We’re going on a bear hunt

From Wieliczka, we journeyed southwards towards Zakopane. Ted was very keen to try and see some of his friends in the Tatra national park (there’s around 60 bears) and we just fancied a hike in the mountains. Zakopane is Poland’s gateway to the tatras which are an all year round attraction thanks to heaps of snow in the winter and good hiking weather in the summer. We approached expecting a town with lovely log cabins and a fairly small centre but Zakopane is a huge metropolis. Neither of us had ever seen a town with so many hotels and bed and breakfasts, most of which seem to be advertised on bill boards on the main road in. Luckily, we only had to find a campsite and were beating the rush to the mountains by turning up in June. The traffic in main season must be awful because it was bad enough as we arrived.

A traditional wooden house

Our search for a campsite was a little frustrating as we had a choice between two in the town or a few that were 4km away. After the hassle driving through Zakopane we decided staying near the end of the walking trails in town was the best idea. The campsite we drove to first didn’t really have much space for campervans but we squeezed in and decided to make it our base after a Polish lady said we should stay for a week. We got out our map and started planning where to walk and checking the weather forecast. The next day didn’t look great so we came up with a short circuit and planned a larger and higher one for the day after to make the most of the mountain views. We bought a map but later discovered the Tatra trails app which is just as good for planning a route. All the paths in the national park are well signposted and give times rather than distances to reach a destination. We found that we were quite a bit faster than the signposted times but that they were good for working out how difficult a path would be.

A cloudy view of the Giewont

So after a good nights sleep we set off late morning to do a short circular walk to a waterfall and then up to around 1377m and back into Zakopane via the lower cable car station. The trail to the waterfall was through a wooded valley but once we left the valley floor it became a steep incline without much respite until we reached the summit of Sarnia Skała. The views were impressive from the rocky outcrop but unfortunately as forecasted the mountains above 1900m were shrouded in clouds. The way down was an easy walk until the dreaded granite cobblestones returned at the bottom. We stopped at the lift station to get information about prices and opening times in case we needed it the next day and discovered the temperature at 1900m was about 1 degree celsius – brrrr! We left hoping it would we warmer when we got there the next day. Walking through Zakopane wasn’t particularly exciting. There are loads of shops and restuarants and a few nice old wooden buildings but its super touristy.

A lovely waterfall rest

Matthias at the cloudy sunmit

The next day we got up early and set off uphill. We had a plan to reach the summit of the Giewont, hopefully before it got too busy. It was tough going, we walked uphill for about 2 hours, mainly on rocky paths and steps. The highlight of the uphill battle was meeting a small herd of chamoix, one of which was happily walking along the footpath. The summit of the Giewont is a little special. It has a one way system of via ferrata which in peak season can cause long queues and waiting times. The rock is incredibly slippery even when dry which means holding onto the chains is very useful if you want to avoid a nasty fall. Once you reach the top the view is stunning. The chain of the high tatras straddling Poland and Slovakia is in front of you. It certainly makes the long climb and hairy ending worth it. Going down from the summit is slightly less fun and feels much safer sitting on your bottom and hugging the chains.

From the Giewont we walked up further to Kopa Kondracka which is an easy walk up to 2005m where we met the Slovakian border. After this the path narrows and follows a chain of rocky craggs along to the top cable car station and the summit of Kasprowy Wierch. On this path we met all the other tourists who had walked up another valley or cheated and got the cable car. With a little help of a sign at the cable car station it’s easy to identify all of the peaks around you including Polands highest mountian Rysy. The next mountain in the chain is Swinicka which we thought we might climb up but after 5 hours of walking uphill and considering how little Zoë likes cable cars we opted to walk all the way down instead. We reached the bottom with aching knees and stopped for a well deserved coffee before we continued to our campsite. We hadn’t quite realised that our walk would take us up 1890m and around 25km but it was fantastic (sadly no bears).

Making friends on the mountain

The climb final after walking uphill for a few hours

The descent of the Giewont

Awesome view from Kopa Kondracka

Unfortunately the weather the following day turned to rain and thunderstorms so we decided to move on and hopefully find some better weather in Slovakia. Following a tip of from fellow campers we had our sights set on a campsite by a thermal baths to soothe our aching muscles. 

