Guest writer Carol Santora describes another fabulous trip – this time in Poland and Central Europe.

Poland has always been on my Bucket List. Why, you may ask? I have no friends who have visited nor is it a premiere destination.  My Dad, who passed away at a young age, was of Polish descent and my sister and I have always wanted to see the country of our ancestry. We set out to Central Europe and were scheduled for Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Vienna and Budapest – a hefty goal.

Warsaw is prettier and more interesting then we had imagined.  Warsaw was 85% devastated by the Nazis in 1944 so needed much rebuilding. It is fascinating to see the “before” pictures frequently posted outside of major buildings.  The Old Town Square, New Town Square and Castle Square are lovely and fun – markets galore and towers to climb. It was nice to learn again about famous Polish citizens – Marie Sklodowska Curie, Copernicus (Niclas Kopernik), Frederick Chopin, Thaddeus Kosciusko and Joseph Conrad (Josef Korzeniowski) to name a few.  Chopin was most interesting for two reasons: first, his name is pronounced so differently in Poland versus what we use, which became the French pronunciation after he relocated there.  The correct pronunciation is “SHOP-in” with the accent on the first syllable.  Second, along the main city thoroughfare, there are large benches that have buttons, which when pressed play a Chopin piece – very civilized! We found the Wilanow Palace to merit only a quick visit (better to have toured the Royal Castle interior), but we did enjoy the Lazienki Park and the Chopin statue.

Castle Square, Warsaw Photo by Carol Santora

We stayed at a wonderful hotel in the Old Town, Le Regina, and had some great food – can you believe whole fish at Bellini’s?  Yes, there was kielbasa and pierogi and typical Polish dishes, but also more modern international choices! La Rotisserie at Le Regina is one of the finer restaurants in town. We enjoyed sampling everything, with the Blikle “Rose” donuts and Wedel Hot Chocolate right up there. The main focus of the entire trip did become familiarity with all World War II events, the Polish Ghetto, Mila 18 and the Holocaust – a sobering education for everyone. The Museum of the Warsaw Uprising is essential. We also enjoyed the short film (twenty minutes) about Warsaw’s history detailing the before, during and after WWII at the Warsaw History Museum on Old Town Square. We traveled by car to Kracow but stopped mid-way at the Jasna  Gora monastery– the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Czestochowa,  another fascinating spot which bears similarity to a Lourdes pilgrimage in France.

 

Krakow is a beautiful, old and colorful city with intriguing historical sites. We learned much about John Paul II, the Polish Pope destined for Sainthood. It was moving to see how his spirit permeates the country and to realize the power of his influence to free the Poles from the tyranny of Communism. He had an office, now the Archdiocese Museum, right across the street from our famous and traditional hotel, The Copernicus. You can walk down the street and explore the Main Market/Town Square and famous Cloth Hall, which houses remarkable stalls with interesting, traditional wares (I could not resist a hand carved chess set with little costumed Polish doll pieces for my daughter!) We were entranced by the story of the bugler in the bell tower of St. Mary’s Church with its remarkable carved wooden altar. When playing the bugle signal call to alarm the citizens of Krakow of the Tartars’ attack in 1241, the bugler was shot in the neck with an arrow. His call came to an abrupt stop mid-song. Ever since, a bugler reenacts this occurrence every full hour of the day, and the tourists encircle the Church to watch and listen! We had a lesson in Pierogi-making at Chlopski Jadlo. They were delicious. Other favorite restaurants were La Campagna Trattoria with its outdoor garden, Miod Malina for Bigos (Polish stew), Pod Aniolami (Under the Angels – my favorite!) for grilled trout, and Pod Baranem for duck breast in cinnamon sauce and gingerbread.

Krakow Market with Zacopane Market, Krakow
photo by Carol Santora

Must visits include Wawel Castle, St. Francis Church, the Krakow University, the Florian Gate, the Jewish Cemeteries, the Witrazu Museum of Stained Glass Art and the Christopher Radko ornament factory. A day trip that is imperative is the Auschwitz -Birkenau concentration camp — a painful but necessary education to my way of thinking. The scenes are haunting. Schindler’s Factory and Museum is also a mind-expanding experience – it was quite emotional to review movies like Schindler’s List and The Pianist when we returned home.  Lastly, we enjoyed a trip out to Zakopane to view the Tatra Mountains. This is a resort town where they feature distinct wooden houses and where Poles hike and learn to ski! There are many folk craft and traditional artisan wares. We enjoyed tasting the melted Oscypek (smoked sheep’s milk) cheese! With little Polish stacking dolls in my pocket for my granddaughter, we set off for the magical city of Prague….

Next installment – Prague, Vienna and Budapest…

View a 15 minute video of this trip on my website.

Notes:

1-    Our trip was organized by Dukie Baxter of Travel Concepts (914.769.7265)

2-    Hotel Le Regina, Ul. Koscienlna 12; Warsaw, Poland

a. La Rotisserie, Hotel Le Regina

b. Bellini, Rynek Starego Miasta 21

3-    Hotel Copernicus, Kanonicza Street 16, Krakow, Poland

a. Miod Malina, Ul. Grodzka 40

b. Chlopski Jadlo, Sw. Agnieszki

c. La Campagna Trattoria, Kanonicza 7

d. Pod Aniolami, 35 Grodzka Street

e. Pod Baranem, Ul. Sw. Gertrudy 21

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