Title: The Vistula River
Abstract: This weekend, I visited Kazimierz Dolny, a very old town on the Wisła, or Vistula River. The Vistula is the longest river in Poland. I’ve visited the Vistula in three cities: Warsaw, Krakow, and Torun. In Warsaw especially, the river seems very dirty. I was surprised to find a healthy and beautiful river valley!
Introduction – How are people connected to the environment?
In Your Pocketi, an online travel guide I like, calls the Vistula “the lifeblood of Poland.” After visiting Kazimierz Dolny, I think this is true. For hundreds of years, people in Poland used the Vistula for transportation, food, and water. They still use the river for all of these things.
Kazimierz Dolny is a town dating back to the Middle Ages. There are trails that run along the river for miles. I walked these trails, and I found people fishing, tourist boats, and kayaks. About two miles from Kazimierz, you can visit a well-preserved Medieval fishing village called Mięćmierz. Across the river you can see Janowiec Castle. Kazimierz also has a ruined castle. This shows that towns on the Vistula were very powerful and wealthy during this time.
The land around the Vistula is also important. There are many forests, so a lot of the houses are made of wood. I found an abandoned limestone quarry on my hike. There are lots of other quarries along and near the river in other parts of Poland.
The Vistula River also affects agriculture. The soil in the Kazimierz Dolny area is made of loess. Loess can be good for growing some kinds of grapes used for wine, if the climate is right. I saw many vineyards on my way to Kazimierz. I also saw huge orchards and fields of raspberry bushes.
What makes this environment special or different?
The Vistula River valley at Kazimierz is special because it is wild. Many rivers in Europe have been greatly changed by humans. Several tourist websites call the Vistula the “last wild European river.” I don’t know if this is true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was after hiking around Kazimierz.
After visiting Mięćmierz village (which was like stepping back in time), I climbed a large hill to visit the town windmill. The windmill is very old and sits on a bluff overlooking the river. Looking out over the expanse of green hills, meadows and river was pretty amazing!
What parts of this environment help people to live here?
As I mentioned earlier, the river provides a lot of resources for Polish people. Today, one of the most valuable resources is the river’s beauty. A lot of tourists come to Kazimierz Dolny. I don’t think as many tourists would come if the river wasn’t so beautiful. Next time I visit Kazimierz, I want to take a boat cruise. A couple of boats have been made to look like ancient Polish or Swedish ships. It’s a little cheesy, but looks fun!
What challenges do people face living in this environment?
The Vistula River flows starts in the mountains of Silesia, in western Poland. It is fed by many smaller rivers. Because of this, the water levels in the Vistula can fluctuate.
You can see from my pictures from Kazimierz, Torun, Krakow and Warsaw that a lot of people live on the Vistula floodplain. In 2010, the Vistula experienced major floods. Some small towns that sit right on the river experienced major damage.
This fall, there was a drought, so the Vistula was very low. In Warsaw, the found artifacts from the 1600s when the Swedes tried to conquer Poland. They also found some artifacts from World War II. Of course, droughts are not very good for shipping. When I arrived in Warsaw, I saw some small boats that had gotten stuck on sandbanks. I would imagine that some of the larger ships couldn’t run.
Another challenge Poland faces is pollution. I was surprised at how clean the Vistula smelled in Kazimierz, how clear the water was, and at how healthy the plant and animal life seemed. I found water lilies and the shells of good-sized river clams. I heard many different types of birds. I also found a lot of trash, though.
During the Cold War era and just after, a lot of industrial and human waste was dumped in the Vistula. There is also runoff from agriculture, and from coal mining in Silesia. According to the World Wildlife Fund, most of the river fails to meet the water quality standards of the European Union. I don’t quite understand how it works, but I can tell you that there are different levels of purity, and that most of the Vistula is below the worst level.
How have people been adapting to this environment?
People have adapted to the unpredictable nature of the Vistula by building dams and levees. Dams are not so good for wildlife and water quality, but levees control flooding. In all of the Vistula cities I have visited, you have walk down hills and stairs to get to the river.
Lots of young Polish people like to sit along the river. One group of kids tried to get me to give them some money in exchange for playing guitar and singing a song in English. It was kind of funny.
Dams can be useful for keeping water in the river when there isn’t much rain or snow, but it is lucky that Polish people have been able to prevent too many dams from being built on the river. Klub Gaja is an organization that has tried to keep the Vistula River wild.
I think I found an old dam or levee (or something like that) when I was playing around the river. There was an area with big concrete planks coming out of the water. Walking out on one was probably not the smartest thing I have done in Poland, considering how fast the river was moving. But I did get some cool pictures!
Cities like Warsaw and Krakow have been trying to clean up the Vistula. Years ago, the river was so polluted you didn’t want to go near it. Now, kayaking trips on the Vistula River are very popular. Kayaking is one of my favorite activities. I hope I can find the time to take a trip on the Vistula. I’m a bit nervous about the idea, though. The river flows very quickly!
You all know I like to eat. I can’t visit any new place without trying some local food! This weekend, you get to learn about smalec, or lard spread. It’s basically bacon grease with onion, garlic, seasoning and bits of pork. It’s delicious, but I can feel my arteries clogging every time I eat some. I bought this smalec sandwich from a woman at a market in Kazimierz Dolny. It was served on rich, chewy homemade bread, with crunchy homemade pickles and green onion.
Also, my maiden name, Albrecht, is not just popular in Germany. I climbed Albrechtowka hill (the picture with all of the people posing) and found an Albrechtowka house. How cool is that?