Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Nestled in a beautiful valley is one of the prettiest Polish cities I had never heard of until we had lived in Poland for a while.

At the end of 2013, I met the author of Rose Petal Jam & Sugared Oranges, two Polish cookbooks you should own, who is originally from Jelenia Góra, located in Dolny Sląsk, the south-western part of Poland.

When I planned my solo road trip last year, I made sure to include Jelenia Góra (yeh-len-yah goo-rah) as my evening resting spot after visiting neighboring Polish castles throughout the day. I’m glad I did because this small city has a relaxed feeling and features one of the loveliest (and photogenic) town squares I’ve seen in Poland.
The local story goes that Jelenia Góra was founded in 1108 by King Bolesław Krzywousty after he had been following a wounded deer and was astounded by the beauty of the place that he named it ‘Deer Mountain,’ the English translation of Jelenia Góra. The border stronghold later came under the rule of the powerful Duchy of Świdnica-Jawor and under the Habsburg Monarchy in the 1500s (and then called Hirschberg), Prussia and later Germany before reverting back to Polish land. Luckily, the city wasn’t damaged that badly during WWII since it was a German stronghold.

In this new post, I’m hoping that my photos will entice you to make your own road trip or at least discover why the city is also called the Pearl of the Karkonosze Mountains.
Town Square
Typical of most Polish towns, all roads in the Old Town area lead to the Town Hall Square (Plac Ratuszowy), which is surrounded by pastel-colored burgher houses with arcades. The arcaded, barouque and rococo surrounding the market square were built in the 17th and 18th centuries and only remaining structures of their kind in the Lower Silesia region. Each front used to have its own name related to the main trade or services such as furrier, weavers, rope maker, etc.
These cotton candy-hued houses made me fall in love with the center of Jelenia Góra! 

After a long day of driving and sightseeing, I was content to just sit in the square at one of the local pubs and have a glass of French wine with my hearty dinner.
Plenty of outdoor seating at the local pubs and restaurants in the Town Hall Square.
My dessert at Metafora Pub in Jelenia Góra.
Oh, I should note it will help if you can speak a bit of Polish or German. Interestingly, most menus I saw were only printed in these two languages, but luckily I could get by with my basic Polish. As long as you can order food and drink, you’ll be just fine.

From this ornate square, it’s only a short walk to the remnants of city walls, Gothic and baroque churches and interesting architecture with many buildings dating from the 18th to 20th centuries.
I can't resist taking photos of old doors!
Historic Churches
Following Ulica 1 Maja (May 1 Street), you’ll find several historic churches that are worth photographing. Unfortunately, since I arrived at the end of the day, the churches were shuttered for the day.

Surrounded in a gated park by nearly 300-year-old Baroque tombstones and mausoleums, don’t miss the Church of the Holy Cross (Kościół Św Krzyża). This massive church originally was built in 1718 for a Lutheran congregation (remember the German connection), but has served a Catholic one since 1947. The 3-storey church can accommodate 4,000 people. Inside the ceiling is supposed to be covered with Baroque paintings of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, but I enjoyed just wandering around outside. The tombstones and mausoleums have been restored in recent years thanks to EU funding.
A yellow façade adorns the Church of St. Peter and Paul (Kościół Św Piotra i Pawła), built in 1737, but the first Catholic Church was built here in 1453. The Orthodox community took over the church in 1950. Its walls are decorated with Byzantine-style frescoes.
A white-rounded building is home to St. Anne Chapel (Kaplica św. Anny) and was part of the medieval defense complex, dating back to the early 1500s. However, the chapel was burnt down in 1634 during the Thirty Years’ War, and finally rebuilt in 1715.
Left: St. Anne Chapel
Right: Church of the Holy Cross
Medieval Fortifications
As you walk around Jelenia Góra, you’ll come across many crumbling reminders of the city’s medieval past. The best preserved example is the Grodzka Tower (Baszta Grodzka), ul. Grodzka 14, located on the western side of the Old Town. Built in the 15th century, this tower is one of the only surviving 36 bastle houses used at the end of the Middle Ages to reinforce the city's walls. After serving its military purpose, the building was used as a residence and currently is a café and cultural center.
Two other examples are the Castle Tower (Baszta Zamkowa), located around the corner from Grodzka Tower and the remains of Wojanowska Gate, which is next to St. Anne Chapel. You’ll also find some other remaining defense walls as you wander around the city.
Local Markets
I have no idea what day the local markets take place, but on Tuesday morning I discovered a market set up near my hotel. If only I could have bought a basket of these fresh strawberries, which cost only 4zl!!
Hot Springs in Cieplice
Before I checked into my hotel, I took a dip in the well-known thermal pools in Cieplice – a district of Jelenia Gora that has provided hot springs treatments for centuries. I bought a 2-hour pass for 30zl (about $10USD at the time) to use the pools and spa area at the Cieplice Baths. The complex houses several pools for swimming or relaxation. I relaxed in a heated, bubbling pool for a while before enjoying the hot tub. I even could have cooled down with some freshly-made ice chips if I had wanted.

