A Weekend in Augustów, Poland: Saunas, Slime, and Snow!
Beyond a layover in Warsaw, I'd never set foot in Poland, even though it's our next-door neighbor as residents of Lithuania. I mean, even once you move past the fact that my namesake was born in the country - the perfect reason to visit! - I just wanted to explore it. See it with my own two eyes.
That opportunity presented itself this past week on a trip to Augustów, a spa town just a bit west of the Lithuanian border. In one of my surreal, "I live in Europe now!?" moments, I crossed the border with four of my closest friends - all scientists except me. This part was nothing new: we'd already relaxed in Druskininkai with these friends and alone and had planned to return this past weekend.
Well, until we had dinner with neighbors who'd just returned from Augustów. I could feel my whole body perk up with interest - here was my opportunity to switch it up and go to Poland!
Surrounded by lakes and national parks, I was already in for the three-hour-long ride to Augustów. It didn't take long to convince our friends, either. But I do have a few tips and stories for you if you're looking for a good time to and from Poland.
But first, some photos!
A Gorgeous Spa Resort Town - Much like Druskininkai and Birštonas in Lithuania, Augustów is a small resort town that's affordable and quieter in the wintertime. And truth be told, I really liked it. But coming off of my two Druskininkai highs, the spa resort we stayed at paled to the southern Lithuanian town's kaleidoscopic level of saunas and steam rooms - and privacy. Did I love being able to take the elevator down to the spa floor in a bathrobe? Uh, YEAH. But the spa add-on appointments filled up too quickly and English wasn't always an option. (Not a huge problem, but it did complicate conversations.) It was also much louder than I expected, having come from Druskininkai, but how do I say no to a sauna!? Answer: if you're from the American South, you don't. You sit your tushie down and give thanks for the heat. I rarely stay at super nice hotels (until now!), but this one felt both luxurious and casual. Not an explicitly bad choice for five low-maintenance people. Its breakfast buffet was stunning, with local meats, cheeses, pickled vegetables, lard (lard!?), some blintzes, mackerel, French toast, blood sausages, and more. (Guess which Ashkenazi girl got the blintzes and mackerel?) Would I go back? Yes, but probably in the summertime to take advantage of the water and boats - not for the spa. If you've spent time in Augustów, feel free to share other options!
Restaurant on the River - Some of our friends had previously been through Augustów and knew exactly where they wanted to return: Tawerna Fisza. And I'll be honest: this place was a trip highlight. While I don't eat much meat, their beef tartare was, um, incredible and worth it - affordable, too. To quote some of my Lithuanian friends who learned British English, I felt incredibly posh ordering and eating it, watching the snow wane outside. ;) Wait staff was great, and their hot lemonade with ginger, rosemary, lemon, and cloves was warming. I'd 100% go back to Augustów just for this restaurant!
Soviet Statues and Slime - On our way back to Vilnius, we detoured and high-tailed it to the Grūtas Soviet Sculpture Park. Um, this was an experience, y'all. It was a massive (icy, freezing) park with ostriches, kangaroos, alpacas, rabbits, and dismantled Soviet monuments. In an interesting approach, this is the Lithuanian equivalent of sending Soviet statues out to pasture. While it's important to Lithuanians that the statues were removed from city squares and public spaces, they also decided to place the statues in Grūto Parkas to remind them not to let history repeat itself. (I can only imagine how this would go over in the American South - whew!) I may not have been able to feel my toes, but this was a fascinating moment for me. Plus, they had toy vending machines - for some odd reason - and since the souvenir shop wasn't open (also, why?), we splurged on some tiny toy slime.
Cultural Crossovers and Differences - One of my favorite things to do when visiting other countries (or towns!) is check out their grocery store - and tea selection! While walking around Old Town Augustów, I found the perfect place to stop into. And maybe I shouldn't have been given the whole Lithuania-Poland connection, but I was surprised at the cultural ties. For instance, I was stunned to see they had their own šakotis, although it certainly makes sense after an investigation. I also noticed that most people were more outwardly friendly, from hotel staff to fellow restaurant diners. And having been to Slovakia, I was amused by the language crossover between Slovakian and Polish. Wait, am I turning into an international citizen!?
Overall, this was a successful trip - and well worth it for the adventure to Poland itself. But if I'm being honest, Druskininkai is still the gold standard in anything sauna or steam room related. They've just got it figured out. I'll be back in Poland later this year, so I'll be curious to see how that experience shapes up and compares with this one. Have you been to Poland? Any plans to go? Let me know if you've ever been to Augustów or nearby areas. I'll be back, I'm sure!
For now, I'll just be over here getting ready for the Kaziukas Fair (St. Casimir) this weekend and doing my best to learn Lithuanian in my second round of courses. Wish me luck! (Palinkėk man sėkmės!) It helps to have awesome classmates, that's for sure...
As per usual, feel free to subscribe at the bottom of this page to receive a bi-weekly email from me on whatever's on my heart that day! And as always, I'll see you next time here at Into the Forests I Go - iki pasimatymo - see you soon!