by Edith Hall Friedheim
No other city in my experience breathes quite the same fusion of atmospheres as Warsaw. For haunted as it is by sad memories, it is a city constantly reinventing itself, its liveliness and sense of purpose springing entirely from the hearts and minds of the Poles.
From my hotel in the Old City I can walk to the park overlooking the Vistula River and from there to the monuments and historical buildings along the Royal Way from the Royal Castle to the palace in Wilanow. Wider pedestrian sidewalks paved in colorful red, yellow and gray stone have replaced the concrete of Krakowskie Przedmiescie, transforming it into the most beautiful street in Poland, and the squares, churches and palaces have all been returned to their original Classical and Baroque facades.
Two future events are sure to have a major impact on Poland’s – and Warsaw’s - already thriving travel industry. In 2010, Warsaw celebrates the Frederic Chopin Bicentennial with concerts, music festivals, and special exhibitions, and special “Following Chopin’s Footsteps” tourist routes designed by leading travel agencies in Warsaw and Zelazowa Wola, the village where the great composer was born in 1810. Looking even further ahead, Poland is co-hosting (with the Ukraine) the 2012 European Football Championship, the world’s third largest sports competition.
In Poland in general, and Warsaw in particular, large international brands are investing heavily in new properties that include not only high-end accommodations, but also business and entertainment complexes to attract potential convention business. Hilton (www.hilton.com), Hyatt (email@example.com), and Radisson SAS (firstname.lastname@example.org) all have opened new properties in Warsaw within the past few years, confirming their five-star status with luxury accommodations and amenities, internet access, fitness centers and restaurants.
As for the smaller boutique hotels, none is more alluring than MaMaison Le Regina (www.leregina.com), occupying a rebuilt 18th-century palace and courtyard just steps from Old Town Square. Le Regina’s 61 rooms and suites offer a superb location, elegant but cozy ambiance, spacious accommodations, and a superb restaurant, La Rotisserie, which recently won first prize in the prestigious “L’Art de la Cuisine Martell 2008.”
For shoppers, visit the Golden Terraces Shopping Mall (www.zlotetarasy.pl) near the central train station, which is doing a brisk business in middle- and high-end goods while the more intimate Likus Concept Store in the center of the Old City (call 022-492-7402-20) serves up delicious chocolates and unusual boutique items to Warsaw’s cognoscenti.
Untouched by the fiery fate of Warsaw at the end of WWII, Krakow is one of Europe’s great, unspoiled cities and a bona fide member of the Vienna, Budapest, Prague golden tourism axis. This translates into good hotels, restaurants and nightclubs, and convenient transportation from most points in most directions - JAX FAX recently enjoyed the three-hour express train trip from Warsaw.
Krakow sightseeing essentials include the enormous medieval Market Square (Rynek Gowny) with Cloth Hall and St. Mary’s Basilica; the National Museum; the Kazimierz district that housed Krakow’s Jews for centuries before the Nazi occupation, and, across the river, the factory where Oskar Schindler employed some 1,200 Jews, thereby saving them from extermination at Auschwitz-Birkenau nearby. But for the Poles themselves and for most visitors, Wawel Castle and Cathedral remain Krakow’s defining landmarks, its unique version of Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey in one beguiling, albeit eclectic complex. For reservations call 012-422-5155; or visit this site: www.wawel.krakow.pl
For a city of under a million inhabitants, Krakow’s hotel inventory is impressive. The international brands are represented by Radisson SAS, Sheraton, Novotel, and Holiday Inn, while the smaller, independent Amadeus (www.hotel-amadeus.pl) and Copernicus Hotels (www.hotel.com.pl) have accommodated the likes of Prince Charles and George W.
The Baltic city of Solidarity and amber, at various times German (Danzig) or Polish, Gdansk has shrugged off its Eastern Bloc image once and for all. Here and in the neighboring resort town of Sopot, new luxury hotels, spas, and business centers - a Radisson SAS on Gdansk’s historic Long Street, a beachfront Sheraton Hotel Conference Centre & Spa next to the legendary Grand Hotel in Sopot - share space cheek by jowl with the city’s landmarks.
