Spring Break 2010!  This year, we decided to go east and visit Poland. We were a little concerned, since the day before we left there was a tragic plane crash which killed the Polish President, his wife, and a significant number of the top government and military officials of Poland. Still, we’d made all the reservations already, so we packed up the car and headed east.The weather had been nice in Germany, but today was colder and rainy, and got grayer as we headed toward Poland.  It was an uneventful 6 hour drive to our first stop, the Blue Beetroot in Łaziska, Poland.

The Blue Beetroot is a neat little bed and breakfast; it’s in a restored 18th century barn in a little Polish town.  The legend is that in the 1790s, the fields of Lower Silesia near Bolesławiec were all planted with beetroots.  One of the most popular uses for the beetroot was making moonshine, which was secretly brewed in the cellars of the barn.  The owners are a British couple; Barbara ran an antique store in England and came across the barn on one of her visits to Poland to purchase pottery.  She purchased the barn and she and her husband relocated to Poland to create one of the most unique inns I’ve ever seen.

I have to say, these people have a tremendous talent for what they do.  Besides the fact of someone seeing an old barn and thinking, “Wow, that would make a nice bed and breakfast,” this is one of the few places we have ever stayed anywhere that obviously “gets it” on giving information to people (at least people like me).  They have a book in the room (in English, German, and Polish) with information on the inn, on things to do around the area, on how to say a few words in Polish…and the next morning when we were leaving, Jarek (the manager) printed out a several page guide for us on the shops in the area.  The large draw for the area around Bolesławiec is the Polish pottery made from the white clay in the area, so there are lots of factories and stores for Polish pottery.  There are also a couple of famous artists in the area.  The guide Jarek gave us had a strip map of the area and a list of the shops with addresses, information on how to get there, whether the shop had parking, bathrooms, what languages they spoke, whether they took credit cards, Euros, dollars, or only Polish zloty, and oh yes, how to get to the Tesco–24 hour supermarket where they have an ATM.

It was raining when we arrived, and we’d been driving all day, so we didn’t do much but make ourselves comfortable and then go downstairs to the Blue Beetroot restaurant to eat.  Yes, the food was good, too.  Rebecca and I had Polish goulash which was really delicious.  I recommend the Polish specialties from the menu.  I had halibut the next night, and it was okay, but not nearly as good as the goulash, or the pierogi that Roy had.

In the morning, we had breakfast at the hotel (it costs a little extra, but is a good continental breakfast–European continental, not a stale donut and coffee like in the U.S.–and you can get eggs or an English breakfast for a small extra charge).  We went to the Tesco to get some zloty, and then to one of the Polish pottery stores.  This one was the Manufaktura sklep (shop) next to the factory.  We went there first because you can get a tour of the factory (cost is 5 zloty for adults–a little less than $3).  The tour was one of my favorite things from the entire trip.

springbreak_poland004It doesn’t look like much, just some yellow frame buildings, but inside there is a lot going on.  First we saw a guy taking raw clay and putting it on a turning machine to make plates.  The guide told us he was learning, but that their experienced person made a thousand plates a day!  The pieces get put on a rolling rack to dry and then there are several ladies who clean the pieces before they go to the first firing.  We got to touch some of the pieces waiting to be painted after the first firing.  Then we went into the area where they decorate the pieces.  The guide said they have about 70 artists working there.  They have a couple who do handspringbreak_poland005-painted designs, but most of them use stamps to create the patterns.  They used to use potatoes and roots, but now the stamps are foam.  There was one lady with a little brush who was making thousands of tiny little dots on the pottery pieces.  The guide asked Rebecca if she wanted to try, and then proceeded to take a plate off one of the racks, set Rebecca up in a seat next to one of the workers, and give her some stamps and paint.  We even got to take the plate with us.  She told me to spray the plate with hairspray to keep the decoration on.  The bottom of each piece is stamped with the factory mark, and the artist writes his/her name.

The next step after decoration is glazing and then the second firing.  Interestingly, when the pottery is dipped in the glaze, you can no longer see the decoration–it looks blank again.  Only after the glazing does the decoration show through.  Another interesting bit was that the traditional blue color is not blue when it’s first painted on; it’s sort of a purplish pink.  The second firing makes the color turn blue and also gives the clay the white appearance.  The last thing, of course, is the packing and shipping.  According to the guide, 75% or more of the pottery goes to the U.S.

It was very interesting to see.  We went to a few other sklepy (shops), but we liked that one the best.  We even stopped by on our way back to get a few pieces of pottery for ourselves–and while we were waiting for Roy to pay and bring the stuff to the car, the lady who had given us the tour came outside and gave Rebecca a little frog figurine.

Bolesławiec does have a few other things besides pottery.  There is a famous glass blowing artist in the area, so we went by Studio Borowski to take a look at the glass blowing workshop.  It was interesting to watch, but the lady who took us back to the workshop didn’t speak English, so we weren’t sure of everything they were doing.

We spent the afternoon looking around Bolesławiec.  The town dates back to the 1200s and has some beautiful buildings interspersed with the shops and some other buildings that look like they are from the GDR era.  The sun came out and it was a nice afternoon.

The next day, we left the lovely Blue Beetroot for Kraków.  Before leaving Silesia, we detoured to visit Grodziec Castle (Zamek Grodziec).  Grodziec Castle dates back to the 12th century and was the residence of dukes and knights through at least the mid-1600s, when it was burned during the Thirty Years’ War.  There were efforts toward rebuilding in the 17th and 18th centuries, and further reconstruction efforts in the early 1900s.  Today the castle is partially in ruins, but it’s open for tourist excursions, and they also schedule events there–medieval tournaments or even weddings.  Apparently you can even stay there in some of the reconstructed castle rooms.

It was a gorgeous morning, so we had a great view driving to the castle.  However, the road to this tourist attraction isn’t what Americans would expect.  Getting there was quite interesting–we did find it, but going up the mountain is a very narrow, twisty, bumpy road (with no guardrails).  On our way up, we came on a “no entry” sign in the road.  There was nowhere else to go, so we had to go on through.  Sure enough, that was the rest of the road to the castle.  I think now maybe we were actually too early and they hadn’t really opened yet, because there was only one other couple there (and they were German).  The guy who took our money from the tickets opened up the Kasa for us, but he didn’t speak English.  He sort of pointed around the area, so we just looked around.  The courtyard looks pretty authentic ( there’s a bunch of stuff piled in it), and there were several very tame cats hanging around.  You can go up a stone spiral staircase and go through the tunnels in the outer walls–interesting, but very dark!  Really nice views of the surrounding area, though.

We had a long drive ahead that day, so we only spent about an hour looking around and then made our way back down the windy little road and on toward Kraków.

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