I never really thought much about Poland until I met my husband, Stan. At that time I was just finishing my degree at AU. Stan was born in Poland, but his family came to Canada when he was three years old. He always hoped to return for a visit some day, and it was while we were dating we began talking about visiting Poland when I finished university. Shortly after I graduated we were finally ready to seriously consider the trip. So, I began to research this country, this Poland, that I knew literally nothing about.
In my investigation I discovered some interesting facts about Poland. For example, Poland is the 9th largest country in Europe and Warsaw, the capital city is represented by the symbol of the mermaid. Seventeen Nobel Prize winners are from Poland. Some recipients include Maria Sklodowska Curie (Physics 1903); Gunter Grass (Literature 1999), well known for his novel “The Tin Drum”; and Frank Wilczek (Physics 2004). Other famous Poles include writer Joseph Conrad; Michael Mark, the cofounder of the retail outlet, Marks & Spencer; and of course cosmetics entrepreneur, Helena Rubinstein. But the important bit of information for the international traveler to Poland is that public toilets carry the sign of a circle for women and a triangle for men.
Although there are many attractions to see in Poland, we are trying to focus on a few that would appeal to both of us. The town of Przemysl, where Stan was born, will undoubtedly be at the top of our list, where we hope that we will be able to locate some of Stan’s long lost relatives.
During the Second World War several concentration camps were located in Poland. The most well-known was Auschwitz-Birkenau, located 50 km west of Krakow, which was the former capital. Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum will undeniably be a moving experience for us to visit. An interesting fact I discovered was that the Polish people were responsible for rescuing approximately 450,000 Jews from the massacre of The Holocaust. The Polish were the largest group of people of a single nationality to have accomplished such an amazing feat. This fact alone makes the Polish a remarkable group of people. Unfortunately, after WWII, Poland fell under Soviet leadership, became a communist country, and succumbed to serious economic struggles. Perhaps this explains the exodus of Poles leaving their homeland after the war. Although Stan did not discuss these issues with his widowed mother, looking back, this may shed light on why she would have taken four young children and undertaken the arduous task of leaving her homeland and beginning a new life in a strange land. Fortunately, she had family in Canada to sponsor her and her children.
Another site for us to see is Krakow, which has been chosen twice as the European City of Culture. The architecture of the area, including cathedrals, churches, and castles, is a said to be a breathtaking site to behold. We look forward to seeing the marketplace which includes displays of Polish paintings, wood carvings, and various other artistic items. Krakow’s museums contain Leonardo da Vinci’s “A Lady with a Weasel” and Rembrandt’s “Landscape with a Good Samaritan” among other noteworthy artists. The Jewish Museum, also located in Krakow, provides a further view into the culture of the many Jews who have resided in Poland. As well, Krakow offers an exciting nightlife with numerous restaurants and pubs.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is described as a phenomenon to behold. Since it is only 20 km from Krakow it is still within driving distance for us. The Wieliczka Salt Mine has a depth of 180 meters, 380 steps deep into the earth. The sights are purported to be breathtakingly beautiful, as ponds and lakes are contained within the mine. It is so immense that boats are lowered into the mine as a means to maneuver around. In addition, chapels and religious statues carved out of salt surround the walls. Sounds awesome!
Zakopane, a popular mountain resort, would definitely be a must on our list to visit. Zakopone is well known throughout the world for its earthly activities such as hiking, climbing, and skiing.
Finally the Bieszczady Mountains, believed to appeal to the romantic within all of us, are described as one of the most secluded areas of Europe. The Bieszczady Mountains are definitely a place to visit at any time of year, providing many activities such as hiking, biking, and skiing in winter. These mountains are not a popular tourist area, but, because of their location, which is close to Przemysl, Stan’s hometown, they will definitely be part of our itinerary.
I hope that we can visit all of these popular destinations and more on our long awaited trip to Poland, which should take place in the near future.