Category Archives: TRAVEL

The Dunes of Łeba

Unfortunately. no – there will not be a Polish remake of the Dukes of Hazzard, but the title refers to sands near the beaches on the Polish Baltic seaside. The town of Łeba is one of the most northerly in Poland, with nothing beyond but water until you reach Sweden. It lies at the edge of Słowinski National Park, of which the sand dunes are a part of. There are also lakes (namely Lake Gardno, Lake Sarbsko and Lake Łebsko).

Lake Łebsko

Because they are within the National Park, the dunes are not accessible by car, or otherwise motorized vehicles. Thus, there are a few options by which to travel the 5.5 kilometres between the entrance and the dunes themselves – either by foot or by renting a bicycle or by paying to take an electronic mini-train powered by a form of golf cart. The walk takes about 1 hour and on a fine day is a fine way to go, with most of the walk through forested areas, with the sea nearby, so the sound of waves crashing is a nice natural setting. It’s a popular location, with many people making the journey using one of the three methods available.

Forest in Słowinski National Park

The dunes are impressive, with them over 40 metres in height. Considering that they are right beside the sea, it is a big jump up on sands. Due to the winds, the dunes can move up to 10 metres in direction over the timeframe of a year. It’s noticeable also that only part of the dunes are accessible. There are signs posted indicating that there are sand vipers to be aware of so it’s not advisable to wander far beyond the rope barriers erected.

Just 800 metres from the dunes are the sea and the beach. Both feel more natural and wilder than other beaches in the locality, partially because there is no town in the near vicinity, and when it takes 5.5 kilometres to get there, whether by bike, foot or mini-train, then it takes some effort to get there. However, it is well worth it for the wild wind-swept feel and natural beauty.

Enough of the words, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

View from dunes to Lake Łebsko

Boat on Lake Łebsko

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Poland’s Seaside

As Ian has returned from holidays, he has passed the holiday baton to me, as I have been partaking of the few first days of my two weeks off work. Last year my wife and I went to Italy by car – this time we decided to hit the Polish seaside, namely Ustka in Pomorskie. Below are some observations.

Gradual road improvement

A definite positive to come from the European Championships being held here was the push for infrastructural improvement in order to facilitate travel between venues. This was highlighted on our way from the south to the north, with two experiences showing the past/present against the present/future. The town of Włocławek seemed to be one big set of road-works, with most roads being dug up and the remaining ones being an obstacle course in pothole-avoidance. However, not long after the A1 highway began, bypassing Toruń before continuing about 200 kilometres to meet the edge of Gdańsk. From leaving originally to reaching Gdańsk, it took us about 6.5 hours, which seemed faster than expected. Now, it was a Sunday morning when we did most of the driving, and if there was any traffic, most of it seemed to be travelling against us, back to the south or centre of Poland. However the road improvements look like hitting home, although with the Euros finished, the impetus to continue might not be there.


Cold as Ice

When Polish friends and colleagues asked where I was about to go for holidays and I said “the Polish seaside”, the immediate response was almost always, “The water is sooo cold there”. I have to say that I have not felt the extremity of the coldness that everyone was warning me about. For example, yesterday the air temperature was 23 degrees, while the water temperature was 18 degrees. Of course, the water is not exactly warm at that temperature either, but considering that it’s the Baltic Sea, and perhaps factoring in the small difference in air and sea temperature, it did not feel too bad. Perhaps it would be different in the peak of summer in July, with a day of sun and temperatures of 30+ degrees.

Here fishy, fishy

Fresh fish can be seen as a luxury, at least in the south of Poland. There is an understanding in Kraków that if you want to sample the best of the ‘fruits of the sea’, then you have to order fish on Thursday evenings, Fridays or Saturdays, as fresh fish only arrives in town on Thursday. The closer you get to the sea, this luxury becomes a bounty. The past few days have seen menus of dorsz (cod), fląder (flounder), łosoś (salmon), pstrąg (trout) and halibut presented to us, all caught within the previous 24 hours. It almost makes me think twice about being a devout meat-eater. Almost…

Nostalgia – it ain’t what it used to be

The Polish seaside retains a certain charm about it, although more and more Poles will find themselves choosing between going abroad or staying at home for their summer holidays. The seaside has personal historical significance for many Poles as it would have been the main options for holidays when they were growing up.  This would be true even down to the locations which people would visit. My wife told me the story of how she was discussing the Polish seaside with two colleagues from work and found that the three of them all went to the same little town north of Gdynia, even though they come from three different locations in central and southern Poland and would have travelled to the seaside in different years, based on age differences.

The heady mixture of salt air, fresh fish, sand between your toes and the sound of the lapping waves builds memories worth holding onto, which shows why large numbers of the fellow tourists we encountered tended to be Polish families with small children (usually infants younger than school-going age). The only requirements for a successful holiday for them would be a bucket, spade, bathing suits, sun-tan lotion and plenty of gofry and ice-cream. Thus for Poles the sea will always maintain that mystical nostalgia which will continue to bring people back.

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Bad Vöslau

Positively the last holiday post.

The route back was a mirror of the way down. Google Maps will show you three options from Warsaw to Tuscany, one is just a variation on a theme but the main two are:

1/ Warsaw, Katowice, Ostrava, Olomouc, Brno, Vienna, flirt with Graz, Klagenfurt, Udine, Venice/Padua, Bologna, Florence.

2/ Warsaw, Poznan, Berlin, Leipzig, Nuremberg, Munich, Innsbruck, Trento, Verona, Modena, Bologna, Florence.

