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Visiting Poland solo and for the first time.

Hello all,

I will be arriving 27 October and going home 9 November. I was thinking of flying into Gdansk and making my way south to Krakow where I want to spend the bulk of my visit. My friends have told me I could probably throw in Prague or Budapest but I would rather concentrate on one country. Cities and towns on my list are Gdansk, Torun, Warsaw, Wroclaw, Zakopane and Krakow. I would also like to visit Malbork castle, the Black Madonna, the Wieliczka salt mines and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

My goal is to see as much as I can but avoid hopping from one place to another just to tick things off my list. I like to take my time and truly soak things in. I'm an amateur photographer and I also like souvenir shopping, going to museums and shows, warming up at a nice cafe and eating the local cuisine.

I am having a little trouble planning out my itinerary so I need advice. I haven't made any hotel bookings yet and was thinking of doing so on the fly. Is this a bad idea? I am also open to taking the bus or train or small group tour to the different sites, whichever is the most efficient. Are there other points of interest that I should add to my list?

Posted by
6184 posts

You have a long list, so the next step would be to assign days/nights to each place where you plan on spending the night. You definitely shouldn't add anything more for now (in and outside of Poland) until you flesh out how long you plan to stay in each location (that will force a reality check as well). I'm thinking that perhaps it's better to start in Warsaw since most flights will have to go through there and it's easy to connect just about anywhere from Warsaw. If you can start in Gdansk, then great but I doubt you can do it without at least 2 connections. Given you're going off season, I think you can find lodging on the fly fairly easily. Are you prepared for cold and gloomy weather?

Posted by
40 posts

Hi Agnes and thank you for your reply.

From San Francisco, I can get to Gdansk with just one stopover in Frankfurt so that's not too bad. I'm already thinking of staying there about 3 days, Warsaw for maybe 2-3 days and the rest in Kraków. Is it possible to do day trips to Wroclaw and Zakopane?

I know it's going to be pretty cold and gloomy with the possibility of snow. Guess I'll have to find some cozy cafes to warm up in. It should also be a great time to try out some hearty Polish food!

Posted by
11154 posts

I like the "bones" of your trip (start in Gdansk, midpoint in Warsaw, end in Krakow) very much. Do as Agnes suggests, and plot out where you will be staying each night. In order to figure out what else you can see, you should check train and bus travel times from your base cities. You'll probably find, as I did, that many of the times are a bit too long to make comfortable day trips, and with a short trip, you won't have time for too many other bases besides those three. However, my trip was a few years ago, and some train lines have been sped up since then (Warsaw to Gdansk was then 5 hours, but is now about 3).

As for food, BY FAR the best Polish food I had was at Polskie Smaki in Krakow (listed in Rick's book) - half the price of other places and delicious, with a nice atmosphere to boot (since it's a milk bar, I feared a canteen atmosphere, but it's warm and welcoming, with just enough English spoken to explain the dishes). And it's not Polish, but the other memorable meal was at Aqua e Vino - delicious Italian food at high prices for Krakow, but much lower than I'd pay in Italy or New York for food of that quality. I didn't have memorable meals in Warsaw (food was fine, but nothing as good as Polskie Smaki), but I had a memorable negative experience going to Rick's recommended Foksal Street. One spin around the attitude, and I left without eating there (one of the few things in the book I strongly disagreed with). It was particularly off-putting as a solo traveler, since it's all about seeing and being seen, preferably with your latest arm candy.

Posted by
6184 posts

Is it possible to do day trips to Wroclaw and Zakopane?

I would not do these as day trips, they are definitely worth a few days of their own (you'll be glad you stayed a few days). Wroclaw is an interesting city that you may like as well as the others. Zakopane will be very atmospheric with really neat mountain cabin/house options (you can see here some examples, although many are way too spacious for one person when all you need is to rent a room. I have no connection to these, I just bookmarked the link I saw a while back. http://www.tatrytop.pl/index.php?l=en)

I would do Częstochowa as a day trip because there isn't much there except for the main attraction...I hope you can do this from Krakow as easily as Katowice.

Posted by
2078 posts

I think your Gdansk, Warsaw, Kraków itinerary makes sense. I agree with Agnes that Wroclaw and Zakopane are too far for day trips. Your trip isn't that long, so I think focusing on three places will let you maximize your time. I particularly loved Gdansk and Kraków. From Gdansk you can easily do Malbork Castle, and from Kraków you can easily do Auschwitz. The trains in Poland run exactly on time, and it is a very inexpensive country. I think you'll love it.

Posted by
6184 posts

Zakopane is technically not too far (only about 2 hours from Krakow) but I still suggest staying overnight for a number of reasons, one of which is that it's a very special destination in the mountains that's very different from the other locales. Plus the mountain air will be wonderful. Wrocław is definitely too far from Warsaw for a day-trip but easy to access by train or bus. Depending on the route you take to get there, you may also want to stop in Łódź on the way to Wrocław for a few hours. I really enjoyed Łódź. It's not on the radar of any American traveler though, but don't let that dissuade you. You should google "In Your Pocket" + the city for all of these cities and you can get handy little PDF guides for each. Also check out "Polski Bus" to see if it makes sense for some locations, although I think the train will work for most of your desired stops.
https://www.inyourpocket.com/wroclaw
http://www.polskibus.com/en/index.htm

Posted by
2092 posts

I visited Poland solo in May 2015--if you dig you can find my detailed trip report--and absolutely fell in love with the country and its warm, friendly people--and the food! I think your itinerary makes sense, though I prefer to book hotels in advance.

I flew into Krakow and spent 4 days there--plenty of museums to see, gorgeous old town to wander, Kazimierz area, Schindler's factory and I took a guided day trip to Auschwitz. Would have done the Salt Mines but I am a bit claustrophobic. Easy train trip to Warsaw where I spent another 4 days--restored old town but nonetheless very beautiful, museums I particularly enjoyed were the History of the Polish Jews and the National Museum. I did a long day trip by train to Gdansk--2.5 hrs, arrived around 10 and headed back around 5--unusually beautiful and different architecture there and lots to photograph, old town wandering with a boat ride out to see where WWII began at the Westerplatte, then walked to the Solidarity museum, which I highly recommend.