LOT Polish Airlines and many international carriers operate flights to Gdansk’s Lech Walesa Airport. LOT flies non-stop to Wasaw from New York (JFK ), Chicago and Toronto, offers connecting flights to Krakow, and code shares with other carriers. “Trans-Atlantic destinations and the U.S. market are very important to us, says LOT’s Midwest sales manager Andrzej Iwanov, adding that the new Terminal 2 at Warsaw’s Frederic Chopin Airport “allows us to offer our passengers more services at the highest level. Visit www.lot.com All major European carriers all fly into Poland through their hubs. For more information, contact the Polish National Tourist Office, 201-420-9910; E-mail email@example.com; www.polandtour.org
April 2008 Feature
Poland’s New-Found Power
Recently Poland was ranked among the top 10 most attractive countries in which to invest in the “European Attractiveness Survey 2007,” prepared by Ernst & Young. Not surprisingly, the ranking opens with China followed by the U.S., India, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation, placing Poland’s economy in the big leagues. With its seventh position, Poland at the very least is an unquestionable leader in Central Europe.
The survey examined more than 800 decision makers from companies representing all the regions of the world, industries and business models as well as database tracking foreign investment projects that result in new facilities and creation of new jobs.
Poland is also perceived as the second best destination after China for foreign investment in the production sector due to its convenient geographical location in the heart of Europe and its competitive labor costs.
What is significant about these findings for the traveling public, is that Poland is economically a stable nation, a homogenous nation with a strong sense of its own culture and one in which the dollar goes a long way as the zloty remains the Polish currency.
Among the specialist operators to Poland stand two giants: American Travel Abroad and Orbis. While the two companies are formidable competitors, both feature competitively-priced products that are gaining more status in the U.S. market as air service to Poland has increased significantly and savvy Europe-bound Americans are curious.
Because of Poland’s history, both in the Middle Ages and in modern times, the country is a breeding ground for special interest travel, which AMTA and Orbis have mined for their product lines. Among the most popular special interest programs are Jewish Heritage, Religious, Wellness, Active or Soft Adventure, Cultural Tours and of course self-drives.
Predicting a Banner Year
“Now that Poland is a full-fledged member of the European Community and the last frontier barriers between Germany and Poland have been removed, we are counting on getting more visitors from the United States than ever before,” said Zbigniew Wegiel, president and CEO of American Travel Abroad (AMTA), for more than 60 years the leading operator of tour programs to Poland. He continued, “Imagine, now it is possible for people to travel all the way from the Iberian peninsula or western France right up to the Polish-Russian border without ever having to show or surrender their passports. We predict a banner year of travel from the United States to Poland in 2008.”
Reflecting on Poland’s lengthy history with Roman Catholicism and Judaism, AMTA offers tours that highlight important sights and attractions of both religions. In addition, the agency can design tours that stress festivals, events and attractions of particular interest to religious pilgrims. Another area of increasing growth is independent travel throughout Poland, either by train or in a rental car. Some prescribed itineraries are available. However, the agency’s Poland department can create itineraries to suit the traveler’s needs and requirements.
While still a novelty among travelers from the U.S. the agency has noted considerable interest in spa vacations. “It is not necessary to suffer from an ailment or illness to take advantage of a stay at such a resort,” said Marta Dragan, head of AMTA’s Poland department. “More and more people come,” she continued, “to get a good rest or just re-charge their batteries.”
Jewish Root Tours
Centuries ago, Jews from Europe found refuge in the medieval kingdom of Poland after fleeing tyranny and religious persecution throughout the Continent. Prior to World War II, Warsaw had more Jewish residents than any other city in the world, with the exception of New York. But the unspeakable horrors of the following years would forever alter the look and composition of Poland and its once-thriving Jewish populace.
