This blog was originally published on Travelblog.org in September 2006, and covers one of the most dramatic trips I’ve ever taken…primarily because we connected with extended family living in a small village in Poland, but also because of the country itself. The people were abundantly friendly and the sites we visited were visually stunning…I’m excited to explore more of Eastern Europe in years to come.
This blog is dedicated to my father, who allowed me to join him on a journey to explore his Eastern European ancestry…
When my father mentioned a possible trip to Poland to the regions where his maternal and paternal families originated, I made sure he knew I would love to accompany him if he would have me. I was starved for anything pertaining to my family heritage to fill in a very blank familial slate. It takes only a single generation to lose this precious information and I hoped to recapture some of what had already been lost in our part of the family. I was beyond excited that the trip came to be in September 2006, and my brother and myself joined my father and stepmother with the hopes of finding documentation of our ancestors’ births and, if we were really lucky, maybe even a living relative or two. We would also get a taste of the culture my great-grandparents left behind when they arrived on Ellis Island.
DAYS 1 & 2
My journey began in the Lufthansa check-in line at Los Angeles International Airport. There was no denying my family’s eastern European heritage as I studied the faces around me – prominent cheekbones, light colored eyes, and darkened skin around the eyes. My first conversation with a Pole took place on the last leg of the flight into Gdansk. A lanky teenager temporarily unplugged himself from his iPod and seemed a bit too eager to advise me of all the dangers I was about to encounter. “This is not California,” he warned me, “You must be very, very careful. And, watch out for bald men in jogging suits. They are part of an underground cult who steals [sic] from people. It even happened to me once. Do you speak Polish? No? Wow, you know, almost no one speaks English here, so it will be quite interesting for you.” I was officially nervous…
It was sheer luck that we found our pension so easily after leaving the Gdansk airport in our very loaded Ford Focus. Pensjonat (Pensione) Stara Karczma is in a renovated building on the main streets of Oliwa (pronounced “Oleeva”…more on the quirks of the Polish language later), a charming district of Gdansk. Although our room was small, I was relieved it was updated and had a maneuverable shower, which is never guaranteed when visiting Europe. We are just up the street from the picturesque Adam Mickiewicz Park, which sits on the grounds of a former Cistercian monastery and is full of mature trees and hedges, geometric flower gardens and meandering gravel paths that wander past ponds filled with geese and ducks. We had our first Polish meal at a restaurant inside in the Abbot’s Palace inside the park at Restauracja w Pałacu Opatόw. Thankfully, the menu was in English because our waiter knew approximately three English words and was reluctant to use any of them. Right next to the park is a gothic brick cathedral with a history dating back to 1178. Ahhh, to be in Europe again, where old is truly old…
Usually when I travel to a foreign country, I make an effort to learn basic words or phrases in the native language. However, unless you have spent some time studying the nuances of the Polish language, any attempt at pronunciation is just a massacre that is usually met with a blank stare or stifled laugh. Just a few examples…a “b” can either be pronounced as a “b” or a “p”, a “w’ as either a “v” or an “f”, and a “g” as either a “g” or a “k”. To increase confusion, there are new letters most of us have never seen before – like ł (pronounced like a “w”), ś (pronounced “sh”), or ć (pronounced “ch”) – or strange combinations of letters like “cz” (pronounced “ch”), “rz” (pronounced either “zh” or “sh”), or “sz” (pronounced “sh”). So far about half of the people we have encountered have spoken varying levels of English and I have been grateful for every single one of them…the other half is actually apologetic for not speaking proper English. I began to suspect that “Polish Airplane Boy” was having a bit of fun with me.
On our first full day in Poland we explored Old Gdansk. Called Danzig by the Germans, Gdansk is located on the northern coast of Poland on the Baltic Sea and is famous for being the location where World War II commenced. The beauty of the old section of town took me completely by surprise. I think my expectations of Poland’s beauty were low due to its tumultuous – and often tragic – history, which lasted until about about 1980. We entered onto Długi Targ Street, considered the most picturesque street in Gdansk and, thankfully, lacking all motorized vehicles. Lined with 84 pastel-colored tenement buildings dating back to the medieval era, this is where the city’s most wealthy residents once lived. Now, it entices tourists with small shops, affordable restaurants, and sidewalk cafes. Renovations have been meticulous and have included the re-creation of friezes and bas reliefs on the building fronts. In the center is a fountain of Neptune, the symbol of the city. The town cathedral, St. Mary’s, is the largest brick church in Europe – and the largest church in Poland – and houses an enormous astronomical clock built in the 1460’s by Hans Dǖringer. The king who commissioned the clock purportedly put Dǖringer’s eyes out upon completion of the clock so he could never create another masterpiece to rival this work of art. When World War II broke out, residents disassembled the clock and hid the pieces to save it from destruction…it was not reassembled until 1990.
