A friend and I hit the road last Friday morning for a weekend of pottery shopping (and eating, of course) in my homeland. The city of Bolesławiec in Lower Silesia is Poland’s “Ceramics City,” advantageously sitting on a trade route between Leipzig and Wrocław. Like a good part of Poland, the city had at one point in its 750 year-old history belonged to someone else: the Hapsburg Monarchy, the Prussian Kingdom, Nazi Germany, a Communist republic, and now, finally, it is its own city in the Republic of Poland. Although 60% destroyed after WWII, the city’s pottery-making tradition had been kept alive by displaced Poles who had been living in West Germany (hence, Bunzlauer pottery), and was revitalized in Bolesławiec proper by returning Poles who resuscitated the scant remaining equipment, and who managed to start creating the beautiful pottery by as early as 1948. But enough history.
Pottery pilgrimages are all the rage not only with wives from the American military bases in Germany, but pretty much with every ex-pat group within a 600km radius of Bolesławiec. Many of these seasoned shoppers have thoughtfully written pottery blogs from which my friend and I harvested shopping strategies.
Or so we thought. On Friday afternoon we set out to do a little reconnaissance, yet none of our research prepared us for pottery stores that looked like this. My friend’s eyes welled with tears–her mental shopping list had imploded, and my eyes were as wide as the proverbial deer in headlights–I had not come with a shopping agenda and panicked at the thought of having only a weekend to figure out what to purchase. With heads hung low, and our sad rookie purchases of ceramic Easter eggs the only accomplishments we called it a day and headed back to the inn.
Refusing to be defeated, we came up with a plan over breakfast on Saturday.
By late morning we were still overwhelmed but holding steady. Pattern choices easily numbered into the hundreds, and each pottery studio has its own designs, as well. Elbows jostled in the smaller stores and sofas provided a bit of relief in the larger studios. I am very proud to report that we overcame the challenges; the car was full of pottery on the drive home.
In addition to the traditional patterns, some of the stores offered themed pottery for their known clientele.
(And yes, it does look like the pope is picking his nose.)
Whereas the warehouse and outlet stores had quantity, the more upscale stores had artfully arranged quality offerings. Still, decision making never came easily.
I disagree with the sentiment, but judging by the behavior of some of our fellow shoppers I am of the minority opinion.
I am not the least ashamed to write that I ate 17 pierogis last weekend. Fresh, billowy dumplings filled with mushrooms and farmers cheese and sauerkraut and potatoes and beef–I ate them all. Smaczne!
I also savored chicken consommé with fresh kluski. After seeing Baba in the kitchen rolling the dough, who wouldn’t?
The inn where we stayed could not have been staffed by more gracious hosts (or by more obnoxious guests, but I will get to that later.) At breakfast the first morning were scrumptious-looking little bowls of tuna salad; unfortunately the salad contained eggs, to which I am allergic. I inquired about the possibility of an egg-free salad, but all of the morning’s tuna had been used. Not a problem, as the buffet was overflowing with other delectable choices including French press coffee, a carryover from displaced Poles who had been living in France during the war. Who knew?
The following morning? The staff brought me a bowl of tuna salad, sans eggs. Without my asking! I love my people.
Under a self-imposed 12-step pierogi program after lunch on Saturday, I reverted to another favorite meal on our final night, roasted whole trout. Perfectly prepared, of course, and served with enough butter to make Julia Child proud. My people know how to cook.
Our route home on Sunday took us through the Krakonoski mountains and its national park. Intrigued by a length of roadside vendors along one of the park entrances, we stopped to investigate. Every other vendor was selling smoked sheep cheese.
A popular treat in this region is grilled cheese with a berry jam. Do take note of the label on that jam. Turns out that the Aldi grocery chain in Poland carries select Trader Joe’s items!
After a 17 pierogi weekend, though, one tiny plate of smoked cheese with Trader Joe’s jam was about all I could manage.
The old border crossing between the Czech Republic and Poland.
Giant pottery greets drivers at the roundabouts in Bolesławiec.
Pottery bedecked vintage Skodas are sprinkled around the town, too.
At the Saturday farmer’s market, fresh palm designs, and fresh flannel and house dresses, for the spring season.
Driving around Bolesławiec and surrounds was a cultural journey. Vintage barns sit comfortably across from modern housing.
Baba and Djadja plow their farm with horses, while across the street the next generation uses weed-whackers from the big box home and garden store.
Abandoned and once-beautiful homes await a second chance.
While for others, living off the grid is just fine.
I experienced another cultural journey this weekend, regrettably. I will not mince words: I was embarrassed by, embarrassed for and ashamed of the behavior and conduct of many of my fellow American citizens this weekend in Bolesławiec.
In the stores, cringeworthy conduct.
“Hey, can you grab me another one of those blue plates?” shouted from loud American to another at the far end of a store.
“I gotta pee. I guess since I’m peeing here I probably should buy something.” loudly announced by one American to her friend.
“How much are ya spendin’ on all that stuff? shrilly screeched across the room by one American to another.
And a loud conversation at the payment desk between a woman on her mobile phone and her husband, of whom she was asking permission to spend $100. To be clear, I am not commenting on the financial relationship between the loud American and her husband. The conversation, however, should have been taken outside of the store.
At the Inn, even worse.
The Blue Beetroot Inn is a lovingly-restored barn with just 12 rooms. Gracious hosts, comfortable accommodations, and excellent food made for a pleasantly memorable stay. The dozen or so American women also staying at the inn made the stay memorable in a different way.
Bolesławiec being a small town, once the pottery stores close for the day there are few ways to occupy one’s time before dinner. Now, I’m all in favor a pre-dinner cocktail, but for these ladies, turned loose from their wife and mommy duties for the weekend, the alcohol started flowing a little too early. “Hey, get me a gin and tonic!” was the mantra in the lounge on the first night. Dinner in the cellar restaurant was worse. The more the alcohol flowed, the louder the ladies became and the more the sounds vibrated off the walls, to the point where my friend and I could barely converse. Later that night the drunken revelers stumbled up the wooden stairs and down the wood floor halls to their rooms. Lovely.
On the second level of the Inn is a small sitting area, to where my friend and I attempted to escape before dinner on the second night, though the gin and tonic-shlossed chatter did filter up. Later that evening, a subset of the gals turned the area into a poker hall. Beer bottles clinked and voices were raised like antes. All that was missing was cigars.
Though I am neither a teetotaler nor stodgy and old, and I’d like to believe the weekend was an isolated experience, on Sunday morning I felt as if I should apologize for their behavior. Instead, I thanked the proprietor for a lovely stay and headed home. I’ll leave the apologies to the hungover American 30 and 40-something “girls” gone wild.