Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Day Trip from Warsaw

If you’re looking for a fantastic weekend get-away in a small, historic town, then head to Kazimierz Dolny, about 2 hours southeast of WarsawKazimierz Dolny, or simply “Kazik” in Polish, is located along the Vistula River and offers something for everyone – spa hotels, a historic square, castle ruins, old churches and more.

In February, we spent three days exploring Kazimierz Dolny, which dates back to the 11th century. Around 1181, Polish King Casimir the Just gave several villages, including the former Wietrzna Góra (Windy Hill) to a convent of nuns based near Krakow. The grateful nuns changed the name of Wietrzna Góra to Kazimierz, which prospered over the next couple of centuries because of its prime river location. At the beginning of the 14th century, Kazimierz was returned to the then king, Casimir the Great, who formally founded the town.

Today, this picturesque town is known as an art center of Poland and you’ll find dozens of art galleries here.

10 Things to Do in Kazimierz Dolny, Poland:

1. The Historic Rynek.
Stroll around the cobblestone streets surrounding the Rynek (old market) and the Small Rynek. On the weekend, we even perused a flea market set up here. Stop by the historic “wishing well” in the middle of the square.
Left: the main Rynek with horse-drawn carriage rides. Right: the Small Rynek.
2. Explore the Castle Ruins.
Originally built in 1341 as a stronghold against the Tartars, the castle was extended in the 16th century and embellished during the Renaissance. The castle fell into ruin after its partial destruction by the Swedes’ invasion and was abandoned in 1774. Climb up the watchtower for pleasant views over the city!
Unfortunately, the castle walls are all that remain here.

View from the castle's watchtower in Kazimierz Dolny. 
3. Climb up the Hill of Three Crosses (Gora Trzech Krzyzy).
This hill offers fantastic panoramic views of Kazimierz Dolny and the countryside. Bring your hiking shoes as the muddy hill is a steep and slippery climb in the spring, but the views are worth it! Legend says the hill is a memorial to the victims of the cholera plague, which decimated the town’s population in 1708. Meanwhile, some historians believe that the site was referred to as “cross mountain” long before the cholera epidemic.
The Hill of Three Crosses (Gora Trzech Krzyzy).
A rare photo of  hubby and I together on vacation.
4. Visit the Old Churches.

In particular, stop by the 16th century Reformed Franciscan Church on the nearby hill. The Franciscan brethren were compelled to leave the church twice in history: first between 1866 and 1928 when the tsar ordered the annulment of the order and later under the Nazi occupation. Location: ul. Cmentarna.
The Franciscan Monastery and the attached Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sanctuary.
5. Visit “The Wailing Wall.”
About a 20-minute walk from the Rynek, you’ll find a wall made from the recovered Jewish tombstones shattered by the Nazis and that details the tragedy of the Polish Jews. Behind the wall in the former Jewish Cemetery, you’ll also find several tombstones.
6. Buy Some Art!
For such a small town, there are dozens of art galleries. You’ll find many paintings of Kazik’s old buildings as well as still lifes, some modern art and handmade jewelry. Check out ul. Lubelska, and in particular, Grabski Gallery, where I bought a funky pair of silver earrings.
7. Eat a Rooster!
Simply follow your nose to the delicious bakery of Piekarnia Sarzyńskiul. Nadrzeczna 6, and try one of its trademark bread-dough roosters or one of the other homemade pastries.
8. Visit Nearby Nałeczow.
If you have time, visit nearby Nałeczow – a charming, little spa town located about 23 km from Kazimierz. Take a stroll or soak in a mineral bath in Park Zdrojowy (Springs Park). You’ll also find some beautiful, historic wooden villas along the main street.
 Ice fishing in February in Park Zdrojowy.
Some of the sculptures you'll find in Park Zdrojowy.
9. Go Hiking!
There are a couple of hiking trails and gorges located around Kazimierz. Though we had difficulty locating them, we went hiking by one of the gorges not too far from the Wailing Wall.
The last of the snow in February by Kazimierz Dolny. 
10. Stay in a Spa Hotel.
We stayed two nights at Hotel Krol Kazimierz, just a 15-minute stroll from the Rynek, as part of the hotel’s special Valentine’s Day weekend spa package. Our hotel room was very clean and comfortable. The spa area featured dry and steam saunas, a swimming pool and a multitude of spa services, which we fully enjoyed. The spa employees were friendly and most spoke English well. The breakfast buffet offered a nice selection too.
A romantic weekend away in Kazimierz.
Whether you’re looking for a daytrip or a weekend get-away, Kazimierz Dolny offers plenty to do for both options.

