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Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Travel Tuesday: Why Visit Poland in Winter

My dearest sweethearts,

The time of good cheer is coming slowly but surely. You know me, if it were up to my heart I would have Christmas all year round. Christmas nowdays is a bundle of contrasts: consumerism by buying loads of presents, even things that people don't necessarily need but they so want them...; then there is love and the joy of gift giving; then there is the solemnity of going to church, having the family Christmas dinner... I enjoy Christmas because it celebrates the birth of our Lord and because it's one of those warm moments when all the family comes together. I have fond memories about wintertime and I love snow falling, snowman building and sleigh rides down the hill. I love winter traditions and Christmas Markets, I love it when somehow time stands still during holidays... I love Poland as it's culture and traditions and background is very much similar to my own homeland. Now I know countries in Europe are quite similar to one another, connected by common history, but they also have something of their own. You might ask yourself... Why Visit Poland in Winter? Well there are several answers to that question, but I will give you 7 of my own reasons:
View from the top of Gubalowka, Zakopane
1. Zakopane - the go-to Winter getaway - let's face it, Zakopane is the most well known winter - mountain location that foreign people know about. It's pretty well advertised throughout Poland and everyone coming here can't miss it. The downside to that is that it became rather a touristy location, always crowded, even during off season. The view on top of Gubalowka is amazing! And you can reach it fast via the funicular or you can choose to be brave and just hike it. On top you can enjoy the view and have a break and eat some local dishes or just grab a bite of "oscypek" with "zurawina" (traditional smoked highlander cheese that usually is paired out with cranberry sauce).
English breakfast at Niebieski Migdaly, Krakow
2. Budget friendly - considering other options like going to the Alps or just grabbing some Swiss cheese fondue... well... Poland is cheap! You can have a beer for about 1-2 euros at any pub and have a regular meal for about 5 euros. Not to mention the vast options raging from local food / beer to different takes on international cuisine. There are multiple choices for the museum and/or history enthusiasts and there is always a free open day per week (usually Sunday is the one, for example for the Krakow National Museum branches). For the outdoor enthusiasts there is plenty to discover as well and there are bikes you can rent for a very low price.
Auschwitz, Poland - Nazi created death camps on Polish land
3. Out of the ordinary location - I know saying that you are spending your winter vacation in Poland doesn't sound as fancy as saying you have spent it in the Alps... but you can boast of being into historical places that are off the beaten track ;) and if you choose not to go to Zakopane, but other city in the mountains, less touristy, you might actually feel the real life and the wilderness and the uniqueness of these places. You will be able to boast out for crossing one more country from the #bucketlist of the whole world ;) on another side, you can also think of one of a kind places in the world, maybe at a UNESCO world heritage site list and pick places like Wieliczka Salt Mine or Auschwitz and Birkenau, near Krakow.
Christmas Market in Krakow, Poland - November 2017
4. Christmas Markets - they usually open up in Poland during the last week of November, they last up to 26th of December - get smaller until New Year Event - and then continue (they are extended) up to the first week of January. They are a constant that everyone waits for, while November kicks in... It's that sudden slide from drinking pumpkin spiced latte to having mulled wine (or mulled beer!). There is plenty to feast your eyes on: from traditional Amber from the Baltic Sea to handmade jewelry or handmade Christmas decorations, from the yummy oscypek (highlander cheese, made in the Zakopane region) to kielbasa (sausage) to krowki (caramel sweets)... Christmas Markets have plenty to offer for people of all ages and tastes, not to mention the photo opportunities!
Mariacki Church inside, Krakow, Poland 
5. Christmas traditions - Polish people are very much in touch with tradition and with their faith. The biggest events of the year are connected to their beliefs: Christmas (birth of Christ) and Easter (the death and resurrection of Christ). It is a must to go to church, whole family, and pray. The Christmas Eve feast must start when the first star appears on the sky, or if you see no stars - when it gets dark. The meal is comprised of 12 dishes (one for each of the 12 apostles). There is no meat for you meat lovers... There is only fish accepted as a dish. At the beginning of the meal they say prayers and there is always a passage from the Bible being read. At the end of the meal people stay and discuss, they open up and sing carols.
Wooden nativity scenes - for sale at the Christmas Market in Krakow, Poland
6. Szopki contest in Krakow - one of the Polish traditions for Christmas is to have a nativity scene right out next to your Christmas tree, in remembrance of Christ that was born. Now the nativity scenes are names "szopki" and they are portable cribs or manger scenes. Everyone has them and displays them for Christmas! Now Krakow took the Szopki one step forward and they even have a contest for the prettiest one - it has to be handmade entirely! It's a tradition dating from the 19th Century and it's still running strong, gathering people from around Poland to come and see it. The Szopki contest is being held in the first week of December and the jury announces the prize at the Adam Mickiewicz statue in Krakow's Main Market Square. What comes as odd/unusual is the fact that for the Szopki in this contest the backdrop created is usually one of the cities landmarks - for example the St. Mary Church (kosciol Mariacki).
Zakopane, Poland
7. Ski jumping events - if there is one thing for sure about Polish people and sports, is the fact that they are very much in love with winter sports - to be more specific: ski jumping! And they are quite good at that! For example Zakopane has one of the biggest slopes: Wielka Krokiew (The Great Krokiew) - 1378 meters long. It was opened in 1925 and it is a regular venue in the FIS Ski jumping World Cup. The capacity of the ski jumping stadium is 40.000 seats. You should give it a go ;) 

Yours truly,
The Twisted Red Ladybug That Loves Poland