We had tried to visit Swieta Lipka (Holy Lipka) a few times while crossing the Mazury Lake District but had failed to find it until this year. The road layout is very complicated in the area and the few signposts can be misleading. We even had a joke about the devil diverting us from the right route but this year we finally made it. The place made a great impression on us from the start, appearing all of a sudden while you would expect to see its towers from afar. But the basilica is situated in a valley and in a forested area so this effect is not surprising.
The Sanctuary complex comprises not only the church but also the monastery and its cloisters. There is a hotel to house the pilgrims, a restaurant for the visitors and a number of souvenir stalls. The place is owned and run by the Order of the Jesuits.
The magnificent baroque basilica was built in 1687-92 by J. Ertly, an architect from Vilnius. The stunning main altar is the work of Peuker, a sculptor from Koenigsburg and comprises a picture by B. Pense of the Netherlands.
The fantastic baroque organ dates back to 1721. We actually came just in time for its presentation, which I must say was unforgettable. The presentations are held every hour or so and are worth waiting for. An additional attraction of the organ are the moving figures of the saints and angels while it is being played.
To mention just a few of the works of art to be found there, the cloisters with four corner chapels are decorated with 44 baroque statues. The ornamental wrought iron gate was made in 1724 by Jan and Krzysztof Szwarc of Reszel. The other 8 altars, the pulpit and the confessionals are all baroque as are the frescoes on the vaulting. Not a place to be missed!
There are many lakes and rivers, offering splendid conditions for sailing, wind surfing, canoeing, water skiing., and fishing.
And such a nice people are living here.
Don't forget to visit Mazury in summer!
Krutyn is a village in the heart of Mazury situated along the Krutynia Kayak Trail. Here the river is shallow and quite wide and its banks high and pretty steep with many old trees giving welcome shade to the kayakers.
The first records of Krutyn date back to around 1500 when it was founded as a hunting settlement close to the modest wooden castle of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order.
With a campsite, many pensions, a street market for local handicrafts and a few good but expensive restaurants, it is a lively tourist centre where many coaches stop for the tourists' enjoyment. The tourists, mostly seniors from Germany, usually first go for a walk across the bridge and in the nature reserve, then browse through the goods in the street market and end up in one of the restaurants where they are often entertained by folk performers. Some go on boat trips on the Krutynia or for short trips in horse-driven carts. They seldom stay in the village so it can be quite sleepy, especially in the evenings. It is then that it is most charming though and worth a walk along to admire the lovely wooden houses, the gardens and the delightful natural scenery.
More pictures of Krutyn can be found in my travelogue.
This is a most enjoyable thing to do while visiting Krutyn. The boats are waiting for passengers by the bridge. Their owners are local men who will also entertain you on the trip, telling you about the area, its culture etc. Quite a few of them speak German as well as Polish, but even if you don't speak either, the trip on the Krutynia along the nature reserve is an enchanting experience that you will always remember.
It takes about an hour and the fare is around 20-25 PLN per person. Choose the time of day when the sun is high in the sky unless you prefer a lot of shade. Use mosquito repellent if you go in the evening. The river is shallow so it's perfectly safe. No need to book - the men are always there by the bridge.
I cannot say I enjoyed our visit there but some people may find this site interesting. It was here at Wolfsschanze or the Wolf's Lair that Adolf Hitler spent over 850 days starting with 24 June 1941. It was here that he issued numerous orders deciding the fate of many European nations, such as about the construction of new death camps or the use of POWs in the German armaments industry. The 'Wolf's Lair' was also the site of the failed assassination attempt on Hitler, on 20 July 1944, which, had it succeeded, might have changed the last year and the final outcome of WWII.
Hidden in a forest, it used to be a town of 200 buildings: bunkers, barracks, 2 airports, a power station, a railway station etc. Most of them have now turned to moss-covered ruins, having been blown up by the Germans in January 1945. And these are ruins that do not bring to mind any feelings of regret or words of sentiment but rather satisfaction and relief that Hitler's world is gone, hopefully forever.
For more information on and pictures of this gloomy area, see my Ketrzyn page.
Ketrzyn, a town on the Guber River has a few tourist attractions, but the most interesting is the Gothic Castle of the Teutonic Order constructed in the years 1360-70 but with some later alterations. Through the gate you get into a small courtyard in the shape of a quadrangle. Inside the quad you can see an oval tower added to the castle in 1622. Although the Soviet Army set fire to the building in 1945 so that it had to be reconstructed, it looks exactly like the original due to the fact that the reconstruction was based on 19th century drawings by C.Steinbrecht. The Castle now houses a museum, a library and a gallery of folk art with a shop, where you can view and buy some interesting Mazurian handicraft.