After peaceful, relaxing Poland I flew direct from Warsaw to Prague--much more frazzling experience there due to crowds, but enjoyable all the same. A return trip to Poland would include some of the smaller towns you mention, and definitely more time in Krakow.

Posted by
40 posts

Thank you Harold, Agnes and Christa! I have spent the last couple of days looking into bus and train schedules and you're right! They did give me a reality check and made me think long and hard about what I wanted for my trip. I also decided to reverse my itinerary so I will be flying into Krakow and will make my way North towards Warsaw and Gdansk. I would've loved to see Zakopane but there's not enough time and Wroclaw is unfortunately, out of the way.

I did look up Christa's trip report and I think that partly influenced my decision to flip the route. She had the same amount of time as I do and her itinerary just made sense. Also, I would rather be in Krakow for All Saints' Day because I want to take pictures of the Jewish Cemeteries lit up with candles. I know Halloween isn't big in Poland but I'm sure I will find something to do that night. I am open to suggestions though, so please send them my way!

I still am clinging to the hope that I can see Torun. It is along the way to Gdansk, so would a day trip suffice or should I spend a couple of days there?

PS.
@Harold, appreciate the restaurant suggestion. It's too bad about that one place, maybe I will avoid it for now.

@Christa, Pol Art sounds amazing!
@Agnes, the link to the Polski Bus was very helpful!

Posted by
40 posts

Oops, sorry didn't mean to leave you out Carroll! I have a feeling I am going to love Krakow and Gdansk too!

Posted by
11154 posts

Foksal Street isn't a restaurant, it's a street in Warsaw filled with restaurants. Since Rick recommended it highly, and since it was right near my hotel, I checked it out my first night. And left after about 5 minutes of going up one side of the street and down the other. I saw the places were pricey and that it was very much a "scene" - which was particularly off-putting to me as a single diner, just looking for a good meal. I avoid these kinds of things in New York, so I didn't need them there. If, on the other hand, you want a Sex and the City type atmosphere in Warsaw, that's the place.

As I said, it was one of the few things in Rick's book I highly disagreed with; otherwise, his book was invaluable and the advice excellent.

Posted by
8 posts

It's nice that you want to see so many places while in Poland. When it comes to the Krakow-Zakopane part of your trip, I think you should definitely add Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mine to the itinerary. Both are UNESCO listed sites and they're located pretty close to Krakow. Taking a side trip to both of them on one day (e.g. with DiscoverCracow) wouldn't take you more than 8 hours (starting early morning), so you should continue your exploration of Krakow in the afternoon and have the transport fixed for you. When it comes to Zakopane - check Kasprowy Wierch Cable Car or Giewont (the Sleeping Kninght) hiking plan. Except for that, I think you'll like Krupowki street and the souvenirs they sell there :)
The Gdansk-Krakow route is well planned, as there is the fastest railway connection of Poland available between these two cities, Warsaw and - pretty much - Malbork. Check the trains here: occasionally, some trains may disappear from the timetable for a day or even a week, so always check the train with the right date indicated. You may purchase your tickets on the web and pay with your credit/debit card in most cases (usually with VISA and Mastercard).
Have a good stay in Poland!

Posted by
5035 posts

Agreeing with Harold about Foksal street. There are a zillion places to eat on the Royal Road, so no need to go there. The free online interactive guides (with downloadable versions) In Your Pocket - Warsaw, and In Your Pocket - Krakow were excellent. With the interactive map feature, you can identify shops, hotels and restaurants wherever you focus, and see reviews as well.

You don't have time to visit all those places. They look close on the map, but they're not. A lot of time will be eaten up in transit. Czestochowa (Black Madonna) is on on of the routes from Warsaw to Krakow, and easily accessed, but could be crowded.

Posted by
2078 posts

Not to worry!

Regarding Torun: it's a nice town and I enjoyed it, but I don't think it's a must see. I would prefer more time in your three main destinations. If you decide to add something, I'd add Zakopane because it's so different from your other stops.

BTW I wrote a report of my trip to Poland last year. You should be able to find it if you are interested.

Posted by
2092 posts

So glad my report was helpful! My souvenirs from Pol Art are treasures, I'm very much interested in the traditional arts and crafts of any country I visit and I must say Poland had the most wonderful variety, followed closely by Estonia (huge knitting tradition there) and Hungary.

If you spend a bit of time in Gdansk there's also Gydnia, Sopot and Hel nearby.

Posted by
12104 posts

Hi,

There is also another way to get to Gdansk by plane. Fly from SFO to London, if that applies to you. Or, fly from the US to London, where in London Luton you take the discount carrier Wizzair to Gdansk. A good friend of mine did exactly that, instead of taking the train, which is ca 9 nine hours from Berlin.

On the taking buses: Krakow and Wroclaw are places accessed by bus. My opinion says your friends are wrong. You're correct on focusing Poland with the time frame you have.

Posted by
40 posts

@ Harold I can't stand Sex and the City! I lived in Brooklyn 10 years ago and I didn't think it had a realistic portrayal of NYC. Anyway, thanks for the clarification. I just figured out where I wanted to go and for how long, and where I wanted to stay. I'll be looking at where I want to eat next. I would still avoid Foksal street because it doesn't sound like I'd be comfortable there either. Thanks for the input!

@ Stan I got on the website for In Your Pocket Poland and got some useful info for Krakow, Warsaw and Gdansk. Thank you for that suggestion!

Posted by
40 posts

@ Krakow<3 Unfortunately, I had to take Zakopane out of the itinerary. It sounds like a place I would rather spend a few days in and not just go to on a day trip. I will be spending 6 days in Krakow and will be sure to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Wieliczka salt mines. I will be devoting a day to each as I know there will be a lot of walking involved and I'd probably be exhausted if I did both in one day. Plus, Auschwitz-Birkenau will be a very intense experience for me and I would probably want to go back to the Old Town and find something that will bring me joy. Thank you for the Zakopane tips. I hope I get to visit sometime in the future.

