Białowieża

Bialowieza Travel Blog

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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.

Just 4 kms from the border with Belarus
  Miles and miles of green forests and pretty farmland.  Some areas aren´t so pretty (mainly just the outskirts of larger towns and cities) but for the most part it's beautiful. 

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.

I liked this little house with a storks nest above the chimney.
 

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.

  This drive today was fantastic. Beautiful weather and beautiful countryside.  We left the rain behind in Warsaw!

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.

 (Although Uncle Jerzy might say that it is actually a nouveau riche conception of what a dworek should look like!) I don't care... I like it!  All the way up to the (most likely flame retardant) thatched roof!!  I found it to be a charming place with nice decor.  Like being in a country mansion.  At least that's how the wing of the hotel that I stayed in is.  It appears to be the original part to which an addition was added. 

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).

Covered bridge at Park Palacowy - Palace Park - once a hunting lodge for Polish kings and Russian Tsars.
  This used to be a hunting lodge for Polish Royalty and then for the Russian Czars.  Unfortunately the Czar's hunting mansion was destroyed during WW2 (the guide says the Russians did it, my guidebook says the Nazi's did it...)  The park was created between 1889 and 1894 as part of the grounds of that mansion.  The ponds (see my pictures) were initially dug in the 16th century.  We walked across a covered bridge over part of the ponds to enter the grounds. 

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.

So.... we sprung 114 PLN for the guide.  I'm glad we did.  We agreed to meet him at 4 p.m. for a 9 km. hike through the park.  Our guide didn't speak much English, so this was also a great opportunity for me to see how much I need to work harder on my Polish!! Actually, I understood pretty well, but a lot of the names of plants and animals required some clarification....

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.

It's a coniferous tree that loses its needles every winter.  Another pretty feature of the park is what is called the Dworek Gubernatora - the governor's mansion built in 1845.  There's also an obelisk that was placed here in 1752 (the oldest man made thing in the park) to commemorate King August III Saxon's hunt here back then.  The bilingual inscriptions (Polish and German) describe the king's hunt in detail.

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.

  They plan, mark and maintain trails throughout the country as well.  See http://english.pttk.pl - it can be a useful source of information.  Basically, you can contact them for information and assistance planning excursions all over Poland.  When you get to their offices, finding someone who speaks English may be a little "iffy" but you never know. 

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.

This obeliks is the oldest monument in the park
  The only man-made thing around is the gate to the park (oak - built in 1930 and the oak is still weathering well!) and a portion of raised trail - which I presume was built so that whatever is going on down on the ground isn't interrupted.

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.

  Trees that fall are left to rot, providing food for a new generation of plant and insect life.

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. 

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Just 4 kms from the border with Be…
Just 4 kms from the border with B…
I liked this little house with a s…
I liked this little house with a …
Covered bridge at Park Palacowy - …
Covered bridge at Park Palacowy -…
This obeliks is the oldest monumen…
This obeliks is the oldest monume…
These European Larch trees are the…
These European Larch trees are th…
Kitchen gate to what once was the …
Kitchen gate to what once was the…
The hunting lodge was located here…
The hunting lodge was located her…
Another gate to palace park
Another gate to palace park
Part of our hike - from  Palace pa…
Part of our hike - from Palace p…
This oak gate to Bialowieza is fro…
This oak gate to Bialowieza is fr…
A thousand years ago much of Europ…
A thousand years ago much of Euro…
Lots of wildflowers in bloom at th…
Lots of wildflowers in bloom at t…
these plants kind of smelled like …
these plants kind of smelled like…
the second life of a tree
the second life of a tree
No matter where I go, theres alwa…
No matter where I go, there's alw…
a cross in memorial to people shot…
a cross in memorial to people sho…
Bialowieza
photo by: boxinbcn