Please sign in to post.

RS Poland Tour- May,2023

To be honest, I am still processing all that we saw and experienced on this tour. I may at some point be ready to write a day-by-day detailed report, but right now I don’t have the time or the words to adequately describe such a powerful experience. For those details I direct you to this excellent and very accurate review by galliegirl. https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/best-of-poland-tour-review-extras-sept-2022

Having said that, I do not want to wait any longer to share some insights about the experience, and to encourage you to join one of these tours.

  1. Our tour leader Tomasz exuded sincerity and passion for his country, his customs, and his “customers”. He took the time to engage every tour member in big and small ways. He never missed an opportunity to educate us, to encourage us, and to entertain us. He is a humble guy, but one who really knows his stuff. We truly appreciated his friendly nature and optimistic outlook. We have had RS tour leaders who while technically good, were clearly burned out and just going through the motions. Not Tomasz- he is fully present , keen to share, and very genuine.
  2. There will never be a better time to visit Poland. There is no danger as the war is a long distance away, but close to the hearts of the Polish people. This small country has taken in about 4 million Ukrainian refugees. Mostly into their own homes. That level of hospitality and humanity deserves every bit of support we can provide. Your tourist dollars will never be spent more wisely than in Poland this year. It made me proud of my Polish heritage, but did not surprise me. My maternal grandparents carried this same thread of empathy and generosity toward others.
  3. This tour is full of experiences that transcend mere sightseeing. Making pierogi with Anna in her apartment offered as much food for thought as it did for our stomachs. Beautiful music in Warsaw both in the private salon and at our Ukrainian dinner. I weep as I write this remembering the introduction of the cooks and musicians who prepared and served us our food. The woman whose family has been killed. The young singer and the music professor playing the bandura - their cities and homes destroyed by Putin’s war. Watching the devotion of the pilgrims with their Black Madonna caused reflection about our own beliefs. Listening to the testimonies of Jewish prisoners in the museums. And such museums- every display being interactive and multi sensory. The helpful store clerk with no English ( and me with no Polish) joining me in a flurry of hand gestures and the shared joy of being grandmothers as she helped me find the little clay whistles I was looking for as small gifts to take home.
  4. After 9 RS tours I can honestly report that the Poland tour was the only RS tour we have taken where every single hotel accommodation was clean and comfortable. Despite what the tour literature claims, we have had moldy, uncomfortable, even dangerous situations in at least one or two rooms on every other tour. Not this time. Every room was a good size with a comfortable bed, somewhere to sit instead of the bed, a small desk, a place to hang/ store clothes, a clean bathroom with hot water, opening windows, etc.

If you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask here or send me a private message. This is a remarkable tour at such a regrettable ( and unforgettable) time. I feel very fortunate to have been able to visit the country of my heritage, and I know I will return.

Posted by
323 posts

Wonderful trip report. Thank you so much for your insights. I’m Polish American and looking forward to this as my next RS tour.

Posted by
585 posts

Thank you for this. I am considering Poland for my RS tour next year, and your review will definitely inform my decision. If you decide to post further details I will be happy to read them.

Posted by
4957 posts

I really appreciated reading what you wrote about your fabulous tour guide, Tomasz! Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

Posted by
470 posts

Tammy, no COVID on the Poland tour. At the first meeting Tomasz asked if there were any “ medical” people within the group. I think we had four physicians!

We did the Tuscany tour on this same trip, and one couple tested positive the third day and dropped out. Luckily we were at a beautiful agriturismo where they were welcomed to stay. There were no quarantine requirements so they were taken care of in terms of food, and had a beautiful location for walks, etc. We had another tour member with a bad cold, but no COVID. That person masked up the rest of the tour. Another tour member claimed to have tested negative, but was sick enough to miss a couple of days of tours. That person did show up at group meals though, and never masked.
There were only a couple of times anyone masked up on either tour, and that was in more crowded tour situations like museums.

Posted by
2490 posts

Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you had a great time! Poland has definitely piqued my interest.

Posted by
2509 posts

Thank you for the great report. This tour is one that my husband and I are interested in. I hope that RS extends the tour and makes it longer than 10 days although I suppose that we could do those extensions ourselves with a little research. Covid is still out there. My sister got covid on our recent Alaska cruise and was confined to her cabin for 75% of the tour. I think the only thing that saved us was the fact that we had our 6th covid boosters (yikes, I know) 2 weeks before the trip. But who knows. God bless the Polish people for their kindness and humanity towards the Ukrainian refugees.

Posted by
21 posts

"Transcends mere sightseeing." Yes, yes, yes! Since we took the first tour in May '22, I have been looking for words to describe this trip, and that's it! (I'm a professional writer, by the way, and seldom at a loss for words.) Thank you. So glad you loved the trip. We did too.

Posted by
4359 posts

This sounds wonderful and is a great recommendation for the tour.

I just got home from a few more days in Poland (after a month last year) and I will add that if you are not a “tour person”, Poland is easy to do on your own and totally worth it. So adding time before and/or after would be easy.

Posted by
470 posts

TexasMom, I agree that Poland lends itself to independent travel. We actually prefer to travel on our own because we like the autonomy of selecting our own hotels and adapting our itinerary to accommodate for weather and whim. Our future travel to Poland will be exclusively on our own. I also agree that this tour lends itself to extending time at the beginning and end of the tour.

In the case of Poland, 2023 the comparison breaks down slightly. On our own we would not have experienced such intimate and personal connections with native Poles and Ukrainian refugees. We simply would not have the resources or the wherewithal to make that happen. We also could not have appreciated the nuances of culture and politics that are in play right now without the insight provided by our Krakow native tour leader. This was the least “ touristic” tour we have done. ( the only tours we have ever done were RS tours)

Posted by
2651 posts

Since there’s been a couple of comments about a longer Poland tour, I am sharing this new offering by Gate 1.
It’s one of their Discovery Tours - that means 22 people max. I’ve done their Discovery tours.

