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Do-over for my Poland trip - adding a little countryside

After reading this thread (will you do the exact trip next year) I was thinking about the "do overs" for my two 2020 trips. For my May trip to the Baltics and the RS tour to St Petersburg, I've got ideas to add a day here and there to allow time for some things that research uncovered.

I began to imagine what I would change if I had a redo for my September trip to Poland, which I assume will also be delayed. I've got a great itinerary that allows sufficient time for the things I want to do in each of these places:

8N Warsaw
4N Poznań
2N Toruń
7N Gdańsk (including Malbork and Gydnia, by train)

On prior trips, I've been to Krakow, Auschwitz, Wrocław, and a side (bus) trip to Świdnica.

The thing that got me excited, when it occurred to me for a redo, would be a day or two with a car to drive some back roads and visit some towns (or out of the way sites) that are big enough to have a café or lunch spot and maybe a pretty church and square. But perhaps not much else.

I have driven many, many times in Europe, including driving extensively in England and Ireland when I lived near London for 3 years. I've rented cars for weeks of driving in Croatia, Slovenia, Lucca and Tuscany, French wine regions, Spanish hill towns, and (most recently) 2 weeks in Sicily and one day in Germany.

Although I much prefer trains, there's something special about getting into the countryside and just wandering a bit. Similar travel days that I've enjoyed and which exemplify what I'm imagining were:

Lucca - rented a car and drove in the hills to the small town of Vinci, with their tiny da Vinci museum and a wonderful little ceramic shop.

Slovenia - driving one day, we stopped in a tiny town (no idea the name) and had coffee in a place where they were incredibly surprised to see Americans. They asked why we were in Slovenia. (Was it Melania, they wondered?)

Erfurt, Germany - I rented a car one day to go to the tiniest of towns (no trains) on family business, then drove to Buchenwald and a Schloss, where visitors were few, parking was easy and the countryside was lovely.

Each of these was a slow day. No rushing. No time pressures. A vacation from museums and city fare. The highlight of those days was just "being there." A destination added structure, but wasn't necessary to enjoy the day.

Helpful to know:
- assume Poland is back to some new normal that welcomes visitors.
- I will fly into Warsaw, fly home from Gdańsk.
- this will be a solo trip; I won't have a navigator.
- I will download offline Google maps for directions and will have a data plan if I need to go online.
- I will buy a paper map from a bookstore, in case all else fails
- I prefer to limit city driving, except as needed to rent/return the car.
- for this, I prefer flat to mountainous, even though I'm from Colorado.

What comes to mind for a country drive of a day - or two. with overnight - not too far off the path of my itinerary?

Posted by
17082 posts

I didn't have a car for my trip to Poland, so I can't be of much help. However, here are three places not on your itinerary that I enjoyed:

  • Płock: Between Warsaw and Toruń, so inconvenient for your current routing.

  • Bydgoszcz: Just northwest of Toruń.\

  • Chełmno: North of Toruń; also close to Bydgoszcz.

Links go to Wikipedia. None of those is a tiny place. Płock, especially, has some nice small museums.

I'm a great believer of taking advantage of a rental car, when one has one, by going to places that are difficult to visit by public transportation, so I'd suggest looking into a trip to see the UNESCO-listed Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica, which I didn't have a chance to go to. Those towns are well south of Poznań.

Posted by
1567 posts

Thanks for those town suggestions. It will be fun to get back to doing some research into adding one or more of these, whether by train or by car.

Posted by
1897 posts

I'll also chime in, on one of my favourite subjects, Poland 😁 so how I understand you are looking to start in Warsaw and work your way north, for a few days, with potentially a car and though some beautiful countryside? If that is the case, I have three suggestions:

Suggestion 1 - The Masurian Lakes District

Composed of the former German province of East Prussia, the historic region of Masuria is just inland from the Baltic sea coast, this corner of Poland also once made up the heart of the Teutonic Order. It's dotted with gingerbread medieval towns, Teutonic Knights castles, and other curiosities like Hitler's Wolf's Lair Bunker, all strung together by 1000s of waterways and small lakes. Very popular holiday destination for local Poles looking to do some cycling or canoeing. Some good base towns to branch out from would be Olsztyn or Elk.

