Please sign in to post.

Poland - What a Bargain!

My husband and I traveled to Poland in October, visiting Warsaw, Gdansk, Torun, Poznan, Wroclaw, Krakow and Zakopane. With the exception of Zakopane, which is in the Tatra Mountains on the southern border, the country is flat and not particularly scenic. The Tatras, on the other hand, are beautiful, even more than I expected. The cities all had very attractive old towns. I usually like to plan trips with a variety of experiences, and I was a bit worried that this trip might be too much of the same thing. As it turned out, it was a lot of the same thing. But I have a thing for medieval old towns, and I was in the mood to soak up atmosphere, rather than see a lot of blockbuster sites, so I liked Poland a lot. For the most part we had beautiful weather, and we really enjoyed being outside.

Poland is a terrific value! This really added to the enjoyment for us. I couldn’t believe how cheap everything was. This was a welcome change from our trip last year (Switzerland). If you are looking to stretch your vacation dollar, consider Poland.

The Swiss and Germans have nothing on the Poles when it comes to trains. Every train we took left and arrived exactly on time. Why had I never heard this? Most of the trains are modern and very comfortable. Some of the regional trains are older, but just fine.

I am not crazy about Polish food. It is a little like German food – lots of sausage, cabbage, cheese, sauerkraut, and of course pierogis. I had some good pierogis and some that were pretty blah. Fortunately, Polish restaurants serve more than pierogis and cabbage, and there are a lot of Italian restaurants, so I managed to eat well. My husband loves Polish food, so he was very happy with the food. As for drinks, apparently the Poles are partial to hard liquor – and of course vodka! There is plenty of beer, which my husband prefers, and the beer was pretty good. Wine, on the other hand (which is my beverage of choice), is decidedly unpopular – a lot of menus didn’t even have wine on the menu. However, when I asked, they always had at least one red and one white wine. I’m not any kind of wine connoisseur, so I can’t tell you if it was great wine. All I can tell you is it was good enough for me. Also, some of the restaurants had hot wine, which was delicious and very welcome later in the trip when it got fairly cold. With the exception of Krakow and Zakopane, we did not see many bakeries and the ones we saw had mostly sweet desserts, as opposed to bread and breakfast stuff. This was a little disappointing. Also, I had looked forward to the gingerbread in Torun, but this was really disappointing – it was hard and not very gingery. Don’t go to Poland for the gingerbread.

I think Rick Steves describes the people very well. They don’t initiate contact (they are the least outgoing people I have ever been around), but if you approach them, they are very nice and helpful. I liked them a lot. It doesn’t seem to be a very diverse country, and the tourists weren’t diverse either. It was extremely rare to see anyone who was not Caucasian. On the positive side, we saw almost no Americans. Not meaning to disparage Americans; I like them, but I see them every day at home! English is not that wide spread in Poland. Everyone in the hotels speaks English, at least the ones we stayed in, but you cannot count on English anywhere else, even in the train stations. Many, if not most, of the young people know at least some English, but it’s hard to find an English speaker among the middle-aged and older. But enough about the common people. Let’s talk celebrities. Here are the big three – Pope John Paul II, Copernicus, and Chopin. A pretty good line-up, I would say. The Poles are very proud of these guys.

Now I’ll cover each place we visited in a separate post.

Posted by
2283 posts

WARSAW – This city is big, and IMHO, not very attractive. I never warmed up to it. We were only there two nights, giving us just a day and a half to explore, so perhaps I didn’t give it enough time. But I’m glad I did not. We arrived around dinner time, so we only had time to eat and take a short walk before we collapsed. The next day, we walked the length of the Royal Way to the Old Town and New Town. The weather was ideal – mid-50s with sunshine and a few clouds. The Royal Way is a very pretty street and it was a lovely walk. The Old Town is very picturesque and colorful. It was completely rebuilt after WWII. I know this bothers some people, in that it’s not “real,” but I am extremely impressed with how so many cities in Europe managed to rebuild and preserve their beauty and history after the war. It is real enough for me. We did not go into any museums, but did go into a couple of churches. Our favorite place was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Saxon Garden. The next morning, we walked through Lazienki Park, which is very nice. Not a must-see though, IMO.

Posted by
2283 posts

GDANSK – We loved Gdansk and were glad we had three nights there. (I have yet to find a Hanseatic port that I don’t love.) As we walked from the train station to the hotel (weather still perfect), we went through an archway and entered Dluga street with its beautiful, interesting and colorful medieval buildings. I was in heaven! Later I discovered Mariacka street, which is even neater and more interesting. And there is also the waterfront with the iconic crane and old warehouses, and of course lots of colorful boats. It’s just a very pretty and fun place to stroll around. The only thing we did besides walk was climb 400+ steps in St. Mary’s church and enjoy the beautiful views. We also walked to the Gdansk shipyard at the north end of town and saw the monument to the fallen shipyard workers. We did not go into the museum there, which in retrospect was a mistake. It was just such a beautiful day, we didn’t feel like going inside.