The fantastic tatras

The salt of the earth

One of the biggest and most famous tourist attractions in the outskirts of Krakow is Wieliczka salt mine. It was started over 700 years ago and industrial salt extraction ended 1996. Shortly after that it was converted into a museum. There are still miners working in it; mainly to keep the water out and the mine safe and stable. Overall the mine consists of nine levels and reaches down to over 600m. Tunnels stretch over 200km and hundreds of caverns including 40 chapels.

Map of the top three mine levels

Visitors can chose from 4 different tours: the standard tourist route (89zł/adult), a pilgrimage tour, the miners experience and a new extreme cave exploring option. We went for the standard tour because this covers all the caverns and chapels with the carvings the mine is famous for. In the miners experience participants get to wear miner suits, hard hats with lights, breathing apparatus and methane detectors and venture into unlit and otherwise closed sections of the mine. They follow the path of a miner and get to try out all the techniques first hand. As the name suggest the pilgrims tour leads visitors around the 14 remaining chapels.

Altar and chandelier of St. Kinga’s chapel

As a sidenote: there are a few different carparks along the road of the mining museum. The official one costs 5.5zł per hour for a car while some others charge 35zł for 24 hours. If you just come to do a tour and then leave the official one is cheaper (if you get into it). If you want to stay longer like for seeing the town of Wieliczka or staying overnight in a camper then the 35 Złoty is the better option.

Posh carriages for royal mine visitors

We were lucky because when we arrived around 8:30am the queue was very short and we got onto the 9 o’clock English tour. English tours run every half an hour, German tours three times a day and other languages are available too. The group was quite small with only 26 people plus Thomas our guide. Before we disappeared underground we got a radio receiver and earphone so we could follow the commentary. To reach the first level we had to walk 282 stairs down to 65m. Thomas explained a lot about the history and setup of the mine and there were some big mining machines to see; some of them original while others were at least partially reconstructed. Miners have built impressive wooden structures to support the rock and secure caverns up to 36m high.

Miners were masters of statics

During our tour we got to see about 20 caverns and 4 chapels. All chapels are illuminated by chandeliers made of salt crystals (the main structure is probably metal though). The biggest one weighs up to 6 tonnes and is really impressive! Caverns have also been converted for other purposes: there is a function hall for hire, one restaurant, two shopping halls and a few halls containing a mining museum.

Some caverns have artificial lakes of brine (fully saturated salt solution) at 4-6 degrees C so even though they looked nice swimming was not recommended. One lake lead to a tunnel with a boot ride (closed off years ago) in which some German soldiers died when their overloaded boat capsized and they got stuck under it. The brine stopped them from diving out and they all suffocated.

The chapels are all still in use and decorated with carvings and statues made entirely of salt. Two of the chapels we saw had been rescued from lower levels and relocated to the second and third floor.

Methane burners at work

Over the course of the tour we climbed deeper into the earth and our deepest point at the end was 135m. It did help quite a lot that the mine was fitted with a very good ventilation system which kept the air fresh and the temperature at 15 degrees.

We had a great time and really enjoyed the 2.5h long tour. It’s not cheap but certainly worth the money; especially if you visit the museum as well (only possible with a guide).

Ted tried to be a miner too


Around 2 hours after leaving Auschwitz we arrived in Krakow. Krakow has a great reputation as a beautiful baroque city with a buzz but we were interested to see how it would compare to Wrocław. To start with its huge and has a lot more campsites. We picked one at the end of a tram line which was in an interesting area. It seemed to be a little rough around the edges and the longer we stayed the stranger the people got; rummaging through bins for bottles and men visiting the womens bathrooms. The campsite was pretty empty too and we later found out that everyone else was at one of the campsites closer to the city centre. Evenso, we had what we needed and could get into the city by tram very easily.