Posted by
40 posts

@ Carroll When did you write the report? I found that I could find posts on the forum easily by poster and date.

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40 posts

@ Agnes Oliwa Cathedral looks amazing! I also looked up the times for their organ recitals and they happen at noon every day except Sunday (it's at 3pm). I will be in Gdansk for 3 full days and am reserving a day for Malbork castle. I'll have 2 days to try and make it to a recital. Thanks for the tip!

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40 posts

@ Christa I prefer arts and crafts over the generic souvenirs made in China. I can't wait to check them out! As for Gydnia, Sopot and Hel -- I might have to explore those areas during another visit. So much to do, so little time!

Posted by
40 posts

@ Fred I can fly to either Krakow, Warsaw or Gdansk from SFO with a stopover in Frankfurt with Lufthansa. I decided to start in Krakow and spend 6 days there. Hop on a train to Warsaw and spend 3 days there. Lastly, take a train to Gdansk and be there for 4 days. I'll be flying home from there on the same airline, again with a stopover in Frankfurt. The trains apparently have gotten a lot faster and can make it to my destinations in about 3 hours.

Thanks for validating my choice to stay in Poland. I think adding 2 more countries to the mix could be a bit too frenetic for me. What were your experiences like in Poland?

Posted by
6184 posts

Does your 6 days in Krakow include a side trip to Częstochowa? I have to say that 6 days is a lot of time, as much as I like Krakow. That's because it's very compact. The salt mine visit could take a half day, Auschwitz should be almost a full day, and then you still have 4.5 days left over. I think 3 full days for Krakow itself (just the city proper) is plenty unless you really want to be leisurely. Granted I don't know your travel pace but take a look at a map to see just how compact Krakow is, say compared to Warsaw. Even though Warsaw is not as charming by any stretch of the imagination, the attractions there are more spread out and there's more of them (especially museums which take up more time). Just keep that in mind. (If you are including Częstochowa as part of your Krakow stay, then 6 days would be just fine to cover everything....granted I don't recall how long it takes to get to Częstochowa from Krakow).

Posted by
40 posts

@ Agnes Well, it's 5.5 days because I get in early afternoon, barring any flight delays. I still want to make the pilgrimage to Częstochowa and it takes 2 hours to travel to and from it. If I don't, then yes, it will give me another day for Warsaw. That will have me traveling to Warsaw from Krakow on November 1st which might make sense since it is a day of observance. Unfortunately, Warsaw didn't really appeal to me on paper, but I'll never know about a place until I give it a chance.

Posted by
12104 posts

@ cebuana75....My experiences in Poland on the three trips in 2001, '03, and '05 were all in the summer, very pleasant, enjoyable, just plain nice., good food, lovely people, hospitality, cannot complain at all, and another trip is on the bucket list, ie to the lower Vistula area, ie small towns in that vicinity, plus other cities.

I went to these places on the trips: Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk, Malbork (day trip), Torun, and Chelmno (day trip by bus), did a ton of walking, stayed in a small hotel (Torun), in a Pension ( Gdansk), an apt (the one and only time Warsaw), a large hotel (Krakow). I arrived and departed by train, each time from Berlin and then back to Berlin on a ten hour hour ride. I didn't drive or go by air in Poland, only took the train and once the bus. Based on your list, I stopped at Wroclaw Glowny on the way back to Berlin from Krakow...from the train saw only thaty part of the station. That was in 2001, I'm sure it's all changed and modernised now.

Are there places I wished I had visited if a day or two had been available on the trips...most definitely...Szczecin, Pszczyna, Grudziadz, Wroclaw...just to name a few places. Bottom line...I'll be returning there.

Posted by
5035 posts

cebuana I would consider stopping in Czestochowa on the way from Warsaw to Krakow, rather than a day trip.

Posted by
2078 posts

Harold, thanks for posting the link to my report and saving me from looking for it. There were a lot of responses to it, which may help the OP more than the actual report.

Posted by
40 posts

@ Fred It's been awhile since your last visit. I think you're due for another one! How did you like Torun and Gdansk? I'm almost tempted to skip Warsaw and allot some time in the town of gingerbread and Copernicus. As for Gdansk, I am drawn to it because of it's significance in WW2 and the fact that it's along the Baltic Sea. A little beach town with all that history is not something I would want to miss.

PS. I live in Outer Richmond in San Francisco so I have a soft spot for areas that are close to the water.

Posted by
6184 posts

I'm almost tempted to skip Warsaw

I'm totally biased on this one, but I wouldn't skip it. The Warsaw Rising Museum (http://www.1944.pl/en) the Museum of the History of Polish Jews (http://www.polin.pl/en) reasons enough to visit because they will allow you to delve into its history in a way you probably don't expect (they are truly excellent museums - no way would I skip them if you really want to learn about Poland). Warsaw is underrated. As for WWII history, I can't think of a more suitable city to explore it. Give it a shot, although at that time it may be gloomy and cold and that will affect your impressions of it. Stay in the Old Town or along the Royal Way for more atmosphere (the center city is packed with international hotels that look like any other, although they have incredible deals on the weekends when the business traffic dies down). My favorite memories from childhood were walking in Lazienki Park, which I also highly recommend.

PS. Gdansk will definitely not feel like a little beach town...I think you will be surprised.
http://wikitravel.org/en/Gdańsk

Posted by
12104 posts

@ cabuana....No doubt about it. I am due for another trip over there. Ten years have passed since the last one. I would go back and visit Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk to start. There is the night train from Vienna to Gdansk, which is the plan.

Anyway... Gdansk is a great choice, since you are going there for sure. I suggest at least 5 nights if you do a day out to Westerplatte from Gdansk. Being at the mouth of the Vistula, Gdansk is well worth you time, plus its WW2 significance. Torun on the Vistula. I liked too, there is the Copernicus exhibit. Keep in mind if you skip Warsaw, you'll miss the Polish Army Museum there...worth going to.

Posted by
40 posts

@ Harold and Carroll Thank you for posting the link Harold! I appreciated the honesty in Carroll's report and the comments that followed did give me a few points to ponder about this trip. As an Asian American without a single drop of Polish blood in me, the decision to visit came as a big surprise. Only one person I know (and he is known to travel off the beaten path) totally got it and said that this was going to be an amazing adventure.