It says route one is 16.5 hours and route two is 18.5 hours. That’s without stops or hold ups. We used route one in both directions and encountered no significant problems either way. On the way down we avoided heavy traffic approaching Florence but were never held up. Friends of ours took route two and were held up for hours at the Brenner Pass on the way home which is the funnel for all traffic between Innsbruck in Austria and Italy. A few years ago we had similar problems with route two.

Route two is tempting because of the long stretch of free and fast Autobahn all the way up Germany but this is easily offset by first of all the longer distance and secondly the inevitable delays at Brenner. It’s obvious really, the millions of tourists coming from Germany, Netherlands and so forth down to Italy and back home only really have the choice of the Brenner route and at least half of them are towing caravans or driving large vehicles full of garden furniture and barbecue sets. From Warsaw we have a choice so I suggest you use route one.

On the way back we stayed at a place called Bad Vöslau, which is 20km south of Vienna. We did this because it is roughly half way home, had easy access to the highway and avoided going into Vienna itself. Driving wise it worked out well with day one being as expected 8 hours drive and day two being about 9 thanks to Polish traffic, roads and so forth. If the highways A1 and A2 were actually finished and connected to each other at Łódz the second day would be at least 2 hours quicker. As it was we used what we could and stared enviously at the sign that said “Warsaw 221km” on a closed three lane highway as we were chucked off to do battle up to and through Częstochowa, then around Łódz before eventually finding a highway again. One day.

The Hotel Stefanie in Bad Vöslau has been family owned and run since dinosaurs ruled the earth and the royal family of Austro-Hungary used to take a dip in the thermal baths. It’s an eccentric place but was comfortable enough for us. Large triple room for €110 including a decent breakfast.

We managed to find a good restaurant serving hearty dishes like venison stew and that liver dumpling soup. The thermal baths were right opposite so we saw the comings and goings. Very popular, especially the fountain outside (bottom picture) providing ever flowing free drinking water which was hugely popular with the natives. One guy spent hours there filling 6 bottles then scurrying off and back again. He must have filled about 50 in the end, was he having a bath in the stuff?

It’s a strange country, Austria.

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Bye bye Tuscany

That’s it, we are now back in Warsaw. Welcomed by colder temperatures, rain and the city’s main road artery being closed for an indefinite period thanks to flooding caused by works to the new metro line tunnel. That’s in addition to all the other roads that were already closed for the works! Getting around Warsaw at the moment is a bit of patchwork quilt.

We enjoyed the holiday. I’ve done my “TripAdvisor” duty and also sent a mail to our hosts with thanks and a few tips. Not something I would always bother doing but they are very nice people.

As it stands today, my feeling is that we’ve done Tuscany almost to death and that next year a complete change would be welcome. I’m thinking a National Trust cottage in Cornwall. Unpredictable weather but so many other good things. Then again, as the time to book gets nearer all that might change and it will be hello Tuscany for the 4th time!

No, if Cornwall does not make it past the familyometer then perhaps driving to France is the right thing to do. We’ve wanted to do that for ages but I need help on where we should be based, any ideas? We don’t want the Cote D’Azur, too poncy and expensive but somewhere with good weather, great countryside and plenty of things to see and do that’s within day trip range of the coast would be good. There’s a lobby for windsurfing, so perhaps somewhere by a French lake might work.

Anyway, we’ll worry about that later. For now we shall enjoy the 25 bottles of Italian wine we brought back – good stuff that cost between €2 and €12 a bottle in the supermarket – let our tans fade in the rain and turn our attention to whatever has been going on at work while we’ve been away.

Below are some of the animals we encountered on the farm. Other pictures may appear in my gallery but to be honest this was not a photographic holiday by any means so don’t expect much. I have less than 50 pics and perhaps 4 short videos in total.

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Orvieto and Assisi

Not being fleet enough of foot to secure beds by the pool on Friday we decided to take advantage of our misfortune and get some new Tuscan towns under our belt. We targeted Orvieto and Assisi, roughly an hour drive between them as well as the same distance from and back to base.

As is often the case down here, they turned out nicer than expected. Both towns were originally part of Etruria, populated by Etruscans, from around 800BC through to the aftermath of the Battle of Sentium in 295BC when the Romans took over. The Etruscans liked their settlements to be perched on hilltops and surrounded by walls, the higher the better. Both of theses towns, as so many in this region, follow that code with dramatic effect. Orvieto in particular, given its strategic position controlling the road between Rome and Florence where it crosses the Chiana valley / river.

Orvieto is well known for its white wine, an unusual colour for this region. We intended to buy some but the shops were not as well organized as say Montepulciano and stocked mainly nasty looking tourist packs so we didn’t bother. It is situated on top of a very high hill with almost vertical cliff sides, with the added height of the city walls it is a place you’d think twice about attacking. In fact, the only thing worth doing if you picked a fight with them was to lay seige to the place and wait for them to run out of food and water. This is why the city boasts a large network of underground passageways carved in the rock allowing secret access out of the city and also an impressivly deep well with helical walkways for donkeys to bring the water up.

We parked in one of the main car parks outside the city and used a series of underground escalators to get up within the walls. As we also wanted to do Assisi we didn’t spend too long there but what we saw was very nice and marked as a place to return to. The Duomo took hundreds of years to finish but is all the better for it. One of the more impressive ones. We did a full circuit of the city which was very quiet thanks to the heat keeping many people away and then headed out.

Assisi is equally spectacular to approach and naturally enough dominated by the Basilica of San Francesco and other Fransican sites. We found the tomb of St Francis and generally toured the associated buildings, all very impressive and calmly managed by the Franciscans who seem to be quite a jolly bunch considering the lifestyle and obligations.

Perhaps the best part of Assisi was a traveling exhibition of plaster sculptures and paintings of Fernando Botero, a Columbian artist. Quite excellent exhibition on three floors and we spent much of our time in there.

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