Southeastern Poland

July 7. I bolted out of bed at 7:30am, suddenly aware that I had parked in someone’s driveway and that they needed to go to work.  The hazards of trying to find a place in the dark!  I moved to a wooded area where I had breakfast, then drove south for about 20 minutes through small villages in the direction of Beszczady National Park. I liked watching several older women with string bags full of groceries tottering uncertainly next to the road, and an elderly man riding a small cart from the 1940’s pulled by a Konik, a small, semi-feral horse, originating in Poland.  I stopped in the pretty town of Tyczyn, struck by its imposing church dominating the hill.  After walking around the town, I asked a man to help me fill my water bottles.  There was an old fashioned pump in the square, but I wasn’t strong enough to operate it.  He kindly filled them while telling his father where he was in the square.  It seemed that Polish people were friendlier than I had remembered.  Maybe it was me.  Generalizations are difficult to make and often wrong.  Still I often notice broad brush generalities about different peoples and cultures. But there are often tremendous regional differences, with more similarities at times between two groups of people across borders than those within the same nation.  I think it is in part due to the random and often politically motivated way that geo-political borders have been drawn.

At the outskirts of Tyczyn, I discovered the lovely forest encircling Pałac Wodzickich. I was unable to find out anything about its history, except that the surrounding wood was turned into a public park.  I took a relaxing stroll and encountered some elderly alcoholics sitting on a bench and ogling two 14 year olds who were trying to pass on bikes.  It’s amazing how young girls are exposed to sexism. I remember similar uncomfortable situations when I was their age, and wished I could prevent such things. After enjoying the forest and taking some photos of the beautiful palace, I drove back to Rzeszów for another look around before heading north to Kazimierz Dolny.  In the daylight I liked the city better.  Maybe it was because the hipsters were all asleep after a raucous night of carousing.  In any case, it was more tranquil, and I enjoyed a lovely latte at a cool cafe where I checked email and caught up on correspondence.

I don’t have many things to attend to, but occasionally an emergency occurs.  In this case, Xfinity had turned off our modem, and my roommates had emailed me in a panic, stating that they had changed the user name and password but nothing had worked.  I ended up calling Xfinity and resolving the problem by phone.  A few days later I got an email stating that someone had called in about a credit card I’d left at home, stating that they would be traveling to California on July 11.  Well, I was definitely not in California.  I checked the credit card statement in question and found out that someone had made a trial charge a few days before, then had begun charging up the wazoo in San Francisco starting July 11. So I had to make another call a few days later to Citibank, and ended up closing my account.  Two years ago when I was traveling in Latvia, the same thing had happened with another card.  The joys of globalization and income inequality.  If people had enough the world over, I doubt they would be moved to use other people’s credit cards.

After finishing my latte, I wandered on the main streets and square, taking photos and going into churches.  I especially admired several Art Nouveau style villas next to the castle grounds. The castle was surrounded by a well-preserved wall and had its own moat.  Men were busily jack hammering the main street and madly planting flowers.  I looked around to see if the Queen from Alice in Wonderland was on the horizon.  I could imagine her screaming “off with their heads” as they madly dashed about trying to finish ahead of an invisible deadline.  I had ice cream at an upscale artisanal creamery, the walked outside the touristic section of town to admire the opera house and cathedral.  After wandering around for a few hours, I decided to head to Kazimierz Dolny on the banks of the Vistula River.  It is a popular destination for Lublin and Warsaw city folk who want a peaceful weekend in a rural historical town. Historically it belonged to Lesser Poland, and in the past it used to be one of the most important cities of the province.

Kazimierz Dolny is considered one of the prettiest towns in Poland. It experienced its greatest prosperity in the 16th and the first half of the 17th century, due to the trade in grain conducted along the Vistula.  After that trade declined, it became an economic backwater, resulting in the preservation of its Renaissance appearance. Since the 19th century it has become a popular holiday destination, attracting artists and summer residents. Many painters retreated to this small town to paint and sell their work.

In the 11th century, a Benedictine settlement called Wietrzna Gora was built on a nearby hill. In 1181, Prince Casimir II the Just handed the settlement to Norbertine nuns from Kraków’s district of Zwierzyniec. The nuns changed its name to Kazimierz, in honor of the prince. Dolny (Lower) was added later to distinguish the town from the Jewish town Kazimierz – now a district of Kraków. In the early 14th century, the village became a royal possession, and King Władysław I the Elbow-high founded a parish church in 1325.