After lunch we managed to navigate our way to the Solidarity Monument honoring the shipyard workers led by Lech Walesa who went on strike and were killed in December 1970, for protesting against Soviet communism. Here we saw the first evidence of Poland’s deep love of Pope John Paul, who visited here in 1987…life size photos, flowers, candles and casts of his foot prints.
Getting out of Gdansk was quite comical as we drove around in circles, the victims of rampant road construction and miniature – or invisible – road signs. After making it safely back to Oliwa, we drove the short distance to the town of Sopot and had a traditional Polish dinner atKarczma Polska Zagroda. Prices in Poland are incredible…for about $10, you get a traditional dinner with huge portions…these deals will end in 2007, when Poland converts to the Euro.
On the way to Torun, we stopped to explore Malbork Castle, a massive structure constructed by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th Century, then virtually rebuilt after it was bombed by the Russians in World War II. The knights originated in Prussia (present-day Germany) and were initially sent east to convert the pagans in this region (then known as Eastern Pomerania). As is typical of men during this period of history, they were a bit overzealous and eventually confiscated the land for themselves, creating their personal independent state and building numerous Gothic brick castles. The castles served not only a military purpose, but also functioned as monasteries, as well as administrative and economic centers. Malbork Castle is dauntingly massive and striking in appearance, constructed completely out of red bricks in a Gothic design. You could easily spend an entire day (and I recommend doing just that) here exploring all of the claustrophobic twisting stairwells that pop you out into hidden rooms, often housing mini-museums. For a sweeping view of the castle and surrounding countryside, you can pay extra ‘zlotys’ to climb 217 steps to the top of the tower. Do it.
Our hotel in Torun – Hotel Filmar – confirmed my long-standing opinion of travel agents. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blander hotel in a less appealing area. (I would love to visit a European school for architects and see exactly how the instructors have managed to completely eradicate the beauty of early European architecture. How is it that they convince their students that a square cube in various shades of gray is an architectural accomplishment?) Fortunately, Old Torun was a long walk (or short cab ride) away.
We found a perfect traditional Polish restaurant – Karczma Spichrz – where we ended up eating dinner twice. I will forever remember them for changing my mind about kluski, which I used to refer to as “bleached barf” as a child. Their version was quite different than my grandmother’s…tiny slightly salty potato dumplings were mixed with bits of crunchy bacon and served without a sauce on top of a bed of sweet sauerkraut. The only sign of anything bleached was a rectangle of white cheese (the Polish version of cottage cheese, which most resembles ricotta) sitting atop the dumplings. While we ate, we were swept back in time thanks to the rustic décor and trio of Polish musicians – an accordionist, a bass player and a fiddler – performing songs from Eastern Europe (and a few from American lounges).
Today was especially exciting – especially for my father – as we accomplished great investigative feats in the face of a massive language barrier. We were in Chelmno (pronounced “Heum-no”), the village where his paternal family once lived and his father, Aleks Wozniewski (pronounced “Vozh-nee-ev-skee”), was reportedly born. When we set out early in the day, we hoped to find either church or civic birth records…akin to finding a tiny needle in a big Polish haystack. Starting out in the town square in the middle of a farmer’s market, we were directed to what looked like an administrative building in the center. As we struggled to explain – using our hands, written notes, and single English words – exactly what we were attempting to find to the two desk clerks, a helpful stranger who spoke broken English pointed in the direction of the new city hall somewhere up the street. As we walked in that direction, I couldn’t help but look for family resemblances in the crowds of shoppers. We entered the first building we approached, walked through the first door, and approached the first person we saw. Once again, my dad pulled out his family tree notes and pointed to the names and birthdates. The clerk beckoned to a co-worker and they both mulled over the notes…and, there it was. Recognition. They proceeded to walk over to a cabinet and pull out several old ledgers (No way!). After several minutes of searching, they turned it around so we all could see…scrawled in faded brown cursive was the name and birth date of my grandfather, Alek Wozniewski, #44, 1905. (The #44 referred to the location of his actual birth documents at the administrative office in Torun. Unfortunately, we would not make it there in time as it was Friday and we were leaving the next morning.) I was thrilled…what a gratifying moment for my father.
