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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Six: Bialka Tatrzanska

Traditional Górale wedding 
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Waiting at the church door. Traditional Górale wedding in Poland's deep south.
Michael Palin - New EuropeSouth of Krakow we finally leave behind the wide, flat plains typical of most of Poland. As the road begins to twist and turn towards the Slovakian border it also starts to rise and fall and after clearing a 2,500-foot pass we find ourselves in Nowy Targ, the last big town we shall see. Lenin was imprisoned here in 1914, in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. This is the start of the region they call Podhale, and all its signs promise a natural wonderland: skiing, walking, canoeing, climbing, a huge national park.

Everything begins to look different. The roofs of the houses grow wider and steeper, wood replaces brick, and the word Tatras keeps cropping up on signs, houses, hotels and villages.

The Tatras or Tatra Mountains are part of the Carpathian chain. They're a small range whose highest peaks are across the border in Slovakia, but the Poles make the most of them.

There's little accommodation to be had and the best we can find in the long, thin, strung-out village of Bialka Tatrzanska are modest lodgings at the Pensione Stokrothka (which I'm told, though I'm not sure I believe it, means 'Pensione Daisy'). The people who have lived here the longest, the Gorale, have a culture very different from anything else in the country, conditioned by life in the highlands and unchanged for centuries.

The Polish fascination with Gorale culture seems to grow largely from a love of continuity in a country that has been conditioned by impermanence.

We're here at the invitation of a young couple, Beata Goryl and Mariusz Budz, both local ski instructors, who are to be married in true Gorale style, with a reception at the local fire station (in the absence of village halls they are often the only places that have enough room).

We meet up with Beata at the house of her father, a vet, where she is visited by two men on horseback called pytaci, guardians of the ceremonial tradition and ringmasters for the day's events. They are also obliged to keep up a steady stream of observations, verses and general ribaldry in high falsetto voices.

Beata, who is small and lovely in a white dress, patiently bears a cap with a metre-long tail made of plaited pine branches that hangs way down her back, and which she cannot remove until every obstacle to her marrying Mariusz has been removed.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Six: Bialka Tatrzanska
  • Country/sea: Poland
  • Place: Białka Tatrzańska
  • Book page no: 250

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