If you’ve been following along for the past few weeks, you know that I’m in middle of doing a series on Poland. I loved my time in Poland last year and have been having so much fun reliving the trip and sharing all about it. But the reality is, as much as I did and experienced, I was only there for 16 days. So today I’m happy to introduce you to Joanna, who I have bonded with over Poland. Joanna has spent MUCH more time in this country than me, so I asked her to give an insider’s perspective on where to visit while in Poland. So without further ado, I’ll let Joanna take it from here:
Hi. My name is Joanna and I’m Polish, living practically all my life in Poland (apart from a semester in Finland followed by a few months in England). I’m a wife and a mother of two (six year old boy and almost two year old girl), trying to show the diversity of the world to our kids. I love discovering new things, be it discovering new places, new tastes, or something else. My first trip abroad without any members of my family was when I was almost eleven. London and Oxford were the places we got to see. And that’s how it all started. “It” meaning my love for travel (though previous trips with my parents also added a lot to it). I married a wonderful guy who shares my passion or, at least, is willing to follow me. Now, together with our little ones, we’re trying to discover the world our way, what I’m describing on my little piece of the Internet – Me and my itchy feet.
Oh boy, that’s a long introduction and you’re probably wondering what I’m doing here on Sara’s blog. As you have probably noticed, Sara is writing a series of posts on her trip to a not-so-well-known European country, yet one that is so close to my heart: Poland. Sara asked me to write a few words on Poland as a sort of insider’s view. And I was over excited to do it, because I truly believe that Poland has a lot to offer. Sea, lakes, rivers, higher and lower mountains, historic spots, lowlands, dessert (yes, we have one). You name it – we’ve got it. Ok, I’ve gone a bit too far here, but there is a wide variety of things you can see, do, and experience in Poland.
I’ve been thinking long and hard, debating with my husband on it as well (a painful process, might I add) on how to approach the topic and what to describe. And I’ve come up with a list of places that I’d like to mention here. I’ll try my best to make it as readable as it can possibly be. There’s no particular order to the places I’m mentioning here. I decided to just go with the flow.
[The first three mentioned cities are part of the Tricity. These three cities are connected one to another: Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia. They’re all worth visiting and each having something different to offer:]
Gdańsk is the biggest and oldest of the three cities. It also has the most historic spots and most museums.
What to do: If you happen to come to Gdańsk, you’ll surely end up in the Old Town. It’s really pretty and I love it. The Green Gate, the Golden Gate, Artus Court, the Neptune Fountain, the Crank are just a few things you’ll see there. Don’t miss Mariacka Street, a tiny street near the Crank, leading to St. Mary’s Church. It’s tiny, but is full of amber and original front parts, sort of terraces, very characteristic for the towns of the Baltic Sea region. You can’t miss St Mary’s Church, or as it should be named Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s the biggest brick church in Europe. It’s rustic inside, not the baroque or rococo kind of church that so many people like. No. White walls, not too many ornaments. But the ones that are there are definitely worth seeing. Climb to the top of the tower for a magnificent view, too. It’s a challenge, not for the faint-hearted. But worth all the effort (a lot of effort - over four hundred steps!) Try to get lost in the narrow streets of the Old Town and just sense the atmosphere. If you can, try to visit Gdańsk in the first weeks of August, during St. Dominic’s Fair (the oldest in Poland). When you’re fed up with the Old Town cuteness, go towards the famous Shipyard Gate. On your way, you’ll go somewhere near John Hevelius Monument (the buildings with the sky drawn on them look fabulous) and St. Brigitte’s Church. That was the Solidarity Movement’s Church. By the gate you will find a Three Crosses Monument, devoted to the casualties of the December 1970 revolts. The Shipyard Gate was the place where the famous 21 postulates were hung during the strikes. And yes, that’s also the shipyard where Lech Walesa used to work. Well, there’s not much of the shipyard left there, sorry to disappoint you. But the historic gate is still there. And right behind the gate, you’ll find the European Solidarity Centre, opened last year. I haven’t been there yet, but it’s said to be worth a visit. So I’ve heard. Not tired with Gdansk yet? Would like to visit its other districts? Cool, so let’s go. Try to go to Oliwa to see the Cathedral and listen to the organ concert. They are quite frequent, especially in the summer time. Plus the organs just look great! The botanical garden is right across the street from the Cathedral. You can get there to get away from the noisy streets for a little chill time. Yet another district? Fine, as you wish. Get to Brzezno. Walk along the beach to the east. What you’ll see is the