Amazing Poland

Jan 24th, 2007, 03:32 PM
  #1  
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Amazing Poland

This is a brief summary of a trip we took to Poland last Oct. 2006. I feel it is still valuable to anyone planning a trip to Poland in the near future.

This is our 5th trip to Europe, third time to a former "bloc" country. Our goals were to see Krakow, then by auto, see the se quadrant of Poland bordering Ukraine and Slovakia. I research heavily prior so we have a menu of things to visit given the time
frame. We love history so castles, palaces, museums, and historic and geographic sites are high on our lists. We love the smaller historic sites especially. Outside of Krakow we had no hotel reservations. We do not speak Polish but had the LP brief guide book which was very helpful.

Part 1
We flew Lot airlines via Mpls,O'Hare,Warsaw and into Krakow in early Oct. The service was fine but O'Hare and Warsaw legs were delayed making the total time about 17 hours.
Service was fine and the Chicago polish people "own" that daily flight naturally given the pop. in Chicago. When the flight touched down in War. they broke out in cheers and clapping which we kind of enjoyed!
After arriving in Krk Balice we took a cab to our hotel to the old inner city, lovely Hotel Pod Orlem.
We intended to splurge on a hotel in Krk and this was a great, stately old but restored hotel, (115 U.S.) Unfortunately do not get a room overlooking the street. It's much too noisy with the windows open ( we thought it would be too cold in Oct. but was not). We would stay there again but get a room on the inside. We love great music so we attended concerts on 4 consecutive nights, Chopin, Vivaldi in a church, Klezmer in the Jewish qtr and a flute and clarinet recital. All were excellent and for a reasonable price. We also took in a live concert by Stanislaw Soika on the square one night. He is a popular musician in Poland and we did buy a CD of his. Excellent music and performance.
We stayed 5 days in Krk and did various self walking tours, Auschwitz one day, Kazimierz Jewish quarter a day, Collegium Maius at Jagellonian Univ. and various churches and Wawel castle hill one day. The huge Rynek Glowny square is beautiful and alive with activities. We try to eat at different restaurants each night and usually stay out of the "reservation" type places and just pick'em where we find them. All food was excellent and downright cheap. Our most expensive for 2 people with drinks and tip was about $35 U.S. There is no need to spend more in our opinion. I also wanted to eat at the legendary milk bars before they disappear and did for about $3. I visited the large flea market outside of the old town on sunday morning too. I purchase vintage porcelin signs as souvenirs and was successful.
Throughout our 19 day vacation we experienced absolutely fabulous blue sky weather the entire time except the last day of overcast. We never had our rain coats on or umbrellas open.
The highlights of Krk were the music, main square, Kazimierz quarter and the finger cookie store south of Wawel castle that someone on this site recommended. It is a beautiful renovated store and the myriad of choices were endless and tasted like they looked, scrumptious and very cheap sold by weight. It was so facinating I took a photo outside but they did not want a photo taken inside. My memory is etched forever though. Krk was a wonderful city to visit in our opinion and eventually will get more U.S. visitors. Clearly others have discovered it in greater numbers. There were never any crowds in this fall time period. If I had one thing to do different I would eat dinner at the "Jewish" restaurants prior to the concert. It was so intimate and charming within the Klezmer Hois. Everyone we had contact with in Krk was wonderful and friendly.

Next is Part 2, On the Road in Poland with challenges.
hardwater is offline  
Jan 24th, 2007, 03:54 PM
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Thank you hardwater, I'm working on a trip to Poland this fall and it sounds great. Looking forward to the sequel.
Fidel is offline  
Jan 24th, 2007, 06:26 PM
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Hadwater, thanks for your report. I was pleased to see that you had no troubles with your flight with Lot, we are considering using them just to pop over from Prague to Krakow but haven't quite made up our mind. Both train or car are still possibilities.

I am eagerly waiting the next instalment, especially as it sounds as though it may cover part of what we intend to do next May.
shandy is offline  
Jan 24th, 2007, 07:54 PM
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We too love Krakow and have visited it twice. You were lucky with the weather in Poland though. The first time we were in Krakow was the 1st weekend in October. It was absolutely freezing. We visited Auschwitz in temperatures that might have been high 30s and with a cold rain. It made the visit so much more compelling and unsettling because all we could think about was if we were freezing with our hats, gloves, gore-tex, and layers of sweaters, how horrible this place must have been for the inmates who were frequently in rags and barefoot.
julies is offline  
Jan 25th, 2007, 09:08 AM
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Part 2 Rural Poland

