POLES GOT SOUL

Gaby Graser dis­cov­ers the un­ex­pected plea­sures of War­saw and Cra­cow

Sunday Times - - Travel -

The strong­est econ­omy in Eastern Europe is also a de­light­ful place to visit: Poland has been a light­ning rod for in­va­sions, wars, oc­cu­pa­tions, par­ti­tions and re­nais­sances.

But over the past 25 years, the cap­i­tal War­saw has mor­phed from be­ing a dreary cen­tre of com­mu­nism to a buzzing me­trop­o­lis.

My flight from Paris was full of French­men with lap­tops and spread­sheets — they’ve de­scended on Poland, their new fron­tier, and busi­ness is boom­ing.

HONEYBEES & BOOKS

Spring was around the cor­ner. Our ho­tel in Smolna Street, the Chopin B&B, was eco-modern. They grow their own veg­gies, keep bees for guests’ break­fast honey, pro­vide bi­cy­cles for the en­er­getic (with maps), and roast their own cof­fee in the break­fast room.

The haunt­ing el­e­gance of Eastern Euro­pean art on ev­ery wall com­ple­mented the small li­braries in the rooms and on the land­ings.

Books — in many lan­guages — are big in Poland, as is mu­sic. Ev­ery night at 7.30pm, some­one played Chopin, Rach­mani­noff or Beethoven in the down­stairs pi­ano sa­lon. Wine and pas­tries were served for guests and to any­one who wan­dered in from out­side. The pi­anists ranged from 19-yearold Pol­ish prodi­gies to a 70-plus, bearded Is­raeli man. What tal­ented peo­ple!

In a top-of-the-range bus from War­saw to Cra­cow, we whizzed through miles and miles of in­dus­trial and farm lands.

Tech­ni­cal col­leges abound in vir­tu­ally ev­ery town. Tech-wise, Poland is giv­ing Ger­many a run for its money.

THE CALL OF CRA­COW

Cra­cow must be one of Europe’s best-kept se­crets. Its churches soar into the sky­line and its mu­se­ums and mon­u­ments are ex­otic and breath­tak­ing. Get there be­fore the coun­try’s beauty is tram­pled by the tourist boots.

We vis­ited friends in the Cra­cow coun­try­side for lunch in a glo­ri­ous old house, where warm, Pol­ish bread, sausages and cold meats of in­fi­nite va­ri­ety (no polony) and ex­cel­lent cheeses were de­voured.

We took cof­fee at a nearby farm, where the re­tired owner tends vine­yards, an ap­ple or­chard and pro­lific vegetable and flower gar­dens.

In his chan­de­lier-lit cel­lar, we tasted his cider cham­pagne with a mush­room pâté from his kitchen. Bliss! This was not the Poland I had imag­ined.

At a farewell night out, we trawled War­saw’s main street, where young peo­ple in the lat­est fash­ions strolled up and down, see­ing and be­ing seen.

The cof­fee and gateau at a Mar­lene Di­et­rich-style café would put the French gourmet food com­pany Fau­chon to shame.

Frank Si­na­tra pro­vided a fit­ting back­drop to the louche pa­trons, with their furs, scarves and coats ca­su­ally hang­ing from an old, pol­ished coat stand.

RIS­ING AT LAST

The Poles have moved on from their coun­try’s tragic his­tory.

Sur­rounded by six coun­tries, Poland was in­vaded in 1655 by Swedish and Tran­syl­va­nian armies, then carved up by Rus­sia, Prussia and Aus­tria.

The coun­try gained its in­de­pen­dence in 1918, only to be in­vaded by Ger­many in 1939. We vis­ited the Old Quar­ter and the Jewish Ghetto, where those sear­ing scenes we have seen in the movies came to life.

Eighty-four per­cent of War­saw’s build­ings were flat­tened dur­ing WW2. The re­build­ing took place un­der com­mu­nism, Poland’s next scourge. But the coun­try has risen again, and ev­ery­body is look­ing to the fu­ture.

Poland is one of the Euro­pean Union’s star pro­tégées and one can only ad­mire the brave and tal­ented peo­ple of this ex­cit­ing and beau­ti­ful coun­try. ● S.

L © Gaby Graser Share your travel ex­pe­ri­ences with us in Read­ers’ World. Send your pho­tos — at least 500KB — and a story of no more than 800 words. In­clude a re­cent photo of your­self. Please note that sto­ries should not have been pre­vi­ously pub­lished else­where, ei­ther in print or on­line. ALL win­ners re­ceive R1 000. Only win­ning en­trants will be con­tacted. E-mail trav­el­[email protected]­day­times.co.za.

Pic­ture: 123rf.com/sopot­niccy

UR­BAN HEART The Old Town of Cra­cow, Poland, em­anates from a mar­ket square dat­ing back to the 13th cen­tury.

Pic­ture: Gaby Graser

HOUSE IN THE COUN­TRY The writer had a glo­ri­ous lunch on a farm in the Cra­cow coun­try­side.

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