entrance to Gdansk Inner Port. Two things there. First, the entrance to the port, or the breakwater that constitutes said entrance, will be open to the public since this Spring. Trust me, a great place, quiet. And just water in front of you - much better than the beach itself. Although I’ve been there a few times already (some can, haha), it doesn’t stop amazing me how tiny a human being might feel in such a place. And the second thing – from there you’ll have a great view of the Westerplatte Monument. Not satisfied with that distance view? No problem. Get to the other side of the Dead Vistula River. You can get right to the monument, the place where WWII started. The huge Polish letters that stand there say “No more wars”. And since you’re already there, on the other side of the river, also go to the Wisloujscie Fortress. That’s a very much neglected spot, quite devastated from what I’ve heard, but getting better. It has an interesting shape of a star. I’m planning to finally get there this spring (high time, since I work quite close to it). Are you into peculiarities? Great, so let’s move a bit more, to yet another district. Przymorze, this time. What can you find in that residential area? Something that is ugly (seriously), that’s true, but there’s a great chance you won’t find it anywhere else. That’s a block of flats, eleven or twelve storeys high, that is about 1 km long. Isn’t that enough? Well, there’s a bit more to it. It’s curvy, shaped like a wave (hence its name Falowiec, where “fala” is “wave” in Polish). There are a few of these blocks there (Three? Four?), but the one along Obroncow Wybrzeza Street is the longest one. It’s not my taste when it comes to architecture, but it’s unique and for that sole reason, worth seeing. Ok, so you’ve seen quite some part of Gdansk. Let’s move to other places.
Gdynia is the youngest of the three. It just celebrated its 89th birthday (Feb. 10th). My hometown.
What to do: There's not as much to do as in Gdansk, but still. On Kosciuszko Square, you’ll find Blyskawica battleship and Dar Pomorza tall ship, both of which are open to tourists. At the end of the square, you’ll find Sea Aquarium Gdynia. Longing for some views? Climb the Kamienna Gora hill up to the cross for the view of the beach, the port, and the sea. If you’re lucky and the weather is great, you might even be able to see Hel Peninsula. And on top of the hill you’ll find... a park. Get to Orlowo. Either on foot, along the coast, or by any means of transport. You’ll get a chance to see the famous cliff, walk on the wooden pier, and rest on the beach. And during the evenings in the summer, buy yourself tickets and enjoy a theatre play on the beach.
Sopot is the city in the middle, the smallest of the three. It has a status of a health-resort. It has the prettiest beaches of the three, but also is crowded.
What to do: In Sopot, you’ll definitely walk down the Heroes of Monte Cassino Street (more commonly known as Monciak) on your way to the beach and the longest wooden pier on the Baltic Sea coastline (ca. 0,5 km long). Right by the recreational area along the beach, you’ll pass by a lighthouse. Mind you, you might miss it, so pay attention. You can climb it for some views of the area. Have you noticed the skewed house on Monciak? ;)
Hel is a tiny town at the tip of Hel Peninsula. It’s a place where I spent the first nine years of my life, so no wonder it has a special place in my heart. It’s tiny and very crowded in the summer time. It’s also difficult to get there, as the only road along the peninsula is often jammed in the high season, and trains tend to be overcrowded. Last year we chose to get there by ferry. The ferry is a bit more expensive, but convenient and gives you a whole new perspective of the Tricity (depending on which city you’re leaving from on your way to Hel) and Hel as well.
What to do: Beautiful beaches, forests with many pill-boxes, delicious fresh fish for dinner, a seal-saving station (the first rescued seal got there in 1992. Its name was Balbina. They’re trying to repopulate the Baltic Sea with seals.), a lighthouse for a great view of the neighbourhood (located in the middle of the forest), many old, traditional buildings, and a fishery museum. Quite a lot for such a tiny place.
We’re moving a bit to the west from Hel and Tricity now. Leba is a cute little town with a cute tiny port. Is that a reason to visit, though? Could be, but there’s more to it.
What to do: The greatest tourist attraction in Leba are its sand dunes and moving sands. That comes with beautiful beaches, too. You can also visit Leba Park, especially if you’re with kids or into dinosaurs. But it’s a fun place to go. Leba is not that common among foreigners, especially English-speaking ones. In the neighbourhood you will also find Stilo lighthouse, located in the forest on a hill (it takes something like half an hour to get from the neighbouring buildings to the lighthouse). It’s very characteristic, tri-coloured lighthouse. You can also visit Sea Park Sarbsk (we’ve been there a few years ago and we had a great time).
Peculiarities again, so get ready! It’s on the Polish-German border. I haven’t been there yet, because the last time we were in the area, there were some detours and road work, so we skipped it. But we’re planning to go there this year on our way back from Berlin.
