Palm Sunday in Poland is truly celebrated well. Today we travelled to Łyse, approximately 135km north of Warsaw to see the celebrations first hand.
Sunday 20/3/2016 – Palm Sunday
Thanks to our friend (Beata) who introduced us to a group called ‘Meetup’, we are on our way to the village of Łyse to see Palm Sunday celebrations. There were nine travellers today, including Basia (tour guide) and Piotr (tour guide); just enough to fill the 9 seater van. It was a multi national group (2 ladies from Poland, 1 guy from Belgium, a couple from Ohio, America – Diana originally from Moldova – and us 2 Aussies), which made for some great conversation during the 2 hour trip to Łyse. Someone made the comment that we were like ‘the League of Nations’ and Greg quickly quipped …. ‘shouldn’t we be making decisions or something’… and that set the mood for the day, what a laugh!
We left Warsaw at 8am, arriving in Łyse at around 10.15am. First impression was one very busy village indeed with so many locals and visitors on the streets. The day was quite cool, but the sun was shining brightly.
We made our way to the 19th century wooden St Anne church, where we were to see some wonderful examples of Palms and the Palm Sunday procession following the blessing of the Palms. There were so many stalls on the pavement. Some large and some very small. The latter usually with a beautiful older lady with a few precious home made palms for sale. The atmosphere was wonderful, everyone so happy and chattering merrily. The cars and pedestrians all just moving slowly together; no horns tooting…. no angry words.. it was just brilliant.
The St Anne’s church was full to overflowing for the blessing of the palms, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to see the many people in traditional dress and the colourful, sometimes very tall palms they carried.
Piotr has been a tour guide for 22 years, and certainly knows his stuff! He was just great in sharing Polish stories, traditions of Palm Sunday and the Kurpie traditions. He ensured we had a perfect viewing point to see the procession of palms before we headed into the market to sample some local wares.
Now you are probably thinking…. “I didn’t know Poland had palms?’ … well they don’t, however Palms are needed for Palm Sunday in the catholic ceremony that symbolises Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem the week before his death, so….. improvising has produced some stunning results. Floral palms are made from dried flowers, pussy willow, wicker, crepe paper etc. The crepe paper flowers are truly amazing. So brightly coloured and in some instances so intricate, yet we are told they are quick and easy to make, indeed this craft is taught in schools.
Traditionally the palm making commences at the beginning of lent. In Łyse there is an annual competition for the tallest and most beautiful palm made…. some can be in excess of 30m tall! After today, the palms are taken home and placed by the shine that we were told most homes have, or placed above the door, or in the roof to ward off lightning or evil. Some are even placed in the beehives for better harvests.
When the procession had passed, we were able to go inside the beautiful old church of St Anne to see it more closely. There were preparations under way for a puppet concert that was to be held later in the day, but none the less, we were able to see more palms as well as go up into the loft for a better look.
From St Anne’s we wandered over to the local market. What delights were in store for us there. We started off with a complimentary vodka shot kindly provided by Basia, which set us up well for our sight seeing and of course…..shopping! Many of the stalls allowed us to ’try before we buy’….. the vodka ’try’ was a full shot, so it was a very merry time we had indeed. The local bread with lard and pickles is scrumptious, and the array of sausages, breads, cakes, crafts and much, much more made for a wonderful time at the market.
There were so many people, stall holders included in traditional dress. Piotr again was wonderful with all his local knowledge and we were entertained by Kurpie folk dancers and singers, buskers and people carrying their palms. All in all it was a delight to ALL our senses.
On the way back to the van, we went back into St Annes for one more quick look. This time there were girls in traditional dress who were happy for us to have pictures with them. Beata told us that the head dress (czolka) worn by the girls can only be worn by unmarried women.
It was finally time to leave Łyse after a absolutely sensational day of sightseeing and shopping. The tour was not yet over however, as our guide extroadinaire Poitr still had a few things for us to see.
First stop was the Kurpie Museum – Muzeum Kurpiowskie in Wachu. The name Kurpie refers to both the people and the region. The Kurpies were forest people, who essentially made their living from the forest. The soil being sandy or muddy is not suitable for farming, however bees do prosper and honey was and is still sought after. We had tasted (and purchased) some outstanding local honey at the market earlier. The Kurpies wore wooden shoes similar to clogs, and the shoes with leather uppers had wooden soles. They were well known for other shoes and sandals woven from the fibre of the Linden tree from the region. It is from these shoes and sandals that the name Kurpie is derived, because Kurps was the name given to the Linden tree fibre shoes. Incidentally these shoes did not last long.
Amber was another valuable item from this area and we were told that it is much older than that from the Baltic sea. Our guide at the museum told us that an amber necklace was equal to the value of a good cow. We also saw many examples of weaving and old weaving looms and tools which were fascinating. There was a beautiful 100 year old water jug woven from tree roots. This vessel was water tight, quite remarkable, and a wonderful example of such craft. The museum guide told us that sadly the last person who could weave such vessels has passed away, and with him this skill. All in all this was a fascinating museum with an amazing collection of Kurpie memorabilia that had been lovingly collected and maintained from the local area. We came away with such a great insight to the Kurpie people and their lifestyle both past and present. It was well worth the stop.
Next stop was for some local food and a drink at a lovely restaurant. There was a most beautiful older lady sitting outside in the cold selling her handcrafts, and there were more easter handcrafts inside as well as scrumptious food.
The last stop was in the town of Pułtuski to see the longest Market Square in Europe and the house where Napoleon had stayed on two occasions. It was dark by this time, yet we walked the square none the less. The Easter decorations were lovely… even in the dark!
We arrived safely back in Warsaw, thanks to Piotr who did the long drive each way, around 9pm… a little tired but extremely happy. We had had a most sensational day thanks to Basia and Piotr and also to Diana, Russell, Baeta and Joris who by their great company and conversation have given us yet more wonderful memories to cherish.
Here are Piotr’s contact details for anyone who may need a ‘guide extroadinaire’.
Piotr works world wide as well as in Poland e.g he is going to Bali with a group next week, and Australia in December. He does groups or singles. We cannot recommend him highly enough .. he is a good bloke! Don’t forget to tell him ‘the Aussies’ recommended him!!
One final picture. When we said there are no palms in Poland, that is not quite true…. There is a BIG 50’ artificial palm tree in the middle of the de Gaulle roundabout, which is located in Jerusalem Avenue, Warsaw. This piece of art is entitled ‘Greetings from Jerusalem Avenue’ and is quite a landmark in Warsaw because of its height and oddity. The ‘Plastic Palm’ is made of plastic, steel and other materials.