From Gdansk we took a day trip to Malbork Castle, only half an hour from Gdansk by train, plus a 15-minute walk. This is a huge brick Gothic castle built by the Teutonic knights, and it is very cool. We toured on our own with an audio guide. The commentary is very good, but it is long, and eventually I got a little tired of it. But overall the castle is quite interesting and one of the best I have seen. After the tour, we walked across the river for the best views and of course, pictures. The red brick really does glow in the late afternoon. At some point this will be my Facebook cover photo.

Posted by
2283 posts

TORUN – This was a one-night stand. It sounded nice and it was on our route, so I thought why not? Besides, it is known for its gingerbread, and I love gingerbread. However, as I mentioned above, the gingerbread was not to my liking at all. Fortunately, Torun was. It was not damaged during the war and is a very pretty town, a little smaller than the other cities we visited. Apparently, it was also in the Hanseatic League way back when, so I was destined to like it, even without decent gingerbread. We had enough time to take a nice stroll around the old town and along the river the day we arrived, and then again the next morning. The weather was still sunny and now 70 degrees, so it was a very pleasant stop that I might have skipped had I known about the gingerbread.

Posted by
2283 posts

POZNAN – This was another one-night stand. I’m not opposed to an occasional one-night stop, but I don’t usually go for two in a row. However, the pictures of Poznan’s old town just looked so colorful, and again, it was on the route. Plus, it had some military stuff I thought my husband would like. Poznan, the city, was a bit grittier than the other cities we went to, and I didn’t fall in love with it. But the old town really was colorful, and it has the prettiest town hall I’ve ever seen. We tried to walk to Citadel Park that evening, but my husband lost his usually excellent sense of direction, and we got lost. So we went the next morning and walked through the Polish, Russian and British military cemeteries, which were (as they always are) very moving. We also saw some tanks and planes – the big stuff that appeals to my husband. We had to catch the train, so we didn’t have time to find Cathedral Island, but no worries. Wroclaw was our next stop and they have one too.

Posted by
2283 posts

WROCLAW – This was a two-night stay, very welcome after the two one-nighters. Wroclaw has an extensive old town and the market square is the second largest in Poland. It has more of a German feel than some of the other cities, and it was lovely. An extra fun touch is that there are 150 small brass gnomes throughout the city. It was great sport for us to find them, though we only found 39. You can get a map of the locations, but that wouldn’t be any fun! We walked over to Cathedral Island where there are a number of churches, but it wasn’t all that exciting. And only one gnome. Perhaps Poznan’s Cathedral Island is more thrilling, but we’ll never know.

Posted by
2283 posts

KRAKOW – This was our longest stay – five nights! By now I was wondering if yet another old town could impress me. Would Krakow be worth five nights? Happily, the answer is yes! Krakow was our favorite place, edging out even Gdansk, which is saying something. Krakow has a huge, wonderful market square and a youthful vibe. It was very lively, with lots of street musicians and outdoor concerts. It got quite cold when we were there, but the performers were still out there in their hats and scarves. Bravo!

In addition to the old town, which is large and fun to wander in, there is Wawel Hill with the palace and cathedral. Fortunately, it was a gorgeous day when I was there. The views of the river were nice, and that is where my husband was – doing a long run along the river (training for a marathon), so I was on my own that day. I walked through Kazmierz, the old Jewish quarter, which was very sad as there are no longer any Jews there. I also went to Schindler’s factory, which is now a museum about the Nazi occupation of Krakow. It was pretty interesting, and it was neat to think about what had taken place there. (I watched Schindler’s List prior to the trip.)

One day we took a small bus (large van) tour to the salt mine, which was an easy and inexpensive way to get there. I liked the salt mine, but I expected to like it more. Maybe it’s because I expected the salt to be bright white and everything was more of a dingy gray. I’m not sure. But I was glad we went, if for no other reason that it snowed that day and was slushy and miserable – a good day to be inside.

