The first time I traveled internationally, I stood in the security line at Boston’s Logan Airport and was captivated by the large, backlit posters on the walls highlighting countries from all over the world. I remember how the poster for Poland stirred something in me. I thought to myself (perhaps over confidently) “one day I’ll go there”. This summer, as I stood in Krakow’s Old Town square, this decades old memory came flooding back to me, and I felt proud of my young self for dreaming of traveling to such a phenomenally magical place. Poland is a country still struggling to overcome the horrors of World Wars, the Holocaust, and racial intolerances (a challenging, but important part of understanding Poland’s history, is visiting one of its six Nazi concentration camps). Despite this, there is incredible beauty in the natural landscapes and the 13th century cities, and resilience in it's people.
Warsaw and Krakow are the most popular tourist destinations, but most people find Krakow’s walled Old Town to be the most charming. Be sure to try the pierogi’s—boiled dumplings stuffed with almost any combination of starches and vegetables you could imagine—from the street carts or many restaurants. Milk bars can be found around the country, and they are a vital part of the Polish sightseeing experience. Milk bars were essentially Communist subsidized cafeterias that allowed the average (lower class) worker to enjoy a meal out. They are still dirt-cheap, but the cuisine is all Eastern European: cabbage, friend pork chops, pancakes and soups. There are a handful in the city that cater to Western Europeans, but I think they are a bit more touristy and lose the “canteen” feel. Scout out one of the older ones and eat with the locals. The experience won’t disappoint.