There was another reason for my blogging hiatus though, and that was a visit to Poland that began last Wednesday and finished yesterday. Koos and I had planned it well in advance as it was at a hiatus in my work schedule as well. I must admit, I booked it then because I was worried that any later would be too cold. Well, this last week was already much too cold for me. I love Poland and the Poles, but I've learnt that their winters are just not for me.
That aside, we had a great time and visited some beautiful places. The highlights for me were Toszek and Mikolow, two towns we went to just by sticking a pin on the map and catching buses. Toszek had a magnificent castle on the top of a very high hill, a huge surprise. There has been a fortification or gord there since the tenth century, and today, only parts of the castle are habitable, but I loved the combination of ruins with a fully functional and restored castle building. We spent some time just sitting on a bench there watching the sun go down. A magical interlude.
|Toszek Castle from the bottom of the hill|
|In the grounds of Toszek Castle|
|The main gateway to Toszek Castle, fully restored|
Mikolow has seven hundred years of history and in one of its guises it had the German name of Nikolai and was home to a huge printing/publishing works. Silesia, the region of Poland where we have spent most of our time, has been a conflicted area for so much of its history, it's hard to know which influences have been the strongest, but German architecture is quite prominent in this area.
|The rynek or main square at Mikolow|
We arrived on an icy cold morning and had to dive into a café to warm up quite quickly. All the same it was a lovely place with a pretty square (rynek) and a lively market. Quite a discovery given that we thought we were on the bus to nowhere.
|I just loved the colour on these buildings|
|Street off the main square|
|The three clocks|
|Lovely shop fronts in Mikolow|
One other special trip we did was into the mountains to Zwardon. Our train took us through Bielsko Biala, meaning white-white (yes, seriously! They are two different dialects and both refer to the White River on which the town was built), a beautiful classical town that has the added attraction of being the starting point for a cable car up into the mountains. We only stopped here on the way back, by which time it was dark, so it's somewhere to revisit, perhaps in the summer when the days are longer. Nevertheless, Zwardon was quite an experience. The further we climbed, the more it snowed, so by the time we arrived three hours after leaving Gliwice, the snow was more than ankle deep.
We had a wonderful guide in our train conductor who was full of fascinating information and kept us entertained for most of the journey. He even invited Koos into the driver's cabin as a special concession so he could take photos and film a bit of our ascent. Thank you so much, Tomasz!
|Our train at Zwardon|
|Zwardon hillsides. It is only 640 metres altitude|
at the station, but the hills rise higher around it
The rest of our trip involved many tram and bus rides courtesy of our seven day travel card that cost the princely sum of about €11 and covered the entire network. We visited the mining museum and the Silesia museum. These were both quite moving experiences because I learnt so much about the struggles the people in this region have been subjected to, during centuries of conflict and even as recently as the 1980s when contamination of the environment by industry was at national disaster levels and then martial law was imposed, followed by mining strikes that cost many lives.
|Gliwice town square|
Lastly there was the Katowice Christmas Market, a beautiful set up in the centre of this much improved city, and a bief visit to my favourite town of all, Gliwice. But I have to confess, a lot of the time, we were diving into coffee shops just to get out of the cold. I love Poland, but next time I go, it will be in spring again. For me, that is the best time, and then, it might even be by boat....who knows?
|Christmas market food|
|Stalls at the christmas market|
|Trinkets at the Christmas market|