Travel to Poland
Poland, one of the largest countries in the European Union, lies on the border between the West and the East. For centuries, its location as a cultural crossroads formed a diverse, multicultural country with a complicated history. Once Poland was a kingdom, today it’s a republic. Once it was huge, stretching to the Baltics — today, it’s closer to midsize. At one point, its borders stretched “from sea to sea” (means from the Baltic to the Black Sea), today it’s caught between Germany and Ukraine. There were times it was a powerful state, and a period when it disappeared altogether from the map of Europe. Formerly a communist country, today Poland is a member of NATO and EU.
Poland was very often at the crossroads of history. Many historical cataclysms of the 19th-20th centuries took place on this land. Napoleon’s army crossed Poland several times, and many significant battles on WWI’s Eastern Front were fought in Polish lands. WWII started with the Nazi attack on Poland. The Holocaust – the most terrible catastrophe of humankind – took place mostly on the territory of Poland.
Travel to Poland, Crossroads of History
However, there is another Poland, with beautiful nature, dense forests on the East, splendid beaches on the Baltic Sea coast on the West, mountains and ski resorts at Zakopane on the South, mineral water springs and spa retreats, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture, great literature, sciences, fine arts and music. Poland is home to outstanding individuals who contributed significantly to world culture. Among them astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, poet and dramatist Adam Mickiewicz, composer Frederik Chopin, novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz, creator of Esperanto language Ludvig Zamenhof, Yiddish writer Yitskhok Leybush Peretz, two-time Nobel Prize winner physicist Maria Sklodowska-Curie, Pope John Paul II, “Solidarity” founder, politician Lech Walesa, and film director Roman Polanski.
Today, it’s easier than ever to travel to Poland. Over 17 million tourists visit the country each year. They flock to the beautiful lakes around Mikolajki, to the cruises along the inland waterways in Elblag. There is a wealth of natural and historical sights to see across the country, from Torun with its connection to Copernicus and gingerbread, to Lodz, the textile capital of Poland. History’s remnants are still evident, from Wolfschanze bunker–Hitler’s military headquarters in Poland during WWII–to the peculiar Polish-Slavic and German-Teutonic history of Gdansk (Danzig).
Poland is a country of both Catholic and Jewish traditions. The ancient Polish capital, Krakow, is famous for Wawel Castle, Wieliczka Salt Mines, (one of the most valuable material and spiritual monuments in Poland), the historic center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the trendy Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, and that black spot in human history, the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. On the way to Warsaw, one can explore the miraculous Black Madonna of Czestochowa and the world of the small Polish villages and their communities.
Around 85% of Warsaw, Poland’s current capital, was destroyed during WWII. Its restoration was a collective feat of every Pole. Warsaw is significant for its Old and New city, Royal Castle, the sites of the famous Jewish Ghetto and Polish uprisings, Lazienki Palace and park, excellent fine arts museum, the Soviet gift – Palace of Culture and Science and Frederick Chopin sites and annual music festival “Chopin and his Europe.”
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By Yulik Gurvitch