View from the tower onto the ramp up to Wawel

The next morning, we took the tram to Wawel castle all ready for a day sightseeing in the city in the sunshine. First though we wanted to check when we could see the famous Wawel castle. Dressed in our t-shirts and shorts, we were fine until the clouds rolled in and pretty cold wind blew. Thanks to this and the lack of queue for the castle we opted to see the Wawel castle and cathedral and stay indoors. The castle is divided into 7 exhibitions of art and castle rooms. We chose to visit the armoury, tower and state rooms. Luckily for us the lady at the ticket office took us for students and gave us the reduced prices. We hadn’t realised how much of the castle had been destoyed by war and Austrian occupation but we found the random collection of paintings, tapestries, furniture and other artefacts from across Europe a little confusing. The restoration of Wawel has taken a long time but it hasn’t quite been restored to the standards of other castles. With this in mind, its worth a visit but maybe not worth seeing all the exhibits.

Ted in Wawel castle in front of the cathedral

Within the castle wall lies the Wawel cathedral, a special place for Poles. The cathedral is where nearly all of the Polish monarchs were crowned and also the resting place of most of the royalty and historically important Poles. The cathedral itself is impressive and highly decorated with many chapels and sarcophagi. Many of the sarcophagi have been restored to their original condition and displayed, but we didn’t really understand the obsession with opening tombs, removing bodies and restoring their coffins. Some of this work was done just 50 years after the monarchs death and then again more recently. Even more impressive is one of the bell towers where you can almost climb into the huge bells, each weighing up to 12 tonnes and supported with an immense wooden structure. The famous Sigismund bell is only rung on special ocassions.

Rynek Glowny with the famous cloth halls

From the castle hill there’s a single road that takes you straight to the centre of the old town with the square Rynek Glowny and the famous cloth halls at its centre. The cloth hall claims to be one of the oldest shopping malls in the world but was once an important trade centre. It is a beautiful building surrounded by large baroque style houses. The large town square also has an interesting asymmetrical cathedral and monument to Polish independance. For us though Wrocław just about wins on beauty and Krakow comes a close second, partly because it doesn’t have any dwarves. After all the walking we decided to go for an early dinner on the recommendation of a waitress in a cafe. We walked down a street of restaurants and shops looking for U Babci Maliny and found it tucked away in a courtyard and down in a basement. The inside was decorated like a log cabin and the menu was huge. We chose gulash served in a bread bowl,  mixed pierogi and chicken in a nettle sauce. It was super yummy and soo filling.

Entrance to U Babci Malina

The next day we had a bit of a museum day. First we visited the old Jewish quarter Kamieriz which is now a trendy area full of nice bars and restaurants. We then walked towards Oskar Schindlers factory which is now a museum about life in Krakow during the war. We learnt a lot about the time just before the second world war began and how Krakow was abandoned by the Polish army when the Nazis arrived. There was also a wealth of information about how Polish people viewed the Nazi occupation and how the Jewish community were slowly moved further from the city and to the ghetto before being transported to concentration camps. We watched a film about Oskar Schindlers workers and how he saved them from persecution and death by providing work and a camp for them, as many people already know from the film Schindlers List.

Basement of the rich stalls which used to stand next to the cloth halls

Our second museum of the day was the Rynek underground museum. When the town square required works in 2005, the council gave permission for the excavation of ruins which had been identified by previous surveys. The ruins they uncovered revealed many aspects of life in medieval Krakow and also the history of the cloth hall and surrounding settlements. The museum is very popular and tricky to find. During peak times tickets need to be booked a few days in advance but we were lucky and got tickets for later that evening. Having read that some people had not been impressed but others had spent three hours underground, we weren’t sure what to expect. It’s safe to say we were impressed and after three hours of learning about how Krakow was the centre of trade in medieval Europe, we emerged back into the sunshine. The museum was well laid out and we could have easily stayed longer to watch videos if it wasn’t so chilly. We highly recommend a visit and if reading isn’t your thing, then there’s an audio guide or the chance to hire a guide. All that reading worked up an appetite so we grabbed some dinner before returning to the campsite.

Next morning we got up early and drove to Wielizcka and it’s famous mine. 

Even darker bits of history

After our day near the mountains, we were set on getting face to face with one of the darkest time of European history and visiting the concentration camp of Auschwitz (Oświeçim in Polish). Like everybody we had heard and learned a lot about the labour, concentration and death camps of the Nazis but we could not go to Poland without visiting this major site. Of course it is not enjoyable but from an educational point we highly recommend it.