Posted by
2283 posts

AUSCHWITZ – This was a day trip from Krakow. We used the same company we used for the salt mine tour – Discover Cracow. I recommend them highly. They made it really easy, and our guide was excellent, as was the driver. Auschwitz was one of my main motivations for going to Poland. I had never been to a concentration camp, and I thought this would be the best one to see. I read a lot of books about the Nazi treatment of the Jews (and other groups they didn’t like) before I went. I also watched Schindler’s List (as I mentioned before) and The Pianist. I learned a lot, but what a depressing year it was leading up to the trip. I was immersed in cruelty and injustice. On the positive side, nothing surprised me at Auschwitz, and while it was certainly a sad place, it did not depress me. This may sound odd, but I was really glad to be there and see it for myself. I felt that in some small way I was paying tribute to the victims and helping to keep the memory of what they suffered alive. My husband, on the other hand, did not want to go. He said he did not need or want to be in the presence of evil. However, right before we left, he changed his mind and said he would go with me. He now thinks it’s something everyone should do at least once.

Posted by
2283 posts

ZAKOPANE – This was our last stop, just two nights. I felt like we needed some natural beauty after all those cities, so I took the recommendation of people on this site and scheduled two nights for Zakopane. It’s a relatively short and easy bus trip from Krakow. Unfortunately, the weather was not the best those days. It had stopped snowing, but was pretty overcast when we were there. Also cold! But I have to say the snow on the ground was picturesque and made it kind of fun. The afternoon we arrived we walked along the pedestrian-only street and got our bearings. The next day I had hoped to do a major hike. But given the weather, we decided to take our chances on the funicular up to Mt. Gubalowka. This was a good choice. Despite the clouds and bad weather forecast, visibility was pretty good, and we enjoyed beautiful mountains and moody gray skies. There was a paved path and lots of booths for food and souvenirs, but they were almost all closed. I could see how it might be packed, and maybe tacky, on a summer day, but it was quite pleasant when we were there in mid-October.

Posted by
2283 posts

BACK TO WARSAW – Our last day was our only long transportation day – we took the bus back to Krakow, the train to Warsaw, and the tram to the Warsaw airport, where we stayed at the Courtyard Marriott. This hotel is a short walk from the airport, so perfect for a very early flight the next morning. It was not a fun day, but we did end it with a surprisingly good dinner at the hotel restaurant. The next morning, we flew to Paris, where despite a tight connection, I had enough time to get a pain au chocolat before our flight to Pittsburgh. Okay, I’ll be honest – I got two of them!

Posted by
2283 posts

post script -- For those who didn't see it, below is an earlier post about our trip to Auschwitz that I did while we were still in Poland. I'm still shaking my head over this.

Yesterday, my husband and I visited Auschwitz via a small bus tour. We stopped at a hotel to pick up two couples. One guy got on the bus with a bottle of beer, and Michael the driver indicated that was not such a good idea. The guy said, "It's okay; almost done with it." Next one of the women got on and said, "Is there some place we can get food on this tour? We haven't had anything to eat yet." (This was at noon.) The four of them sat on the back of the bus and chatted away (in a language I could not identify), laughing hysterically while we picked up the other tourists. My husband said to me, "They must think this is the Auschwitz party bus." Once everyone was on the bus, Michael explained the schedule for the day and said we would watch a video about Auschwitz on the way. The guy with the beer yelled, "Yeah Michael." The video began and the foursome continued to talk and laugh. I will give them credit for lowering the volume, but still... It was a pretty grim video, as you would expect.

Thankfully, we never saw them again. They were nowhere to be found when it was time to move on to Birkenau. Michael drove us over and said he'd go back to Auschwitz to look for them. He did find them and told us they decided to return by taxi.

Posted by
288 posts

Thank you for your post! I am in the process of researching a trip to Poland, so this will come in very handy!

Posted by
2487 posts

You're right: a terrific country. And very reliable trains.
Two additions to your description:
Every decent Polish city or town has a Rynek, the Market Square, which unvariably is full of cafes and terraces for that afternoon beer or whatever and a perfect place for people watching.
And if time allows, a trip to the south-east, to Lublin and Zamosc, where the railway line ends, is most rewarding.

Posted by
2329 posts

Great report! I spent 8 days in Poland last May--Krakow & Warsaw with a long day trip to Gdansk--and would love to visit the other cities you went to, there is definitely a return trip to Poland in my future, for several of the reasons you mention, most particularly the distinct lack of Americans. I really felt like I was in Europe and not at home. Krakow was also my favourite.

Our dollar does indeed go a long way, the trains are reliable (and clean, as well as the cities themselves, meticulously tidy) and I found the people to be as friendly and helpful as I needed them to be. I love Polish food and beer so I was thrilled to bits with that.

I felt a strong need to see one concentration camp and chose Auschwitz, using the same tour company you did and felt it a good value and well-organized. I was surprised at how serene, and even surreal, it felt there.

Posted by
7705 posts

oh I do remember your post about the disgustingly unaware tourists headed to Auschwitz with you.

