A travellers guide to Poland
I visit Poznan when I was 18 as my boyfriend at the time was working out there. To be honest I dont remember much about it apart from it being very cold, eating delicious goulash and drinking lots of Vodka which is probably why I dont remember much.
This is a guest Post by Robert Joyce, his partner is a Poland native and he hopes that this has not influenced his review in any way. Robert Joyce has been living with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis for over 25 years. For the past 4 of those with the addition of chronic pain. He writes the blog A 30-Minute Life about his experiences with both. In his two and a half decades living with this disease, he’s come up with some interesting strategies, a sense of gratitude and looks forward to sharing them with this community.
“Sometimes you just have to be lucky. I have travelled to Poland 3 times already, and I am positive I will be travelling there again. It is a very historic country that has shown me a depth of character that can only be earned as a result of such an interesting and varied history. This was shown to me in several ways.”
Firstly, the trauma of the Second World War and the impact of this on its people. It seems to overshadow everything else. Last year I was in Krakow, and I visited the ghetto, and was deeply impacted by the central square. It had chairs, of many types, scattered throughout, depicting how the Jews, rich and poor, had been cast out of their homes, and gathered together. Nazi Germany then corralled them and brought them to the concentration camps. I honestly could not bring myself to go to Auschwitz. There were two reasons, the fact that so many were slaughtered there shook me, and my ability to walk around the camp was limited. My stick had become my companion, and my days of long walks were over.
The second part of Poland that is worth learning about is the lengthy history. It has been a country that has been conquered, over run and subjugated, and has then risen again, just like the eagle that it so proudly displays on its flag. This ability to rise again is admirable, and as someone who lives with chronic illness – multiple sclerosis, sarcoidosis, chronic pain and asthma, I have a small idea how hard it is to rise up again when everything around you seems to want you to suffer. In Krakow I visited the salt mines in Wieliczka. These mines have been in operation for 100’s of years, and have survived all these various turmoils. In amongst these caverns you will find statues and churches carved from the ancient salt rock. The timbers that hold up the roofs of the tunnels have been petrified by the salt, making them stone.
Thirdly, and most importantly, are the people. Initially they seem taciturn, angry and this can be understandable. Their incomes are poor, yet the cost of goods in the shops is the same price as neighbouring Germany. This is a bitter pill. But if you get a chance to visit the small gardens outside the cities you will find a peacefulness, a beauty that has been grown from this soil. The patience, care and love that it takes, shows that once you get to know the Polish people, they will be there for you. Resolute, and strong.
Recommendations for Visiting Poland
1. Uber is fantastic. In Poznan I experienced my first trip and the average cost of a fare was PLN 12. These were 5-10 minute trips, and they allowed me to walk to places and not have to worry about walking back. The final trip from the center of Gdansk to the airport cost PLN 41.
2. Make sure that you check that there is an elevator in your accommodation, especially if you are renting an apartment. Not all buildings have them.
3. You have to try Polish food. Pierogi are small pastry dumplings filled with various sweet or savoury delights. If savoury, they are best boiled, then fried with added fried onion on top. There is also zurek, which is a sour rye peasant soup, usually served in a bread bowl, and with white sausage and egg. Don’t knock it before you taste it. I have since made it at home for Easter. Yum.
4. Although you may book assistance in the airports, I would highly recumbent that you also send an e-mail, expressly stating the services you require. Be careful if your assistant is talking to some other person in Polish. Ask what they discussed, as they may be making decisions about you without informing you. They are also suspicious of wheelchair users, as they have had many people pretending they require a service, but don’t and only wish to skip the lines.
5. I really don’t like writing this, but you must be vigilant of people that are serving you. We had an incident on the train where we were charged for coffee when it should have been free. There can be a tendency to overcharge if they can get away with it.
What to do in Poznań
- This is an industrial city that I visited in January. It is best visited in Spring and Summer, or so I am told. Then the parks are more accessible, and its is possible to have some nice walks.
- The shopping centres are the same as the rest of Europe with many of the same shops.
- What was of interest was some of the old shops are still there. I saw a violin shop that looked like it has been there forever.
- In the main square you need to be there at 12 noon to witness the two goat greeting each other. Interesting, but it was very cold on the day that I saw it, and I would recommend seeing it if you are in the vicinity. There was music playing and a collection of school children counting down for the event.
- Tumska is a restaurant that is located close to the Basilica in Poznań. The food and service was excellent. It is traditional Polish food.
What to do in Gdansk
- In the snow it is magical, especially the Mariacka Street. This city was destroyed in the Second World War by the Allies, and it was rebuilt exactly like it was before the war, with the crooked streets and cobbled pavements. These are difficult with a stick or wheelchair, but you have to admire their resilience and determination to reconstitute the original appearance.
- You must see the Solidarity Museum. The union was responsible for Poland exiting the Soviet block and started its transition to the market economy. This place had a massive impact on me, and it deserves at least 4 hours, if not longer.
- The bakeries are a delight, and you have to try the Sernick (cheesecake). They have so many different flavours.
- There is also a small museum on the Długi Targ that recently opened. (It was the second day when I visited.) It gives a great history of the city, which after the First World War was a city state and its name was then Danzig, plus you will be amazed by the old City Hall paintings and decoration. Well worth a visit.
Read More : 7 Reasons to Visit Gdansk
What to do in Krakow
- Every hour in the central square a trumpeter plays the “Hejnał” alert. Back in history this was played to announce that the city was being attacked, it will suddenly stop, commemorating the time when the trumpeter was killed in 1241 and it is played every day since.
- At the foot of the castle is the cave of the fire breathing dragon that protects Krakow.
- The Kremovka cake is just amazing. It is reputed to be the cake that Pope John Paul II loved, and I can understand why. I would return to Krakow just to eat it again.
- You must take a tour of the Ghetto, I was lucky to have a personally guided tour, and it had a huge impact on me. Such a devastating time in the history of Poland.
- The salt mines are worth a visit. I was able to walk then, although slowly. Lots of stair to manoeuvre.
A big thank you to Robert for sharing his experiences of travelling in Poland. I need to return one day and explore more of what the country has to offer. If you would like to guest post on Travel To Recovery please get in contact.
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Originally posted May 2018 updated Feb 2019