The foundation of the town is attributed to Władysław’s son, King Casimir III the Great, who granted the town rights in the first half of the 14th century. Later, King Władysław II Jagiełło modernized Kazimierz Dolny, creating a modern town, with a market square and streets. At that time, the decision was made not to build any houses on the northern side of the market square, to keep from obstructing the view of the church and the castle. In 1501, Kazimierz Dolny became the home of a starosta, and the town governance passed to the Firlej family until 1644. The Firlejs rebuilt the town and the castle after the fires of 1561 and 1585. In 1628, Franciscan monks built a monastery and expanded the church.

The town’s golden age ended in February 1656, when Swedish troops under King Charles X Gustav burned and ransacked it. The number of inhabitants declined precipitously, so in 1677, King John III Sobieski allowed Armenian, Greek, and Jewish merchants to settle there. Meanwhile, the profitable Vistula river trade came to an end, as there was no demand for Polish grains in Western Europe. In the late 18th century, as a result of the Partitions of Poland, goods from Kazimierz Dolny could no longer be sent to the port of Gdańsk, and it lost its importance.

I decided to take a walk through the ruins of the castle and tower on the hill.  There was a commanding view of the Vistula from the tower, and I imagined that it played as important a role in commerce and taxing goods coming down the river than it did as a lookout to spot potential enemies.  I descended through the cemetery to the large church, then into the market square.  It was a Friday, on which started the weekend market, and vendors dotted the square.  On the streets behind the square I found more hawkers, and ended up buying a red wooden necklace for my mom, traditional jewelry worn in the past by women from Kraków.  I found a lovely linen table cloth sold by a Ukrainian woman. The cloth was ornamented with embroidery and weaving.  I decided to buy it, though I don’t have a table to put it on.  Maybe I’ll hang it on the wall.  I have a soft spot for handmade folk art.

I walked to the culture house, where I found out a woman named Madronna Dambowska was giving a talk on how biology influences the mind. It reminded me of a book by Joan Borysenko that has been sitting on my shelf pleading with me to read it, Minding the Body, Mending the Mind.  I will get around to it someday.  People were literally hanging out the windows listening to this woman.  She must be an amazing speaker, or else such talks are rare events.  In any case, the hall was packed so densely that I couldn’t enter, and people had opened the windows so they could sit in the yard and listen.  That’s dedication.  I crossed the street and walked into the nature reserve that borders the town.  The cobbled road was almost impossible to walk on, and I practically twisted my ankle several times in the process of walking.  I made my way up the hill and saw a few homes tucked away in the hillside, as well as some for sale signs.  Then I walked along the main road of holiday home rentals, admiring the lovingly-tended gardens and well done homes.  It was clear that people here had money, though I’d noticed that all over the parts of Poland where I’d been.  Southern Poland, at least, seemed substantially better off than Slovakia in terms of home maintenance and upkeep.

I snapped photos of several Renaissance style buildings that bordered the main road.  It is amazing to see the detail involved in such designs, and I marveled at the craftsmanship it took to create such masterpieces.  The sad fact is that much of the art and craft that used to be common place has become extinct.  I remember a friend in California who wanted their roof re-thatched.  They had to send for a thatcher from Ireland.  The light was beginning to wane.  I decided to walk back to my car, stopping to admire the horse-drawn carriage that passed.  Near my car I noticed an ethnographic museum, now closed, and wished I’d found it sooner.  I took some photos of lovely buildings, both homes and hotels, along the frontage road, then stopped at Hotel Król Kazimierz, advertised as refined lodging with dining and a spa, to inquire about prices.  I was tired and a bit worn out, and had fallen out of the habit of sleeping in my car.  It was 150 USD per night, including 3 meals and full use of the spa. Not bad, but they were full.

Clouds glowered in the darkening sky, and I had the sense that it would rain that night.  I had planned to drive to Lublin, but decided that it was not a good idea to arrive in a city at night and then try to find a place to camp.  So I found a quiet place 10 minutes outside of Kazimierz Dolny.  I parked on a narrow dirt road, so overgrown that I was almost sure no one would be driving on it that night.  I discovered that I was 20 feet behind an old house and barn, with only woods in between. I crept around quietly, not wanting to wake the inhabitants (if there were any).  I knew it was a good spot, as I saw my firefly friends glowing intermittently in the blackness.  I stood outside for some minutes, mesmerized by their strange ritual dance.  I was routing for them, hoping they’d find each other, and wondering at the randomness of their trysts.