Chelmno is a pretty Gothic walled town that was the first official town founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1233 (and mentioned in historical documents as far back as 1065). The city is known as the “City of Lovers” due to the fact that many St. Valentine relics have been stored in local churches for centuries. The city walls and one dozen red brick churches are among the best preserved in the region, so the tour busses pour into this seemingly non-descript town. The Assumption of Mary cathedral is the town’s main church and one of the oldest in the region. It’s also very likely the place my grandfather and great-grandparents were baptized.
Thanks to my very limited French, we got a terrific recommendation for lunch from a local French shop owner. We all ordered potato pancakes (with sour cream and salt or sugar) and appreciated the rustic Polish decor and friendly (somewhat English speaking) staff at Karczma Chełminska.
Although the location of an 11th century Slav settlement along the Vistula River, Torun really began to prosper when the Teutonic Knights made it a primary outpost – known as Thorn – in 1233. The town fell under Prussian rule in 1793, and wasn’t returned to Poland until after World War I. Fortunately, the city didn’t sustain significant damage in World War II, so much of its historical architecture has been preserved.
Old Torun was as beautiful as Old Gdansk, surrounded by crumbling red brick walls and filled with multi-colored tenement buildings with intricate facades, a huge statue of Nicolas Copernicus (born here in 1473 as Mikołaja Kopernika), an astronomical clock tower, a Teutonic castle, and a medieval leaning tower (thanks to previously unstable soils). The main square – Synek Staromiejski – and surrounding streets are lacking only in cars and abundant in upscale shops and wandering people.
We stopped for a quick lunch at the closet restaurant we could find – Sphinx Restaurant. My bloodhound instincts kicked in…I smelled capitalism at its worst in the form of the insidious chain restaurant. My suspicions were confirmed by a laminated tri-fold menu proudly stating “You can find a Sphinx Restaurant all throughout Poland!” If I had anything to say about it, we would not be eating at Sphinx for the rest of the trip.
Our next challenge was to get ourselves to Warsaw. Poles drive like Europeans…at race car speeds and willing to risk passing any car that is not maximizing its RPMs. It feels like you’re inside of a video game where your opponents are trying to maim, confuse, or annihilate you. An abundance of obstacles test your reflexes… road detours that force you to renavigate in mere seconds, slow moving semi-trucks that must be passed in order to complete your journey (or those that you pray complete their pass before they hit you head on), and more confusing (or invisible) road signs filled with unpronounceable names. I’m certain that the numerous flower-laden “Mary and Jesus pit stops” along the side of the roads were to mourn a player who didn’t make it. We arrived, physically intact, about 3½ hours after we started our engine, pulling up in front of our next hotel – The Grand Hotel Orbis. Only slightly better than bland, but undergoing major renovations (maybe in the hopes of creating a personality), we were stuck right in the middle of the Warsaw business district (I now believe that our travel agent actually has something against old and quaint.)
Warsaw (pronounced “Vah-shah-va”), the current capital of Poland, is one of the youngest of Polish cities, but its largest and most modern. It dates back to the early 14th century with the construction of a stronghold at the site of the Royal Castle by the Dukes of Mazovia and, in 1596, it became the country’s capital. The darkest part of its turbulent history took place during the Nazi occupation of World War II. An estimated two-thirds of Varsovians – or about 800,000 Jews and Poles – were massacred and approximately 90% of the city’s buildings were destroyed because of Hitler’s order to demolish the city. The harsh reality of Hitler’s war is palpable here. However, rather than give up, the Poles rebuilt Warsaw, recreating almost perfectly every cobblestone street and historical building using salvaged paintings and photographs to guide them.