We stayed on the grounds of the Auschwitz prayer and dialogue centre about 500m away from the museum entrance. It cost us 79 Złoty which isn’t cheap but the place was nice and quiet, had all facilities in great condition and free wifi in the reception area. Campers can also stay on the museum car park (about 40 Złoty plus 10 for electricity which we had included) but toilets are only available in a restaurant.

We got up early and were the 5th and 6th people (Ted didn’t need to see this) in the ticket queue at 7am not because we were keen, but because we were worried about getting tickets and a guided tour. The museum opens at 7:30 and some tickets are sold online and some on the day. Our tour was at 10.30 which left us with just under 3 hours of free time. Entrance to the museum is free but guided tours cost 45 Złoty. The tour covers both Auschwitz I and II (Auschwitz-Birkenau). The camps are 3km apart and connected by a free shuttle service. Auschwitz III (Monowitz) has been razed and nothing remains.

Entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau

We very strongly recommend arriving there as early as possible to avoid being trampled by hundreds of tour groups after 10am. About half of the 20 blocks in Auschwitz I contain exhibitions about different aspects of the camp, the organisation behind the ‘final solution of the jewish question’ and the fate of jews and roma from different countries. Due to the number of people and lack of time you only get to see a few of them on the tours. The items displayed try to illustrate the fact that the Nazi transported 1.3 million people to the camps (90% of them jews). Around 1.1 million of them did not survive.

Visitors can see about 80,000 shoes, almost 2 tonnes of human hair (destined to be sold for the manufacturing of fabric by Hugo Boss among others, as our guide openly told us) as well as huge piles of combs, brushes and crockery people brought with them. That and a lot more had been stored in vast warehouses before being sent back to the Reich. Before the Soviet army liberated the camp on 27/01/1945 the Nazi apparently tried to cover their traces by liquidating the camps, evacuating those able to walk to Germany (‘Death marches’) and burning the stores and records. The ‘Canada’ warehouses where the belongings of prisoners were stored burned for four days!

The probably most infamous gates in the world

It was a very emotional moment when we walked through the famous ‘Arbeit macht frei’ gates, knowing about all the others who did the same and died there. The whole atmosphere is very grave and eerie (before the tour groups arrive) and you can really feel the history here. Eventhough we knew about what happend here actually going there and seeing it put a whole new dimension to this part of history. The whole experience was very emotional and difficult to describe.

Our tour in Auschwitz I lasted for 1.5 hours and after a 20 minute break we boarded the bus to Auschwitz-Birkenau II. The second camp dwarfs the original by a factor of 20. Birkenau could hold up to 90,000 people at a time in 300 barracks whereas Auschwitz I only had space for about 5,000. Only 50 brick buildings survived with only 2 being safe enough to visit. One of these buildings is a women’s barracks used to house sick and weak women before they were marched to their deaths. One scary fact is that this camp was never actually finished. Plans existed to double it’s size to 600 barracks.

Reconnaissance photo showing Auschwitz I and II

Auschwitz-Birkenau was both a labour camp and death camp. The majority of people transported to the camp were killed in one of five gas chambers using the pesticide Zyklon B. The scale of these chambers meant that 7,000 people could be killed in half an hour. Disposing of the bodies after they had been stripped of their clothing took much longer and was the job of the ‘Sonderkommando’ (special command; a group of Jewish men who had to empty the gas chambers and cremate the victims). The only uprising in Auschwitz was one group of Sonderkommando who rebelled and destroyed one of the gas chambers leaving it unable to be used and possibly saving a few people’s lives. The other four gas chambers were destroyed during the liquidation of the camp and the ruins of two of them are exhibited either side of the memorial to those who died. The memorial includes plaques in 23 languages, all of which were spoken by people transported to the camp.

Official memorial with all the 23 plaques

Visiting Auschwitz is understandably not for everyone due to the events that took place here but as a memorial and museum it is a reminder to the world that such persecution should never be repeated. For us, it brought history into perspective but it’s impossible to truly comprehend what life and sadly death were like for the people transported to this camp. The option of wandering the museum alone is the best way of learning the stories of the people that were taken to Auschwitz but there is a lot of information to read to get the most out of a visit. We also bought a guide book (15 zloty) which we used as a self-guided tour. If reading isn’t for you the guided tours are very good and mostly by guides from the area who have accounts from friends or relatives to share. 

