Posts Tagged With: outdoors

In Western Poland, Peace On Earth

The chartered van made its way up a narrow winding road. With the slow climb, its engine sputtered and seemed to momentarily stall on this heavily wooded slope.

All around us there were miles and miles of trees – many of which have stood in Karkonosze National Park for centuries. On a hike, I paused and tried to imagine the centuries of history they’ve witnessed. If only these tall, proud trees could speak.

A stream of beauty

A stream of beauty

Despite the daily shot of trekkers who come to soak in its beauty and discover the 721-year-old Chojnik Castle (built in 1292), Karkonosze is an amazingly peaceful place. It’s Poland’s slice of heaven. One of many, really. It’s about a 10 kilometer run to its neighbor, the Czech Republic.

As we ambled up and neared our hilly destination – Chojnik Hotel – the houses that dot the ondulating landscape were fewer and farther apart. When we finally arrived at the hotel and the driver shut off the 16-passenger van’s engine, the silence was so evident, so extreme, it would become the subject of conversation and much discussion among hotel guests for much of my stay.

Outdoor seating

Outdoor seating

Having spent much time in cities, perhaps made the silence even more pronounced. It was so quiet that during my 5-day lodging I was taken quite aback when I heard in the distance the footsteps and click-clack of Nordic walking poles of a lone hiker coming up the road.

At least one hotel guest complained it was so quiet she could not sleep, her frayed nerves accustomed to the racket that comes with living in a noisy city. For me, this silence was pure delight. After spending months in city after city across Europe, it was a joy to hear, gasp, heavens, absolutely nothing.

I had come to Chojnik by happenstance, invited to take part in a nearly-weeklong English immersion program. I was joined by several native English speakers and several Polish people seeking to brush up on their English. Poles were paired with native English speakers and they conversed on a variety of topics.

We had set out from Wrocław, the largest city in western Poland. It is located on the Oder River.

Mateusz, the man with the plan

Mateusz, the man with the plan

And now here were, housed at the Chojnik, which we all agreed was the perfect guest house. A few months ago the hotel and restaurnant reopened under new ownership and management. It has been completely remodeled, inside and out.

Mateusz Szymon, a 26-year-old interior designer and architectural student, breathed new life into the hotel when his family took it over seven months ago.

Serenity: The Chojnik grounds

Serenity: The Chojnik grounds

“It’s hard work,” he said recently, seated in the restaurant. “It’s not a good option when you live in a place where you work. You are always working.”

Front entrance

Front entrance

 

chojnik2 The Chojnik is a labor of love. It’s also a great getaway from everyday madness of the city. With it’s private ski slope complete with lift; fish pond, and acres of natural trails, it’s definitely a place of peace. I certainly found it there.

Inside the castle, what remains

Inside the castle, what remains

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This town gets very little to no respect. It’s the city that most Poles will tell you holds nothing special. It’s not even worth a visit some will go so far to say, and the naysayers includes residents.

I came to Bydgoszcz by way of  Tleń, a small village where my friends Anna and Michal. own and operate a guesthouse. Tleń, with only 260 inhabitants, is 36 miles – or 58 kilometers – north of Bydgoszcz.  I had been holding fast in Gdansk when I got a call from Michal to invite me to Tleń, with its rivers and lakes in the Tochula Forest, Poland’s vast wooded area.

If you love nature and being outdoors, you will love  Tleń and its surrounding areas. At every turn there are lakes, rivers, meadows with ducks and swans and all sorts of other wildlife. This is rural country, to be sure, where you come to unwind.

On their way to shop for supplies in the big town, Bydgoszcz, I joined Michal and Anna. It would be a chance for me to see what all were telling me was not worth seeing. It would also be an opportunity to reconnect with another friend, Kamil, a history teacher who lives in Bydgoszcz. As soon as we arrived in Bydgoszcz, Kamil and I took off to do some sightseeing while Anna and Michal shopped and took care of other business. True, when I first arrived in Bydgoszcz, nothing immediately impressed me, but walking around the old town, a few things did.

There was the river that runs through the city, the manicured green spaces to enjoy an afternoon, the public art and cultural centers, and of course the bounty of churches that date back centuries. St. Martin & St. Nicholas Cathedral’s interior is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. The city’s oldest. St. Martin & St. Nicholas was built in the 15th Century in the so-called Vistulan Gothic style, with every inch of wall and ceiling painted in bright shades of red, purple and pink. I love the interior of this church!

Bydgoszcz is a great launch pad for the surrounding cities and villages and countryside, all reached by car or bus within minutes. Or come for the shopping. Right near the old markets, there are some great modern shopping malls.

Inside the colorful St. Martin & St. Nicholas Cathedral

Inside the colorful St. Martin & St. Nicholas Cathedral

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