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POLAND: The Merger of Pain and Hope

Even as a relatively recent member of the European Union, the Polish authorities still look at foreigners with suspicion as if for the sake of the old days. You need to prepare yourself for the likelihood of intense questioning at the customs but as soon as you manage to enter the country, you will find yourself in a land full of surprises.

The leftover spirit of the old political regime can still be felt in the bronze statues and wide boulevards of the capital city Warsaw. The city, which was completely destroyed in World War II, has been loyally rebuilt like the original. This capital, which is clean, a dynamic economic centre and equipped with cultural activities, quickly eliminates all prejudices you may have against the former Eastern Bloc countries.

Luckily the most famous Polish city, Krakow did not get its share of the war and yet it has marked its place in history as the birthplace of famous figures such as Copernicus and Pope Jean-Paul II. With its cobblestone streets, Bohemian-style inspired buildings and street performers you will encounter on every corner, Krakow is a city, which will caress your soul. You can taste the Ashkenazi cuisine in the Jewish quarter, sample dumplings in the famous “milk bars” for the cheapest rates. Visit the Wawel Castle to learn more about the pre-war history of Poland. In the castle’s Islamic Art Gallery, you can see some examples of carpets, weapons and tents left behind by the Ottomans in Vienna. One of the seven chakras important in Hinduism is also located in the courtyard of this castle.

Visiting the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, which are only one hour away from Krakow is a humane must. Touring these two camps will educate and influence you more than any book you may read or any movie you may see about this dreadful shame. Your eyes are sure to be filled with tears and the experience will never leave your memory.

The safest way to travel in Poland is by its clean, fast and frequent trains. This way, you also get to see the country’s rural landscape and villages.

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