A long-awaited trip to Poland (again), a favourite destination of mine. I had wanted to visit the mountains of the south-east, so had originally planned a week hiking in the Tatra Mountains then another in the Bieszczady Mountains, with a little time in Cracow also. However, a bout of ‘flu beforehand forced me to make the hard choice to forego (for now) the first week to make sure that I was fully recovered.
So, with flights rearranged, I headed for the Bieszczady region, in the bottom south-east corner of Poland, just a few kilometres from the Ukrainian border, knowing a little about the region from guide-books and history books, but unprepared for the full scale of the beauty and lush-green tranquillity to be found there.
That is not to say that this was an easy vacation, as I had wanted to do plenty of hiking, and that is exactly what I got: Five to eight hours of activity most days was somewhat tiring, but in the company of a friend, plus professional photographer (and first-time tour-guide), Włodzimierz Biliński, the time passed very pleasantly. We were all rather exhausted after a week of this, with some early starts for wildlife-watching, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Włodzimierz has his own gallery here, if you would like to see more of his work.
At times, there was a trade-off of photo-taking time in order to cover greater distance, and this is a compromise I enjoy at times, as it feels good to hike and see a new place properly, on foot. If this means grabbing shots as I go along, that’s fine with me. And wow, did we cover some ground! Sunrises, sunsets, wildlife-watching, up and down hills and mountains … sheer, exhilarating bliss. And ending the days with great food and my favourite Żubrówka vodka too.
… This is probably a great point to thank also our friendly hosts for the week, Urszula and Krzysiek, for the amazing food and also for setting us up completely one evening: My friend and I were taking a short stroll, had been given a map and a good place to see the sunset, and walked for an hour or so to hear a Land Rover roaring up the track behind us. Krzysiek (for it was he, a 4×4 fanatic) proceeded to run us up the hill to the best spot (plus some extra off-reading afterwards), and put the kettle on (yes, he has everything in that Discovery!). A little later, a quad-bike could be heard, and Urszula arrived with cake fresh from the fridge! Thanks guys, that was a very memorable evening and a great way to make us feel like special guests. Their little piece of tranquillity can be found here, if you ever want to get away from the crowds in an amazing part of Poland.
So, lush green hills and mountains, with the low cloud on the first day in Bieszczady giving some wonderful atmosphere to the photos. After that, it cleared to give stunning views for walking, with the Sanok open-air folk museum providing a welcome break after the first strenuous day! Given my status as an armchair-archaeology fan, I recognised some of the long-houses and other buildings, which are not recreations but have been taken from the surrounding area and carefully rebuilt. Yes, that’s the difference, these kinds of buildings not only exist but are still in use in some rural areas. As for the history of the area, that’s another matter entirely, too long to touch on here, but ‘turbulent’ hardly covers it.
Amazing to spend one night in a mountain hut (walked up to after an already long day of walking), in order to get both sunrise and sunset next morning. Only a few hours between the two events, with some vodka getting in the way of sleep. Fortunately, being slightly drunk in charge of a camera is not yet an offence, and I made my descent very carefully, with that and the tiredness.
There was more, of course, with wildlife to watch, silliness and fun to enjoy, and beautiful views both of and from hills and mountains to be appreciated, and the week sped past much too fast.
And as for Cracow, a beautiful city, but I probably owe them an apology! (this is becoming a habit!): It is never my intention to try to make a place look ugly, but I do find myself drawn towards industrial aspects of a place at times (including pylons!). But the more traditional architecture is also stunningly beautiful, and I love looking for small details amongst it all. Finding the bridge of padlocks inscribed with names of loved-ones was a tender moment, and a lovely tradition.
So, sit back for a few highlights of the trip now, without the effort …