Thank you for your post report. I'm in complete agreement with you about Poland's being a fascinating place, but I also have a warm spot in my heart for Warsaw -- the history there is so compelling and the museum dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising and the Jewish Ghetto Memorial .. . the heroism of the Poles and the tragedy that they faced with the German invasion are truly mind-boggling. These sites probably merit being visited with a good guide who can explain what one is seeing, because our knowledge and awareness in the "West" is sadly lacking.

I'm so glad you enjoyed your trip - I've never been to Torun or Zakopane but would love to go.

Posted by
13011 posts

My compliments on a very interesting, informative, and detailed report. It seems to me that your observations do not contradict my observations from ten years ago, that we pretty much come away with the same observations, socially, the cuisine. etc.

I see the cuisine as central European, very good food. I'm sure the train are more modern than those back in 2001-05, which I rode on. Still, they did have one thing the over the Germans then...punctuality of the trains. They were slower to be sure but still were not late in arriving when they were scheduled to arrive.

True on the lack of diversity among tourists, I didn't see any Asian tourists in Krakow or Warsaw, let alone in Torun or Gdansk. The Chinese are not going there unlike going to Budapest, where you will certainly encounter bus loads of Asian tourists. No Americans either, very seldom. Linguistically, I found Poles especially those in the service/tourist industry to be all very adept at English. For middle age Poles I ran into in Krakow and Gdansk, used German as the second language or first language if they more comfortable with that. At the Pension I stayed located in the "old town" the other guests whom I saw at breakfast were Poles or German, no North American English to be heard. The breakfast was very close to a traditional German breakfast you got 40 years old in a Pension in Germany before it became "internationalised." I thought at the time (2003) was that really so or was Pension catering to German guests whom it obviously assumed would stay there. Obviously, Gdansk since you'll see mainly German tourists there, the same with my day trip to from Torun to Chelmno by bus in the lower Vistula valley, not the infamous one by that name.

Posted by
1364 posts

Your trip report is wonderful and brought me right back to our trip to Poland. It was our first time in continental Europe, and was only a few weeks after they joined the EU. I found less language barrier here than in Spain.

We spent nine nights in Warsaw and seven nights in Krakow. We were lucky to be shown around by local people (long story regarding a science conference and a former prof of my DH's). It was the only trip we truly got "off the beaten path". This includes being taken into the woods to stay at somebody's cabin (whose? where? still not sure); doing an English language storytime for school children; going to a U of Warsaw prof's home to see their genealogy research; taking yellow roses to a dinner at someone's home only to be told that in Poland yellow roses are for death/funerals; being taken to strawberry pick goodness-knows-where in the countryside and having an old lady feed us homemade cake and fresh from the milk cow as a thank you; and, being put up at a prof's home [she was in Italy], but no one told her daughter who came to water the plants and found us planted in her mom's living room! The top story of the whole thing was being taken to have a very suspect massage at some Russian guy's apartment!

Despite all this, or maybe because of it, no trip has ever quite compared.

Posted by
3580 posts

Excellent report, Carroll. You made me want to go to Poland.

Posted by
4637 posts

I was very pleasantly surprised by Gdansk. I liked it even more than Krakow. I absolutely recommend Museum of Solidarnost (Solidarity). It opened just last year. Great! Once in Gdansk you can visit nearby spa town Sopot with the beaches of the Baltic Sea and then a little town at the end of long narrow peninsula. The town has an interesting name - Hel. (just one L, but sounds the same). When we were there it was cold and drizzling (usual May weather there) so we send postcards to our friends: Many greetings from Hel. We expected it to be hotter.
And again I was surprised by Warsaw how lively and exciting city it is. Old Town was rebuilt perfectly. The feeling of it is authentic, I would not say that it was rebuilt unlike in Munich which was rebuilt, too but I could not help myself - the feeling was that it was somewhat artificial.
Malbork - the largest gothic castle (also rebuilt) in Central Europe (if not all). You can do it as a day trip from Gdansk or on the way from Warsaw to Gdansk (or vice versa).
Krakow - everybody knows - it is the most visited city in Poland - for a reason. People also visit nearby Auschwitz (Oswiecim) and Wieliczka salt mines.
Zakopane - mountain resort about two hours by bus from Krakow. Four hours by train. But the tracks are going through big reconstruction so train is nowadays out of commission. If you are in Zakopane, visit Morskie Oko (Sea Eye), one of the most beautiful lakes anywhere. Right on the foot of the highest mountain of Poland - Rysy.
I agree with Carroll that Poland is a great destination, underrated and bargain compared to western Europe.

Posted by
31524 posts

Carroll,

Thanks for posting your descriptive and detailed trip report of Poland. I've only visited one small city in Poland (Zagan), and found some the same things you commented on.

