It all started with an idea to visit the countryof my heritage. I then made the mistake of mentioningmy plans to my mother. What began as atwosome (ie, my husband and me) grew into ansevensome. And so it goes when you plan a trip toPoland. Those who share a bloodline with this richand often forgotten destination always long to return.
An Overdue Return
I was only 10 years old the last time I visited thecountry, and my memories felt like a black-and-whitemovie. The country's capital, Warsaw, was our firststop, and our hotel, the Novotel Warszawa Centrum(48-22-621-0271; www.novotel.com) sat right in themiddle of a modern hub—not exactly what I pictured.As we wound through the bustling streets looking forsome caffeinated beverages to ease our jet lag, I couldsee the subtle scars of the city—unobtrusive memorialplaques wedged between buildings here and theremarking the death of a martyr of war, an innocentgroup caught in the crossfire, or a rebellion. And eachmemorial was adorned with flowers by those who stillfeel the wounds of the past. The city is strong and fullof life, but has its ghosts.
Old Warsaw was completely rebuilt after its annihilationduring World War II. The Royal Castle sparklesas though it never left its perch in Castle Square. It ishorrifying to view the photos taken of this very spot in1945—a palace reduced to rubble. The interior of therebuilt castle rivals Versailles in its opulence. There aregilded walls and splendid frescos. Some antiquitieshoused within the castle are reproductions, while otherwere carefully hidden by patriotic Poles during the war.
There is much comfort to be had in the old townwith good food and shopping for every taste. I like todescribe Polish food as comfort food—warm, filling,and flavorful. Dill dominates most dishes and the soupsare unbelievably satisfying. In Old Warsaw the marketsquare is filled with eateries. Dom RestauracyjnyGessler is right in the middle of things and boasts a richatmosphere. It is a great choice for a meal, althoughthere are plenty of places from which to choose.
Endless Polish Charm
At the top of your shopping list in Poland should beamber jewelry. I never realized that there were somany different colors of amber stones—a veritablerainbow. Although there are plenty of street vendorsangling for your tourist dollars, I would recommendMarysié nka, just off of the main square (address: Ul.Szeroki Dunaj 7). The prices are reasonable and theselection is impressive. It is a small shop however, so ifyou are traveling with a big party it can get a littlecrowded. But it may be worth the squeeze; I procureda silver and green amber ring for about $6.
In addition to eating and shopping, there are endlesscultural delights to be found. Before you leave OldSquare, make time to stop by the Warsaw HistoricalMuseum. Although it's an older museum, it is filledwith incredible photographs and information onPoland's struggle for survival against war and oppression.At noon the museum shows a short film documentingthis difficult past, and although it is black andwhite, grainy, and limited as to its coverage, it will giveyou a great insight into obstacles the Polish people haveovercome to reclaim their beautiful capital.
Although this city captured my heart, I must makeit clear that Poland is more than Warsaw, and perhapsfuture articles will cover some of its other charminglocales. Throughout my trip, Poland continued to surpriseme and should be on every traveler's list.