My initial disappointment with the modern Warsaw I first encountered dissipated the moment we arrived in Old Town for dinner. Here royalty pervades the air. Stately buildings in a variety of pastel colors stand like royal sentries guarding the large market square, horse drawn carriages wander through the cobbled streets filling the air with the pleasant sound of clopping hooves, and people happily mill about shopping, eating, and conversing. I can’t wait to return tomorrow…
Old Warsaw is one of my favorite spots in my travels to date. We arrived today to a street fair where people sold their Polish specialties (cheeses, sauerkraut, meats) and musicians, including a small brass band, played traditional Polish tunes. A royal carriage drawn by four prancing white horses and manned by six people dressed in full livery garb announced its arrival in the market square with shouts and bugle calls. Even though much of what you see is reconstructed, the old spirits are definitely still here. It is the anniversary of 9/11, and President Bush seems to be speaking of Warsaw as his message is repeated throughout the world…“They can destroy our buildings, but they cannot destroy our spirit.” The buoyancy of the Poles is most evident in Warsaw.
So many restaurants…how does one choose knowing that some are divine and others are horribly mediocre? Last night, we had gourmet fare tucked inside a secret courtyard off of the market square at Fukiera Restaurant. Today, I had a below average lunch at Restauracja Senator, while people watching on the market square. Tonight, weary of Polish cuisine, we dined on top quality Italian cuisine at Rusticoni.
Everywhere I travel, there seems to be one dominant souvenir. In Poland, it’s everything amber. This fossilized sap from ancient pine trees comes in a variety of hues…most commonly golden yellow, but also olive green, reddish brown, or opaque pale yellow. If you search hard enough, you can find unique handcrafted pieces and even some with an ancient bug suspended forever in time.
I would definitely qualify myself as “anti-tour” as I abhor schedules and resist being a follower at all costs. However, I sincerely enjoyed the city tour we took with five random Americans (three of whom happened to live 20 minutes from my home) and our English-speaking Varsovian guide. Our bus buzzed by many of the city’s sights (another reason I detest tours), but we did explore Łazienki Park (pronounced “Wa-jhen-kee”) (home to the Palace on the Water, the lavish summer residence of the last king of Poland, Stanislaw August Poniatowski), the memorial to the heroes of the Jewish Ghetto, and a portion of Old Town on foot. The park is immense and makes it clear that Poles have a great appreciation of natural places to escape within their cities. They also have a deep love of culture…in Łazienki Park alone, there are approximately 1,000 concerts every year, some surrounding the massive statue of Chopin (yet another famous Pole).
I experienced decadence this afternoon in the form of chocolate at E. Wedel’s. After 150 years, they have mastered the art of drinking chocolate and present it to visitors in a setting decorated with rich dark woods and deep red and gold upholstered furniture. Next is souvenir shopping…a day doesn’t get much better for a woman!
At this point of the trip, eating three Polish meals a day was catching up with all of us – and weighing us all down. It seems as if we have not yet digested our previous meal before it’s time to eat once again…we’ve entirely lost the feeling of being hungry! Tonight we enjoyed an eclectic meal – comprised only of salads or starters – at Flik, a small restaurant off the beaten path. Although I won’t miss the heavy weight of Polish cuisine when I’m back home, I am determined to master a couple of dishes in the interest of passing on some aspects of my culture to my kids.
After seven full days in Poland, I have learned a single Polish word…”toaleta”. Can you guess which one that is? The language is elusive, maddeningly impossible to memorize, with no easily recognizable relationship between spelling and pronunciation.
If I hadn’t known better, today I would have thought that we were speeding along an interstate through the American Midwest in the early part of last century. Here are some verbal snapshots – hectares of flatland planted with various crops, occasional patches of low level trees, women (skirts on) and men (shirts off) working side by side in the fields or driving horse-pulled wagons, a spattering of individual cows tethered to the ground for grazing, mounds of hay, piles of burning chaff, and small unadorned farmhouses. As we traveled south after leaving Warsaw, it became very clear why so many Polish immigrants (including our own) felt so at home in the center of our nation where there are four distinct seasons and an abundance of level farmland.
Our base for the next three nights is a bit more exotic than our last two lackluster hotels thanks for my father’s arrangements. Zamek Castle, which was built at the turn of the 16th century, is on the edge of a tired little village with an oversized name – Baranov Sandomierski. More renovations underway…a good sign for the future of Poland’s tourism industry…thanks to its recent acceptance into the European Union. As you wander down the castle hallways you find rows of old wooden doors leading into countless guest rooms…it boggles the mind to imagine who has walked through them. As I strolled amongst the landscaped grounds, the purpose of a Polish royal became quite clear…to experience a life of leisure full of decadence and devoid of any solitary moments. As I pulled open the creaky wood door leading into our room, I couldn’t help but imagine the room filled with ghosts shocked at the American bourgeoisie who dared enter their royal chamber.
