Category Archives: travel

The feeling of Poland

What does Poland feel like? This lovely video by Maggie Olkuska should give you a flavour of Poland.

Watched over 130,000 times, this video was shot by Maggie in 2012, when she decided to visit Poland with her camera. She backpacked all across the country to capture the essence of the place and its people.

She wrote:

Poland is a country with a very brutal past, really.. the World Wars, Holocaust… but I believe that all these experiences only made the nation stronger! As I experienced through my journey – Polish people are so hardworking, very hospitable, very ambitious; there are so many passionate artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers there… ! Moreover, when a Pole decides that he’s going to achieve something, a goal, a dream – I bet you – he will!!! (*and he is going to be passionate about it!*)

Need I say more?

 

The feeling of POLAND from Maggie Olkuska on Vimeo.

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).