As a former flight attendant, I’ve visited all European countries except Albania and Poland. Poland is Europe’s 5th largest nation. Aside for Lech Walesa, Copernicus, the Pope and a decade of Polish jokes I never understood, I knew absolutely nothing of this land. Even so, my interest peaked because it will quickly be hot on the tourist trail and simply because my Chicago husband’s family members is from here. He accompanied me with a sense of delight in discovering his roots. I went to become educated and enriched by anything new. We flew from Atlanta by means of JFK and Warsaw to Krakow for a mere 4 days. No rest for the weary with a head spinning itinerary. I choose to pay a visit to cities in the off season to mingle with the locals. It supplies a far more authentic and intimate atmosphere.

On airport arrival, we’re cheerfully greeted by Pavel who will be our driver throughout. He holds a welcome sign “Suza Davis”. I say, “Hi, I’m Suzy from Atlanta.” I chuckled when he responded, “Yes, downstairs of USA.” We checked into Hotel Amadeus, a 16th century posh inn in the heart throb of town center. Prince Charles after bedded in our area, I’m told.

We set out to hunt for dinner. The illuminated Old Town was stunning and filled with so a lot of young men and women, it made me really feel elderly. 150,000 students reside in this university town. Krakow is Europe’s premier celebration scene where they stay out till the birds sing. This historic district holds highest concentration of bars and restaurants in the globe. We suddenly found Pierogi Garden, home of the freshest Polish dumplings. They had been stuffed with sauerkraut, lamb, beef, berries, chocolate and even peanut butter. There had been 6 kinds of soups, all with beets which I abhor. Soon after a dozen dumplings, I had a melted ewe’s milk cheese pancake which was beyond scrumptious.

Poland seasoned countless invasions all through its history. Following getting ravaged by the Germans and then the Russians, it lastly achieved independence in 1989 with the collapse of Soviet communism. Krakow was wired for destruction near the finish of WWII by the Germans. They planned to blow it up when the Russians took more than, luckily the war ended hours before the plan was carried out.

These days it remains one of the few cities remaining in its original form. With a population now of 780,000, it has morphed into a trendy international capital. Vibrant and contemporary but somehow retains its traditional culture with regal architecture. It is in Krakow where a single finds the spirit of the new Poland.

On day two, we have been greeted by Anna who was strikingly stunning. We began in the internet of cobbled streets in Old Town that was meant for walking. It was a maze of museums, chapels, galleries, cafes and hole in the wall pubs. Even in winter there was entertainment with street dancers, mimes, accordion players and on one particular corner, I watched a knight in armor break-dancing.

We entered Market place Square, Europe’s largest medieval square where little has changed given that 1257. It is crowned by the Bell Tower exactly where a bugler plays at the leading of the hour. It drives the residents crazy at evening. A must see is Cloth Hall where fishmongers, cloth merchants and bakers have sold their wares because the 14th century. Now it is a fabulous arcade of handicraft stalls.

We walked to the well preserved Jewish Quarter which is now edgy with artistic character. Poland when held Europe’s largest concentration of Jews at three.5 million. Poland’s kings during the middle ages noted they have been becoming expelled elsewhere and invited them in to augment the economy. Here they thrived till the holocaust and forced communism right after WWII. There are now only 180 left. We viewed the ghettos where Spielberg’s famed movie was filmed and looked across the river to see Schindler’s factory.

Rick Steves writes that 1 have to go to a milk bar right here. Anna escorts us to one particular of these government subsidized cafes for the working class. They are a holdover from Poland’s communist previous. Every thing is astonishingly low cost. I ordered a bowl of homemade soup and cheesecake for $ 2.

We then visited Wawel Castle, a 12th century masterpiece and defining icon of the city’s pride. There had been no queues as we walked its corridors of history. This was the residence of kings for 500 years. Anna explains its legend of the fire breathing dragon named Smok here who ate virgins for breakfast.

This was bolstered by the discovery of strange big bones in the 1400’s. (The bones are actually whale bones as this area on Europe was after beneath water eons ago.) The dragon therefore became the symbol of the city and is omnipresent in souvenir shops. Anna then nudges us inside numerous beautiful churches, for me often as boring as paint by numbers, however they had been exquisite. I ask if there are any Protestants here. She replied matter of factly, “Yes,a single.”

The afternoon was spent on restaurant and hotel inspections. I loved the formal greetings and it’s constantly educational. I find out about local cuisine and accommodations in the greatest place for the ideal price. All hotels had been completely booked. Jews and Catholics check out year round on religious pilgrimages or come for roots tours.

Krakow was recently rated in the top 10 European destinations. I now see why. Americans continue to rave over Prague which I now find passe with inflated prices and reduce requirements of service. It’s turn into as high-priced as Rome. Sooner or later, Krakow may do the same after Poland converts to the Euro in 2012. For now a single can splurge with cost-effective costs. Europeans flock right here for 50-70% savings. Germans and Danes in distinct come for dental and optometry needs. Health-related tourism like plastic surgery is booming. I met an Austrian flight attendant who fly’s in monthly for spa therapies at half expense.