The area of Cieplice is quite pretty to wander around as well since it’s filled with beautiful buildings built by the Schaffgotsch family in the 1700s, one of the oldest noble families in the Silesian region. In the mid-1800s, the family also reconstructed Park Zdrojowy into an English garden and opened much of it to the public.
Hopefully my photos have enticed you to visit this pretty Polish city. I spent 4 days in this region and absolutely loved it!

What do you think of Jelenia Góra? Would you like to visit?
It’s not easy to find a lot of information in English about these places, but the local tourist office is usually a good place to start or you can try the Jelenia Góra website.

Where to stay: I stayed one night at Hotel Baron, a comfortable place located within the Old Town. I paid 150zl (about $50USD) for one night, including a typical Polish breakfast of cured meats, cheese, breads, pastries and fruit. The staff were quite friendly and spoke a bit of English, but they did appreciate my attempts at Polish too.
My Traveling Joys

Thursday, May 26, 2016

It’s hard to believe that last year at this time I took a 4-day solo road trip in southwest Poland – a place we had called home for 27 months but would soon be leaving.

As an expat, we do tend to move a lot – at least more than the average person. Our life depends on where my husband’s job takes us. Since hubby had already left to start his new job in Australia, I found myself with 5 weeks to entertain myself and spend with friends.

In my opinion, late spring is the best time to visit Poland. The winter months are filled with many never-ending gray, dark days. Finally, when spring arrives, you almost want to shout Hallelujah! The Polish countryside, especially in the Dolny Sląsk (Lower Silesia) region, are filled with endless fields of brilliant yellow rzepak (canola/rapeseed), red poppies and other wild flowers. I loved being able to stop whenever I wanted on my road trip and take photos of all the beautiful flowers!
Did you know that Poland is one of the leading producers of rapeseed oil in the European Union? Other top producers included Germany, France and the U.K.
Dolny Sląsk, located in the south-western part of Poland, appealed to me basically for the sheer number of castles it contains. I love exploring and I love road trips! Win win!
Taking selfies in front of Polish castles.
Thank goodness my dad taught me how to drive a manual car!
Just me and the open roads in Lower Silesia, Poland!
This region has seen many changes in rulers leading up to 1945: it was under the authority of Czechs, Poles, Habsburgs and Germans and many of them left behind their castles and palaces. Back in 1742, most of Silesia was conquered by Prussia, later becoming part of the German Empire. After WWI, an eastern strip of Upper Silesia was awarded to Poland and the rest later became part of the Czech Republic. Polish Silesia was among the first regions invaded during Germany's 1939 attack on Poland. Following WWII, the lines were redrawn again between Germany and Poland. Millions of Germans living in Silesia either fled or were expelled, and were replaced by Polish population settled from other regions.

As I drove through the Dolny Sląsk countryside, I found numerous abandoned great palaces that were probably once owned by wealthy Germans. In fact, I later learned on my trip that many Germans lately have been returning to this area to seek out their ancestry. That’s something I can relate to because all I really know is that my ancestry is German, but perhaps relatives once lived in the Prussia region too.
I wonder who once lived here. This fancy house had a 2-meter tall iron fence surrounding it and the large property.
Another reason to visit Dolny Sląsk in the springtime is to see the annual migration of the white storks. Each spring, Poland welcomes home roughly 25 percent of thenearly 325,000 white storks that breed across Europe. After wintering in Africa, the storks return to Poland, mainly in the northeast provinces, to nest and are attracted to tall trees or specially-constructed wooden poles. Fortunately, I saw several of these gigantic white storks on my road trip.
In my upcoming blog posts, I’ll talk about the Polish castles, historic churches and other sites I saw on my road trip in Dolny Sląsk. I didn’t find a lot of tourist information in English for this area, so hopefully I can provide some travel tips. Stay tuned for more travel adventures!
Just another cute Polish village in the countryside.
This is what a rural firehouse looks like in southwest Poland. Love the red!
Where has been your favorite road trip?

My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

After wilting from the unrelenting sun in Athens, fortunately, we had booked an all-day city escape to the nearby Greek islands.

Our “One-Day Saronic Cruise” included the ports at Hydra, Poros and Aegina – all Saronic Islands of Greece. When I looked back through our photos recently, I noticed all the cute donkey photos. How could I not share these with you all and why hadn’t I done so earlier?
Hubby and me on our donkeys on Hydra.
Anyway, shortly we docked at Hydra port, about an hour from Athens by boat, we noticed several donkeys waiting near the whitewashed buildings. I love animals (riding camels) and convinced my husband and our friends that we should do the touristy thing and take a donkey ride around the small town.