They are a solid value.

Here’s their new 13 night Poland tour. I have not taken it but am considering it.

It’s 13 nights for between about $3600 and $3900. They sometimes offer a Buy One, Get the Second traveler half off, which could bring it down to about $5400 for two.

https://www.gate1travel.com/small-groups/small-group/2024/small-groups-poland-15ddpl24.aspx?Brand=DISCOVER#

Posted by
4359 posts

Definitely NOT trying to talk anyone out of the tour - I think your report has great insight on what made it special! But I just wanted to encourage anyone who might not talk themselves into a tour - Poland is an easy place to visit.

Posted by
4311 posts

You've piqued my interest. My list is getting longer.

Posted by
4007 posts

We, 2 couples, visited Poland on our own in 2018. We were there for 3 weeks. I have been recommending Poland ever since as a fabulous, fun, interesting, history that will make you angry and sad, musical, inexpensive place to visit. We had dinner at a local woman’s home, with others from London and South Korea which was fun and delicious and also took a Periogi making class. I can’t recommend Poland enough, either on your own or with Rick.

Posted by
960 posts

Thanks for the review!

I have always been an independent traveler, a handful of day tours, but never an over-nighter. Your comment: this "was the only RS tour we have taken where every single hotel accommodation was clean and comfortable. Despite what the tour literature claims, we have had moldy, uncomfortable, even dangerous situations in at least one or two rooms on every other tour." greatly concerns me. (not as regards your Poland tour which I understand was as expected.)

I have been looking at a couple RS tours, but accommodations such as you describe would be unacceptable to me. Can you expand a bit on the circumstances - recent or long ago, locations, etc?

Not knowing exactly what you encountered, a sub-par or dangerous hotel situation would guarantee that I never tried RS again. What did you find so positive about the rest of the tour that you over-looked the hotel situation and returned for 9 tours?

Thanks!

Posted by
338 posts

First, your trip report is both wonderful and heartbreaking. Poland is in our future plans, and I can’t thank you enough for your insights.
Just to address the RS hotels…we’ve taken five RS tours, all in Italy, but with Ireland and Spain coming up in August and next spring. We’re pretty picky about accommodations, and we’ve never been concerned with the chosen hotels. I can think of three that were a bit disappointing, but the issue was either the location or just that the vibe of the hotel itself was not what we enjoyed. And as I can just speak to the tours we’ve been on…the hotels have been a nice mix of smallish, family-run and then some similar to one of our favorites, the beautiful Hotel Belvedere di San Leonino in the Chianti area. After Ireland, we’re flying to Italy and returning, for the third time, to a little hotel from our first tour. Maybe we have just been lucky, but we’ve never run into a cleanliness issue…ever. That would be a game changer for us.

Posted by
470 posts

I have always tried to write tour reports that were honest, but fair. Search using my name and you can read those for more tour-specific details.

Generally speaking the cleanliness issues were mold and critters. We have had rooms with rodent droppings in the bathroom. Once we entered a room where a giant can of Raid ( the EU equivalent) was on the shelf of the open pseudo- closet space. Who knows what they killed, but it did not instill confidence. On our most recent tour of Tuscany, one room reeked of mold. The shower was pretty gross with black mold. Of course we didn’t look too closely or too long, because we had no hot water! 😂 😳

Safety issues were usually related to slippery, curved bottom tubs with no shower curtain which meant wet, slippery floors. Usually the tub walls are very high, so it can be tricky to get into the tub/ shower. There is usually no grab bar to use. Other safety issues were related to steep spiral staircases with no railing to reach your room. The literature makes it clear not to expect elevators, and that is certainly accurate. We have had 50+ steps up to a room. Tough enough to begin with, but dangerous with luggage and no railing. There have been a few time when electrical outlets were deteriorated and sparked. Lots of tiny beds that we have fallen out of at night fighting for space could be considered a safety issue right? Pro tip: request twin beds. That worked really well for us on our last two tours. Way better than those small EU double beds, which are much narrower than two twins.

So, why did we do so many tours in spite of these limitations? That seems a contradiction, and we have often asked ourselves that same question.

  1. We admire Rick Steves that much- as a person and as a business model. His life’s work is to empower and inspire people to travel. His philanthropy, involvement with public television, commitment to community and church, treatment of his employees… we believe that you vote with your dollars. Giving our tour dollars to a privately-owned business whose values we embrace rather than a corporate entity insures that we can do that.
  2. We chose tours primarily with itineraries we could not match on our own without a car. Driving on vacation is not fun for my husband or for me. Too stressful and we can’t enjoy the scenery. Doing a tour solves that. And to us no tour company matches RS. Again, his business model. Paying his employees well and building enduring relationships with them. No tipping, no shopping kickback shenanigans. Tour leaders who are native and / or local to the area you are in. A focus on hearing personal stories from the guides, on experiences not just lectures, on gaining cultural insights.

At the end of the day, all travel is an individual choice that is based on compromise. For 9 tours that has meant accepting the good with the bad. We will likely not be doing anymore RS tours because they are too rigorous for us now. 20,000 steps a day, and standing for up to four hours without a break to sit or use the bathroom is too much for us at this point. We can’t appreciate or enjoy if we are exhausted, so we will just do independent “slow” travel. And stay at hotels with elevators, walk in showers, and big beds. 🥴

Posted by
960 posts

Thanks so much for the detailed reply. I appreciate your perspective on the tours.

Posted by
3905 posts

I was at the Chopin Boutique B&B Saturday 20 May through Wednesday 24 May. A Rick Steves group was there during that time, too. Were you part of that group?