July 8.  I had a lovely sleep.  I think it was the place: a small house and barn, lovingly built probably by close ancestors, a lovingly tended garden, and a small wood that supplied firewood and solace.  I walked around to the front of the house, admiring its well tended look\, and took some photos.  No one appeared, but the house looked repaired and in good order, so I assume it was still inhabited.  I said goodbye to the peaceful glen and headed off to find my fortune in Lublin.  About 10 minutes later I came to a huge cathedral dominating the small town of Wąwolnica. It was built next to the Shrine of Our Lady of Wąwolnica, which houses a “miraculous” statue of the virgin. In recent years, people make a pilgrimage every September, walking the stations of the cross in the large field below the church, and visiting the small chapel housing the holy statue.  I could barely see the statue, as it was set about 50 feet behind a steel gate.  Some way to treat a sacred statue!  I’d think they’d want people to bask in its healing powers, not cloister it away (pardon the pun).  Ah well.  It seems that fear of vandalism causes many to keep churches locked and inaccessible except during mass.

About 10 minutes further on, I came upon Nałęczów, a spa town situated on the Nałęczów Plateau near Lublin. In the 18th century, the discovery of healing waters initiated the development of a health resort for circulatory disorders.  It was my kind of place! Beautiful historic villas, huge parks filled with lakes, woods, and palaces, and Carpathian wooden buildings. I was in heaven.  Nałęczów had been the favorite vacation spot of many artists, writers, and actors, including novelist Bolesław Prus, who frequented it from 1882 until he died in 1912.  There is a life-size sculpture of Prus sitting on a bench outside Małachowski Palace, which houses a special museum about the works of Prus and Stefan Żeromski.  Prus furthered the literary career of Żeromski (1864 –  1925), a Polish novelist and dramatist known as the “conscience of Polish literature”. He wrote under the pen name Maurycy Zych, Józef Katerla and Stefan Iksmoreż. Żeromski was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times and had a chata built on a hill overlooking the town in the Zakopane architectural style.

I completed a perambulation of the town, walking through the park and river bordering the town.  I discovered the most lovely villas on Aleja Lipowa (Linden Alley), which is lined with linden trees.  I found two particularly stunning villas, Willa Różana (Villa Rosea) and Willa Goia (Villa of Joy), that had been renovated in 2006 by Stanislaw and Barbara Burzynski. Willa Różana is one of the oldest villas in Nałęczów and was built in 1893 in the Lublin Neo-Gothic style for Adam Nagorski and Walentina Nagorska. Villa Nagorskich, as it was originally known, was a central part of the town’s lively cultural and political life.  Walentyna was an actress and a patron of the arts, and the driving force behind eclectic gatherings of prominent artists, actors, and writers, including the literary luminaries Prus and Żeromski.  Others included Nałkowska, Nagórski, Malinowska-Osterwina, Wroczyński, Bralínski, Matuszewska, and Tatarkiewicz.

I want to go back to Nałęczów and spend a week walking its tree-lined paths and taking in the fresh air, mineral water, and tracing the footsteps of these famous people.  Reluctantly, I continued toward Lublin, and came upon a blacksmith event in Wojciechów, with 6 or 7 anvils being struck simultaneously and the reek of burning coal creating a pallor over the entire town.  There was a mini skansen at the town’s edge consisting of a cottage, barn, as well as blacksmith, potter, shoemaker, carpenter, and saddlemaker workshops.  It had been painstakingly constructed in 2003, though all the buildings were old and had been moved from other places.  Sadly, there was a for sale sign on the house and skansen was closed.  I also came upon a small village with the remnants of an impressive church building with the year 1905 over its lintel.  I don’t know the history of this church whose architecture I admired.  It had been used as a set for a Polish film depicting Nazi occupation during WWII.  Its walls were plastered with photos from film clips.

I had to press on.  Would I ever make it to Lublin?  I finally arrived around 2:30pm and parked near what I thought was the old town.  It was Sunday and everyone was out enjoying the sunny day.  As usual there were myriad of ice cream cones wandering the streets.  Later, I would join in the revels.  It was the 700th anniversary of the city, which had been founded in 1317, and there was a lot of information provided via EU grants.  That’s one of the many reasons I like the EU. There have been many times that I’ve seen some great project in an EU country that wouldn’t have been funded except for the EU.