Here is a recent article on the Masurian Lakes District from The Guardian:

Suggestion 2 - Wielkopolska, the Heart of Poland

Located just east of Poznan this area is in fact the little known (outside of Poland) historic cradle of the Polish people, not Warsaw or Krakow as is commonly thought. While Poznan is the main city, I would actually stay just east of it in Gniezno - the legendary birthplace of Poland, it was the first capital of Poland even before Krakow. The main sight is the Gniezno Cathedral and its twelfth-century bronze doors, make sure to stay at Hotel Atelier adjacent to the Cathedral. A nice day trip from Gniezno is the reconstructed iron age fortified settlement of Biskupin.

Suggestion 3 - The Holy Cross Mountains

The Świętokrzyskie (Holy Cross) Mountains just south of Warsaw is a bit of a wild card suggestion, but you can easily make your way back up to Poznan and then from there Gdansk. Really off the international tourist radar, these mountains are some of the oldest in Europe, thus they are rolling and quite easy to navigate, they are more like big hills. It is also an interesting corner of Poland to visit as they have many legends and folklore pertaining to this area, of witches' sabbaths and mythological creatures roaming the night.

Some related sites include the mist-shrouded Bald Mountains (Świętokrzyski National Park), to the mysterious emerald lakes (Szmaragdowa Dolina), and the magnificent cave of dreams (Jaskinia Raj). It's most well known site is the Łysa Góra Monastery, one of the holiest places in Poland, built on top of the local Celtic pagan temple. It now houses one of Poland's most precious relics, a small piece of wood from the Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. I'd recommend you stay in Kielce and use it as a base to explore the region. I briefly visited this area from Krakow to the south during the summer of 2019, I wish I had more time to explore the area.

I hope this gives a few ideas ;-)

Posted by
1567 posts

Thank you Carlos, I was hoping you might chime in. These are definitely some great ideas that will be fun to research, and probably hard to choose!

I see this trip getting longer :-)

Posted by
1547 posts

It is a wonderful way to see areas outside of the big cities. We love renting cars and driving around. We have only rented in Germany and Croatia but what a difference it makes, especially in Croatia. When my children were young, my parents lived in Florida and every summer we would drive. We took so many crazy routes because we wanted to stop and see a sight we had read about. One side trip took us to Dollywood in Tennessee cause my girls were crazy for Dolly Parton. Great memories. We have been to Poland but took the train around. Next trip we said we would rent a car. Hopefully you will get on your trip sooner then later and write a trip report.

Posted by
12 posts

How about a trip to Wolf's Lair and St. Lipka; I visited both last year. You could do them as a day trip or an overnight from Gdansk. Arrange your schedule to hear an organ concert at the Shrine of Our Lady of Swieta Lipka.

Posted by
1567 posts

Barbara, your comment about the "crazy routes" is just so true. You can adjust for the smallest, interesting diversions. And turn down little country roads just to see what you find.

Traveler99, thank you for the suggestion, I will investigate a trip to Wolf's Lair and an organ concert at St. Lipka. Sounds lovely!

Posted by
2040 posts

Good post! My September trip to Poland is looking less and less likely, too, so I'm looking at re-working (lengthening) it and moving it to 2021. I would like to add some off-the-beaten-path spots. I appreciate the suggestions from those who have posted thus far.

Posted by
17082 posts

I spent ten nights in Warsaw and ten nights in Gdansk. Both cities have two large, time-consuming museums as well as at least one day-trip possibility. Warsaw has additional WWII and Cold War sights I was interested in, plus art museums. I didn't initially plan such long stays, but in both cities I kept extending my stay.

Posted by
1567 posts

luftmensch, it's a fair question. I'm retired, so I have flexibility. And I'll never let a good day in Europe go to waste. I love to have enough time that I can plan days where I have a primary activity, and then time to wander. There is always somewhere to explore, especially in a big city like Warsaw.

As I was planning, I considered adding another town. After reading many forum reviews, and sketching out my days, I realized that I could easily spend the time in Warsaw and Gdansk. Especially in the big museums, I want to have the time (as *acraven" described in many helpful comments) to visit and read the exhibits at leisure. I know this pace isn't for everyone, but I love settling into a place when I visit.

And I do have a day trips I'll take in Gdansk (Gydnia and Malbork) and perhaps in Warsaw. With a redo, I will look to extend my time for any additions, and I do appreciate your suggestions, luftmensch, for new places that I will investigate.

Posted by
1567 posts

Please keep any suggestions coming, as I know there was a group of us planning a trip to Poland in September, so any ideas will be for everyone's benefit. And we'll all choose differently.

