England    Poland   

In August 2012 I flew to England for a week and Poland for 2 weeks. The 2012 Olympic Summer Games were going on in London and I wanted to see some Olympic sites (with no expectation of seeing any actual games). Once leaving London area, I headed west, as far west on mainland England as I could go. This is County Cornwall and Land’s End. Upon returning to London I flew off to Warsaw Poland with some great expectations of seeing the whole country on this trip. Since that didn’t happen (more on that later), I managed to see southeast Poland, roughly, between Warsaw and Kraków. By the way, Warsaw in Polish is actually Warszawa (I'll refer to it as Warsaw in my story but Warszawa in the pictures - so as not to confuse you).

Having done a couple trips to London, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time seeing the ‘normal’ sites. But, this time was a little different. The 2012 Summer Olympic Games were going on and London had Olympic Fever. I met up with my mate Nelson and was able to spend time with him. Besides staying with him, he took the day off to trek around London with me. I told him I wanted to see the Olympic sites and of course Victoria Tower (you know, that tower that has Big Ben). He did not disappoint. Some of the Olympic landmarks we saw were Tower Bridge (specially decked out with the Olympic Rings), the countdown clock to the closing ceremonies, The Mall between Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square (closed to traffic, so it was different to be able to walk down it), the Horse Guards Parade (where they held Olympic events), and topping it off at the end of the day at Olympic Park (where many of the sporting events took place, along with the Opening and Closing ceremonies). Yes, we did get to Victoria Tower and Big Ben too.

If the phrase ‘I wish you were a mouse, I'd show you...’ doesn’t mean anything to you, you might as well move along to the next paragraph. Now for you Fawlty Towers fans remaining, and you know who you are, I couldn’t help but stop and stay in Torquay (if you know Fawlty Towers, you are pronouncing it correctly). I know it’s an imaginary place on the English Riviera (come to think of it, isn't the English Riviera imaginary?), but I think I found the equivalent hotel (take a look at the picture of my room below and see if you agree). Although, the staff was much nicer, when I mentioned I was a satisfied customer, I thought I heard someone remark ‘We should have him stuffed’.

Last stop before crossing into County Cornwall is Plymouth. Yes, this is the famed Plymouth associated with the Mayflower in 1620. All of the old sites are near the harbour and along the Plymouth Sound waterfront. The Mayflower steps mark the spot where they embarked on their 66 day journey to cross the Atlantic. The Hoe provides a park like setting along the water and magnificent views over the Plymouth Sound, along with the brightly coloured red and white striped Smeaton’s Tower lighthouse (moved here from 14 miles off the coast). The highlight is the Barbican waterfront area. This area has buildings and narrow winding streets surviving from the 16th century. Though a small area, it is not to be missed and gives you that 16th century nautical feeling.

OK, this is going to sound Cornish Blue. Oh I’m sorry, I meant to say ‘cheesy’. But, when you cross into County Cornwall it is almost like everything changes. It really is a different look and feel of the country, with its’ long coastline, amazing scenery, and language (or is it an accent?).

In the village of Boscastle, you are in a green valley with high cliffs above. Running through most of the village is the water from the harbour, making it look more like a river. Most of the buildings (some of which are from the 14th century), are made of stone and slate which almost give the appearance they were raised out from the ground they stand on. In a land not so far, far away from Boscastle is the quaint village of Tintagel and the ruins of Tintagel Castle, the purported birthplace of King Arthur.

A little further down the dramatic coastline is the small historic fishing village of Port Isaac. For the ‘Doc Martin’ fans (if you have to ask what I’m referring to, I’m not going to explain), you might recognize this as the fictional Portwenn. You can’t enter Fern Cottage, but you can get some very nice photos in and around it. While there is a big draw of tourists to the town because of ‘Doc Martin’ fame, Port Isaac still manages to not only maintain its incredible charm but also provide all the remarkable views of scenery around the village you would expect.

The town of Penzance places you nearly at Land’s End, that’s worth mentioning as a high light to Penzance. The town itself is somewhat uneventful, but does have a very nice pedestrian zone on Chapel Street that takes you all the way down to the harbour. The main attraction here is St. Michael’s Mount. This 14th century castle is perched 200 feet (61 metres) above the sea on an island just off the harbour. You can think of it as a similar sight to Mont Saint-Michel in France (been there, done that).

