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The Vistula Summer Expedition

I love canoeing

The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition
The Vistula Summer Expedition

I love canoeing

The idea of the Vistula Expedition wasn’t born just like that. I was inspired by my friend, a traveler, Liv Arnesen. During one of our meetings she told me about a certain coincidence of names. In Norwegian the terms Nørpolen and Sørpolen mean the North and the South of Poland but they also mean the North and the South Pole!

I have read many publications about the Vistula River. I was interested in many issues, both the ecological ones and the historical and social ones. It was then when I realized that Polish people had forgotten about the Vistula River, so, while preparing for the project I set the major goal – to return the Vistula River to the Poles. I know that a lot of time will pass before the Vistula River is given back its former position, if whenever, however, I believe that such an idea is worth supporting.

I have canoed the total of 959 km with about a dozen members of youth group from several countries. We stopped in almost 30 towns and villages on our way where we met local communities and discussed the opportunities of the Vistula River development and about its hazards.

The expedition started at Barania Góra where we were guided by Jacek Bożek, the founder of Gaja Ecological and Culture Club. We reached the sources of the Vistula – Biała and Czarna Wisełka. However, due to the low level of water at this time of the year, we started canoeing as far as in Oświęcim and we finished by canoeing onto the Baltic Sea.

During the expedition we were mostly discovering the Vistula but, without all these cities and towns situated on its banks, it would not have such a significance and vice versa, so we spent quite a lot of time seeing the Vistula River towns. We visited Auschwitz State Museum in Oświęcim [Auschwitz] where we saw the rooms with prostheses, hair, crematorium and the death row cell where, among others, the Saint Maximilian Kolbe died as a martyr. It was a shocking experience. This place is a symbol of human defeat. Nevertheless, Oświęcim is not only the place of Jews’ extermination. Although this town has been perceived most often in terms of the holocaust, Oświęcim is also a multicultural town. While staying there we had an occasion to hear the history of the Romani people, Jews and Catholics living in Oświęcim.

We also visited the magnificent Tyniec where we spent a weekend at the soul renewal at the Benedictine Fathers’ Abbey. It turned out that Marian Kołodziej’s painting exhibition was held exactly at the time of our stay. While in Auschwitz I was looking at the walls and items reporting the human tragedy, it was in Tyniec that I saw the real faces of the victims. Marian Kołodziej was a prisoner of Auschwitz Concentration Camp himself who had survived and he has presented the testimony of the history on his paintings.

An important point of the expedition was the sightseeing of the big cities on the Vistula River, e.g. Cracow, Warsaw or Torun through the so called urban games which involved looking for silence, wild nature or stars in a big city. This type of sightseeing triggers the school educators and teachers to organize untypical and original sightseeing trips.

We stopped in small towns lying just next to the Vistula River which attracted us with their history. Piotrawin is an example of such a place. According to the legend St. Stanislaus had a conflict with the king, Boleslaw the Brave, in this place. Besides, even Jan Dlugosz [1] was staying in Piotrawin, which he described in one of his works.

What is even more important, the oldest traces of human business activities found in this place come from the ancient times, more exactly, from neolith.

We were also in Plock – a town where Sister Faustina [2] had the revelation which brings me to mind Edward Stachura’s [3] books. And during our stop in Wloclawek we commemorated the bestially murdered priest, Jerzy Popieluszko [4] .

During the Vistula Expedition we followed the route of castles. One of the most exciting sites were the ruins of the castle in Bobrowniki. We were also in the castle of Świecie, Gniew which used to be the headquarters of John III Sobieski [5] and in Marlbork [6] . There are over 100 castles on Pomerania [7] - you could say that they create a real micro universe.

A lot of places were attracting us by interesting details. For example the village Gołąb situated in the area of Kaziemierz Dolny seduced us with the extraordinary bicycles which were exhibited in the Museum of Extraordinary Bicycles and Drunkenness. Another time, near Miszawa, we saw some kind of side wheel ferry, similar to these ones cruising once on the Mississipi River. In Chrystkow, another place, we saw a Mennonite Cottage from 1770 and we learned about the history of Mennonites [8] - a people rather poorly known in Poland.