If this journey was a novel, today would have been the climax. When we left the castle this morning, our goal was to locate the birth records of my father’s maternal grandparents in Rzeszow (pronounced “Zheh-shoof”), a mid-sized bustling city, and Kłyżów (I think this is pronounced “kwĭ-joov”), a small silent village. Fortunately, we encountered more willing assistance from various residents of Rzeszow, who were eager to point us in the right direction. After lots of directions and wandering, we ended up in the back room of a church rectory where a priest was ready to search through old ledgers for our family. Luck was not on our side this time, as he was unable to locate any birth records, which meant either we had incorrect information or we are actually Jewish and the records were in the synagogue up the street! Feeling a bit deflated, we almost turned tourist for the remainder of the afternoon, but my father’s infamous determination kicked in. We drove several kilometers to Kłyżów to make one last attempt at finding his maternal grandmother’s birth records. As soon as we arrived, it was clear that finding an English speaker in this tiny one street village was highly unlikely. We did find the church…it was modern looking and locked. The first resident we found was a human incarnation of a “Babushka doll”…just over four feet tall with only a few teeth left, she wore a kerchief on her head, a colorful smock, black stockings, no shoes. She waved her arms wildly through the air while speaking Polish at breakneck speed. Somehow by speaking a mix of English, French, and Spanish, my father got her to understand one word…”Maslach” (the last name of his grandmother). She pointed frantically to the church. Next door to the church was a family who brought out a gift for us…a mother who spoke a few words of English, just enough to tell us that a family by the name of Maslach lived up the street. Mmmm…how to figure out
We meandered through the back yard of the first house, past a small barn filled with foraging chickens, the pig pen, a gaggle of geese, a rickety wood gate, a picturesque pond into the yard of a second home where we were warmly welcomed. Once inside, we perused family photos including which house? At that moment, a woman rides up on a bicycle…she works at the church and walks us directly to the Maslach home. Out of the garden comes another kerchiefed woman, baffled at this small group of blatant foreigners in her back yard. My father proffered the family tree papers once again. There it was again…recognition! And enthusiasm. We followed the direction of her stare and saw a young woman walking into the yard. It was Magda, her grand-niece…the one who studies English in school. At this point, there was no denying the involvement of a higher power. Magda’s English skills paid off in a big way on this day as she helped long separated generations of family reconnect. She brought out the family matriarch, Stefania Maslach, who confirmed that we were indeed with family. Stefania was my father’s mother’s cousin, or my dad’s second cousin, although “ciotka” (Aunt) was her title of choice. Definitely most fitting. one of my grandmother on her confirmation and munched on plate after plate of Polish snacks.
“So, how do you like your Auntie???”, Stefania asked my father. Her gratitude for our visit spilled out of every other sentence (translated by Magda) and she insisted that we return while she was still around to welcome us. Although I didn’t see a strong family resemblance in any of the people that surrounded me, I was drawn to Stefania. She was had my wry sense of humor, the same mischievous twinkle in her eye, and a razor sharp mind (which I hope to have at her age!)….she seemed much younger than her 90 odd calendar years. Even though I was mostly an observer, I felt a connection with her, but also sadness because the miles between us didn’t give me the benefit of ever really knowing her.
Today is my father’s 75th birthday and what a perfect place to celebrate his birth…a castle in Poland.
Our destination today was a desolate and tragic place…the ruins of Krzyżtopór Castle in Ujazd (pronounced “oo-yahst”). A local governor began construction of this eccentric castle in 1631, and it continued on for over a decade. So many of us assume that the current generation is so much more enlightened than those from the past, but one cannot deny the depth of spirit and engineering knowledge that was necessary to conceive and construct this monumental castle. Built to embody the calendar, every detail had a purpose…four towers to represent the four seasons, 12 halls symbolizing the months in a year, 52 rooms, and 365 windows (with an extra “leap year” window only opened on that day). One year after its completion, the governor died and within 10 years, the Swedes almost completely destroyed it. After several failed plans at restoration, the castle ruins are all that is left for present day tourists to visit.