Yea! It’s Land’s End! I think the name pretty, much says it all. It’s the western most point of Britain. Like the rest of Cornwall, being there presents itself with dramatic cliffs, rolling hills, crashing waves, and the excitement of being there. There is not much else there, but some shops, places to eat, a hotel, a few tourist attractions, and a tourist centre. Cornwall didn’t disappoint, even at the very end. I had to have the obligatory photo taken of me at the Land's End signpost, but why wouldn’t you? Now it’s back to London and a flight to Warsaw, Poland for the remaining 2 weeks.

When I landed in Warsaw, Poland I had high expectations of seeing the entire country of Poland. A few days in Warsaw, then on my way. I had things mapped out all around the country of things to see and places to go. However, this trip was far from the Grand Tour I envisioned. OK, maybe 2 weeks in Poland was pushing it for all that. To be honest, it wasn’t so much my planning (nope, can’t blame me) as it was the country itself, and more specifically the roads and driving. You see, what I found was a lot of road construction, minimal high-speed motorways, slow speed limits, and a lot of detours due to the construction. In fact, it took me a while to figure out ‘Objazd’ didn’t mean exit, was not a town, or wasn’t an auto service stop of some kind but actually a detour sign. With that said, I really only had the time to see the southeast portion of Poland, mostly between Warsaw and Kraków. Needless to say, there was still a lot there to see and do. Of course, this only means I will have to go back to Poland in the future (maybe a couple times) and then I will be able to say I saw the entire country. So off we go, into what I call the ‘Objazd’ capital of Europe.

Warsaw, despite having been rebuilt in recent times, has a very charming and authentic Stare Miasto (Old Town). The best place to start the tour of Old Town is Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square) directly in front of Zygmunt’s Column and the Royal Castle. It is an easy walk around the entire Old Town, and eventually you will come upon the Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town Market Square). Quite the opposite of the grandness of Castle Square, this square is intimate and gives you small town charm in a big city. Most of the buildings in Old Town are quite colorful, and this square highlights them. In addition, there are a number of outdoor restaurant seating areas and some small market booths selling their wares.

Outside of the Old Town are a number of areas with their own certain interest. Just off Castle Square is the start of the Royal Route. It is composed of 2 streets, Krakowskie Przedmieście and ulica Nowy Świat (New World Street). Along this stretch you will see many shops and sites including the Presidential Palace, Warsaw University, the Copernicus Monument, Charles de Gaulle statue, and The Palm (yes, it’s a fake palm tree). Not far off this route is also the Fryderyk Chopin Museum and just outside the area the Chopin Memorial. Despite Warsaw being on the banks of the Wisła (Vistula) River (the longest river in Poland at 386 kilometres / 240 miles), there is very little developed river front easily accessible from the town center. They have a walkway and some parks, but it takes a little effort to get there. Speaking of just outside the area, you can’t help but be drawn toward the Pałac Kultury i Nauki (Palace of Culture and Science or PKiN for short). My, that sure sounds impressive. As a building it is impressive, at 230 metres (755 feet) it is the tallest building in Poland and it stands alone.

I guess I’ll bring it up right now. Food… Maybe that wasn’t the most eloquent way to state that. What I meant to say was Poland had some of the best food choices I have seen in Europe. I really enjoyed the number of buffets, low prices, and availability. Who knew how many things could be done with meat, potatoes, sausages and sauerkraut? But maybe that’s just me...

Lublin is a city southeast of Warsaw with an historic past and many historic buildings. The one end of the Stare Miasto (Old Town) begins through the Brama Krakowska (Cracow Gate). Once in the Old Town, there are many meandering streets to get lost in. Eventually you will come upon the Market Square and Old Town Hall (the New Town Hall is actually just outside the Cracow Gate). The other end of the Old Town is anchored by the massive Zamek Lubelski (Lublin Castle), which now houses the Kaplica Trójcy Świętej (Chapel of the Holy Trinity) from the 14th century and the Muzeum Historii Miasta Lublina (Museum of the History of Lublin – and Poland) throughout the remainder of the castle rebuild in the 19th century.

Heading further southeast is the town of Zamość. It is a perfectly preserved Renaissance town from 1600, and restored in the 1970s. Although small, the highlight is definitely the Town Hall and the Rynek Wielki (Main Market Square). A bit west places me in Ujazd, a town of very little except for the ruins of Krzyżtopór Castle. Don’t let the ‘ruins’ ruin your chance to see this. Built about 1650, about 90% of the walls are standing, so it still looks rather imposing and impressive (just don't look up).