While approaching Dęblin we saw war aircrafts flying low above us. No wonder, there is the “School of Eagles” in this town. My friend Krzysztof Urbanowicz is the nephew of Witold Urbanowicz, the Commander of No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron. He was trained right here, in Dęblin, as well as other Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain. Krzysztof gave me his uncle’s diaries some time ago which let me know the history reported by eyewitnesses.

The Vistula Expedition had also an ecological aspect. Apart from collecting water samples and searching for the endangered species of mud turtle, our group stopped at the unique natural centres such as e.g. Kobylnica. There is a research station of the Ecological Research Center of Polish Academy of Sciences [PAN]. We had an occasion to observe the activities of the ornithologists studying the life of gulls and other birds in their natural habitats.

In Warsaw a scientific conference in Sejm [9] and BioBiltz were held. BioBlitz is a scientific competition in which the scientists were competing who will find and describe more animals or plants in the shortest possible time. The scientists from the Ecological Research Center of Polish Academy of Sciences [PAN] in Dziekanów Leśny took part in it. They would search from morning for the whole day and then present their findings and research results. BioBlitz took place on LaPlaya beach in Warsaw. 433 species of life forms were gathered during the meeting. An impressive number! It’s worth mentioning that at a short distance before Grudziądz we saw four eagles Haliaeetus albicilla gliding above us.

Our expedition meant also numerous meetings with people, especially the dwellers of the regions the Vistula. Especially one meeting in Tczew stuck in my mind where we were awaited by a group of pre-school firefighters. They looked cute! They had firefighting clothes and helmets on them. Jasiek Mela accompanied me in some of these meetings. He was talking about his adventures and experiences in a picturesque manner. He focused especially on not giving up, not losing hope and breaking the barriers. All these meetings were most inspiring and held in a warm atmosphere. We discussed different issues, not only the easy ones, at these meetings. We tried to find answers to many difficult questions where there is no single good answer. We met the Solidarity Express members in Auschwitz and we participated in the Youth Forum in Gdansk. Both these meetings were organized by the European Solidarity Centre.

One of the main objectives of the Vistula Expedition was to show people that nothing is impossible and that the disabled can practice the same activities as the abled ones. Maciej Urbaniak, a boy on the wheelchair who participated in our expedition and coped very well with canoeing on the Vistula, was the evidence of that.

We enjoyed beautiful weather during our expedition. The wind was not too strong and the sun was shining. We made frequent stops on the Vistula sandbanks. They were covered with lovely white sand. You can surely say that a real Polynesian and, possibly, an African landscape prevailed there.

The Vistula is a wild river and it does not give way in anything to the Amazon River or the Nile. I am convinced that a huge touristic potential is hidden in it and it’s not the only thing. I believe that the time has come to recover the Vistula’s primary significance. I am sure that the Vistula is a real diamond which should be set in and admired.

While canoeing down the Vistula I was struck by a new idea – a solo winter canoeing expedition down the Vistula River.

[1] A Polish chronicle writer, the author of The Annals of Jan Dlugosz: A History of Eastern Europe from A. D. 965 to A. D. 1480 
[2] A Polish religious, Christian mystic, and nun.
[3] One of the most popular Polish poets and writers of the post war generation.
[4] Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko (Polish pronunciation: [ˈjɛʐɨ popʲɛˈwuʂkɔ] ; 14 September 1947 [1] – 19 October 1984) was a Polish Roman Catholic priest who became associated with the opposition Solidarity trade union in Communist Poland. He was murdered in 1984 by three agents of Służba Bezpieczeństwa (Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs), who were shortly thereafter tried and convicted of the murder.
[5] John III Sobieski ( Polish : Jan III Sobieski) from 1674 until his death in 1696 King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania , was one of the most notable monarchs of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth .
[6] The Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork is the largest castle in the world by surface area.
[7] Pomerania ( Polish : Pomorze ;) is a region on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea in northern Europe, split between Germany and Poland
[8] A people settled in the delta of the Vistula between the mid-16th century and 1945.
[9] The Sejm of the Republic of Poland is the lower house of the Polish parliament.