First, the people were wonderfully friendly and helpful, and that alone is a reason to return there. I agree it's a great bargain, which is increasingly important for me given the current state of the Canadian dollar. I also found that English was not always spoken when dealing with local restaurants or other businesses, even by the younger crowd. The language issues provided me with some interesting travel experiences.

In reading your description, one interesting point to note about your visit to the British cemetery in Poznan. As I recall, "the 50" from the "Great Escape" are now interred there.

Auschwitz, Krakow and Warsaw are on my list, but I haven't made it there yet.

Posted by
1874 posts

Thanks for an informative report Carroll. We really liked our several days in Krakow a few years and were similarly impressed with the value our money bought. We went from Poland to CZ Republic and on to Austria and watched our expenses mount with each move. A great trip, but we both thought it would have been easier on the wallet shock if we had reversed the itinerary. Thank you for posting.

Posted by
5152 posts

Carroll, thank you so much. We actually lived and worked in Poland for three years way back when. In fact, we were there when martial law was declared! We loved it. We lived in Poznań, which is a beautiful city. It's too bad you weren't there longer. The cathedral is not as famous as many others, but I always found it beautiful and inspiring. Beautiful, sweeping Gothic arches, and not much ornamentation. Very spiritual. Our last year there we lived in Łódz, a very different experience.

One thing about the bakeries: there are two kinds, one which sells wonderful sweets, and the other which sells amazing bread. When we were there, you could get bread either in the grocery stores, and it was very good, or in what were then private bakeries, and it was heavenly. Yes, even during the Communist period Poland had private businesses and small farms. Not many people know that.

I know it must be very different now, but your lovely depiction made me homesick. Thank you.

Posted by
2545 posts

Thank you for the great trip report, looking into Poland for this summer.

Posted by
13011 posts

Hi,

In walking around Krakow and Warsaw, exploring the sights related to the war, etc. I came across striking memorials to Katyn in the city center. The memorial to the Warsaw Uprising is big as well as striking. What I found at Malbork castle and the outside explanations of the Warsaw Uprising Museum are that the tours/explanations are in given in several languages. The general regret is not having factored in more time for each visit in Poland, if only as down time, or going to Westerplatte when staying in Gdansk to see where the war began.

Posted by
231 posts

Carroll, Thanks so much for your trip report! We're touring Poland in June and are really looking forward to it. I've made a note to see the movies that you suggested. Can you recommend any books to help us prepare? Thanks!

Posted by
2329 posts

Fred--I was only in Gdansk for a long day trip--well-worth the 3 hr each way train trip to see the new Solidarity museum, plus the beautiful architecture of the town and a boat ride out to Westerplatte. As a huge WWII history buff I felt it extremely important to see where the war began in Europe.

Seeing all these enthusiastic posts about Poland makes me really happy--I chose to go there for the history, almost on a whim, and was totally captivated by it and it sounds like a lot of others here feel the same way. When I told people I was going there I got vaguely polite responses, not at all like the excitement when you say you're going somewhere "popular" like France or Italy. I feel like it's a wonderful secret for just us.

Posted by
2283 posts

Kathy, I had some trouble finding books about Poland and only read these three:
Poland by James Michener - I had no idea he had written a book about Poland. (Is there any country he hasn't written about?) I really debated about this and wondered if I could possibly stand another Michener family saga. It turned out to be different from some of his other books, and I picked up a lot of Polish history from it, so I'm glad I read it. Poland has a fascinating history dating way back before WWII, which was the only Polish history I was familiar with.
Night by Elie Wiesel - This one is short and predictably depressing.
The Girl from Krakow - This is not a great book IMHO, but it did give me a good picture of what Poland went through in WWII. Nothing good; this one was really depressing too. There are a lot of good reviews on Amazon, so you might even like it. Make sure you read the bad ones too so you know what you're getting into.
I also read other very good, but sad books about Europe during WWII including All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, Not I, Those Who Saved Us, and The German War. I recommend all of them.

Posted by
2283 posts

tonfromleiden - You are right about the market squares. They were in every city we visited and lots of tun.
Kim and Ilja - I am recognizing more and more that I did not give Warsaw enough time. Some cities you fall in love with at first sight. Others require more time and exploration. Apparently, Warsaw is in the latter category. Poznan is probably the same, Jane. Our hotel was in a kind of gritty section near the old town. I should know you can't judge a city by one night in one area. I'm sorry I missed the cathedral.
Ken - You are right about the cemetery in Poznan including the graves of the guys in the Great Escape. That move always bugged me. I expected it to have a happy ending and never understood why if was called the Great Escape if it wasn't successful.
Christa - I know exactly what you mean. When I told people I was going to Poland, almost all of them said "Why did you pick Poland?"

