The south-central city of Czestochowa (say chen-stow-hoe-vah) provides an unremarkable setting for one of the country's leading attractions for visitors, particularly devout Catholics: the Jasna Góra Monastery (sometimes called the Pauline Monastery). For Catholics, Czestochowa occupies a rung on par with Lourdes in France, and just below the Vatican itself. Every year, millions of pilgrims come here to see the monastery's miracle-working pride and joy: an icon of Mary holding the infant Jesus, known as the Miraculous Painting of Our Lady (usually shortened to the "Black Madonna"). Not surprisingly, negotiating the crowds and actually getting close enough to see the painting is no small feat (comparable on some days to seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris). The best strategy for seeing the painting is to plan an overnight stop and get an early start. The painting is open to the public throughout the morning, but then revealed only once an hour during the afternoon. Aside from the monastery, there's not much else to do in town. Nevertheless, the town center, built around an enormous pedestrian boulevard, the Aleja Najswietszej Maryi Panny (often shortened to Al. NMP), is a pleasant enough place to pass the time, with plenty of cafes to grab a coffee or piece of cake and a number of surprisingly good restaurants.
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