My new years resolution is to learn a little of the Polish language. Why? Because the culture, food and language of Poland, has pretty much intrigued me as soon as I stepped off the plane in Krakow. But this post is not about Krakow, but rather, it is about somewhere a little further south – in the Tatra Mountains and a delightful walk I took through a town called Zakopane.
It has been well over a year since I walked through Zakopane, in Poland. Yet the memory of that day still haunts me in the very best way. [And I am still learning Polish.]
Zakopane is a town in Southern Poland, about a two hour drive from Krakow, lying close to the Slovakian border, in the Tatra Mountain range. Communication between Zakopane and other towns was difficult for many years due to the mountainous terrain, and so the locals developed their own dialects, songs, architecture and traditions.
If you are a fan of gabled timber architecture, you’ll have come to the right place. Come and walk with me down the main street of Zakopane.
If you are too tired to walk, there is always a horse and wagon option that will take you to the Funicular station.
Cafes in Zakopane feature seating carved with traditional designs from Lower Silesia.
I found plenty of things to tempt me to open my purse in Zakopane and prices a pleasant surprise.
If you didn’t want trinkets, you can always try some of the delicious local foods from the many street vendors along the way. A specialty in this region is Sheep’s cheese.
If you have ever tasted Haloumi cheese, the Sheep’s cheese has a similar texture, but also a delicate smoky flavour. So very delicious. I could eat it every day if I could. Yum!
One attraction that everyone comes to see in Trondheim, Norway, is Nidaros Cathedral and yet it is the nearby Værnes church in Storjdal that, for me, holds more fascination, at least in a historical sense.
Not only does the Værnes Church have a purpose-built ‘Weapons House,’ that dates back to Viking times, but you get to see Viking age architecture in regular daily use and see some of Scandinavia’s earliest church frescoes.
In the 11th Century, any self respecting, newly Christianized, Viking carried with them a range of knives, axes and other paraphernalia used in defence, and weapons such as these were banned from Church. When the Priest really wanted the new Christians to attend Church, he had to provide a purpose built structure to safely lock up any instruments of death. And so the Weapons House was built. Ten centuries on, I believe the ‘House,’ now accommodates nothing more deadly than a garden hoe or lawn cutter. [Watch out for your toes].
The interior of the church takes the visitor straight back to the 11th Century and is every bit as unique as the Weapon House. The roof trusses, pictured below, span 11 metres and are completely original. This is Viking carpentry at its finest and it is the only original roof of its type, still in existence. Notably, the trusses were used as a design template in reconstructing the roof of Nidaros cathedral and Håkonshall in Bergen.
What you see above you, at Værnes, is what a Viking saw ten centuries ago.
A raised and carved chair (c 1685), see above, was constructed as the private pew of General Von Schultz, the local Squire. It makes me slightly recoil to tell you this but, the wooden lattice ‘cage’ below was for the wives to sit, ( either Von Schultz or the Pastor’s wife. It is embarrassingly even referred to as a ‘wife’s cage.’ Awful, I know, but that is history.
Faces carved into the interior of this elevated chair are thought to depict the face of Von Schultz, but no one is quite sure of that. To me, some of them more resembled a gargoyle or the “north wind.”
The wall mural pre-dates the carved pulpit and is also original. Echoes of a world now past.
A fresco on the wall that looks like a hood from a pulpit remains a mystery to historians. The meaning and significance of this symbol has been lost.
Threatened by the Nazis during the war years, with their intensive infrastructure plans for a military base and airport, at Trondheim, Værnes Church survived and is still used for church services today. In fact, the church is so popular for baptisms and weddings, it is booked out many months and sometimes, years in advance.
Make a small detour from Værnes Lufthavn, (Trondheim airport), to Stjørdal, in Norway and you can walk the path of history.
Værnes Kirke is an important link to the past and something to ponder about. Linking to Jo’s Monday Walks – a tad earlier
Røros Church in Norway – its reputation preceded it and my only chance to visit was offered to me when I was in Trondheim, Norway. Of course, I leapt at the chance. Walking through a living World Heritage Site, is not something one gets to do every day. Built during Norway’s golden age of copper mining, the church in Røros dates back to 1780 and is nestled amongst classical Norwegian village architecture.
Initially the church was closed and locked when I arrived, but my intrepid Norwegian friend was not to be deterred and energetically sought out a nearby caretaker who lived in one of the neighbouring wooden homes, who was then kind enough to open the church and give the “Australian,’ a short tour.
This was greatly appreciated.
The guide told us the church has been extensively renovated and restored in recent years, as it frequently plays host to popular concert series and services, often attended by the Norwegian Royals. Isn’t it stunning?
Røros is a town high up in Eastern Norway, not far from the Swedish border. Dotted with historic wooden houses and the large copper mine turned museum, the copper mine flourished from 1644 right up until 1977.
The mine is now a museum and the town’s Instagram-worthy architecture has been reincarnated as home to a range of craft artisans, gourmet food purveyors selling their local products, such as cheese and flatbread, in Instagram- worthy shops, as well as boutique objects popular with tourists. The walk along the main street is a delight.
The working life of the town’s citizens in the past was never easy, being as it was, a mining frontier town set high in the mountains on the border of Sweden. Conditions in the mines were neither comfortable nor healthy, it seems and the citizens a resilient lot, coping with difficult work and the threat of marauding Swedes over the border. You can re-live a little more of their history and life in the extensive displays at the museum, located at the mine’s site.