Light and dark of history

Our next target after leaving Wroclow was the small town of Złoty Stok and its gold mine (Złoty means gold in Polish). On the way we decided to visit Klodzko. The main attraction there is a big fortress. The center is nice but also quite small. One market square, two churches and a few nice streets between them. Unlike the other fortresses we had seen in the past, this one was not a castle but more modern: lower brick and concrete works with earth on top and sort of star shaped. It was evolved from a castle and almost constantly modernised and upgraded by Prussians and Austrians. The last time it was used was during WW2 when Nazi Germany used it for prisoners of war. Underground there is a labyrinth of tunnels and rooms: some for storage and some designed as powder galeries. They would have been blown up with the enemy above them. Luckily this never happened and parts of them can be visited as part of a tour (available only in Polish; no audio guides). We bought tickets only for the fortress and were told that we could go in and see it on our own. The person at the gate almost did not let us in without a tour, but we persuaded her and we got in. Beside us there were only a couple of Finnish tourists and at least 3 groups of school children. Some of the kasemattes had exhibitions about the soldiers life in them and there were signs with English descriptions about the different parts and buildings and their function so we got at least some information.

View from the fortress over Klodzko

The people of Klodzko have themselves dug a network of tunnels and created a whole underground city. Today only about 600m can be visited for free, starting at one of the churches and ending near the fortress.

We left Klodzko after 3 hours and some coffee and cake and continued our scenic drive through the beautiful countryside towards Złoty Stok.

One of the special attractions of the gold mine is an underground boat ride which we very keen on. During the drive we discovered that this had to be prebooked so we rang them up to confirm the availability for the next day.

As our stop for the night we had chosen a campsite at the side of a lake with great mountain view, located about half an hours drive from the mine. There we met our Swiss friends from previous campsites again. Most of the site was taken up by permanent campers but there was still plenty of space. We paid 40 zł for one night. Overall the place was ok: it had a small shop and bar/restaurant and a small beach, but the facilities were quite dated and run down so we skipped showers that night.

The next morning we got to the mines before 8 o’clock (and breakfast) only to be told that the boat rides were suspended for a few weeks (quite the opposite to the info on the phone the day before). Frustrated we decided to bite the bullet and go on the first available tour which consisted of primary school children. We were already used to the lack of non-Polish tours. At least we got to see the place. The system of shafts and drifts is huge since gold had been mined since the early middle ages. At some point mines in this area produced 10% of all the gold in Europe.

There are four different packages to chose from (some include panning for gold and paper printing). We went for the basic deal at 32zł each which got us into the mine and a technology park where mining machinery had been reconstructed and could be tested.

The first section of the mine was roughly one kilometer in tunnels close to the surface. Our guide explained the history and processes of the mine as well as stories about alchemie and gold-hoarding gnomes. This took about 45mins. Afterwards we walked further up the valley to a different part and entrance. In that part we saw an underground waterfall (very rare) and got treated to a train ride back to the main entrance, car park and finally our breakfast. By then the place was crawling with people and the car park filled with 25 buses!

Zoë at work

The technology park is located 400m away and also has to be visited in guided tours. We were very lucky and got a private English tour and could try out some machinery. We must have hit a gap in the tourist stream as our guide told us the day before they had 1600 visitors to guide through in 8 hours!

Matthias on the hot seat

Overall we think the mine is worth a visit if you manage to get an English tour (which is more likely in the summer when students are off) and you book your tour with the boat ride in advance or if you generally visit the area. Otherwise it is not quite worth driving all the way from places like Wroclow.

After this short break from city life we continued our way east towards Krakow.

​Wrocław, Breslau, Rotswahf and all the Dwarves

Our journey from Swidnica to Wrocław was pretty straight forward and nice and short. Rather than pay the extra 30% fee to get into the campsite early we opted to park outside and take the tram to the city centre. We were staying around 20 minutes away from the city centre and as we thought we would be using the train quite a bit, we bought a 48 hour ticket for 20 zlotys. To make this worth it we only needed to make seven journeys over the next 48 hours (a single journey ticket costs 3 Zloty). We didn’t know much about Wrocław before we visited but had heard good things about Polands fourth largest city.

