The best secret of the world, Krakow and Zakapane, Poland

As a former stewardess, I visited all European countries except Albania and Poland. Poland is the fifth largest country in Europe. Apart from Lech Walesa, Copernicus, the Pope and the decade of Polish jokes I never understood, I knew nothing about this country. My interest, however, culminated because he would soon be on a hiking trail and because my Chicago husband's family was from there. He accompanied me with a sense of pleasure in discovering his roots. I went to learn and enrich something new. We flew from Atlanta via JFK and Warsaw to Krakow in just 4 days. No rest for tired with head spinning itinerary. I prefer to visit cities out of season to mix with the locals. It provides a more authentic and intimate atmosphere.

When we arrive at the airport, we cordially greet us Pavel, who will be our driver all the time. Holds the welcome sign "Suza Davis". I say, "Hi, I'm Suzy from Atlanta." I laughed when he said, "Yes, down in the US." We checked the Hotel Amadeus, a luxury 16th century inn in the heart of the vibrant city center. Prince Charles, as soon as I lay in our room, I am told.

We went hunting for dinner. The illuminated Old Town was stunning and filled with so many young people, so I felt older. There are 150,000 students living in this university city. Krakow is Europe's leading party where they stay outside until the birds sing. This historic district has the highest concentration of bars and restaurants in the world. Suddenly we discovered Pierogi Garden, home of the freshest Polish dumplings. They were stuffed with cabbage, lamb, beef, fruit, chocolate and even peanut butter. There were 6 kinds of soups, all with beets that I fear. After a dozen dumplings, I had a melted pancake cheese pancake that was out of tasty.

Poland has experienced countless invasions throughout its history. After being devastated by the Germans and Russians, he finally achieved independence in 1989 with the collapse of Soviet communism. Krakow was led by the Germans to be destroyed at the end of World War II. They planned to blow it up as soon as the Russians took power, fortunately the war ended hours before the plan was implemented.

Today it remains one of the few cities that remained in their original form. With a population of 780,000 now, it has turned into modern international capital. Vibrant and modern, yet somehow retains its traditional culture with royal architecture. It is in Krakow that we find the spirit of new Poland.

The next day we were greeted by Anna, who was strikingly beautiful. We started in a cobweb of cobbled streets in the Old Town, which were designed for pedestrians. It was a maze of museums, chapels, galleries, cafes and openings in the pub walls. Even in winter there was fun with street dancers, mimes, accordionists, and on one corner I watched knights in armor.

We entered Market Square, Europe's largest medieval square, where little has changed since 1257. It is topped by a bell tower where a bugler plays in the upper part. At night, it freaks out the inhabitants. It is necessary to see the Cloth Hall, where fishermen, textile traders and bakers have been selling their goods since the 14th century. Now it is a wonderful arcade craft stalls.

We went to a well-preserved Jewish quarter that is now nervous with an artistic character. Poland once held the largest concentration of Jews in Europe at 3.5 million. In the Middle Ages, the Polish kings noted that they had been expelled elsewhere and called on them to expand the economy. Here they thrive until the Holocaust and violent communism after World War II. Now we have only 180 left. We looked at the ghettos where Spielberg's famous film was made, and we looked across the river to see Schindler's factory.

Rick Steves writes that one has to visit a dairy. Anna will accompany us to one of these government-subsidized working class cafes. These are the remains of the Polish communist past. Everything is amazingly cheap. I ordered a bowl of homemade soup and cheesecake for $ 2.

Then we visited Wawel Castle, a 12th century masterpiece defining the icon of the city's pride. There were no queues as we walked through his historic corridors. It has been the seat of kings for 500 years. Anna explains her legend about the fire-breathing dragon named Smok, who ate virgins for breakfast.

This was supported by the discovery of strange large bones in the 14th century. (Bones are in fact whales because this area in Europe was once underwater before the eons.) The dragon thus became a symbol of the city and is ubiquitous in souvenir shops. Anna then draws us to various beautiful churches, always boring to me like painting with numbers, but they were excellent. I ask if there are Protestants. She replied in fact, "Yes, one."

The afternoon was devoted to tours of restaurants and hotels. I loved formal greetings and it's always educational. I will learn about local cuisine and accommodation in the best place at the best price. All hotels have been fully booked. Jews and Catholics attend religious pilgrimages all year round or go for roots tours.

Cracow was recently rated in the 10 largest European destinations. Now I see why. The Americans continue to cry enthusiastically over Prague, and now they seem excited about prices and lower standards of service. It's as expensive as Rome. Finally, Krakow can do the same once Poland has converted to the euro in 2012. In the meantime, it may happen that it can cope with affordable prices. Europeans flock here for 50-70% savings. Germans and especially Danes come for dentistry and optometry. Medical tourism including plastic surgery is developing. I met an Austrian stewardess, who flies monthly for spa treatments at half price.

