Poland: Krakow and the Tatra Mountains
Delight in the unique blend of "fairytale come alive" scenery, warm and passionate locals and the ever-present sense of history. Visit Renaissance palaces and medieval castles, attend Chopin's piano recital and Klezmer music concert, enjoy world-class art, the underground salt mine and the communism utopia tour, the spectacular Tatra Mountains, colorful Highlander culture and excellent cuisine.
More Than Just a Pretty Face
Most visitors to Poland are mesmerized by the blend of the country's unforgettable scenery and the fascinating and ever-present sense of history. Traveling through Poland offers an insider's view into many aspects of European history: the Teutonic Knights' mysteries, the Golden Age of the Renaissance, the Russian politics, and the scars of the Nazi and the Communism years. Yet today, the country brims with enthusiasm and youthful energy, the romantic sidewalk cafes adorn the leafy streets, and the atmosphere is that of a constant celebration.
For North Americans, Poland is still mostly an undiscovered destination, but Europeans have been returning year after year. Of all the cities claiming to be the next Prague, Krakow comes the closest. Poland offers profound history, beautiful cities, glorious castles and elegant palaces, fairytale mountain villages and scenery that will leave you speechless. The food is superb and imaginatively presented, the shopping is truly world-class, the music is everywhere, but the country's greatest wealth is its people: kind, open-hearted, warm, and honest.
Many historians refer to Poland as the "gods' playground". Because the country is situated on a wide plain, many invaders, from Napoleon to Hitler, took advantage of Poland's strategic location. Polish lands have been invaded by Magyars, Bohemians, Tartars, Teutonic Knights, Swedes, Prussians, Russians, Austrians, French, Germans, and Soviets.
There are many legends surrounding the beginnings of Krakow, and the most beloved one is the legend of the Wawel Dragon. A long time ago, in a lovely castle on a hill above the river there lived a king, a queen and a beautiful princess. Their lives would have passed slowly and without much excitement, as was usual in those times, if it wasn't for a dreadful dragon who decided to make his home in a cave underneath the castle.
Art and architecture are a testimony to the splendor of the past. It is common for paintings, sculptures, and architecture to bear hidden meanings which mirror the economic and political circumstances of the nation.
Krakow is considered a gem of medieval and Renaissance architecture and a European cultural capital. It's a magical place where legends are mixed with reality, and stories from the old times still find relevance in contemporary life.
Salt's ability to preserve food was a foundation of civilization. It eliminated dependence on the seasonal availability of food and it allowed travel over long distances. Through the discovery of its use in food preservation it allowed for longer voyages, and it freed humans from dependence on fresh food. The salt mines of Poland led to a vast kingdom in the 1500s, only to be destroyed when Germans brought in sea salt.
Sixty years ago the city of Nowa Huta was designed to be a communist utopian town. The Soviet rulers, keeping in line with the spirit of the times, designed a model communist town whose aim was the glorification of the working class. Its purpose was to become an instrument of cultural and political propaganda. The Ideal City was to be a model of ideal living and government, based on the concept of a town able to satisfy the needs of a peaceful and hardworking community.
The Tatra Mountains are part of the Carpathian Range, located in the heart of Europe. This is the second highest mountain range in Europe, east of the Alps and west of the Ural and the Caucasus Mountains.
Zakopane is an Alpine mountain resort located at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. At 3,200 feet above sea level, Zakopane is the highest located city in Poland. Due to this elevation, it has a cool, mountain climate.
The Pieniny Mountains have been attracting visitors since the 18th century. Originally, the Dunajec River Gorge was an attraction reserved for the local and visiting aristocracy, but today this scenic river and the surrounding mountain range are visited by over half a million tourists every year.
For centuries the Polish kitchen has been the stage for competing influences from France and Italy, while it also borrowed extensively from more exotic tables: Tartar, Armenian, Scandinavian, Lithuanian, Cossack, Hungarian and Jewish.
Some of the most popular souvenirs to buy in Poland are amber, silver, crystal, vodka, pottery (especially the popular Boleslawiec pottery), and handmade crafts, especially those made of wood.
Gdansk, the capital of Pomerania, breaths history. From the ancient Nordic invasions to the crumbling of the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, the city has been in the center of many historical events throughout the thousand years of its existence. Gdansk is a far cry from the gloomy stereotypes of Eastern Europe. The Gothic-style buildings, vibrant with color, the castle-like towers and perfectly preserved city gates give Gdansk a fairy-tale presence and stand witness to its colorful history.
According to a legend, Warsaw started as a riverside settlement built by fisherman Wars and his wife Sawa - thus the Polish name Warszawa. The first fortified settlement was erected here in the 9th century, it was the seat of the Masovian Dukes in the 1300s, and in 1526 it became part of the Polish Crown.
Jasna Gora Sanctuary in Czestochowa is the holiest place in Poland and one of the world's most important pilgrimage destinations. The Jasna Gora (Bright Mountain in Polish) has been Central Europe's spiritual center for six centuries.