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Trip Report Southern Poland Short Trip Report

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While researching our September 2010 trip to Poland we noticed a few recurring themes. 1- Polish people are very friendly towards visitors, 2- the food is delicious and 3- Polish drivers & roads are the worst in the world. Can you guess which turned out to be false?

Our Chicago to Krakow flight on LOT was comfortable thanks to the exit row seating we scored. Arriving in Krakow we were greeted by our pre-arranged Crazy Guides (www.crazyguides.com/krakow_tours/communist_welcome_airport_pick_up) driver, complete with an old Trabant, a jar of pickles and a bottle of vodka. Granted, a very pricey way to enter Krakow compared to other services, but definitely far more fun. He got us safe and sound at our apartment 7, ul. Boguslawskiego (www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/p87002) providing information about this and that along the way. We rented through Home-Away and would highly recommend this apartment. Clean and spacious with an outside balcony it was a perfect location. No lift but the third floor via steps was manageable. It was very easy to get to old town but quiet in the evening. We had no qualms about walking in the area at night either.

Based on other travelers input we decided to hire a personal guide to show us around Krakow. We chose Marta Chmielowska (www.private-guides.com/guide-in-poland/marta-chmielowska-2142/index.php). She was a very knowledgeable guide giving us plenty of interesting history and local lore as we popped in and out of different areas. Marta arranged for her husband to drive us to Auschwitz one day and to the Wieliczka Salt Mine on another day. Once there we caught English guides (which she had also arranged)-private at Auschwitz and with a group at the salt mine, both very good. We were glad we had made these arrangements. The sites were much more meaningful and we didn't waste a lot of time and effort trying to get to them. We found Old Town Krakow to be enchanting, friendly, interesting, simply a great vacation destination. The Planty was a wonderful walk around the old town. We enjoyed two concerts while here as well, one at St. Peter & St. Paul Church and one at St. Aldalbert. Excellent! And the food, mmm, didn't have one bad meal!

We took a cab to the car rental place when it was time to leave Krakow and drove about 4+ hours to our next destination in the Bieszczady area (www.polandforvisitors.com/travel_poland/bieszczady_mountains) . This region, in the extreme southeast corner of Poland, is largely off the map for American tourists. We found that very appealing and did not regret this decision as this area was the highlight of our trip. We stayed at Dom Goscinny "U Barbary" (http://pensjonat-solina.pl/en/welcome.html) on Lake Solina, a lovely family owned B&B we would highly recommend. Not only was it immaculately clean and tastefully furnished our hosts Barbara and Seweryn Witan were very cordial. They invited Shirley and I to their home for drinks, dessert, gifts and a night of fine conversation. Barbara and Seweryn serve an awesome breakfast too, something different every day. Inquiries through the Ustrzyki Dolne tourist office connected us with a lovely student, Marcelina , who studies the Bieszczady as a hobby. As luck would have it she was on holiday from school and offered her services. This delightful young woman was an absolute gem! She has an in-depth knowledge of the area in addition to knowing about the flora and fauna of the area. We spent three days with Marcelina, visiting a number of interesting sites including unique wooden churches throughout the area, the Sanok Ethnographic Park (www.lemko.org/lih/travel/sanokm.html) , the Bieszczady Forest Railway (www.cisna.pl/asp/en_start.asp?typ=14&sub=83&menu=87&strona=1 ) ride in Majdan and an alpine grass-land (polonina) walk, all arranged by Marcelina. As an additional treat we were invited to her home where Marcelina's mother prepared a wonderful Polish dinner. Homemade tomato soup, two varieties of homemade Pierogi, home made apple pie and the crowning touch after coffee & tea, home made plum wine, while we had more pleasant talk! After that, out came gifts for us-we were sincerely overwhelmed by the hospitality of these wonderful people. In a nutshell, this is why we travel.

The last leg of our trip was spent in Zakopane. Touristy and crowded, even in September, we felt we would be violating some unwritten code-the first visit to Poland requires a stop in Zakopane. Our B&B was Pod Berlami (http://podberlami.pl/?lang=1). It seemed more like a hotel. Our room was very small albeit clean and there was a nice breakfast. A convenient location on a relatively quiet side street more than compensated. We had a very nice balcony (outdoor space is required for us) however no table or chairs or anywhere to sit. We noted that on all of the "balconies" we saw in the area. Found that odd, but oh well. This place had a Winoteka in the cellar and this was a pleasant place to wind up our evenings. Tom enjoyed the "hot wine" specialty and Shirl enjoyed the various selections the owner Jacek recommended. We found him to be a very interesting and colorful character. He is married to Malgorzata, the manager of the hotel. Ask him about sailing, then sit back, sip your wine and enjoy his adventures. Zakopane was okay, a touch too touristy for us, but more or less what we had expected. The surrounding landscape is what was the real attraction for us. Beautiful scenery dotted with quaint little villages is what we enjoyed in this area. A day trip enjoying the Dunajec River Rafting (www.staff.amu.edu.pl/~zbzw/ph/pnp/pien.htm) is definitely worthwhile, as is taking a horse-drawn cart up to Lake Morskie Oko and walking the lake trail.

We really enjoyed Poland. A beautiful country with simply beautiful people, surely the most friendly and hospitable we have met on any of our trips to date. The young people especially stand out and if you talk to them in depth most seem to have a 'dream' and a plan to make it happen. Very uplifting. And about those reported terrible Polish roads & drivers? Unfounded. We found Polish drivers were about the same as other countries we have visited and the roads almost better than those we traverse here in Wisconsin. This is a quick summary of our trip to Poland. Please take a look at a few of the pictures we have posted at http://home.roadrunner.com/~tomshirl/POLAND2010.HTML . If anyone wants more detail, or info on anything just email us. A more detailed trip report will be posted by Shirley in the near future.

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