And the spotlight is now on Poland. This country was a major stop for me as well while I was in Europe. While in Poland, I visited 4 cities: Krakow, Oswiecim, Warsaw and Wroclaw. Prior to visiting Poland, I have to admit I wasn’t too excited about it. The last time I visited Poland was 2010 and I was in the city of Gdansk. All I remember from that was the rain and the below normal temperature. It was windy, gloomy and the streets were filled with rain water. Obviously, I didn’t have my hopes up going back this year. I was wrong. Poland is an AMAZING country and is definitely worth a visit! There’s a lot to see and do and all the architecture is stunning. Best of all? Everything in Poland is inexpensive. Their local currency is a polish Zloty. The rate for converting a Euro to a Zloty is about 4. In addition to that, all the stores sell their products at low prices. Usually, in Europe, it costs about 5 or 6 Euros to buy a decent souvenir. In Poland? Maybe about 2 Euros! Their food is BEYOND cheap, as well, if you compare it to prices in the rest of Europe.
I’ll start with Krakow, Poland. It was a beautiful city and I wish I got to spend more time there. I visited Wawel Cathedral which is a very typical Polish church but extremely well known for its superb religious art. It’s situated on Wawel Hill. Afterwards, I spent a good chunk of time in the Main Market Square. This is a great place to grab a bite to eat, enjoy some of the street musicians playing, and shop at the Krakow Cloth Hall, the defining feature of the Square. It dates all the way back to the Renaissance. Inside the Cloth Hall is a ton of merchants selling either souvenirs, clothes, etc. This is the BEST place to do all your shopping for Poland- you won’t find a better price anywhere else! While in the Main Market Square, you can admire the Church of the Virgin Mary. On every hour, a trumpet signal is played from the tallest tower of the two. The tune stops mid-way to honour the famous 13th-century trumpeter who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before an attack on the city. Krakow is a wonderful city with so much history and culture. If you do choose to go, I highly suggest a visit to Oskar Schindler’s factory. I wish I had had the time to go and visit.
Perhaps the most important stop in Poland was Oswiecim. This is where the infamous Auschwitz- Birkenau Concentration Camp is located. In case you didn’t know, this was the most “famous” concentration camp during the second World War. Approximately 1.1 million prisoners were killed here. 90% of them were Jewish. I suggest only visiting the camp if you think you can handle it. What you see in there is horrifying. I felt sick to my stomach and lost my appetite for the rest of the day after exiting the museum. It’s sickening knowing that you’re walking around a place where so many people were brutally murdered. Nonetheless, if you have an interest for history like me, this is a valuable place to visit.
For me, seeing the material proof of the Nazi’s crimes was the worst part of me. There was an entire hall filled with glass cases that contained shoes. It would probably take years and years to count them all. There were just SO many; it was incredibly overwhelming. There were pieces of luggage, crutches, prosthetic legs, pots, pans, bowls, and hair. The hair was what really got to me. You can never prepare yourself for what you see when you see the hair for the first time. According to a sign in the museum, it’s 1950 kgs of hair. 1950 kgs. It’s horrifying. The gas chambers also had this effect on me. I’ve heard a lot about what goes on in there, especially from the movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” (That movie killed me, by the way.) It was just extremely hard to wrap my head around the fact that I was standing in the place where hundreds of thousands of prisoners were gassed and killed. Lastly, the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” is German for “work sets one free”. It’s ironic because basically once you were admitted into the camp, there was no way of escaping. You would work until you died and your death would finally set you free. A valuable lesson we can all learn is that we must learn from the past and from its mistakes. As George Santayana said, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” This was a memorable experience and I will never forget it.
Now we move onto Warsaw, the capital city. While I was there, I visited:
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- Old Town
- Warsaw University
- Warsaw Uprising Museum
- Royal Castle
- Mermaid of Warsaw
- Jewish Ghetto Memorial
- Chopin Museum
- Nicolaus Copernicus Monument
Warsaw is a fantastic city. Leave at least 2 or 3 days to explore- for me, 1 was certainly not enough! There are tons of monuments, museums and memorials to admire! (the 3 M’s haha) My favourite part of Warsaw was the Old Town. I spent 2 or 3 hours walking around the little square. If you have the time, you can even take a ride in the horse carriages around the town.
After leaving Warsaw, my bus tour took us right to Wroclaw to spend the night. We were only given a couple hours to eat dinner in the town square and wander about. I wasn’t too upset because asides from the town square, there isn’t much to do. It’s a very small city. In terms of food, Poland is pretty similar to Germany. What Poland is famous for is its perogies, which is a sort of dumpling with any of various fillings. The most popular include cheese or some type of meat. Other popular meals include salad with feta cheese.
I highly recommend Poland for anybody wishing to travel to Europe! This country is great for people on a budget or simply for people who want to do some exploring!
For those that have visited Poland, what did you love most about it? What cities did you visit? Until the next post!