Friday, August 2, 2013

North Poland: Augustow channels, Suprasl Lavra, Bialystok Branicki Estate.

Friday, August 2, 2013
This is a short account of my day trip to North Poland. The region I went to has changed many owners throughout its long history and today it is included in Republic of Poland. I booked a tour with a travel company from Vilnius just to get to those places quickly and cheaply to see if it's worth coming back for a longer stay. I was really impressed with the sights, really disappointed with the tour company and will definitely come back to Bialystok.

Our first stop was in a town called Augustow. Legend says it got its name from King Sigismund Augustus when he met the woman of his life, Barbora Radvilaite, here but actually this is only a legend, the star-crossed couple met elsewhere. For a reason unknown to us, we arrived 45 min prior to the boarding time. If you are in Paris or Rome, it's undoubtedly an advantage but in a small town like this we couldn't wander far and we felt rather trapped.

Me near the boat we took. 
We took a ride on Augustow channels-a candidate to UNESCO- by the same boat that late Pope John Paul II did in 1999. The boat was big and spacious, they had a small bar downstairs for tea, coffee, ice-cream and cold beer, the music we listened to was world classics-a highly recommended tour. The channels themselves were born when Prussia that controlled ways in historic days taxed highly on crop transport, so Russia decided to dig channels and transport goods by water to avoid this unreasonable tax. Today the only functioning part of the channels is shared by Poland and Belarus (yes, visa is required to go to Belarus).

The port of Augustow. 
Channel stop. 
Sometimes the boat is stopped in a narrow channel and two gates -in front of the boat and at the back- are closed. This is because the level of the lake the boat is to enter is higher than in the one it is about to leave, so extra water is filled in the closed part of the channel to lift the boat to the right level.

We arrived in Studzieniczna in about 1 hour and 20 min. We disembarked while the favourite song of late Pope John Paul II, "Barka", was on. The trip can be done as a round-trip but we had a different itinerary. This small island is one of several places in Poland to have Virgin Mary appear to the people and there is a small chapel built for this purpose. There also is a well with healing water and a statue of John Paul II right in the spot he disembarked in 1999.

Rosaries in the hand of John Paul II. 
Another highlight of the island is a church that is decorated with animal horns.

This one belonged to a moose, I think. 
Then we got on the bus and rode to another stop on the itinerary-Suprasl Lavra and icon museum. Visiting them is a challenge because the Lavra is a working monastery and you visit on the allowed time  and the icon museum has limited information on the Internet in general, I am inclined to think it's guided tour only.

Suprasl Lavra
The history of the site dates back to the XVIth century. It shared the fate of the region by changing many owners and during World War II the Germans blew it up. Soviets had an institute of agriculture installed in some of the remaining buildings. What you can see today is built back based on iconographic material. The fate of the original icon of Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Smolensk later known as Our Lady of Suprasl remains unknown to this day. The church itself inside is very beautiful, decorated with the gifts from many Russian Orthodox countries. The work of restoration is ongoing.

And finally the long-awaited Branicki estate. It was built by a husband to Isabelle Elizabeth Poniatowska, a sister to the future King of Commonwealth of Two Countries. The lady of this rank enjoyed arts and charity, the palace was very beautifully decorated and enjoyed many royal guests. Unfortunately, World War II left only part of the estate. Today it is reconstructed and hosts the University of Medicine. Gardens are open to public free of charge.

Branicki estate and French gardens. 

Beautiful gardens. 
I was really impressed by Bialystok and it's a pity we were only allowed a short time there. Our drivers kept hurrying us because there's one hour difference between the countries and they have to check-in the bus at the garage in time. Beats me why, but it's always about the bus drivers being home on time and not about the paying tourists to see the sights. Fortunately, there is a bus and a train to Bialystok from Vilnius.

Have you been to any of these places?

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