I have spent a lot of time in Western Europe plus other more popular destinations ... and I thought it would be nice to go someplace that wasn't clogged with tourists. I've been poked in the eye with a selfie stick and head-butted a stranger (by accident) as we both leaned over an artifact in a crowded museum. I've been on tours with the loud and insensitive group who didn't pay attention to what was going on. I mean, really, what is the point of coming all this way if you don't respect where you are and have nothing to show for it!

I think Poland is going to be sort of a challenge for me. I don't speak the language but I will try not to let that intimidate me. The people at first glance may seem distant but hopefully, do open up when approached politely. The weather will be cold and dreary but I guess, that's where vodka comes in handy. I will be traveling alone but I hope to run into some kindred spirits along the way.

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40 posts

@ Stan I thought about doing that but I think it might be too much of an inconvenience lugging my stuff around. I'd hate to take on the crowds with my hands full.

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40 posts

@ Agnes and Fred Okay, okay ... you two convinced me not to skip Warsaw! Museums aside, I do want to pay my respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Saxon Gardens. I'd love to see the ceremonial changing of the guard which happens on Sunday but that means I would have to change the order of the cities again. I'd have to start in Warsaw then head north to Gdansk then travel south to Krakow (or head south to Krakow then head north to Gdansk). Any thoughts?

Posted by
6184 posts

Honestly, I would start wherever it's cheapest and most convenient to fly into (and makes most sense for your schedule)...unless the changing of the guard is a "must see" for you (it wouldn't be for me). Obviously there may be other events in one of your cities that are a consideration, so I would cross reference everything first to make sure your "must sees" are covered.

Posted by
40 posts

@ Agnes Another thing I had to take into consideration is the weather. Gdansk would be slightly warmer (around mid-50s) at the end of October which would make it a good starting point. If I went there later in November, it would be in the 40s. Not sure if this would make too much of a difference.

Posted by
6184 posts

Weather is definitely a sound consideration. I agree with your thinking.

Posted by
2092 posts

Definitely keep Warsaw, I don't think you'll be disappointed, though I did prefer Krakow I'm still very glad I spent 4 days in Warsaw. The language wasn't an issue, I learned the usual polite phrases and still remember beer is piwo and ice cream is lody. The people I encountered were pleasant and helpful, particularly the morning I was trying to catch the 6:30 train to Gdansk and nothing on the boards quite matched my ticket--panic-stricken I attempted to get help from a ticket window clerk--she shooed me away--and a young woman ahead of me in line said in good English that she would help me; we pondered my ticket and the board and based on the most likely train's posted destination of Gdynia we decided that was the right one. I had a seat reservation, and fortunately no one was in it nor boarded trying to sit in it.

I think you'll be very pleased with keeping your visit within Poland, I kind of wish I did the same but Prague was an easy add-on, though the hectic vibe was a rude awakening after pleasantly busy Poland. I immediately felt comfortable in Krakow, where my trip began, and that feeling stayed with me.

Posted by
12104 posts

@ cebuana....Thanks for mentioning the "changing of the guard" in Warsaw. When I was there, I missed that entirely, totally forgot about it, another reason for me to do another trip to Warsaw. Polish troops do the "goose stepping " routine for that event, as do other nationalities, eg, the Hungarians, and, of course, the Russians.

No concerns on the language issue in Poland, regardless of the city/town. I used German and English, which ever the interlocutor was more comfortable with, just depends and who the person was...they were all Polish, be it the hotel/Pension staff, train station personnel, asking for directions, waiter/waitress, etc. . You will find it easy getting around Warsaw's center and old town area on foot, such as walking from Old Town to Resistance Memorial/Museum. On outside wall of the Museum, the basic explanation is written in at least 5 languages.

I never took the bus or tram in any of the places I stayed in Poland, always walked and walked in Krakow, Gdansk, Torun, Warsaw, etc. If you do that (depending on the weather, I was always there in the summer), you'll most likely see in Warsaw and Krakow the memorial in each city to Katyn...conspicuous, can't miss them.

Posted by
40 posts

@ Christa I hope I have the same positive experience as you. I have a Google Translate app on my phone that helps with simple words. But who wants to fumble with that when you're in a panic? Also, there might not be any Wifi so the thing would be useless.

I actually thought I was going to the Czech Republic in October but I felt that Prague was going to be too hectic. I like the vibe I'm getting from Krakow which is why I will be spending more days there. I just can't wait!

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40 posts

@ Fred I am moved by the solemnity of the changing of the guard. The guards keep their posts rain or shine, snow or sleet. I have yet to see the goose step in person, so this should be quite the experience. I didn't know they had this until I looked it up specifically, so I'm glad you and Agnes talked me into going to Warsaw.

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6184 posts

@cebuana - Out of curiosity, have you seen the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery near the Nation's capital?

Posted by
12104 posts

@ cebuana... My opinion is that you don't need that Google trans. stuff. I travel in Europe without that, and you're right who wants to bother with it.

On the "goose stepping " routine done at a changing of the guard event, I've seen it in person done by two different countries, the commie East Germans on Unter den Linden in East Berlin a few times in 1987 and 1989. The other country was the Soviets at the Soviet Memorial in (West) Berlin before they pulled out in 1992. Obviously, these two are gone. The Soviet memorial is still there but no Russian sentries are present. Of course, the only other place I saw the "changing of the guard" event was in London, always catch that at least once. when I go to London.

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12104 posts

@ cebuana....part 2 here. You will find Krakow very easy to navigate, easier than Warsaw. I stayed in the main train station area, Krakow Glowny, and walked from there...lovely city. The city survived the war intact, almost undamaged, wasn't bombed out or raked by artillery fire. Hopefully the temperature won't drop during your visit. I went in the summer. On the Google trans app, keep in mind that you travel with what you're comfortable with. I don't know any Polish either, minus literally a few words. In 2001 in Warsaw and Krakow it was already tourist friendly, signs pointing to sights everywhere. I am sure it's a lot more tourist friendly now based on what I've seen in Prague in June and Budapest last year.

