The World’s Ideal Kept Secret, Krakow and Zakapane, Poland

As a former flight attendant, I’ve visited all European nations except Albania and Poland. Poland is Europe’s 5th biggest country. Aside for Lech Walesa, Copernicus, the Pope and a decade of Polish jokes I by no means understood, I knew practically nothing of this land. Nevertheless, my interest peaked due to the fact it will soon be hot on the tourist trail and simply because my Chicago husband’s household is from here. He accompanied me with a sense of delight in discovering his roots. I went to turn out to be educated and enriched by one thing new. We flew from Atlanta by means of JFK and Warsaw to Krakow for a mere 4 days. No rest for the weary with a head spinning itinerary. I favor to pay a visit to cities in the off season to mingle with the locals. It gives a a lot more genuine and intimate atmosphere.

On airport arrival, we’re cheerfully greeted by Pavel who will be our driver throughout. He holds a welcome sign “Suza Davis”. I say, “Hi, I’m Suzy from Atlanta.” I chuckled when he responded, “Yes, downstairs of USA.” We checked into Hotel Amadeus, a 16th century posh inn in the heart throb of town center. Prince Charles after bedded in our area, I am told.

We set out to hunt for dinner. The illuminated Old Town was spectacular and filled with so many young folks, it made me feel elderly. 150,000 students reside in this university town. Krakow is Europe’s premier celebration scene exactly where they keep out till the birds sing. This historic district holds highest concentration of bars and restaurants in the world. We all of a sudden found Pierogi Garden, property of the freshest Polish dumplings. They were stuffed with sauerkraut, lamb, beef, berries, chocolate and even peanut butter. There have been six types of soups, all with beets which I abhor. Following a dozen dumplings, I had a melted ewe’s milk cheese pancake which was beyond scrumptious.

Poland experienced numerous invasions all through its history. Right after getting ravaged by the Germans and then the Russians, it ultimately achieved independence in 1989 with the collapse of Soviet communism. Krakow was wired for destruction close to the end of WWII by the Germans. They planned to blow it up when the Russians took over, thankfully the war ended hours prior to the strategy was carried out.

Today it remains 1 of the few cities remaining in its original kind. With a population now of 780,000, it has morphed into a trendy international capital. Vibrant and modern yet somehow retains its traditional culture with regal architecture. It is in Krakow where a single finds the spirit of the new Poland.

On day 2, we were greeted by Anna who was strikingly lovely. We started in the internet of cobbled streets in Old Town that was meant for walking. It was a maze of museums, chapels, galleries, cafes and hole in the wall pubs. Even in winter there was entertainment with street dancers, mimes, accordion players and on a single corner, I watched a knight in armor break-dancing.

We entered Market Square, Europe’s largest medieval square where little has changed given that 1257. It is crowned by the Bell Tower exactly where a bugler plays at the top of the hour. It drives the residents crazy at night. A must see is Cloth Hall where fishmongers, cloth merchants and bakers have sold their wares since the 14th century. Now it really is a fabulous arcade of handicraft stalls.

We walked to the properly preserved Jewish Quarter which is now edgy with artistic character. Poland as soon as held Europe’s biggest concentration of Jews at three.five million. Poland’s kings during the middle ages noted they were becoming expelled elsewhere and invited them in to augment the economy. Right here they thrived till the holocaust and forced communism soon after WWII. There are now only 180 left. We viewed the ghettos where Spielberg’s famed film was filmed and looked across the river to see Schindler’s factory.

Rick Steves writes that 1 should check out a milk bar here. Anna escorts us to a single of these government subsidized cafes for the functioning class. They are a holdover from Poland’s communist past. Every little thing is astonishingly inexpensive. I ordered a bowl of homemade soup and cheesecake for $ 2.

We then visited Wawel Castle, a 12th century masterpiece and defining icon of the city’s pride. There had been no queues as we walked its corridors of history. This was the residence of kings for 500 years. Anna explains its legend of the fire breathing dragon named Smok right here who ate virgins for breakfast.

This was bolstered by the discovery of strange large bones in the 1400’s. (The bones are truly whale bones as this area on Europe was as soon as beneath water eons ago.) The dragon thus became the symbol of the city and is omnipresent in souvenir shops. Anna then nudges us inside numerous gorgeous churches, for me constantly as boring as paint by numbers, nevertheless they were exquisite. I ask if there are any Protestants right here. She replied matter of factly, “Yes,one.”

The afternoon was spent on restaurant and hotel inspections. I loved the formal greetings and it’s often educational. I find out about nearby cuisine and accommodations in the ideal location for the best value. All hotels had been totally booked. Jews and Catholics check out year round on religious pilgrimages or come for roots tours.

Krakow was not too long ago rated in the leading ten European destinations. I now see why. Americans continue to rave more than Prague which I now discover passe with inflated rates and lower standards of service. It’s turn out to be as pricey as Rome. Eventually, Krakow could do the identical as soon as Poland converts to the Euro in 2012. For now 1 can splurge with reasonably priced costs. Europeans flock right here for 50-70% savings. Germans and Danes in certain come for dental and optometry demands. Health-related tourism including plastic surgery is booming. I met an Austrian flight attendant who fly’s in month-to-month for spa therapies at half price.

