One of my favorite things to do in Poland is visit old castle ruins. They’re pretty much all over the country. I’ve been to the one in Olsztyn every time I’ve come to Poland… it’s sort of a tradition. Being only 15-20 min from my family’s home in Częstochowa, you can probably understand why. It’s quite beautiful, too.

OLSZTYN

FAM IN OLSZ

After visiting Olsztyn, we drove to the next castle, in Mirów (meer-oof) – about 45 min from Częstochowa.

BOB

The castles in Mirów and Bobolice (bobo-lee-tzeh) are only 2 km apart and date back to the 14th century. We hiked over to the one in Bobolice.

TREK TO MIR

Legend has it that the two castles were once connected by an underground tunnel and that they belonged to two brothers. One of them brought back a beautiful girl as a spoil of war, making the other one deeply covetous of her. Upon finding them together after returning from a trip or battle or something, the first brother killed the second and locked up the girl in the tower.

MIR FROM AFAR

I was pretty shocked to see the castle in Bobolice being renovated to look like it did back in the 14th century. It’s been bought by a developer… they’re probably going to turn it into a hotel or restaurant or something. It looks so weird! I remember it quite differently…

bobo orig

Oh, well. Nevertheless, it’s great to sit down on a bench and take it all in…

MIR

By the way, this is one of the only decent photos I have with my cousin Rafał… he doesn’t like taking pictures.

Anyway, after Bobolice and Mirów, we drove over to the next castle, in Ogrodzieniec (ogro-dj-yen-yetz). This is probably my favorite castle in Poland. It dates back to the 12th century and it’s in pretty good condition. There’s something completely genuine about castle ruins- you’re totally aware that you’re looking at something that’s been around for centuries- in this case 900+ years (that’s why I was so upset about the one in Bobolice). But dusk is definitely the best time to visit creepy old castles…

OGRODZIENIEC

NEAR OGR

On the way back home, we stopped by the 13th century castle in Siewierz, as well. However, none of the pictures came out… it was too dark! But here’s what it normally looks like during the day.

SIEWIERZ

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MAP CZ-KR

We, meaning my family and my aunt’s family, took an express train from Częstochowa to Kraków (3 hrs, 15 min) to tour the city and visit and the Wieliczka (vye-leech-ka) Salt Mine. Dating back to the 13th century and measuring 300 km/186 miles long, 327 meters/1073 feet deep, it’s the only operating salt mine of its kind in the world. It is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Apparently, Mikołaj Kopernik (aka Nicolas Copernicus) was its first tourist. Very cool. WIELICZKA PLAQUETo get down into the mine, we had to walk down about 40 flights of wooden stairs. So fun… especially with a 15 year old cousin.  The tour—all 3 hours of it—was amazing; it took you through the history of salt mining, including the different tools and emerging technology throughout the centuries. WIELICZKA TOOLS There were also displays everywhere with creepy figures holding pickaxes and torches, showing how the work was done back in the day. However, the most memorable and beautiful part of the mine was the Chapel of Saint Kinga (kaplica św. Kingi). It is one of the 18 chapels found throughout the mine. Everything was carved out of salt—the floors, the altar, the benches, the chandeliers, the Last Supper replica on the wall, the statue of Pope John Paul II—everything! It was truly incredible. CHAPEL

LAST SUPPER

For more information, you can visit the mine’s website: www.kopalnia.pl (The site can be viewed in English).

After visiting the salt mine, we took a bus back to Kraków and toured its gorgeous historic center, also on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. TOWN SQUAREActually, Kraków was placed on UNESCO’s list the same year (1978) that Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as John Paul II. We walked around the town square, saw St. Mary’s Basilica (Kościół Mariacki),Kosciol Mariacki

the Sukiennice (“Cloth Hall” a 15th century international center of trade, also where my grandma once bought me a traditional folk costume vest in the regional style of Kraków), and the Barbakan. We all had some oscypek (os-tzih-pek) – grilled, smoked goat cheese served with cranberry sauce (żurawina).

OSCYPEK

After walking around a bit more, we took the train back to Częstochowa, falling asleep along the way…

ASLEEP ON TRAIN

Sidenote: my older cousin, Rafał, is going to be studying in Kraków, so I’ll definitely be visiting this beautiful city again…

Arrival in Poland

August 26, 2009

I flew into Warsaw today. Aside from it being THE worst experience I’ve ever had on a plane (imprisoned in the window seat for 5 hours next to a Nigerian woman who stuck her chicken dinner into her purse and kept getting frustrated because I couldn’t understand her), I got to Warsaw in one piece and 1.5 hours before my parents and brother. Why did we take separate flights you ask? Because the Fulbright Program requires grantees to use a U.S. flag carrier. Anyway, my aunt and grandma (dad’s side of the family) and my uncle (mom’s side) met us at the Fryderyk Chopin International Airport in Warsaw. And since I was to stay in Poland for a whole year, my aunt and grandma took three of my 4 suitcases back to their house for storage, while I took one, strategically packed suitcase with me to Częstochowa. (How did I do it? Four suitcases when airlines only allow 2 per person?! I checked in two, and my parents each checked in theirs, plus one of mine…ohhh, luggage restrictions…)

So, we parted ways… my aunt and grandma (plus my three suitcases) drove off to Józefów, a town about 20 km from Warszawa central, and my uncle, my family, and I drove off to Częstochowa. It took us about 3.5 hours. MAP WS-CZ

My aunt and my two cousins were waiting for us when we got there. Many kisses, hugs, and tears ensued…