On my recent visit to Poland, I just caught the back end of a very unusual festival. The Dwarf Festival. Most interesting is the background, because it started out as a political movement. The Orange Alternative was formed in 1982 in Wroclaw with the aim of fighting martial law in Poland and opposing the communist regime.
Orange Alternative aimed to show the citizens ways of opposition without being in danger of arrest by using absurd or nonsensical elements. Dwarves became the ‘face’ of the movement so to speak and appeared in over 1000 graffiti all over the city.
The dwarves motive continues today although the political background in no longer relevant. Bronze statues of dwarves greet you at every turn along the beautiful Market Square in Worclaw.
Tourist attractions and entertainment are the purpose of the modern day dwarf movement, culminating in the Dwarf Festival which is each year celebrated in Wroclaw from 11th to 13th September. For the full program please consult Visit Poland Dwarf Festival.
On the 18th and 19th, kids are the ‘kings’ of the dwarf festival , dressing up and going on treasure hunts, visiting a dwarf village in the City Garden or attending workshops and cooking classes.
The festival opens with a Grand Parade at 10am on the 11st which starts in Market Square. Many activities take place in the City Garden, including puppet theatre and a spectacle “What dwarfs have for breakfast”.
Fall is a very nice time of year to visit Wroclaw and Lower Sllesia anyway because of the many woods with their turning leaves. Why not combine a trip to this still unspoilt area with a delightful festival, especially if you have kids.
When in Wroclaw, you may want to stay at the Best Western Hotel, a mere 200m from Market Square and only 700m from the outstanding Ostrow Tumski, one of the most famous of Wroclaw’s over 100 bridges spanning the river Odra. It’s centrally located, well appointed and you even get free use of a sauna and fitness center. Bars, Cafes and restaurants galore are nearby as are shops and boutiques, something for every visitor’s taste.
If like me during the last week, you are on a hectic travel schedule, with short nights and early starts, covering miles and miles of wonderful sights by coach and, of course, on foot, then there comes a moment, when your abused body says:” stop, this is it. Either you give me a rest and a nice pampering or I’ll pack in and you can see how you continue on your travel with locked limbs and feet which refuse to move.”
As luck would have it and even before my poor, tired body could issue a warning, I found myself in Jelenia Gora and close to the delightful Health Resort and Spa of Cieplice. On that day of the trip, our group of international travel journalists, in Poland by invitation of the Polish Office of Tourism, were given a choice to either go visit the Wang Church in Karpac, up in the Karkonosze Mountains or, the Cieplice Spa and health Resort.
As far as I was concerned, it was a no brainer. I packed my swim suit, flip flops and towel and headed, together with four other tired souls, to the spa.
There are actually two complexes side y side, the health resort and the spa.What both have in common is the fact that Cieplice is blessed with the hottest thermal springs and water in all of Poland, reaching natural temperatures of almost 90o. It’s not only the heat but also other healing components of the springs, which have made this place a famous spa for almost 750 years.
Known as Bad Warmbrunn when Lower Silesia was German, the spa has seen its fair share of celebrities, among them Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, royalty, politicians and thousands upon thousands of visitors seeking health, pain relief and relaxation.
What I craved was a good, long swim, sauna and steam room, that’s why I opted for the bath. It’s a new structure which features several huge indoor pools with sections for fast swimmers and kids, outdoor pool, seam room, ice room, sauna, relaxation rooms, heated stone lounges, massage rooms and a delightful cafeteria on the first floor which allows you to view the activities below.
I needn’t have bothered with flip flops and towel, they are provided with your admission fees which, like everything else in Poland, are very reasonable. We, as guest of the Tourist Office, got in for free.
What caught my attention, was the ice room, something I had never seen before. It’s the opposite of a sauna with temperatures below zero, meant to be used, briefly , in the summer and/or alternating with the sauna. I have to admit, I didn’t step inside, I wanted rest and relaxation, not a heart attack !
The latest technology applies, the water is filtered through huge tanks of sand, then treated with UV light and only a minimum of chloride is used and only if needed. The ‘underground’ of the spa looks in fact like a brewery.
Art and music are omnipresent in Poland, and the spa is no exception. In the summer, it’s a venue for rock concerts. The bands perform on a platform near the our door pool and the spectators enjoy the music, lounging in thermal water. I would have loved to experience that, but was happy with feeling renewed, pain free and relaxed after the visit, ready for the next travel adventure.
Day three of our press trip to Lower Silesia in Poland, organized by the Polish Office of Tourism, brought our merry group of very international travel journalists to Jelenia Gora in the Karkonosze mountains.
Surprise, surprise, our tour guide de luxe turned out to be the Mayor himself. Quite an honor. Naturally, he knows his city inside out but in addition was very charming and witty and full of anecdotes.
Jelenia Gora goes back to 1108 when Polish duke Boleslaus III founded a fortified settlement in a valley among the mountains. As legend has it, he followed a magnificent deer which stopped right at the place where he decided to create the settlement which why is why the animal figures in the coat of arms of the city and carved and sculpted into many walls of the historical buildings around the market square.
Naturally, him being the mayor, our first stop was the 18th century town hall and the Castle Gate Tower which marks one end of the market square. Jelenia Gora is remarkable for three things: 1) bicycles including such events as the 5th World University Cycling Championship in 2014 and the yearly MTB Race of the Bike Parade. 2) hot thermal springs of the Cieplice Baths which I will talk about later and 3) as the root of street theatre, as documented in the iron sculpture of a stilt walker, embedded in a wall of the Town Hall and, according to the mayor, the most photographed item of Jelenia Gora.
We followed him happily along the cobble stoned streets, past the now obsolete street car which serves as a souvenir kiosk and tourist information center to the 15th century Basilica dedicated to Saints Erasmus and Pancras. Again, a richly decorated interior draws the eye.
The mountain are the seat of many legends, among them the one of the giant Ruebezahl and we were all delighted to see stalls along the street, selling carvings of the giant and his dwarf as well as cozy slippers and other cuddly things.
And then we walked along Maja Street to the Orthodox church of the Apostles Peter and Paul which was originally a catholic chapel dedicated to the virgin Mary but was in 1948 given to the orthodox parish of Jelena Gora. The church is usually closed, but the mayor summoned the orthodox priest, surprisingly attired in jeans and a shirt, his hair in a pony tail, who produced a huge iron key and opened up for us, telling us all about the history. A real treat.
We had had an early lunch in the glass museum of Karkonosze, so after many thanks and mutual good wished, we parted company with our illustrious host and proceed to a relaxing afternoon in the famous spa and thermal baths of Cieplice.
This is a very modern complex with indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, steam room and even an ice room, health and beauty treatments, massages and a small café. In the summer this is the venue for rock concerts where the audience can sit and watch in thermal water.
Being nosy, I was able to persuade the very friendly guy at reception, to take me on a tour underground. This spa used the latest methods and technology, the water is cleaned by running through sand and being treated with ultra violet light and only a minimum of chlorine is added to avoid chemicals as much a possible and also to spare the noses of the users the rather unpleasant smell so often associated with pools and baths.
A delightful day with a very relaxing end, preparing us for check in and a sumptuous dinner in the Paulinum Palace Hotel and a very early start next morning.
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