Friday 2 December 2016

Poland: Bison & Legend

I visited Poland in 2016 courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland. On previous visits for Lonely Planet, I paid all my own expenses.

In May this year, I had the privilege of walking through the Strictly Protected Area of Białowieża National Park in eastern Poland.

You can read the resulting story at Lonely Planet's website here.

This surviving fragment of the great forests which once covered northern Europe is special for many reasons - not least of which is being the home of the last wild European bison.

Here's a photo of one I snapped close up in winter 2006, in the European Bison Show Reserve near the park:

Impressive, isn't it? They can weigh as much as 900kg.

It's hard to see them within the forest itself, as they tend to avoid humans. But the beautiful greenery is fair compensation.

And, as timeless as this forest seems, it holds stories. My guide on this year's tour, Łukasz Ławrysz, called this massive trunk lying on the forest floor ‘The Tree of Legends’.

According to local folklore, in 1409 King Władysław II Jagiełło rested beneath this oak before heading off to fight the Teutonic Knights.

Ławrysz said the evident age of the trunk means the story was unlikely to be true; but that hasn’t stopped the legend enduring.

Sadly, near the end of the walk we came across a memorial to local people killed by the German military occupiers here between 1941 and 1944:

That's Poland – both myth and history are never far away. Even in the oldest, deepest forest.

You can learn more about Białowieża National Park at its website:

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