I learned that the one of the events that greatly contributed to the city’s development was the Polish-Lithuanian Union of Krewo in 1385. Lublin thrived as a center of trade and commerce due to its strategic location on the route between Vilnius and Kraków; the inhabitants also had the privilege of free trade in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Lublin Parliament session of 1569 led to the creation of a real union between the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, thus creating the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. According to the EU sign, this was one of the first democratic unions of two nations, which permitted the coexistence of many ethnic and religious groups, and inspired the processes shaping modern Europe and the formation of the EU.  Interesting idea. I think it’s a bit of a reach, especially given how Greeks, Armenians, and Jews that were invited to settle various towns in southern Poland were later treated.  Not exactly harmony and peaceful coexistence.

Until the partitions at the end of the 18th century, Lublin was a royal city of the Crown Kingdom of Poland. Its delegates and nobles had the right to participate in the Royal Election. In 1578 Lublin was chosen as the seat of the Crown Tribunal, the highest appeal court in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and for centuries the city flourished as a center of culture and higher learning, together with Kraków, Warsaw, Poznań and Lwów. I looked in at some very lovely churches. Apparently Lublin had witnessed the early stages of Reformation in the 16th century. A Calvinist congregation was founded and certain groups of radical Arians also appeared in the city, making it an important global center of Arianism. At the turn of the centuries, Lublin hosted a number of outstanding poets, writers and historians of the epoch, probably the same ones that I’d found had vacation homes in nearby Nałęczów.

Though Lublin was not spared severe destruction during World War II, its picturesque and historical Old Town has been preserved.  I walked the main boulevard and large square outside the gates of the old town to the Ogród Saski, or Saski Gardens.  I walked through the gardens, noticing the large number of university students, and found out later that 35 percent of the population are college students. Lublin has a vibrant music and nightclub scene, sports many theaters and museums as well as a professional orchestra, the Lublin Philharmonic, and has the most festivals of any city in Poland. Walking back to the Renaissance clock tower, I came upon an exhibit of film-making in Lublin. A few important films were recorded in this town including the Oscar-winning film The Reader, which was partially filmed at the Nazi Majdanek concentration camp, located nearby.  In 2008, Lublin in cooperation with Ukrainian Lviv, filmed footage promoting them as cinematic cities.

I had seen a really good looking ice cream place and decided to explore.  I had to get 3 scoops, or so it seemed, and it took me half an hour to finish. I lounged in the sun on the wooden benches and chairs that had been set up in front of the clock tower.  Then I walked through the arches of the tower into “little Krakow”, as Lublin’s old town is sometimes known. I was greeted by cobbled streets and buildings with Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. It was very beautiful.  I saw a well-renovated building and entered.  I found out it was Teatr Stary (old theater), which had enjoyed generous funding by the EU and as a result had had careful archaeological excavations followed by detailed and accurate renovation.  An actor greeted me and had me watch a 20 plus minute film describing the renovation process. He allowed me to visit the auditorium and the archaeological exhibition the foyer.  Excavation and renovation had been funded by the European Regional Development Fund. The foyer featured a rebuilt tile stove and ceramic pots that had been uncovered during archaeological explorations.

I wandered some more and found a Polish folk art store.  I hadn’t planned on buying more folk art, but figured I’d just browse.  I ended up buying 2 pisanki (painted eggs), and a jeżozwierz (porcupine in Polish), a spherical Christmas ornament made of paper whose entire 360 degree surface is covered with paper points.  I made one as a kid, but it was hard and I wanted one for Christmas.  It’s very delicate, and mine has already gotten a bit crushed.  I’ll have to resuscitate it when I get home.  At the end of my visit, I walked down to the bottom of the old town and continued to the Royal Castle, which was built on the fort hill in the 12th century. In the 13th century a bastion fortress was added to the castle, then a round residential tower. After Lublin became the center of Lesser Poland, Russians, Tatars and Lithuanians often tried to occupy the castle. After Casimir the Great came to the throne, reconstruction of the castle was therefore necessary. After the Mongol invasion he built the Gothic castle, adding brick walls and bastions around on the bottom of the castle hill.  The inner court yard was open to the public, so I took a gander and strolled its interior.  There was a music festival going on in the nearby moat and castle grounds.

