A return journey – part 3


Diesel bus masquerading as a tram at pl. Wonosci in Lodz. Photo Hubar.

(Click on image to see original on Wikipedia and for details of licensing.)

The third part of Robert Hall’s return trip to Poland.

16th – 19th July was spent in Lodz staying with Polish friends in the course of which I received some fascinating insights into life in Poland. I experienced life in a flat in a Polish city tower-block – shed your outdoor footwear, the instant you’re within – dog-poo from outside being a major issue. I tried out meat pierogi which proved to be much tastier than they looked, but unfortunately I was unable to embrace the Polish breakfast delicacy of zimne noszki (pigs’ trotters in aspic). Although I took on board the theory that the dish is an East European relative of the British pork pie, sadly I just couldn’t seem to get there – they looked like, and had the consistency, of jellied eels. Luckily there were plenty of other nice things for breakfast…

Dyspozytor had drawn up a feast of railed-transport-interest things that I should be doing whilst based in Lodz. Inevitably there were more things to do on his list than I had time available. For a start I made only a fleeting acquaintance with Lodz’s metre-gauge tram system – a 217 km network, that includes Europe’s longest interurban line – from Pabianice to Ozorkow a distance of 44 km. On a whim, I asked how long it would take to cover the whole network and received the answer of no less than three days. However, I reckon that if one cut out all the unnecessary frills and just rode the trams non-stop one would be able to emulate the achievements of the famous route bashers who could cover the whole the London Underground network in one day.

Friday July 16th got off to a bad start, Dyspozytor had offered to join me for some of my explorations and a run on tram line 46 to Ozorkow had been pencilled in as the major attraction for the day. Before we started I press-ganged him into helping me with a minor money-changing problem. I had invested in a pile of travellers cheques when my original journey included a Lithuanian leg. But by now I had decided to extend my stay in Poland and dispense with Lithuania, so the travellers cheques had to be exchanged into zloty. It was scorchingly hot. A Kafkaesque episode followed as we shuttled up and down Lodz’s al. Tadeusza Kosciuszki visiting one bank after another; in all of them we received the same answer. Unfortunately we no longer exchange travellers cheques, but why don’t you try bank so-and-so just a few minutes up (or down) the road. Soon we were both wilting. I was all for packing in and changing the travellers cheques back into pounds again in England, but by now Dyspozytor was treating the assignment as a personal challenge and nothing would deflect him from the task.

We entered bank number four. I could see from the body language of the lady behind the counter that Dyspozytor was getting the same reply as before. He interrupted the lady’s explanation’s and launched into a stream of rapid Polish… his words seemed to have some effect, a younger lady who appeared to have some authority appeared from nowhere and said a few words, the mood changed and I was given a form to fill in. A minor hiatus followed when I couldn’t find the receipt that I was given when I bought the cheques, but all came right in the end and after about three quarters of an hour I was clutching a bundle of hundred zloty notes. What on earth did you say to the woman? I asked Dyspozytor. I explained that you were a travel writer from Britain and that we had been shuttled from bank to bank and that at the last bank that we had visited – a subsidiary branch of the bank we were now at – we were told to come here. I was soon to learn that Dyspozytor’s way of getting things done in Poland is not so much to be ‘economical with the truth’ but rather to stretch it to the maximum extent possible.

The nonsense of the morning had cost us several hours and left us both hot and bothered. We walked through the baking sunshine to ul Piotrkowska and ordered a couple of large beers to be consumed in a booth set up in the road. Here Dypozytor told me that Lodz’s textile industry had developed along ul. Piotrkowska. The first textile settlement was set up here as early as 1821, the various tasks necessary to produce cloth – spinning, weaving, bleaching and dyeing – being performed in home workshops. It was also on ul. Piotrkowska that the first stationary steam engine in Congress Poland was put to work – in 1839 in the Biala Fabryka (White Factory) of Ludwik Geyer. However, the real architect of today’s Lodz was Karl Scheibler, who adopted Lodz as his home town, built his first cotton mill in 1855 and gradually built up his industrial empire to become the ‘cotton king’ of Congress Poland. Dyspozytor explained that Scheibler was the driving force behind many of the developments in the city including Lodz Fabryczna railway station, while his son Karol Scheibler jr. was involved in the development of the tramway system.

A strange vehicle looking like a vintage tram hove into view. Dyspozytor explained that the city’s principal north – south tram services used to run along ul. Piotrkowska, but were diverted along ul. Tadeusza Kosciuszki (running some 100 metres to the West) when Piotrkowska was pedestrianised. However, the ‘pedestrianisation’ does not seem to apply to the owners of large expensive cars with tinted windows and most pedestrians keep safe by staying on the pavement. Piotrkowska is the city’s longest street and soon after the trams were diverted the need for a replacement public transport service became apparent. The city’s mayor came up with the wheeze of running a diesel bus dressed up as vintage tram to provide the service. Dyspozytor pointed out how the city was destroying its genuine heritage and replacing it with a ‘Disneyland’ imitation.

Pastoral view – the loop at Stoki. Photo BTWT.

(Click image to expand.)

A couple of beers later we were sufficiently refreshed to return to ul Kosciuszki a street which offered little shelter from the sun. (The street had been widened in communist times by demolishing all the buildings along one side.) We waited till a Düwag GT8 tram on service 46 hove into view. Our plans were to explore part of the Lodz’s longest tram route travelling to some 25 odd kilometres to Ozorkow. But it was not to be. The tram driver made an announcement and all the passengers got off at the next stop. Dyspozytor spoke to the drivera mishap somewhere to the north of us meant no trams could run to Ozorkow for an unspecified period of time. We were allowed to stay on as the tram diverted to pl. Wolnosci to perform a ‘U’ turn. What to do now? An elderly articulated tram working service No 43 hove into view. The service comprises Lodz’s other inter-urban line running East – West and normally runs from Lodz to Lutomiersk, but due to road works the central section was being run by replacement buses. We were to return to service No 43 another day, but I am running ahead of my story.

Our tram was running to its eastern terminus at Stoki, with a short stretch at its furthest end, of single-line running. Our driver on this run turned out to be a tram-buff, doing his dream job. We stayed on board as he went round the loop at Stocki and enjoyed a copious conversation about sundry tram matters during the long layover.

to be continued…

2 Responses to “A return journey – part 3”

  1. Dampfmeisteren Says:

    Thank you for your excellent trip report, which is most fascinating.

    Just a quick question. Why on earth would anyone use travellers cheques these days?

    I use Visa and cash, when I’m travelling. I even managed to withdraw cash on my Visa card in Cuba! All banks in Poland has an ATM, where you can get Zlotys.

  2. Robert Hall Says:

    This was my first trip abroad for a good many years. I was out of practice in such matters, and behind the times ! Also, it seems, apt to take dubious advice. A Lonely Planet or Rough Guide of a few years ago, had recommended TCs for Lithuania, seeing the place then, as rather out of the mainstream. I’ve concluded that in sundry ways, these backpackers’ guides don’t always know what they’re talking about…

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