Posted by
1897 posts

Circling back with another idea 😉, it may not work for this particular trip (going the opposite way) but may inspire others with trips to Poland in the near future:

Cities of the Polish Renaissance

Starting in Krakow, there is a string of magnificently preserved royal cities going north-east toward Ukraine. They rose to prominence during the 15-16th century which was a period known as the Renesans Polski, the Golden Age of Polish culture and height of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

This is when the Sforzas of Milan married into the Polish Royal family, and brought with them many Italian Artists and Architects to transform and modernize the country. The result are blissfully untouristed cities that look like they are out of some Italian Duchy with all their architectural eyecandy. This was also an area of Poland that was vibrant with generations of Jewish culture and heritage.

I was not able to act on this planed roadtrip (just yet), but the general idea was to start in Krakow and do a bit of a loop eastwards, with a few nights in each stop:

Start Krakow
Zalipie Village (stop)
Kazimierz Dolny
Lviv (Polish: Lwów)
End Krakow

Hope this gives a few ideas ;-)

Posted by
1567 posts

Thank you, Carlos, it is certainly inspiring my summer of armchair travels!

luftmensch, the synagogue of Lancut looks lovely! I will "visit" it as well.

Posted by
1897 posts

Spend a few days less in Warszawa and Gdansk and go to Kazimierz Dolny, Lublin, Zamosc, Przemysl, Lancut, Sandomierz, etc.

From personal experience, I would actually caution on trying to cram in too many extra locations, even if it seems like one has plenty of time to spare. Some times if you add too many ingredients to a soup, you end up not being able to discern any of them and it begins to taste all the same... just a little travel philosophy lol!

Posted by
242 posts

I am enjoying all the suggestions. Do you have ancestral roots in Poland and do you enjoy WWII sites? There is a wonderful historical park dedicated to Camp Heidelager, the largest SS training camp outside of Germany that was also the test site for the Vi and V2 missiles during the war (Blizna area). There is also a little-visited concentration camp that was part of Heidelager called Pustkow.

I would also recommend you visit some of the wonderful ethnographic village museums in Poland. The museum of Sanok is not far from Lancut and the Kolbuszowa museum is in Blizna. Rzeszow would be a good base for this area and has an international airport that is very convenient.

When in Warsaw, be sure to visit the new POLIN museum, and in Gdansk, visit the new WWII museum. A week is too long for either city.

Posted by
17082 posts

Few American visitors would spend a week each in Warsaw and Gdansk, but I would argue that it is not too long if you're interested in 20th century history. Their museums and historical sites are great, and those are very time-consuming if you want to read all the information posted in English. As I wrote earlier, I spent 10 nights in Warsaw, 9 nights in Gdansk, and 8 nights in Krakow. I started out with a shorter stay in each city and kept adding time because there was so much to see. That new WWII Museum in Gdansk? I spent 20 hours there.

I'm not sure anyone has mentioned the Emigration Museum in Gdynia, which is easily visited from Gdansk, though it's a hike from the train station and most would opt for a taxi. It's modern and full of English-language explanatory material. It wasn't a particularly good sightseeing choice for me, because there are no emigration stories that have made their way down to my generation. For others who heard about the emigration experience from older relatives, even if none were Polish, I think that museum could be very meaningful.

Posted by
5157 posts

FYI, I found a program called A Taste of Poland in the rotation on the PBS/Create channels here. Some interesting travel with a food focus that might be of interest to some of you.

As one who is hoping to take the RS Poland tour (Gdansk - Torun - Warsaw - Krakow) when available, I appreciate the tips on those cities that people are providing.

Posted by
1567 posts

Do you have ancestral roots in Poland and do you enjoy WWII sites?
I do not have ancestral roots in Poland (mine are in Italy) but I do enjoy visiting WWII sites, and visited several on my most recent trip to Germany, Poland and Czech Republic. The POLIN museum in Warsaw and the WWII museum in Gdansk are at the top of my list!

I've also enjoyed the ethnographic village museums in my prior travels and had planned to visit some in both of my trips this year. So thank you, Donna, for your suggestions in both regards, which I look forward to researching this summer, regardless of the outcome of my September trip, which is still clouded in uncertainty.

Posted by
1567 posts

acraven, thank you for the suggestion of the "Emigration Museum in Gdynia." I have planned a day trip to Gdynia, but haven't gotten into the details. (Now that my cancelled May trip has ended, and my refunds are nearly complete, I'll be refocusing on Poland, whether for 2020 or beyond.) My family has numerous immigration stories and I've gone on "family tree" hunts in each of the countries. This museum sounds quite interesting, so thank you so much!

