Z is for Zgorzelec and Zakopane

I expect some of you have heard of Zakopane, in the Tatry Mountains in Poland?  Zgorzelec, maybe not, but it is a town of great significance for me.  It’s the home of my Uncle Włodek, whom I was lucky enough to visit this Summer.

River Neisse links the twin towns of Zgorzelec and Gorlitz

Until 1945 Zgorzelec and Görlitz were one town, with a shared history.  Görlitz (or Gorlice, as it was then known) was founded in 1354 by German settlers.  In the 13th century it became rich due to its location on the Via Regia.  This former trade route is one of the oldest in Europe, and reached from Kiev to Santiago de Compostela.  The town became a cultural centre, led by mystic and theologian Jakob Böhme, who inspired progressive thinkers like Goethe.

I don’t pretend to understand the complications involved, but the town has since been part of Bohemia, Saxony and Silesia.  At the end of World War 2, which scattered families like my Dad’s far and wide, the Rivers Neisse and Oder were established as the border between Poland and East Germany, and the town was split apart.   The German part retained the name Görlitz, and the Polish part became Zgorzelec.

Riverside cafe in Zgorzelec

Riverside cafe in Zgorzelec

Peterskirche across the river in Gorlitz

I have to admit to a degree of fascination with this divided town, and I had never before set foot in Germany, so I was delighted when a visit to uncle’s home presented me with the opportunity.  I didn’t really know what to expect as I approached the Old Town Bridge.  Certainly not the 5-tier grain elevator, emblazoned with the effigy of a face and palm.  It was designed to represent an Artistic Image of a United Europe.

The grain elevator with its symbol of unity

The elevator and St. Peter and Pauls

The bridge itself was blown up by the retreating Germans in 1945, but has been replaced with a modern steel structure, reuniting the towns.  Peterskirche, or the church of St. Peter and Paul, is a mighty building, dating from 1230.  It is famous for its sun organ, depicting 18 suns among its pipes.

Old Town bridge and Zgorzelec, seen from St. Peter’s

The atmosphere changes completely as you step off the bridge into the cobbled streets of Görlitz, and are at once in “Bavaria” as I had always imagined it.  I pause to pick up a street map and my ears struggle with the unfamiliar sound of the German language.  A street festival is in full swing, complete with oompah music.  You can get a flavour of it from Collectibles, which I wrote for Jakesprinter’s Sunday Post.

Don’t you love the pastel colours?

And the eyes in the roof!

Such pretty architecture

In such wonderful shades

A sunny shopper’s paradise

But what a strange place to have a bath!

In any event, Görlitz was a delightful place to spend a few hours, and there was more to see, but the main purpose of my visit was to see my uncle.  Włodek’s wife Janina died just a few months ago, and it was the first time he had “entertained” on his own.  He could not do enough for us, and was proud to show off his domestic skills.  These included his homemade sour cherry jam, putting me to shame.

Dad (left) and Uncle

The famous jam, niece Basia, Dad, me, cousin Wojtek and his wife Agnieszka

After all that, Zakopane may seem like an anticlimax, but it definitely wasn’t.  I was there in September 2009 for the occasion of my cousin Adam’s Silver Wedding celebration.  Sadly I don’t have many photos to share.  You’ve guessed it!  I was too busy eating, drinking and dancing my legs off.

Zakopane at night, from Wikipedia Commons

Zakopane is known primarily as a ski resort but is extensively used as a hiking centre in the Summer too.  Just 20 kms south of Krakow, it sits in an area of national park and outstanding natural beauty.

I was there before the snows had arrived, but was happy to take the funicular railway zooming 1388 metres up Mt. Gubalowka for the panoramic views.  The top of the mountain is one enormous playground.  There are a variety of stalls selling woolly mittens, socks and hats, all in a riot of colours.  Smokey mountain grilled cheese can be washed down with grzane wino, heady local mulled wine.  Sideshows attract the young at heart, who can also whizz down the slope on a metal toboggan ride.  Adventurous types teeter in the trees on an aerial wire.  And all to a background of spectacular beauty.

If you’re interested my guide on http://www.simonseeks.com/travel-guides/zakopane-fun-snow__118121 will give you a more complete picture.  I’ll focus here on family.

Adam, wife Marta and a neighbour at the Silver Wedding celebration

The church in Poronin where their wedding vows were reconsecrated

Dangling among the trees (no, not me!)

Michael, me, Adam, and Lynne and George, who came all the way from Canada

So that’s me at the tail end of my personal alphabet of Poland.  Of course, I have a few gaps to fill in, but Julie Dawn Fox, whose idea this A-Z challenge is, doesn’t seem to mind.  And my lovely friend, Frizz, knows much more about Germany than I ever will.  The ZZZ Challenge is up this week so check that out too!  Click on the links or the banner below for more information.


  1. I enjoyed re-visiting Zakopane via your post, Jo. Oh to have relative there who one could visit. It is such a delightful place summer or winter. Loved the funicular too and the stalls were there on my visit but I missed the zipline. I would totally have done it if I had the time. And that smoky mountain cheese is to die for. A reason to go back one day.
    As for Gorlitz – those eyes on the roof would be the reason to visit there. Fabulous Silesian/Saxon architecture you have shown here.


    1. Hi Amanda 🙂 🙂 Good to have you here. i don’t know if, or when, I’ll ever visit Poland again, more’s the pity. t was an amazing interlude in my life.


      1. You must not think that Jo. It is not far by land from Portugal. Closer than me at least.
        Is the correct nane Tathry mountains? I thought it was Tatra or Tathra.


  2. What a lovely post. I’m so pleased you gave me the link and it helped flesh out my trip to Gorlitz. I was quite ill on that trip and my eyes went a bit funny because all my photographs were tilted at a quite alarming angle and when straightened they all lost something, usually the top bit! I wish I’d had time to visit the Polish side but we were on a Press Trip and the Germans (dare I say it) keep to such a tight schedule that there was absolutely no ‘down-time’.


  3. Your Polish family are lovely Johanna! You’re really lucky, I have gazillions of family in Nigeria, but it’s impossible to visit, I doubt I’ll ever go back.


    1. I didn’t realise that, Gilly. I suppose the novelty has worn off with mine and I get a bit overwhelmed with it all. It’s a responsibility I hadn’t planned for, but you’re right. I’m very lucky 🙂


  4. This looks very “Bavarian” Jo. And it’s interesting that you could smell the cheese being smoked. We’ll definitely return to Poland, and your posts will provide lots of ideas. ~Jmaes


  5. Hello Johanna 🙂 I really like this post of Zakopane. It feels nice to visit one’s roots. The first photo in the series has a special feel to it with the greyish clouds providing a natural arch above the church – just lovely, and the photo of bathing statues is quite original and entertaining. I am glad you had a great time. See you soon, I hope. Paula


      1. 😀 Are you psychic? They are already up in my lazy girl chair 🙂 Will you be posting for this week’s photo challenge? I am looking forward to it…..


      2. If I can find something for the subject, whatever it might be. I’m doing Six word Saturday first- photos lined up ready.
        Here’s to a glass of red later. Or you may be a white wine girl.


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