Classical architecture and smiling people

September 26, 2008 at 12:58 pm Leave a comment

The old city of WarsawPoland was partitioned in 1795 among Germany, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire for around 123 years before regaining its territorial integrity in 1918, following World War I.

However, during all this time the Ottoman Empire persistently supported the Poles and, unlike other European nations, did not recognize the splintering of Poland. In fact, only the Ottomans did not recognize this dismemberment, a gesture the Polish state and people have not forgotten. Additionally, our famous poet Yahya Kemal served as ambassador to Poland between 1929 and 1930.

Poland’s direct neighbors are Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Russia and Germany. With a coastline that runs along the Baltic Sea, Poland is home to Poles and very few minorities. Many Poles work overseas, the majority of them — 65 percent — in the US.

We arrived in Poland on a winter’s day. Winter in this country is quite unique as you can feel the freezing cold in your blood after just a few moments. The capital of Poland, Warsaw, is these days one of the EU capital cities and has a population of around 3 million.

A great place to get a bird’s eye view of Warsaw is from Poland’s tallest building, the Culture Palace. At a height of 213 meters, this structure was a present from Stalin. It boasts more than 3,200 rooms and used to be known as the Stalin Palace. The building was constructed from 1952 to 1955 and is now open to the public. Looking from above, Warsaw appears like a classic European city, with its cathedrals and shopping centers down below.

Krakow’s historical fabric

After a tour of Warsaw, we headed for Krakow. This city served as Poland’s capital for 500 years. The historical fabric that this city puts on display might surprise you when you first see it. Over all these years, it has been able to protect this historical fabric, a fabric that was threatened with destruction by the Germans in World War II. This is probably the main reason why many say that if you want to see the real Poland, go to Krakow.

Krakow, interestingly enough, was the city where Pope John Paul II served as cardinal before being selected in 1978 to be the next pope.

In the center of Krakow stands St. Mary’s Basilica. Right next to it is the Sukiennice Cloth Hall, another place you cannot miss. If you come here in December, you’ll see a very colorful open marketplace appealing to all. The clock tower that sits in the center of the square here works to give it the real feel of a European city.

Every hour, a trumpeter’s sound blasts out from one of the towers of St. Mary’s Basilica. It’s called the “Ti trumpet” and it stops suddenly to signify that the original trumpeter was shot by an enemy’s arrow when he was trying to warn the people with his trumpet that they were being invaded. This is a tradition that has been around for years on end.

Among the pictures hung on the walls of St. Mary’s Basilica are ones of Pope John Paul II and of Polish King Jan III Sobieski, who defeated the Ottomans in Vienna.

While walking around the streets of Krakow, don’t be surprised if you encounter bakeries offering bagels. Although they resemble the Turkish simit, the taste is completely different. Krakow is the only Polish city where these are baked. A bagel goes for one zloty and 100 groszy. One zloty is worth around 25 euro cents.

Another point of interest you might notice while walking around on Krakow streets is something they call the “house with minarets.” It was built by a Pole named Teodor Rayski, who lived in the Ottoman Empire and embraced Islam, returned to Krakow and had this house built for himself there.

You might grab the chance while in Poland to tour a 900-year-old salt mine that has since opened up to tourists. The entrance fee is 13 euros. The deepest point in this mine is 327 meters, though real work in this mine stopped nine years ago due to safety worries. Tourists who visit this mine need to spend two hours just to get a feel for what is here. There are nine different levels, with the health headquarters located on the third and fifth levels. These health headquarters are not meant for regular tourists who visit here, but for asthma patients and people with other respiratory diseases. There are around 3,000 rooms in this mine, with giant tunnels connecting rooms. There are some 200 kilometers of passages here. Some say there are 40 churches alone down here. Around 1 million people a year from countries all over the world visit this mine. Whether summer or winter, the temperature in this mine is always 14 degrees Celsius.

Out of all the EU countries, Poland is notable for its high numbers of gender-segregated Catholic schools. Teachers at these schools are often nuns and priests. There are no barriers impeding students who graduate from these schools from going to university and most students at these schools start off their school day with prayers in class.

Laws enacted in 1989 set out guidelines for the relationship between the state and the church in Poland. While these laws protect the freedom of belief, they also grant the right for the Roman Catholic Church to set up its own radio and television programs as well as run schools, hospitals and some historical buildings. Outside of the Catholic University of Lublin and the Warsaw Divinity School, there are departments of divinity and theology at many institutions of higher education throughout Poland. Warsaw’s head bishop is also the bishop of Polish.

Poland is a country you’ll have a comfortable and easy time visiting. With its classical European architectural style and smiling people, Poland will impress you. However, winters are cold and spring may be a better time to visit.

[TRAVEL TIPS]

Visa: Poland is a Schengen country and requires visas from Turkish citizens. Visas cost 60 euros and one week’s travel insurance is 10 euros. Citizens of the US, Canada, the UK and New Zealand can enter Poland and travel around without a visa for three months.

How to go: Turkish Airlines and Polish Airlines (LOT) have regular direct flights between Turkey and Poland.

Turkish Airlines: 184 euros + tax

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday

Depart: 11:10 a.m.

Arrive: 12:40 p.m.

LOT: 175 euros + tax

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday

Depart : 5:30 p.m.

Arrive: 6:55 p.m.

Where to stay: There are lots of hotels suitable for every budget.

Cuisine: You will have no problem finding food you like here, especially if you check out some of the buffet dinners offered at fine hotels. Of course, if your tastes are limited to just Turkish cuisine, you may have a difficult time.


[QUICK FACTS]

Capital: Warsaw

Official language: Polish

Government: republic

President: Lech Kaczynski

Prime Minister: Donald Tusk

Area: 312,679 square kilometers

Population: 38,500,696*

Gross domestic product (PPP): $620.9 billion**

Main religions: Roman Catholic (89.8 percent), Ukrainian Greek Catholic (8 percent), Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox (7.2 percent)

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Entry filed under: News, Travel.

Press Roundup ANKARA – Turkish Daily News

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