Sunday, 19 April 2015

Lublin - Pearl of Poland's East

Poland has many fine cities worth visiting; for those not in the know, Lublin, some 100miles/165km south-east of Warsaw, is a bit off the beaten track. Tucked away in eastern Poland, along with Białystok and Rzeszów, it's less visited than Krakow, Gdańsk, Wrocław or Warsaw, yet each repeat visit continues to provide me with delight.

Yesterday I was in Lublin to address a translators' congress - very interesting (maybe a few thoughts on the subject at a later date if there's demand). As I had three hours to kill before my train back to Warsaw, there was a great opportunity to visit Lublin's Old Town.

Below: like Warsaw, Lublin has a Krakowskie Przedmieście, this street running from west to east and ending at the City Hall (right) and the gates to the Old Town (centre).

Below: at every turn, a tower. It was a cold day (+4C) with a strong wind; blue skies would alternate with dark clouds and showers. In the distance, the Trinitarian Tower.

Below: ul. Arcydiekańska, the Dom społecznej pomocy (lit. House of Social Help). On the wall, in white lettering, the Latin inscription Bene merentibus pax - 'Peace unto the well-deserving'

Below: some of the kamienice have been restored, others are still in a poor state, while renovation work continues at a leisurely pace. Sharing an idea from Warsaw's Ul. Próżna and Pl. Grzybowski, black & white photos of former residents grace the windows of buildings in the course of remont.

Below: view from Plac Po Farze* across to the Royal Castle. Note the trees in blossom and the threatening clouds, which thankfully moved north-eastward away from the city.

The Old Town has an abundance of restaurants and bars; having time, I looked around for what I fancied. U szewca ('at the cobbler's') is still the finest, but I was put off by the staid choice of beers. Indeed everywhere into which I popped my head had the same insipid line-up, with the occasional 'unpasteurised', 'unfiltered' or 'regional' beer that typically comes from one of the big industrial brewers. The craft ale renaissance is nowhere to be seen in Lublin's Old Town.

Similarly with food. I ordered a 10oz burger in a pub on the market square. A lovely place, tastefully - intriguingly even - decorated, good friendly service, busy with foreign tourists... the burger comes. High quality of meat - like you'd expect from a trendy burger place in Warsaw. And the price? About 6zł less than in the capital. But a square slice of processed cheese on top of the meat? Ketchup? Get out of town! Would it not be too much to ask for some Roquefort, a slice of fresh pear and some ruccola? And beer-wise, the most exotic departure from the ubiquitous Lech/Tyskie was a pint of Guinness. Where are the craft ales?

Here's a huge opportunity for business development. My children tell me of all the hip places going on in Łódź; now, Lublin - a city where 23% of the term-time population is students - should be at the cutting edge of hip. It isn't - it feels about six or seven years behind Warsaw when it comes to gastronomy and interesting beers. Below: the Old Town gate at the Royal Castle end.

When I first visited Lublin's Old Town in 1999 it was completely run-down and full of dilapidated alleyways (like the one below, ul. Ku Farze*) and crumbling tenements. Since then, it has slowly established its place on the must-see list of any tourist visiting Poland. Yesterday I saw scores of tourists - and indeed students - from the US, Germany, France, Spain, Russia, the Far East and the Middle East.

Below: the archway from the Old Town market square leading into ul. Rybna (lit. ' Fish Street' or 'Fishy Street'). Some more of the old charm of Lublin - catch it before it gets too Disneyfied.

Below: looking down ul. Złota ('Gold Street') towards the Dominican Basilica.

Below: the Trinitarian Tower, as seen from the Old Town market place.

Below: the Old Town Hall and Crown Tribunal building, surrounded on all sides by the cobbled market place. I don't think many of the tourists strolling around during this low-season weekend were expecting that it could be this cold in mid-April. This time last week it was 22C outside Warsaw.

In August 2013, I wrote a short story in five parts about the reported miracle that occurred in Lublin's cathedral (below). As this is my first visit to the city since writing it, I took the opportunity to see the arch-cathedral of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist (below). The Miracle of Lublin happened on 3 July 1949, while Poland was suffering the worst phase of Stalinism.

Many worshippers reported seeing tears of blood streaming down the face of the painting of the Madonna (below), a replica of the more famous one in Częstochowa. The communist authorities, wishing to stifle the crowds streaming into Lublin to see the miracle, had a provocateur throw a brick (or a plank according to some sources) from the top of the bell-tower to the left of the photo above, which killed an 18 year-old girl, and caused a stampede in the crowd queueing outside the cathedral.

Below: looking down from the square in front of the cathedral.

On my way down the hill from the Old Town towards the railway station, quite a way from the city centre. I pass the Diocesan Museum illuminated by strong late-evening sunshine.

The station is remarkable for having a vast amount of tracks. "The train for Szklarska Poręba calling at Warsaw is standing on Platform 1, Track 52. The train from Warsaw arrives at Platform 3, Track 57." Gulp! Apparently, many tracks are now defunct, ripped up or for freight only, but from the passenger's point of view, this numeration system is madness.Click on the scheme below to see just how complex Lublin station is - but surely there's a better way of numbering tracks? [click here to see the whole picture]. Plus, it's a long walk from the station to town. 

Lublin is well worth a visit. It's cheaper than Warsaw and easy to get to. Now it has its own (and remarkably busy) airport with connections to London Stansted and London Luton, and later this year to Sheffield-Doncaster and Glasgow. The rail journey to Warsaw takes a little over two hours and there's also a good service.

* Fara or Farna - archaic term for 'parish'. Kościół farny = Parish church. Ul. Ku Farze = Towards the Parish (Church) Street; Pl. Po Farze = After (or the Remains of) the Parish (Church) Square (or Place).

This time two years ago:
70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

This time three years ago:
Tarkovsky's Stalker: a zone of my own

This time four years ago:
Warsaw's big billboards

This time five years ago:
Pace of development falters

This time eight years ago:
Strange days indeed


student SGH said...

I won't bother to do it between the lines, so overtly I am holding out for your thought from the congress!

Besides, the post and the photo coverage, as always splendid :)

Alexander said...

I have never been in Lublin, but from your pictures the city looks beautiful. A pearl indeed.
Languages, translations and interpretations are always interesting. I also would like to read about your thoughts about the translators congress. Demand sounds way to strong to me.
And I will go back to learning Polish.

Best regards, Alexander