This is my husband's this year's discovery as we didn't know this small museum existed at all. It's next to the church in the old timber parsonage and very interesting it is too. You can see items of Lithuanian folk art - pottery, paintings, also on glass, straw work, embroidery and many many more, all really pretty.
Opening hours: Mon.- Sat. - 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Admission: 2 or 3 zloties
When you are in Suwalszczyzna don't miss the region around Punsk, which is sometimes called the capital of the Polish Lithuanians, as large part of its population of just over 1000 is Lithuanian. One of the most interesting things worth seeing in the area is the 19th century railway station at Trakiszki. It's the last station in Poland before the Lithuanian border and part of the railway track Warsaw - Kaunas, constructed in the years 1896 -1898. The now listed old wooden building itself, no longer used as a station, was built in the Russian style with a carved porch and decorative doors and windows. Two years ago it was still lived in, which made it even more charming, with the laced curtains and geraniums in the windows.
The lodgers must have moved out though and now the building looks not only deserted but also neglected, with the window paint peeling and the doors locked. I do hope they find a use for it and do not let it fall apart.
We came upon this fair purely by chance, having stopped in Suwalki on our way from Warsaw with the intention of having ice-creams as the day was hot. It was a Saturday afternoon so we were surprised to see quite a number of people strolling in the square of this normally rather sleepy town. Then we heard the music and saw the stage and the stalls with all kinds of handicrafts from colourful straw 'spiders', through wooden toys, pottery, interesting wicker baskets, Easter 'palms', embroidered tablecloths, tapestries and what not. The stallholders seemed to have come from many regions of Poland and even Lithuania, which made the fair even more interesting. You could get all kinds of wonderful home-baked bread or cheese, croissants, doughnuts and the like. You could see demonstrations of weaving or try your hand at pottery making. I wish we hadn't been so tired after the long drive so as to enjoy it even more.
I am not sure if this is an yearly event but if you are in the area around the first weekend in August ask at the tourist information and you may be lucky to be able to attend the fair too.
For more pictures of the fair, see the travelogue.
The town of Sejny is situated 30 km east of Suwalki not far from the Lithuanian border. Founded in 1522 in a forested area, it became a municipality in 1593. In 1602 it was left in a will to the Order of Black Friars from Vilnius, who founded the first brick church there, which was later extended to form a whole complex of the Church and Monastery of the Visitation. At present in the baroque style, the church is worth visiting for its splendid interior with eleven 18th century baroque and rococo altars, the precious Gothic Madonna dating back to around 1257 brought here from Krolewiec by Jerzy Grodzinski, some interesting 17th and 18th century paintings and many more.
The figure of the Madonna is said to have saved the monastery and the town in 1654 during an invasion of the Muscovites. The monks had tried to carry the figure away in a cart and hide it, but the chassis of the cart broke. Yet the legend has it that, when the Muscovites arrived, they saw an enormous white army of angels in front of the monastery and fled in fear.
Some other interesting buildings in Sejny include the White Synagogue, St. Agatha's Chapel, the former Beit Midrasz or Jewish study house, the neo-Gothic evangelical church and the classicist Town Hall. We re-visited Sejny this year (2008) and decided the place deserves a page of its own.
Smolniki is a village north of Suwalki situated in an area abounding in lakes. For a nice view of the vicinity visit the place called 'U Pana Tadeusza' on a hill by the main road. The entrance fee is just 1 zl and from the specially built platform you can see the whole valley with the lakes at your feet. Afterwards, you can cross the road and take a walk in the forest - the path will take you to a lake with a bathing place and tables where you can have a picnic. Or, if you prefer, you can visit the bar by the road to have some local food at the tables on the edge of the forest. We need to explore this place more as we know it is very popular with holidaymakers.
Punsk, in Lithuanian Punskas, a small town north west of Suwalki, is the capital of the Polish Lithuanians. Visit the Lithuanian Cultural Centre (Dom Kultury Litewskiej) and find out if there is anything going on - the town has a few folk ensembles, a Lithuanian magazine and two folk museums. It would be interesting to visit it on midsummer night to see their bonfire on Lake Punia, or on 15th August - a religious holiday when the Lithuanians come to church in beautifully decorated britzkas ('taradejkas') to have their crops blessed and take part in the procession, some in their folk costumes. As we were there soon after the celebrations, we could still see the decorations in and outside the church (see picture 2).
The church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, dates back to 1887, the timber churches that stood there before it (from 1597) were destroyed by fires. In front of the church you can see two interesting shrines.
In the streets of Punsk there are still many old timber houses, well-worth a look. The Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of Punsk (the Jews constituted the majority of the town's population before the war) is so overgrown that getting to the few remaining matzevas is really hard.
Next to the Jewish Cemetery is the Orthodox Cemetery with the nineteenth century timber Orthodox church. The church is closed though and its windows boarded over but you can see some old graves of tzarist officials nearby, some with wrought-iron crosses.
Our guidebook speaks of a molenna of the Old Believers in Suwalki too and even shows a picture of it. But, if it's still there, it's not where the guidebook says, there is only a new Catholic church where Kowienska and Wilenska streets meet and the local people have never heard of a molenna there. It looks very nice in the picture though so we'll continue to look for it next time we are in the area. Perhaps some of the other VT-ers have seen it and can give us directions how to get there? To see another molenna of the Old Believers, you can visit Wodzilki, a village of the Old Believers north of Suwalki.
If you walk on along Zarzecze St the next cemetery is the evangelical one and finally, the largest is for the Catholics.
