Category Archives: travel

Travel Tip: Szlak Orlich Gniazd (Trail of the Eagles’ Nests)

The Orgodzieniec Castle ruins by Mariusz Kucharczyk (Flickr, CC Licence)

The Orgodzieniec Castle ruins by Mariusz Kucharczyk (Flickr, CC Licence)

1.What is it?

A protected area  with 25 Medieval castles, often built on tall white rocks, by Kazimierz the Great, the Polish king. The trail itself is over 160 kilometres long and passes through all 25 castle sites, including the most famous Polish castle, the Wawel Castle in the heart of Kraków. Many of the castles were destroyed or damaged during the Swedish Invasion of Poland in the 17th century.

2. Where is it?

In the south of Poland, between Częstochowa and Kraków.

Pieskowa Skała Castle by Francisco Manzano (Flickr, CC licence)

Pieskowa Skała Castle by Francisco Manzano (Flickr, CC licence)

3.  Why bother?

The Trail of the Eagles’ Nests is one of Poland’s best and most picturesque trails. You don’t need to follow the entire trail, of course, you can just pick a castle and go there. The Pieskowa Skała Castle, for example (see above), is easily accessible by car and bicycle. It’s a stunning location, perched high on a tall rock, with lovely views and garden.

4. And you don’t want to miss…

… the Maczuga Herculesa (‘Hercules’s bludgeon’) rock. Called that thanks to its distinctive shape resembling a bludgeon. It’s located just a few minutes down from Pieskowa Skała.

5. Want to know more?

Watch the lovely promotional video (no, I wasn’t paid to show it, I just came across it on YouTube), created  to promote the region. Oh, and when you visit, go in the summer or early autumn…

The salt mine in Wieliczka is now on Google Street View

Wieliczka salt mine

Ever dreamt of visiting the UNESCO-protected salt mine in Wieliczka, but never really managed to get there? Now you can – and the best bit is, you don’t even need to worry about expensive air fares.

Google applied the same technology it’s been using for years to help us explore various cities around the world and created a 360-degree tour of the famous salt mine outside Krakow.

The salt mine first started operating in the 13th century and throughout the centuries the miners have not only been producing what once was one of Poland’s most precious commodities, but also carved out some mind-blowingly detailed and beautiful sculptures, halls and corridors.  Most of which are made of pure salt, obviously. (Yes, some tour guides do encourage you to lick the walls or the floor to see for yourself. Don’t – it *is* salt.)

A mural in Wieliczka


The famous St Kinga Chapel (top picture) is probably one of the most spectacular areas of the mine. Even the chandeliers are made of salt. It’s still used as a chapel, but also for classical music concerts, weddings and other occasions.

The mine itself is over 300 metres deep – not that deep compared to many coal mines – and there are almost 300 kilometres (yes, that’s right) of subterranean corridors. Only a tiny fraction of them is accessible to the public.

Wieliczka salt mine

It looks like the Google experience has recreated the most popular tourist trail, and they’ve done a great job. It’s not the same as experiencing the real thing, obviously, but at least there are no crowds to battle with…

Visit Poland – virtually

Christmas is just around the corner, many of us will have a lot of time to do things we’d normally not do. So why not visit Poland? Too late too book? Maybe. But there’s a site that offers virtual trips across Poland and there’s plenty to look at.

Wirtualny Kraj allows you to browse various locations across Poland and go for a (virtual) walk across many cities – both major and those less known.

You can visit museums, various tourist attractions, churches, universities and even go inside Sejm, the Polish parliament (see below).

There are also some weird choices – like shopping malls – but judging by the number of visitors to those, they seem to be as popular in the virtual world as they are in the real world.

The site is a great way of exploring new destinations and potentially planning your next trip. So, if you find some time over the festive period, why not give it a try? The site has an English version too, although it didn’t always work for me.