Another reason that I need the time in Gdansk - to go beyond Gdansk.

Posted by
1567 posts

Some times if you add too many ingredients to a soup, you end up not being able to discern any of them and it begins to taste all the same... just a little travel philosophy lol!

Carlos, I like your travel philosophy! I haven't hit that point yet, but I was in danger of it in 2020. I originally sketched a trip that started in Warsaw, went up through Poland to Gdansk, then to the Baltics to visit Riga and Tallinn for a couple of days before meeting up with the Rick Steves tour from there to Helsinki and St Petsersburg, plus Moscow post-tour!

Eventually, I split them into 2 trips for May and September, 2020 so that I could add more days to both. While I may recombine them for the do-over, I would only do so to enable a 3rd trip to catch up on my delayed travel plans!

I won't do so if it means reducing my time in any of my destinations. I tend to spend more time than most (though not more time than you do, acraven!) in historical museums. I've lived in London, New York and San Francisco, and I love the big city experience during my travels. In Warsaw especially, I will fill in the time between tourist activities with everyday things: sitting in a café, relaxing on the lawn for the Chopin concerts on Sundays in Łazienki park, walking around the quirky neighborhoods, and browsing bead shops to fuel my hobby.

Posted by
17082 posts

WWII and Cold War sites not (I think) previously mentioned in this thread:

- Pawiak Prison Memorial/Museum
- Memorial/Museum Walki (some info overlap between these first two)
- Katyn Memorial/Museum
- Communist Life Museum (small, informal place)
- Colonel Kuklinski Intelligence Museum (small)
- Treblinka Camp Memorial/Museum (day-trip via train to Malkinia then taxi)

- Sztutowo Memorial/Museum (Stutthof Camp; day-trip via bus)
- Post Office Museum and Memorial to the Defenders (I missed this)

Two unusual art-related museums I really enjoyed in Warsaw: the Neon Museum (not so easy to find) and the Poster Museum. The Neon Museum is in the same neighborhood as the Communist Life Museum.

If you like looking at pretty things, the Amber Museum in Gdansk is fun. It's centrally located and can be crowded.

You'll be in Poland long enough that you may want to have an occasional non-Polish meal. I really liked Thai Me Up, which is just off Nowy Swiat in Warsaw. It's fairly close to the National Museum but not convenient to most other tourist sites. But Warsaw seems to be a serious foodie city now, so you'll have lots of options. All the touristy cities have a lot of restaurant variety.

I also really enjoyed the A. Blikle bakery branch on Nowy Swiat (went there many times for carry-out goodies during June 2018), but I see a lot of negative reviews on TripAdvisor. Perhaps I was very lucky. The prices are probably high for Poland, which may be a factor.

Edited to add: I think I discovered some of the obscure sights in the In Your Pocket guides.

Posted by
1567 posts

Thanks, acraven, I may need more time in Warsaw:-) I will definitely go to the Post Office Museum and Amber Museum in Gdansk. Thanks for all the new ideas to research. I appreciate the restaurant/bakery recommendations, as well .... another aspect I enjoy when traveling to big cities.

Posted by
17082 posts

I should have mentioned that A. Blikle has the filled doughnuts as well as fancy pastries. I think the filling flavors were rose, some sort of fruit jam and caramel.

There was a small, fancy pastry shop (no doughnuts) I really liked in Gdansk. From my notes it seems to have been called Le Delice. The address was Ul. Szeroka 86/87, at the intersection with Tandeta. However, I can't guarantee it's still in business at that location. Google Maps shows something different there.

Posted by
17082 posts

For planning purposes I will note that it took me multiple visits totaling way longer than 2 hours (perhaps close to 8?? I don't remember) to read all the English-language explanatory material at POLIN. I realize that most folks don't feel the need to do that. The Warsaw Rising Museum was also very time-consuming. Ditto the Solidarity Center in Gdansk. But none of those approached Gdansk's WWII Museum in length of time spent by me.

The Polish Museums are reasonably priced compared to those in Western Europe, but I know I contributed extra funds to the Polish economy by not showing up at the museums at opening time, which led to a lot of repeat visits.

Posted by
1567 posts

Traveler99, thank you for the positive review of the POLIN guided tour. I do learn a lot from a good docent. And then I typically want to go back and read the exhibits more thoroughly, where I generally spend more time than the casual visitor, though perhaps still less than you spend, acraven.

