As a former flight attendant, I’ve visited all European international locations besides Albania and Poland. Poland is Europe’s fifth largest nation. Apart for Lech Walesa, Copernicus, the Pope and a decade of Polish jokes I by no means understood, I knew nothing of this land. Nonetheless, my curiosity peaked as a result of it can quickly be scorching on the vacationer path and as a result of my Chicago husband’s household is from right here. He accompanied me with a way of pleasure in discovering his roots. I went to turn into educated and enriched by one thing new. We flew from Atlanta through JFK and Warsaw to Krakow for a mere 4 days. No relaxation for the weary with a head spinning itinerary. I favor to go to cities within the off season to mingle with the locals. It gives a extra genuine and intimate ambiance.
On airport arrival, we’re cheerfully greeted by Pavel who can be our driver all through. He holds a welcome signal “Suza Davis”. I say, “Hello, I am Suzy from Atlanta.” I chuckled when he responded, “Sure, downstairs of USA.” We checked into Resort Amadeus, a sixteenth century posh inn within the coronary heart throb of city middle. Prince Charles as soon as bedded in our room, I am advised.
We got down to hunt for dinner. The illuminated Previous City was beautiful and stuffed with so many younger individuals, it made me really feel aged. 150,000 college students reside on this college city. Krakow is Europe’s premier social gathering scene the place they keep out till the birds sing. This historic district holds highest focus of bars and eating places on this planet. We all of a sudden found Pierogi Backyard, house of the freshest Polish dumplings. They have been full of sauerkraut, lamb, beef, berries, chocolate and even peanut butter. There have been 6 kinds of soups, all with beets which I abhor. After a dozen dumplings, I had a melted ewe’s milk cheese pancake which was past scrumptious.
Poland skilled numerous invasions all through its historical past. After being ravaged by the Germans and then the Russians, it lastly achieved independence in 1989 with the collapse of Soviet communism. Krakow was wired for destruction close to the top of WWII by the Germans. They deliberate to blow it up as soon as the Russians took over, luckily the struggle ended hours earlier than the plan was carried out.
At present it stays one of many few cities remaining in its unique type. With a inhabitants now of 780,000, it has morphed into a stylish worldwide capital. Vibrant and fashionable but in some way retains its conventional tradition with regal structure. It’s in Krakow the place one finds the spirit of the brand new Poland.
On day 2, we have been greeted by Anna who was strikingly lovely. We started within the net of cobbled streets in Previous City that was meant for strolling. It was a maze of museums, chapels, galleries, cafes and gap within the wall pubs. Even in winter there was leisure with avenue dancers, mimes, accordion gamers and on one nook, I watched a knight in armor break-dancing.
We entered Market Sq., Europe’s largest medieval sq. the place little has modified since 1257. It’s topped by the Bell Tower the place a bugler performs on the prime of the hour. It drives the residents loopy at night time. A should see is Fabric Corridor the place fishmongers, material retailers and bakers have offered their wares for the reason that 14th century. Now it is a fabulous arcade of handicraft stalls.
We walked to the effectively preserved Jewish Quarter which is now edgy with creative character. Poland as soon as held Europe’s largest focus of Jews at 3.5 million. Poland’s kings throughout the center ages famous they have been being expelled elsewhere and invited them in to reinforce the economic system. Right here they thrived till the holocaust and pressured communism after WWII. There are actually solely 180 left. We considered the ghettos the place Spielberg’s famed film was filmed and seemed throughout the river to see Schindler’s manufacturing facility.
Rick Steves writes that one should go to a milk bar right here. Anna escorts us to considered one of these authorities backed cafes for the working class. They’re a holdover from Poland’s communist previous. All the pieces is astonishingly low cost. I ordered a bowl of selfmade soup and cheesecake for $2.
We then visited Wawel Fortress, a twelfth century masterpiece and defining icon of the town’s pleasure. There have been no queues as we walked its corridors of historical past. This was the residence of kings for 500 years. Anna explains its legend of the fireplace respiratory dragon named Smok right here who ate virgins for breakfast.
This was bolstered by the invention of unusual massive bones within the 1400’s. (The bones are literally whale bones as this space on Europe was as soon as underneath water eons in the past.) The dragon thus grew to become the image of the town and is omnipresent in memento retailers. Anna then nudges us inside varied lovely church buildings, for me at all times as boring as paint by numbers, nevertheless they have been beautiful. I ask if there are any Protestants right here. She replied matter of factly, “Sure,one.”
The afternoon was spent on restaurant and resort inspections. I cherished the formal greetings and it is at all times instructional. I find out about native delicacies and lodging in one of the best location for one of the best worth. All lodges have been totally booked. Jews and Catholics go to yr spherical on non secular pilgrimages or come for roots excursions.
Krakow was just lately rated within the prime 10 European locations. I now see why. Individuals proceed to rave over Prague which I now discover passe with inflated costs and decrease requirements of service. It is turn into as costly as Rome. Ultimately, Krakow might do the identical as soon as Poland converts to the Euro in 2012. For now one can splurge with reasonably priced costs. Europeans flock right here for 50-70% financial savings. Germans and Danes specifically come for dental and optometry wants. Medical tourism together with cosmetic surgery is booming. I met an Austrian flight attendant who fly’s in month-to-month for spa remedies at half price.
