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Poland Packs a Punch Trip Report - RS Tour 5/21-5/30

Poland packs a punch – their sad and tragic history - The Poles have been through so much tragedy with the Nazis, WWII, death camps & murders of Jews and the 44 years of Communism as well as the 3 previous Partitions.

The positive punch is that the population is 95% Catholic and their Faith unified them throughout the 44 years of bondage. Also, today freedom-loving Poles are still firmly Catholic and embracing the Ukrainian refugees with empathy. The Solidarity movement started with the shipyard workers, led by Lech Walesa, ending in the Communist government handing over the keys. Pope John Paul II, a Pole, is an important part of their story and the fact that he came to Poland in 1979 and 1984, helped to move the country closer to freedom from Communist rule. Nowa Huta, a planned Communist town on the outskirts of Krakow, is a worthwhile visit simply to see and step inside the Lord’s Ark Church of Krakow; the inhabitants built it by hand and with their own money. They asked the Communist government for a church and were denied but were allowed to build it if they raised the money and built themselves. Which they did! Inspiring!

Flights: ATL>AMS>Gdańsk 5/17, Delta, operated by KLM. We were delayed 1-1/2 hours in Amsterdam. On the KLM Cityhopper flight, a young flight attendant and I had a lovely conversation about travel. She is 25, from Amsterdam, and became a flight attendant in order to travel the world. After she has worked on the Cityhopper routes after 5 years, she is eligible to apply to work on the big KLM that flies all over the world. When I deplaned in Gdańsk, she gave me an amenities bag with a small bottle of champagne and other goodies likes cookies and cheese crackers! She included a sweet note too.

I was met at the airport by a driver the hotel uses. The hotel called me and asked if I was at the airport as the driver was waiting for me; we were waiting for our bags almost 30 minutes at the baggage carousel! Finally I was in the car headed to the Admiral Hotel on the edge of the Old Town. The driver took me on a mini-tour of the Old Town pointing out places of interest, I was tickled by his enthusiasm but hoped he would deliver me to the hotel soon!
Got to my room about 7 pm, it was still light out and while I wanted to nap, I realized I needed to walk and take advantage of the daylight as the 9 pm sunset is fast approaching. Walking along the riverfront is lovely with lots of people out strolling along. There is a colorful carousel with lights and beautiful murals and children riding that adds to the lighthearted atmosphere of this relaxed town. It is part of a tri-city area with Gdynia and Sopot. Westerplatte near there is the place where the Nazis attacked the munitions depot on September 1, 1939, thus began World War II. Gdynia has an excellent Emigration Museum which I was tempted to visit but didn’t. I don’t have Polish heritage so it wasn’t a burning desire for me.

5/18 I grabbed a quick bite to eat somewhere on the riverfront and walked until 9 pm, went back to my hotel room and unpacked a little and got ready for bed. Slept well.
5/19 Sunday – breakfast in the hotel, extensive buffet! Went to mass at St. Mary’s Basilica at noon, service all in Polish. St. Mary’s would completely fill up a football field it is that huge, full of art in the many chapels. I went back two more times while in Gdańsk it is that interesting. After the service, I saw a private christening of an adorable baby.

5/19 (cont.) Did some wandering after the service at St. Mary’s and then walked to the World War II Museum, using the Carousel along the riverfront as a landmark! The museum is an excellent one and after spending a couple hours, I was done. I only made it through Section 6 out of 10. Very heavy (I’ve been to Berlin & other WWII sites), so I don’t know why I was so affected this time. Went to dinner twice, 2 nights in a row, we loved the food so much.

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I made a mess of my report on my computer, need to figure out what I did. But I plan to add sections here in the Add Reply.

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495 posts

Great start Judy B! I was planning on going to krakow some day to see a special painting I’ve long adored, The Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo. But after meeting Tomas, one of RS Polish guides, on the Prague Budapest tour (he was assisting our guide) I am now very tempted to get to know Poland more completely. You really brought the history and culture to life so far! What an amazing century they have had. I can’t wait to read more.

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7652 posts

Thank you, Judy, and I’m looking forward to your additional report info. Haven’t been to Poland, but it’s at the top of our “next destination” list.

You pack a punch, too, having such rapport with the KLM flight attendant that you got the sweet note from her, and nice goodies, too. Few other passengers must get the same send-off, or likely have the same kind of conversations with her on the flights.

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Dined al fresco at Fellini Italian Restaurant twice, 2 nights in a row!

5/20 - Went back to St. Mary's with my friends, J&S, and wandered through the Old Town with Rick's guidebook. Later my friend arrived to the hotel, and we met up in the late afternoon, walked along the riverfront and had dinner.
5/21 - my friend and I made our way to the Gdańsk National Museum to see Hans Memling's 15th Century painting, Triptych with the Last Judgment. Breathtaking art displayed by itself in its own room. However, the room was overtaken by a group of noisy school children so we toured other rooms in the museum. After about 45 minutes, we were left alone in the quiet to meditate on this lovely artwork!