Recommended Restaurants:
  • For Jewish and traditional Polish cuisine, try U Fryzjera, Witkiewicza 2. It’s located in a former barbershop and decorated with photos from the 1920s. They serve some of the best Ruskie Pierogies I’ve ever eaten. 
  • Zielona TawernaNadwiślańska 4, serves Polish food and daily specials in a quaint setting with a garden and antique furniture. 
  • For good food and a nice ambiance for dinner, try Kwadrans, Sadowa 7a. There’s a real fireplace functioning during the colder months.

You'll find a variety of Polish and non-Polish dishes at the restaurants here.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Apple orchards nearly as far as the eye can see.

Endless blue skies.

Rolling green hills and fertile farmland.

Honey bees bumbling around the pretty blossoms.

This is springtime in Poland.
Last week, when I took a personal roadtrip to Czersk, I was astounded by the beauty in Poland’s countryside. I almost felt nostalgic for my homestate of Nebraska as I encountered farmers on their tractors on the road and in the fields. Farmers are a familiar sight in Poland, but certainly not in the city where I spend most of my time.
Rows and rows of apple orchards in Poland's countryside.
Sometimes, I get so preoccupied planning my daily schedule that I forget to take time to admire Mother Nature and soak up all the beauty that surrounds me. I’m rushing off to my pilates class, quickly buying groceries at the market or running late to meet a friend for coffee and then I completely forget all those little things.

But as you’ll see in this photo post, the little things often matter the most in life. Those white blossoms or those blue skies, for example.
So I tried to capture the beauty I saw in Poland’s countryside the other day. I hope you’ll enjoy the photos!

Now who wants to come visit us in Poland?
An archway of apple blossoms in Poland.
Did you know that Poland is the 3rd largest exporter of apples in the world?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Day Trip from Warsaw

What do you do on a dismal, rainy Sunday when you just want to escape Warsaw for the day?

Why, you find the nearest medieval castle in Poland to explore, of course!

Thanks to this list of Polish castles, I’ve been able to map out day trips we can do from Warsaw and plan for longer roadtrips. So the other weekend, we drove about 45 minutes to the tiny town of Czersk, located about 40 km south of Warsaw. (Note: Not to be confused with another Czersk located in the opposite direction and about a 4 hour drive away.)

The Ruins of the Mazovian Dukes’ Castle in Czersk (Ruiny Zamku Książąt Mazowieckich) are the remains of a Gothic castle built between the 14th-16th centuries for the Mazovian princes. The castle was originally built in the 13th century; and during that time, Prince Konrad Mazowiecki, who brought the Teutonic Knights to Poland in 1226, imprisoned the future Prince of Krakow and Prince Henryk Brodaty, the Prince of Wroclaw, in the south tower.
Unfortunately, the ugly skies did not make for pretty pictures as you can see here.
Same location, but taken about 2 weeks apart. What a difference!
Yesterday, I woke up to absolutely brilliant blue skies, and I decided to drive back to Czersk by myself to take better photos. I didn’t mind the nearly hour drive, because of traffic, and was happy to spend a relaxing afternoon on a mini roadtrip. The photos turned out stunningly!
Crossing the medieval bridge and moat on a beautiful spring day in Czersk, Poland.
If you visit this medieval castle, you can access two of the three towers and enjoy magnificent views over the Vistula River, situated about 1 km away, and the countryside. The stairs are steep and well worn, but the views are worth the effort.
Czersk was the first capital of the Mazovian region, but in 1413, the town was succeeded by Warsaw when the route of the river apparently changed. As with most of Poland’s castles, this one was destroyed by the Swedes in the mid-1700s. Eventually the castle was abandoned in the late 1800s and served as a quarry for many years.
The Czersk Castle reminded me of the one we saw in Ciechanów last summer; and not ironically, they both met similar fates. But the Czersk Castle still plays an active role in the community and hosts a  number of summer events. For example, on May 10 and 11, the annual VI Knights Tournament will be held here. This event draws hundreds of participants to watch the knights perform re-enactments such as jousting. Here’s also a link to a list of the Knights Tournaments that will take place throughout Poland in 2014.
Not sure if hubby should be allowed to play with medieval weapons like this one! :-)
Luckily for us, we have many historical buildings that are located practically in our backyard from Warsaw! This won’t be the last time you hear about our adventures in Polish castles!
I love water reflections like this one!
One of the former crests used by the Mazovian knights.
Don't forget to peak into the quaint Catholic Church located just outside the castle walls.
Zamek w Czersku
Plac Tysiąclecia 1
Czersk, Poland

Admission: 10 PLN for adults/7 PLN reduced

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Living as an expat in a new country opens your eyes to new traditions and experiences.