I decided to push on to Zamość, which had been recommended as a lovely planned town constructed in the 1500s. The historical center was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992, following a decision of the sixteenth ordinary session of the World Heritage Committee,. As described by UNESCO, Zamość is a unique example of a Renaissance town in Central Europe, consistently designed and built in accordance with the Italian theories of the “ideal town,” on the basis of a plan which was the result of perfect cooperation between the open-minded founder, Jan Zamoyski, and the outstanding architect, Bernardo Morando. Zamość is an outstanding example of an innovative approach to town planning, combining the functions of an urban ensemble, a residence, and a fortress in accordance with a consistently implemented Renaissance concept. The result of this is a stylistically homogeneous urban composition with a high level of architectural and landscape values. A real asset of this great construction was its creative enhancement with local artistic architectural achievements.

The Qahal of Zamość was founded in 1588 when Jan Zamoyski agreed to Jewish settlement in the city. The first Jewish settlers were mainly Sephardic Jews coming from Italy, Spain, Portugal and Turkey. In the 17th century, Ashkenazi Jews also settled in the city and soon became the majority of the Jewish population. The settlement rights given by Jan Zamoyski were re-confirmed in 1684 by Marcin Zamoyski, the fourth Ordynat of Zamość estate. At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Jewish inhabitants were influenced by the Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskalah. The late nineteenth century saw the spread of Hasidic Judaism, of which it was an important center.

The town had a Jewish synagogue, two houses of worship, a ritual bathhouse, a slaughterhouse and a hospital. The best preserved remnant of the Jewish community is the now restored Zamość Synagogue. Zamość was also home to many prominent Jews, including poet Solomon Ettinger (1799–1855) and writer Isaac Leib Peretz. In 1827, 2,874 Jews lived in the city. In 1900, the Jewish population was 7,034. The Jewish population grew to 9,383 (49.3% of the total population) in 1921 and were significant landowners within the city.  During WWII, Nazis decimated the Jewish population, slaughtering them in a myriad of ways.  As happened all over Poland, the few Jews who managed to survive in hiding never returned to their homes, but instead immigrated to Israel.

The most historic buildings are located in the Old Town, whose main distinguishing features have been retained. It includes the 100 x 100 meter market square (Rynek Wielki) with the splendid town hall (Ratusz) and so-called “Armenian houses”, as well as fragments of the original fortress and fortifications, including those of the Russian occupation in the 19th century. The destroyed sections of fortifications have been largely rebuilt to restore the city’s appearance. Zamoyski commissioned the Italian architect Morando to design the city based upon an anthropomorphic concept. Its “head” was to be the Zamoyski Palace, “backbone” Grodzka Street, crossing the Great Market Square from east to west, in the direction of the palace,  with the “arms” embodied by 10 streets intersecting the main streets: Solna Street (north of the Great Market Square) and Bernardo Morando Street (south of the Great Market Square). The other squares, Salt Square (Rynek Solny) and Water Square (Rynek Wodny), were placed along these streets and functioned as the “internal organs” of the city. The bastions were the “hands and legs” for self-defense.  In 1639–1651, Jan Jaroszewicz and Jan Wolff redesigned the town hall, enlarging the edifice and adding three stories with a high parapet. The façades were built in accordance with Mannerist proportions and excessive architectural décor. In 1770 a slender dome with a lantern was added to the top of the tower.

I walked around the town for a few hours.  I didn’t arrive till 7:45pm, so I didn’t have much daylight with which to appreciate the town.  Upon walking in the surrounding ramparts, I met a lovely Polish woman who was fluent in Polish because she works with Italian tourists traveling to Zamość.  She warned me in Italian not to continue walking in the direction I had been because of some young drunk ruffians. I thought she was exaggerating but later ran into these blokes, and had to agree with her analysis.  They were like a herd of wild dogs or mad bulls.  I thought they might tear someone apart at the slightest notice.  I didn’t want to tangle with them.  She and I talked for 10 minutes or so, and she told me about life in the town.  She wasn’t particularly impressed with the town, as it was small and “only a few centuries old”.  A funny thing to say to an American, but as she pointed out, Siena or Florence is much more historical and more beautiful.  I tend to agree.  There was some kind of strange dance competition going on in the market square.  Guys dressed in bizarre clothing were making jerky, mechanical movements, and Poles sitting in bleachers were cheering for their favorites.  I found the synagogue and admired the town’s layout.