We rented from AutoEurope ( always do and they always have the best$ and I do check) via Europecar and took a cab there. After 2 shots we made in out of Krk (Krk is a city of 1 million) and on to Wieliecka to do the salt mine. Easy to find and I got in the english tour. My wife does not relish underground tours so I went alone. Warning: Immeadiately one must walk down an unbelievable amount of wooden stairs going in a squared route well lit though.
Looking over the railing I was in disbelief at now far down the lights were. The tour is quite amazing, very dark overall inspite of the lights. There is an extra small charge to take photos. Even with a flash my photos were less that stellar so afterwards I bought the post card pack, well worth it. The tour lasted 2 hours and was worth every penny and I have done 1 other salt mine tour in Austria. This is clearly the super bowl of salt mines. One problem was the english tour guide's english is so accented we, the group, could not understand her most of the time. This also happened with the english guide at Auschwitz, it is Polishtized english with the Oxford accent.
Departing Wieliecka we got back on the 4 lane heading east to Tarnow. Poland has few 4 lane roads and only 1 toll road just west of Krk. You will stop at the toll gate when visiting Auschwitz. We left in the late pm and were warned of the massive Polish traffic jams and became locked in one soon. With no hotel, dead stopped on the 4 lane for 4 hours and no hope of relief I said to my wife, "Prepare to sleep in the car." Finally before 9 it broke and we headed east, tired, hungry and despondent about the next 11 days with a car. I vowed never to get back on this 4 lane again. They were blacktopping the lanes and simply stop all traffic until they are done. This happened again to us later in the trip. Hotels were not visible and we were desparate and magically a large neon sign said Hotel Sezam just west of Rzeszow. I pulled in and for 30 US we had a superb large room with Brkfst and wonderful hosts who carried our bags. It was very new, maybe 6 mos. old and more like a motel. Boy did we get lucky.
We then departed and head back to Tarnow then north to Baranow Sandomierski castle eventually. Two other sites of importance for us to see in this region were the village of Zalipie and the Krzyzytopor castle ruins in Ujzad.
"Painted" village Zalipie is a cluster of farm houses in about a sq. mi. area about 30 km nw of Tarnow. They began painting the interiors and exteriors of the bldgs in the late 1800's in strictly geometric, bright colored floral designs and after WW2 it became a contest held the 1st weekend after Corpus Christi. This folk art painting is done by the women in the village hall called Dom Malarek which we visited. Really incredible work and it surrounds you inside and out. The woman who started painting
(Felicji Curylowej) has her original homestead now a museum. Small posted signs lead to her house. Her grand daughter lives in the farm across the st. and will open it for you. Even the fire dept.bldg is painted. We purchased some smaller items and some flat work and now treasure it after framing. Laying flat it packs easily. They originally began using only soot, lime and clay but now many bright colors are used. This is the only village in Poland that does this and was a highlight of our rural adventure. It is an absolute must to see if in this area. Upon leaving slowly, a woman came running at us waving a key and talking in Polish. She has her grandmother's cottage all painted and she took us across the st. and opened it. She never stopped talking in Polish. It was incredible inside and out. Even the ceilings are painted in circular designs aroung the lights. Hating to leave we headed for Baranow Sandomierski. I want to add, nearby in the village of Otfinow, we came across a catholic church that was open and had the same incredible interiors as St. Mary's in Krk. Just beautiful. Some historical photos are in the narthex and it would be a must visit too.
Heading north we discovered the road ended, and much to my wife/navigator's surprise, a little 2 car ferry crossing the Vistula river. There are few bridges of size in rural Poland we discovered and these ferries are common.
Paying the 4 zloty we drove on and made it across. Seeing it list to one side and lurch across on a overhead cable made my wife nervous. I viewed it as a cultural experience. We had to make another crossing again and found the castle with the hand directions of a local man. I always identified us as American tourists on our trip and the polish people loved the contact and were always thrilled that we came to see their country. Polish people were very outgoing.
I checked to see if the castle had vacancies. They have rooms in the castle and in the office/stables converted to a hotel. After looking at each room it was no contest. Our castle room off the inner courtyard was massive, full of antique furniture (sleigh beds and chandelier) and had a newer marble bath with Jacuzzi tub/shower, a steal in Europe for $105 per nite. The breakfast was superb.
We headed down to the lower level restaurant and no one else was dining that evening but there were many cars parked outside. Every thursday they have "Old thursday Polish feast" in another cellar room. I asked about it so the girl went to get someone who spoke a little english. He simply said do you want to come? The girl led us out and in the cellar on the other side of the castle we entered the feast, a 5 course dinner with a lively Polish trio. The 2 rooms were full of Poles having a great time sitting at long tables and the musicians were the best. They entertained and not just played music. These guys even knew the chicken dance song and I did not request it! A historical skit was then performed by older women in costumes and they actually made some "stinky butter" which was passed out and spread on the fantastic rye bread. Well it was very stinky to us but not to the Poles. It lasted about 3 hours and the food was excellent.
The cost including drinks was about $20 US, a steal and again a highlight of the trip. Only on thursday.
We then went to the Krzyztopor castle ruins in Ujzad. This too was so amazing and just like the description I had read. It too was a can't miss highlight.