Posted by
40 posts

@ Agnes Yes I did! I was in DC for the first time in August 2008 and I caught it while exploring Arlington Cemetery. Have you seen it?

Posted by
6184 posts

Yes (to Arlington Cemetery's changing of the guard), but oddly I haven't seen the one in Warsaw even though I grew up there.

Posted by
40 posts

@ Fred I've seen the changing of the guard at Windsor Castle but I couldn't seem to catch the one at Buckingham Palace! At first I didn't realize that they happened every other day in October and November. Other times, I was already committed to something else. I guess it's another reason to swing by London in the future.

I like traveling in the fall when there are less tourists. Downside is that it's going to be cold and the days are shorter. Temps in Poland are going to be in the 50's, lows in the 40's with rain and possibility of snow. I'm going to start out in Gdansk before it gets too cold then migrate south towards Warsaw, then Krakow. I like to walk and take the public transportation wherever I go because something is bound to catch my eye and I would want to check it out. If I need a break, I can just duck into a cafe which I'm sure are plentiful and have a nice coffee. I also love hearty food (thank God I'll be doing a lot of walking) and there's no better time to try them than when it's cold outside.

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40 posts

@ Agnes I was wondering if you could give me some insight as to what happens in Warsaw during Halloween and All Saints' Day. I know Halloween isn't big in Poland so I will probably look up any ghost walking tours. What's the best way for someone like me to spend All Saints' Day? I'd like to see the cemeteries lit up with candles at night but which ones should I go to?

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6184 posts

Other than visiting cemeteries (which are really neat by the way), I honestly don't know what else you can do on that holiday since it's a day when folks visit their ancestors and attend church services. I've never been to Krakow at that time so I can't offer guidance on which cemeteries (feel free to ask the locals though and see if there are any special church services in Krakow, which has many beautiful churches). As for Halloween, it doesn't exist in Poland in any recognizable form that I know of. Feel free to just PM me with any other questions up until the time of your trip (I'll try to help although my experience may be limited in at least some areas).

Posted by
189 posts

I have traveled to Poland twice, during the summers of 2015 and 2016. The weather was HOT the first year (90 degrees and up), and COLD the second year (60 degrees). So who knows what you'll experience. Bring layers! The main problem may be that it will get dark fairly early, so you'll need to plan well for day-time activities.

I've been to Krakow and Warsaw. Krakow is certainly older and more charming, but Warsaw has a lot going for it as well. The two museums mentioned before (POLIN - about the Jews in Poland, and the Warsaw Uprising Museum) are both very good and can easily use up MANY hours. If the weather happens to be warm, there are a couple of parks/palaces that are worth a visit. Lazienki is closer in. They have an outdoor Chopin concert on Sundays (at least during the summer), and a small palace you can tour. Further out (and easily reached by bus) is Wilanow - a much larger palace, a "mini-versailles," and a lovely park.

The Old Town area in Warsaw was completely destroyed during the war and was rebuilt to be historically accurate. It's a nice walk to begin at the old town and walk down the Royal Way as far as the intersection with palm trees (really). There are many restaurants along this route. As you get further from the old town, there are more locals dining and various ethnic restaurants if you're tired of Polish food.

I liked Krakow as well, and wished that I had more time (I only had two full days). Many people do combine Auschwitz with the Salt Mines in one day, but I'm glad that I didn't. Auschwitz is quite intense, and I was glad to go there during the day and then relax over dinner in the evening. Krakow was not destroyed during the war, so it's buildings, churches, and old town are original, unlike Warsaw.

If you want a tour, there are many companies and individuals that offer all kinds of half-day and full-day tours in both cities. Many are listed on TripAdvisor. I found that the Rick Steves book had very detailed, and very good, directions for many walking tours.

Language was not a problem in either city. Most younger people have studied English in school and I found them very helpful when I got stuck.

Have a fun trip!

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Renee--the street in Warsaw with the palm trees is Jerozolimskie (Jerusalem), so not a tropical theme going on--I was surprised to see them, too. The National Gallery is on that street, just off the end of Krakowskie Przedmiescie, and it was a very enjoyable walk from the old town.

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hi everyone! newbie to the website as i just started my world travels last year . . i just wanted to say thank you for all the tips thus far! i am also traveling to poland over thanksgiving for one week as a solo traveler from san francisco and i am so excited to start my itinerary with all your tips and suggestions. both my parents were born in poland and my great grandparents died in Auschwitz so this is will definitely be a memorable trip for me and i can't wait to experience poland for the first time!

thanks again everyone! :)
jenny

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@ Renee I checked the website for the Lazienki Museum and unfortunately, the Chopan concerts end in September. Anyway, Lazienki and Wilanow are definitely on my list. I am also going to do Auschwitz and the salt mines on 2 different days. Both are going to be quite challenging, either physically or emotionally and I won't be able to handle them on the same day.

Thank you for the tips!

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Stop by the Wedel Chocolate Cafe in Warsaw for a delicious drink or dessert, you won't regret it! They have other locations as well, including Krakow. Wedel is the main chocolate brand in Poland with a long history.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g274856-d795736-Reviews-E_Wedel_Chocolate_Lounge-Warsaw_Mazovia_Province_Central_Poland.html

http://www.wedelpijalnie.pl/en/chocolaterias

PS. The Warsaw website you found is very helpful, particularly the PDF brochures of all the sites.

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@ Jenny D Hello and welcome! I'm glad you found my post helpful because like you, I was at a loss on how to start planning my trip to Poland. But the responses were great and I now have an itinerary! Good luck with your planning and I hope we get to swap stories later on.

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@ Agnes Oh my goodness! I am a total chocoholic! That place is about 1/2 a mile from my hotel, so it's a good thing I'll be walking a lot while I'm on vacation.

On another note, I found the only Polish deli here in San Francisco right in my neighborhood. They didn't have any pierogis or stuffed cabbages, but they had the sausages, bacon, ham and head cheese. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to try the head cheese just yet. I did grab a handful of chocolates in brightly colored wrappers and some cream fudge (it had a cow on it).