The beautiful baroque centre of Wrocław

Before we started our city sightseeing we had to make one very important stop. On Zoë’s last trip to Poland she had discovered E. Wedel (thanks for the tip Dad), a chain of chocolatiers and cafes. We just had to take some time for a hot chocolate and some sweet treats. Surprisingly, it was fantastic! Matthias had a chocolate and raspberry hot chocolate and Zoë had a mug of melted dark chocolate. We also ordered a chocolate cherry ice cream Sunday and chocolate and banana pierogi (Polish style ravioli). Needless to say it was very rich and chocolaty and fulfilled our chocolate cravings for a while. The only disappointing part of our visit to E. Wedel was that we were so full that we couldn’t taste any of the food on the market stalls or restaurants. Luckily we had another day to do just that.

Pure heaven! Melted dark chocolate in a cup

Wrocław has a beautiful old town filled with baroque town houses and a very old  and impressive town hall. We wandered through the old town to the university and cathedral which were both worth seeing, although we were a little disappointed by the dark interior of the cathedral. The cathedral is situated on one of the city’s islands and forms part of the Wrocław spirit. It was badly damaged in the second world war but has since been restored. The people of Wrocław also made a huge effort to protect it from flood waters by piling sandbags around its perimeter. After a couple of hours walking the city, we decided it was time for a break and settled in a microbrewery bar next to the town hall. While we sipped our beer we had time to watch the hundreds of school children on tours be taken for dinner in McDonald’s or Burger king. We have never been in city were do many school groups were on guided tours, and we have to say the city was nicer without them.

The cathedral

One part of our city tour that Ted really enjoyed was seeing all the dwarves. The dwarves of Wrocław began as anti-Soveit graffiti and slowly evolved into statues that form a tourist attraction. There are over 150 dwarf sculptures scattered around the city. Some were easy to spot in squares or fountains, while others were hidden in door ways or under cash machines. Each one is unique and shows dwarves in different scenarios. We didn’t see them all but the ones we did see were good fun (once all the school children move don’t of the way).

One of the most famous dwarves

Ted taking a break to read with one of the dwarf professors

Our second day in Wrocław was a little more relaxed. Originally, we planned to visit the Raclawice Panorama and then maybe the city museum as the weather was supposed to be pretty showery. Instead, it was gloriously sunny so we decided to swap the museum for the zoo. First we visited the Raclawice panorama, which like a lot if sights in Poland is seen via a tour. We joined a Polish tour but had audio guides in English. The Raclawice panorama is a painting depicting the battle of Raclawice when Polish people fought back against the Russians for independence (a war they lost but they were victorious at Raclawice). It is a gigantic work of art, 180m in length and 15m high, designed to make the viewer feel as if they are in the centre of the painting. It’s well worth spending the 30 minutes learning a little more about Polish history and seeing a fantastically restored painting that has survived both world wars by being hidden in churches.

A small part of the panorama

After out whistle stop tour of Polish history we jumped on a tram destined for Wrocław zoo. It was once the largest zoo in Europe and is currently undergoing modernisation. The largest part of the modernisation to date is the Africarium, which is included in the ticket price of 45 zloty per person. We really enjoyed wandering through the leafy zoo and seeing animals that neither of us has seen in zoos before including flying foxes, manatees and cow nosed rays. The enclosures we larger than we expected in a city zoo, and animals such as the brown bears seemed to enjoy their enclosures waterfalls and abundant trees to climb. The Africarium was impressive to say the least. It’s a huge building with outdoor aquariums that walks you through from Northern Africa to Madagascar and to the skeleton coast of Namibia. Inside there are undergound aquariums and a walk-through tunnel full of fish, sharks and rays, as well as, viewing windows for the outdoor exhibits so you could see the penguins, seals and manatees swimming. It was awesome!

One of Ted’s relatives

Before the zoo closed and they locked us in, we caught the tram back to the centre to have dinner. We ate in a canteen style restaurant called Bazylia, where food is weighed and you pay just 2.79zloty per 100g or half that if like us you turn up after 6pm. The food was very heart but all tastes good. We paid just 30 zloty for two huge plates of food which we struggled our way through but had no space for pudding.

