Saturday, 30 August 2014


Last time we had done a little tour of Bulgaria. Unfortunately I did not have much time for sightseeing there. I will show you however one special place - the second largest city in the country called Plovdiv.

The history of Plovdiv dates back 6,000 years. Yes my friends, six thousand years. It was Thracian, then Greek (or more precisely - Maceodnian), then Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. Throughout a large part of its history it was known under its Greek name of Philippopolis. You can see this multi-cultural heritage in many parts of the city. Let's first place our feet on the main alley of the Old Town.

It is not easy to guess but this nice pedestrian zone hides a real treasure - an ancient stadium, built in the second century AD.  It was 240 meters long and could accommodate 30,000 spectators. In antique times!

Only a small part of it has been discovered so far - you can see it as marked with the black rectangle. This is what it looks like today.

Just next to it you can see a memory from Ottoman times - a mosque.

Muslims are a minority in the city today so not many will answer the call of a muezzin.

Majority of the inhabitants are Christians, mainly Orthodox. The St Virgin Mary cathedral looks old but was only built in 1844.

I have told you that Plovdiv is a real cultural melting pot. We've seen Greek and Ottoman remainings, time to see what Ancient Rome has left to the city. Well, no less than an amphitheater.

After 2,000 years it is still in a pretty good shape and is used for concerts and shows. Obviously it was refurbished a bit to be safe and comfortable.

Let's walk back to the narrow streets of the Old Town. They have not changed much since the Middle Century and remember well the times of the Byzantine Empire.

This road will take you to another point of interest. Have I told you that Plovdiv is located on seven hills? Yes, seven hills like Rome. I will take you there. We need to turn here left. Easy to recognising that we are climbing up the hill. On the other side the windows are at ground level.

Now let's turn left. Feels Venetian, isn't it?

Finally we can admire the panorama of the city  with the river Maritsa in the middle.

And here you can see some of the other hills.

Obviously the city was not sleeping over the last century, when we look on the right, you will see some modern apartment blocks.

This small building down there is a former Turkish bath, taking us again into Ottoman times. Today it is an art center.

Time to go down now. Climbing always makes me tired. Let's try to find a nice cafe and order some refreshements.

I hope that you have enjoyed this afternoon in Plovdiv. Time to get back to Poland again.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Driving around Bulgaria

Today we will have a little ride around the nice country of Bulgaria. To give you an impresssion - we will follow the red line on the map.

We will start in the capital city of Sofia and move in the direction of Plovdiv (I will dedicate a separate post next week to Plovdiv). The country is pretty flat in this area but you can see some mountains close to the horizon.

I was surprised by the little lakes close to the highway. I first thought they grow fish there. But I discovered these are little plantations of rice. I did not know it was grown also in Europe.

From Plovdiv we will move in the direction of the Shipka Pass and later - Gabrovo. You can see the  Balkan Mountains coming closer.

Actually, we will literally drive through the hills.

In the little towns I managed to meet some of my cousins.

Higher in the mountains come little churches and monasteries. The golden domes are typical for orthodox churches.

The road is really winding (and our windshield is really dirty ...).

Finally, we arrive at the Shipka Pass. It is 1,150 meters above sea level. It marks the border between Stara Zagora province and Gabrovo province.

The pass witnessed a major battle during the war betwen Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1877. It was the time when Bulgaria was fighting to regain its freedom. On the Stoletov Peak near the pass there is a monument to commemorate those who perished in the battle.

Here you can see it closer.

Now we go down, back in the direction of Sofia, leaving the hills on our side.

The country is still not flat however.

Luckily, this time we will not need to climb up to reach any pass but we will take a tunnel instead.

This industrial zone is already located in the subburbs of Sofia.

And just next to it - yet another mountain. Yes, it has snow on the top!

It was really a nice trip. I hope that you have enjoyed it. Time to fly back home now.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014


Krasnystaw is a nice town in the East of Poland. It has received its town privileges in the fourteenth century but remains a calm place with less than twenty thousand inhabitants.

This part of Poland has witnessed (and suffered) many wars and conflicts. As a result, most of the buildings are relatively new. I propose that we start our trip on the market square, known as the square of 3rd May (on the 3rd of May, in 1791, the first Polish constitution was signed so you can find squares and streets commemorating this event in most Polish cities and towns).

In the very center of the square you will see a fountain with two carps - they are in the coat of arms of Krasnystaw.

Actually these carps can be found in many places, even on the litter bins.

Next to the fountain we will find the reconstruction of the walls of the old Town Hall. It has burnt down in 1811 and was not reconstructed afterwards.

The new Town Hall undergoes some refurbishment currently. But does not really look impressive to be honest. Even in tourist guides they describe it as "typical Polish town hall from early XX century".