Note: the month of May is designated for school field trips, and, as proof, we encountered them everywhere we went. Something to keep in mind for your May travel plans for Poland.

The Rick Steves tour officially began:
5/21 - Agnes, our guide, introduced herself and we tour members introduced ourselves to each other and chose our buddies. Agnes provided some Polish snacks and drinks for our meeting. I believe we had 24 people, all couples except for 4 solo travelers. She took us on a brief walking tour on the way to dinner at a Polish restaurant near the hotel. Our group seemed to jell immediately, many of us had been on multiple RS tours, 12 for me. J&S - 20 tours. My buddy and her husband - 12, another couple - 13 or more. Very few total newbies to RS tours.
Agnes, was a charming, informative and enthusiastic guide and would address us as "Ladies and Gentlemen" in her Polish-accented English, excellent English I might add. She learned English and Polish in school from her earliest years. All the museums & sites had extensive captions in English alongside Polish which helped me immensely. It's as if they want us to really understand. Monika, our City guide in Krakow, learned Russian and English in school, as she is 3 years older than Agnes. English was required after 1980. We learned so many interesting facts about their life and culture. Agnes tried teaching us Polish words - I learned to pronounce 3 or 4. She said once you knew the pronunciation rules, Polish is easy!

I think affectionately of Agnes as our Polish Mary Poppins - the reason is I took a photo of her holding up her umbrella at Malbork Castle on one of the drizzly days we had. She is a star in the Rick Steves firmament of guides!

Overall comments on the tour: I talked earlier about the heavy history, etc. of Poland, and it truly is that but the tour itinerary counterbalances that with lighthearted activities and, of course, our lovely tour mates.

I have to leave for awhile so I will catch up later.

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Judy, yes, arriving at 7 p.m. it's too late for a nap, but the good part is you don't have long until bedtime.

I've found a nap of no more than an hour when arriving in the morning makes all the difference in the world, and makes that first day so much more enjoyable instead of gutting it out like a zombie.

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486 posts

Thanks for posting. Looking forward to the rest

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9876 posts

Poland is such a special place. I am enjoying your trip report immensely !

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10402 posts

I can’t wait to hear more. We will be in Poland in October, going to Krakow, Warsaw, Gdańsk and Toruń. I’m really looking forward to it.

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6377 posts

Judy B, what a great report! And what a joy to finally meet you “in real life.”

I appreciate your discretion, but will out myself and my husband Stan as the J&S in your group. I can’t wait to hear more of your impressions.

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4011 posts

Great report so far! While their sad and tragic 20th century history is definitely front and center of any visit to Poland, I hope you have also experienced their vibrant and fascinating medieval/early modern history, when Poland was arguably one of the most forward thinking socio-political entities in Europe. This is the time when art/fashion/architecture/science/philosophy of Renaissance Italy was widely adopted in Poland. This golden age of Polish history and culture is unfortunately often overlooked by foreign visitors.

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Hi, Judy B! Glad to see you've been traveling again ... your knee must be better. :) I'm looking forward to the rest of your trip report as I'm hoping to do the Poland tour in the next couple of years. -Teresa

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2499 posts

Diane, it is a great tour, you will love it!

Lyndash, I wanted to see The Lady in the Ermine painting in Krakow but didn’t have time. This tour is perfect for getting a deeper dive into Poland and all its bounty of cultural delights.

Cyn, I hope you will go to Poland sometime, it really is a wonderful place, especially the people.

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Jane, it was a tremendous pleasure to tour Poland with you and Stan. I loved our dinners at the Fellini restaurant in Gdańsk. I think I still remember at least 1 word of Polish.

Carlos, please don’t misunderstand the point of my trip report, I did love Poland and almost everything about the tour.

Teresa, hi! Nice to hear from you. I did several months of physical therapy on my knee, a torn meniscus, and went on the My Way Alpine tour and then the 7 Days Paris tour and now, Poland. I highly recommend this tour and hope you will go and have a great experience.
Now I will try to finish it up.

