Pottery, Mountains, and a Salt Mine
Greetings! I just returned from a trip to Poland and Slovakia. I figured I would break the trip out into three different posts because it may get rather lengthy and I imagine not everyone is interested in the pottery experience. I have to give credit to my friend who basically planned the whole trip and introduced me to Polish pottery, which I did not know was a thing, but now I am hooked! She is of Polish heritage, so she made sure I tried local specialities while we were there. She is also deserves credit for some of the pictures below. At a few of the places we went to, not only did we have to pay an entrance fee, but we also had to pay to take photos, and she had the better camera and is better at taking photos.
To start with, travel around Europe can be very economical. This was my first experience with Ryanair, a budget airline. There are several of these types of airlines. Google flights can also be your best friend when trying to choose between all of the different airlines. While I had heard stories about Ryanair, both good and bad, I was interested in how my journey would unfold. First of all, Ryanair is cheap, as you are basically buying a random seat on the plane...not reserved seating-that's a fee, no checked baggage- that's also a fee. And don't even bother thinking you get a beverage or food on the flight because that is also a fee. There are nice food options in the airport, so we just picked up food before boarding. I was lucky enough to be allocated a middle seat each time, but it was not that bad, even next to a baby on the return flight. There is also no jetway to walk down to board the plane (I imagine the airline may pay a fee for that and I'm sure that fee would be passed along to the customer), so you walk on the tarmac to board the plane, despite whatever the weather may be doing. Also, they have very strict bag policies. I "upgraded", for a fee of course, to "priority boarding" which allowed me to carry on a personal item and a bag with specific measurements and weight. I stuffed my bag to the brim and I just hoped no gate agent wanted to weigh it or look in it. I was a little nervous about this, but I managed to get all of my beloved pottery back with a little help from my friend. The other thing is non-EU members have to print our their boarding passes, there is no mobile version, otherwise you pay a hefty fee to get the pass at the airport. My experience was definitely a positive one with Ryanair and we will continue booking with them because they have very reasonably price tickets to places we want to visit. My return ticket was $17.25! You honestly can't beat that. Also, the time of day can affect the pricing as well- our flights were very early morning flights, but to me, that just means you don't have a day wasted on travel. One trick I've learned is to figure the British schools' holiday schedule, half terms I think it's called, and then book trips the week after. Prices tend to creep up before the half terms and during because that's when most people with kids in school travel, so I wait until the week after the term ends and then book travel because it is much cheaper. It's also cheaper to travel throughout the year while school is in session.
To begin our journey, we flew from London (Stansted) to Wrocław, Poland. Once we landed, we picked up the rental car and drove to Bolesławiec to do some pottery shopping at the outlets. I was very lucky on this trip because my friend knew where the best places were, especially the factory outlets. It is much cheaper to buy the pottery in Poland rather than in the States...at least two, mostly more, times less expensive than what you'd pay in the States and you can get some rare pieces exclusive to the factories. I will save those details for the pottery blog post. After some serious pottery shopping, we drove to the Hotel Garden, also in Bolesławiec. The hotel was wonderful! We had a spacious room and they restaurant was fantastic. Before dinner, we walked around the city center. At dinner I tried, Polish vodka and apple juice, since it was something I was told was a Polish speciality...it was very smooth and quite enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the breakfast the next morning. The next day we did a pottery factory tour-more details in the next post-and then drove down to Zakopane, which was a five hour car ride. Polish roads are EXCELLENT! They are comparable to American highways, in most places, and they have great signs.
Zakopane was beautiful and is a hidden gem in southwest Poland. It's known as a local resort town. We had a beautiful view from our AirBnb, we couldn't beat the price either, $24 a night! After arriving, we explored "walking street" which is where all of the shops and restaurants are and then had dinner at Zapiecek. My friend and I shared a bunch of different plates, so I could try some traditional polish food. We had potato pancakes (latkes) , sour soup (soup with hard boiled egg and sausage), and pierogis, which are my new favorite food. They are kind of like a ravioli and can be stuffed with different things; my favorite being potato and cheese, but you really can't go wrong. After dinner we walked a little more, went to a grocery store to pick up a few things as we opted to have breakfast in the flat and pack lunches during our daily excursions. The next day we drove to Slovakia and visited a few places, including a cave and a UNESCO World Heritage site. I will save the Slovakia details for a later post. After the day in Slovakia, we drove back and ate at Chtopskie Jadto, which is a Polish chain I believe. We had potato pancakes (latkes), golumpki (stuffed cabbage), and more pierogis.
View from the flat:
One of the churches in Zakopane:
Potato pancakes and sour soup:
Our last day in Zakopane, we did a hike to Morskie Oko in the High Tatra Mountains...google it and you will see why...it is stunning, such dramatic views! The Tatra Mountains are part of the Carpathian Mountain chain in Eastern Europe. The mountains create a natural border for Poland and Slovakia. I have a lot of pictures from the hike, so I will let those do the talking. Round trip, it was a 10 mile hike and a lot of the paths were still snow-covered, but it was sunny, without a cloud in the sky, and sixty degrees when we did the hike, perfect weather! The lake itself was still frozen, but the views were still amazing! Following our hike, we drove back to the flat and ate at Mała Szwajcaria, where we had tried a different golumpki and more pierogis. After dinner, we picked up some Pączki, which are Polish donuts. Mine were cream filled and delightful, but I believe my friend said traditional Pączki are jelly filled.
Hike in the Tara Mountains to Morskie Oko:
Our last day in Poland, we went to the ”Wieliczka” Salt Mine near Krakow. I included a link to the mine's website below. The salt mine is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The mine is several hundred years old. There were nine levels in the mine, and we were able to tour three of them. There were several chapels that were constructed within the mine and statues, that miners had created. My friend some great pictures in the mine, so I will let those do the talking as well. The mine is not active, but miners still work in the mine ensuring it is safe for tours. We ran into several who were working during our tour. After the mine, we made our way back to Wrocław, for our flight back.
”Wieliczka” Salt Mine: https://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com
My overall impression of Poland was that is a wonderful country for visiting. People were very helpful. The food was delicious and the roads were fantastic. Poland is also very cheap. While Poland is a part of the European Union, they use their own currency called the złoty. The exchange rate was roughly 1 złoty = 0.26 USD when we were there...that makes it really cheap to travel around and explore the country. I plan to go back to visit Warsaw and Krakow, and to see Auschwitz.
On to handmade Polish pottery...