Driving and Bread in Eastern Europe

We left Latvia and crossed into Lithuania early in the morning of June 1, and drove to southern Lithuania. I (david) was unable to observe much about Lithuanian culture or scenery due to the fact that I was sleeping the entire time (plus the wee hours of the morning are do not give good representations of either, even if I had been awake). Dan pulled into a rest stop at 3:30 and we stayed stationary until a little after 9:00, at which point I drove as the others continued to sleep. The new “major” roads in both Latvia and Lithuania (the “major” road in northern Latvia that I talked about in my last post was not new) are still only two-lane highways, but they are treated as three-lane highways. These new roads are built with extremely wide shoulders, and slow cars will pull over to the side of the shoulder—almost completely to the right of the outside line—but continue driving at the same speed. The faster car then moves slightly to the left—just hanging over the center line—and moves around the car. If there are any on-coming cars, then they move over the outside line on their side as well, just to give plenty of room. The system really worked quite well, and I think that the road was wide enough for four cars to travel on it abreast, but I never saw it attempted.

We crossed into Poland and the new, wide roads were replaced with curvy, semi-truck laden, town strewn roads. It took me almost five hours to progress 200 miles in Poland. This was the antithesis of traveling on Poland’s next door neighbor Germany’s roads: the autobahn allows you to cut through Germany quickly and cleanly, like a knife. Using this comparison, driving in Poland felt like we were bludgeoning our way through the country. Having a left-hand drive in right-hand drive Europe is most inconvenient when trying to pass another vehicle; you are unable to see if there is an oncoming car until you are well into the other lane. Therefore, the person sitting in the passenger seat needs to pay attention and tell you when it is ok to pass. Matt would give me a thumbs-up signal to let me know when it was safe to pass a semi.

We found a cheap supermarket (Tesco) on the outskirts of Warsaw, so we stopped to replenish our food supply. Upon entering the store, we quickly realized that food would be extremely cheap, and the best deals were to be had on bread. We picked up bunches of really cheap breads—three types of smaller “bun sized” items that we used for making sandwiches, a big piece of braided sweet bread that was absolutely fantastic, and two giant loaves of regular bread. We also loaded up on pasta and other useful, healthy foods before continuing on our way.

Although Warsaw is Poland’s capital, it apparently does not have any interstate (called motorways in Europe because they are not connecting states like back home) running either around or through the city, so we were forced to crawl through the entire length of the city. Finally south of Warsaw we got on a four lane highway and were able to make better time down to Oswiecim—the city that houses the Auschwitz death camps. Altogether it took almost 10½ hours of driving time to get from where we spent the night in southern Lithuania to Auschwitz in southern Poland.

We parked outside of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and walked to the gate through which the train passed—and was made famous by appearing in Schindler’s List. As we stood by the gate, a group of young Orthodox Jews passed out of the complex singing a melancholy song. I had to wonder what they thought and felt as they were inside knowing that over one million of their fellow people were slain at this site only sixty-five years ago.

We decided to sleep in the car in the parking lot directly across from the Birkenau camp and made supper which consisted of sticky noodles which were almost impossible to clean off of the pot, so we filled the pot with water and let it sit out overnight. We put it on the lid of a metal trash can so we would not forget it when we woke up the next morning…except the next morning the pot was gone. We had been warned that there were a lot of thieves in Poland, but a cooking pot? That seemed unlikely. We then noticed that there was a new trash bag in the can and suddenly we knew what happened. The person who cleans up the parking lot must have thought that we wanted to throw the pot away, but it wouldn’t fit into the trash can so we simply left it on top (she must have ignored the fact that it was filled with water). I had already looked in the dumpster that was in the parking lot and did not see it, but we then decided that the clean-up lady would have put it in the trash bag before throwing it away. Dan went to check the trash bags in the dumpster and about five minutes later came back triumphantly holding the pot like he had just won it as a prize. We were all so relieved. The pot expands our culinary options exponentially and I already can hardly imagine making meals without it. (Don’t worry we did give the pot a vigorous cleaning before we used it again).

david miller

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