Sunday, 9 August 2015

A trip to Lower Silesia

Probably each region of Poland has its unique climate, yet only the Lower Silesia can boast about unrepeatable style, architecture, landscape and… has something that beckons. One of the reasons why I find the region so compelling is that it contains lots of intact (or destructed, yet recently splendidly restored) heritage of the Germans who’d ruled it for centuries, until 1945. Part of Lower Silesia, including capital of the region, Wroclove, have been destroyed during the march of the Soviet Army towards Berlin at the end of WW2, yet the areas south-west of Strzegom and Legnica shunned the fate of becoming battlefields. Most residents of those areas were driven away to Germany shortly after the war, leaving the whole cities and villages to flowing in settlers from central Poland and pre-WW2 eastern lands incorporated into the Soviet Union.

Whenever an opportunity to visit these places crops up, I do my utmost to seize it. Last such occasion was during the last weekend, which I extended by two days to make the trip economical time-wise and petrol-wise. Incidentally it must not pass unnoticed since the new S8 expressway linking Łódź and Wrocław was opened in November 2014, duration of a door-to-door journey by car has shortened to some 5 hours (including 15-minutes stopover and assuming driving at reasonable speed).

I had my lodgings in Szczawno-Zdrój, a Post-German sanatorium resort, which fulfils the role same role in Poland. To the right, a cure-water drinking house, in its Post-Prussian character, decently renovated.

Two types of tourist can generally be run across in Szczawno-Zdrój: either elderly inpatients from numerous sanatoria or young couples with small children. For both groups the town might be appealing, since those not fond of crowds, a plague of many Polish holiday resorts will find here peace of mind and few fellow tourists roaming around. To the right – a pedestrian precinct on early Saturday afternoon.

To the right – a snap from a nearby look-out tower erected on a small, yet steep hill. At first glance the panorama of Szczawno-Zdrój reveals its post-German history. I’m fond of this architecture. Note also the contrast between refurbished streets and how run-down some houses are. Although it’s not that bad here…

To the right – Dom Zdrojowy, the former Grand Hotel, luxurious spa built by Germans more than 100 years ago. Sadly, the standard of the edifice has little changed since then. The ground floor of the building serves as canteen for roughly 1,500 inpatients of this and other nearby sanatoria (two shifts for each meal), three upper floors offer accommodation for inpatients sent here under health insurance scheme. Standard room – 10 sqm for three persons, common bathroom for several rooms. Standard up-to-the-mark for young travellers searching for cheap hostel, not for people in their 60s or 70s coming here for three weeks to recharge batteries.

Wałbrzych, the core city of this part of Lower Silesia. Once seven black coal mines have been the key employers in the city. Today all mines have been closed, one fulfils a role of mining museum, and Special Economic Zones brining in foreign investors are meant to stem the migration out of the city and reduce unemployment. To the right, the town hall square in the very centre of the city. Sunday, before midday. Not a living soul around.

The beautifully renovated market square also is desolated. Area near the fountains is the hangout for local drunkards and for rowdy under-age hooligans. Searching for an open café in the vicinity on Sunday? I asked some locals strolling with their child in a pram, if there was any opened. They stared at me with disbelief and replied there was none, since no one would come there so there was no point in opening.

A peek from the market square between the buildings lays bare the penury of what is hidden between splendidly restored façades on the market square. A perfect illustration to the conflict whether Poland is in ruins or not. You can selectively pick out several examples of places which definitely are not in ruins and places which are in ruins; sometimes worlds apart means less than 100 metres away, as in this example.

And actually most parts of old Wałbrzych (I have not visited the areas where the city sprawled after 1945) look like this. An empty, depressing place, and to boot not the one in which one feels safe in broad daylight. I was slightly afraid to leave my car on Mazovian plates on the street in the centre of Wałbrzych, not because keeping the car there was genuinely dangerous, but because number plates revealed where its owner came from, a region which could be disliked by locals.

Świdnica, unknown even to most Poles, home to notable sights. The market square in the shape typical for Post-German areas, rectangle-shaped and with town hall building in the middle of it. The character of the place brings to mind Gdansk, Poznan and Berlin, while you stay in small town in Lower Silesia in which a famous flea market is held once a year.

Kościół Pokoju, put on Unesco list of heritage buildings, is a must-see destination in Świdnica. Erected in the seventeenth century has undergone thorough renovation in the last 10 years. There a few such places in Europe, hence it is particularly worth preserving.

Inside the church is even more breath-taking. Oddly enough, most visitors inside were Germans, who happen to visit the lost fatherland and appreciate the heritage left here much more by Poles. Or maybe are just more eager to fork out 10 PLN for the entrance fee.

Historically the evangelic church “competed” with the cathedral located within a walking distance from it. The church is open to visitors and nearby facilities are the head office of Kuria Świdnicka. What immediately catches one’s sight are expensive cars (they could be parked next to corporate fleet of the New Factory and you would not distinguish between the two) and anti-abortion posters.

In terms of timing, I was fortunate to venture there when weather was perfect – except for the last day, temperature barely above +20C and sunny or slightly overcast. What ensued later was the heat wave which will definitely go down in the history of meteorology in Poland as one of the longest and most intense. August 2015 stands a chance of being the warmest month in the history of Poland, beating July 2006 (average temperature in Warsaw: +23.5C). The heat wave will deserve a separate posting, due when it draws to a close (I hope it comes to an end soon, but weather forecasts leave little hope for day-time highs below +30C until 20 August).

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