The market square is framed by nice residential buildings. I liked in particular this one, the seat of the regional council (sejmik).

Look! My cousins Jake and Jill! Sorry but they are on duty so no time for chatting. They have to hurry up to bring this harvest wreath on time to some local celebrations.

Now I will take you to the most important church in town, belonging to the jesuit order. It is dedicated to Francis Xavier. One amasing thing is that for around 200 years it was the cathedral of the diocese of Chełm.

I was truely impressed by the organ.

Actually I was always curious of what is behind this majestic instrument. Let's try to climb up and check. Well, it looks a bit like an old-fashioned piano.

But the view from the top is really amazing.

Today Krasnystaw is populated almost only by Roman catholics. But before World War II, like in many towns that I have shown you already, it also had a Jewish minority. The synagogue was largely destroyed during the war and later on it was used by a sewing cooperative. Now it undergoes some reconstruction. I was not able to find out what it will be used for afterwards.

I propose that we end our walk trough Krasnystaw on the banks of the river Wieprz. It is really a nice and optimistic place. In smaller towns even the rivers move on slowly.

Saturday, 16 August 2014


I have decided that we need some new type of adventure on this blog. So today I will take you on what they call a city game - a series of riddles that will allow us to visit the most interesting spots in Olsztyn.

Olsztyn is the most important city in the Warmia and Mazury region. In early sixteenth century it was the residence of the most famous Polish astronomer - Mikołaj Kopernik (aka Nicolaus Copernicus). Therefore, the game proposed by the Tourist Information in Olsztyn is called "Chasing Copernicus".

* * *

First we need to enter the Old Town via the High Gate. You can easily guess where its name comes from.

To answer question number one we need to turn back and see the picture of Our Lady. What colour is the background of the picture?

Yes, it is gold. We have the first answer! Now we need to follow the Staromiejska Street (meaning "the Old Town Street").

It is surrounded by nice residential buildings.

Now we have to turn left and walk towards the Saint Jacob church. Yes, you guessed it right, it is one of the spots of the Polish Route to Santiago de Compostela.

The church was built in fourteenth century in the gothic style.

The gothic influence can be easily recognised on the ceiling, similar to the one that I have shown you recently in Barczewo.

The altar is also typical for this period. The most famous altar of this type is in Kraków. I definitely need to take you there soon.

Here we have another question. A legend says that during a hunting party a deer run into the church in order to seek refuge. As a memory of it, one of the chandeliers is decorated with ...

Yes! With deer antlers. We have another clue! We can then leave the Saint Jacob church and look for the Old Town Market Square. The building in the middle is of course the Old Town Hall.

Now we need to find a sundial. Here it is - let's check the time.

I am afraid it is a bit too cloudy for this. But it should be somewhere after 9AM. The next riddle directs us to a mock-up of the Old Town that should stand somewhere on the Market Square.

Here it is! We need to check what is the number given on the mock-up to the High Tower that we have seen as the first object in Olsztyn.

Number one. Another riddle solved. Now we need to define an axe based on the sundial again and note the name of a little street that will be on the left hand side. It is called "Jana z Łajs" and is thus honoring the first mayor of Olsztyn who was serving there in fourteenth century. We need to go up the street to see the city open air theathre.

And just behind stands the biggest pride of Olsztyn - the castle. It was built by Teutonic Knights but they did not enjoy it too long. In one of the peace treaties signed in middle fifteenth century it was assigned to Poland.

Next to the main entry gate we can meet the one we have been chasing - Copernicus himself. He was administering the castle and the region from 1516 to 1521.

I have been told we need to touch his nose as it brings luck.

Let's enter the courtyard of the castle.

Our last riddle relates to the black statue standing there.

Well, it is called a Prussian old lady. Though in fact it represents a man. It has something to do with the old pagan rites of the region.

Now let's move all the right letters into the right cases to check the password. Yes, I am sure you guessed it already. It is Copernicus. As a reward we can now enter the castle to visit the museum.

The long hall on the first floor will lead us to a special feature of the castle.

On the wall you can admire the experimental table of Copernicus. It allowed graphic presentation of the spring equinox date, which allowed then to determine the dates of movable church holidays. Ultimately, it made possible the reform of the calendar

Through these windows, the sunlight was faling on the table and thus drawing the lines that Copernicus used in his analysis.

On the second floor, the museum exhibits the traditional crafts of the region, a bit like what we have seen in Bytów recently. Here come the table clothes ...

... and a typical bedroom.

Through the windows of the third floor it is possible to admire some nice views of Olsztyn, with its residential buildings ...

... and the protestant church close to the castle.

I hope that you have enjoyed this city game and our trip to Olsztyn. For all those who wish to complain I have reserved a special place where they can rethink their attitude.