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Polish Pottery

Dec 29, 2007
"I'm too young to be collecting dishes!" Yes, these famous last words came out of my mouth shortly after moving to Germany. I'd see the stuff everywhere - decorating the walls at a friend's house, overflowing with food at a potluck gathering, being sold by at a booth outside the post store. And don't forget each and every shopping bazaar - the table surrounded by a frenzy of ladies was sure to have a well-stocked selection from Poland or Italy.

I resisted its tempting allure for the first couple of years and believe it or not, my husband caved first. I was engrossed in a pile of carved wooden boxes as my husband explored the pottery table nearby. Then, he uttered those nine little words that he's probably regretted ever since, "what do you think about buying some Polish Pottery?" It was all over. We went home with five different pieces that afternoon but it was just the beginning - countless patterns, every color imaginable, and plenty of shapes and sizes - it turned out that not only was I not too young, I needed it all.

I took my first Polish Pottery shopping trip a few months later with the USO - you know, the one that you spend an insane 30 hours in a state of pottery-induced, it-doesn't-matter-how-much-I-spend euphoria. Everyone loads on a big touring bus at 9 pm on a Friday night and at around 4:30 am, the shopping madness begins. Shop owners know when the busses arrive and put themselves out of bed early to make that extra money. Each shop is a race - not only against your new friends on your bus but against that next tour bus you HAVE to stay in front of. Dinner plates, dessert plates, coffee cups and saucers, serving dishes, baking dishes, tea sets, salt and pepper shakers - anything you need for the kitchen or dining room. Recently, I've seen pottery items that you can use outside the kitchen such as wall decorations, planters, and some rude ones I won't mention ... Some people have their one, beloved pattern while others, such as myself, mix and match for an eclectic look (they are also easier to replace if, heaven forbid, something breaks). Stop only for a short lunch of goulash to keep your energy level up and keep going.

The trip is also a learning experience, not just a chance to lose control. When looking at the pottery, try and purchase only 'category 1' items. The category indicates level of flaws so the higher the better. Category 1 pottery is oven safe for up to 425 degrees F and dishwasher safe (although I don't trust it ... I don't even trust my husband to hand wash it ... if you saw my collection of crystal glasses, you'd understand). Category 2 is oven safe for up to 325 degrees F and 'probably' dishwasher safe. Category 3 and higher should only be used for serving. Also, if you find the label 'unikat' on the bottom, the pattern is original to the store you purchased it from. The Golden Rule of Polish Pottery Shopping in Poland is: if you find a piece/pattern you like, purchase it there! You probably won't be able to find the exact same piece anywhere else so if you can stand the idea of potentially losing a couple dollars vs. getting that special piece, do it!

At about 5 pm, it's time to head back. The bus is crammed, the luggage spaces underneath the bus are as full as they can be, and every bump in the road you hit produces a worried 'gasp' from the exhausted shoppers. The Stuttgart USO automatically gives everyone two seats and by this time, you are saying a silent prayer for that ingenious perk. You get back to post around the wee hours of 3 am and barely have the energy to conjure up that little white lie to your spouse on how much you *actually* spent. Your body is screaming with a mixture of exhaustion and cramps from the bus but it was worth it! Especially when you move back to the states - watch QVC and you'll see what I mean. The other day, those silly, smiling ladies were selling one dessert plate for $42!

On a final note, I recommend going with a group to Poland as opposed to just you and the family. Bus trips, although tight and you have to concede to the groups schedule, it's better than getting your car stolen (which happens quite a bit - and how easy do you think it will be to track it in a former Eastern Block country??). I've heard so many of these car jacking stories - one woman brought her husband along to watch the car ... he did - watched it get driven right out of the parking lot. I had a friend tell me that she'll only drive her car to Poland if her husband goes AND he drives the car in circles in the parking lot while she shops. I've also seen small groups, whether friends or organized by a resourceful military spouse, hire a chartered bus and driver. Each pitches in for a portion of the bill. Not only are they leaving the driving to someone else, they are buying themselves peace of mind. Better safe than sorry!

Ready to go?

USO dot com - Those affiliated with the military have this resource. Check your local USO's page for a schedule of tours.

Enjoy Tours dot com - this company does plenty of trips to great destinations, but they don't have that '2-seats-per-person' policy that the USO does.

Four shops in the area of Boleslawiec, Poland and American-friendly:

* Pol Card
Karty Platnicze w Polsce
Pawie Oczko sklep Firmony
Ul. Masarska 1, 59-700
Boleslawiec

* Ceramika Art Wiklina
"Cerwik" K. Roznicki, A. Mazur
59-731 Zebrzydowa
Zebrzydowa 62

* Kufel Sklep II
Ul II Armii Wojska Polskiego
59-700

* Makaba
Boleslawiec
About the Author
Vicki Landes is the author and photographer of Europe for the Senses, a Photographic Journal. She has been soaking up Europe for the last six years and has visited 42 countries. Learn more at Europe for the Senses.
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