At night time we dined at Wierzynek Restaurant, the world’s oldest that has served princes to vacationers since 1364. It was scrumptious peasant delicacies (natural) of untamed boar, roast ribs and heaping mounds of potatoes. I ask them to show me some Polish, a Slavic language that’s as unattainable as a mouthful of alphabet soup. The phrase rest room has 5 syllables.
On the third day, we awoke to a grey, chilly and moist day which gave us the suitable ambiance for what we might see. Pavel drove us 60 km to Auschwitz. We have been greeted by Yuri, our sensible private information whose sole ardour was to enlighten us on the unthinkable tragedies that came about right here from 1940-45. I as soon as visited Dachau, however this was the most important of focus camps. This demise manufacturing facility killed 1.4 million individuals of 27 nationalities. Most have been Jews. The others have been gypsies, Soviets, Poles, gays, political dissidents and extra.
We entered the gate studying, “Work will set you free.” Inside was a robust reminder as we considered the crematoriums, hunger cells, kilos of hair, countless eye glasses and a pond nonetheless grey from ashes 60 years in the past. Most sobering to me was the youngsters’s part. It held a sea of tiny footwear, dolls and meticulous German documentation of 230,000 little ones who suffered and died right here.
We have been pushed to the prolonged camp of Birkenau (Auschwitz II), with its wood barracks constructed to deal with 100,000 however finally held 200,000+. Collectively in silence, the three of us walked a half mile to see the ruins of the gasoline chambers and memorial monument. On the finish of our tour, Yuri mentioned goodbye to us with this profound assertion, “I’ve guided a number of holocaust survivors who visited right here like vacationers. They advised me on the finish that I’m not capable of current 1% of how dangerous it actually was.” This was essentially the most emotional touching website my eyes ever beheld.
Late afternoon we visited the well-known Wieliczka Salt Mine. This mysterious and huge underground metropolis 3 miles lengthy has extracted salt for 800 years. The World Heritage Website attracts 1,000,000 guests per yr and it seems to be as if all of them arrived right now.
Our information Justina appeared to have an obsession with salt, but it surely was merely the love of her job as information. She mentioned to comply with her down 836 steps which was a greater work out than a Stairmaster. Caves bore me, however this website will stay etched in my thoughts without end. Think about underground chapels, ornate sculptures, chandleries and life measurement figures carved fully from salt or a restaurant and a submit workplace 380′ beneath avenue stage. It was spectacular. For hundreds of years miners and horses spent their lives right here. They remained wholesome on this wealthy micro-climate. It has to do with magnesium ions, no matter these are? At present individuals come to the therapeutic chambers of the remedy advanced for isolation in pure air purity.
Day 4. I frequently search the globe for distinctive issues or locations to current to fellow vacationers. At present I discovered it in Zakapane. For years now, a good friend of mine insisted I go to this mountain resort with the humorous title I might by no means keep in mind. We drove to the pure air of the Tatra Mountains with Eva, our professional information that day. She mentioned this journey vacation spot of 60,000 residents swells to 200,000 practically yr spherical. In summer time they arrive for mineral spas and Alpine mountaineering. In winter they arrive to ski. That week Zakapane hosted the Worldwide Ski Leaping Competitors.
Right here was a captivating city of artists and Giorake, an ethnic group of mountain highlanders. These wandering shepherds hint again to the fifteenth century. They love to decorate of their colourful garments for vacationers. They reside on cheese or something smothered in cheese. We visited a cheese market the dimensions of Switzerland. So far as my eyes might see, there have been sheep and goat cheeses artistically sculpted into each form conceivable. We additionally toured the Aqua Park with an Olympic sized mineral scorching spring mineral pool and rode cable vehicles excessive into the mountains for breathtaking surroundings.
It was a best and gratifying day tour. I discovered a neighborhood tour firm that arranges enjoyable actions for teams equivalent to horse sledding by means of the forest, canine sledding and the brand new “snow rafting” in rubber rafts sloshing toboggan-style down the mountain. On the big outside market with numerous ethnic stalls, I bought a hanging leather-based and fur coat for $260 that fashionably seemed 6 occasions its worth.
There’s a lot I did not get to see on this quick go to. On my subsequent return, I am going to do the brand new “Loopy Communism Tour.” Exterior Krakow is Nowa Huta, as soon as a extreme socialist suburb of pressured industrialization. Huge steelworks factories overtook the wealthy farm land. Physician and professors have been despatched right here to work. Miles of concrete tenement blocks have been erected to deal with them.
On tour you may uncover expertise firsthand Stalin’s reward to Krakow by using in a basic East German Trabant automotive out to Nowa Huta. A dinner of salted bread, pickles and vodka is included, adopted by dancing at a retro 70’s period disco.
Below the yoke of communism, the Poles refused to surrender their faith. Stalin mentioned, “Implementing communism right here is like saddling a bull.” Confronted towards such a decided spirit within the individuals, he gave up. I”m amazed in any respect the obstacles this stoic nation has overcome.
When you’ve been there and purchased the t-shirt of London, Paris, Madrid or Athens, I encourage you to go to undiscovered components of Europe. Krakow is destined to turn into the following Prague. It oozes with historical past, pleasant faces, hearty delicacies, and it will not break your pocketbook. When you can go to the brand new Poland, please do not inform anybody about Zakapane, one of many world’s finest stored secrets and techniques.