We continued onto Sandomierz, a quaint town overlooking the Vistula River with a history dating back to the 11th century and beautiful historical architecture that survived World War II. The sloping central square is lined with tiny old shops and houses, but thankfully does not yet have a commercial feel. We had one of our best meals of the trip at Restauracja “30-TKA”, washed down by a refreshing Polish drink called “klument” (made of apple juice infused with mint). The cathedral – with its bright blue and gold ceilings - stood out from the others because of its 12 huge macabre paintings – one for each month. Known as the Martyrologium Romanum, the paintings depicted all imaginable methods of torture and savage death. The legend states that if you locate your birthday on a painting, you can find out how you will die. I didn’t even look.
Today we visited Auschwitz, or Oświęcim (pronounced “osh-fyen-cheem”) in Polish (as it should be known). So much has been written about this horrific place, yet I can’t find adequate words to describe what I felt here. I can only say that the evil that once reigned here was still palpable. It was an emotionally exhausting day. If every human came here to feel the horror of the Holocaust, I’m certain the world would be a different place.
We have one foot in America at the Sheraton hotel just outside of Old Krakow. While I’m thankful for the various simple luxuries – the English menus, the “Sweet Sleeper” beds, and the Americanized bathrooms – it’s just not my cup of tea. I prefer a room filled with ghosts from the past, even if it means my every need it not satisfied.
The very first traces of Krakow date back to the 7th century and the city reached its peak in the 16th century when it was Poland’s educational, cultural, and economic center. Although it remained the location of coronations and burials, the capital was moved to Warsaw in 1596. Over the next two centuries, Krakow declined because of numerous invasions, finally coming under Austrian rule in the 18th century where it thrived somewhat and maintained its cultural and intellectual status. The city sustained relatively little physical damage in World War II and is almost the only large Polish city that remains architecturally intact.
Old Krakow is much grander than I envisioned and even more beautiful than Old Warsaw, with a central square rivaling those I’ve seen in Italy and Paris. Carriages pulled by pairs of prancing horses and moderate crowds are all that you must maneuver around through the cobblestone streets. Retail is much more sophisticated here as evidenced by a Sephora store, countless upscale jewelry establishments, and numerous chic restaurants and about every 20 feet you encounter some form of entertainer…musicians, living statues, mimes, break dancers…to capture your attention (and your spare zlotys). When you tire of them, you can just sit down in one of the sidewalk cafes, drink coffee, and watch people. We were greeted warmly by one such people watcher who hollered at us…”Hey! You’re Americans!!! Bloody fookin’ hell, it’s joost great ta hear sum English round here!” It was an enthusiastic (and inebriated) Dubliner drinking his day away in one of the sidewalk cafés.
Every hour a bugle call is played from the tower of St. Mary’s Church and can be heard throughout the square. Centuries ago, this call was played to warn city residents of an impending invasion…today it is cut off in mid-play in honor of the bugler who was impaled in the throat by an arrow shot by an invading Tatar. It’s easy to escape the 21st century in this magical place, although the prices here are more in line with the current century (no more three-course dinners for $10…but, it’s still a deal at $20).
Our last day in Poland was spent exploring Wawel Castle and the adjacent cathedral. In order to truly benefit from a visit here, you definitely need a very detailed guidebook coupled with lots of time or take a guided tour. There is so much history and an abundance of artifacts – most importantly, the tombs all throughout (and underneath) the cathedral – that would too easily be missed if you didn’t have guidance.
All of us, and every other Brit or American we have chatted with, agree that Poland far exceeded all of our expectations. The old towns and their market squares have all been stunningly beautiful and immaculately clean. The numerous renovations underway indicate that it’s only going to get better in the future. The locals we have encountered – from the north to the south – have been extremely friendly and accommodating. They are in that perfect state of mind that occurs before a destination is overrun – tourists are still appreciated for the benefit they bring to the region. Even with the occasional challenge from a language barrier, we never experienced anything more than a small blip that we creatively worked our way around. If we can find birth records buried inside civic and religious buildings, there’s no excuse for not finding a hotel or tourist attraction. I’ve never felt safer while traveling. I am looking forward to bringing my family to Krakow before Poland loses its undiscovered charm and affordable prices.