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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Seven: The Dunajec Gorge

The Dunajec River 
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Leaving Poland in style. Boatmen punt me down through the gorges of the Dunajec River, the border between Poland and Slovakia.
Michael Palin - New EuropeLeaving Poland on a fresh, bright Sunday morning, I'm struck by the numbers of people crowding into mass. In every village the church seems to be the centre of great activity. A devout country Poland, perhaps the most devout of any we've been through.

What also strikes me as unusual are strips of richly grassed meadow with only one cow in them. I see so many of these that I have to ask someone about them. I'm told that because agricultural collectivisation was never imposed on Poland there are still two million farms in the country, of which one and a half million are smallholdings. I must say the cows look big and happy and not at all lonely. Perhaps herds should be limited to one only.

I leave Poland in style, punted down the white-waters of the River Dunajec (pronounced 'Doon-ah-yets') on rafts of lashed-together wooden pontoons by boatmen wearing black hats with leather bands studded with cowrie shells, and blue embroidered waistcoats. Short Poles using very long poles to guide us down some pretty frisky water.

Above us the jagged limestone peaks of the Pieniny Mountains rise sheer from the water in a 1,600-foot-high wall. Behind them cluster the much taller peaks they call Trzy Korony (Three Crowns) with summits over 3,000 feet. It's both a romantic and a dramatic ending to a southern progress that began in Tallinn and has, up till now, been a largely gentle meander across 700 miles of unremarkable flatlands.

The south bank of the river is in Slovakia. Despite the fact that Slovakian fishermen are allowed to catch grayling and trout from the river and the Poles aren't, the countries by all accounts are good neighbours. A wood-built Polish Catholic church faces its Slovakian Evangelical counterpart across the water. People call to each other from either bank. As we near the border town of Szczawnica, Branislav the boatman flicks his cigarette into the white-water and prepares to serenade me out of his country. Tree-fringed pinnacles tower above us. His voice echoes round the rocks, and on the Slovakian side cyclists on a riverside path stop and wave.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Seven: The Dunajec Gorge
  • Country/sea: Poland
  • Place: Dunajec Gorge
  • Book page no: 252

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  • All boats
  • Day 2 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 7 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 8 
  • Pole to Pole