When you have seen St Alexander's Church, don't leave the Old Market Square but walk across the park to its south side to see some of the most interesting buildings in Suwalki. On the way you can visit the Tourist Information in the park, the white building in the middle where you can get free access to the Internet and ask the nice and well-informed girl at the desk any questions about the area.
The church you will be passing is dedicated to the Heart of Jesus and was first built as an Orthodox church designed by the famous architect Henryk Marconi in the years 1840-45. From 1915 a Catholic church, it used to be attended by students from the gymnasium opposite.
The building in picture 3 is the former boys' gymnasium dating back to 1843-45 and designed by Antonio Corazzi. It still houses a school but not just for boys.
Next to it you can see the former guardhouse (pic.4), probably designed by A. Corazzi too, and, further on, the 19th century Town Hall, with the main entrance in Kosciuszki Street.
Walking along it you will see more interesting 19th century buildings, many recently restored after years of neglect during the Communist era.
At the turn of the 19th/20th centuries the population of Suwalki was multicultural - it consisted of Poles, Jews, Lithuanians, Germans, Russians, Belorussians, Gypsies and Tartars.
Reflecting this ethnic diversity are the old cemeteries in Zarzecze Street. Starting from the south, there is the Muslim Cemetery for the Tartars, a small corner now completely overgrown, where we couldn't find any remains of the graves. Next to it is the Jewish Cemetery. Deliberately completely destroyed by the Nazis in the years 1940-45, it has only a very few matzevas (Jewish tombs) left while all the remaining broken ones have been put together to form a wall commemorating the Jewish community of Suwalki. Some are simple ones, some beautifully engraved, all silent witnesses of humans' strange unaccountable hatred of other humans.
This monumental clacissist church was designed by Piotr Aigner and built in the years 1820-1829 with some changes introduced later in the 19th century. On both sides of the main entrance you can see precious statues of St Romuald and St Benedict, the patron saints of Suwalki, which in 1667-1842 guarded the Camaldolite Monastery on Lake Wigry. In the park right across the street from the church stands the statue of Our Lady dating back to 1866.
In the 18th century a town but now only a village, Jeleniewo is situated north of Suwalki and surrounded by beautiful hilly countryside with numerous lakes and forests. The village boasts a timber church dedicated to the Holiest Heart of Jesus, with belfry, dating back to 1878, but with some eighteenth century paintings and other artefacts inside. You can see them if you get there on a Sunday, but whenever we were there the church was closed.
The village also has a very popular restaurant, which we visited regularly while staying in the area. More about it in my restaurant tips.
Situated just 1 km south-east of Punsk, there is a small Skansen Museum - 'The Lithuanian Farm'. The three farm buildings make a charming picture with their thatched roofs, the well with the wooden crane and the wooden fence surrounding it all. Although it was closed when we came, they opened the buildings for us, letting us see the interior of the farm with the traditional furniture, the old kitchen utensils and the traditional agricultural machines and tools. A most interesting exhibition.
Suwalszczyzna abounds in post-glacial lakes. Situated north-west of Suwalki, Lake Hancza is the deepest of them with the maximum depth of 113 m. Its crystal clear water is a habitat of all kinds of fish, and even crayfish (vide:photo) but the area is a nature reserve so no fishing is allowed. The banks are mostly steep and high, with many boulders, which makes access to the lake difficult. The best place to get to it is the park with the ruins of the old manor at Stara Hancza. There is a car park by the road at the top and walking down you will soon get to the lake. Here is one of the few bathing places on the lake - the water is so shallow that even children can be allowed to bathe. Yet, most of the lake is accessible only to divers, who might like to explore its depths full of deep holes, ditches and ravines. They might even find the treasure hidden here by the withdrawing Napoleonic army, or so the legend says.
Stanczyki is a village situated at the bottom of a deep post-glacial valley on the Bledzianka river and with two nice lakes nearby, where scouts and tourists often camp in the summer. But most tourists visit the place to see the enormous railway viaducts designed by Italian architects and constructed here in the years 1907 - 1926. The viaducts were supposed to be part of the railway line Goldap - Zytkiejmy - Gumbinnen. They were to be of great military importance to the Germans, but only one was ever used, laying the rails on the other one was interrupted by the outbreak of WWI. Truly imposing, 36 m high and 200 m long, they span the high banks of the Bledzianka river, which flows in a ravine. You can climb the viaducts to see the great view (there is a dirt road leading there) , or take a walk along the river underneath. Just a word of warning - the structure is not too safe. Don't lean on the balustrade and beware of pieces of concrete falling off the bridge into the valley as you pass under. We saw one of those, luckily from afar.
Surrounded by the Wigierski National Park, Lake Wigry is the largest lake in the area, with a maximum depth of 73 m. The trip around it on the tourist boat 'Tryton", the same that Pope John Paul II travelled on in 1999, lasts about 1.5 hour. The small bar on the boat even offers the famous 'Papal' cream cakes that the Polish Pope used to like so much, though I don't think they are as good as those in the Pope's hometown, Wadowice. There is a plaque to commemorate the Pope's visit but the armchair that the Pope sat in has had to be removed to stop the fights for the privilege of sitting in it.
The greatest attraction of the trip for me was the marvellous peace of the area as the lake is a silent zone and no muzak is allowed. Birdwatchers should bring their field-glasses with them just in case - there are many interesting birds around.
Trips run from 1.05 till 30.10 at 10.00, 11.30, 13.00, 14.30, 16.00 but there must be at least 5 passengers for the boat to go at all.
Tickets: adults - 20 zl, children 6 - 14 years - 15 zl, younger children - free