Before we returned to the campsite we had one last attraction on our list. The multimedia fountain next to the centennial Hall. This fountain was built in 2009 to mark the 25th anniversary of the first free election in Poland. Since then it has been entertaining visitors with light and water shows hourly on summer evenings. Our plans were almost ruined by a long lasting thunderstorm but despite the rain we decided to go for the 9pm showing. We arrived early and saw the lights ands fountains on standby with some colourful lights ans small jets. At 9pm the real show started with music clips and fountains and lights in time to the music. We really enjoyed the 10 minute show and so did a couple of groups of school children. We really wish we could have seen the weekend performance where images are projected onto sheets of water; maybe next time.

A corner of the one hectar fountain

We left Wroclaw early the next morning. Next stop Klodzko and Zloty stok. 

Around Walbrzych

There are two major tourist attractions (by our definition) around Walbrzych: the big castle Ksiaz with gardens and palmerie and a mining and technology museum. We had decided to do them both in one day so we had to get up early and try to be at the castle at 10am when it opened. We missed that target by half an hour but were still early enough to beat the main horde. There some tunnels under the castle which can only be accessed by guided tour but the castle and grounds are free to see individually with an audio guide. After learning that guided tours are only available in Polish and the accessible part of the tunnels was only about 100m we changed the plan and decided against it. Entrance fee for the castle, mausoleum and the palmerie is 34zl (zloty) per person (about 8€). The stables cost extra.

Front of Ksiaz castle

The audio guide consisted of a Polish tourism app with the Ksiaz expansion pack. Head phones are provided with the ticket. It is not quite clear how the app works but as you follow the numbers and arrows around the castle there are 9 stations for audio commentary. As you approach the station the track should (!) start on its own. This didn’t always work but we walked up and down the room to trigger it. It seems to work via bluetooth so make sure your phone has plenty of battery and you have free data (to download the app; the wifi didn’t work for us).

Imressive ceiling of the Ksiaz ball or piano room

Ksiaz castle is very impressive and vast. It was originally built as a military fortress in the 13. century but generations of owners (notably the von Hochberg family) transformed it into a representative palace. The last alteration took place 1909 – 1923. Unfortunately only small parts of the lavish interior still remains (a mere glimpse according to old photos shown in the exhibition). Blame lies with Nazi Germany and the Soviets. The former drastically changed the castle by ripping out balconies, wall and ceiling decoration and furniture and adding a lift and lots of concrete. They are also responsible for the tunnels. All this work was carried out by inmates of the nearby concentration (or labour) camp Gross-Rosen as part of ‘Operation Riese’. They added an apartment to accommodate Adolf Hitler to use it as head quarter and use the tunnels as arms factory. Begun in 1943, the progress of war put an end to their operations. The soviets (and looters) robbed the castle of what was left and abandoned it until the 1980s when restoration works began (they are still ongoing in some parts of the grounds). We spent roughly 3 hours there which was not enough to see the mausoleum or the palmerie (which is about 20min walk away) as we went to the museum instead.

The mining museum is housed in the buildings of mine Julia on the south side of Walbrych. We were the fourth car in the carpark on this Sunday afternoon so had the museum almost to ourselves. The entrance fee is 29 Zloty per adult which includes a Polish tour and an audio guide for non-polish visitors. Four out of seven mine buildings are part of the museum; two are other exhibitions and one seems unrestored. The tour followed the typical daily routine of a miner and the path of the coal and was well explained even though the English commentary was always shorter than the story of the guide. Rooms along the route showed working, communication, measuring and rescue equipment and explained some aspects of the miners social life. At the end we even went underground into a training and two upper transportation drifts. 

Coal transportation tunnel and train

Overall we spent roughly one and a half hour there and really enjoyed our time there. We can definitely recommend both activities but think it is better to do them on two separate days; especially if you want to make the most of Kciasz which can certainly take a day to explore.

Ted has taken charge of the miners transport

Our first foray into Poland

They let us into Poland! In fact there wasn’t really a border as such, more a cluster of petrol stations and supermarkets; we love Europe. We stopped off to buy a more useful map and fill up Trevor and then we were on our way. Our first Polish town to visit would be Jelenia Gora which is an old town perched on the edge of a National Park. It is popular for its town hall in the centre of a large square which is surrounded by baroque townhouses. Also in the town are two very large churches and the old town walls. We wandered around for a while and visited the tourist information centre to pick up plenty of leaflets about the county of Lower Silesian.

