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Brodnica, Dębno (Debno),
Kazimierz Dolny, Kłódzko (Klodzko), Kórnik, Książ (Ksiaz), Łancut, Legnica, Niedzica, Nysa, Otmuchów, Paczków, Pieniny, Pszczyna, Rabka, Rydzyna, Sanok, Stary Sącz (Stary Sacz), Swidnica, Zamość (Zamosc), Zywiec - these are all charming places virtually unknown to American or West European tourists.
Most tourists visit only one or two main cities, such as Warsaw and Cracow. They miss a lot, because you get to know the character and culture of the country and its people by visiting smaller towns.
This is an account of a tour by rental car around Southern Poland in 2002. All major cities and well publicized resorts, such as Zakopane, were avoided. Don't forget to click on the Photo Galleries (right panel). You may get more details for most of the visited places from the listed links.
Part 1 - South-east - Warsaw to Sanok,
Part 2 - South, Malopolska - Sanok to Pszczyna,
Part 3 - South-west, Silesia - Pszczyna to Poznan.
First a couple of general observations:
Guidebook. You may have downloaded lots of information from the Internet, but a good guide book is still desirable. I like the DK Eyewitness "Poland" (ISBN 0789477750). It is not too bulky, is beautifully illustrated and has a wealth of information about all the smaller towns with anything of interest. Click on the "Amazon" sidebar to order it (just copy the number into the search line and click "GO").
Road and town maps. "www.pilot.pl" provides an excellent service, best in Europe. Clicking on "en" (on the bottom line) provides only partial translation into English. Type in the name of town or village, then click on "POKAZ miasto". The remaining controls such as "zoom" are intuitive.
Driving. Much of our travel was on secondary roads. They were all well paved, although some were narrow. All roads were well marked, both along the center and edges and all direction signs were up to the best West European standards. Petrol (gas) stations were found around all towns, even the smallest, and on major roads near every important intersection. All were modern, built to West European standards by Aral, BP, Shell and the Polish Plock organization and provided clean, well equipped toilets and friendly snack bars offering varieties of coffee, tea and other beverages, as well as hot dishes. What a fantastic improvement in the 20 years since I first drove in Poland! The average cost of unleaded 95 octane petrol was 3.33 zloty/liter (approximately US$3/US gallon), 25% less than in Germany. The only problem - slow moving farm vehicles and the occasional hot-rodder (generally driving a BMW or Mercedes).
I rented from a local Warsaw company Local Rent A Car. I can recommend most highly. We received an Opel Astra in almost new condition at a rate substantially less than the well known companies. In addition they deliver the car to you, at the airport, station or hotel (in our case at our friends' apartment). For a reasonable charge they pick up in another city (in our case at the Poznan railway station just before our departure to Germany).
Accommodations. All 2 or 3-star category. With one exception, all were satisfactory to very good. Except for rooms in palaces, they averaged $31/night for the two of us, good breakfast included. Most had been reserved in advance. At this time of the year not necessary, but generally gets you better rates. The US company HotelsCentral.com provides excellent service but only for the most popular cities. The Polish company Poland4U.com provides locations even in small towns - I recommend. Always leave your car in a protected parking place over night. Cost varied from nothing to 20PZN (about US$5).
We traveled in October expecting a traditional Polish Golden Autumn. We were unlucky, it was cold, cloudy with some rain, most of the time. Weather is more reliable in the summer, but then hotels and roads are more crowded, prices higher.
PART 1 - South-east - Warsaw to Sanok
To avoid heavy truck traffic on the main Lublin highway, we left by Wilanów on road #723 through Góra Kalwarja towards Tarnobrzeg. Just beyond Góra Kalwarja, we went a couple of kilometers to the left to see the ruins of the Mazovian princes' 12thC. castle at Czersk. The sun came out and I climbed the steps to the top of the bastion for a great view over the Vistula valley.
The road runs through partly wooded farm lands of the Vistula valley. In Kozienice bear left to road #738 to cut off a few kilometers. After crossing the Vistula into Pulawy, watch for the right turn on to a narrow road to Kazimierz Dolny. It runs past the Czartoryski estate, now an agricultural research institute.
