In 2011 my parents purchased an apartment in Zamosc, Poland and now live there permanently but it wasn’t until May 2015 that my wife and I finally visited. So, what exactly did I find?
It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I agreed to visit Poland. After all, I had never ventured to eastern Europe and wondered what there could be there to fill a holiday. I was proud of my parents for taking the bold step of moving out to Poland permanently but also felt a little sorry for them. Surely there were more glamorous places to retire to?
However, having visited now twice I can honestly hold my hands up and admit we were wrong to delay because there’s so much to explore and love in Poland. My father had been part of a relief mission to Poland in 1990, just after the fall of Communism in the area. He had returned at the time with stories of poverty, broken roads and dodgy cuisine. This was still very much at the forefront of my mind as I boarded the plane to Krakow.
I had left the booking of hotels to dad and he was our driver throughout; he was pretty much our tour guide too. I know my father has good taste and feels it his duty to leave regular reviews on Trip Advisor but I was more than pleasantly surprised by the first hotel in Poland we stayed in. The continental buffet breakfast was just a little too tasty with all the usual calorie villains; croissants, yoghurts, bacon, scrambled egg – the works. After the satiation of breakfast, we were led out on a short walk to the centre of Krakow. Ever the Second World War enthusiast, my father pointed out that, unlike most cities in Poland, Krakow had been left intact by the Nazis as it was considered fairly Germanic. The result of this is a beautiful medieval city with stunning architecture and lots of interesting little shops.
A highlight of the visit to the city was Oskar Schindler’s Factory – made famous by the 1993 Oscar-winning Steven Speilberg film starring Liam Neeson. Lying in the old industrial area near the edge of the city, the museum takes a timeline approach with roughly a sixth of its permanent exhibition dedicated to the Jewish factory workforce and the rest detailing pre and post war Krakow. This includes a look at the Polish resistance movement during the Nazi occupation and life under Communist rule after World War 2. One of the must-see exhibition pieces is the wonderfully preserved office of Oskar Schindler.
Also, highly fascinating and well worth a visit was Apteka Pod Orlem or Pharmacy Under the Eagle, a chemist shop that consistently lived on a knife edge between life and death as it tried to help Jews during the Second World War. Run in the Krakow Ghetto by Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Polish Roman Catholic pharmacist, he declined the Nazis offer to relocate to the non-Jewish side of the city and instead hid Jews while also offering medical help and disguises to those trying to escape.
Any trip to visit my parents was going to have a real historical bent to it but in actuality this is the country to come to if you have even a slight interest in 20th century history, in particular, the Second World War, the Holocaust (Auschwitz concentration camp is also nearby) and the Communist era and Krakow is a truly fantastic place to start.
Our trip in August 2016 took in the city of Warsaw, a place famous for its history but we discovered a whole side to the city we definitely weren’t expecting (don’t worry, it’s better than it sounds) so keep your eyes peeled for an article all about that in the not too distant future.