Ramblers Worldwide Holidays had run trips to Poland before, but there had been a hiatus for some years, so this visit was something of an experiment. I’m glad to report that Poland appears to be thriving and is a fascinating and lively destination. I took my son along to help me up the huge Tatra Mountains and operate the terribly sophisticated digital camera…
We flew into Warsaw, now an EU capital and quite obviously thriving. Beer prices in the hotel were scandalous, but Lazienki Park and the reconstructed Old Town were well worth the visit. Don’t leave Warsaw without ascending the great heights of the Palace of Culture and Science: you get the best view of the city as it’s the only point from which you can’t see the Palace of Culture! Two nights in the city were just about right. You get almost personally acquainted with Chopin, Copernicus, Pilsudski and John Paul II, such are the numerous statues to all of these great Poles.
From there on to Cracow by train (a beautiful and relaxing journey in a very comfortable compartment) for six nights in Poland’s old capital. It was very hot (33-34°C) and there were some titanic thunderstorms punctuating several of the nights. Cracow’s Jewish quarter of Kazimierz is both atmospheric and pregnant with an ancient fabric that oozes Europe’s history, warts and all. You can’t fail to be moved by it. Wawel Castle and Cracow Cathedral are worthy of visit, but trips to the nearby Wieliczka salt-mine and of course the infamous and chilling Auschwitz were surely highlights of the stay in Poland.
From there on to the mountains and Zakopane for a five night stay. Zakopane was about as busy as Padstow on a bank holiday: it has really changed in the last decade or so. The temperature remained high. The three long walks were all D+ and, though not easy in the heat, rewarded with some stupendous views. A trip by raft down a river on the Polish-Slovak border was far more leisurely.
We returned to Warsaw airport via a night in Czestochova, where Jasna Gora and its famous Black Madonna epitomised everything that makes Poland distinctly Polish: its Catholicism and its devotion through a dislocated and often brutal history.
Hotel accommodation throughout was very good and the service friendly and efficient. The food is great; it’s best to buy your own booze in an Alkohole shop as hotel drink prices aren’t cheap.
Our guides in all the places visited were excellent; special praise must go to Tad, our mountain leader who knew the hills like the back of his hand. And would I recommend this holiday to anyone wanting to visit this quintessentially European nation with its distinct identity and difficult history? Yes: I would, very strongly, with the minor qualification that there should be a measure of flexibility to take account of the often very high summer temperatures.