The town halls of Jelenia Gora

Jelenia Gora was really only a stopover on the way to our next campsite which was in Karpacz. Unfortunately, when we arrived into the very touristy Karpacz we found the hotel and campsite were up for sale and had to quickly make a plan B. Since we had seen signs to another campsite about 1km down the road we decided to take a look. We found ourselves at Camp66, a beautiful new campsite with mountain views and fantastic facilties. With a choice of parking places we carefully chose our spot and to our surprise we parked right next to some Swiss people who we had seen at Görlitz the night before. The campsite was swarming with children and the local fire brigade having a party but once the party was over and the mysterious animal had stopped trying to get into the van, it was very peaceful. We spent the evening drinking cold beer, having a barbeque and then reading all our leaflets.

With a plan made we set off the next morning to conquer Mount Sneczka (1603m), the highest peak in the Krkonose mountains and also the highest mountain in Czech Republic. We parked in Karpacz and wandered up a valley passing mountain huts on the way. The path was pretty steep in places and the incline only got more severe as we walked on. The route was well sign posted and much more quickly than we thought we met the path from the cable car and the hundreds of people who had cheated their way up the mountain. We still had another 20 minutes of steep walking before we reached the peak. Thankfully, it was worth it and we ate our lunch whilst admiring the views of Poland and the Czech Republic. Also quite luckily there was no snow or the arctic winds which we had read about online. We descended via another path passing a scenic lake, but unfortunately we were diverted by a path closure and had to walk most of the way on badly laid granite cobbles. Our feet are still recovering two days later.

Zoë and Ted in the Czech Republic

Ted admiring the mountain lake

At the start of Karpacz we stopped to visit the famous Wang church. Wang church is an entirely wooden church that was built in Norway and later moved to the town of Karpacz. It contains some ornate Norweigan wood carvings but we think the outside is probably the most impressive. We found it interesting that they have built a stone tower to block the cold winds from the peak of Snezka. On our way back to the camper we walked through the centre of Karpacz and did one of our favourite hobbys; eating. We tasted local goats cheese with cranberries but found it quite rubbery and mild for gosts cheese. With our tired legs we rested in a cafe for mocha and ice cream and watched the buses of German pensioners panic about not getting their ice cream before the bus left.

Wang church

Back at camp we treated ourselves to a restuarant meal. We ordered polish beetroot and cabbage soup, polish sausage and sauerkraut stew and a schnitzle with potatoes and salad. It was all delicious and beetroot and cabbage heavy. Along with a czech beer each, dinner cost only 52 zloty (12 euros).

After two nights at our lovely campsite we felt it was time to move on and on the way to our next destination we decided to visit Chojnik castle. Chojnik was built as a defensive fortress and slowly converted to a more castle like dwelling which could be held against a seige for up to a year. Not surprisingly it is on top of a small hill at about 623m, something we hadn’t considered with our lead legs from the day before. The climb was through a lovely forest where we stopped to see two jays and two mice, and we picked up a beautiful woodpecker feather. Chojnik is more of a ruin nowadays but it was still interesting to walk through the courtyard and chapel and to climb the tower. The tower has brilliant views of the surrounding country side. The only downside was the dark spiral staricase built for dwarves that we had to use to get back down to the ground.

A jay!

The woodland steps to Chojnik

Chojnik castle tower

Chojnik castle courtyard

Later that day we headed in the direction of Waldbrych and wandered around an almost deserted town come building site. It seemed strange for a Saturday afternoon, so we didn’t hang around long. Tired from all the hiking, we drove to our next campsite at Swidnica, but unfortunatley the swimming pool doesnt open until 15th June :-(. Here we met our new dutch neighbour and his lovely dog Bobby. We made up for the lack of swimming by joining the party next door which was part of ‘Swidnica day’ to sample some beer with and without rasberry sirup. Since it was the main day the live music was quite loud but luckily stopped around half ten so we still had a good night sleep.