Edmund Spencer – travel through Galicia, 1836 year – part I

Edmund Spencer – 19th century English writer, nobleman and captain. He traveled in Central Europe and the Middle East. In the years 1836-1867 published ten books of his visit in the Caucasus, the Ottoman Empire, Prussia, France and the Habsburg Empire. 

In one of them, he wrote a description of the journey through Galicia.

Source: Biblioteka Narodowa,            II 189.668


Observations upon the Austrian province, the Buckowina Its resources — Fertility — Mines — Arrival in Galicia — Schnatin — Characteristics of the Polish peasantry — Unexpected detention on the road — Picture of a Polish inn — Nocturnal intruders — Arrival at Stanislaw — The Carpathians — Climate of Galicia.

At Czernowitz I purchased from an Austrian officer a light four-wheeled car, made of wickerwork, with a cabriolet top, well adapted to a traveller unincumbered with baggage; and being furnished by the postmaster with a pair of stout horses, I was once more in good condition to pursue my route.

Previous, however, to leaving the capital of the Buckowina, we will say a few words relative to the general features of the province. Prior to the year 1777, it formed part of the principality of Moldavia; since which time it has been incorporated with the kingdom of Galicia. The majority of the inhabitants are the same race as those of the principalities, speak a dialect of the same language, and are quite as primitive in their appearance, habits, and manners. Still, the reclaiming hand of their German rulers was everywhere visible, not only in the excellence of the roads, but in a succession of neat villages, modern in their construction: wTe also occasionally meet with the tidy farm-house of the German colonist, and his comfortably-dressed family; while the traveller has the satisfaction of remembering that he runs but little risk of being surprised on the highroad by banditti.

The Buckowina, a charming province, is everywhere broken into valleys and hills rising in a gradual elevation to the Luczina, one of the highest summits of the Carpathian range. The soil is considered extremely fertile ; and many of the slopes and ridges being protected in great part from the north wind, are well adapted to the culture of the vine; but notwithstanding these advantages, the country is very thinly inhabited, many districts in the interior still remaining almost in a state of nature. In addition to the fertility of the soil, the mountainous parts of the Buckowina are rich in minerals; the silver and lead mines of Kirli Baba, as well as those of copper at Passorita, are well known for their productiveness.

After crossing the Pruth, the road wound along the base of the lower range of the Carpathians to Schnatin, the first town in the ancient principality of Polish-Galicia, — straggling, dirty, and ill-built; but, lying on the brow of a small hill, when seen from a distance it formed a pleasing feature in the landscape. Here all was Polish— the language, dress, manners, and customs of the people. As I happened to pass through it on a market-clay, the streets were thronged with a motley population, consisting of numbers of the inferior nobility, well mounted, and each looking quite as fierce as a Caucasian guerilla, — Austrian soldiers, Jews, Armenians, and peasants, in their national costume. The latter, in their high lambskin caps and sheepskin mantles, gaudily braided, differ little in their dress from the Moldavians, except that they convert the hood of their mantle into a pocket. The women were dressed still more gaily ; besides the fur jacket, braided with all the colours of the rainbow, several wore around the head a brass band, to which was attached a variety of coloured ribbands that floated down the neck and shoulders, in the same style as we sometimes see a pet-lamb dressed out by children. Nor were the military peasants, many of whom had flocked into town from the frontier, less characteristic in their dress and appearance.

I could not but admire the fine manly forms and broad shoulders of the peasantry of Galicia, who are exactly the sort of men to make good soldiers and support the toil of war; but I do not think, in so small a town, I ever beheld such a scene of intoxication: vodka, the beloved vodka, was everywhere exposed for sale, not only in tKe houses, but on stands in the streets, and the peasants, having completed their sales, were then quaffing it as freely as if it was beer. It is remarkable that, of every other race, the Sclavonic is the most addicted to this degrading vice; whether in Russia, or well-ordered Austria, or Prussia, we find the Sclavonic part of the population slaves to their inclination for spirituous liquors.

My intention was to have passed the night at Tysmienica, but a slight accident having occurred to the wheel of the carriage, I was obliged to put up at one of the inns on the roadside, as towns in this country are not frequently met with. The fate of a traveller just arrived from any of the well-regulated countries in Europe, where money procures every luxury and comfort, placed in a similar dilemma, would be justly entitled to commiseration. As for dirt, filth, and the absence of every comfort and accommodation, a remote inn in Poland may rival the worst khan I ever met with in the east.

These receptacles for the accommodation of travellers, erected at certain distances from each other on the high road, are so similar in construction as to create the belief that they must have been the work of the same architect. In form they more resemble an unusually long barn than a dwelling-house; on each side are the stables for the horses, and a couple of large rooms for the reception of the traveller, while the centre, which is generally filled with straw in a state of decomposition, is the home for the cattle in severe weather. One end of these Polish khans is always kept by a Jew, and the other by a Christian, for the accommodation of the members of their respective religions.

