Using Lublin or Zamosc as a base to explore the Lublin plateau, one gets the chance to visit with ease a number of interesting picturesque towns and hamlets on day trips. Some remote locations require private transport since they are not linked directly to major towns by regular bus. Unless one does not have one’s own wheels, it is justifiably advisable to give these locations a miss since bus changing and waiting at stops or stations consume most of the time and obviously arriving late is tantamount to departing early. So concentrate only on towns that are reachable by direct bus in view of dedicating the day to sightseeing rather than to a lot of travelling.
One such town that can be visited by bus from Lublin with just a minimum of effort is Pulawy. Less than thirty miles northwest, Pulawy is one of those small towns that incorporates within its twenty-square-mile area a bit of everything: picturesque river banks (the Vistula cuts straight through the town before it resumes its north-bound course towards Warsaw), a baroque palace that embraces a fair share of architectural ornamentation and an equally fair share of works of art, a history and folklore museum housed within a Gothic brick building that is surprisingly intact after more than two centuries of existence, an exceptional church styled after the Pantheon in Rome but unfamiliar and out-of-the-ordinary in this part of Poland. To these captivating attractions, one has to add a thirty-hectare park complex that comes complete with an English-landscape garden, a rose garden, an arboretum and a tropical-plant greenhouse. Wandering around the park in an attempt to locate more eye-catching sights is time used effectively, maybe successfully as well, provided one keeps an eye out for hidden oddities one finds obscured among the trees or along the pathways.
Half-hourly PKS buses depart to Pulawy from the main bus terminal on Al Tysiaclecia in Lublin. Better are the private minibuses (operated by two competing bus companies: Expressbus and Halobus Express) that leave from the bus stop on Ul Ruska, west of the main bus terminal. Using a shorter route that does not go through Kazimierz Dolny, they are quicker (taking somewhat more than one hour to reach their final destination) and cheaper (6.5 zlotys). The arrival terminal in Pulawy is close to the centre on Ul Lubelska, right in front of the Kaufland department store.
Located just nine miles south of Pulawy on the eastern bank of the Vistula is the summer resort town of Kazimierz Dolny. Several PKS buses and private minibuses ply the route between the two towns, leaving from the main bus terminal in Pulawy on Ul Lubelska and arriving at the Kazimierz bus terminal, just off the central square where most of the attractions are at hand. So combining Pulawy with Kazimierz Dolny on the same-day excursion should pose no problems whatsoever, provided one has some hours left over after touring Pulawy.
Kazimierz centre is small and its prime attractions can be visited in only a couple of hours. If you’re after enjoying the place in an atmosphere of tranquillity and seclusion, avoid coming here on a weekend in summer when holidaymakers from Warsaw and beyond descend on the city like bees on a hive.
The Rynek obviously dominates the town with its rows of tightly-packed seventeenth-century arcaded houses that look as elegant and exquisite as those that surround the Old Town square in Zamosc. Although neither as grand nor as colourful, yet they embody features that are unique to Kazimierz. Have a close look at the jigsaw puzzle of wood tiles that cover most of their roofs and the curious-looking saintly bas-reliefs that decorate their facades. North of the central square on Ul Zamkowa stands the Gothic parish church. Its interior embraces a great deal of stucco decoration that looks delightful although at times verges on the gaudy. The highlight in the church is unquestionably the monumental organ, a seventeenth-century creation that sounds as great as it looks.
Southwest of the Rynek perched on a hill stands another place of worship. Its interior décor consists of a matchless hotchpotch of styles and so the building does not deserve a stopover. However, its imposing surroundings offer ideal look-out points over the entire town.
The streets in the neighbourhood of the Rynek, Ul Klasztorna and Ul Senatorska in particular are crammed with art galleries that offer for sale all imaginable works of art. Most are genuine handmade pieces produced by local artists. Buying a work of art is always a risk but here prices are so unbeatably low that one can rarely if ever go wrong. If you happen to be here on a Sunday, make sure to visit the outdoor market where the range of works of art is even wider, though the quality may not be as high.
Edging Kazimierz Dolny from the east is the Kazimierz Landscape Park, a dense green area of forest and deep steep-sided vales. Mooching around the park is time-consuming and demands an overnight stay, not a couple of hours. Before venturing into the park, make sure to buy a map that indicates the numerous walking trails inhabiting the area. Some trails twist and turn amidst the thick growth of the forest and along the valley sides and are not easy to navigate.
Bidding a heartfelt goodbye to Kazimierz is equivalent to buying and consuming (alas, you can’t take it back home with you) the town’s most popular speciality: a variety of homemade bread that comes in the shape of a rooster.
Almost on the Ukrainian border and only forty miles east of Lublin, Chelm is a medium-sized town that embraces enough attractions to fill up a day. The most outstanding attraction is the Gorka or as is officially known the Gora Katedralna. Climbing up this conspicuous mountain on foot is a feat of exertion that pays off at the top with a picturesque view of the Old Town square. The hill is crowned with a mighty (but rather mediocre) baroque basilica and a complex of monastery buildings that can be visited.
At the western foot of Gora Katedralna, a stone’s throw from Plac Luczkowskiego stands Chelm’s most spectacular place of worship, a twin-towered baroque church that dates back to the eighteenth century. Its interior walls and vaults are literally covered with trompe l’oeil paintings, colourful, gaudy and ostentatious but surprisingly compatible and fit for a church. The main altarpiece with a central painting of Our Lady of Chelm is a masterpiece of more ornamentation and artistic refinement.
Wandering around the streets of medieval Chelm north of Plac Luczkowskiego brings one face to face with lots of unpredictable old-world relics that were bequeathed to succeeding generations from the town’s pre-seventeenth-century age of prosperity. Don’t expect to find any grand monuments (all these were gone during Poland’s period of wars and decline) but keep an eye out for scores of unusual trivialities that prevail, in particular along Ul Krzywa and Ul Kopernika.
One Chelm attraction visitors should on no account miss out is the network of labyrinthine chalk tunnels that run under the city for more than a mile. While the sight in the passageways is not particularly spectacular, yet its uniqueness makes a visit worthwhile. Expect vast white walls of chalk, plain, brittle and chilly to the touch. The chalk mine can be visited on guided tour only at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm. Afraid of ghosts? Be wary of Duch Bieluch, the legendary ghost who appears here from time to time. Although I looked out demandingly for him while touring the mine, I didn’t catch the slightest glimpse of the phantom. All I saw was a man in costume dressed wittingly for the occasion.
Chelm is an easy eighty-minute bus ride away from Lublin. PKS buses run from the main bus terminal in Lublin every two hours throughout the day. More frequent (at least eighteen daily) are the Nikibus minibuses that leave from the Ul Ruska stop, west of the main bus terminal. The arrival terminal in Chelm is the Dworzec Autobusowy located at the corner of Ul Lwowska and Al Armii Krajowej, a short distance south of the centre.
Chelm is only fifteen miles west of Dorohusk, a small town on the Polish-Ukrainian border with no significant attractions. Travelling by car to Kovel (the first city of note in Ukraine) and maybe continuing to Kiev is not a thorny affair although border crossing in Yahodin on the Ukrainian side may be time-consuming. Currently no buses operate between Chelm and Ukraine but I was informed that a daily service is earmarked to start soon. So at the moment, unless one drives one’s way in, one can only get into Ukraine from Chelm by train. Both Warsaw-Kiev trains and Kiev-bound trains from Lublin call at Chelm Glowny. Being so close, why not get the taste of a new country before proceeding on your Polish tour?