What to do: Definitely crooked trees forest!
Szymbark is in the heart of Kashuby and is worth visiting for the Centre for Education and Promotion of the Region (CEPR). It’s a place full of history, especially focusing on the history of Kaashubs.
What to do: The upside-down house is a lot of laughter. The chapel is Polish history in a nutshell. The longest plank can be seen there. Due to difficult history issues touched upon in that place, like the question of Siberia or wars, I don’t think it’s the right place for young children.
Nicolas Copernicus’ town! It is located alongside the Vistula River and features a very nice Old Town.
What to do: Since it’s Copernicus’ town, you can’t leave Torun without visiting the astronomic observatory. There are special interactive exhibits for kids (like 4-5 year-olds), but adults would enjoy them, too. But Torun is also famous for one more thing: gingerbread! So if you’re exhausted from sightseeing and getting acquainted with the universe, go to Living Museum of Gingerbreads to make yourself a cookie. That’s a lot of fun. In the meantime, you might also climb to the town hall tower for a view of the city. Don’t forget to get to the Vistula River as well. All is within a walking distance.
This was Poland’s first capital city. It’s another town that has a special place in my heart, because both my parents come from Gniezno and my grandma lives there (among other members of my family).
What to do: There’s not much to see there, frankly speaking, but the Cathedral is stunning! Plus, once you’re already there, you can travel along Piast Trail (the first rulers of Poland came from Piast family). Get to Wenecja to see the (open-air) museum of railways or to Biskupin to see the archaeological museum (this one is pretty cool). Be sure to get to Poznan, too. It has a beautiful Old Town and there are lots of things you can do there. Poznan is a very dynamic city.
What to do: Visit the open-air museum located just by the lake. During a walk, you’ll get a chance to go back in time a few centuries. You’ll find out how things were made back then, how people used to live, how children used to learn at school and, who knows, maybe if you’re lucky you’ll even get a chance to try doing some of the things yourself! (Yes, you can do that ;)).
These are Polish mountains, close to the more well-known Tatra Mountains. It’s a beautiful region on Polish-Slovak border.
What to do: You can hike there on trails that are less demanding than those of the Tatra Mountains, but can give a lot of satisfaction and stunning views as a reward for reaching the peaks too. And it is less crowded (or so I remember). There are castles you can visit, there’s rafting on Dunajec (very mild, very cool), there’s regional cuisine, and there’s a lot of nature (a national park, so untouched by humans). We decided to go there with our kids this upcoming summer. Be sure to visit the Slovak part as well (we sure will!).
This is the place where Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II, was born and raised. There’s said to be a great museum devoted to him and his family there, though I haven’t been there yet.
This is the place to which many pilgrimage routes in Poland lead. Well, they lead to the sanctuary and monastery on Jasna Gora. A painting of Holy Mary and Baby Jesus that can be seen in the sanctuary is said to be painted by Evangelist Luke on a plank from a table on which Jesus’ family used to dine. During the Swedish invasion in the 17th century, the monastery never surrendered and is said to have been saved by the Holy Mary.
What to do: If you get a chance, you can visit Jasna Gora. Just not on August 15th, as then all the pilgrims meet there (that’s a holiday of Virgin Mary).
And last thing (on this really loooong list). I’ve seen that many foreign tourists visit KL Auschwitz. And I second that. We should remember about it so that it never happens again. However, KL Auschwitz is not the only Nazi concentration camp in Poland. If you’re looking for an alternative, away from thousands of tourists taking stupid “selfies” or other pictures of themselves under the “Arbeit macht frei” sign, go to KL Stutthof. I’ve been to both. And each of them has something different to show (many more people died in Auschwitz), but what Stutthof can give you is a lot of time to think about the scale of the massacre. In quiet. Alone. Because there’s a chance you won’t meet more than one or two more people while you’re there. It gives a whole new perspective, much more valuable to me. On one hand I think it’s great that people visit and remember, on the other...the behaviour of many...Well, not that adequate.
I know I’ve presented you with a looong post. And that’s only a tip of an iceberg when it comes to places you can see in Poland. You can even take Hogwarts magic classes in a castle in the southern part of our country. Yes, we have a lot to offer. So, all you have to do now is book yourselves some flights and come see Poland, where the unbelievable happens!
If you have any questions or would like me to help you plan your trip, I’m always happy to do that ;)
Thanks again to Joanna for giving the inside scoop on what to see in Poland! And don't forget to check out her blog, Me and my itchy feet, for more on Poland and her adventures elsewhere! Have you been inspired to explore more of this wonderful country?
All photos compliments of Joanna.