Now on to some family business, to the birth places of my Grandfather and Grandmother. Ironic they were born in Poland about an hour away from each other, but ended up meeting 7500 kilometres (4700 miles) away in the United States. Szydłów is a real historic medieval village surrounded by over 700 metres of stone wall (2300 feet), a castle, and a moat. Today it has a population of just over 1000 people (if you don’t include the cemetery). Due to numerous plum orchards in the area, the village is called the Plum Capital of Poland and the Plum Festival is held here each year. I love plums, especially in pastry (now I know where I get that from). It probably hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. About an hour away is the city of Mielec with a current population of about 60,000. This city has grown a lot over the last 100 years. Best I can tell, the population was under 10,000, so the town has really grown into a city. Today it is very industrialized, with its main focus being on aviation. It does have a small (and modern) town square.

Near the city of Kraków, there are a couple of main tourist attractions in the southern part of Poland. Just outside the city is the town of Wieliczka and the Kopalnia soli Wieliczka (Wieliczka Salt Mine). The salt mine was opened over 700 years ago, and while the value and scarceness of salt proper has diminished in modern time, the uniqueness and popularity of this salt mine continues today. When I arrived, I followed the path from the parking area toward the mine. This path led me (and a lot of other people) to a very long waiting line to get tickets. But, I was there and when in Wieliczka, do as the Wieliczkans do. It was only after a while of waiting (and finishing my lunch in line), did it occur to me to reconsider my option of waiting. After all, it is basically a cave made of salt, right? So not one to leave without some sort of evidence of presence (a picture), I wandered around the area. It was only then I realized I was in line for tickets to a Polish guided tour. I found a small building that sold tickets for other languages, including English. I quickly had my hot ticket in my hand and barely had time to take a quick rest stop (sorry for the graphic details), before my English tour started. OK, it’s a cave made of salt, but was it ever interesting. Did you know it was visited by 1,117,158 people in 2012? Did you know it is the most popular salt mine in the world? Did you know they even kept track of things like that? During the 3 hour tour, you see 20 magnificent chambers chiseled out in rock salt. The most awe inspiring being the Chapel of St. Kinga at 465 square metres (5005 square feet) and 11 metres high (36 feet), the altarpiece, chandeliers, and sculptures are all carved of salt. Amazing underground saline lakes, majestic timber constructions and unique statues sculpted in salt throughout. Almost 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) of meandering corridors, 800 steps to climb, and reaching a depth of 135 metres (600 feet) underground. They even have a very good restaurant 125 metres (410 feet) underground – put that fact in your scrapbook. As I would now say – Wow, a mine made of salt! But, as they say in the mine – back to the world.

Also not far from the city of Kraków, is sadly another tourist attraction. The towns of Oświęcim and Brzezinka, or more infamously known by their German names of Auschwitz and Birkenau. The amazing thing was the drive. You are out in the countryside enjoying the scenery and you just come upon the towns. There are grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, other businesses, homes, apartments, and people. This is their home. However, the legacy of the concentration camps remain as part of their history purely based on the locale. Some tourists come here to see, others to remember. While a lot of the camp buildings were destroyed or removed at the end of the war, there is still a lot to see and the presentation of the tours really helps bring a perspective based on what you do see remaining.

So finally, on to Kraków. This is Poland’s 2nd largest city, and like Warsaw, is also along the banks of the Wisła (Vistula) River. Unlike Warsaw, there is a bit more practical use of the river front. In fact, the Wawel Castle with the Wawel Cathedral on Wawel Hill (that’s a lot of Wawel) is perched right alongside the river. Kraków also has some nice paths along the river, as well as a couple tour boats, and a few restaurant boats. The majority of activity is centered on the Rynek Główny (Old Town). The center of the square is the beautifully designed Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), from the 15th century. Originally a trading center, today the ground floor are shops and the upper floor is a museum. Right next to it is the 13th century Wieża ratuszowa w Krakowie (Town Hall Tower), the remainder of the original town hall was removed in the 18th century (ironically) to open up the main square – job done. The square just happens to be the largest medieval old town square in Europe (40,000 square metres or 430,000 square feet). All around the square are stores and restaurants of every imaginable kind, but it is worth wondering outside the square since this whole area is charming.

