This month, we follow Global Cleveland’s Richard Konisiewicz as he treks through Poland. Richard’s travels began in the Polish capital of Warsaw, which is also the country’s largest city. Much of Warsaw – especially the city’s old town – was destroyed during World War II, but has since been painstakingly restored to its pre-war beauty. From Warsaw, Richard headed north to Dansk, then south to visit cities like Poznan, Krakow, Zakopane, Wieliczka, and more! Keep reading for a glimpse into his travels!

 We arrived in Warsaw, Poland’s capital city, as planned on Saturday afternoon. In the early evening, strolling through the Old Town, we encountered 10,000 protesters – some for and some against the resettlement of Syrians in Poland. Warsaw has a complicated history and was mostly destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. The national symbol of Poland – the Royal Castle – is also located in the capital and was carefully restored and rebuilt after the end of the war.

Up in the northern city of Gdansk there is a peninsula where the Nazis attacked a small garrison of soldiers, thus beginning World War II. Fifteen Polish soldiers were killed during the battle and they are laid to rest in Westerplatte, a nearby cemetery. Afterwards, we headed to an important monument located in Solidarnosc Square. The monument, located in the Solidarity Shipyards, marks the spot where Lech Walesa, former president of Poland, trade organizer, and human rights activist, led a union movement that defied the values of Communism. The monument is covered with triple crosses, which represent the crucifixion of the Polish population by Communism.

We left Gdansk and headed to the beautiful city of Torun, a onetime wealthy city that was under the control and protection of the Teutonic Knights, who had a castle outpost nearby. Torun’s number-one son is Nicholas Copernicus, the 16th century Polish astronomer who formulated the current model of the sun at the center of the universe, rather than at the center the earth.

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A farmer discovered Biskupin settlement in 1933 and in time archaeologists from around Poland were digging for artifacts. The site is famous for the discovery of a settlement of early Polish settlers who settled the area in about 550 BC. The reconstruction of the fort and “long houses” where they lived gives 21st century folks an idea of the good ol’ days; think Williamsburg but 2300 years earlier.

Afterwards we visited the city of Gniezno that was the first capital and the first archdiocese in Poland. Here is where the kings were first crowned, beginning in 966, in particular King Mieszko I and his son King Boleslaw the Brave. Next we continued to Poznan, a beautiful and modern town complete with a Renaissance Square and the well-preserved former town hall at its center. Post-Communism, beginning in 1989, Poznan returned to its status of major trading partner with Germany, which is a short distance away. The Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul is on an island surrounded by the Warta River accessible by bridges…a lovely spot. Lastly, we visited the monument to romantic era poet Adam Mickiewicz, which is paired with the monument to those who died protesting Communism; its food shortages, working conditions, and oppressive daily life. Saturday was a busy but wonderful day that seemed to be devoted to the spiritual.

In the early morning we met Fr. Simon, one of the 118 Pauline monks living at Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa. He toured us through this amazing complex, which has been the center of Polish religious fervor for almost 900 years. We saw the revered painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa, an image known in most Polish Catholic homes. Next was Wadowice to see some sites in the town where former Pope John Paul II was born and raised. In addition to that memorable experience, we also enjoyed a cup of cappuccino and the Pope’s favorite dessert, cream cake…that was delicious!

It had drizzled since we arrived in Zakopane, high in the Tatra Mountains, but that didn’t stop the celebration as we enjoyed a delicious meal Saturday night. On Sunday we toured a few wooden churches made in the special Zakopane-style of architecture that came into vogue in this region during the late 19th century. Artist, poet, woodworker and designer Stanislaus Witkiewicz modeled this Arts and Craft style on functional peasant architecture and folk art. Though foggy and rainy the mountains are always beautiful. The weather has cleared this Monday morning so we’re off to a raft ride on the River Dunajec. Tomorrow we leave Zakopane for a visit to Oswiecim (Aushwitz) and on to Kraków.

Another memorable day! Experiencing the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz –as a ‘tourist’– is a difficult task. The Nazis chose this location in Oswiecim for a number of reasons; though the town was relatively small in size, it had robust train lines that came in from all directions because of the town’s coal industry, and the Nazis knew they would need that. Secondly, the Polish Army already had extensive barracks here that the Nazis had already confiscated. Thirdly, it was situated between two rivers (any homeowner between those rivers had 20 minutes to vacate — most of the 2,200 Polish families chose to leave) in 1940.

It was a beautiful day to have a walking tour of Krakow, where we toured the market square and the historic Wawel Castle. The Cukienica, or cloth market, is located in the city’s center square and is filled with traditional Polish wares. After the walking tour we drove to the suburbs to see the town of Wieliczka, where we went 60 stories underground to see the work done by Poland’s amazing miners throughout the centuries.

Though many weeks of online research went into choosing the right trip for us, we decided on Exciting Poland Tours as the perfect provider for our tour.  We were not disappointed! 

Exciting Poland Tours have many options and they will custom-make trips, we chose the Pearls of Poland Tour which offered a wonderful overview of the country’s historic and artistic gems.  Planning a few days or a few weeks in Poland?  Exciting Poland can help!