Next:

Part 3 and the last, the s.eastern border and mtns
hardwater is offline  
Jan 25th, 2007, 10:41 AM
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Hardwater - this report is so very interesting - Thanks for providing so much valuable info! I will be following with you as you go along!
HappyCheesehead is offline  
Jan 29th, 2007, 04:29 PM
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Part 3

I will try to be brief but we saw and experienced so many amazing things while in Poland it is hard to simplify at times.
We left and headed east to our eventual destination, the World heritage city of Zamosc. The drive east was quite beautiful in the harvest season, the fields full of autumn colors, people still using horses and roadsides selling wonderful produce.
Arriving after dark, I located the large square, parked the car and hiked in to find a hotel. There are 2 in the square area, the Orbis and Senator the best, both lovely choices for about 75 U.S. The Orbis had room and its location is perfect, the accomodations excellent. The next morning we walked the square, found the I center and picked up the walking tour and other material. This square is beautiful. The city hall and Armenian tenement houses on the same side are extremely ornate, colorful and photogenic, quite breathtaking. The Italian architech,Morando, did fine work and it is still a model of planned development. We did the walking tour and it's old city is relatively compact. A highlight was the walk south to the Rotunda park and monument. This is where the Polish intellgentia was gathered and slaughtered by the thousands in WW2, 45,000 to be exact. This round, former weapons depot was a remarkable historical site. Most bodies were burned openly in the center and ashes dumped in a nearby pond. There are mass graves for the Jews, Russian POW and Polish resistance on site. It moved me more than Auschwitz especially at sundown and I, the only person there. The inside sections had memorials full of flowers set up with victims names. It is a historical site seldom mentioned in texts I believe.
We stayed 3 nights and ventured southwest to Zwierzyniec and Szczebrzeszyn ( a word even Poles have trouble with) and stopped at the brewery and Roztoczanski National Park. There is a large synagogue here, now a community center, but it's still intact inside. We found the abandoned Jewish cemetary above it in the woods, rather moving also with the tombstones laying and tilting everywhere. This region was a lovely landscape and we chanced upon a Skansen ( outdoor historic buildings) with a great little gospoda ( cafe) in the park.
Zamosc is home to the Polish National Peasant Orchestra and we took in a matinee performance, quite wonderful with long history and in colorful costumes, 32 muscians and 40 in the audience! We were treated warmly when I told them we were from America. They gave us some tapes free and some info in english. The massive fortification wall remnant is quite a site too outside of the old center.
The benefit of not having hotel resv. is staying in another great place, Krasicyzn Castle. Somewhat difficult to find, I stopped, there was room and we stayed within the castle for about 85 US, not nearly as elegant rooms as Baranow Sando castle. Both castle brkfsts were excellent though.
We then left south to eventually head for the se tip of Poland with an overnight in Sanok and visiting the largest Skansen in Poland covering 150 acres. It was wonderful history. The castle in Sanok houses the largest icon collection in Poland too. There is an I center on the square and hotels were scarce. The Sanvit was fine for about 50 US. We then departed for the Biesczady, the Polish equivalent of the wild west on the trail of the cerkiew, old 3 section wooden churches of the Uniates, Boyks and Lemks. The Bieszcaady has a mixed history, especially since WW 2. It was actually emptied after WW2 and resettlement was done in the last 40 years. These cerkie are architechtural gems and we followed the driving guide to 19 of them scattered throughout the area, entering 4. There are about 300 left in Poland, many still in use, some only accessable on foot. One we drove to one that actually burned to down 3 days prior and the ashes were still smoking. The interiors can be magnificent. We based ourselves way down in Cisna for 3 nights for about $22 US per night, nice simple places. These are the low Carpathian mtns. and are topped with what the poles call the polonina, or mtn. meadows. The mtn tops are "bald" with only a thick layer of grass on them, quite beautiful looking and gorgeous in fall. The tallest is Tarnica at about 4000 feet. It is Polish hiking heaven, full of trails and some fall polish tourists. These low mtns are steep and ribbed with streams so driving was tight turns, steep curves and hills, narrow bridges, stunning views and the ever present loose cattle. It's heavily forested with large beech and maple trees. There are abundant places to stay, some simple pension types, just zimmers and a few nicer hotels, all very cheap. We did a loop around the Bieszczady one day seeking out these cerkie churches. I hiked up to Chatka Puchatka one day, a mtn lodge on the trail system and it was so beautiful and with such great blue skys, I got great photos. Another highlight was the 100 year old narrow guage railroad. Closed for the season in fall, we stopped for photos in Majdan where the station is and by chance they had a special train two days later which we took. They have a diesel and steam locomotive, the diesel made in Romania in 1980. It was an excellent adventure.
We met wonderful Polish folks who helped us out at times, securing a room and helping us order. The smaller pension type places are built on the sides of these steep hills and offer fantastic views of the mtns in fall.
Finally we departed for Krk and made it in about 6 hours driving time stopping in Binarowa to see the only cerkiew listed as a world heritage site because of its stunning icon polychromy on its interior. The priest opened it for us and another couple so we made a small donation. We stayed at the Hotel Witek near the airport the nite prior to departure, a lovely newer hotel.
Lastly I will post a brief summary of things we learned along the way driving in Poland, dos and don't, things I would change on our trip, etc.
hardwater is offline  
Feb 1st, 2007, 11:32 AM
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Quick summary of things were discovered or learned of our independent Poland trip.