So maybe I did a little more than just between Warsaw and Kraków. There were several towns and cities a bit further west of Kraków. Ahhh, Rybnik for example. What can I say about it that you don’t already know? Truth is, I was looking for webcams in Poland and this town popped up. It looked nice enough on the webcam, so I made a stop there and my family was able to actually see me on the webcam real-time. According to the Rybnik tourism website, they say (and I quote) ‘For accidental tourist, prepared for typical Silesian greyness, it is true oasis, hidden in a quiet former Silesian Jungle’. I would agree. Speaking of miscellaneous towns or cities, Katowice is a modern city in this same region that only gained city status in 1865 and for a short time (guess when?) was called Stalinogród (‘Stalin City’). The city of Częstochowa is a pilgrimage site with the Jasna Góra, Luminous Mount (Jasna Góra Monastery) perched prominently overlooking the city.

But, eventually I had to start heading back toward Warsaw (but that doesn’t mean there was nothing more to see). Nestled in the hills of the Vistula valley, along the banks of the Wisła (Vistula) River, is the small town of Kazimierz Dolny. Even though the town boasts the existence of a 16th century castle ruin, this was probably the least significant of the town’s highlights. Sometimes it’s the littlest places that have the most charm. In this case, you parked just outside the town and had to walk along the river and through a small park to get to the town. The market square was filled with 16th century buildings, some souvenir shops, but remember this is town of about 3500 people, so it was a real town that just happened to be in an idyllic setting for tourists. It was time for ice cream and a relaxing sit down in Kazimierz Dolny.

Just outside of Warsaw is the very small town of Żelazowa Wola, the birthplace of Fryderyk Chopin. Set in a park like setting, the home was rebuilt after WWII and today has a small museum. Wandering the grounds you also encounter a couple sculptures of Chopin. A very short distance from here is the town of Brochów. This is significant because of the Church of St. Roch and John the Baptist. It is here Chopin’s parents were married in 1806 and he was christened in 1810.

A bit north of Warsaw is the elegant town of Ciechanów. Just on the edge of the town center is the Zamek książąt mazowieckich w Czersku (Ciechanowie Castle), built of red brick in 1430. Today it is the Muzeum Szlachty Mazowieckiej (Museum of the Mazovian Nobility). I say elegant since its ornate buildings, benches, light poles, flowering hanging plants, and Main Square are meticulously maintained and walking the main street you felt like they just cleaned up for you. It was a nice quiet town to grab a lunch and walk through before heading back to Warsaw and having dinner. Did I mention the food in Poland?

My time in England was fulfilling and I accomplished my goal of getting to Land’s End. But, it’s always good to have more planned than you can fit into a trip, and this trip was definitely filled with a lot more than I could see in the time allowed in Poland. But, that’s OK. I know there is more to see next time I get back to Poland. Well, now that my ‘z’ key is wearing out on my keyboard (hint: lotz of plazez with the letter ‘z’ in Poland) I guezz it’z time for one lazt Polish meal before flying home…

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London, England - Me at Tower Bridge and the symbol of the Olympics.


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London, England - View of London from the top of Tower Bridge.


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London, England - The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and The Thames. I'd say that's very British.


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London, England - If you want all the facts, this is Victoria Tower, Westminster Hall, the Houses of Parliament, and the recently renamed Elizabeth Tower (with Big Ben).


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London, England - The 443 foot London Eye takes 25 minutes to go round.


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London, England - I and my friend Nelson in front of the camera in front of the Victoria Memorial located in front of Buckingham Palace.


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London, England - The 830,000 sq ft Buckingham Palace includes 78 bathrooms. That's only 1 bathroom for every 10,641 sq ft. How can they live like that?


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London, England - Olympic Park and Olympic Stadium. Great Britain is only 1 of 4 countries that competed in every Summer Olympics since 1896 (Greece, Australia, and Switzerland).


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London, England - Me magically floating over the Olympic Stadium. I got the cheap seat tickets.


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Wiltshire, England - Stonehenge. That's about all the facts I know.


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Exeter, England - The view over the Roman city wall into Rougemont Gardens. All that remains of Rougemont Castle.


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Torquay, England - Referred to as the 'English Riviera', at least that's what the signs say.


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Torquay, England - My 'English Riviera' room had a sea view, it was between the land and the sky. I was pleasantly surprised that I could see the Sydney Opera House, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain. I was disappointed because Krakatoa wasn’t erupting at the moment.