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@ cebuana....Aside from the Polish deli on Geary St., there is a Polish market (much bigger than that on Geary) in Concord, CA. The headcheese is good. You'll find headcheese served at restaurants in Germany too.

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@ Fred I'll keep an eye out for that place if I'm ever in Concord. How would you describe the taste and texture of headcheese?

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Hi,

When I had headcheese in Germany the first time, ie my 2nd trip, I liked it, It was a dish listed on the menu. It's called "Schweinskopfsülze" and was something I had eaten as a kid in SF, was used to it, no big deal. It was available in the local deli. The taste can vary a bit, depends on who makes it.

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I hope you post a trip report after your return - I'm curious to know how things went for you. Hope you're having a good time right now. My Mom came back from Warsaw in early October and said that the latter half of September was really lovely, then suddenly the weather turned real cold in early October so she came down with a nasty cold.

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Hi Agnes! This is my last night in Warszawa; tomorrow I take the train to Krakow. I can't believe my trip is halfway over and I'm having an amazing time. There are, however, two things I thought I was ready for but wasn't quite what I anticipated: how very, very cold it was going to be and how exhausted I got after some sightseeing. I think it may be the cold I've been fighting off since I got here and a little bit of dehydration.

On that note, thank goodness for electric kettles! I'm a little cautious about drinking water from the tap and I'm hesitant to make additional charges by raiding the mini bar (I have a story to share about that later). I always get two 500 ml bottles a day plus a third as part of their turn down service. I gulp them down too quickly, so I boil some water and use that for tea or for plain drinking. It tastes funny but at least I have something to drink.

I'll work on a report on my trip thus far. Stay tuned!

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Hi there,
Don't drink water from the tap. I grew up never doing that and I still don't trust it. I'm not surprised it's so cold - some parts of October and November can be brutal. On a very random note, I just learned that Warsaw has a really highly rated vegan burger place - I cannot believe it! Here's the link in case you have time to visit..there's one in Krakow as well:
http://krowarzywa.pl/en/our-menu/
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g274772-d9743887-Reviews-Krowarzywa_Vegan_Burger-Krakow_Lesser_Poland_Province_Southern_Poland.html

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Here's my trip report so far.

I flew from SF to Gdansk on Thursday afternoon and got there Friday afternoon. The weather wasn't the greatest and departures were delayed on both the long haul and the connection so I was worried I wasn't going to make it. But the line through customs was short and fast and I didn't have to go through security to have my stuff scanned again. (I had to do that on my way to Amsterdam, not sure why I didn't have to this time). It was raining quite heavily when we landed and I used Uber to take me to my hotel.

I stayed at the Radisson Blu which is a nice little hotel right by the Green Gate end of Long Market. I had a small room on the top floor with a twin bed and windows that actually opened so I could open them when things got stuffy. Breakfast was already included with the room so I didn't have to worry about that in the morning. After getting settled, I took a stroll down the water in search for a good place to have my first Polish meal. Right before the medieval crane is Pod Bandera and it seemed pretty lively with its heated seating by the water. I chose to sit inside because I was cold and I was getting self-conscious from all the staring I got. My hunger made me forget about that though and I had my first plate of pierogis with a pot of tea. Delicious!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BMH4lZ0AIqe/?taken-by=cebuana75 (I guess we can't post pics on the forum. Here's a pic I posted on Instagram. You never forget your first plate!)

Saturday morning, I joined the free walking tour of Old Town that started at the Amber Museum. It took 2 hours and it ended at the monument for the defense of the Polish Post Office. I loved our guide, but unfortunately, I forgot his name! He knew the city quite well and had a wry sense of humor. When a bunch of us asked where a good place to have lunch would be, he said to follow him since he was on his way to the train station and he'd point us to a place along the way. This place is called Pierogarnia Mandu and you can watch the staff make pierogis from the window! I tried the borscht and actually liked it. Anyway, as we walked, our guide continued to give us little bits of trivia about the city, so it felt like we were on an extended tour.

I was thinking of joining the free walking tour about the Solidarity movement later that afternoon, but after lunch, I was feeling pretty jet-lagged. I went back to the hotel and took an extended nap. Woke up, found some dinner at a nice Italian place (San Marco) near the Golden Gate. They have one of the best carbonara I've ever had! And I had the pasta, a large bottle of sparkling water, dessert and a cappuccino for far less than I thought it would be. The dollar does go a long way in Poland! I did find out that the service charge isn't included and the custom is to tip 10%. I wasn't tipping in Gdansk and I felt bad about it, but I made up for it in Warszawa.

It rained again on Sunday, so instead of heading to Malbork castle, I went to the Solidarity museum. The museum is fairly new and the information is presented chronologically on 2 levels with different medias (photos, videos, art). There is a wall with photos too graphic to be displayed in the open so they are covered up. The jacket worn by one of the victims is also there. There's a video of a truck mowing down a protestor. The last room you enter is almost bare save for a couple of long benches and a video that plays on a loop on the walls. I was alone in that room for a few minutes and I was able to collect my thoughts, process what I'd seen, listen to the haunting music and stared out towards the Solidarity Monument. I knew I wanted to come to Poland because of its fascinating history and now that I'm here, it just got very real.

Anyway, it was too short a stay in Gdansk. On Monday, I was on a train to Warszawa. (Will be on a separate post. Hope this wasn't too long!)

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This is great information Cebuana. I am heading to Krakow in January and was thinking about going to other countries while on my trip but after reading about your adventures, maybe I'll just spend most of my vacation in Poland and go to some of the cities that you visited. Thank you for your detailed trip report and I look forward to going on an adventure of my own here in a couple of months.

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Great post...love your instagram photos! Look forward to hearing more about your trip and I hope the weather cooperates.

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Great report so far--I was looking forward to it, since I fell in love with Poland when I visited I was hoping you'd have an equally wonderful experience. Glad you enjoyed the Solidarity museum--I'm a big museum-goer and it's right at the top of my list of favorites, excellent and moving presentation of that era.

