The two weeks we spent walking in Poland certainly gave me food for thought. With the help of our wonderful guide Liam Newell, who was in turn ably assisted by knowledgeable local guides, we covered the equally provocative but contrasting cities of Warsaw and Krakow and the stunning terrain of Zakopane.
There is a distinct atmosphere in Poland that you can only really appreciate when you are there. Like the way Warsaw and Krakow were practically rebuilt from scratch after most of the buildings were destroyed, as if in an attempt to erase the memories of the past. But if anything it seems only to highlight the lasting devastating impact of WWII, the shadow of which still hangs over these old cities and can never be forgotten.
The holiday itself, although sobering at times, was a lovely balance between walking and sightseeing, approximately 50/50. Zakopane and Tantra National Park were particular highlights, immensely enjoyable, albeit for rather grim weather on two days!
There are so many things to see in Poland’s capital, Warsaw, the “Phoenix city” as it’s called, having survived so many wars and atrocities, painstakingly reconstructed to its original splendour after the horrors of WW2. The Palace of Culture and Science, the tallest building in Poland, is a phenomenal sight and contains its own sombre and disputed past, having initially been named the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science.
What doesn’t at all surprise me is that the whole of Krakow old town is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it is really quite remarkable, with so much rich history (our handy guide informed us that this was the central hub of Polish political affairs as far back as 1038. I was hooked!). You really get a grand impression of the place as it was back in its hey day, with the town cryer or “bugler” knocking seven bells out of his vocal chords. The weather was splendid. The sun beamed down on us in the old Square, much the same as it was in the 14th century, except for a few fluorescent yellow umbrellas shading tradesmen. A clever ploy to draw us tourists in from the heat no doubt!
Zakopane, at the foot of the Tantra Mountains, is great for rambling with its vast, rolling hills and Rysy – the highest point in all of Poland, which was quite the slog (I was sure one of boots would wear through!) but worth it for the view at the summit of the glistening lakes below. Like true water-born navigators we took on a rustic river rafting expedition which weaved through the mountains. Fantastically serene as we sat in awed silence, the only sounds coming from the clean paddle strokes.
We then strolled through Krupowki, with all its shops, traditional costume, food and music. A brilliant place although it did quickly fill up with tourists. But who am I to complain of the influx of tourism?!