“Because guilty pleasures are meant to be fulfilled”
By: Erika Grace R. Lapitan
Logging in to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter has been a complete torture for me. With all my friends’ vacation photos plastered on my feed, it’s no wonder that I always have this feeling of wanting to have what they had. However, as much as I desire to travel to different places, I still have to choose from an endless list of remarkable destinations to visit. This dilemma has plagued my yearly vacation-planning—until someone introduced me to Poland.
Situated in Central Europe, Poland is a landlocked country bordered by Czech Republic and Slovakia in the South, Lithuania in the North, Germany in the West, and Ukraine and Belarus in the east. Many historical records believe that the country, formally known as the Republic of Poland, was first established as a Polish state in 966 under the rule of Mieszko I. However, the official inauguration of the Kingdom of Poland was in the year 1025, when Boleslaw I the Brave was crowned as the first king.
Like any other country in the world, Poland has had its fair share of adversities. Among the many is when it was conquered and divided by neighboring powers (the Russian Empire, Austria, and Prussia), as well as during the oppressive regime of leaders in both World War I and II. But, these misfortunes never hindered the Polish nation from being one of the world’s most visited countries. It has greatly preserved its cultural heritage that up until now makes up its beauty.
Poland is a great place to stay and fulfil all our guilty pleasures. However, the country has a lot to offer than just a vacation getaway. Here are but a few:
House of Devotion
Born into a family of religious devotees, I grew up believing that Sunday is Church day. So, it excited me to discover that Poland has a number of longstanding cathedrals to visit. Two of the most popular are the St. Mary’s Basilica and the Carmelite Church, situated in Kraków and Warsaw Cities respectively.
Designed in brick Gothic architecture, St. Mary’s Basilica was initially built in the 13th century during the reign of Casimir III the Great. However, the structure was destroyed during the Mongol Invasion causing it to be rebuilt in the 14th century. Many striking features can be seen inside and outside the edifice. Among them is the famous St. Mary’s Altar (a wooden masterpiece made by the German sculptor Veit Stoss), the stately vault in the church’s presbytery, the side chapels elaborately designed by Franciszek Wiechoń, and the two massive towers topped with a golden crown.
But, what probably makes the basilica most charming is the Hejnał Mariacki played every hour in four successive tunes. Translated in English as “Saint Mary’s Dawn”, the tradition is practiced in honor of the brave trumpeter who died trying to alarm the nation about the Mongol invasion.
Outside the cathedral is the main square, a medieval marketplace built in the 13th century. Join the throng of people as they roam around the place. Among the best attractions are the Cloth Hall Museum, the Town Hall Tower, the Church of St. Adalbert, and the Adam Mickiewicz Monument.
Carmelite Church, on the other hand, is a neoclassical structure built from the years 1761 to 1783. Designed by architects Józef Szymon Bellotti and Efraim Szreger, the edifice is famous for its unique bell towers shaped and carved like that of incense burners. Aside from its impressive exteriors, paintings of Szymon Czechowicz and Franciszek Smuglewicz adorn the church inside. Carmelite Church is famous for being the first recital stage of Frédéric Chopin, a Polish composer and pianist.
Ancient fortress and town hall
As with planning a vacation, historical landmarks would always be on the list. Three of the most prominent buildings in Poland are the Town Hall of Wroclaw, Wawel Castle of Kraków, and the Lublin Castle in Lublin.
Sitting in the middle of the market square, Wroclaw’s Town Hall was initially constructed in the 13th century. Also known as the Stary Ratusz, its notable features include the Burgher’s Hall (once used to hold public gatherings), the Council and Alderman’s Rooms, the Grand Hall, the Little Bear statue, the clock tower, and the Coat of Arms which was adopted by the city in the year 1536. At present the place is now a museum and a restaurant that showcase most of Wroclaw’s ancient artefacts.
Kraków City’s Wawel Royal Castle, on the other hand, was constructed under the orders of Casimir III the Great. One of the most significant residential palaces for the kings of Poland, the edifice was reconstructed under the rule of Jogalia and Jadwiga. Found outside are the Hen’s Foot, Danish Towers, and the Royal Gardens, as well as the citadels of Jordanka, Lubranka, Sandomierska, Tęczyńska, Szlachecka, Złodziejska and Panieńska. The interior features, however, include the Jadwiga and Jogalia Chambers (where the sword Szczerbiec is displayed), the State Rooms, the Royal Private Apartments, and the Dragon’s Den.
Today, the fortress is now a museum that holds many important paintings, sculptures, tapestries, scriptures and furniture once used during ancient times. The Crown Treasury also showcases the Crown Jewels and the Polish Coronation Insignia for public viewing.
Another residential palace built by the order of royalty is the Lublin Castle. Situated in the Lublin City of Poland, the Gothic-Revival fortress was constructed in the 12th century. It once served as a prison during the Nazi occupation and the Soviet invasion. Its distinctive aspects are the Stone Keep, The Holy Trinity Chapel, the courtyard, and the Neo-Gothic entrance. Like the Wawel Castle, it now houses a city museum.
From Old to Modern Structures
With the rising technology today, countries have now adapted to the demands of the modern world. Poland is no different as its capital city is now brimiming with grand skyscrapers and multi-functional centers.
Warsaw, Poland’s largest and principal metropolis, takes its name from the Polish term Warszawa, which means “belonging to Warsz”. Legend has it that a fisherman named Wars fell in love with and married Sawa, a mermaid from the Vistula River. Natives of the city are called Varsovians, with males being called warszawiaks and females, warszawianka.
Found in the bustling metropolis is the Palace of Culture and Science, known as the tallest building in Poland as well as the eighth tallest one in the European Union. Standing at a staggering height of 758 feet, the tower has 42 floors with over 3288 functional rooms. Its architect Lev Rudnev designed the building following the distinctive style of Stalinist architecture. Its former name was Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science. However, the attribution was revoked during the de-stalinization, a reform that took place after Joseph Stalin’s death.
Travellers would definitely have fun exploring the building as it serves as a home to theaters, libraries, sports complexes, universities, and scientific institutions. The tour is best ended by checking out the tower’s exteriors at night, as various colors of LED lights illuminate the building.
Other popular attractions of the city include the Grand Theatre (known as one of the largest theaters in Europe), the Wilanów Palace, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the Olympic Center, and the neoclassical Łazienki Palace or the Baths Palace. Mermaid statues also decorate the city, two of which are located in the Old Town Square and along the banks of the Vistula River.
Of Seas and Mountains
Although not found in Warsaw City, Sea Towers is also worth a visit. Both functioning as a business center and a residential building, it stands at an estimated height of 471 feet and is considered as the second tallest structure in the country. It offers awe-inspiring views of the Baltic Sea and the Gdynia City.
The Polish vacation is best finished with a hike to the Morskie Oko located in the Tatra Mountains. Translated as the Eye of the Sea, legend says that the lake was linked to the sea through an underground passage. Due to its natural beauty and immaculate charm, the area usually gets over 50,000 visitors during summer alone.
All of us want to have an enchanting vacation. All of us desire to go to a country where we can be entranced by the place’s attractions. All of us aspire to feel that so-called “magic” that shall possess our lives forever.
However, all are wants and desires are almost always never fulfilled. So, when that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes in, promising that our aspirations can be attained in one place, grab and relish it. Remember, many things can only be magical as long as you enjoy what you see and savor what you experience.
Have everything you ever wanted in Poland—because guilty pleasures are meant to be fulfilled.