Pic­ture per­fect!

See the best of Poland’s his­toric cities, towns and coun­try­side, in 10 days.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By CHRISTINA CHIN star2­travel@star2.com.my

Poland tit­il­lates with its nat­u­ral and his­tor­i­cal at­trac­tions and you don’t need to bust the bank to have a ' fling' with the coun­try.

DAVID and Go­liath comes to mind when trav­ellers think about the strength of the ring­git against the Euro but don’t dis­miss a Euro­pean hol­i­day just yet. Ex­clud­ing flights, you can see the best of Poland in 10 days, dine in nice cafes, and have some cash left over for sou­venirs, for just RM3,500. Of course, you’d have to be open to hos­tels and pub­lic trans­porta­tion – both of which I’d rec­om­mend.

The ex­change rate is about RM1 to one Zloty, the lo­cal cur­rency. Euros are ac­cepted but Zlo­tys are pre­ferred. Best to arm your­self with Euros and change your money at the air­port in Poland or in the big­ger Euro­pean air­ports if you’re on a tran­sit­ing flight. Find­ing a money changer with Zlo­tys here is more of a chal­lenge than Poke­mon Go.

From her cap­i­tal War­saw, take a train to the mar­itime town of Gdansk. Then, hop on a night train to Krakow in the south, be­fore tak­ing a scenic bus ride to the Zakopane coun­try­side.

Food prices here are like those in the Klang Val­ley. A main course usu­ally comes with pota­toes, beet­root, sauer­kraut, pick­les and gherkins. Ex­pect to pay about RM50.

Stuffed with meat, sauer­kraut and mush­rooms, or cheese and spinach, the pierogi ( Pol­ish dumplings) is a na­tional favourite, like the kot­let sch­abowy ( breaded pork cut­let). The tra­di­tional soups – flaki ( tripe), rosol ( chicken noo­dle) and bi­gos ( hunter’s stew) are pop­u­lar too.

And to wash it all down, Poland’s pride – the Zubrowka ( Bi­son Grass Vodka), of course. Mixed with ap­ple juice, the cock­tail teases with scents of cin­na­mon and vanilla. The taste? Ap­ple pie in a glass!

In the less touristy parts and among the older gen­er­a­tion, English isn’t widely spo­ken but the younger ones are help­ful. Safe, cheap and beau­ti­ful, vis­it­ing Poland this sum­mer won’t break your bud­get and she’s sure to show you a good time.

War­saw

Your first stop should be the high­est view­ing plat­form in War­saw – the Palace of Cul­ture and Sci­ence. Then by tram, make your way to the War­saw Ris­ing Mu­seum for a sober­ing dose of his­tory. The short 20mins ride takes you to an old tramway power sta­tion, where those who fought and died for the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence, are re­mem­bered.

The Palace is also a short 20- minute walk from the Old Town – which iron­i­cally, is rela-

tively new. Listed as a Unesco World Her­itage Site, first- time vis­i­tors may find it a lit­tle un­der- whelm­ing es­pe­cially if you’ve seen the best and old­est trea­sures of Poland’s other Euro­pean neigh­bours. But when you re­alise that the his­toric cen­tre was al­most flat­tened by the Nazis in 1944, you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate the work that went into rais­ing this ar­chi­tec­tural phoenix from the ashes of World War II.

Restau­rants, sou­venir shops and churches line the me­an­der­ing al­leys. Start from the Cas­tle Square where King Zyg­munt III – the monarch who made War­saw the cap­i­tal of Poland, looks upon his sub­jects from a 22m pedestal. Ex­plore the town on foot in­stead of hop­ping on the mini tourist train. You’re bet­ter off armed with a free map zoom­ing in on the at­trac­tions than pay­ing 20 zlo­tys for a ride that goes around the town rather than through it.

For about 10 zlo­tys, you can en­joy a halfhour pipe or­gan per­for­mance in the many churches around town. Nearby the Mar­ket Square’s War­saw Mermaid – a sym­bol of the city, stone steps lead to the mul­ti­me­dia fountain park with its spell­bind­ing lights.

Across the park, The Vis­tula, Poland’s long­est and largest river, is sand­wiched be­tween banks lined with shops and art in­stal­la­tions, and a long sandy beach. An evening boat ride is a re­lax­ing way to soak in the sights. Lazienki Krolewskie – a 76ha palace- gar­den com­plex about 40 min­utes away from the Old Town by foot, is among the most beau­ti­fully land­scaped parks in the world. The hang­ing boughs and shady leaves frame ponds and lakes like mas­ter­pieces in a gallery. Per­fect for pic­nics.

Gdansk

From War­saw’s Cen­tral Sta­tion next to the Palace of Cul­ture and Sci­ence, hop on a train up north to Gdansk. About three hours away, Gdansk’s main at­trac­tion is its quaint­ness. The black Crane by the water is the town’s iconic struc­ture. Its lift­ing mech­a­nism used to be pow­ered by men walk­ing in­side two huge wooden wheels, like mod­ern- day ham­ster wheels.

