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Tales of an ancient forest deep on the border of Poland and Belarus ping across my consciousness like a tiny flight recorder begging to be found. Maybe just a faint sound here, then years later another pulse, reminding me of its existence.

 

And now I can no longer ignore it. I don’t know why the thought of visiting this place strikes such a cord with me; why the minute my husband brings up the idea of heading there that I immediately say “Yes!” In truth I know very little about it or why I want to go there, but I do.

Primeval forest in Poland

The ancient forest of Białoweiża, Poland. Once annexed by Russia for the tsar’s exclusive use.

Being 34% Polish (I know this from a recent ancestry DNA test) I like the idea of seeing Poland as part of my summer vacation. Our lineup for this trip includes Warsaw, Białowieża and Krakow. And I’m most excited for this forest, one that is pretty much unheard of in the US, but has inspired songs in Russia and wistful, romantic remarks from Polish people whenever I say I’m visiting.

 

It’s a four-hour drive from Warsaw (eight from Krakow), which in May took us through brightly colored rapeseed fields of yellow, and intermittent rain showers. The roads are a combination of highway and one-lane, so if you’re planning on doing the drive get used to the daredevil passing that the Polish often do. Into oncoming traffic. I’m not hyperbolizing.

 

Juliana Dever in the salt cave of Hotel Zubrowska

I have no idea why I’m sitting in this salt cave exactly, but apparently I’m getting healthier by the moment.

We almost don’t realize we’ve pulled into Białowieża. It’s a very small rustic village on the edge of the forest. We checked into the Hotel Żubrówska, which has a new pool area including the hot/cold Scandinavian sauna situation and a spa center with a salt cave that we absolutely had to try. Though with the lack of signage in English we had exactly no idea why we were sitting in said salt cave; but we laid there anyway in our robes, soaking in the unknown benefits.

First There’s The Forest

Essentially, there are two different parts to the primeval forest. There is a park that is open to the general public. You can hang out all day in this park, just lolling about. There are also options to take carriage rides, bike on paths or hire guides to take you to “Beaver Kingdom” which sounds far more exotic than it might actually be. Though hey – I’ve never been to a Beaver Kingdom and frankly I’d like to see how these guys structure their little rodent paradise. I missed out on that this trip.

Wild garlic in the forest of Bialoweiza, Poland

Wild garlic blooms on the ancient forest floor.

The second part is the strict protection zone and can only be entered with a licensed guide. We chose this option so that we could see this last fragment of primeval European lowland forest. Through the centuries it has been occupied by peasants and hunting royalty alike, but now the hundreds-year old trees live out their lifespan untouched. They are never felled and when they die they fall over on their own, regardless of who is standing there. Which is why you need a guide with you to say reassuring things like “Ehhh, we better move along quickly” while you hear that ominous creaking sound somewhere nearby.

 

Juliana Dever in Bialowieza Forest

I’m a survivalist! For as long as I can eat these tiny garlic-flavored flowers, that is.

Sławomir, an experienced forester, took us on a three-hour trek through the protected area, naming every single tree and giving us a rough idea how old each of them were. He showed us how to find tiny radishes and wild garlic and now I’m confident that on a survival scale of one to five Seamus and I were about a two. Because eating wild garlic blooms can only last you so many days.

 

To get into the protected area you must first stop at the park. As we glance at beautiful old gatehouses and a modern building which is now a ticket office and hostel, Sławomir explains that this was where the tsar’s royal palace once stood, before it was burned in 1944 during the German evacuation of this area. This palace, built over six years and completed in 1894 for Tsar Alexander III and used often by Tsar Nicolas II and his family was suddenly the aha! moment for me.

Entrance to Bialowieza Park

The old gatehouse, built by Tsar Alexander III in the late 1800s. Why does it look so familiar??

You might remember that as a child I was obsessed with tragedy. I ALSO had an overactive imagination, and was fairly certain that I was in fact Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the Romanov family. Casting all reason, logical timeframes and obvious familial resemblances aside, I used to dream that I was former Russian royalty. I liked Mikhail Baryshnikov! I could read Cyrillic! I enjoy the occasional beet! These are all totally obvious signs of my long-lost lineage, right?

Immediately I am captivated with Białowieża. It’s so clear why I needed to come here. Because I used to spend my summers here back in the 1900’s! Duh.

 

And Then There’s The Food

In my head Polish food often falls into two categories: “hearty” and “meaty.” But I have to say wow; everywhere we ate in this town was really delicious and totally doable, even for a vegetarian.

Our last night we went to a restaurant called Carska. Thought by some to be a bit stuffy, the restaurant is set out a few minutes drive from town right next to two magical rails of history, and I loved it. Carska is housed in what was once the tsar’s train station next to the private railroad built for Alexander III and used by my real family the Romanovs for trips to the country in the early 1900s.

Bialoweiza train station

The tsar’s train station still stands, though the tracks are in decline, serving only as a memory of what once was.