Posted by
4637 posts

You will find a lot of recent history of Poland in these two books:
Anne Applebaum: Iron Curtain - the Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944 - 1956
Victor Sebestyen: Revolution 1989 - the Fall of the Soviet Empire

Posted by
6881 posts

Hi Carol,
So, out of curiosity, why did you select Poland as a travel destination?

I'm not surprised you didn't see American tourists - if they are in the workforce, they have too little vacation and too little time even to accommodate the big ticket/blockbuster countries (it's a really big world out there with lots of popular places demanding more attention and having a much greater marketing and psychological presence in the imagination of would-be travelers). Poland is too far off the radar screen for Asian tourists (I doubt Poland spends much resources directly marketing in foreign countries or even having a national strategy for capturing certain tourists). The language is a perceived barrier (it's very difficult to pronounce - I'm Polish so I accept this to be a natural obstacle). To add to that, you will find no English translations in the real out-of-the-way museums or sites (probably because they won't make the investment for attractions largely frequented by Poles, not tourists). Having said all that, just find any budget airline that flies direct to Warsaw and you are guaranteed to see many tourists from that country (largely England). As for Americans, I think they need to have a specific interest in Poland to make it out there..or at least an adventurous spirit and an openness to go somewhere less traveled. I totally agree that one should give Warsaw at least a few days - one and a half really does not do it justice as there as wonderful and interesting sites and museums to see beyond the Old Town/Royal Way (I have a bias as I'm from there, but I would honestly say the same thing about any large city that seems to get an ugly duckling/underdog wrap - whether Los Angeles or Bucharest or Bratislava, you name it).

Posted by
231 posts

Thanks for the book suggestions! My library will be my next stop.

Posted by
6802 posts

For contemporary fiction, the two books by Zygmunt Miloszewski, "Entanglement" and “A Grain of Truth,” are crime novels that give interesting glimpses of current life in Poland. The second of those is set in Sandomierz, which is as charming a small town as I've ever been in. Well worth a visit, and not far from Warsaw and Krakow.
The classic historical novels by Nobel prize-winning author Henryk Sienkiewicz are known as "The Trilogy": "Fire in the Steppe", "With Fire and Sword", "The Deluge" , set in 17th century Poland during the wars with Sweden. They are full of brave knights and comic sidekicks and Polish history as well.

Anne Applebaum also wrote "Between East to West" about the borderlands between Poland and Russia and the history of ethnic conflicts there, from a cultural and social aspect more than the political events.

Posted by
2283 posts

Agnes, I selected Poland because I had never been behind the old Iron Curtain and decided it was time to go there. I got Rick Steve's Eastern Europe guidebook and narrowed it down to Poland or the Czech Republic mainly because Prague and Krakow (including Auschwitz) appealed to me the most. I also considered zipping around to some of the big cities (the two above plus Berlin and Budapest). However, I like the idea of immersing myself in one country (as much as you can in 2-3 weeks). Ultimately, I selected Poland because my husband was enthusiastic about it and I wanted to go to Auschwitz. Neither of us have a drop of Polish blood.

It's hard to say why we pick the places we go. I still haven't been to Italy, Greece, Turkey or the Netherlands, all of which are high on my list. Every year I just seem to get into the mood for a particular place or region. I honestly feel like there is no place in Europe I wouldn't like. Unless it's hot.

Posted by
4637 posts

I would also add this book:
Timothy Snyder: Bloodlands.
When you read it you will learn among others that Poland losses in WWII were greatest if considered per capita. Polish people were being killed from both sides - German and Russian. Unlike other Slavic nations there has been historic animosity between Poland and Russia.

Posted by
13011 posts

@ Christa....As they say, there is always next time for Poland, since you missed Westerplatte for lack of time as I did. I probably could have made it had I not decided to go back to "old town" so very enticing for a repeat visit. True, when I mention Poland , ie having been there 3 times, the usual response from non-Polish Americans is why? The same response you got too, no real excitement. I'm one of these non-Polish Americans too...lol and am absolutely glad I went the first time in 2001, obviously, to see if it held enough interest, and all that so as to return 2 years later for the second trip followed by the third trip in 2005 to Torun. Americans can make it over to Poland easily by being more imaginative in travel and route planning.

