Amber is a typically Polish gift. Although it is not a precious stone, its value is equal to many gems. It is a fossilized resin of ancient pine trees dating back between 40 million to 250 million years and occurs as translucent nuggets in earthy hues ranging from pale yellow to reddish brown.
Amber stirs the world's scientific imagination because intact pieces of DNA, life's basic genetic code, have been extracted from insects preserved in amber millions of years old.
There is a rich history and lore associated with amber:
- Amber was one of the reasons the Emperor Nero opened the trade routes with the Germanic tribes. Gladiators wore amulets of amber for protection while the ladies of the court dyed their hair to match their shades of amber.
- During the Middle Ages extreme measures were taken to control the amber trade. Gallows were erected along the Baltic Sea to hang amber pirates.
- Every European pharmacy in the 19th century offered amber mixtures of oils, powders and ointments to cure most any ill. Some of these are still dispensed today.
- Amber is said to balance moods, instill confidence in the wearer and ease depression and anxiety.
- In ancient times amber was believed by many to possess welfare strength and this strength could be measurably increased by inhaling the smoke from burning amber incense.
- The Chinese burned chunks of raw amber as a sign of their wealth.
Shopping in large Polish cities is like shopping in most other cities in Europe. There are the high quality, high price boutiques and specialty shops in the center of town or the old town, along with souvenirs shops, art galleries, cafes and delicatessens. Larger cities have shopping malls in the suburbs which feature all the major European and American brands, as well as some local specialty stores.
Polish markets are worth experiencing. Both flower markets and farmers' markets. The sellers rarely haggle, although there is no offense if you try.
By European standards, the Polish shopping hours are quite generous.The stores typically stay open between 10 AM and 7 PM Monday through Friday, and 9 AM to 2 PM on Saturday. On Sunday most stores are closed with the exception of pharmacies, convenience stores, suburban shopping malls and some souvenir shops in the center of the city.
Among the most popular souvenirs to buy is Poland are amber, silver, crystal, vodka, pottery (especially recently popular Boleslawiec pottery), and handmade crafts, especially those made of wood.
The state owned Cepelia stores sell a large variety of the local handicrafts.
Polish contemporary painting, original prints and sculpture are renowned internationally and sold by commercial art galleries. Polish posters are among the world's finest. Also extremely popular is hand-made, one of a kind artistic glass.