Into the heart of Poland
POLAND is located in northern Europe with the famous port of Gdansk situated on the Baltic Sea. The capital Warsaw is the main air gateway and other cities, towns and destinations to visit include Krakow, Poznan, Tarta Mountains and Zakopane.
Poland suffered during World War II, with many parts of Warsaw destroyed. What tourists now see was rebuilt after the war.
Communism kept the country off the travel radar until 1980 when an uprising by the Solidarity movement at the Gdansk Shipyard led by leader Lech Walesa (later to become the Polish President) resulted in semi-free elections in 1989.
Retro communist tours are now a hit with tourists as is a visit to Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science with its startling communist-inspired architecture (it was a “gift” from the Soviet Union in 1955 and once Europe’s second tallest building).
Much of Warsaw’s historical heart was destroyed during WWII. However, it has been painstakingly restored and now looks older than it really is.
Start touring Warsaw in the narrow streets and open plazas (Castle Square and Market Square) of the Old Town (and New Town which is similar and a continuation of the Old Town) which become popular dining venues in summer.
Walk south from the Royal Castle in the Old Town along what is known as the Royal Route and take in the old buildings, grand hotels, branded shops and smart restaurants.
Warsaw has many parks and gardens (Saxon, Lazienki and Krasinki) and a good public transport system of trains, buses and trams.
Krakow, Poland’s Royal City in southern Poland near the Slovakian border, is on the banks of the Vistula River which also flows through Warsaw.
Its historical architecture and old churches ensure that it is a European City of Culture. Close by, the Auschwitz-Birkenau WWII Concentration Camp is a reminder of the horrors of war and how some Polish people endured immense suffering at the hands of the Nazis. A visit to Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto is another reminder of the atrocities of war.
Poland is no stranger to football and along with Ukraine, it hosted Euro 2012.
Log on to Poland Travel, www.poland.travel for more details.
HIDDEN TOURISM GEMS
Composer Fryderyk Chopin’s actual heart (preserved) is located within the imposing Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. His birthplace of Zelazowa Wola, 54km to the west of Warsaw, is worth visiting. Sunday is the best day to visit as there is usually a free recital.
Chopin’s Parlour (5 Krakowskie Przedmiescie St) near Warsaw’s Old Town and Chopin Museum (2 Okolnik St) located in the stately Ostrogski Castle are also worth checking out. Complete the Chopin experience and stay in the Mercure Warszawa Fryderyk Chopin.
Poland has several other well-known citizens including Pope John Paul II, Nobel Prize winner Maria Curie, author Joseph Conrad and infamous movie director Roman Polanski.
Now rebuilt, many think the “new” Gdansk is more authentic than renovated Warsaw. Climb 76m to the top of the medieval St Mary’s Church which dates back to 1343 for a scenic view over Gdansk.
There are many great food and beverage delights. The culinary arts were revitalised after communism.
Dine on traditional and modern Polish cuisine in restaurants like Fukier and Magda Gessler in Warsaw. Some iconic dishes are potato pancakes, goulash, borsch (beetroot soup), pierogi (dumplings), baked duck and perch fish.
Rich, creamy Polish cakes are famous in the country and around the world where Poles have migrated. Poppy seed rolls are especially popular around Christmas.
Coffee houses and chocolate are important with the Bristol Cafe in the Bristol Hotel a place to soak up the ambience and E Wedel chocolates, a household name in Poland. Visit cafes like Krokodyl (Old Town), Wedel’s and Blikle with their homely interiors.
Poland is also one of the great homes for vodka — try Zubrovka infused with bison grass — and beer.
Switzerland is in Group H of the World Cup against Senegal, Colombia and Japan.
Country: Poland (Polska)
Population: 38.5 million
Area: 312,676 km2 (Malaysia is 330,803 km2)