If Poland is off the tourist radar for Asian tourists, still, ie ten years after 2005, why? Why do they increasingly go to Budapest, where the language and distance (psychologically) are prohibitive factors. If one compares seeing Asian tourists in 2005 to 2015 in Budapest, a lot more of them can be seen presently. One can be sure that Chinese and Korean investment is taking place in BP if these tourists are setting BP as a tourist site. As a total outsider I saw the difference between the 2010 day trip and the 2015 in BP when in Castle Hill, in the area of the Mathias Church, across the Danube opposite of the parliament building, etc

Posted by
13011 posts

If you want to read up on Polish history, etc Poland's role in WW2 and so on, you have to include the works of that British historian (somewhat of a mavarick) Norman Davies.

Posted by
6881 posts

If Poland is off the tourist radar for Asian tourists, still, ie ten years after 2005, why? Why do they increasingly go to Budapest, where the language and distance (psychologically) are prohibitive factors.

I think it's because Budapest actually has a sizable Chinese community living there and there are stronger trade ties between the two countries. The suspension of Visa requirements in the early '90s also helped bring new arrivals to Hungary in search of economic opportunities. The below article alludes to this:
http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/society/article/parallel-lives-the-chinese-community-of-budapest.html

Posted by
283 posts

I can't tell you how excited I was to see the postings about travel to Poland! Thank you Carroll for starting this thread and to everyone who has contributed to it. We are planning a trip to Poland and surrounding countries in September 2016 and are so looking forward to it. Like every one has mentioned, friends respond with a polite "that's nice" when they hear of our plans, as opposed to "Wow, you're going to Italy?" that we've heard in the past. Because Poland is not so much on the travel radar, there isn't much in the way of first hand accounts such as I have read here. Thanks for that as well as the suggestions for reading. Some of the books I had heard of, but appreciate the other suggestions.

Posted by
1874 posts

An excellent book I thought....Mila 18 by Leon Uris. And from the "teachers touch lives" department: there no question but that I went to Kraków at the age of 60 because the Library Lady read The Trumpeter of Kraków by Eric P. Kelly to our 4th grade class nearly 50 years earlier.

Posted by
2329 posts

I'm delighted that Stan mentioned the books by Zygmunt Miloszewski, I happened to find one in a shop at the train station in Warsaw and was immediately enthralled, then bought the other off Amazon. Humorous and acerbic view of life in modern Poland, plus a great mystery coupled with the life issues of Prosecutor Teodor Szacki.

I read a few other books prior to travelling to Poland, some by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Schindler's List, The Pianist, poems by Wislawa Szymborska and one called 3 Minutes in Poland by Glenn Kurtz--based on a 3 minute section of film shot by his grandfather on a trip back to his home in Nasielsk, Poland in 1938, he tries to find the ancestors of the people seen in the clip, as pretty much the entire Jewish population of the town were killed. Very interesting book, and in a strange moment of chance I woke up briefly on the train ride back from Gdansk, maybe 15 minutes outside Warsaw, and saw the train station for Nasielsk--funny, I hadn't noticed any of the other town names we passed through, just that one that I somehow felt a connection to.

Posted by
13011 posts

"...Budapest has a sizable Chinese community living there." "sizable," ? I wasn't aware of that. I'll check up on the numbers of Chinese living in BP. No doubt that Chinese investment and tourist numbers have obviously increased from my first time time there in 2010 to last year.

Posted by
6881 posts

"...Budapest has a sizable Chinese community living there." "sizable," ?

Sloppy wording, but I meant relative to Poland which has more Vietnamese residents (and hardly any at all). You won't find many (if any) articles about Chinese residents in Warsaw, unlike Budapest. Budapest is simply a more central trading gateway between Europe and Asia, and that draws enterprising people in who come there to sell goods.

Posted by
13011 posts

My only time in Krakow in 2001 I went to a restaurant that was labelled as a Chinese restaurant, a hole in the wall place , crowded, and run by Vietnamese. I did notice that since they spoke both Polish and Vietnamese to each other. The language was certainly not Chinese, and besides they did not look it.

Posted by
31524 posts

Carroll,

"Ken - You are right about the cemetery in Poznan including the graves of the guys in the Great Escape. That move always bugged me. I expected it to have a happy ending and never understood why if was called the Great Escape if it wasn't successful."

I think the term "The Great Escape" was used more to describe the number of escapers (76) as well as the impact this had at that time (although there's some debate on whether the impact was as large as they had anticipated). Whether it was successful in the way they intended is also debatable.

As you might expect, the movie wasn't exactly "factual" and some of it was complete fantasy, such as the motorcycle sequence with Steve McQueen at the end. That sequence was reportedly added at the insistence of McQueen, who wanted to "show off". If you remember that scene, it showed snowy white peaks just across the barbed wire, which tended to imply that Switzerland was just over the wire. WRONG - Switzerland is a long way from where the camp was located. Even if he had escaped to Switzerland, he would have been interred in a Swiss Internment camp for the duration of the war (slightly more comfortable but still a prison). Another fact is that no Americans were involved in the escape, as they had been moved to an adjacent (South) camp about five months before the escape took place. I could go on but in the interest of brevity I'll leave it at that.

