Farmers in the field in southern Poland. Near the Pieniński National Park and the Dunajec Gorge, traveling through this idyllic corner of Poland is like stepping back to an earlier century. It's not unusual to see farmers with horse-drawn plows working the fields, and horse-drawn carts on the roads.
This was last summer, but still interesting. A restoration team working on Block 17 at Auschwitz has discovered some items in a chimney flue that were hidden by prisoners.
For most of Poland's history the capital was located in Krakow, not in Warsaw, so it's here that you'll find most of the early history and pageantry. As the seat of the archbishop of Krakow, the cathedral was the home church of Karol Wojtyła for most of his life, and he was the archbishop here from 1964, until he became Pope John Paul II in 1978.
The cathedral provides evidence for the long and rich history of Poland, with a Gothic nave, Renaissance chapels, and a Baroque bell tower. Inside you'll find the ornate tombs of many of Poland's kings and queens, as well as other notable Polish figures.
Old Town Square, Warsaw, Poland
The fountain in the center of Warsaw's Old Town Square represents the city's coat of arms, a mermaid with a sword and shield. Legend has it that a mermaid led Duke Bolesław II of Masovia to this point on the Vistula River to found a city. At least that's what he told his wife. "Honey, I'm going to be away for awhile building a new city. A sweet little mermaid told me to."
To my eye, this is one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, outdoor restaurants and cafés surrounded by a collection of Gothic and Renaissance buildings, all in a rich palette of colors. It's hard to believe that the entire thing is a reconstruction. At the end of World War II there was not a single wall still standing in this square, just heaps of broken brick and shattered glass.
In August 1944, with the Red Army advancing toward the Vistula, the people of Warsaw rose up against the Nazi occupiers of the city. The locals fought for two months against impossible odds – the German forces had bombers and tanks, while the locals only had small arms and limited ammunition. The Red Army sat on the opposite bank of the river the entire time, and did nothing. By the time the resistance capitulated more than 200,000 people had been killed in the city, and shortly afterward more than half a million were forced out of their homes.
The Nazis began a methodical destruction of the most historic and culturally important buildings in the city, including the royal palace, the cathedral, and the entire Old Town. After the war most of these were rebuilt, using the original bricks wherever possible. No wonder the city motto is Contemnit procellas ("It defies the storms").
Missed among all the COVID-19 news was the fact that Poland invaded the Czech Republic in late May. But only briefly. Soldiers on a training mission crossed a stream that forms the border between the two countries, and took up defensive positions near a church. They left peacefully, and Poland has apologized for the mistake.
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