Day 08: Looooo-bleen to Zamosc and Back

We threw in the towel on trying to sleep and were up at 7:10 this morning, showered, breakfasted, and out the door early to the main bus station.  Today’s business was to day trip to the town of Zamosc, which is located not far from the Ukrainian border and much of the impetus for our visit to the area in the first place.  We had seen pictures of their Old Town online before our trip and it was so beautiful we wanted to see it with our very own eyes.

The mini-bus

The unassuming mini-bus that rode more like a Formula One car

There are a couple ways you can get to Zamosc from the main bus station, either a full-sized bus or a mini-bus.  The big bus operates on a limited schedule whereas the mini-buses depart for Zamosc on a regular basis (multiple per hour) from a lot adjacent to the main bus station.  We tentatively approached the woman behind the bus ticket selling window, unsure as to the reception we’d get.  She turned out to be one of the nicest bus station employees in the world in spite of our language barriers.  Not only did she work hard to convey the big bus wasn’t leaving for another couple hours and we should definitely take a mini-bus (which wasn’t even her department, as you can’t buy mini-bus tickets from her window), but she went so far as to run outside after we left the station to make sure we were going the right way to the mini-bus lot.  And she was in heels, bless her heart.  We were so bowled over it was difficult to refrain from giving her a big bear hug.  A hearty round of smiles and thank-you-so-very-much in Polish ensued and we were on our way.

The mini-bus lot was easy to navigate, as there was a signboard telling you where each bus goes and from which numbered spot they depart.  We found one going to Zamosc at 9:10, bought our tickets from the driver (15zl each/$4.70) and were on the road in no time.  The ride took about 1 ½ hours, which may have been faster than the norm because our mini-bus driver was slinging it.  One of his specialties was passing in no passing lanes, where drivers going both directions would casually pull their cars onto the shoulder (while maintaining speed) as we whizzed by down the center lane, and no one batted an eye.  It was impressive and unnerving all at the same time.  The scenery was nice and reminded us a lot of Wisconsin, with rolling hills, farmland, and forests dotting the landscape.  Spring was also emerging, as not a lot of trees had leaves yet but the grass was a vibrant green and flowers were starting to pop up.

Zamosc Main Square with the Town Hall and colorful Armenian Houses

Zamosc Main Square with the Town Hall and colorful Armenian Houses

The mini-bus station in Zamosc is located about 2 kilometers from Old Town, and, fortunately for our team, one of us is an obsessive planner and came prepared with a map that had been printed out from home with notes and specific walking directions.  I would give high praise and kudos to that individual here but won’t because that would be downright boastful and I don’t want to get too big for my britches.  We set out in the right direction and our first impression of Zamosc was super positive, as it was very clean and tidy and people seemed to take pride in their property.  Old Town was no exception; it was absolutely neat as a pin and so very, very clean.

View down one of the tidy streets

View down one of the tidy streets

For your history lesson on Zamosc, in short it was a planned community from the 16th century that at the time was in the middle of nowhere.  A wealthy Pole with the family name of Zamoyski dreamed it up and brought in an Italian architect to design it.  The end result is a gorgeous Great Square (Rynek Wielki) in the middle of Old Town surrounded by grid-patterned side streets.  It is so very neat and orderly, clean and efficient, and is a perfect oasis for a gal like me who has a touch of OCD and appreciates the symmetrical composition and organization.  This is not even to mention the stunning architecture of the buildings, notably the ones on the Great Square.  And for their part, the TI in Zamosc let it be known on their tourist brochure that “…Zamosc is mentioned in all handbooks devoted to the history of urban studies and is presented as one of the most outstanding urban complexes in the world.”  Bravo, Zamosc, bravo.

A closer-up of the Armenian Houses

A closer-up of the Armenian Houses

As you may have already guessed, our first stop was to the TI for a map and information, which was staffed by a very nice girl, and our second stop was to fortify ourselves with a coffee stop on the Great Square.  After some slight confusion as to whose outdoor seating was associated with what café, we managed to order an Americano for Jim and a mocha-like drink for me and enjoy them in shade under a canopy on the square.  The sun was out in force, with blue skies, a nice breeze, not a lot of people, and we were seated in a dazzling town.  Aaah, we could get used to this.

Zamosc Synagogue

Zamosc Synagogue

There aren’t a lot of big name sights to see in Zamosc, the overall town itself is the highlight, so we just spent the next couple hours wandering around and noting the more important buildings our map indicated.  We saw the ornate, highly colorful row of Armenian houses on the Great Square, the Zamosc Synagogue that miraculously survived the war, part of the bastions and gates that used to form a fortress around the town, two smaller town squares, and the Cathedral of Lord’s Resurrection and St. Thomas the Apostle, which had one of the largest pipe organs I’ve ever seen and a statue of Pope John Paul II just outside.  JPII is still very popular in Poland, as one might imagine.

Giant pipe organ

Giant pipe organ

Eventually we made our way back to the Great Square and sat at another restaurant’s outdoor space for a cold soda and oregano cheese pizza to split.  Jim ordered the pizza by requesting an or-EGG-ano pizza, but the waitress was thoroughly confused by the request.  As we had a Polish only menu Jim became confused, too, as “oregano” seemed to be “oregano” in both English and Polish, which is how we came to settle on it in the first place because we knew what it was.  So he repeated it again but was met with a blank stare.  Ever resourceful, Jim then pointed to it on the menu and she said, oh, ore-eh-GAHN-o.  Yes, please, that one.

Us and JPII

Us and JPII. We were attempting (but not really succeeding) a reverent look.

After lunch we decided our work here in Zamosc was done and hoofed it back to the mini-bus station.  By this time it was rather warm outside and we were slightly overdressed, having not anticipated such nice weather on this trip.  The mini-bus station was found without incident (thanks to the meticulous notes of she-who-shall-not-be-named) and we immediately bee-lined to the bus that had a Lublin sign in the front window.  The process for taking a mini-bus is you get in via the sliding side door, the driver will sell you a ticket, and you sit down.  This driver, however, was otherwise engaged and first had to make a lengthy phone call, send a text, and greet and chat with the driver in the mini-bus parked next to us before he acknowledged Jim was standing there to buy a ticket.  A long line had formed behind us by this point, too.  Jim politely asked him in Polish for two tickets to Lublin (pronounced LOO-bleen), prosze (please).  The driver just sat and stared quizzically at him, wrinkling his nose.  It was eerily reminiscent of the waitress from a short time before.  So Jim once again said LOO-bleen and held up his thumb and forefinger, indicating two.  Please.  The driver was oh-so-baffled by this point so once again, my resourceful husband pointed at the Lublin sign in the front windshield and said, “LOO-bleen?”  At this point the driver squinted and said in a vexed tone, “oh, LOOOO-bleen.”  Since we learned much of our Polish early in the trip we blamed it on our Gdansk accents.

After getting back to LOOOO-bleen we did our usual routine of taking a brief siesta before dinnertime.  And once again, dinner was to be had at our beloved Browar Grodzka 15, and although “our” waitress wasn’t working the terrace that evening she saw us and came out to say hi, still all smiles.  We felt at home.  Our new waiter was just as pleasant, albeit all business, and we had another enjoyable evening starting with a relaxing beer, followed by hunter’s stew in a bread bowl for Jim, a delicious French onion soup for me, and we shared an order of Hungarian potato pancakes that were perfectly crispy on the outside and mealy on the inside.  Then it was back to the room to pack up, followed by another poor night’s sleep.

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