At night we dined in the restaurant Wierzynek, which is the oldest in the world and since 1364 has been serving the princes of tourists. It was an excellent peasant kitchen of (bio) wild boar, roasted ribs and a bunch of potatoes. I ask them to teach me Polish, a Slavic language that is as impossible as the mouth of an alphabet soup. The word toilet has 5 syllables.

The third day we woke up to a gray, cold and wet day that gave us the right atmosphere for what we would see. Pavel took us 60 km to Auschwitz. We were greeted by Yuri, our great personal guide, whose only passion was to teach us about the unthinkable tragedies that occurred in 1940-45. I visited Dachau once, but this was the largest concentration camp. This death factory killed 1.4 million people from 27 nationalities. Most of them were Jews. The others were Gypsies, Soviets, Poles, gays, political dissidents and others.

We entered the gate and read, "Work will set you free." Inside was a powerful reminder as we looked at crematoria, starvation cells, kilograms of hair, endless eye glasses, and a pond still gray from ash 60 years ago. The most sober for me was the children's section. It kept a sea of ​​small shoes, dolls, and meticulous German documentation of the 230,000 little ones who suffered and died here.

We were taken to the extended camp Birkenau (Auschwitz II), whose wooden barracks were built as a 100,000 house, but eventually held 200,000+. Together in silence, the three of us walked half a mile and saw the ruins of the gas chambers and the memorial memorial. At the end of our tour, Yuri said goodbye to this profound statement: “I led a few Holocaust survivors who came here as tourists. Eventually they told me I couldn't imagine 1% of how bad it really was. “That was the most emotional touching place I've ever seen.

Late in the afternoon we visited the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine. This mysterious and huge underground city 3 km long extracted salt 800 years. World Heritage attracts a million visitors a year and it looks like everyone has arrived today.

Our guide Justin seemed to have an obsession with salt, but it was just love for her work as a guide. She said she followed 836 steps, a better job than Stairmaster. The caves gave birth to me, but this site will etch me forever. Imagine underground chapels, ornate sculptures, chandeliers and life-size figures carved entirely out of salt or restaurant and post office 380 'below street level. It was spectacular. For centuries, miners and horses spent their lives here. They stayed healthy in this rich microclimate. Does it have anything to do with magnesium ions, whatever they are? Today, people come to the treatment chambers of the treatment complex to isolate the natural purity of air.

Day 4. I am constantly searching for unique things or places around the world that could introduce passengers. Today I found it in Zakapane. For years my friend has insisted on visiting this mountain resort with a funny name that I never remembered. We drove into the clean air in the Tatras with Eva, our expert guide that day. She said this adventurous target of 60,000 inhabitants would increase to 200,000 almost all year. In summer they come to the mineral spa and alpine hiking. In winter they come for skis. That week, Zakapane hosted an international ski competition.

Here was a charming city of artists and Giorake, an ethnic group of mountain mountaineers. These traveling shepherds date back to the 15th century. They love to dress their colorful clothes for tourists. They live on cheese or whatever they eat. We visited a cheese-size market in Switzerland. If my eyes saw it, sheep and goat cheeses were artificially shaped in all possible shapes. We also visited the aqua park with the Olympic Mineral Thermal Pool with hot Olympic-size springs and we took the cable cars high into the mountains to give you a breathtaking scenery.

It was the most productive and pleasant day tour. I found a local tourist company that organizes fun activities for groups such as horse sledding through the woods, sledding with a dog and a new snow rafting in rubber rafts collecting a sledding style down the mountain. In a huge outdoor market with countless ethnic stalls, I bought a striking leather and fur coat for $ 260, which looked fashionable six times higher than its price.

There is so much I did not see during this short visit. The next time I return, I'll do a new Crazy Communism Tour. Outside of Krakow is Nowa Huta, once a strong socialist suburb of forced industrialization. Large metallurgical plants overtook rich agricultural land. Doctors and professors were sent to work. Miles of concrete apartment blocks were built.

On tour you can discover the first-hand experience of Stalin to Krakow by driving a classic East German car Trabant to Nowa Huta. The price includes dinner of salted bread, cucumbers and vodka, followed by a disco dance in the retro 70s.

Within the Communist yoke the Poles refused to give up their religion. Stalin said, "The realization of communism is like the saddling of a bull." I am impressed by all the obstacles that this stoic country has overcome.

If you were there and bought a T-shirt in London, Paris, Madrid or Athens, I encourage you to visit undiscovered parts of Europe. Krakow is destined to become the next Prague. It looks like history, friendly faces, hearty cuisine, and your wallet won't break it. If you can visit New Poland, please don't tell anyone about Zakapane, one of the world's best kept secrets.