Entering Kazimierz Dolny you pass old grain silos on the left, some now turned into pensions, and up on the hill the ruins of the old castle. To the right you see the calm waters of the river. The golden age of this charming old town was in the 16th and 17th centuries, when grain from the rich Podlasie farmlands was shipped on the river to lower lying Polish towns and the Hanseatic port of Gdansk. As you enter the Rynek (Market Square) you notice immediately the church up the hill. It contains what is claimed to be the oldest working organ in Poland. It was built in 1612 and is still played today. The square is lined with richly decorated Baroque houses. The two adjoining Przybyla houses on the NE side of the square carry the most elaborate stone carvings. Other decorated houses line Senatorska street.
A number of artists live in the town and you may see and buy their works in the galleries.
In nice weather you may enjoy walking around the town and along the river. You can cross it on the ferry to see the extensive ruins of the Janowiec castle.
Driving east from Kazimierz towards Zamosc, we passed the regional capital Lublin with its two universities and numerous cultural sites. Just east of the city we paused briefly at the memorial to the Jews murdered by the Nazis in the concentration camp Majdanek.
Zamość (Zamosc) is gorgeous. The entire town was planned and built at the end of the 17th century by Italian architects under the direction of Hetman Jan Zamoyski. All the arcaded and richly decorated houses that surround the main square have recently been refurbished to their original state. The focal point of the square is the Town Hall with its tall tower and fan shaped stairway leading up to its main entrance. The entire town was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1992.
The town was surrounded by strong fortifications which successfully withstood many sieges. Some of them and three city gates are still in place. The three most exquisitely decorated houses stand on the same side of the square as the Town Hall. They belonged to Armenian merchants who influenced the designs of the decorations. These houses now contain the City Museum. The rich exhibits include artifacts from the area's early history, many paintings and period furniture and clothing. One room contains a scale model of the town as it was originally built. The Arsenal, another part of the fortifications now houses the Polish Army Museum.
Then we headed south-westward through Szczebrzeszyn, Biłgoraj, Tarnogród and Przeworsk to Łancut. The roads were crowded with tractors pulling heavy loads of sugar beet to the sugar mills aand mollasses for feeding farm animals in the reverse direction.
Łancut is a pleasant small town, home to a manufacturer of fancy vodkas. Its tourist attraction is the glorious 17thC. Renaissance Palace surrounded by a moat and lovely park. Built by Prince Lubomirski. it was later modified by Count Roman Potocki in the 19thC. It has survived the wars with its art and furniture collections intact. It is one of the most outstanding palace museums of Poland. My only criticism is the total lack of any explanatory descriptive material (they could take a lesson from the excellent organizatio of Kórnik Palace, near Poznan). Obviously they want to force you to participate in slow groups of school children. There also appears to be a shortage of foreign language guides. Do not miss the collection of more than 100 carriages and other horse drawn conveyances, which is located in buildings a short walk away, through the park .
There are hotel rooms and a nicely decorated restaurant in a wing of the palace. The hotel rooms are poorly maintained and hardly worth the price, particularly since the parking is charged by the hour and adds up to over 40PZN (US$10) for the night. Try the hotel in town.
The fastest road to our next stop, Sanok, leads through Rzeszow. Although there are two old churches and the remains of an old castle, we did not stop. The good road winds through the foothills of the Carpathian range.
Sanok is a good base for exploration of the wild Bieszczady Mountains. The 15thC. castle is uninteresting as a building but should be visited to see the marvelous collection of Icons up to 600 years old. They have all been collected from the old wooden Uniate and Orthodox churches (many now in ruins) in the villages of the Carpathian mountain range. Most have been cleaned and repaired and are well displayed. Several of these churches, as well as farm houses and inns of the Lemko and Boyko people, may be seen in the large wooded Ethnographic Park (Skansen), across the river San.
Only one hotel met our standards: Hotel 3 Roses (Hotel pod 3-ma Rozami). It is freshly refurbished, comfortable and has a good restaurant.
Go to Photo Gallery, South-east Poland.
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Continue to Part 2 - Southern Poland, Malopolska, Sanok to Pszczyna, or
Part 3 - South-west Poland,
Silesia, Pszczyna to Poznan.
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