But the large number of drunk revelers left something to be desired.  I stayed till about 9:30pm when my camera died.  I was photographing the doorways of the houses in the market square.  The ones that had been owned by Armenian families were particularly interesting.  I was hungry and wanted to eat but couldn’t find a fast food place.  I didn’t want a sit down dinner, waiting with the hundreds of other smoking tourists.  So I ate a piece of bread and headed to Roztocze National Park, 12 miles southwest of Zamość. I figured I’d be able to wild camp somewhere there.  I arrived and surveyed the park.  It looked more like an industrial site than a national park. I found out the next day that the park was initially part of the Zamoyski family estate, which was founded in 1589. I drove back down the road and found a sandy road which I turned off.  I got out to adjust my things so I could sleep in the car.  There were a few fireflies, and my feet started getting bitten by red ants. Ouch! I brushed the offending insects off my feet and jumped back in the car. I could adjust things from inside.

July 9.  I returned to Zwierzyniec, the headquarters of the Zamoyski family estate.  I found out that the industrial looking building was a brewery that Zamoyski had started in the 1500s.  I found out that the beginnings of nature protection in the region date to 1934, when the Bukowa Góra Preserve was created (now it is a strictly protected area). In 1938, for the first time in Poland, a bill was issued protecting birds of prey on the Zamoyski family estate. The park was created from State Forests of the districts of Kosobudy and Zwierzyniec, which had belonged to the Zamoyski family estate. The area had witnessed numerous battles during the Polish January Uprising and both World Wars.  Roztocze National Park was created in 1974 and initially covered area of 48.01 km².  The park also plays host to Konik, a small, semi-feral horse originating in Poland.  It was Sunday and very quiet.  I walked to the chapel on the pond-lake where a few men were fishing, and crossed the creek where a man was fly fishing.  Then I drove to the outskirts of Zwierzyniec and took some photos of a Polish pony, before setting my sites on Cisna located on the Polish/Ukraine/Slovak border in Bieszczady National Park.

The drive was long.  I was doing my best to drive fast, but it was a pretty part of Poland and I didn’t know when I’d be in the area again.  The small villages were picture-perfect, and I admired their tidy, ordered regularity.  I got to a city at the intersection of two rivers and decided to stop because of the beautiful buildings on the hill above the town.  It turns out that Przemyśl owes its long and rich history in part to its geography. The city lies near a mountain pass known as the Przemyśl Gate on an important trade route that connected Central and Eastern Europe. It is an extremely fertile area on the banks of the San River, a large tributary on which goods were transported in centuries past.  It is the second oldest city (after Kraków), dates from the 8th century. The region subsequently became part of the 9th-century Great Moravian state. Archeological remains testify to the presence of a monastic settlement as early as the 9th century. Upon the invasion of the Hungarian tribes into the heart of the Great Moravian Empire around 899, the Lendians of the area declared allegiance to the Hungarian authorities. The Przemyśl region then became a site of contention between Poland, Kievan Rus and Hungary beginning in the 9th century. The area was mentioned for the first time in 981 by Nestor, when Vladimir I of Kievan Rus took it over on the way into Poland. In 1018 Przemyśl returned to Poland, and in 1031 it was retaken by Rus. The paladium complex was built during the rule of Bolesław I Chrobry. Between the 11th and 12th century the city was a capital of the Principality of Peremyshl, one of the principalities that made up the Kievan Rus’ state. Sometime before 1218 an Eastern Orthodox eparchy was founded in the city. Przemyśl later became part of the Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia.

It seems that everywhere I go, there’s a tremendous amount of history that I’m not aware of. Przemyśl is a great example of this, as evidenced by the above description of changes in alliance.  I was drawn to the castle built by Casimir III the Great in the 14th century at the top of the hill, and passed the Great Przemyśl Cathedral on the way up.  I’d never seen so many megalothic churches in such a small area.  I must have passed six palatial structures.  As luck would have it, it was a Sunday morning and they were all open. These included a reformed Franciscan church and monastery founded in 1627, an 18th-century Baroque Franciscan Church, a former 17th-century Jesuit church (now the Uniate Cathedral), and a 17th century late-Renaissance Carmelite Church. On the way back down from the castle, I visited them all, trying to take photos unobtrusively during mass.  I found out that the city is also host to 2 synagogues, the Zasanie and New Synagogue.

