampled a couple more local brews. Mistakenly, I went into the smoking area of the bar. It was like a Fields of the Nephilim gig and I got out as quickly as I could find a doorway in the fog. It was a jarring reminder that ten years after the UK banned smoking in enclosed public spaces, other parts of Europe are yet to follow suit…
All pictures were taken on a Leica M6 with a 35mm Summicron-M ASPH and using either FP4+ (in Poland) or HP5+. Both rolls were developed in Ilford Ilfotec DD-X before being scanned at home.
The Danube passes through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.
How many did you get?
You missed Moldova, right?