Lublin is the epitome of a “quaint” European city. For a traveler seeking to get away from the hustle and bustle of larger cities like Warsaw or Kraków, Lublin makes for either an easy day trip or a relaxing weekend.
The first thing which struck me, after I stepped off the bus from Warsaw, was how modestly the city introduced itself: some clothing and fruit stalls. An ambiguously shaped castle looming on the other side of the street greeted me as I tugged my luggage along the uneven sidewalk. I crossed the street into a large parking lot and from there up the stairs to Lublin Castle.
The castle, which had been built for Casimir II in the 12th Century, had been turned into a prison in 1831 by the Tsar of Russia, and later used for political prisoners by the Nazis and Soviets until 1954. It was then reconstituted into a museum. Today it is possible to enter the castle grounds for free, with reasonably priced tickets for some permanent exhibitions.
I strode up to the ticket window.
“Proszę jeden bilet do kaplicy. (One ticket to the chapel, please.)” I asked.
“Najstępne wejście jest tylko o 17:00. (Next entry is at 5pm.)” the woman at the window replied.
Entry is limited to once an hour to a certain number of guests at a time. I checked my watch: 14:55.
“Nie ma już wolnych miejsc na 15:00? (There are no more spots available for 3pm?)”
“Niestety nie, ale pan może przyjśc jutro. (Unfortunately not, but you can come tomorrow.)”
“Ale jestem bardzo mały, i szczupły, jak pani widzi. Nie zajmuje tyle miejsca. (But I’m really small, and thin, as you can see. I don’t take up that much room.)” I said, outlining my silhouette with my hands.
“Słuchaj, (Listen,)” she whispered, drawing closer to the glass, “Wydam ci bilet na 13:00, ale możesz wejść teraz bez problemu. (I’ll sell you a ticket for 1pm, but you can enter now.)”
“Dziękuję bardzo! (Thank you very much!)”
“Ale szybko, bo masz pięc minut do wejścia! (But hurry, you have only five minutes before entry time!)” she warned as I pocketed the ticket.
The Holy Trinity Chapel was built at around the same time as Lublin Castle, however the treasures are the frescos which adorn the entirety of the interior of the chapel. They date from 1418 however were paved over around 1890. Our guide explained the intensive restoration process which lasted from 1899 to 1995. Indeed, when gazing upon the frescos, the meticulous effort involved in their uncovering is easy to appreciate.
From there I took a stroll through the beautifully preserved old town. I allowed myself to get lost among the winding cobblestone streets packed with cafes, restaurants, and bars on either side. On the right side of the lane I happened upon Magia, which, like the name, contained a magical inner garden and great food.
During the course of the day, I also ate at two other great restaurants on the square, which I will detail now since we are on the subject of food.
There is a traditional Jewish restaurant called Mandragora. Dishes are available both with and without with a splash of Polish influence. However, for the most mouthwatering, weight-gain inducing, traditional “Old Poland” (Staropolskie) style food, I wholeheartedly recommend Sielsko Anielsko.
After eating, I headed south out of the historical district through Trinity Tower (In Polish: Wieża Trynitarska), up which it is possible to ascend. I merely passed through, as the church – Archikatedra sw. Jana Chrzcicela i sw. Jana Ewangelisty – at the foot of the tower seemed more inspiring.
I escaped the beating sun by finding a shaded bench nearby. I attempted to apply some cheap suntan lotion; I only managed to turn my arms white.
“Jeżeli masz ramiona jak moje to nie potrzebujesz tego. (If you’ve got arms like mine you don’t need any of that.)” an older man threw in, showing off his indeed deeply tanned forearm.
“Staram się, żeby tak nie wyglądać. (I’m trying my best not to look like that.)” I joked, “Takie ostre słonce jest przyjemne, ale strasznie opala. Więc coś za coś. (Such hot sun is really pleasant, but you get burned easily, so it’s give and take.)”
“Tak, bardzo lubię lato. Teraz jestem spokojniejszy, ale kiedy byłem młody cały czas biegałem za laskami. (Yes, I always really enjoyed summer. I’m calmer now, but when I was younger, I spent all my time chasing girls.)”
“No, polskie lata są najlepsze. (Polish summers are the best.)” I agreed, “Długie dni, i długie nogi. (Long days and long legs.)”
The man laughed, and continued by asking the usual local meets foreigner type of questions. Where are you from, how long have you been in the country, what brought you to my town? After a while, I excused myself.
The man threw in a last word after wishing me well, “Przepraszam że wtrąciłem się, ale jest dobrze porozmawiać z młodzieza. (Sorry that I interrupted you but its nice to talk with young people once in a while.)”
My next stop was Majdanek. I boarded bus 153 from Głeboka street.
Majdanek, also known as KL Lublin, was a Nazi concentration camp, later turned extermination camp. I walked the stone paths, entering reconstructed buildings which contained plaques with information and pictures, videos with prisoner testimonies, and relics such as old uniforms or prisoners’ journals.
What could I possibly say about such a place that hasn’t already been said by those more knowledgeable and more poetic than I? I will only add that I personally felt Auschwitz (In Polish: Oświęcim) was a much more powerful and complete experience. While the grounds are expansive, and the monuments impressive, Majdanek has been more or less entirely rebuilt since 1945, forging a slightly sterile atmosphere. While certainly an informative visit, a visitor to Lublin who’s short on time should not feel pressured, especially if they have already been to or plan on one day going to Auschwitz.
I returned by the same bus to Krakowskie Przedmieście. There I spotted a bicycle cafe. I ordered an espresso and asked about the best ice cream in town. He pointed me to Bosko.
It’s hard to miss the place, as on a hot day the line goes out the door and wraps around when it meets the sidewalk.
I ended my day with some great pasta and a sandwich at Spinacz Cafe. Then I departed to the main train station for a two and a half hour train ride back to Warsaw, full of food and memories.