Typically, former concentration camps comprise itineraries that trace Jewish heritage in Poland: Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau come to mind, but there are other reminders of Jewish culture in Poland such as the early Baroque synagogue built in 1642 in Tykocin or the city of Lublin, once called “The Mother of Israel,” and the Talmudic Academy in Majdanek.
Pawel Lewandowski, General Manager of Orbis, the 90-year old Polish tour operation and travel agency, and one of the world’s 10 oldest tour operators, says, “In 2008, we want to become not only a gateway to Poland for our foreign visitors but also a gateway to Central Europe and the Baltic States. Orbis travel services include far-reaching facilities from trips to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Ukraine to the Baltic States.”
Avid shoppers will certainly be satisfied with Orbis’ “Christmas Markets: Prague, Zakopane, Kraków” tour. For those who long for peace and rest in the mountains, Orbis has prepared a vacation in Southern Poland’s ski and health resort, Zakopane. The “Study and Fun” tour is designed for young people so that they can visit Poland and gain information on the educational opportunities for foreign students in university cities as Warsaw and Krakow.
In 2008, apart from Orbis’ traditional City Breaks to the largest Polish cities, individual tourists may tap into the Wellness and Spa programs held in renowned seaside, mountain and lake resorts. Among the week-long options are Power Week in Międzyzdroje, Therapeutic package in Kołobrzeg, Thalassotherapy package in Ciechocinek and a Mind and Body Harmony package in Mrągowo
To take some of the challenge out of independent travelers driving around Poland, Orbis and AMTA have access to rental cars installed with GPS.
Whether clients are on a trip within Poland or going abroad for business or leisure, driving in unfamiliar areas can be daunting. With a navigation system clients will naturally spend less time driving in circles.
When clients pick up their cars in Poland, the navigation system will be ready to take along with you. At Orbis, prices start from $16.50 per day for the GPS. Contact Orbis for its “Fall In Love Again” brochure.
Call 800-800-228-0877; fax 212-581-7925; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www.amta.com
Call 800-TO-POLAND; E-mail us@email@example.com; www.orbistravel.com
For general information, contact the Polish National Tourist Office, 201-420-9910; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www.polandtour.org
December 2007 issue
Beethoven and His Vienna Shine in Warsaw in 2008
By Maria Lisella
Yes, you read that headline correctly. For the past 12 years, one woman has been single-handedly been creating and building a concert series of international proportions in Warsaw, the land of Chopin, that focuses on Ludwig von Beethoven.
The 13th edition, March 9-22, 2008 will focus on the work Beethoven produced in Vienna, staged in Warsaw. Elzibieta Penderecka, the general director and the spirit behind this international event said, “We see this event as a symbiosis of culture and travel plus Beethoven for a month.” The first event was only six days long, the increase to nearly a month is a testament to this woman’s singlemindedness.
For those who have visited Poland, if they have ears, they understand that this country shines through music. Penderecka has wooed Christopher Hogwood, Nigel Kennedy, Rudolf Buchbinder and other luminaries. During the “bad” old days of Communism, raising funds for such an event was totally incumbent upon the government but today, the government no longer funds culture so much of Penderecka’s efforts are spent on fundraising. She estimates the total budget to be around 1.8 million euros, which is small change compared to international music events held in Bonn or Lucerne.
The 13th edition will include performances, conferences, demonstration classes and for the first time access to opera studios and exhibitions with a single focus: Beethoven. Penderecka has managed to attract both the finances and the stars who shine at this event. Up to about 2,000 musicians participate and the audiences in the past 11 years has grown to about 200,000; at presstime Penderecka was in talks with the Israeli Royal Philharmonic.
For music buffs, other concerts will be taking place at or nearly at the same time in nearby Salzburg and Lucerne in Switzerland, so savvy agents might want to link the events for a nearly perfect note.
