Resilient is the word that best describes Poland. The illustrious history of Poland is marred by instances of colonisation, siege and war, most notably, World War II, which saw the genocide of more than three million Polish Jews during the Holocaust. Post WWII, Poland struggled under Joseph Stalins communist rule and even martial law that lasted eight years before Poland freed itself for independence. The rebuilding of Poland’s identity after that was swift but paid off. Today, Poland fascinates with its diverse landscapes, strong Jewish history, and warmth and kindness in its people developed through surviving such adversities in life.
We travel to two capitals of Poland, with the first being Kraków, the former capital of Poland. Kraków is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland and is situated along the Vistula River. Today, the quiet city is the centre for history and culture in Poland, offering a myriad of ancient attractions, museums and neighbourhoods that will require at least a few days of exploration to properly soak in.
We meet with our guide, Marta, bright and early at the Main Market Square. Here, she points out the Church of the Virgin Mary and gives us a crash course in Poland’s history, while teaching us how to identify the various architectural styles in the church – its mainly gothic but baroque elements hastily thrown together give it an overwhelmingly majestic but chaotic order so favoured by the Polish of that era. We step back outside and wait for the bugle player to play his tune to mark the new hour.
His ditty is cut awkwardly near the end – an homage to a mythical trumpeter who was shot in the neck while warning the city of invaders. Elsewhere in the Main Market Square, we visit the Sukiennice that Marta claims is the oldest shopping mall in existence. The medieval era “mall” is a sheltered space where rows of shops peddle touristy souvenirs up and down its aisles. This is one of the best places to pick up amber, naturally fossilised tree resin that Poland is extremely well known for, as the shop owners are required to provide government-approved certificates with each purchase.