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…

Polish Londoners Project

Today Poland celebrates its independence day. What better day to introduce a great new project about London-based Poles. You have to admit, it seems easier to find out what Brits think about Poles rather than the other way round. Until now, that is.

Agnieszka Chmura, a London-based Polish filmmaker, has started a project called Polish Londoners. Its aim? To show people what Polish people living in London think about the city, how they integrate, what they do etc. But it’s not just about the London Poles.

Agnieszka explains on the project’s website:

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think “London”?

I think of multiculturalism. Hundreds of years of colonisation and the recent EU expansion have turned the British capital into a lively stew of all possible nations. Yet there is no awareness of different communities. How much do you know about the Polish community in London for example?

Me – not much. The aim of this project is to explore London’s mosaic of ethnicities. I start with my own tile in this mosaic, the Poles.

I want to invite creative types from other communities to build a platform where Londoners discover the true beauty of the place they live in. The beauty of the people. A bunch of short films, interviews and portraits will tell the story of who they are, what drove them here, what dreams they are pursuing.

And then she adds:

I believe it is the ordinary people who make London an extraordinary city. The project is an insight into the real hidden London and a study of its constant flow of personalities, ideas, dreams, philosophies.

Here are the first three films:

Iza, a Polish photographer:

Marek, a writer, translator and cultural animator, who’s lived in London since he was 12:

And a more recent arrival, Anna, who came to London three years ago:

This is great and I can’t wait to see the next episodes.

The project has its Facebook page and you can follow Agnieszka on Twitter.

Emmy eats Poland

Yes I was confused by that title too. But it turns out Emmy is just a video blogger (vlogger) who’s on a mission to eat her way through various international cuisines.

I didn’t know Emmy until someone sent me this video recently. It’s over a year old, so chances are you might have seen it already, after all her YouTube channel has over 150K subscribers.

Emmy was sent a rather large packet of Polish sweets by one of her viewers and in this video she bravely goes through the contents of that parcel, giving her verdict on everything. In most cases she goes ‘mmm’ shortly after biting into something, which I assume is her stamp of approval.

I loved reading the comments underneath the video (until some trolls hijacked them this morning, that is). My favourite one was: “Ptasie mleczko rulez! I can have the whole box in one day!

So can I, so can I….

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…

Best Polish murals

Image via wykop.pl
Image via wykop.pl

I love street art. I went to Berlin a few months ago and took hundreds of pictures of their murals.

But having seen this gallery, I think I should be visiting my homeland more often for a bit of awesome (well, mostly) street art.

If you are into street art – and possibly art in general – have a look at Natalia Rak‘s website. She is a prolific (and classically trained) Polish street artist and painter. Some of her murals are incredible and incredibly detailed. Her latest mural – called “The legend of the giants” – was unveiled recently in Białystok in the north of Poland:

Image copyright: Natalia Rak
Image copyright: Natalia Rak

Isn’t it just beautiful?

Got any other examples of Polish murals? Let me know.

Street neon signs in Cold War Poland

Kino Ochota neon - image by Monika Kostera via Flickr (CC licence)
Kino Ochota neon, Warsaw – image by Monika Kostera via Flickr (CC licence)

There are certain childhood  images, experiences and smells you tend to remember for the rest of your life. For me one of those experiences was the view of the now demolished sports hall we passed in our car on the way to visit my cousins.

It was a big (at least big in my eyes) building with a curved roof which looked a bit like an oversized trilby with its brim curved upwards. Or at least that’s how I remember it. The architecture was quite striking. But the building’s real feature I still remember to this day was its ‘mobile’ neon sign.

As the hall was primarily used to host basketball matches, the neon sign was created to resemble a bouncing ball which an invisible hand placed in a basket at the end of the three- or four-second sequence. It was mesmerising.

As you drove past the hall, you would wait for the ball to appear in its initial position. The neon would then go off and the ball would reappear a split second later slightly lower, then higher, then lower again. Eventually the ball would end up above – and then go through – a neon basket.

And all these balls were linked by a thin neon light which blinked for that split second between the different sequences to express the ball’s movement.

And the Poland I remember was full of such neons. We often thought they were rubbish – not as elaborate as the Piccadilly Circus neons, not advertising any Western brands – but looking back at them now I often think they were small pieces of art. Sometimes on purpose, often probably by accident.

A few months ago the BBC website published an audio slideshow featuring some of the remaining Cold War neons (click image to open the slideshow in a new window).

neon

A Polish photographer, Ilona Karwinska, is on a mission to save them and she talks about the neons in this BBC piece.

Her website features some lovely images of the surviving signs, she also set up a Neon Museum in Warsaw:

muzneonu

Really lovely stuff, despite all this sentimentality.

Shame the modern signs and neons are so boring and less imaginative. No more bouncing balls….