Driving:
Due to the enormous influx of EU $, they are working on the roads, adding sidewalks,curbing most everywhere we traveled, thus MOST roads were quite good. Some rural roads we attemped have simply disintegrated as we found out and almost swallowed us. This work tied us up so one must allow for this in travel time. It is difficult to make time due to the amount of cars on the 2 lane roads and driving skills of the Polish. All laws and regulations are just suggestions. Due to lack of sidewalks,walking/bike paths between villages, the pedestrians, cyclists, and school kids use the roads too making it a slow pace, 50-60 kph tops. As I said before I vowed not to use the 4 lane again and did not except near Krk on return. It was a great idea.

ATM:
Most everywhere available wo/problems except in the smaller villages.

Prices/costs:
Low compared to western Europe, downright cheap actually except gas, rental car (not real high). Consumer gifts of excellent quality and price.

Hospitality:
Excellent from the Polish people including in Krk. Very friendly people especially if you say your from Chicago( which I am origianlly ). Everyone has a friend, relative etc. from Chicago.

Housing:
We found the availability scarce in rural areas and spent a bit more time looking than neccessary. Few if any at times of the pension, zimmer frei etc. lower end housing except in the Bieszczady region. They need more village hotels etc.

Season:
Geepers, we sure like the fall as a travel time more and more.

If one likes the history, charm and culture of old world Europe, Poland should be a destination. Polish people often gave us suggestions on areas for future visits. I know we will be back.

hardwater is offline  
Feb 1st, 2007, 12:54 PM
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Thanks for your report hardwater, I found it very interesting.
shandy is offline  
Feb 1st, 2007, 01:46 PM
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Interesting report on some ouyt of the way places in Poland. You had considerable detail about roads and places. Sounds like Zalipie was delightful. Of course, Krakow is a wonderful tourist place incl. Jewish area.

You didn't say anything much about Auschwitz? That for us was very moving. Also we did enjoy Zakopane and Czestochova shrine. With a tour guide who was Polish we gained many insights about present day life and problems and same during Communist era.

ozarksbill
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Ozarksbill is offline  
Feb 1st, 2007, 02:51 PM
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To Ozark Bill:

I did not have much to comment on Ausch-Birk only because I tried hard to keep it brief but helpful for others making plans. We were both deeply moved by what we saw at A-Birkenau. We took the day tour from Krk and I would NOT do this again. The tour guide, like the one at Wieliczka, had such a strong accent you could not understand him. I bought the book there anyhow. Too rushed a tour, example when we finished at Birkenau he gave us 10 min. to get back on the bus. You CANNOT walk across the camp for photos one way in 10 min! My advice is to just take a cab or the luxor buses at the bus station out and stay and see things yourself. We could have taken a cab for the same price and had him wait.

I really felt that the Rotunda in Zamosc was a more compelling site of the holocaust. It surrounded me with sad history.

Czestochowa was too for away in our plan and I eliminated Zakopane ( mixed feelings on too many tourists there but I know it is gorgeous) and replaced it with the Bieszczady. They are currently expanding the highway from Krk to Zakopane to 4 lane. This may "hurt" this area but they want the tourists.

hardwater is offline  
Feb 1st, 2007, 03:02 PM
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Thank you so much for the very informative report. Made Poland come alive.
cobbie is offline  
Feb 1st, 2007, 05:39 PM
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Hardwater-Lovely report. Haven't been to Poland(yet), but felt as if I had been when reading your report. Especially enjoyed the recap of your trip. Thanks for sharing - and for encouraging me to look more closely at a trip there!
Debs is offline  
Feb 1st, 2007, 08:19 PM
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just putting in my two cents. our guide at the salt mines had only a slight accent-she was about 24 yrs old.
tomboy is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2007, 12:39 PM
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What a fantastic report!
Makes me want to plan another trip to Poland right away!
Thanks for posting.
Caroline1 is offline  
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