At night we dined at Wierzynek Restaurant, the world’s oldest that has served princes to tourists given that 1364. It was delicious peasant cuisine (organic) of wild boar, roast ribs and heaping mounds of potatoes. I ask them to teach me some Polish, a Slavic language that is as impossible as a mouthful of alphabet soup. The word toilet has 5 syllables.

On the third day, we awoke to a gray, cold and wet day which gave us the appropriate ambiance for what we would see. Pavel drove us 60 km to Auschwitz. We were greeted by Yuri, our brilliant personal guide whose sole passion was to enlighten us on the unthinkable tragedies that took spot right here from 1940-45. I once visited Dachau, but this was the largest of concentration camps. This death factory killed 1.4 million folks of 27 nationalities. Most have been Jews. The other folks had been gypsies, Soviets, Poles, gays, political dissidents and more.

We entered the gate reading, “Perform will set you free.” Inside was a strong reminder as we viewed the crematoriums, starvation cells, kilos of hair, endless eye glasses and a pond nonetheless gray from ashes 60 years ago. Most sobering to me was the children’s section. It held a sea of tiny shoes, dolls and meticulous German documentation of 230,000 little ones who suffered and died right here.

We have been driven to the extended camp of Birkenau (Auschwitz II), with its wooden barracks constructed to house one hundred,000 but ultimately held 200,000+. Collectively in silence, the 3 of us walked a half mile to see the ruins of the gas chambers and memorial monument. At the end of our tour, Yuri mentioned goodbye to us with this profound statement, “I’ve guided numerous holocaust survivors who visited right here like vacationers. They told me at the finish that I am not able to present 1% of how poor it really was.” This was the most emotional touching internet site my eyes ever beheld.

Late afternoon we visited the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine. This mysterious and vast underground city 3 miles extended has extracted salt for 800 years. The World Heritage Site draws a million guests per year and it looks as though they all arrived right now.

Our guide Justina seemed to have an obsession with salt, but it was merely the adore of her job as guide. She stated to adhere to her down 836 steps which was a far better perform out than a Stairmaster. Caves bore me, but this web site will stay etched in my mind forever. Think about underground chapels, ornate sculptures, chandleries and life size figures carved entirely from salt or a restaurant and a post workplace 380′ beneath street level. It was spectacular. For centuries miners and horses spent their lives right here. They remained healthful in this wealthy micro-climate. It has to do with magnesium ions, what ever those are? Today folks come to the healing chambers of the therapy complicated for isolation in organic air purity.

Day four. I continually search the globe for unique things or locations to present to fellow travelers. Nowadays I located it in Zakapane. For years now, a friend of mine insisted I check out this mountain resort with the funny name I could by no means remember. We drove to the pure air of the Tatra Mountains with Eva, our specialist guide that day. She mentioned this adventure destination of 60,000 residents swells to 200,000 practically year round. In summer time they come for mineral spas and Alpine hiking. In winter they come to ski. That week Zakapane hosted the International Ski Jumping Competition.

Right here was a charming town of artists and Giorake, an ethnic group of mountain highlanders. These wandering shepherds trace back to the 15th century. They love to dress in their colorful garments for vacationers. They live on cheese or something smothered in cheese. We visited a cheese market the size of Switzerland. As far as my eyes could see, there were sheep and goat cheeses artistically sculpted into each and every shape conceivable. We also toured the Aqua Park with an Olympic sized mineral hot spring mineral pool and rode cable automobiles high into the mountains for breathtaking scenery.

It was a most productive and enjoyable day tour. I located a nearby tour firm that arranges exciting activities for groups such as horse sledding via the forest, dog sledding and the new “snow rafting” in rubber rafts sloshing toboggan-style down the mountain. At the massive outdoor market with numerous ethnic stalls, I bought a striking leather and fur coat for $ 260 that fashionably looked six instances its cost.

There is so a lot I did not get to see on this short pay a visit to. On my subsequent return, I’ll do the new “Crazy Communism Tour.” Outdoors Krakow is Nowa Huta, when a severe socialist suburb of forced industrialization. Massive steelworks factories overtook the wealthy farm land. Medical professional and professors had been sent here to operate. Miles of concrete tenement blocks have been erected to home them.

On tour you can learn encounter firsthand Stalin’s present to Krakow by riding in a classic East German Trabant auto out to Nowa Huta. A dinner of salted bread, pickles and vodka is included, followed by dancing at a retro 70’s era disco.

Under the yoke of communism, the Poles refused to give up their religion. Stalin stated, “Implementing communism here is like saddling a bull.” Faced against such a determined spirit in the folks, he gave up. I”m amazed at all the obstacles this stoic nation has overcome.

If you have been there and bought the t-shirt of London, Paris, Madrid or Athens, I encourage you to visit undiscovered components of Europe. Krakow is destined to turn out to be the next Prague. It oozes with history, friendly faces, hearty cuisine, and it will not break your pocketbook. If you can pay a visit to the new Poland, please never inform anyone about Zakapane, one of the world’s ideal kept secrets.

Suzy Davis President and founder of

Adventures For Singles
. She practically
invented the idea of singles travel. She has traveled the globe for 30 years,
initially as a flight attendant and now with her company leading groups of single travelers to the 4 corners of the
globe.

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