Visiting Poland in 2018?

Old Towns, mountains, seacoast, Independence Centennial, relatives....

A river cruise in Krakow is one way to capture the city's medieval architecture

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ARSAW.  Some Polish Americans reading these words intend to visit Poland for the first time this year. Perhaps others are planning a return visit after one or more earlier trips over. Others, however, may ask “Why Poland of all places? What’s there to do and see there anyway?” Even if you no longer speak any Polish (or never have), like most visiting Polish Americans, you will probably find that Poland is not “just another foreign country”. If you were raised in a Polish-American home, you may be surprised to encounter some of the sights, scents and sounds of your childhood. These may include familiar facial types which will remind you of old Mr Wójcik, the neighbor lady Stella Nowak or the Woźniaks who ran a corner grocery. 

Looking up and touching base with long-lost relations is usually an experience that will long be remembered. They will probably treat you to Old Country delicacies you haven't tasted in years. Relatives you may not have known even existed are likely to pull out some old, faded snapshots your dad or grandma had sent them years ago. Seeing the family homestead or your ancestors’ names on the gravestones of a local cemetery shows that you did not just appear out of nowhere but trace your roots to a proud, 1,000-year-old nation that has survived partitions, invasions and occupations without losing its cultural identity and national soul.  

It is a country of fabulous old town quarters, castles and cathedrals as well as modern skyscrapers and shopping malls. It is a land of natural beauty, from the picturesque mountain landscapes that rim the country’s southern flank and northeast Poland’s forested Mazurian Lake District to the sandy beaches of the Baltic Coast. Across the country there are quaint little towns and villages, venerable religious shrines and outdoor folk museums known as “skansens”. 

Prime attractions include the present capital city of Warsaw, rebuilt to be “as good as old” from its war-time destruction. The old royal capital of Kraków (until 1596) is a true treasure chest of Polish heritage, where “musts” include the Wawel Cathedral-Castle complex, Sukiennice cloth hall and National Museum. From there it is only a stone’s throw to such points of interest as the Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of the man-made wonders of the world and the historic Shrine of the Black Madonna in Częstochowa. Nazi Germany’s grim Auschwitz Death Camp may be depressing but is definitely worth seeing. Also in southern Poland lies Zakopane, a resort town known both for its beautiful mountain scenery and its “Góral” (highlander) folklore. To many, the raft ride down the swift-flowing River Dunajec is a memorable experience.  

There are different ways of visitng Poland. One is structured sightseeing – organized guided bus tours with food, accommodation and stops at tourist attractions all included in a package deal. Another is to sightsee on one’s own – traveling around the country by train, bus or rented car and visiting places of greatest personal interest; A more genealogical experience may include meeting relatives, learning family history and legends, exploring the nooks and crannies of the place one’s ancestors once called home. Poland also has plenty to offer for a cultural immersion – attending festivals, concerts and re-enactments of historic battles, visiting museums and historical monuments as well as souvenir shopping. 

Many Polish American visitors combine elements of some or all of the above for a more customized, multi-faceted visit better geared to their individual tastes and interests.