Just up the hill from the Castle sits St George's Basilica built in the second half of the 14th century by the Teutonic Knights and extended in the 15th century. With a tower reaching the height of 40 m and a not much lower belfry, it looks like a castle too and is an excellent example of defensive sacral architecture. Ketrzyn also boasts fragments of its mediaeval town walls, an interesting eclectic Town Hall (see the link for the picture), a Neo-Gothic building of a former Freemasons' Lodge and many 19th- and early 20th-century houses.
For more information and pictures see my Ketrzyn page
Zakret (the bend) is one of three nature reserves around Krutyn. It's a beautiful area of forest and bog with three acidic lakes, at places so overgrown with peat moss and flowers that they form floating islands. But you must be lucky to see them as their formation depends on the wind. The trail leads around one of the lakes with a pier on it so you can approach the water as close as possible. Sit on the bench there to enjoy the magical atmosphere of the place with its peace and silence, where even the water doesn't stir as no insects live on the lake's brownish acidic surface. This also makes the reflection of the forest so clear that you are under the illusion that there are two forests there - one above and the other below.
Look up as you walk and you will notice some ancient (200- to 300-year-old) oak and a 100-year-old pine trees. For pictures of them, see my general tip.
The trail is around 3 km long. It is said to be accessible to wheelchair users but there are tree roots sticking out at places so the ride may be a little bumpy and you might have to seek help of another person to negotiate them.
White or pink water-lilies can be found on the Krutynia where the water becomes shallow and in sunny, not too overshadowed, places.
The yellow nuphars are more common and can be seen all along the route. Their resilience to the blows they get from the oars and the kayak is simply stunning. As soon as you pass, there they are back on the surface again.
While I wouldn't recommend Warsaw to birdwatchers, unless they are studying the behaviour of pigeons and sparrows, Mazury is the ideal area for bird lovers. The rushes and marshlands surrounding the numerous lakes and rivers are the perfect habitat to many species, 200 of which have been observed here. The lakes abound in waterfowl, like mallards, grebes, herons, bitterns, cormorants, swans and many others.There are a few bird reserves on Lake Sniardwy, Lake Luknajno, one near Zgon, the "Kozuchy" on Lake Kruklin near Gizycko and a few more.
This year (2009) we sat on a bench at Zgon overlooking Lake Mokre and watched a family of bald-pates swimming. They obviously wanted to have the lake to themselves and, when a fen-duck swam close, one of the adult bald-pates started chasing it away and persisted in doing this till the intruder gave up and swam away. But this was not the end of the spectacle. Left to themselves, the bald-pates turned against each other and a fight ensued, which looked very much like a duel. How like humans!:)
Apart from the water birds, there are black storks, peregrine falcons, red kites, short-eared owls, cranes and even sea eagles on Lake Sniardwy. We have seen quite a few black woodpeckers and nuthatches at Babieta, so they must be common there. And of course Mazury is the kingdom of the stork.
Don't miss the interesting graveyard of the Old Believers with its Orthodox crosses and decorations. It's a lovely shady place, very pleasant on a hot summer day.
Sadly, on your visit to the Convent you will no longer meet any of the nuns, two of whom we saw when we were there about ten years ago. Their graves can now be found here, just opposite the gate in this peaceful place.
The village of Wojnowo was founded in the first half of the 19th century by Polish and Russian Old Believers. Here they built a wooden molenna - their house of prayer and a convent. The convent flourished particularly under the management of the young and well-educated Pawel Pruski. After years of studies of the holy scripts, though, Pawel Pruski radically changed his religious beliefs and converted to the original Orthodox Church, followed by many of his flock.
So, nowadays, Wojnowo, has two churches: one - a brick molenna of the Old Believers and the other - a charming blue-and-white wooden Russian Orthodox church. This beautiful temple was built here in the early 20s of the 20th century by Father Aleksander Avajev, a former tsarist officer, later a monk renowned for his spirituality and ascetic way of living. In the 30s he founded a convent in a purpose-built house nearby. After his death in 1956, the nuns left and the house was used by the parish priests but the number of parishioners diminished due to emigration to Germany. It was only in 1995-96 that the church was restored and the convent reinstated.
The church looks lovely in the midst of the Mazurian countryside. It has a delightful ornate porch and windows framed in blue and two towers with domes. At the back there is a small graveyard where you can see the grave of Father Avajev.