"The 50" interred in Poznan (they were formerly interred at a memorial near Stalag Luft III) didn't have a happy ending, but thankfully the RAF ruthlessly hunted down the Gestapo perpetrators after the war, and justice was served (many were executed).

Posted by
2283 posts

Ken, Thanks for all the details on The Great Escape. Travel can open your world to so many things - including old movies you might have forgotten. Or never heard of, if you are a lot younger than me.

Posted by
7705 posts

As maybe as cheesy as it might be, I have to agree with Michener'sPoland as a great intro to give an overview of the broad swath of Polish history in an easier fashion than Norman Davies.

Another book that's out of print but is absolutely fascinating if you can find it is Jan Nowak's Courier from Warsaw, an autobiography of his experiences as a young Polish patriot running intelligence for the Home Army - when you read, you realize that those working for the Polish resistance had to decide at literally every moment whom to trust and whom not on instinct - the wrong document given to the wrong person, and the Nazis would have you. I recognized that Alan Furst had taken one of the episodes from his life and fictionalized it in one of his WWII-era spy novels (those are also good, and quite a few of them have a Polish angle).

see a review of Courier from Warsaw here:

http://www.derekcrowe.com/post.aspx?id=71

Publisher's Weekly starred review of Alan Furst's The Polish Officer

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-679-41312-7

And from a Guardian review of Furst's Spies of Warsaw

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/jul/13/fiction.reviews2

A quote from the Guardian review, which discusses Furst's larger oeuvre, (an LA times reviewer noted that he has taken for himself the pre-WWII and early WWII Europe, just as Le Carré did the Cold War):

From all the above, a new reader could be forgiven for thinking that Furst just follows a formula, but that ignores the role that history plays in shaping the books. Warnings are ignored and intentions misread because that is precisely what happened in the Thirties. Throughout the intricate plot involving Russian defections and tensions within the different arms of German intelligence, less well-known parts of interwar history - the Polish-Russian war of 1921, real Polish-German spy scandals of the Thirties - play their part. But ultimately, it is neither plot nor history that draws the reader in: it's the evocation of smoky workers' bars at dawn on the Vistula, of raucous brothels at night in Berlin, the small signs of a continent staggering towards catastrophe.

Derek Crowe again pulls together various reviews in one place (here's where I found the reference to the LA Times review, which is linked):

http://www.derekcrowe.com/post.aspx?id=39

Here's Scott Timberg's interview with Alan Furst in the LAT in 2008, when Spies of Warsaw was published:

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jun/03/entertainment/et-furst3

Alan FURST writes elegant, atmospheric spy novels set in continental Europe in the 1930s and early '40s: He owns the pre-World War II period as completely as John le Carre owns the Cold War.

Posted by
242 posts

Thanks for all of these replies and the report. I've only been to the Krakow area but my favorite day was getting into the area where my husband's grandfather came from, about an hour's drive. Poland broke all the stereotypes I had in my mind. The people are kind and in the cities, quite sophisticated. The housing is so much nicer than I imagined and the prices were a big relief from the other European counties. I think the churches were stunning and I felt much safer than compared to other European countries. We will be returning this spring and venture out on our own.

If your heritage is Polish, take time to do some research to find the villages and go to an outside folk village or skansen from their area. I loved the one near Krakow.

Posted by
379 posts

Thanks for a thread with many great information about Poland. I'm, however, intrigued by the comments about the lack of Americans there.

Do you intentionally make such an observation when you travel? If you do, why?

Posted by
2329 posts

I comment on the lack of Americans in countries I visit simply because I feel more like I'm far, far away from home when surrounded by a cacophony of foreign languages. Also, perhaps a bit silly, it makes me feel just a little like I've discovered somewhere that no one from America has been to.

Posted by
13011 posts

When I hear various languages spoken, I pick up immediately on any North American accents or would notice Americans. True, that hardly any Americans go to Poland relative to other nationalities of tourists you see there, also depends where in particular in Poland apart from Krakow and Warsaw. When I was on the train to Szczecin (where I had to transfer) or to Torun, I didn't see any on the same coach, or in Gdansk (mostly Germans, understandably) or in the small town Chelmno near Torun.

Posted by
2283 posts

Regarding seeing Americans when I travel: I don't necessarily think about it; I just can't help noticing American accents. It was really unusual for us to see/hear so few Americans on this trip. I agree with Christa on this. I love the feeling of being somewhere different from where I am from.