So, it’s been a while again and a lot has happened! In mid-June Adam and I were finally able to get away from the constant noise and dust of our downstairs neighbors renovation project and off we went to Poland, but not before getting engaged on June 14th! I had sort of been expecting him to pop the question for a while, but he still managed to surprise me and the proposal was so simple and perfect and romantic and so completely US! As many of you know, planning has been going full steam ahead and most of the big things are already dealt with. THANK YOU to everyone for your good wishes, encouragement and help so far, we love you all dearly and feel very fortunate to have all you in our lives 🙂
Now, on to Poland! We were very busy during our trip since Adam wanted me to see as much of his country as possible. We changed cities six times in two and a half weeks, beginning with Warsaw. We then traveled to Adam’s mother’s home town for a two-day visit with his family there before going to Czestochowa, Krakow, Zakopane and back to Krakow. My favorite place to visit was definitely Krakow. I love the architecture and laid back, small town feel of the city and also the fact that the entire historic center of it is pedestrian. A major highlight of Adam and I’s time there was being able to spend a few minutes alone in a room with Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Lady with an Ermine’, which is temporarily on display at the Wawel Palace while the Czartorinsky museum where it is normally exhibited is renovated. Pretty much every single person in Poland has seen Lady with an Ermine because it is a point of pride for Poles that they have one of the only completed Da Vincis in the world outside of the Louvre Museum in Paris. Since most Poles have already seen the painting and the country is not nearly as overrun by tourists as France is, it is incredibly easy to spend time alone with the painting if you’re willing to wait in the room a little while until it empties out. What a treat! Another must-see in the Krakow area is the Wieliczka salt mine. They have tours in several different languages, including French and English, but be prepared to go down a ton of stairs at the beginning of the tour and to walk a lot. One of the most impressive things you will see during your tour of the mine is its chapel which, as with everything else in the mine, is carved directly into the salt bed.
Another treat during our trip was our lovely, long hike in the mountains in Zakopane, barring a rather traumatizing episode when we ended up in a rather more challenging area than we should have been. Heed this warning: If you go hiking in the mountains in Zakopane, do not rely on the tourist maps, difficulty levels of the trails are not indicated and the locals have a rather distorted view of what is difficult and what is not since they have grown up in the area and are very proficient hikers and rock climbers. Czestochowa is beautiful as well and I absolutely loved visiting the Jasna Gora sanctuary.
As for the food, it is generally excellent and authentic. Do not go to Poland expecting to have an easy time finding sushi and Italian food, you will be grievously disappointed. Enjoy the Polish food, it is hearty, made with local ingredients and not full of all the nasty funk we have in processed foods almost everywhere else nowadays. You will wait for a while for your food anywhere other than in a milk bar (Polish fast food restaurant) and that is a very good thing because guess what? You’re getting fresh stuff made just for you! I was only disappointed by my food twice and both times we ate in a flashy tourist trap because we were starving and it was what was easiest to do. It can happen to the best of us, so just steer clear of tourist traps that seem to be full of Americans and you will be fine 🙂
The only downside to this trip was the language barrier. I have a basic knowledge of the Polish language and I still ended up feeling homesick about 3/4 of the way through the trip because I just could not process what was being said around me most of the time. Polish is a very difficult language to master (this coming from a girl who is completely french/english bilingual and has studied and done not too badly in three other languages) and even when you do okay in a basic situation, like being able to ask for the washroom or a tram line, you will end up being completely befuddled when trying to comprehend what people are talking about around you because there are so many different tenses and gender variations depending on just about everything under the sun, like whether you are referring to a table, a table with something on it, a table with something under it, or dancing on a table at your grandparents 70th wedding anniversary. I kid you not. I’m not saying communicating in English is an issue in Poland, everyone who works with the public in any capacity speaks very good English, but it is definitely a good idea to have some basics of the Polish language under your belt before travelling there, or make sure you have a very good Polish/English dictionary in the back of your travel book just in case.
All in all, I highly recommend a visit to Poland, it is a beautiful and authentic country, with plenty to offer and that is not, as with so many other European destinations, completely overrun by foreign tourists. It is also wonderful for travelers on a budget, because the country has kept its own currency, the Zloty, which is much friendlier for Canadian travellers since you can typically get about three Zlotys for every Canadian Dollar. Your biggest expense will be your plane ticket there, but once that is paid for, you will be stunned by how little you will spend on food, attractions, accommodation and shopping. Enjoy!