Opening hours: on weekdays between 10-14 and 16-18.
There is a small admission fee (2 PLN) and a shop where you can buy some lovely souvenirs, some of them made by the nuns themselves.
Only the youngest of the nuns, a novice, was present in the church when we were visiting - there are only eight nuns at the convent altogether. She was very nice but couldn't tell us much about the interior. But normally a nun-guide will take you around - so our friends told us. Actually, the young woman offered to bring her from the other building but we didn't want to interrupt her other duties.
Photography is forbidden inside as many of the icons were stolen in the past.
Guzianka Lock is situated a little north of Ruciane-Nida and links Lake Beldany with Lake Guzianka. If you are following the Krutynia kayak trail from Sorkwity to Ruciane, you will have to pass through it on the last day of your trip. There is a shop with a small car park by the road there so, if only you can find a free space, do stop to watch the yachts pass through. Of course, it would be even better to be on one of those yachts. Still, I could stand there for hours watching the colourful spectacle. Unfortunately, my husband decided watching one full cycle of letting the boats through both ways was enough.
Never mind, from there we drove towards Popielno where the forest abounds in wild strawberries, which were a huge consolation. I think my stomach even preferred them to the lock.:)
Mikolajki, a town named after St Nicholas, the patron of sailors, lies on the banks of two lakes: Mikolajskie and Talty and is said to be the sailing capital of Poland. It's a lively place with a large marina, a port for passenger boats and many hotels, pensions, shops, cafes and restaurants.
Parking there can be hard during the season - just before it, in June, we found a free space in the paid (but unguarded) car park in the town's main square. We went for a walk along the marina, climbed one of the three bridges to admire the view of the town and the lakes, had ice creams in a cafe in one of the pretty modern houses on the embankment and, not seeing what else we could do there, left without regret. We didn't like the gangs of young men swearing profusely or the blank look in the eyes of some shady individuals hanging around the embankment and the town centre. There was not much happening in the marina but some obscenities could be heard coming from that direction as well.
If we had had more time, we might have gone on one of the boat trips to Ruciane or Ryn but out of season it might have meant waiting for enough people to join it, and we didn't see any boat getting ready to depart. You might want to visit the place to watch some regattae on the lakes or to attend their annual festival of folk music. The town can be interesting for those who like people-watching, too. But, if what you like is the peace of the country and closeness to nature, Mikolajki is not the ideal place for you.
More pictures of Mikolajki can be found in my travelogue.
Ryn is a small town situated between lakes Rynskie and Olow. A tourist centre popular with sailors, it boasts a former Teutonic castle sitting on a hill overlooking the town. The castle was founded in 1377 by Winrych von Kniprode, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights as a watch-tower protecting the borders of the Teutonic state from Lithuanian invasions.
Originally Gothic in style, the castle was rebuilt many times. Abandoned in the mid-18th century and sold at auction, it remained a private property till 1853 when it was rebuilt in the neo-Gothic style and served as a jail. In 1881 it burnt down and the reconstruction lasted until 1911. The interior is now completely altered with only the original vaulted cellars. A round tower in the courtyard also remembers the times of the Teutonic Knights.
The castle now houses a luxury hotel with spa, a swimming pool, a bowling alley, billiards, a tennis court, saunas, a restaurant and a conference hall. You can visit it with a Polish-speaking guide for 5 PLN per person to see their collection of medieval arms and the castle yard with the original tower. Standing so high, the castle commands a great view over the lakes and the surrounding countryside but you can only catch a glimpse of one lake from the ground level as the houses and the old trees below obstruct the view.
Attention: If you happen to be in the area on 1-2 August 2009, don't miss the Festival of Medieval Culture at the castle. More information to be found on their webpage.
After having lunch at the Kacperek at Stare Kielbonki (see my restaurants tip), you could go to see the village Zgon on the Krutynia kayak trail. Here the trail leads across two big lakes: Uplik and Mokre. There is a bridge right where they meet that offers beautiful views of both, so it is well-worth stopping at the car park there. You can also visit a nature reserve on the banks of Lake Mokre - Krolewska Sosna (the Royal Pine), with 200-year-old pine trees. To the north-east of Zgon on Lake Uplik there is a nature reserve Czaplisko-Lawny Lasek with a colony of heron (Ardea Cinerea). The village itself is a nice place to stay in, with a riverside hostel which has been there since 1708. A few private pensions, an art gallery and two or three restaurants, as well as many opportunities for walks complete the picture.