Last year, we were greeted with Easter Snow Bunnies near our hotel on our first night in Poland. We didn’t know about this tradition! Luckily, this year, Easter falls later in April (Sunday, April 20th) and our weather is warm and spring-like.
 An Easter Snow Bunny on April 1, 2013, in Warsaw. 
This past week, I just learned about the colorful tradition of Polish pisanki, which are real eggs usually decorated with melted beeswax and then dyed for Easter. The pisanki I’ve seen so far here in Warsaw are exceptionally beautiful! Take a look:
Polish pisanki are named after the verb verb 'pisać' which in contemporary Polish means 'to write' yet in old Polish also meant 'to paint.' Yesterday, I watched a woman demonstrate how to make Polish pisanki as part of my expat group called International Women’s Group of Warsaw. She heated the beeswax over a candle, dipped the stylus tool into the wax and “wrote” on the egg making various designs. Later, she dyed the egg, then removed the wax by heating it over the candle and rubbing off the wax with a towel. Thus, revealing the intricate design and pattern on the egg.
There are even various types of Polish pisanki, based on the technique and preparation used. For example, at my favorite farmer’s market, Hala Mirowska, I bought a basketful of malowanki – hand-painted Easter eggs. Luckily, these are wooden and not fragile real ones!
Another variety is called drapanki – solid-color eggs with a design scratched onto the surface after they are dyed. I only bought one of these because drapanki cost 20-30 pln ($6-10) each instead of the 7 pln ($2.50) I paid for the handmade pisanki made with beeswax and dye. (Meanwhile on Etsy, you’ll pay upwards of 70 pln (about $23) PER egg if you want to buy outside of Poland!)
Lastly, another variety you’ll find is nalepianki – eggs decorated with paper cut-outs or straw. The Polish rooster seems to be a popular motif for these Easter eggs.
Did you know that Polish pisanki are usually made to be given to your family and close friends as a symbolic wish for the gift of life? The eggs can be saved from year to year and sometimes are even blessed at church during the Easter celebrations. I won’t be visiting my family until Christmas, so these pisanki are all mine.

Did you also know there’s even a Muzeum Pisanki in Poland? This small museum in the town of Ciechanowiec, 140 km northeast of Warsaw, is dedicated to the history of Polish Easter eggs and more from Eastern Europe. Hopefully, I can drag hubby here one of these days.
More Polish pisanki for sale at an ornament store on Emilii Plater in Warsaw. 
Meanwhile at home, we simply dyed Easter eggs with some of our colleagues’ children the old-fashioned way – store-bought dye kits! Last weekend, the kids had fun getting their hands messy with dye and putting stickers on the Easter eggs. I’ve been eating a lot of egg salad this week!
Maybe next year, I’ll get a bit more crafty and attempt to make my own Polish pisanki!

To those of you who will celebrate Easter this weekend, Happy Easter!

***Please check out what some of my fellow bloggers have to say about celebrating Easter abroad and at home:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

As I was editing the tulip photos from my recent trip to Istanbul, I couldn’t help but notice that all the red images seemed to stand out the most.

Red and white make up the colors of the Turkish flag, so not surprisingly, the Turks transferred that same color scheme into their gardens, especially at Emirgan Korusu.

A Turkish "flag" made from red tulips was a new addition to the park this year. 
Since I took more than 100 photos of the tulips this year, I decided to devote a second blog post only to the red tulips in the park. I had so many photos that I found it difficult to narrow it down to simply 10 photos of the red tulips, which do look quite ravishing.
Interestingly, a Persian legend may be responsible for the red tulip’s symbolism of love and passion. One of the story’s variations goes that a prince named Farhad was love struck by a maiden named Shirin in Azerbaijan. The original story, "Khosrow and Shirin," was the title of a famous Persian tragic romance written by Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209).

After meeting, the two lovers keep ending up in different places. Finally, after Farhad learned that Shirin had been killed, he killed himself by riding his horse over the edge of a cliff because he was overcome with grief. The legend says that scarlet tulips sprang up from each droplet of his blood, giving the red tulip the meaning of “perfect love.”

Well, even if you don’t believe in this tragic story, there’s no denying that red represents the color of love, and these red Turkish tulips are quite lovely!