Encouraging foreigners for visiting Poland is sometimes not easy as our country is not blessed with first class relics such as they have in Greece or Italy. Weather in Poland is often capricious, but those who reserve a few days for a trip through the fatherland of Chopin, will not be disappointed!
For quite few years we have been a member of European Union and it is worthwhile to witness what happens in a country which has been developing speedily for the past 20 years, many ways thanks to EU founds. It is very interesting to have a look at life behind the former “iron curtain”! Probably one of the reasons preventing many foreigners from coming here is a poor knowledge of reality of the country. Some want to know, for instance, if they can pay bills by credit card. Of course they can, although with some exceptions. You can also find many people speaking English although most are in the younger age group. In tourist precincts waitress in cafés or restaurants will often converse in English. Poland – feel invited.
One of biggest attractions for people visiting Poland could be the comparison of the different cultures and ways of thinking. As nations we can be very different, some may be very pragmatic, and we… well, sometimes behave little a bit unreasonable. But understanding us better requires a wider knowledge of our history, traditions and psyche of the nation.
Folk ensamble in the Pieniny Mountains
The best example is our attitude to the remains of our castles. We take pride in them which may seem a little bit weird for some people, considering it as unnecessary pile of old stones. But for us they are places tied to many stories of folklore, legends and… ghosts. We like to have some thrill while visiting old country manors and castle ruins. If you go at midnight to an old medieval castle, you can meet the white wraith of the lady that had been thrown down from the tower because of her marital infidelity, hear the voice of the illegitimate baby buried alive in the fireplace wall, see the black knight clattering with chains or black dog protecting the hidden treasure. A hidden treasure is still a big part of legends connected with old castles. If you would like to have this kind of hair raising adventure, just choose one of many hotels situated in carefully restored castles.
By the way – there is wide range of hotels to choose from in Poland, and it is also possible to rent short term apartments in big cities such as Cracow, Danzig, Breslau or Warsaw. They are situated in attractive places, mainly in Old Towns, and the cost of renting them will not break your budget.
The Dutchman in Cracow
I personally know how exciting it is to tour Poland in a company of some foreigner. I invited my friend from The Netherlands, who has always longed to see Cracow (having seen Poland once, he wanted more!). As a young boy he learned from a book the story of a Cracovian trumpeter and I helped him to realize his long lasting dream of listening to the famous melody, played from the tower of Mariacki Church by a trumpeter. We heard it many times while we were sitting in the street cafés in the old market square, drinking coffee and eating traditional Polish apple cake with ice cream, or walking through Sukiennice – the renaissance supermarket hall (on the picture below).
We also took opportunity to visit the Royal Castle Wawel and its Cathedral where the tombs of almost all the Polish kings and their families are situated. One day was spent visiting the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, which has many synagogues and cemeteries dating back so many years. Read also: Magical Cracow.
Tourists visiting Cracow by car can also make a round tour to see a chain of medieval castles, called the “Eagles’ Nests” which was the country’s defense system back in the 14th century. They are now mostly in ruins, but are very picturesque thanks to the perfect composition of their white walls and white lime rocks on which they had been built.
Travelling through Poland
Visiting Poland by car is quite comfortable as (thanks to EU funding) the condition of the roads is much better nowadays, although it is suggested to have good GPS. And there is no better way to see the country which is one of biggest in Europe.
As my Dutch friend wanted to come back, we did two routes more, visiting southern and northern parts of the country. (Actually we did another one*)
First of them was Lower Silesia (southern-western Poland) which is one of the most beautiful regions of Poland. The green hills with the lush pastures and winding roads immediately conquered his heart although he says he is real polderman who loves to see the distant horizons. We saw there few medieval Piast castles, few nicely restored German palaces which nowadays play various functions: cultural, social, tourist centres, hotels or restaurants.
We started however our trip from old city of Wrocław, where you can find second largest old market square in Poland together with an interesting medieval renaissance town hall. Wrocław is known also as a town of dwarfs. You can find plenty of them on its streets! Other attractions of this trip were the 17th century protestant Church Of Peace in Świdnica (UNESCO listed), two really gran-diose castles Książ and Czocha and a 900 years old wooden church named Wang in Karpacz, Park Of Miniatures in Kowary and a former uranium mine. On the photo: even dwarfs love Polish pierogi!
Lower Silesia is also a region of many mysteries connected with WWII. In the neighborhood of Wałbrzych (I agree Polish names can be sometimes horrible for foreigners!) Germans built large underground corridors, almost cities, for reasons unknown to this day. Parts of these tunnels are open to public. It was a part of large military Project “Riese”, and it is said that it is maybe connected with a secret weapon. Situated little bit far away from there is Czocha castle, known not only for extravagances of their owners, who liked to throw their unfaithful wives into the well (it still exists but has iron bars just in case you feel inclined!), but also from its own war secrets.
As you can see, in this picturesque land there is something to suit everyone’s taste. Be it history lovers – relics and war mysteries, those looking for good rest and health – beautiful health resorts, and tourists – many lovely routes through the Sudety Mountains. To know more read: Wroclaw – Lower Silesia and Lower Silesia 2.
Visiting northern Poland
During our third trip we went to Gdansk and Zulawy, sometimes called Little Holland. Zulawy is a real polder – yes, we have everything in Poland: mountains, sea, lakes, plains, jungles, polder and even… desert! The obligatory place to visit was also Malbork castle, the largest European gothic fortress, built in medieval ages by “de Duitse Orde”. (There are many other remains of Teuton castles in northern Poland – another route worthwhile.) We spent few days in Mazury area, full of soft hills, lakes and storks, and it is very possible to meet hare or deer there. And it was hard not to fell in love in beautifully lit Torun, the city where Nicolaus Copernicus was born.
There are of course many other interesting routes for foreigners to take. If you are tired of high civilization in your own country, you can go to many places where nature abounds and is still relatively untouched by man. I also suggest visiting Warsaw which was completely destroyed during the war and is carefully restored thanks to 18th century paintings by Bernardo Belotto “Canaletto”.
When summer is over it doesn’t make Poland less attractive. In winter time you can enjoy skiing in Sudety or Tatry mountains (the last famous for highlanders folklore) or at least enjoy carnivals or walking on tourists paths for admiring hills covered by snow.
I initiated this article to show foreign people that Poland is a great option for meaningful trip. My country really has many attractions to suit all types of travelers.
Of course it is still not up to the western standards here and there (although Euro 2012 helped much in this matter!) but the country is quite cheap, we have quite good roads and shops, plenty of fuel stations, good hotels and restaurants and as I mentioned before, you can often pay your bill by credit card. Poland has really changed much in recent 20 years!
You only need good GPS and a guide book and if you are lucky enough — a Polish translator would be a nice addition. But if you like adventure and a close encounter with Poland, you are most welcome!
For more information about a stay in Poland go to a chapter Useful information.
Watch also: Visit Poland – The DON’Ts of Poland (Attention: in not every house guests are asked to take off their shoes, what is, by the way, a horrible custom!)
Renata Głuszek, 2011
* In 2012, we made another trip to Poland: Warsaw / Kazimierz Dolny / Szczawnica / Lower Silesia. All reports can be found in this section.
Photo: Katarzyna Olczak, Daria Niesler, Renata Głuszek, Wikimedia Commons