[Note: Signs were in English.]
Contrastingly, modern day Røros is peaceful quiet and colourful. The old wooden houses are beautifully maintained and the town continues to be a World Heritage Site in which people actually work and live out their daily lives.
Every February, the town hosts an annual Winter festival. I imagine there would be quite a different colour on the ground this time of year than when I completed my walk in early Summer.
Røros is also a place that tries to re-invented itself from its mining past by being sustainable and enjoyable for visitors. They try to preserve local nature, culture and environment, and tourists love it. I wrote more on a prior post about the history of Røros and its Mining Museum.
Something other regional towns might ponder about.
So there I was, walking about in Helsinki, [read previous post here] when I discovered what delighted me the most about this city was the many fantastic things you can see on foot, without spending much at all.
Having just eaten a ‘larger than life’ Cinnamon bun, at the iconic Cafe Esplanadi, opposite the park on Pohjois-Esplanadi, followed by another – yes, another, salmon lunch at the Market Hall, (read more about Helsinki food options here), I set off through Helsinki’s streets to burn off some calories.
My walking path through the city took me to the iconic Senate Square and the very impressive and landmark that is Tuomiokirkko. This Lutheran cathedral, built in neoclassical style, in 1830-1852, was originally a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, who through the imperialist era, was also the Grand Duke of Finland. It is a must see!
This church is also a very useful navigational mark for any tourist, dominating the city’s skyline as it does, from every angle, as you can see below.
The cathedral is decorated in spartan Lutheran style, quite different from the next stop on my walk:
Walking easterly from the market square, I didn’t stop to buy paella, berries, reindeer meatballs or furs at the many market stalls, but continued in the direction of Katajanokka peninsula and Uspenski Cathedral, a red brick orthodox church with gilded ‘cupola’ style towers. It is a good stretch for the calf muscles getting up the steep path to the church itself, [definitely not wheelchair friendly], but the view from there does make it all worthwhile.
If you are thinking, ho hum… another church… think again, as it is the largest orthodox church outside of Russia. Much more ornate than the Lutheran cathedral, the cupola domes were even gilded in gold for the church’s anniversary and are often illuminated at night.
If you are a fan of Russian style icon art, Uspenski is a great place to visit. Just don’t expect to see the famous icon of ‘St.Nicholas – the wonder maker’, which was stolen from there in broad daylight, back in 2007, and has yet to be found. It’s free for visitors to enter the church and also handy to know that they do allow photography inside.
I could also chat about walking past various Marimekko outlets and seeing unique Finnish clothing design at Stockmans retail centre, or the fact that 60% of the world’s ice breakers are built in Helsinki, but it was the Helsinki architecture, located behind Uspenski, that really garnered my attention.
I saw so many wondrous examples of Art Nouveau buildings, with ‘Jugenstil’ detailing, often coloured in the soft pastels, so popular in that era.
“Can you imagine what it is like to live in one of those buildings?” I say to my Finnish friends. I doubt I’ll ever know, as they proceed to tell me it is actually very expensive real estate. Furthermore, I noted that security grills and pin – codes to enter the doors are, no doubt, a more contemporary addition.
Suomenlinna UNESCO World Heritage Site
My walk, continued following a short ferry ride, across the Helsinki archipelago, to Suomenlinna – (formerly known as Sveaborg): a military fortress dating back to 1748. Due to its strategic position between three nations, this fortress served not just the Russian Military, but also the Sweden government of the day, (hence the name Sveaborg), and in later times, an independent Finland. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991, and one can make their way around the many cobble stoned roads, walls and tunnels, on foot.
There is no charge to visit the island, only the nominal fee for the ferry ride over there, unless you want to enter the museum, which I didn’t, as there was SO much to explore on foot.
Back on the mainland, I must tell you about another church I saw on my walk: the very unique Tempooliaukko, or Rock Church. The concept of a “Church in the Rock,” was first mooted as an competition for architects in the 1930’s, before WWII. Economic challenges meant plans to build the winning design were shelved until the 1950’s. It was finally opened in 1969.
Quarried out of the natural rock that one finds in Helsinki, the church provides excellent acoustics for all kinds of concerts and visitors may enter, anytime, unless there is a wedding ceremony taking place. I was lucky enough to arrive just as a wedding was concluding. As they exited the church, the bride and groom were congratulated by a larger group than they anticipated – applause from a host of tourists waiting outside! Heads up – they do ask for silence when you are inside the church, but photos are welcome!
However you find them, Finns do enjoy their summertime. My walk back to the hotel took me via a summer music festival, street musicians, and even some impromptu flea markets along the main street. I would like to have enjoyed a dinner at the beautiful Kappeli restaurant, but alas, it was Saturday night and the stern-faced maitre told me it was booked out!
I guess it will just be Something I’ll Ponder About
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Ornate.”
A visual feast for the eyes?
Some may say it is overworked, a sensory overload, yet in historic or religious terms, one can see that the designers wanted to transform material objects, into something ornate in such a way as to exemplify glory, or divinity, with a fantasy of shapes, colours, and golden embellishments, for the congregation and secular visitors for many generations, to enjoy.