American Travel Abroad (800-228-0877; E-mail email@example.com)and Orbis (800-TO-POLAND; www.orbistravel.com) are expected to organize packages to the event. For now, direct queries to the Warsaw Destination Alliance, the eight four to five-star participating properties: the Hilton Warsaw Hotel, the InterContinental Warsaw, La Regina Hotel, the Sofitel Victoria Warsaw, Holiday Inn Warsaw, the Novotel Warsaw Centrum, the Polonia Palace Hotel and Le Royal Meridien Bristol; participating carriers are LOT Polish Airlines and Lufthansa. Contact the Polish NationalTourist Office, call 201-420-9910; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www. polandtour.org
May 2007 Feature
Poland’s Amber Capital, Gdansk
By Merrie Murray
Not so long ago, Poland kicked off the Solidarity Movement in Gdansk, with a fire and dynamism that sparked democracy movements throughout Eastern Europe behind what was once known as the Iron Curtain. That was 17 years ago. By 2004, Poland joined the European Union.
The Amber Capital
Gdansk, formerly Danzig, dates from 980 A.D. Set on the Motlawa River, it combines the energy of a port city with the panache of a former royal route.
Beyond the docks and cranes, visitors will discover a beautiful Main Town, bisected by Long Street, (Ulica Dluga), and Long Market, (Dlugi Targ). Together they form the main thoroughfare of the city, also called the Royal Way.
The Dutch Mannerist style Green Gate, also a royal residence, provides an elegant and impressive entrance to Long Street on the riverside while the ceremonial Golden Gate anchors the city on the opposite end along with the Upland Gate and Foregate for added defense. Flanking the bustling street are narrow townhouses once owned by wealthy burghers and merchants. These houses sit side by side like game pieces on a Monopoly board. Traditionally, owners took great pride in their exterior decoration, and still do.
Among the many attractions along the main street are the Town Hall with its ornate Red Room and the Artus Court where wealthy citizens met and entertained important visitors to the city. Inside the elegant and ornate Artus Court, a 16th century stove with 520 tiles soars toward the ceiling. Neptune, god of the sea, stands his ground on top of a fountain just outside Artus Court. This bronze statue has watched over this port city since 1633 and provides a favorite meeting place for locals and tourists alike. One block behind Long Street is the red brick Gothic style St. Mary’s Cathedral, built in 1343 that can accommodate upwards of 20,000 worshippers.
Visitors will be impressed by the medieval era Gdansk Crane that curves over the Motlawa River. Built into the city gate, it once lifted heavy goods and placed masts on ships. Across the river is the Central Maritime Museum housed in a former granary at water’s edge.
During our brief visit to the Gdansk Shipyard, the clank of tools of four shipyard workers broke the silence as the men walked by the towering “Three Crosses” monument honoring the martyrs of the Solidarity Movement. A European Center of Solidarity will open on the shipyard site in 2010.
Museums, cultural events, and shopping opportunities abound in Gdansk. For dinner, a popular choice is “Pod Lososiem” a Gdansk institution since 1598. Plans call for a new hotel and convention center on the river where granaries once stood. Visit www.gdansk.pl
In Gdansk, we stayed at the three-star, 43-room Wolne Miasto Hotel, steps from Long Street. A circular stairway greets guests as they arrive and photos of old Gdansk line the walls. The welcome is friendly and upbeat. Rooms feature comfortable bedding and modern baths. Rates range from $95 to $130 per night for a standard double.Visit www.hotelwm.pl
Other options include Podewils, Holiday Inn, and Hanza. A new Radisson SAS will open its doors on Long Street in 2008.
Excurisons Beyond Gdansk
Nearby is the seaside town of Sopot, Poland’s summer playground, where visitors can get an eyeful of the Grand Hotel at water’s edge from one of the longest wooden piers in Europe. Still under renovation, the hotel will reopen in 2007/2008. Summer fun, entertainment and spas draw more than two million visitors to Sopot annually. The famed Forest Opera, started in 1802 continues to attract music lovers to its outdoor stage in the pines.
LOT Polish Airlines (212-789-0970; www.lot.com), Scandinavian Airlines (www.flysas.com) and Lufthansa German Airlines (www.lufthansa.com) operate flights to Gdansk’s Lech Walesa Airport in Poland.