The colour­ful build­ings have a very dif­fer­ent vibe from those in War­saw’s Old Town. The Dlugi Targ is where the his­toric Nep­tune Fountain stands. This is the town’s main shop­ping street. While made- in- China sou­venirs are plenty, there are also shops that sell hand­crafted or­na­ments and glass­ware that make great gifts. If you’re into am­ber, there are many shops sell­ing such jew­ellery. Al­ways check the cer­tifi­cate of au­then­tic­ity to make sure it's the real deal.

Against the back­drop of old churches like the Basil­ica of the As­sump­tion of the Blessed Vir­gin Mary, where a huge as­tro­nom­i­cal clock and 78m tower beckon, artists and mu­si­cians show­case their tal­ents.

Head out to the Cas­tle of the Teu­tonic Or­der in Mal­bork, a Unesco World Her­itage Site, for a day trip. There are fre­quent trains go­ing to Mal­bork daily. The me­dieval fortress is the most com­plete and elab­o­rate red brick cas­tle com­plex in Europe. If you only have time for one cas­tle in Poland, mas­sive Mal­bork won’t dis­ap­point.

Krakow

Take an overnight train from Gdansk to Krakow to save on ac­com­mo­da­tion. Look for rooms near the cob­ble­stoned Main Mar­ket Square, where you’ll find car­riage rides, buskers and kiosks sell­ing ev­ery­thing from flow­ers to trin­kets. Look out for the free walk­ing tours. You’ll need a whole af­ter­noon for St Mary’s Basil­ica, Cloth Hall and the Rynek Un­der­ground Mu­seum.

Things here are a lit­tle more ex­pen­sive than War­saw but it’s worth spend­ing more time in the coun­try’s former cap­i­tal be­cause here, you’ll find a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing that makes Poland great.

Vis­it­ing Auschwitz and Birke­nau is a painful jour­ney back in time, but walk­ing on the same path over one mil­lion Holo­caust vic­tims took to their death is a sober­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Quiet de­spite throngs of vis­i­tors, the largest Nazi con­cen­tra­tion and ex­ter­mi­na­tion camps pro­vide a glimpse into the hor­rors of hu­man cru­elty. Within the silent walls of the prison blocks, wooden bar­racks, ex­e­cu­tion yard and gas cham­ber, the shoes, hair and cans of poi­son used to mur­der Jews and prison­ers, are dis­played.

A tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine takes half a day but time re­ally flies when you’re 135m un­der­ground. One of the old­est salt mines in Europe, the Unesco World Her­itage Site boasts of a beau­ti­ful chapel in­side. Above ground, the mu­seum looks like any old build­ing. But de­scend down 380 wooden steps and you’ll en­ter a chilly salt maze, full of won­ders. Don’t worry about get­ting back up be­cause there’s a lift.

Zakopane

The breath­tak­ing Ta­tra Moun­tains tower over this re­sort town. Three hours from Krakow, coach buses and mini vans de­part from the city sta­tion daily so day trips are pos­si­ble. Lined with shops, bars and restau­rants, Krupowki Street is al­ways teem­ing with tourists.

Two nights would be ideal though, if you love the great out­doors. The air here is crisp and fresh. Dis­tinc­tively Zakopane, the unique wooden lodges are like chil­dren's sto­ry­book pop- ups. When it snows, ski. When it’s sunny, hike or scale its ma­jes­tic peaks.

The Kasprowy Wierch ca­ble car – which marks its 80th an­niver­sary this year – and the Gubalowka fu­nic­u­lar train in the heart of town, are the main at­trac­tions. Get­ting tick­ets for the train is easy but on­line book­ings are rec­om­mended if you don’t want to miss out on the ca­ble car up to Mount Kasprowy or spend hours stuck in a line in­stead of 1,987m above sea level.

The ca­ble car ride takes about 15 min­utes. Head­ing to­wards the steep, rocky slopes, a sea of lush green trees un­folds like a car­pet spread out be­neath your feet. At 1,100m above sea level, Gubalowka Hill has the best of both worlds – a sprawl­ing view of the town and the sur­round­ing Ta­tra Moun­tains. Leave the ca­ble car for last be­cause once you stand on the shoul­ders of Mount Kasprowy, ev­ery­thing you see af­ter that will dis­ap­pear in its shadow.

— CHRISTINA CHIN/ The Star

Colour­ful build­ings and old churches are of­ten im­mor­talised in paint­ings sold along the cob­bled streets of Gdansk.

War­saw's beau­ti­fully re­con­structed Old Town. — Pho­tos: CHRISTINA CHIN/ The Star

The brick bar­racks of Auschwitz.

The lovers' bridge in Gdansk where lovers come from over the world to place their locks.

Tourists sit­ting on beach deck chairs over­look­ing the Ta­tra Moun­tains in Zakopane.

Dis­tinc­tively Zakopane, the unique wooden lodges are like chil­dren's sto­ry­book pop- ups.

One of Lazienki Krolewskie's many ar­chi­tec­tural gems set in the heart of the green lung.

The Palace on the Isle is one of the main at­trac­tions at Lazienki Krolewskie.

The Cas­tle of the Teu­tonic Or­der in Mal­bork.

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