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5/22 – Day 2 – Went on a walking tour of the Old Town and St. Mary’s Basilica, my 3rd visit, I was beginning to feel like it was my church! At 12 noon, the Astronomical clock doors open, and bells chime the time for a parade of Saints. School groups were there in force for the once-a-day viewing. There’s also a shrine to Pope John Paul II, very nice. A very moving Statue of Jesus weeping for the war dead, 1939-1945.
After this, we had free time for lunch, etc.
Then we met later in the afternoon to tour the magnificent and highly regarded Solidarity Museum, I learned about the shipyard workers’ strikes, led by Lech Walesa, in 1980 and the decade following that led to the Communists leaving Poland to the Poles in 1989. I do recall newspaper and TV reports from those years about the strikes and eventually the Solidarity Movement. There were original artifacts galore, so you had a glimpse of what life was like back then.
Then the fun event of the evening – a Vodka Tasting with food. A charming young man gave a fun presentation giving us a chance to enjoy each other’s company.
5/23 – Day 3 – On the bus on the way to Torun, we learned about storks and saw platforms high up with nests, even babies poking their little heads above the nests as their parents busily fed them. We stopped along the road for photo, it was a delight! Storks are a protected and beloved bird in Poland and they return every year to lay their eggs and raise their babies. They migrate thousands of miles to spend the summer in the Polish countryside. We also learned about the great decline in their numbers – they are shot down when they fly over Lebanon! Shocking. That’s not the only reason for their decline, loss of habitat.
Malbork Castle tour – amazingly, it is the largest brick castle in the world, built by the Teutonic Knights, an order of military monks. They fought in the Crusades and were given land for it. It was heavily damaged in WWII and has been restored. The frescoes and elegant columns and worship spaces are lovely. It would be easy to get lost and never be found in this huge place!
We had a delicious lunch at a restaurant right outside the castle. Then back onto the bus!
Arrival in Torun – hotel was very nice, Solaris, and located right across the street from a cathedral I only had a few minutes to pop in the next morning before we left and saw how gorgeous it is! A service was in progress, and I wished I could have stayed because the singing was heavenly. Not enough time to do everything you want!
Agnes led us on a walking tour of this cute town, with a big statue of Copernicus in the town square who discovered that the earth revolved around the sun, heliocentrism, a theory which sent the Catholic Church into a tizzy.
Gingerbread decorating event, another group bonding activity we all enjoyed. The emphasis was on non-edible gingerbread in case anyone was tempted to munch on the fragrant dough. We now each have a possible Christmas ornament. After this, we had free time for dinner. My friend and I found a Georgian restaurant, Serce Gruzji, which confirmed our first time eating Georgian food (lunch in Gdansk), very nice. Rick described it in his guidebook, and I can confirm it is different and very delicious. If you go to Poland, be sure to seek out Georgian food, you will thank me and Rick! We did find a store Cameron Hewitt recommended that sells fabulous gingerbread, the edible variety. and we tracked it down and each bought a bag of this irresistible treat.

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Judy, I’m enjoying your trip report and looking forward to reading more. I was in Poland in December (Wroclaw) and was completely charmed by it. I definitely want to return to see more places!

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Finally I'm back to try to post more of my trip report to Poland.

5/24 – Day 4 – Sierpc Open Air Folk Museum on the way to Warsaw. All city kids luxuriate just being in the countryside! Believe or not, we encountered large school groups at this Folk Museum and I forgot to mention they were also to be found at Malbork Castle. It is admirable that schoolchildren are sent on these field trips to learn about their culture. I did enjoy their high spirits.

There was a manor house furnished in period furniture and décor which I found fascinating, also a purple-painted tenant’s cottage with shutters and a flower garden presenting a photo opportunity. Agnes, our guide, took our pictures of several of us with my phone so I have keepsakes. I use the TouchNote app on my phone to make postcards using the pictures I take to send to friends and family. There were horses and a pony in a fenced-in field, a beautiful wooden church with a fancy gold-decorated altar. We saw beehives and storks along with open fields. It was a beautiful sunny day and we happily soaked up the country atmosphere and looked at everything that evoked the way of life in past centuries. A perfect stop before hitting the big, sad city of Warsaw.

Warsaw, 3 nights, 5/24, 5/25, 5/26, Fri., Sat., Sun. Hotel Chopin B&B Hotel
After the Open Air Museum, we drove for the afternoon into Warsaw and found our hotel in an area tucked away off the main drag by the Palm Tree Circle (a fake palm tree that is quite the landmark). It comes from the fact that it is on Jerusalem Avenue. We were assigned our rooms by name not room number, I stayed in room Emilia, a smallish room with a balcony overlooking the courtyard and a modern bathroom albeit small. I hope Jane doesn’t mind if I say she and hubby had the room with the Narnia Wardrobe through which you walked to find the bathroom! We had a brief walk to our dinner at Kamanda Lwowska restaurant, delicious Polish food! Our treats were just beginning – we gathered in the hotel lounge for a magical Chopin concert! Our pianist was a charming young Asian woman who spoke of “shining moments in life” in a story she related about visiting a grave of someone she knew whose life span measured in several days. Those days were that individual’s “shining moments” out of a lifetime of many decades. Very sweet sentiments. These Chopin concerts occur every day of the year on their beautiful piano.

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Judy B, I don’t mind at all! That was a hoot; I’m glad our guide had told us that one of the rooms had a hidden bath, so at least I had a clue of where to look.

I did take a series of photos (well, two), the first with me snapping the mirrored wardrobe door, the second from the same spot, but with the wardrobe doors open to reveal the bathroom,

Don’t forget to tell about the bees and the honey; we just finished our 2 little jars last week.

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Jane, Did you & Stan have the Olga room in Warsaw? We had it on our 6/18/24 tour!

Judy, Our tour guide was Monika And she was fabulous!
This was a fantastic tour and your description "packs a punch" is right on target!

To anyone wavering on Poland - Go! Go! Go!

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6377 posts

bjdaniell, Yes! We did have the Olga room, and loved it. Although evidently there are at least two rooms with the bathroom hidden behind the wardrobe. As we were leaving, I overheard someone else saying they had that arrangement,