Bialowieza Travel Blog› entry 74 of 88 › view all entries
This is our chance to see what is one of Europe's last untouched virgin forests. As I wrote in the previous entry, we left Warsaw heading towards Białystok past Ostrów Mazowieckie where I stopped for gasoline. From there we turned off on a small highway (627) passing through Małkinia Góra, then Nur (stopped and bought a drożdówka - actually 4 drożdówki - pastries (cherry and apricot!) - I was hungry....) This "living in Poland" experience is doing unfortunate things to my waistline. Everything is so good here... and of course I have zero willpower when it comes to not trying different foods (trying and trying again!). And summer is almost here... have to work on that.
The scenery is really beautiful in this part of Poland.
We continued past Ciechanoviec, Brańsk, Biels Podlaski and Hajnówka to Białowieża. A lot of people here complain about the roads and warned me of the dangers of driving in Poland. In my opinion it's no more dangerous than any other place as long as you drive sensibly. There are a lot of undivided two lane highways so there is a lot of passing - but if you're careful, keep to the right and help people out who are trying to pass you by keeping far to the right (that includes driving on the shoulder at times) it's not such a big deal.
Also it's important to remember that you have to always have your headlights on here... Already got pulled over for that once. I didn't remember to turn them on one bright sunny day last summer and got pulled over by the police. The officer was nice - told me to turn them on and be careful about that in the future and let me head on my way, whereas if he had wanted to hassle me it could have been an expensive nightmare. Basically all of the contacts I've had with people in Poland have been really positive and friendly.
The fantastic thing about driving along these small roads throughout Poland is that you drive through the towns and villages, see the countryside more close up and, as you need to drive a little slower - you have a chance to take it all in.
Finally we reached Białowieża. We're about 4 kms from the border with Belarus - White Russia. I would love to be able to cross that border and at least drive to and visit Brest, but so far no Visa... We found our hotel easily (Białowieża is a pretty small town) called Dwór Sędziego Soplicy which means Judge Sopliski's Mansion. The name of the place is a reference to a character in Mickiewicz's "Pan Tadeusz" (Poland's Epic Poem). Main characters being Thaddeus (Tadeusz) Soplica, his father Jacek Soplica, and Judge Soplica, a brother of Jacek. A dwór or dwórek is a traditional Polish mansion or manor house and this hotel has that style.
After the drive it was nice to get out of the car and walk around, so we quickly checked into the hotel (I have a cool room - like staying at Gma's house!) and had a quick lunch at the hotel. After lunch we walked through the town (I love all of these old wooden homes and the orthodox church) to Palace Park (Park Pałacowy).
You can't just wander all over Białowieża. It's a highly protected area - so, we needed a guide to take us into the park. Signs everywhere say "no entrance without a registered guide!" We decided that it would also be a good opportunity to learn about the environment here and the history of the area.
Anyway, while we waited for 4 p.m. we looked around Park Pałacowy. There are a number of displays with information on the park which proved to be very interesting. For example, information about different plant and animal species that live here as well as historical information about the park. An interesting tree I learned about is called the European Larch.
Our guide arrived a little early and we soon were on our way to see the protected parts of the park. We found this guide and information through the PTTK which is an interesting, useful, non-profit association dedicated to promoting rural tourism in Poland. They provide information about different regions, places to stay overnight (huts, shelters and campsites), guides, museums, etc.
Once on our way, we walked through Palace Park and across a large field to the entrance to Białowieża. It's well worth a visit. Especially at this time of year. Thick forest with bright green undergrowth and, at this time of year, purple and white wildflowers. Some areas are boggy and wet, others more dry, but the whole area is amazingly beautiful.
The walk was fantastic - a mixture of fantastic scenery and a Polish lesson. The whole thing took a few hours- we saw a number of different birds and animals (including a rare woodpecker and a golden eagle). There are also some of the largest oak, spruce and linden trees that I have ever seen. The whole area is maintained with a minimum of human intervention. Inside the park, in the midst of the protected area there are some wooden crosses and a small stone monument marking places where the Nazi's executed people here.
Finally, after the walk we headed back to the hotel. Today is the eve of Orthodox Easter and there will be a service in the Orthodox Church here at midnight. Both the guide and the lady at the PTTK recommended that we take a look.