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Plymouth, England - The Mayflower steps, where the Mayflower left England in 1620. Looks like I missed the boat.


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Plymouth, England - Smeaton's Tower was moved here from its original site 14 miles out to sea. They were able to move it because it was a really 'light' house.


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Boscastle, England - A picturesque town in Cornwall, with some stone cottages dating back to the 1300s.


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Tintagel, England - Tintagel Castle ruins are the legendary home of King Arthur.


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Port Isaac, England - Incredible scenery abounds around this area, the town only has about 800 residents. You might know it as Portwenn.


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Port Isaac, England - Doc Martin’s cottage in the center, but Port Isaac actually has 7 doctors that service the area residents. So no need to see curmudgeonly Doctor Ellingham.


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Penzance, England - Chapel Street is the most historic street in Penzance and goes all the way to the harbour.


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Land's End, England - Me at the western most point of mainland England. Yea! It's a keeper!


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Warszawa, Poland - Palac Kultury i Nauki (Palace of Culture and Science), also referred to as PKiN, demonstrates typical Soviet architecture.


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Warszawa, Poland - Palac Prezydencki (Presidential Palace) houses the President. It's a palace.


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Warszawa, Poland - Me in plac Zamkowy w Warszawie (Warsaw Castle Square) with Zamek Królewski (The Royal Castle) on the right. It is also the start of the old town.


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Warszawa, Poland - The Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina (Fryderyk Chopin Museum) has many items from the composer's life (2/22/1810 or is it 3/1/1810? to 10/17/1849).


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Warszawa, Poland - The Fryderyk Chopin Monument in Park Lazienkowski (Royal Baths Park).


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Lublin, Poland - The Stare Miastro (Old Town) is a great place to stroll.


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Lublin, Poland - Zamek Lubelski (Lublin Castle) dates back to the 12th century, with the stone Keep (13th century) and Tinity Church (14th century) still surviving to this day.


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Zamość, Poland - The Great Market Square measures exactly 100 square metres, with the Ratusz (Town Hall) dominating the colorful square, square.


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Ujazd, Poland - Zamek Krzyztopór(Krzyztopór Castle) ruins date back to the 1600's.


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Szydlów, Poland - Medieval walled town from the 16th century. Ponadto, miejsce urodzenia dla mojego dziadka.

Translated - In addition, the place of birth for my grandfather.


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Mielec, Poland - Mielecki rynek (market) is a nice area to shop and browse. Ponadto, miejsce urodzenia mojej babci.

Translated - In addition, place of birth my grandmother.


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Wieliczka, Poland - This town is famous for its salt mine. The tour is peppered with a lot of neat sites.


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Wieliczka, Poland - All carved out of salt, the Chapel of St. Kinga dates back to the 17th century.


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Oświęcim, Poland - Me outside the infamous 'Auschwitz' gate.


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Oświęcim, Poland - Just a small number of the barracks.


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Brzezinka, Poland - The infamous 'Birkenau' gate and train tracks.


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Kraków, Poland - The Wawel built along the Wisla (Vistula) River includes the katedra wawelska (Wawel Cathedral) and Zamek Królewski (Wawel Castle). In 1925, a fragment of Wawel Castle was incorporated into Chicago's Tribune Tower (located over the upper-left corner of the main entrance).


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Kraków, Poland - Me in the Rynek Glówny (Market Square) with the Wieza ratuszowa (City Hall Tower) and Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) filling the center square.


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Kraków, Poland - OK, I've held off long enough. Bring on the food!


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Rybnik, Poland - I had to go there, it looked like a nice place on their webcam. Now that's research.


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Katowice, Poland - All for for $4.50 (USD). It's good.


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Częstochowa, Poland - The Jasna Góra Monastery is a big pilgrimage site. They come by the bus loads, the pilgrims and souvenirs.


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Kazimierz Dolny, Poland - With the ruins of Janowiec Castle high above, I was expecting the townspeople to break out in song in the beautiful market square.


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Żelazowa Wola, Poland - The birthplace of Fryderyk Chopin. Currently with a population of 65 people, just short of a full keyboard.


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Ciechanów, Poland - The town has been around since the 11th century. That's a long time.


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Ciechanów, Poland - Speaking of long, that's one long zapiekanka for $2.75 (USD) - including a drink.


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Warszawa, Poland - One last batch of Pierogi. But, I have lots more Polish food pictures if you want to see them, just ask.