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Thanks for your trip report Cebuana. I'm looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip, especially your visits to Wroclaw and Krakow, as I plan a trip to those locations in Poland in June. Loved the instagram photo. Any tips and recommendations you can provide would be appreciated. Wishing you sunny skies!

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Thanks so much for your trip report, which brought back many happy memories of our trip in June! Re tipping: we also wanted to tip the correct amount, but when we paid with a credit card, we found it impossible to just add the tip. (There wasn't a place for it on the receipt, and the waitstaff looked confused when we asked out it.) We finally just made sure that we had enough in cash to give a tip. We were also impressed with what our $ would buy. Looking forward to the rest of your report!

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when we paid with a credit card, we found it impossible to just add the tip.

That's because you have to tell the person with the handheld machine the total amount (if you want to add the tip) right then and there before they run the receipt for you to sign. I found this to be the same process in several countries, even in Canada (Montreal). There is no "tip" line item...I just tell the waiter/waitress the total amount.

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Hi guys! Sorry for the delay in my posts but I did end up with a cold while in Krakow. I flew back to SF on Thursday and have been recovering since. I am posting more pics on my Instagram if you guys want to check them out. I will also be working on the rest of my trip reports so I hope I get them out later.

I seriously miss Poland! I am streaming a Polish radio station online ( it's a top hits station called Eska which I listened to a lot while I was over there). I'm also going through some pierogi and borscht withdrawal. A bowl of zurek soup would be really great right about now!

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I looked at your photos...you got some really great ones, especially in Gdansk! I see some blue skies (and some cold rainy days). I liked the way you composed your photos as well, I could tell that this is a hobby of yours. Really look forward to your trip reports, and I hope you can return to Poland in the summer one day. It will be glorious then, I promise. I don't know if you made it out to Malbork after all, but it looks like you did end up seeing Auschwitz (your picture out of the window really conveys the somber mood). I really hope your trip was worthwhile in spite of the cold temps and also catching an unfortunate cold. Did you have adequately warm clothes with you or was it just too damp and bitter? It can actually snow in mid-November and has in the past. My parents are so glad we moved out to Southern CA (back in 1981 when we immigrated to the States) and they never miss the cold weather in Warsaw (where my whole extended family lives).

PS. I loved the Chopin musical benches and the evening light show at Wilanow Palace..had no idea these existed! It's been since 2013 since I was in Poland and things keep changing all the time!!!

PSS. Did you break down and buy something made of amber?

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@ Charles I am so excited for you! I'm glad you're finding my posts helpful and I hope you tell us of your adventures as well. One thing I can't stress enough is to bundle up since you're going in the winter. I'm from California and I was freezing in their autumn weather! I am also glad I kept my travels within Poland. It became quite the immersive experience for me and this has easily become one of the most memorable trips I've ever had!

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@ Christa I fell in love with Poland too! It's a fascinating country with all this history, delicious food and a beautiful (and very complex) language. I am seriously thinking of going back when it's warmer, so I can do the things I didn't get to do the first time around.

I went to the POLIN and Warsaw Rising museums as well, and though I enjoyed them, their layouts were a bit confusing. I liked how Solidarity was organized and I appreciated that room in the end where you can sit and reflect on what you just experienced.

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@ Fred I thought this was a bit weird but I didn't see any head cheese anywhere! Maybe I should've asked?

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@ Terri Unfortunately, I didn't get to go to Wroclaw. I would've loved to visit since I hear the town has been overtaken by gnomes! There's approximately 400 statues of the little guys out and about and it should be fun trying to spot them.

I'm working on my trip reports, and I hope they will be helpful. Where else do you plan of going to while in Poland?

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@ Kathy I actually had to google tipping practices in Poland after I noticed the 'service charge not included' bit on my receipt. I also spoke to the servers and the hotel staff who brought me room service. If I used my card or billed them to my room, then the tips went to the establishment. After that, I made sure I had cash on me so that I could give them tips that they could keep.

I also found out that they earn about 300 euros less than their counterparts in, say, the Netherlands. If someone went out of their way for me, then I'd slip them 10 zlotys. Not sure if that's much but I wanted to show my appreciation anyway.

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@ Agnes I'm glad you're enjoying my Instagram posts. It is a hobby of mine and I guess I can say, I travel to take pics. The one I posted from Auschwitz best expressed how I felt that day. I was there to pay my respects, not just check something off a list. I can only imagine how horrifying it was and I hope the victims are in a better place. I pray that something like this doesn't happen ever again. I have a few other photos taken in Auschwitz but I'm debating on whether they would be appropriate to post on Instagram. Let me know what you think.

PS. Here's a link for more information on the Chopin benches.

http://biuro.chopin2010.pl/en/what-we-do/investments/chopin-benches.html
There's an app you can upload on your smart phone and 'take a selfie with Chopin' at designated points in Warsaw. I tried but it didn't work for me unfortunately.

PPS. I saw a lot of amber jewelry, but I didn't find that special one I wanted to bring home with me. I do tend to be picky. Maybe next time. I am determined to have a next time, hopefully in warmer weather!

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@ cebuana....I'm glad you found Gdansk enjoyable and interesting, as did I when I was there in 2003....always a shortage of time. That lower Vistula region is fascinating to me, seeing that countryside. I got to Gdansk the long way, took the train from Berlin with two transfers, ca 9.5 hrs. Did you make it to the Military/Army Museum in Warsaw?

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I wanted to post this link before continuing my trip report: http://warsawtour.pl/en
I can't think of a more comprehensive resource on Warsaw! I was able to find links to the museums and castles so I knew when they were open to visitors and if they had any free admission days. Other things like emergency numbers, VAT refunds and where to go do laundry are covered too. I also liked the 'In Your Pocket' app which I could glance at on my smartphone, provided I had access to wifi. Fortunately, most cafes and restaurants have wifi and there are several hot spots in the city where you can access it for free.

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Okay, Warsaw!