In the present instance I preferred taking up my temporary abode with those of my own faith, though I subsequently ascertained from my servant Nathan that the accommodation was much inferior to that afforded by the Jew. We entered the inn through an immense gate (each end being secured by one of similar dimensions) but found our passage completely barred up by groups of oxen, sheep, goats, and poultry, who, it would appear, feeling indignant at the intrusion, most audibly vented their displeasure; and as our host happened to occupy the further end, we had no little difficulty in making our way to his dwelling. On arriving there, we found a Galician nobleman and his wife, together with two or three other travellers, already domiciliated for the night.

In addition to these, there was our host, his wife, and half a dozen screaming urchins. After taking supper, the little urchins were consigned to a loft of wicker-work; and as the people of these countries never leave home without their beds, that convenience forming no part of the furniture of an inn, each traveller proceeded to arrange his nest as best suited his taste. The place of honour, a snug corner near the stove, was assigned to the count, as the most distingue ; but I must confess I felt not a little surprised to see the nonchalance with which the count and his wife prepared their toilette de nuit, exposed to the observation of a room full of strangers. Such is the force of habit!

The lady was really an elegant little woman, spoke the French and German languages fluently; and her husband, from his conversation, appeared to be well educated and intelligent. They were on their way to Lemberg, and travelled in a carriage, with their own horses and servant. It is true, the carriage was somewhat antiquated in its construction; and to judge from the bearing of the coachman, he must have been elevated to the dignity of Jehu from the plough.

My straw couch being also arranged, I endeavoured to sleep ; but to my cost I found this to be entirely out of the question. It was not the concert of the animals without, nor the equally noisy concert of the sleepers within, that prevented my repose, but the intense heat of the apartment, the stove having been replenished with as much fuel as would have sufficed to roast an ox; in addition to which, not the slightest breath of air could gain admittance either through the door or windows : nor did the myriads of fleas that incessantly tormented me by any means act as an opiate.

Leaving this vapour bath, I gladly changed my quarters to an out-house, which happened to be the store room ; here the hostler, whom I roused with no little trouble from the land of dreams, having with a plentiful supply of clean straw arranged a couch for me on a heap of meal bags, I once more attempted to win the smiles of the coy goddess of repose; in this, however, I was equally unsuccessful as before, for the legions of rats that had here taken up their abode came to a different determination : they marched and countermarched, skipped and gamboled, from me to the meal bags, and then back again, so that every idea of sleep vanished.

I now resolved to prove as great an enemy to their fun as they had been to my repose, and as the moon was shining most resplendently through the windows, I seized my pistols, and kept up an incessant fire against my tormentors, which soon put them to flight, but which had only the effect of arousing another host of enemies to my quiet, in the form of the whole of the inmates of the inn, both Christian and Jewish. Trembling with fear, and shivering with cold, they with one voice informed me that the house was beset by a band of Moldavian banditti, who had already carried off the landlord and hostler, and would no doubt make captives, if not murder, every creature in the house! It was some minutes before my laughter would permit me to relieve their fears, and in the meantime the landlord and hostler, who had fled to the next village on the first report of my pistol, returned, accompanied by a host of valiant peasants, to relieve the besieged.

There was not a single town, village, or adventure, worth recording between this place and Stanislaw, the capital of a department of the same name, and certainly one of the prettiest and best-built towns in Galicia; it is situated in an extensive plain, and bears the soubriquet of “New Jerusalem, the capital of the Jews” on account of the majority of the inhabitants being of that persuasion.

After leaving the plain in which Stanislaw is situated, the road again wound round the base of the Carpathians, offering an endless variety of the most beautiful views of that stupendous chain, on to the very capital, Lemberg. The gigantic Kryran, with its rugged and angular peaks, which rises to a height of upwards of seven thousand feet, is seen from Galicia to much greater advantage, and appears more stupendously magnificent than from any part of Hungary; but if we descend from this mountain road, we enter one of the most monotonous and tiresome plains that every wearied a traveller, comprehending the whole of Poland and part of Prussia, on to the Baltic on one side, and extending over the steppes of old Russia to the mountains of Siberia on the other.

We should not have expected from the latitude of Galicia that the climate was so severely rigorous as we found it. This is the consequence of its position being enclosed towards the South by the lofty chain of the Carpathians, and exposed to the north wind, which blows over the cheerless steppes of Russia and Poland. Hence, winter reigns here for at least six months with as great an intensity as in Sweden ; and it frequently happens that at the same time when the inhabitants of the south side of the alps in Hungary and Transylvania are making hay, the people in some parts of Galicia are doomed to see their fields covered with snow.