You've both given me the idea to do both! I'm re-working my schedule to take the Saturday guided tour as an overview and plan a subsequent, self-guided visit to read the exhibits in more depth.

A. Blikle has the filled doughnuts as well as fancy pastries. I think the filling flavors were rose, some sort of fruit jam and caramel
Oh now you're just taunting me, especially if I have to wait more than a year for those wonderful sounding flavors!! I see little outdoor tables at the one on Nowy Swiat, just 550m from my hotel - perfect for a morning treat!

Posted by
52 posts

Sandomierz would be a nice trip from Warsaw. We drove there from eastern Poland, fell in love with the city, and ended up adding extra days just to relax and enjoy strolling and shopping. If you are still planning to have a longer trip, I recommend the far eastern side of the country. We have ancestral roots in Bielsk-Podlaski, so we wanted to visit that area. Aside from the excitement of visiting the site of my grandfather’s family estate, we found so much to explore near the Bialowieza Forest. It was so beautiful in that area...and challenging in a good way because there were almost no English speakers. We enjoyed both driving and hiking through the forested to spot mushroom hunters...a national obsession is harvesting wild mushrooms. Hoping you can make this trip in 2021. We do intend a return trip in the next couple of years.

Posted by
1567 posts

Thank you, catrinatravels, Sandomierz looks very pleasant, just the sort of town that I enjoy visiting. And a drive out to Bialowieza Forest sounds like a great countryside getaway. Thank you!

Posted by
5157 posts

CWsocial, I agree that Sandomierz is a very nice town with a big town square. Two attractions worth knowing about (Lonely Planet talks about them): there is an underground tunnel complex thats been used for centuries for storage, smuggling, nefarious deeds, etc., that's worth a look. Also, the main church in town has a famous giant painting depicting the deaths of various saints. Supposedly, if you look at the depiction of the saint linked to your birth month, you'll know how you're going to die. I'm not looking forward to mine. There's also a modern detective novel set in Sandomierz, A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski if you like some fiction linked to the town.

Between Sandomierz and Warsaw is the picturesque town of Kazimierz Dolny, which is a popular tourist stop for locals.

The website "In Your Pocket" has great information on shopping, eating and attractions in major cities like Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk, with interactive maps, and a guide you can download. Good resource for many central European cities.

Posted by
1897 posts

There is a very popular Polish tv show called Ojciec Mateusz, that is set in Sandomierz. The series shows the adventures of a Roman Catholic priest who, after returning to Poland from a mission to Belarus, is sent to work in a small parish of Sandomierz. As a pastor, together with a friendly policeman, he solves mysteries and gives help to his parishioners, as well as all those who are in need. They are currently on season 24 haha.

Posted by
196 posts

I had planned to go to Krakow this past summer (July 2020j and while I hope to return to Europe next year, this article about “LGBT free zones” being declared across much of the nation makes me not want to set foot there. This is the kind of bigotry that led to the extermination of the Jews and other atrocities.

“In little over a year, hundreds of regions across Poland — covering about a third of the country, and more than 10 million citizens — have transformed themselves, overnight, into so-called “LGBT-free zones. These areas, where opposition to LGBT “ideology” is symbolically written into law at state and local levels, have put Poland on a collision course with the European Union and forced sister cities, allies and watchdogs across the continent to recoil in condemnation. Local laws have been contested, and some communities that introduced such legislation have seen their EU funding blocked...During a reelection campaign partially dominated by the issue earlier this year, incumbent President Andrzej Duda — a staunch ally of US President Donald Trump — warned of an LGBT “ideology” more dangerous to Poland than communism. The governing party’s powerful leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has claimed LGBT people “threaten the Polish state.” Its new education minister said last year that “these people are not equal to normal people.” And last year, Krakow’s archbishop bemoaned that the country was under siege from a “rainbow plague”

Posted by
1567 posts

Stan and Carlos, an overdue thank you for the information on Sandomierz, "In Your Pocket" (so useful!) and the 24-season Polish TV show.

Todd, thank you for the heads up on the CNN article about the LGBT-free zones, which I had seen on CNN. I'll continue to follow the commentary on your Poland declares “LGBT FreeZones” thread, where the subject - and its relation to travel choices - is being discussed extensively. Regardless of a person's point of view, and how it affects their travel decisions, I always find it helpful to know something about the local culture, economy and political climate when I travel.