Why Your Next Vacation Should Be to Poland
I'm sure Nice is nice and the Caribbean sunsets are gorgeous but look at these views! If you're into nature and/or just want to look like you're in the Sound of Music then check out Zakopane. You can take a trolley up the central mountain where the views of the city are jaw-dropping. During the summer, there are plenty of music festivals to keep you busy and during winter, you can hit the slopes. Also, if you're up for a challenge, you can hike up and down the mountain for a good workout. The mountain sits at the foot of a cute town with plenty of vendors to find the perfect souvenir.
If you've studied European history, you know that Poland has been through its fair share of tragedy. During WWII, it was occupied by Nazi Germany and invaded by the Soviet Union and millions of Jews of were killed in Auschwitz (below). Reading about the atrocities committed is nowhere near the same as experiencing it in person. A place like Auschwitz is difficult to stomach but extremely necessary to see. Additionally, following the end of WWII, Poland was under communist rule. The city is dripping with the effects of communism with the nods to Solidarity and Lech Walesa.
Although Poland isn't considered a top destination, there are plenty of "tourist" attractions that are must-sees. My personal favorite was the Salt Mines. Located outside of Krakow, the salt mines are a collection of underground salt sculptures of just about anyone and everyone important to Polish history. To get to the salt mines, you must climb down HUNDREDS of stairs. It was exhausting but definitely worth the trip. The picture below is of the chapel located halfway through the collection. How stunning! Additionally, there are underground gift shops and restaurants so bring money.
One of my favorite parts of Poland was just wandering the streets and admiring the architecture. In downtown Krakow, the streets are cobblestone and the buildings have ornate decorations. Famous buildings such as Wawel Cathedral and Wawel Castle are stunning! Prepare your camera!
Whether you are Catholic/Christian or not, the strength and faith of the Polish people can be admired. Poland is practically the most important Catholic country with Pope John Paul II becoming the first pope to be from Poland and one of the few not from Western Europe/Italy. Every site associated with him has become a museum and some are worth seeing. His hometown, Wadowice, is home to a museum of the house he used to live in and also features the church he was baptized in and attended. In addition, the country is jam-packed with beautifully decorated churches; there are so many that none in particular are better than the others! But, perhaps the most important religious site both religiously and culturally, is the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa. This painting is the most revered religious object in Poland as it has said to have protected Poland during its tragic past.
There are plenty of little quirky things to see in Poland that are unique to the small country. One I greatly appreciated was the trumpeter at St. Mary's church in the Main Square of Krakow. Every single day of the year, a trumpeter calls to mark the new hour. The call is a beautiful tribute to the church and if you look close enough, you can even see the trumpeter playing!