Poland, A Land of Beauty
A quaint little village
My name is Jeff Scott, a simple man of simple faith. Over the last 5 years I have been traveling the world with a pilgrimage company in the Chicago suburbs I work there 4 days a week bringing people or “Pilgrims” as they are called, to the holy Christian sites around the world. I would like to start you off in Poland because I enjoyed it so much. It’s what I would call the perfect mix for pilgrimage beginners! We made sure to see all of the holy places, but we also managed to take in the rich outstanding history of a country that has gone from rags to riches many times over. It’s also a country steeping with Catholic history. Pope John Paul II grew up here in a the little town of Wadewitz. (Pronounced Vada-Vitz) The town square is so quaint, you would believe that you have seen it in a storybook that you have read to your children. As your eyes feast on the luxurious fountain in the middle of the square, you smell the abundance of beautiful flowers. Then you’ll walk through the flowing landscape to one of the little stores to shop... just a little. The truly iconic white Catholic Church is just sizable enough to be the largest building on the square yet small enough to feel like a hometown church inside and out.
The biggest little ski town in Poland
Poland has elegant churches, majestic castles, artistic salt mines, mountains and numerous amazing locations, however few places compare to the mountain ski town of Zakopane. It was a favorite vacation spot for Pope John Paul II. I have not skied much, but this little town is impressive! Every building, whether home or business, was different than the next. Most being made of exquisite Polish wood. Zakopane certainly had the feel of a beautiful mountain village. Our bus dropped off our pilgrimage group right in front of a large outdoor shopping area which reminded me of a large stadium parking lot as far as size. There were small wooden shacks with merchandise hanging off of them and tented areas to get in out of the sun for a while. As we made our way down through the middle of what I would call a Shopper’s Candyland. We were told “No stopping, no shopping yet, first we go up the mountain, then we’ll have some free time later” We proceeded to board the cable car tram to travel up the side of the 500 ft. mountain. When we got to the top, we clicked some pictures and admired the awe inspiring, take your breath away, most beautiful scenic mountain views I have ever seen. We had some free time so I did some exploring. I met two polish friends who treated me to a glass of Grzaniec (pronounced: Gshzah-nee-ets). It’s a wonderful Polish hot spiced wine. Aaaah, sipping Mulled wine with new friends and taking in God’s beautiful mountain landscape was definitely a memorable moment that I will never forget.
In Krakow, the Royal Castle
In Krakow we were able to visit many sites, first let’s look at Wawel Castle. People have lived at this location all the way back to the 7th century. By the 9th century it became a fortified settlement. The first ruler of Poland Mieszko 1st who ruled from 965 – 992 chose Wawel Hill as his residence. Soon after his reign, the first Catholic Cathedral was built on the site. As I stood atop the hill overlooking the Vistula River, I was awestruck at the sheer size and elegance of the castle. As we entered we saw a building on the right covered with vines and to the left a large four story guard tower. We then stood in front the newest version of the 1000 year old Cathedral. The two majestic towers, the Clock Tower on the left and the smaller but older Silver Bells tower. We proceeded to explore the entire inner courtyard, 3 levels of visibly aged white stone walls with arches and balconies. It was such a vision of beautiful architecture, I remember seeing virtually everyone in sight taking pictures.
Don't miss the unforgettable Salt Mines
A visit to Poland is not complete without a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mines. This site is a world class monument, and is listed on UNESCO's World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. Inside you’ll find statues and structures that were hand carved from the ancient salt. Upon entering the “Chapel of St. Kinga” and seeing the beauty and detail of the reliefs carvings and statues, as some point you stand in awe at the mass amount of time that it took to carve the entire area by hand. There are also small lakes and many different chambers to explore during the two hour tour.
Krakow has the best town square
When we arrived in the main square of the Old Town of Krakow, we were told that it is actually the largest town square in all of Europe. In the center is the Krakow Cloth Hall, it’s called the oldest shopping center in the world! It dates back to the early 1300’s, unfortunately that first version burned down. The buildings we see today are from the redesign and rebuild of the late 1500’s Renaissance era. As I looked around at the architecture, I was stopped in my tracks with amazement. Grand churches, hotels, restaurants, stores, homes and more. This town square has it all. Of course being a connoisseur of ice cream, my first stop was every ice cream shop that I could find. I then found a comfy umbrella table to observe all of the hustle and bustle that is the Rynek Glowny Square.
It's Poland, just go there!
It would take many hours to recall all of the amazing beautiful places and delicious food that we experienced in Poland. So many landscapes both cities and country scenery. Also some gems of the Catholic faith like the Divine Mercy that Jesus shared with St. Sister Faustina, or the triumphant story of St. John Paul II's rise from a lowly factory worker to one of the greatest Popes ever chosen. This classic old world country of Poland with it’s rich history is certainly the best place to start a wondrous journey. Just see Poland for yourself, no good reason needed beforehand, you’ll have plenty of reasons when you get back.
© 2019 Jeff Scott