It’s sad that some people think that an unusual country like Poland isn’t worth a visit. Frequent-travelers, luckily, often come to realize that the matter-of-fact is quite the opposite: the atypical regularly is more special.
And it’s the truth with Poland: far too many people go to Europe and skip this wonderful country. I had such a remarkable visit that I never forgot the name of the three cities I visited: Krakow, Warsaw, and Gdansk. All right, the first two are the famous one, but considering my memory is notoriously horrible, I have to give the pierogi country its credit. Now pardon if while I go through the three cities I add details of one that could be from the other. On the menu, scrambled memories with fried neurons.
The capital city was destroyed during World War II and its reconstruction carried that “modern” architecture from the 70s (now, also old). Then they rebuilt the colorful Old Town so well that it became a UNESCO Heritage Site. On top of that, the communist influence added housing projects and the iconic Palace of Culture and Science, a gift from Stalin and that is today the central point of Warsaw postcards, building the skyline with the newer high rise, glass structure buildings.
It was also in Warsaw that I recognized the value of the pole. Polish people are awesome! They dance like it’s nobody’s business; they’ll try their best to understand you – or they’ll laugh with you about it; they are innovative, creative, and environmental lovers. And they have that old soul of people that have been through a lot but deal with life knowing that this too shall pass.
Warsaw is perfect to:
Enjoy the Nightlife: because much better than Pole Dancing is Dancing With Poles.
Get your step count up: explore the parks, the Royal Route and the Old Town
Eat your Pierogies: as any capitals, the best collection of polish gourmet restaurants should be in Warsaw.
Enjoy the Classic of Chopin: explore the life of Poland’s famous classical music composer Frederic Chopin, either going to Chopin Museum or looking for the musical benches. The 15 iron black seats across the city are located on sites connected to his life, and they feature a button that will play a bit of his melodies that can calm any stressed bodies or screaming child.
Of course Krakow would be the number one Poland destination: it has a beautiful old town square for the everyday gathering; it is mostly walkable; it has castles and even dragons. It’s a tourists’ dream!
I could see why at the moment I reached Rynek Glowny, the main square. It was once the biggest square in all of Europe, but yet it doesn’t feel too big. The pleasant walk around its bars and shops will never be tiring, but a seat in one of the outside tables is always desired.
Although, in contrast and irony, my favorite memories actually are from day trips, out of Krakow.
1) The communist tour with Crazy Guides (https://www.crazyguides.com) was unforgettable and I will recommend it to anyone visiting this part of Poland. Those Crazy Guides picked us up from our hotel in a vintage Trabant car (yes I just googled what car that was). We crammed inside the tiny and falling in pieces ride that smelled like leaking gasoline and they drove us to Nowa Huta, the communist city developed by Lenin to be the model of his idealist regime.
After the II World War, Poland was devastated and the population saw at the communism the best way of re-start. So millions of people went to Nowa Huta and started its reconstruction, planned by Lenin and his supports. In less than 20 years the city had the biggest steel mill – Lenin Steelworks – in Poland, among the biggest in the world. Wanna hear the entire story? I hope you have the chance to join this fun and interesting tour one day. The Crazy Guides will make you laugh and understand the whys of communism – and the vodka shot with a pickle is included! Unmissable.
2) From Krakow you can also take a day trip to Auschwitz, the largest Nazism Concentration Camp, that’s only 50km away. It is not a pleasant visit, of course, yet attracts lots of tourists every day and it is one of the most touching heritage site (protected by UNESCO, by the way). To be honest, it is one of the most impressive places I have ever been. I might write an exclusive post about it in the future.
Disclaimer: omg how lucky am I that I finally found a city guide I wrote for Smirnoff ten years ago? I would never remember the name of these places. Nonetheless, that was over 10 years ago so perhaps these aren’t still the best bets… but they seem to be open, which must mean something. Please if you do go, let me know how it went?
As I said before, the poles are great party people, so a night out can easily be fun in Krakow. Well, this is if you find them in Krakow. As a typical tourist city, there are some clubs and bars that are completely dominated by foreigners. But if someone looks to you with a “dance challenge look” and starts to give himself the best of his moves, you can be sure you just made a polish friend! They are completely into the crazy dance scene, and you won’t help yourself for not laughing. But once they don’t laugh together, you’ll notice that they are not dancing to entertain you or any other tourist. They do for themselves, and it is just such a fun way of dancing that you might free your soul and shake your skeleton on the dance floor as well!
Start your night at a cellar bar (you’ll have to google this one as the one I wrote about is now closed) – these cavern pubs are quite iconic in the city. Afterward, head to a nightclub to maximize your evening. Cien Klub (http://www.cienklub.com/) is one of the most exclusive ones, offers great house and techno music for the freaking dancing polish elite in Krakow. For a more relaxing atmosphere, go for the Crazy Guide’s staff favorite: Piekny Pies Klub (http://www.piekny-pies.pl/). From outside you already see that the club is “on fire” – so hot that some have to go look for some fresh air. But you know what? Once you are in hell, just hug the devil!
For a more original night out, go to Alchemia (http://www.alchemia.com.pl/). You will have to travel to another part of Krakow to reach it; a great reason to know the “Jewish district” of the city. And Alchemia totally responds by the area that it is located. At the same time that the venue is decorated with old furniture and paintings, the local crowd feels free to dance on the tables. Somehow, it all matches and feel right!
Still about Krakow
Another main attraction in Krakow is the Wawel Castle from the medieval times, which still maintains the legendary dragon on the castles fields. Yes, it is there and still breathes fire! Ok, if this kind of tourism is boring to your cool style of traveling, try this: buy some snacks and drinks and go to have a picnic in front of the castle, joining the dragon fellow. Scared?
Eats: How to explain the traditional Polish food? Even the contemporary restaurants still keep that taste of grandma’s cuisine. Ania – our SX-Pole – would say that is all very natural, from the forest, like a wild pig on the fire steak. You’ll understand it better if you try a meal at restaurants like Pod Aniolami (Under the Angels) – http://www.podaniolami.pl/. Watch out your head when going down on the cave stairs!
I was excited to go to Gdansk and have a day at the beach! So we took a bus to Stogi and… it sucked. I was very disappointed. The sand was dark, the weather was foggy, the water wasn’t that clear. Dãh, Luiza, learn your lesson: one doesn’t go to Poland for its beaches!
Gdansk is a beautiful town and should be enjoyed by what it is: a port city, and very different from Warsaw and/or Krakow. Thinking of it (and recalling some pics), it reminds me of Amsterdam. But not quite. The waterfront and the cute architecture, perhaps, but the main difference is the price tag: Poland still has its own currency (the Polish Zloty) and I remember it being so much cheaper than the rest of Europe.
I am SO sorry but there isn’t much more I can say about it. I was only there for a night and day, which I lost trying to get to the beach. The last and only recommendation? JUST GO.
Insider Tips: Some people might feel a little uncomfortable with the treatment of some store’s owners. Don’t take it personally; it is just the re-adapting process from a community that lived in Communist regime until 1989. Basically, before they didn’t have to bother to sell and make more money than the competitor store. In fact, the clients had to be nice to get what they wanted – some essential products were rare. Now, they are still getting used to the capitalist world.