THIS IS THE YEAR TO VISIT POLAND:  What’s So Special About It? by Virginia Haynes Montgomery

What’s So Special About It?

Let me say right up front that Poland should be on your bucket list.  Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide publisher, has listed the country as one of the “Best Places to Visit” in 2017.  No wonder.  Beautiful cities, with rich history and a showcase for the country’s heritage abound.

In summer, you can cycle through extraordinary nature, hike challenging paths, swim in the Baltic Sea, climb solid rocks, paraglide, and the list goes on.

You can take arranged tours of the countryside or any of Poland’s cities.  You can make arrangements when you arrive or before you go.   But if you’d like to add adventure to your trip, you’ll find getting around on bicycles or public transportation is easy … and fun.  For those of us who don’t speak Polish, you’ll find that English is commonly spoken here so if you get lost, it won’t be for long.

Poland is the ninth largest country in Europe.  At one point, it was one of the largest nations in the world.  It has been partitioned so often that its borders have been shrunk considerably.  Yet there is so much in this great country that it has 54 historical monuments and 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  It was in Gdansk that Lech Walesa began his Solidarity Movement, which many attribute to the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Today, Poland is one of the safest countries in which to live and has one of Europe’s best economies.

Your plane from the U.S. will undoubtedly land in Warsaw, Poland’s largest city, the center of business and finance, and its capital.  There are good connecting flights to many other cities in Poland as well as in Eastern Europe. But if you start your visit here, you won’t be disappointed.

Warsaw’s Old Town is only 50 years old and is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  It was rebuilt quickly with great attention to all historical details after it was destroyed in World War II.  Even though Warsaw has wonderful architecture of all different eras and styles, some of the most fascinating are the grandiose, austere buildings from the era of the former Communist government.  The Palace of Culture and Science is a symbol of that era, with the tallest four-faced clock in Europe.

You don’t want to visit Poland without a stop in Krakow.  It is like taking a step back in history.  This was the capital of Poland for five centuries.  The Main Market Square in Krakow is the largest medieval square in Europe with some buildings 500-600 years old.  In the Square, the Cloth Hall was created in the 13th century although it was rebuilt as we know it today in the 19th century.  Its stalls remain busy beehives of customers with all sorts of merchandise.

St. Mary’s Cathedral is nearby, where, at the start of every hour, a trumpeter plays a bugle call from its highest window.  The melody stops suddenly as it did hundreds of years ago when the trumpeter was shot with an arrow during a Tartar attack.  The vaults of the nearby Wawel Cathedral are the burial ground of kings, saints, poets and distinguished military leaders.

Krakow’s Museum of Czartoryski Princes presents an exhibition of world masterpiece paintings such as Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci and “Landscape with the Good Samaritan” by Rembrandt, among many others.  Kazimierz, established in the 15th century as a separate city, is now part of Krakow and is a Jewish Quarter with an artsy and Bohemian nightlife.  The Old Synagogue, located here is one of the oldest synagogues in Poland, featuring items for religious ceremonies and everyday use.

There are a number of cities and towns in Poland with an interesting past as seen by the number of historical monuments.  Worth mentioning are Wieliczka and Bochnia where beneath the surface lie cities made of salt.  You can walk down tunnels adorned with amazing sculptures, all carved in salt, even the chandeliers in these tunnels.  If you are lucky enough to be there at the right time — and chances are you will be — a number of festivals and concerts are held in these underground towns.

Leaving the cities behind, you’ll find breathtaking nature throughout Poland.  Canoeing is very popular here and there are several rivers coursing through beautiful landscapes with exotic fauna and flora along the way.  Most challenging is canoeing on the Vistula River, which flows north to south for over 600 miles.  Rare birds can be found throughout Poland and provide great bird watching.

Along the Baltic Seacoast, coastal towns are often separated by wild, bare sections of beach.  Poland holds World Championships in collecting Amber, the priceless treasure of the Baltic Sea.  The Bialowieza forest is the last primeval forest in Europe.  Untamed nature and forest wildlife provide an exciting, exceptional world of nature.  If you go to Poland in winter, try dog sledding, downhill or cross-country skiing.

When it comes to food in Poland, you can find modern riffs on everything from the well known Polish pierogi — dumplings filled with pork, beef or lamb, cottage cheese, potato, onion, sauerkraut, even fresh fruit — to another popular Polish dumpling (reminiscent of Italian gnocchi), the golf-ball sized kluski (in dozens of varieties) served on their own with cottage cheese, poppy seeds or other culinary grace notes.

Polish cooks make abundant use of dill, marjoram, caraway seeds, wild mushrooms and sour cream — to whip up a creative array of soups, sauces and braised meats.  Kielbasa, a sausage reminiscent of the American hot dog is still easy to find.  Locally grown potatoes, cucumbers, beets, buckwheat and apples make their way into many Polish dishes.

We’ve only touched on a sampling of what’s great about Poland.  Probably the best is you can find whatever you want here.  You’ll come away with a better understanding of the western world as well as our heritage

Polish National Tourist Office – US

All books are available at Click on title for more information.
Poland: A Novel
by James A. Michener
Poland: A History
by Adam Zamoyski
Poland (Travel the World Series Volume 7)
by Kid Kongo
Warsaw: The Best Warsaw Travel Guide
by Samir Taieb

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