Dining room of the Carska restaurant in Bialowieza, Poland

I love a good samovar. Carska restaurant made me feel like I was smack in the middle of a Chekov play.

The interior of this restaurant is all imperial Russian paradise. It’s like a set designer came in and threw up 1906. We stepped inside and instantly the high ceilings, fancy tablecloths and samovars transported us (me) to a bygone time. I start wondering if Rasputin had eaten here? He must’ve, right? Fortunately for me, Seamus appreciates Russian history as much as I do, and doesn’t give me too many strange looks as I savor my pelmeni, swept into my royal fantasy.

 

Białowieża is definitely a tranquil and beautiful place, and if you have the chance, it’s somewhere you should visit at least once. Except for me, because, you know, I’ve now visited twice. 😉

 

 

 

How to Spend a Royal Weekend in Poland

Sleep

For a hotel with great food and breakfasts included choose Hotel Żubrówka

Live like Russian royalty inside old train cars from the 20th century at Apartamenty Carskie

 

Eat

Żubrówka Restaurant – inside the hotel

Stoczek 1929 – on the main street

Carska – two minutes from town next to the tsar’s old railway line

 

Do

Private tour to the restricted area of the forest

Hang out in the park for some Owl and Birdwatching

Hire guides to take you to Beaver Kingdom

Enjoy the Wildlife and bison preserve for the animal lovers

 

Speak

It’s always a good idea to learn a little bit of the language wherever you go. Here are a few vital words in Polish to get you started:

hello = cześć

goodbye = do widzenia

please = proszę

thank you = dziękuję

 

 

 

 

Travel Pinterest - Clever Dever Wherever

Bialoweiza Primeval Forest | Visit Poland | Travel Poland | Polish Forest

Bialoweiza Primeval Forest | Visit Poland | Travel Poland | Where to Stay Poland | Polish Forest

 

Travel Pinterest - Clever Dever Wherever

Bialoweiza Primeval Forest | Visit Poland | Travel Poland | Polish Forest

 

 

Read More About Poland

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Most of Warsaw was destroyed in World War II. The Polish do not put up with destruction like that, so the citizens undertook a five-year restoration project immediately after the war to meticulously rebuild their beloved historic town. Though it looks like and feels as if...

About the Author

Hi. I’m Juliana Dever and according to science I have some sort of "exploration" gene. Embracing this compulsion, I spend a lot of time hurtling around the planet in metal tubes experiencing other cultures and writing humorous essays about it. Enjoy.

12 Comments

  1. Ashlyn / June 7, 2015 at 11:14 am /Reply

    Loving the blog and your humor! Also your photos are fabulous and beautiful. What do you shoot with?

    • Juliana Dever / June 9, 2015 at 1:35 pm /Reply

      Thanks Ashlyn, I use a Canon 6D. I typically use a 24-105mm lens, but I’m also playing around with this new 11-24mm lens.

  2. Destiny / June 8, 2015 at 5:30 pm /Reply

    I’m loving the blog so far. Your pictures are great. I have to add Poland on my list of places.

    • Juliana Dever / June 9, 2015 at 1:36 pm /Reply

      Thank you Destiny. Yes, you’ll have to add Poland, I had a wonderful time there.

  3. Andrea / June 9, 2015 at 12:35 pm /Reply

    Amazing! Greetings from Spain!

  4. Jana / June 9, 2015 at 2:28 pm /Reply

    i love your blog and all the Pictures you are share with us. I also love to travel.. next Month i will go to Vienna, can you recommend something for me?

    • Juliana Dever / June 11, 2015 at 9:37 pm /Reply

      Thank you Jana. I love Vienna, but I have to admit that this trip I was barely there. I came in late Friday and spent all day Saturday in Eurovision heaven. It’s a beautiful city and simply walking around is a pleasure.

      • Jana / June 12, 2015 at 11:59 am /Reply

        Thanks Juliana, i will try to see as much i can, because i´m only two Days in Vienna, Maybe i can share some Picture with you on Twitter!
        I know this isn´t the right Place, but i like to thank you from the Bottom of my Heart for this amazing, awesome and beautiful weekend in Dresden. I met you for the first Time and i would like to say that you are so beautiful and really nice and thanks for taking the Selfie with me…

  5. Marsha / June 9, 2015 at 6:10 pm /Reply

    Love this site. With your beautiful photos and colorful descriptions, I can share your adventures and visit unusual, exciting places with you. Thank you.

    • Juliana Dever / June 11, 2015 at 9:37 pm /Reply

      Thank you Marsha, I’m happy you’re here!

  6. Justin Wolf / July 5, 2015 at 12:56 pm /Reply

    I was in Poland October 2014. Gdansk, Warsaw and Krakow. I agree about the food, absolutely excellent in every city. The entire experience was better than I had hoped for. A completely amazing country. I am definitely going back!

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