Donkeys are the island’s main mode of public transport as the entire island of Hydra is blissfully car free (sans a few motorized rubbish trucks). Well, from what I understand, the donkeys and mules are often used to transport larger items, baggage, and heavy shopping to people’s homes in the hills. But the donkeys also are available for tourist rides. I recall paying about 10 euros each for our brief ride around the steep, narrow streets.

All you could hear was the clip-clop of the saddled donkeys’ hooves on the stone pavement as we toured the local streets. How peaceful would it be to spend the night on this idyllic island?
After our donkey ride, we wandered over to a few seaside cafés (located to the right of the harbor) so we could take a dip in the refreshing Aegean Sea. I did write about our swimming experience off the coast of Hydra. Not for the faint of heart! 
Donkeys, the clear, blue sea and white-washed buildings were good enough reasons to escape the city for the day. You know, I think we really need to go back and properly explore the Greek islands. What do you think?
Note: We used this travel agency to book our boat tour – Fantasy Greece. The cost per person is 85 euros. 

My Traveling Joys

Friday, May 20, 2016

When a good friend recently asked me for traveling advice to Athens, I cringed.

Well, I told her, Athens was not my favorite city. I found it dirty, rundown and bloody hot during our August visit nearly five years ago. Compared to Istanbul, Athens disappointed me – BIG TIME!

However, always trying to see the glass-half-full kinda thing, I decided to look back through my hundreds of photos and come up with good reasons to visit Athens.

1. Ancient Ruins
Of course, wandering through the Acropolis and seeing the ancient columns of the Parthenon lit up at night on the hilltop was AMAZING! What’s also cool is the numerous restaurants in the Monastiraki neighborhood that featured rooftop dining. Here you could enjoy a Greek salad, freshly caught fish and the fine views of said historical ruins.
The Parthenon, the largest Doric temple to be completed in Greece, truly captures ancient Greece’s glory. The temple featured eight Doric columns in the façade and 17 columns lined each side.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a stone theater, built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus, who constructed it in memory of his wife, Regilla. During the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, when it’s open to the public, you can see performances of music, dance and drama here.
We were fortunate to see the newly opened Acropolis Museum, which houses Acropolis artifacts and preserved marble carvings, at night. Check to see when nighttime visits are allowed.
The Parthenon lit up at night as seen from the Acropolis Museum.
2. Pork, Pork and More Pork
Since we were living in Turkey, we rarely got to eat pork. Sure, we could find expensive pork at some places and maybe bacon for breakfast, but generally we would stuff our suitcases full of pork on our European travels! However, in Athens, we were in pork heaven and ate it nearly every meal on our 3-day trip!
If you love pork like we do, don’t miss out trying the pork souvlaki skewers or shaved pork for döner kebabs. Add a Greek salad on the side to make your meal a bit healthier.
3. Greek Iced Coffee
August must be the worst month to visit Athens! We found half the city’s shops and restaurants shut down because people were on vacation, and the temperatures were unrelenting at mid 30s C/90s F. The blazing hot, dry weather made us thirsty! My go-to drink was a Greek Frappe, an iced coffee drink made with instant coffee granules and slightly sweetened. A frothy frappe is the perfect pick-me-up in Greece!
(NOTE: we never would have chosen to travel in August, but we were traveling with US friends who were on vacation.)

Why Athens Disappointed Me
While standing atop the Acropolis was a fantastic experience, wading through hordes of pushy tourists was not.
I also was disappointed to see the Parthenon and other ancient structures covered in metal scaffolding and nearby construction cranes. I understand that the Greek ruins are old, but I had gotten so used to seeing historic Greek, Roman and Hittite ruins in Turkey in their more natural states. To this day, my favorite ruins we’ve seen are located in the ancient city of Aphrodisias, with a massive stadium dating back to 1st century AD!

During the summer, Athens becomes a sweltering, dusty, landlocked city. There’s no relief from the constant sunshine until nightfall. In Istanbul, even though temperatures do get just as hot, the city is located along the Bosphorus and the Black Sea so you have the cooling sea breezes to provide relief. In Athens, you have to drive about 30 minutes to reach the Mediterranean Sea.
It’s difficult not to have expectations of a place that you’ve heard and read so much about over the years. Athens was like that for me. I’ve read a few other bloggers, such as Dangerous Business, express similar feelings as me. I just expected Athens to impress me.
So is Athens worth seeing? Yes!

Would I visit again? Maybe. I still haven’t done the Greek islands properly, so that’s always a possibility.

Maybe it’s better NOT to have expectations. What do you think?

This post is linked up with #WeekendWanderlust by travel bloggers A Southern GypsyA Brit and a SouthernerJustin Plus Lauren and One Modern Couple. Hop on over to their blogs to see more travel stories or link up yourself!

My Traveling Joys

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