Here’s my top 10 destinations on the site:

1. Sejm – the Polish Parliament

2. Kraków

3. Hel 

4. Malbork Castle

5. Silesian Observatory

6. Książ Castle

7. Tatra Mountains (Kasprowy Wierch Mountain)

8. Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (a UNESCO site)

9. AGH, Kraków

10. Sanok folk/etno museum


Polish poems on the Tube


Czeslaw Milosz - Poems on the Underground

Blacksmith Shop by Czeslaw Milosz - click to view large

Those of you who live in London are probably familiar with Poems on the Underground, a Transport for London initiative to display short poems in Tube carriages. From tomorrow, you will also be able to read Polish poetry on London Underground as TfL is celebrating centenary of Czeslaw Milosz – a well-known Polish poet, writer and Nobel Prize winner.

The latest Poems on the Underground collection features Blacksmith Shop by Czeslaw Milosz himself, but also Nothing Special by Zbigniew Herbert and Star by Adam Zagajewski.

Milosz, who emigrated from Poland and subsequently became an American citizen and a lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, translated Herbert’s and Zagajewski’s poems into English. Zagajewski, who also left Poland for Paris, is best known for his post-9/11 poem, Try to Praise the Mutilated World.

Adam Zagajewski - poems on the Underground

Star by Adam Zagajewski - click to view large

Zbigniew Herbert was also one of the most recognisable and most cherished Polish poets. During WWII he became a member of the Polish resistance and in the 1980s he was a poet of the Polish opposition.

Judith Chernaik, the founder of Poems on the Underground, said:

“We hope that Londoners and visitors alike will enjoy this latest collection of poems which celebrate one of the greatest Polish poets of our time.”

The Poems on the Underground programme has been so successful other big cities – including Warsaw – have launched similar initiatives on their respective underground/metro systems.


Zbigniew Herbert - poems on the Underground

Nothing Special by Zbigniew Herbert - click to view large

But if you can’t spot any of the Polish poems on the Tube – or don’t travel on the Underground that often – you will be able to pick up a leaflet with the featured poems from five Tube stations: Embankment, Covent Garden, South Kensington, Russell Square and Moorgate. They will be available from June 10th.

UPDATE: Thanks to Transport for London I can now share with you the three Polish poems chosen to be displayed on the Tube. Click on the above images to read the poems. Those of you who want to learn more about the Tube can do so from the excellent Going Undergound’s blog by Annie Mole (who first let me know about TfL’s plans to display Polish poetry).

Katowice: where old meets new

To mark the beginning of its “A year in images” photo exhibition in Katowice, Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza has published this short time-lapse, tilt-shift video about Katowice.

I’ve mentioned the city many times on this blog, partly because I know it well, partly because it’s eventually, although very slowly, shedding its “dirty, industrial and boring” image.

Heavy industry has always been a crucial part of this city’s – and the region’s – history, but over the past 20 years Katowice and many neighbouring cities have had to reinvent themselves. The coal mines and steel factories might be gone, but they have been replaced by General Motors, Fiat and hundreds of others which helped the area reinvent itself.

Katowice itself is undergoing probably one of the most dramatic changes in its recent history. The lovely, partly neglected and partly confused city centre is being re-developed. Mariacka St, once a very dodgy, but architecurally lovely street, has been pedestrianised and the city’s biggest eyesore, the main railway station, is eventually (although not without controversy) going to be rebuilt and its sorrounding area transformed into a very modern transport and shopping hub.

All that is captured in the film. From Nikiszowiec, the old working class district of Katowice, where window frames and sills are still painted bright red, to Rynek, the curiously underused central square. From the recently modernised Rondo gyratory (with the famous flying saucer-shaped Spodek concert hall in the background), to the about-to-be-completely-rebuilt bus and train station in the heart of the city.

Those who know Katowice, will find many familiar sights here, those who don’t should probably give it a chance. After all, it’s been shortlisted as one of Poland’s candidates to become the European City of Culture in 2016.

Katowice. Rok w fotografii Gazety Wyborczej
Uploaded by gazeta_katowice. – Watch the latest news videos.
If you happen to be in Katowice over the next few weeks, make sure to visit the exhibition, which is open from 9.12.2010 to 14.01.2011 in the Cultural Centre in Katowice.