At night we dined at Wierzynek Restaurant, the world’s oldest that has served princes to vacationers because 1364. It was delicious peasant cuisine (organic) of wild boar, roast ribs and heaping mounds of potatoes. I ask them to teach me some Polish, a Slavic language that is as impossible as a mouthful of alphabet soup. The word toilet has 5 syllables.

On the third day, we awoke to a gray, cold and wet day which gave us the suitable ambiance for what we would see. Pavel drove us 60 km to Auschwitz. We were greeted by Yuri, our brilliant personal guide whose sole passion was to enlighten us on the unthinkable tragedies that took place right here from 1940-45. I once visited Dachau, but this was the largest of concentration camps. This death factory killed 1.four million individuals of 27 nationalities. Most have been Jews. The other folks were gypsies, Soviets, Poles, gays, political dissidents and much more.

We entered the gate reading, “Operate will set you totally free.” Inside was a potent reminder as we viewed the crematoriums, starvation cells, kilos of hair, endless eye glasses and a pond nonetheless gray from ashes 60 years ago. Most sobering to me was the children’s section. It held a sea of tiny shoes, dolls and meticulous German documentation of 230,000 small ones who suffered and died right here.

We were driven to the extended camp of Birkenau (Auschwitz II), with its wooden barracks built to house 100,000 but at some point held 200,000+. With each other in silence, the 3 of us walked a half mile to see the ruins of the gas chambers and memorial monument. At the end of our tour, Yuri stated goodbye to us with this profound statement, “I’ve guided many holocaust survivors who visited here like vacationers. They told me at the end that I am not in a position to present 1% of how negative it actually was.” This was the most emotional touching internet site my eyes ever beheld.

Late afternoon we visited the well-known Wieliczka Salt Mine. This mysterious and vast underground city three miles extended has extracted salt for 800 years. The Planet Heritage Web site draws a million guests per year and it appears as though they all arrived these days.

Our guide Justina seemed to have an obsession with salt, but it was merely the love of her job as guide. She mentioned to comply with her down 836 methods which was a far better work out than a Stairmaster. Caves bore me, but this internet site will stay etched in my mind forever. Think about underground chapels, ornate sculptures, chandleries and life size figures carved entirely from salt or a restaurant and a post workplace 380′ beneath street level. It was spectacular. For centuries miners and horses spent their lives right here. They remained healthful in this rich micro-climate. It has to do with magnesium ions, what ever those are? Today men and women come to the healing chambers of the treatment complex for isolation in natural air purity.

Day four. I continually search the globe for unique issues or places to present to fellow travelers. Today I identified it in Zakapane. For years now, a buddy of mine insisted I pay a visit to this mountain resort with the funny name I could in no way remember. We drove to the pure air of the Tatra Mountains with Eva, our specialist guide that day. She stated this adventure location of 60,000 residents swells to 200,000 nearly year round. In summer they come for mineral spas and Alpine hiking. In winter they come to ski. That week Zakapane hosted the International Ski Jumping Competitors.

Right here was a charming town of artists and Giorake, an ethnic group of mountain highlanders. These wandering shepherds trace back to the 15th century. They really like to dress in their colorful clothing for tourists. They live on cheese or something smothered in cheese. We visited a cheese industry the size of Switzerland. As far as my eyes could see, there have been sheep and goat cheeses artistically sculpted into every single shape conceivable. We also toured the Aqua Park with an Olympic sized mineral hot spring mineral pool and rode cable cars higher into the mountains for breathtaking scenery.

It was a most productive and enjoyable day tour. I identified a regional tour business that arranges entertaining activities for groups such as horse sledding by means of the forest, dog sledding and the new “snow rafting” in rubber rafts sloshing toboggan-style down the mountain. At the huge outside industry with countless ethnic stalls, I bought a striking leather and fur coat for $ 260 that fashionably looked six times its price tag.

There’s so considerably I did not get to see on this brief pay a visit to. On my subsequent return, I will do the new “Crazy Communism Tour.” Outdoors Krakow is Nowa Huta, when a serious socialist suburb of forced industrialization. Enormous steelworks factories overtook the wealthy farm land. Physician and professors were sent here to work. Miles of concrete tenement blocks were erected to residence them.

On tour you can find out experience firsthand Stalin’s present to Krakow by riding in a classic East German Trabant auto out to Nowa Huta. A dinner of salted bread, pickles and vodka is integrated, followed by dancing at a retro 70’s era disco.

Below the yoke of communism, the Poles refused to give up their religion. Stalin said, “Implementing communism right here is like saddling a bull.” Faced against such a determined spirit in the individuals, he gave up. I”m amazed at all the obstacles this stoic country has overcome.

If you have been there and bought the t-shirt of London, Paris, Madrid or Athens, I encourage you to pay a visit to undiscovered parts of Europe. Krakow is destined to become the next Prague. It oozes with history, friendly faces, hearty cuisine, and it will not break your pocketbook. If you can pay a visit to the new Poland, please do not tell any person about Zakapane, 1 of the world’s greatest kept secrets.

Suzy Davis President and founder of

Adventures For Singles
. She practically
invented the notion of singles travel. She has traveled the globe for 30 years,
initially as a flight attendant and now with her firm top groups of single travelers to the four corners of the

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