After living in Poland for 7 months, I finally made it to Czestochowa (Częstochowa, which is pronounced Ches-to-hova) at the weekend. It was high on my list of places to visit, but took me a while to get there. Like most people, I was there to visit Jasna Gora, and to see the Black Madonna (the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa). However, it was all a little different to how I had imagined it.
This was one of my mini weekend adventures, so, two buses later, I arrived in Czestochowa. I hadn’t booked any accommodation because I only decided to go once I had finished work on Saturday, and, according to Wikitravel, accommodation would be easy to find. That’s the first and last time I trust Wikitravel.
When I got off the bus, I walked from the bus station in the direction of Jasna Gora, hoping to find accommodation on the way. No such luck! I only found one place to stay on my almost 3 km walk, which was the Mercure Hotel. As nice as it may be, it costs more than I’m willing to pay for a night’s stay since my mini adventures are turning into weekly adventures rather than once or twice a month as I had first envisioned.
On my way, I stopped in the square because an outdoor stage had been erected, and there was a band playing rock music. Rock music in Czestochowa? That was the last thing I had expected to see, but the first thing I came across. This was the start of a rather interesting few hours in the city.
From the square, you get a great view of Jasna Gora. The long, straight avenue leads up to the monastery. As it was nearing 6pm, I wasn’t expecting many people to be making their way to the monastery, but there was a steady flow to my surprise.
As I approached, I continued on the path which took me round to the left, to one of the entrance gates. At that moment, the bells began to toll. It was 6pm. As I continued walking, I saw the information centre, but it was closed for the day. I wasn’t sure if I needed to pay, or where to go, nor could I see a ticket office. Since everyone who arrived after me just started looking around, I did the same and walked through the door in front of me, which was the entrance to the basilica.
I didn’t expect to be ‘wowed’ in the way that I was. It is spectacular inside; so ornate. It is one of, if not THE most beautifully decorated church I have ever been in, and, believe me, I’ve been in a lot of churches, cathedrals, and basilicas over the years. Obviously, it is baroque. I ended up taking a pew just so I could take in its beauty. After a while, I got up, and continued walking. This time, I followed the singing. It lead into a chapel where mass was being said. That’s when I saw it – The Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
After that, it was high time I found somewhere to stay for the night.
I needed a place to stay, but where? The Mercure Hotel is in a great location as it’s between Jasna Gora and the square. However, it was far more than I wanted to pay for a night. Thankfully, I have a great data package on my phone, so I started searching for accommodation as I was walking back to the square while looking for signs for hotels and rooms ‘pokoje’. There was a hotel listed on Booking.com that had a room available, thank goodness. It was also more than I had initially wanted to pay, but it was much cheaper than the Mercure, it had great reviews, and I needed a place to stay, so I decided to try it. I didn’t book it online just in case I saw something else on the way. I didn’t.
As it turns out, Hotel Brewery Czenstochovia is a brewery with a spa hotel and restaurant. I took the last single room, and got it for the price listed on Booking.com, which was cheaper than the price the receptionist originally quoted when I first arrived.
It was a comfortable night’s stay, but I literally just slept there. What I hadn’t realised at the time is that you can have a beer spa and other spa treatments based on wine. If only I had known! I think I might have to go back.
There was nothing really suitable for vegetarians in the restaurant attached to the hotel, so I decided to head towards the town centre. I came across a restaurant called Cavallo. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was tired and hungry by that point, and just needed something to fill my belly. It’s a quiet place with a relaxing feel. The food turned out to be great. I had pierogi, and a frozen yoghurt desert with fresh fruit. It was delicious. It was a great find and one that I wouldn’t have come across if I hadn’t booked into that hotel because I wouldn’t have gone so far down that particular road. Unfortunately, with the dim lighting, the photos I took of the food with my tablet aren’t good enough to be included in the post. You’ll just have to go and find out for yourself.
I went back to the brewery to try one of their beers. I had the honey beer, which was nice. Just so you know, downstairs is the smoking area. The non-smoking section is upstairs.
Having read a few reviews, I decided not to pay extra for breakfast at the hotel. Instead, I made up my own little continental breakfast from Aldi, which happens to be conveniently situated across the road. I really like to have proper coffee in the morning, so I was relieved to find cafes and coffee shops open from 9am on Sunday morning. That meant I had breakfast for a fraction of the price.
Later in the day, I had lunch at a restaurant, Pizzeria Toppolino, which is close to the Mercure Hotel. It is a bit pricey, but I couldn’t fault the food or service.
After stopping for my morning coffee, I continued on to Jasna Gora. As I was making my way up the long avenue, I heard the revving of motorbikes as they rode past me. There were lots of motorbikes already parked up in front of the monastery. ‘What on earth was going on?’ I wondered. I had absolutely no idea, but I was intent on getting to the bottom of it.
Once back in Jasna Gora, I made a B line for the information centre which was open this time. The nun working there was very helpful, and she spoke English well, which was great. She gave me a printed leaflet in English, and pointed out where I should go. This was my chance to find out the deal with the bikers, so I asked her why there were so many, and what the occasion was. She told me that they have special pilgrimages, and this particular weekend was for bikers. Well I never! There you go; you learn something new every day! She said that at midday there would be a special mass for them outside, and I could watch. Well, how could I refuse? I also had the chance of midday mass inside the Chapel of the Miraculous Image, but as I had been to that the evening before, I decided to watch the outdoor mass for all those who had specifically come from far and wide for it.
Once the nun mentioned a tower, I had to go up it. Just around the corner from the information centre, on the way to the Chapel of the Miraculous Image is where you will find the entrance. I went up as far as I could go to get the best view overlooking the city, and the grounds of the monastery. As it’s a bit of hike up, there are benches just in case you need a rest on the way up.
The Chapel of the Miraculous Image
After that, I returned to the chapel because I wanted to take another look at the Black Madonna. As I was looking at it, I saw people on their knees making their way around the perimeter of the shrine. I had spotted people doing that the evening before. When I looked to my left, I saw there was an area sectioned off, and a number of people were lining up to go into the shrine. I decided to join the queue. The line moved quickly and, soon enough, I was on my knees making my way around the shrine. You do this as a mark of respect. I hadn’t expected to get so close up to the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. I warn you, it’s hard going on your knees because it’s a hard, tiled floor. I’m glad I did it, though. It obviously isn’t something you need to do.
600th Anniversary Museum
This was one of the nun’s recommendations. It’s a small museum which has paintings, and votive offerings of silver and gold from the 17th century. You can’t take photos in the museum, but it’s worth taking a walk around.
This certainly isn’t a definitive guide of Czestochowa because I wasn’t there for long. Nonetheless, I hope it has given you some insight into the city.
In my opinion, it’s definitely worth visiting Czestochowa for the day or overnight if you are in Krakow, Katowice, or Wroclaw. Jasna Gora is free to visit. There are donation boxes located around Jasna Gora, so you can leave donations as you go.
You can get to Czestochowa by train or bus. If you are going by train, there are two train stations; Czestochowa Stradom is outside of the centre, so it’s best if you get a train to the main train station. If you take a bus, as I did, the bus station is beside the main train station. From there, it’s almost 3 kms to reach Jasna Gora. You can either walk or take a taxi. It might be possible to get a local bus, but I didn’t use the local bus service during my time there.
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