After our weekend in Auschwitz we spent 3 nights in Krakow, 2 nights in Warsaw and 3 nights in Gdansk, from where we flew back to Dublin. We absolutely loved our time in Poland and here are the highlights:
1. The whole of the old town in Krakow is a UNESCO World Heritage site and with good reason. One gorgeous building after another. It is centred on Krakow Glowny; the main square, the largest medieval square in Europe. The old town is very compact, and easy and pleasant to walk around. Apart from the architecture, we found a fantastic atmosphere with locals and tourists alike out wandering the pretty streets. There are dozens of enticing cafes, bars and restaurants and we found our best coffees in Poland here.
2. The old town in Warsaw. Yes the buildings are beautiful, but we particularly loved it knowing it had been restored after the Germans destroyed it completely in revenge for the Warsaw uprising in 1944. Restored based on old photographs and drawings, all within a couple of years of the end of the war. A testament to what is possible!
3. The sense of history and excellent information available in Warsaw. We visited the Museum of the History of the Jews in Poland (winner of best museum in Europe 2016) and crossed several notices advising of the original location of the Warsaw Ghetto. We also wanted to visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum, but after the museum above and 2 days in Auschwitz, we had reached our tolerance for horror.
4. The train system. We travelled between Krakow and Warsaw, and Warsaw and Gdansk by local train. We shunned the faster and more expensive super modern trains and took the old fashioned ones. These are divided into compartments of 6, with 3 seats facing 3, which meant we got to chat to some Poles on our journeys, and also see how they interact with each other. Not shy of confrontation was our conclusion as we watched a young professional lady take on a cantankerous old biddy and request she move her bag. When she received a barrage of abuse in response she held her ground and argued back. We shrunk into our seats and shifted our bags to lessen the tension … We also met a lovely Navy man, 20 odd years into the job, who we spoke to for 2 hours about life in Poland and his travels with the navy around Europe.
5. The bakeries, available everywhere and selling a selection of unpronounceable delights. Not knowing a word of Polish, we were often clueless as to what was inside the pastries and sometimes ended up with a nasty surprise. Daniel selected a gorgeous looking donut one day, only to bite in and find it filled with a rose flavoured sludge, not exactly his favorite!
6. We loved how friendly the Poles were and how chatty they were to each other. Nothing like the taciturn reputation they have abroad. We felt very welcome and there was much patience as we tried to point out what we wanted in shops and cafes, or request directions.
7. What good value everything is. On our last morning there, after buying 4 pastries in a bakery, a take-away coffee and 2 tickets for the train to the airport, we had spent 6 euro. We had lovely apartments in the old town areas that cost 25 Euro per night. Luxurious travel for budget travellers like us.
8. The northern canal town of Gdansk is very pretty; the architecture different again from that in Krakow and Warsaw. It was orginally part of the German republic (as Danzig) until traded to Poland at the end of the war. Having canals through the town is calming and adds to the charm.
9. We found a real boom underway in Poland, with dozens of cranes in the Warsaw skyline, alongside recently constructed modern glass towers. In Gdansk many old warehouses on the edge of the old town are in the process of being renovated, and huge construction work is underway in the heart of the downtown. On our flight to Poland, our neighbour was a Polish man who had spent the last 5 years working in Ireland, but was returning to live and work in Poland. One of many we suspect.
10. The easy access to the Baltic Sea from Gdansk. We took a train (another one!) to Sopot where we walked the longest wooden pier in Europe. It was filled with Sunday ramblers of all ages and apart from the beach and pier, was a lovely town in its own right.
A fantastic trip and a country we would love to return to.