Saturday, 27 August 2016

Sandomierz - another outstanding Polish town to see

I rate towns and cities the following way: there are places that are so excellent that I could see myself retiring there. Then there are places to spend a long time living and working. Next up, somewhere to spend a holiday. Then the town or city that's worth a long weekend. Then the town or city that makes it worth breaking a journey to visit and see the sights. Then there's various shades of 'don't bother'.

Sandomierz, which I've now visited four times, is quite simply an amazing historical town, it keeps getting better with each visit, as though the local authorities know what they need to do to continually improve it as a draw. Today, I'd rate Sandomierz as long weekend-plus. The town itself has plenty to see, and the surrounding countryside - especially on a weekend like this one - is quite beautiful.

I arrived at the castle at noon to chair a panel at a trade conference aimed at the region's fruit and veg growers. After the conference, I had time to explore the town. Below: from the castle, the view of the Cathedral Basilica of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, built in 1360.

Below: the interior of the cathedral. Twelve gory paintings (one for each month) depict the deaths of Christian martyrs, blood spewing, severed heads; things to distract from lengthy sermons.

Below: the vicarage, across the road from the cathedral. Very much an ecclesiastical town, many priests, monks and nuns are to be seen.

The Brama Opatowska is the gate at the northern end of the town. This Gothic structure dates back to the second half of the 14th Century, built by King Kazimierz III the Great. He's the builder-king that came to power when Poland was largely built of plants and left it built of brick. This was one of four main gates and the only one to survive to this day.

If amber is the tourist take-home in Gdańsk, here in Sandomierz it's striped flint (or banded flint), a rare stone that is to be found in abundance in this region of Poland. Many workshops and souvenir stores sell all manner of jewellry, cuff-links, tie pins and the like featuring this stone set in silver.

Below: the Old Town square, beautifully remonted since my last visit to Sandomierz in January 2006. Back then it was grey and crumbling; today, it is vibrant and appealing. EU (and Swiss) funds have been put to good use.

Below: I stayed at the Aparthotel strategically located on the Old Town square, with an excellent and comfortable room overlooking the back, away from the noise. Price for apartment: 280 złotys, £56 (Wow! suddenly Poland starts looking pricy when comparing with a weak pound!)  Only disappointment with the hotel was the breakfast (see further down).

Left: this Old Town wicket gate (furta miejska), is the one surviving of the two built. This, the Dominican wicket, is known as the ear (not eye) of the needle. Steep steps lead down to the Podwale; the Bistro Podwale offers good food and a great range of craft beers and ciders including my favourite Polish cider - Cydr Ignaców.

Below: plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants in and around the Old Town. Prices lower than Warsaw, higher than Zamość (half-litre of local beer, 8 złotys).

Below: Sandomierz's town hall stands in the middle of the Old Town square. Like the cathedral and the gates, it is Gothic and dates back to the second half of the 14th Century, although the white tower was added on in the 17th Century.

Below: looking south-east from the steps of the Basztowy hotel. Across the Vistula lies Tarnobrzeg and in the distance, Rzeszów.

After the slap-up dinner of local produce laid on by the organisers, my colleagues from our Kraków office set off for home (Sandomierz is a three-hour drive from Warsaw, a three-hour drive from Kraków). Below: a night-time view of the castle.

This morning I slept until half past eight, had breakfast (poor! powdered coffee, no fruit juice, no fruit, no salad - just bread, butter, ham and cheese) and decided to spend more time looking around Sandomierz. Below: the Town Hall, lit by strong morning sunlight.

Left: I've not seen these before in other tourist hot-spots. Sandomierz has a fleet of these Chinese-made electric powered replicas of the Ford Model 'T' to convey tourists on guided tours of the town silently and aesthetically. Full marks to Rariro (Guangzhou) Vehicle Co Ltd for making these. There's a global market for such heritage vehicles. Faux they may be, but they are so much more fitting than golf carts.

Below: the old town of Sandomierz stands on a hill rising 40m to 50m over the Vistula river. Every now and then, you can catch a glimpse of the river and the plains beyond.

Below: this could be Tuscany. This beautiful town is quintessentially European in its history, culture and architecture.

Below: half past ten, time to set off back to Warsaw. The fine way. To Zawichost, by ferry across the Vistula, thence via Annopol, Puławy, Wilga and Góra Kalwaria home.

If you've not been - go! You will not be disappointed by Sandomierz. Finally, a thank-you to Tomek from our Kraków office, who schooled here and showed us round with the expert knowledge of a local.

[I took so many interesting photos I needed to put together another post to accommodate them all - click here for more Sandometer!]

This time two years ago:
Food hygiene and lies as Russian foreign policy tools

This time three years ago:
Asphalt for ul. Poloneza (to Krasnowolska at least)

This time four years ago:
A welcome splash of colour to a drab car park

This time five years ago:
To Hel and back in 36 hours

This time seven years ago:
Honing the Art of the Written Word

This time eight years ago:
Of castles, dams and brass bands


Jacek Koba said...

Brought back memories of one year I spent teaching there at a teacher training college in 1992-93. I was among a group of American, Canadian, English and German teachers whom fate dumped in this town and left to cope as best they could. Bathed in early morning May sunshine, which is how one Maria Sklodowska-Curie University professor contrived to lure me into working there when he took me on a tour to this surreal town from Lublin in his car, the town looked like an image on a biscuit tin epitomizing all human yearnings for a perfect place on earth. But the tin turned into Pandora's box when its dark secrets started coming out one by one. It's a weird place full of and attracting weird people, not so much a Tuscan idyl as a medieval horror when seen in a certain light just before dusk on a November day, and with everything you know about it. Or has time moved on there? I haven't been since, but each time I hear the name, my back feels distinctly icy.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Jacek Koba

It certainly has moved on. My previous exposure to Sandometer was on a cold (-26C) January day in 2007; again, I was there at a food export conference at the castle. After the event, three of us ventured into the Old Town, practically deserted at dusk, memories of peeling stucco and stories of collapsing basements, little colour, little to do or see. Incredible bounce-back. Like Lublin's Old Town. EU funds. (And indeed, Swiss funds.)

student SGH said...

Was there as a middle-school pupil in 2001. Remembered the city as drab, though at such age sights were not what I focused on. Tried to find some photos from that trip, but apparently I did not have the camera.

Last year, during a busineess trip I drove around the city via DK77 and promised myself to visit it. So far, nothing has prompted me to pursue the plan...

PS. Cold snap was in January 2006, while January 2007 was one of the warmest in the history :)

Michael Dembinski said...


Thanks for the info re: cold snap. Gosh - doesn't time fly! Good that someone's keeping notes.