It was a 2hour and 50 minute train ride from Gdansk on the high speed PKP Intercity train. I did get a little confused and got off at the Warszawa Wschodnia station (in Praga) instead of Warszawa Centralna. After a momentary freakout, I was relieved to find that the train station had great wifi (unlike the one in Gdansk or on the train itself) and requested an Uber. I got to my hotel, checked in, got settled and headed out to the Old Town for a Free Walking Tour. Btw, here's a link to the Free Walking Tours: http://freewalkingtour.com/ I don't think I shared it yet and I really like these guys!

After the tour, I had dinner in the Old Town at Bar Warszawa which was recommended by the guide, but wasn't too much of a hit with me. It's definitely a place to have some drinks with the mates, but it was too dim and the music too loud. I started with the tomato soup which was pretty good. My main course however, beef cheeks with potato pancakes might have been too adventurous a choice on my part. Maybe it was the gravy (it tasted funny) or the fact that it was beef cheeks. Then I found out that it was a cash only establishment and I had to leave my cellphone as collateral so I could run to an ATM which fortunately, was right next door.

I was on my way back to the hotel when I stumbled across the E. Wedel Chocolate Lounge that Agnes mentioned. I was cold and needed something comforting. Walking in there felt like I died and went to chocolate heaven! It was warm and comfy, with soothing pink walls and the delicious smell of chocolate and coffee! I figured, I had a full day, I'm going to give myself a treat. I just had one latte with bittersweet chocolate and rose petals. The waitress playfully asked, 'are you sure that's all you want?' Umm ... yes.

The next day was All Saints Day and it rained heavily. Everything was closed, even the shops at the mall (Zlote Tarasy). I hung out at the Costa Coffee there and when the rain looked like it was letting up, I left for the Powazki Cemetery. I took the bus this time and bought a ticket good for 24 hours within Zone 1 (Zone 1 is within city limits and Zone 2 is out in the suburbs). The machine that dispenses these tickets are right next to the bus stop, have instructions in both Polish and English and you can use your debit or credit card to pay. When you get on the bus, there's a machine where you insert your ticket and you're good to go. It had gotten quite dark so the cemetery was ablaze with candles. I didn't try to find anyone famous, just walked around, looked at the interesting statues, tried to read the names on the headstones and thought of family and friends who have since gone.

I had dinner at the hotel that night and actually, had my dinners there for the rest of my stay. I was at the Sofitel which I thought had a good location, between the Old Town and downtown Warsaw. Across the street is the Saxon Garden with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the rest of the hotel is flanked with office buildings that looked almost deserted. Most of the clientele looked like they were there on business so I didn't try to initiate any small talk. It was getting darker and colder after 3 in the afternoon and I found myself warming up with tea at the lounge and then having dinner in my room. I felt a little isolated and missed that playful, laid back energy of the Old Town. If I ever visit again, I would probably find a place closer to it.

(to be continued since I'm running out of space)

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Warsaw (continued):

This is starting to get a little long so I'll try to make it brief:

Wednesday: I saw news crews and photographers gathering at the square in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It turns out that on November 2nd, 1925, the ashes of the Unknown Soldier was buried there. They were commemorating the day with a military ceremony complete with firing gun salute and then the changing of the guard. It was in Polish but it was something unexpected that I got to see!

Thursday: It was a free admission day at the Polin Museum and the audio guides just cost 10 zloty. I was having a snack at their cafe when I started to eavesdrop on a conversation at the next table. An elderly gentleman who was born around WW2 was telling his companions about life during the Soviet occupation and how he managed to escape to the United States. He was just now visiting after so many years. Quite the history lesson, and it made me think about how blessed I am.

After that, I made the trek down to Wilanow Palace for the Royal Garden of Lights. There was a lighted carriage that made you feel like Cinderella heading to the ball. There also was a light show set to 3 classical pieces that made you watch in wonder. I walked through a lighted garden of giant flowers, butterflies and a lonely snail. It was magical!

Friday: My last day in Warsaw. I started the day by visiting the Holy Cross Church. I've always loved Chopin and I wanted to see where his heart was buried. There also is a memorial for the victims of Katyn within the church. After that, I spent the rest of the day at the Warsaw Rising museum. I almost got a little emotional watching the 3D movie of Warsaw and how it looked like in ruins after WW2.

Saturday, I was off to Krakow.

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@ cebuana....Thanks for a great detailed report. I have been following every segment of it. Great that you stayed at the Sofitel

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forgot to add...There is a Sofitel here in the SF Bay Area too, a great French chain. I came across the memorial to Katyn too (identified as such) but this one is an outside memorial as is that I saw in Krakow, which you encounter when walking all over, very poignant and very striking. You saw something I missed in Warsaw...the changing of the guard, which would have been very interesting to witness.

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Wow! It seems like you saw a really nice and diverse cross section of things in Warsaw - I hope you also made it to the Old Town and walked along the Royal Way (it sounds like you did, at least a part of the way). That website link is really helpful - I'm so glad they do the themed free tours, what a great idea! If you stayed longer and the weather was better, you could have added more stuff (I think Warsaw is underrated but it does really depend on what your interests are. It's not as exciting as say Paris or Berlin but it still has lots of interesting nooks and crannies). I like Praga across the river although it's more gritty...still fun to explore different neighborhoods. And I love Lazienki Park - it's such a great memory from my childhood. Did you ever make it to either Częstochowa or Malbork during your time in Poland? It was probably way too much given the crappy weather.

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@ Fred Thank you for following my trip reports! I am a fan of the Sofitel chain despite them catering to the business crowd. I googled Sofitel SF and I keep coming up with Pullman SF Bay Hotel. Did it get bought out? I also think it was a stroke of luck on my part, stumbling onto that ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown. The changing of the guard does happen every hour, in any weather and though I haven't confirmed it, there's supposedly a longer routine that happens every Sunday. Hope you get to catch it sometime.

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@ cebuana....The Sofitel is gone at Redwood Shores in Redwood City. The fabulous hotel exists since Pullman got it. I haven't been out there in years but a relative involved in Event Management was there recently (a year or two ago?) and it was still Sofitel then. I liked going out there, very French in atmosphere. Since it's located not too far from SFO (as you know), lots of French business types stayed there, likewise with French tourists. Just being there gave you impression as a substitute (as much as possible) you were in Paris.