Between July & August 2015 I decided to escape from the heat of Spain and take a short flight across to the North of Poland landing in Gdansk, home of perestroika and Lev Walenska and after a visit North to the seaside town of Sopot to work my way south via Malbork Castle, Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw and Katowice and to end up in Krakow & the infamous Auschwitz Birkenau.
From arrival at the beautiful main Glowny Railway Station you cannot help but fall in love with Gdansk. The wonderful architecture as you pass the tower at the Square leading to the main road to the port which once bore witness to horrible atrocities as the Prison Dungeon and torture chambers now a popular Museum showing off the beautiful Amber that is found on many of the Northern Beaches.
Next day after an early start I had a light breakfast and headed off to meet up for the “Old City Tour” which took almost 3 hours and took in all the major sites and a good history lesson was given along the way (free but expect donation if happy with service and leaflets available in all hostels).
The tour ended at the Gdansk shipyards where Lev Welenska started the downfall of communism back in the 1980’s (hands up those that remember it on TV) and there was a commemorative museum that was interesting.
I then had lunch with my Hostel Room mate Christine from the Chez Republic of fresh caught cod chips and a soft drink on a floating restaurant (boat) for about 10 euro each – delicious.
After a wander round the streets of Gdansk I had missed I went to the railway station to book my ticket for tomorrow for Malbrook Castle so hopefully not so much walking.
A must at night / early evening is a walk along the Royal street down to the port via the river I have never encountered so many talented musicians in one place – every nook and cranny has a duet or a trio playing some classical piece and as the lights come on it takes on a fairy story appearance love it
A short train ride to the north will take you to Sopot with it’s wonderful beaches and a pier to rival Southend-On-Sea for its length. I only spent the day here but there is so much to see and do I can see why it is a favourite of the Polish people for holidays.
South from Gdansk lies a castle that you must make the time to see. Set on the banks of the river the once almost totally destroyed castle has been lovingly restored and boasts an amazing history. With one of the most authentic collections of medieval armour and weapons it is a boys toys playground while the women can wander around and even listen to minstrels playing the harp and singing or visit the grounds full of flowers, fruit and blossoms. There is sometimes jousting competitions and tournaments in the grounds. Set aside a full day to get the most from your visit.
The capital City which was virtually levelled after WW2 is a vibrant metropolis with so much to see and do I was here for a week before heading off to teach some locals English for 5 days and I filled every minute of it with visits to parks, museums, open air concerts and one of the best Sound and light concerts in Europe.
Did you know Marie Skłodowska Curie ( the only woman to win 2 Nobel prizes) was Polish and born in Warsar?
And another famous Polish person was Frederick Chopin who loved this city so much although his body was buried in France his heart was smuggled back in Warsaw and now resides in a pillar in The Holy Cross church as per his deathbed wish.
On Sundays you can enjoy a free outdoor concert of his music in the park a short walk from the centre but get there early if you want to get a chair.
I went to Poznan to teach Polish people English with a school called
“Just Speak” which can be found on the internet and if it is something you think you may be interested in I can recommend this to you. I had a wonderful time and met wonderful people I remain friends with to this day. You are housed in a stately home now a Hotel and fed 3 meals a day for 5 days and all you have to do is Speak English and enjoy yourselves.
Poznan itself is another wonderful city where everything revolves around the old town square. There are trams to whisk you around the city and when you arrive in the square you will find that the facades of the buildings are remarkable, especially when you consider they were all rebuilt after the war to reflect exactly what they were like before.
I have placed a picture of a “Milk Bar” if you are lucky enough to find it – Back in the days of communism there were many more of these set up to ensure working people could afford a decent meal for little money. They are still run by the state and do really basic wholesome food for very little an experience well worth trying.
One of the stranger sights you will see is people dressed up as Rams this is something to do with the famous clock in the town square, where you can see two rams exit the clock face and butt heads for each chime of the clock. Night life revolves around the square.
Pronounced nothing like it is spelt and probably, just, my most favourite place in all of Poland and with cheap flights with Ryan Air no excuse not to visit. The Venice of Poland with canals (but not smelly) and bridges to cross everywhere and known for its famous Gnomes, Yes, Gnomes. Not the kind you get in the financial institutions of Zurich but honest to goodness little men hidden all around the city. Get a map and go on a hunt, see if you can find some of those I found !!
Again most things happen around the old town square head for Stare Maestro and you won’t go far wrong. This was the first time in Poland I hired a pushbike and I would recommend this as a form of transport to get out of the city and head to the outskirts.
If you stay in a Hostel (I always do) you will find leaflets for free city walking tours which if you enjoy you are expected to giver your guide what you think it was worth (normally between 5 -10 euro for a 3 hour walk). Go on one of these to familiarise yourself with the sights.
Out opposite the Zoo is a Free night time Sound and light show to rival the one in Warsaw and a must to sit and watch eating a Gelato from the shop.
In the centre you will find artists carving figurines out of wood which are amazing and are not expensive so if you can support the local artisan knowing it wasnt made in China. Make sure you take in The Raclawice Panorama a 360 degree painting of the 1794 battle of independence it is awesome. Check out the Cathedral with the un-exploded bomb still wedged in the tower.
The bridge of locks left by lovers that when the council wanted to remove all the locks for fear the bridge would collapse they were forced to reinforce it by the populace rather than have a riot on their hands. After your walk head back to the main square and sit looking at the 21st Century Fountain and listen to the myriad of buskers that will be performing there. See the old prison now converted to an hotel and the flower market alive with fresh flowers and on and on and on.
To give it its full name is a place on the outskirts of Krakow I could not, no visit having come so close, however, I will warn you it is not for everyone. It is good that it is kept as a reminder of mans ability to be so inhuman towards our own kind – lest we forget.
I am not going to write about this place and if you want to skip the pics please do so.
Krakow is the city that thinks it should be the capital and in all things rivals Warsaw, a bit like Madrid and Barcelona and as a visitor you get the best of both worlds Ha Ha.
I suppose there is a New Krakow but everything worth seeing is either in the “old town” down to the castle on the river or in the old “Jewish section”.
Again I would urge you to take a walking tour as this will familiarise you with the city but in this city there are a number of walking tours. The main tour in the morning plus the Jewish Area in the afternoon will let you see everything you want especially if you stretch it over two days.
The centre where you start the Day tour is where you will go in the evenings to eat and afterwards catch a horse and carriage ride with your loved one or just to sit and watch the street musicians who can be top of their profession especially some of the singers.
After the afternoon tour where you will be shown around where the Jewish people used to live before the war and some still do now and you will see the Jewish centre funded and opened by our own Prince Charles when he and Camilla visited. You will see the “Ghetto Heroes square” full of empty chairs, each chair facing towards Auschwitz and each chair representing 1,000 Jews murdered by the Nazis and finish at the factory of Oskar Schindler which is now a museum.
In the evening you will head back to the Jewish section to eat Kosher food and then just follow your ears to find live Jazz and other music blaring out from the pubs and bars in the area and listen to the stories, everyone has one to tell and afterwards head home relishing a zapiekanka with Mushroom and cheese to soak up the Tyskie & Vodka.
So much to see and do here 5 days will be just right to see all the sights especially the fire breathing dragon on the river bank below the castle – I kid you not – Beware.