Posts Tagged With: Warsaw

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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AIMLESS WALK LEADS TO ENLIGHTENMENT

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Walked aimlessly for hours around Poland’s largest city – Warsaw snapping pictures of non-touristic things 

 

in touristic areas

and near tourist attractions, just because that’s the goofball mood I was inlamp10

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Strange cracks in the sidewalk. Weird angles. Weird kindred spirits. Whatever grabbed my attention.

At sunset, it was a neat row of lampposts.

The lampposts lined a side street that led to Saski Garden.

The sky behind the lampposts was a golden yellow and deep orange. I noticed as the sun set, the lights seem to glow. From the distance I was unable to tell if it was a strange effect of the dimming sunlight or the lamps were beginning to come alive as darkness beckoned. It was a curiously interesting tradeoff: natural light was making way for artificial light. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful dance, aglow with vivid shades of yellow, orange and amber. I aimed my camera at the tall lampposts and continued to shoot photographs as the sun began what seemed like an eternal descent. Camera-toting tourists around me paused and wondered what I found so interesting in the sky, especially given the abundance of amazing historic monuments and buildings and sculptures within the lushly green city park, including the remains of Saxon Palace, converted into the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and guarded at all times by two stone-faced sentinels. Funny how you can quickly draw a curious crowd when you aim your camera in unexpected directions.

Sometime after 1815, Saski Garden, a one-time royal garden that surrounded Saxon Palace, became a municipal park. lamp10Saxon Palace was destroyed during World War II and all that remains is the archway today known as the mausoleum, where an eternal flame burns an the two Polish soldiers stand watch. Periodically, and for brief moments, the two soldiers march around the monument, perhaps to break up the torture of having to stand still for such a long time. I caught one of the soldiers perhaps fighting back a sneeze, wiggling his nose – or was he just trying to fend off a pesky fly away from his face without actually swatting at the irritant?lamp3

 For many years, only appropriately dressed strollers were allowed to enter Saski Garden. Today, there’s no official dress code. In the warmth of summer, men and women wear very little. Nobody cares. The grounds are well-groomed, serene, and still have that regal air, with its stone sculptures positioned throughout the grounds.  There is a duck pond with weeping willows and a bronze fountain that spits water. Needless to say, the park draws its share of amorous couples. Sitting on the grass is not allowed, so don’t even think about it, lest you face a sentinel’s bayonet. But none of it held my attention like the setting sun and the lamps. Together they were a spectacular medley, worth the long, aimless walk.

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Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Poland

Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Poland

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Real Football In Europe

Real Football In Europe

There is an actual American football league in Poland.

I had heard about this months ago and sort of filed it in the back of my brain. But after I met one of the players of one of the teams – the Warsaw Spartans – I decided to check out a game. I caught the match between two other Warsaw teams – the Crusaders and Eagles. I attended the game with two Polish women who don’t know anything about American football and I tried to explain the rules as we watched. They were not quite impressed with the sport and we decided to leave at half time. As of this writing, I don’t know who won, but the Crusaders were dominating. I will return soon to watch another match and hopefully stick around to the end.

I hadn’t seen a live American football game in quite sometime. The Polish version was far more subdued, with fewer fans and in a much smaller venue – a university field. But the fans were every bit enthusiastic.

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