Przemyśl is host to a plethora of lovely Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque-style buildings, including the Lubomirski Palace, an eclectic palace constructed by the Lubomirski family in 1885.  I wandered the city at my leisure, agape at the stunning architectural sites.  I was in paradise. Eventually, I realized that if I didn’t leave, I’d never make it to Monika’s home near Kosice, Slovakia that night.  Reluctantly, I continued my travels, driving along the San River toward Sanok and Bieszczady National Park, in the southeastern-most corner of Poland, and bordering Ukraine and Slovakia.  The entire drive, I remarked at the natural beauty of the area.  My friends, Ela and Tomek Bender, were building a home somewhere in this area and had told me it was the prettiest place in Poland.  I could see what they meant.  I came to a pretty steep mountain, where to my dismay more than 50 motorcyclists were trying their hand at going as fast as possible (we’re talking 80 mph) on the windiest, most dangerous roads you can imagine.  I’m a pretty confident driver, as I have thousands of miles under my belt, but this made me nervous. Very. More than once I would round a bend to see a cyclist coming toward me, with their bike almost laid down on the road, they were taking the turn so hard.  At one point there were a group of spectators on the side of the road, cheering these guys on.  Like they needed encouragement.  I prayed I’d make it to the bottom in one piece, and went slower than normal in case I had to react quickly.  There were 2 police at the bottom of the hill with radar guns.  Good time to go slow.

After a few hours of driving I reached Cisna, a pretty mountain town at the edge of the park.  There were some vendors of folk art and cheeses and other locally made foods.  I bought a jar full of a local plant basted in garlic.  My car has smelled like an Italian deli ever since.  Then I drove on into the park.  I had forgotten that it was a Sunday.  It seemed that the entire country were in the park, walking along the road.  Like Slovakia and Hungary, Poles walk on the road, often defiantly so.  I have on many occasions been driving and seen someone in the road walking toward me, a resolute expression on their face.  The road is used as a sidewalk in these countries.  So it was today in Bieszczady National Park. I thought people would be hiking on trails in the park.  It seemed that the majority were walking on the road, hiking poles at the ready. I wished I had time to do some real hiking, but time was precious and I had to head to Slovakia soon.  So I drove to Lutowiska, the end of the region accessible by road, and took a few minutes to walk and admire the stream and plants.  Then I jumped in the car and drove back to Cisna, where I climbed through hilly country and quickly crossed the Slovak border.  Just before the border, I stopped to admire yet another Carpathian wooden church.  There was a small spring by the road in Komańcza where a young woman had received a healing after drinking the water.  It used to be that the water was what healed people.  Only later did Christianity take credit for such healings.  I took a sip, crossed the bridge to look at the small chapel, and appreciated its beauty.

Then I entered Slovakia, passing the town of Palota on my way to my final destination of Čižatice.  Large numbers of gypsies were walking along the road, and a man motioned for me to stop, waving a basket of what looked like mushrooms at me.  I don’t think he understood the laws of physics, because I was driving 60 or 70 mph and there was no room to stop.  I continued, passing other small villages, then came to the ugly industrial town of Vranov nad Topľou.  I was shocked at the ugly industrialization in this part of Slovakia.  There appeared to be a power plant, possibly nuclear, and I rolled my windows up as I continued to drive.  Then I drove through forests that looked like they’d been completely clear cut and never replanted.  The dilapidated state of the forests and gypsy villages that surrounded them were shocking.  I think I have PTSD after driving through those villages.  Young men yelled at me, dogs chased the car, small groups of young scantily clad women hung out on street corners, while fat-bellied older men stood like kings on the street.  All against the backdrop of a shanty town of tar paper shacks and mounds of garbage, homes without roofs.  Little India.  Nothing had prepared me for the shock of such a sight after the pastoral countryside of southern Poland.

With relief I finally reached Monika’s home in her gypsy-free town Čižatice.  Apparently they have a French woman mayor, and every spring the entire village combs the surrounding forest for garbage that poor people (probably mostly gypsies) had dumped the previous winter.  I am trying not be be prejudiced, but it’s hard.  I have more empathy for my ex-husband Peter, who used to say with disgust that the gypsies were ruining his country.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s