In Old Town Kraków - one of Poland’s oldest and largest cities – lies the beautiful Rynek Glowny (Main Square), where each hour, a golden trumpet sounds from the tower of St. Mary's. This is a tradition that first started in the Middle Ages to signal that the city gates were opening or closing. While in Kraków, visiting Wawel Hill is a must, in particular the Wawel Cathedral which is the final resting place of the Kings of Poland, and has a history spanning over 1,000 years. Oskar Schindler’s factory, the story of which features in Steven Spielberg’s film ‘Schindler's List', is now a museum housing exhibits dedicated to life in wartime Kraków under the five-year Nazi occupation of WWII. This eye-opening museum will give you plenty to reflect on. Likewise, visiting the Auschwitz Memorial gives the opportunity to pay respect to those who lost their lives in this harrowing concentration camp. Here, it is possible to walk beneath the infamous gateway to the museums housed in the former prison blocks.
In Częstochowa, the Monastery of Jasna Góra is one of the most significant Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, and is famous for its Black Madonna, said to have been painted by St. Luke. There are many stories regarding miracles that have taken place after people have prayed to this much-loved icon, which is also known as ‘Our Lady of Częstochowa’. Further on in Warsaw, both the impressive bronze Chopin Monument situated in the Royal Baths Park, and the Memorial of the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto are worth viewing. In addition, another recommended location is to spend time in the Warsaw Old Town - a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been reconstructed and restored after most of it was destroyed by Nazi troops in 1944. Today, it is a hive of activity, with bustling restaurants, cafes, galleries and local points of interest.
The ‘pierogi’ or Polish dumpling is a beloved favorite in traditional cuisine. This versatile dish can be filled with savory or sweet combinations, including meat, sauerkraut, cheese, potatoes and onions, strawberries and blueberries. Another national dish is ‘bigos’ – a hunter’s stew typically comprised of sauerkraut, cabbage, pork, onion and seasoning. ‘Golabki’ (stuffed cabbage rolls in tomato sauce), ‘Placki ziemniaczane‘ (potato pancakes), grilled ‘oscypek’ (sheep’cheese), breaded pork, and different types of soups, stews, crepes and dumplings are all commonly eaten. For dessert, ‘paczki’ is a hit – miniature doughnuts filled with vanilla custard. Other tasty sweets include: ‘lody’ (ice-cream), ‘makowiec’ (a poppy seed cake), ‘szarlotka’ (an apple cake), ‘sernik’ (cheese cake) and ‘faworki’ (crisp pastry twists covered in powdered sugar).
Poland is known throughout the world for using potatoes, grains or sugar beets to make its vodka or ‘wódka’. Balsam Pomorski, Belvedere, Chopin, Danziger Goldwasser, Extra Zytnia, Luksusowa, Maximus, Starka, and Zubrowka are some of the most popular Polish vodka brands. As well as spirits, delicious beer is produced in numerous little breweries dotted across Poland, while liqueurs made from flowers, fruits, spices and herbs usually have a high alcohol content, are also made locally, and generally well-received. ‘Miód pitny’ - known in English as mead - is a type of drinkable fermented honey that’s comes in varying concentrations of alcohol. For soft drinks, try ‘compote’ - a cold mix of both fresh and dried fruits (usually cherries, strawberries, apples, pears and currants), or sweet-tasting orangeade (carbonated orange juice with sugar). Polish specialty coffees have become increasingly popular in recent years, as has coffee house culture.
Lowlands, highlands and mountains are the three distinct types of landscape found in Poland, together with extensive rivers and forests that create hundreds of different ecosystems. Europe’s largest mammal – the European Bison – resides within the protection of the Bialowieza National Park. Typically weighing a hefty 2,000 lbs these giant beasts can grow to be over 6 feet tall (1.8 metres) and 9 feet long (2.7 metres). Other large mammals include lynxes, grey wolves, elks, brown bears, wild boars, bats, beavers and marmots. Among Poland’s bird life are storks, eagles, woodpeckers, nightingales, snipes, cranes and aquatic warblers. Meanwhile in the reptilian and amphibian world, Poland is home to lizards, snakes, terrapins, frogs, toads, salamanders and newts.