GREATER POLAND GOT EVEN GREATER!
One delightful small city in Poland has seen far too many invasions in it turbulent history, it has seen or fought with invaders from the North, South, East and West and now its about to get some more.
From as far back at the 10-century when the state of Poland was created this mainly flat and fertile land has heard the footsteps of a whole host of invading tribes, States and Kingdoms.
But now the city of Poznan and the province of Greater Poland (Wielkopolskie) is preparing for another invasion. It was in fact even subjected to a friendly invasion only just last year in 2012 that did test its strategies’. But those strategies were in tourism and for once not war related.
They found to everybodies’ delight that they had done an amazing job in looking after soccer fans, when the whole country along with the Ukraine hosted Euro 2012.
Building on the back of that success the country itself and areas like Greater Poland are keen to encourage a second wave of friendly invaders from countries like Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Holland and France. This time to see and experience what this central Polish province can offer to tourists looking for areas of Europe to explore and enjoy.
The centre for any visit is perhaps going to be Poznan, sitting astride the River Warta it has a pleasing market square at its centre. Unfortunately it was subjected to a great deal of destruction by one of its invaders, the Nazi’s, after September 1939 but it has been reconstructed sympathetically to provide a great focal point for the city. Other more recent invaders have left their mark too. There are some very stark communist concrete calamities that are dotted around the city. But before both of these, the influence of the Prussians who had taken over the area in the late 19th century and they left some very Germanic style Art Noveau civic and other buildings. One in fact the former Emperors Imperial Castle was recently remodeled as a museum, but much earlier was modified on Hitler’s instructions so he could watch military parades from its stone balcony.
The very Catholic country has managed to maintain that religious choice no matter what invaders seemed to be in charge. That strength that the people have had from their church has no doubt been of value to the population in the many troubled times that the country has experinced. Hence the cathedrals and church’s of the city and its surrounding towns offer one potential port of call that will please many tourists, with some fine examples of them in the Gothic and Baroque styles.
For others they may want a different type of thrill be that like the adrenaline toboggans ride at Lake Malta. Poznan’s sporting and fun playground or perhaps some off road cycling through the forested area around the town of Wronki run from the Olympic Hotel where the Polish national football team are often based and train on the stadium attached to it.
If you want a more hands-on experience and educational attraction you could try your skills at being a medieval siege soldier and learn how to fire and work on historically accurate reconstructions of weapons like a trebuchet, battering ram or a giant crossbow. This unique facility is enthusiastically run by father and son Norbert and Bartosz Styszynski who provide a living history experience that I have not seen anywhere else and is called Grod Pobiedziska.
Traveling around the area of Greater Poland you can find yourself as a witness to many local events and festivals, or you may come across such oddities as the largest wicker basket in the world! This giant wicker construction in the town of Nowy Tomysl of which it is famed for its skills in wickerwork, it even has a museum dedicated to the skill and its history. Festivals of all kinds like a competition for hunting horn signalers, or for more up-to-date music of a different kind, a piano jazz festival.
In country areas of Greater Poland you could for instance stay in a family home and learn about the more rural life and the gastronomy of it. Or then again you may like to be spoiled and spend a night or two in the red brick gothic palace at Wasowo, that was once the home of Richard Von Hardt. He was a founder of Deutsche Bank and very successful business man of the late 19th century who’s former home is now a very up-market hotel and wedding venue. It is so popular as the latter that it will be hosting 7 weddings over one weekend soon, so I would recommend a weekday stay, and it does have a first class reputation for outstanding food, it would make an excellent rural retreat in its English inspired wooded grounds. During its time it too has seen virtually total destruction this time by a chance guest cigarette, not for once, by any invaders. A glimpse of its past is there still, Herr Hardt did like to ride his horse up the grand marble staircase, the chipped steps can be seen!
The small but very modern airport at Poznan is quick and easy to navigate. It takes about 20 minutes or perhaps a little longer depending on the time of day to get into the city centre from there. Once in the city the market square is colourful and has any number of outdoor café bars and restaurants where you can sit and amire the architechture. The main cathedral for the city sits on an island in the Warta river, again it had suffered much destruction in its time, regarded as the place where the Polish Nation started according to Pope John Paul II. Although Cathedral was rebuilt in the 1950’s after the Russians had kicked the Nazis out of the country in 1944, it has some fine and highly decorated chapels attached, one ‘The Golden Chapel’.
Close by the cathedral and really very well worth a visit for dining, is at the smallest restaurant in Poland! Called ‘Vine Bridge’ it’s a few steps from the cathedral across a red iron bridge where the tiny interior and outside seating area my be compact, but its big in taste as it provides a modern slant on traditional Polish food produced with much skill in the cramped kitchen. It is possible for diners to help out yourself as the chef will be happy to give you a lesson or two if you want. The Zagroda Bamberska hotel and restaurant in the city too boasts some top cuisine again in the Polish style of Wielkopolskie (Greater Poland), exceedingly generous in their portions. Its cosy rural style rooms are a great find in the city.
In all, the area has some great appeal, ideas for things to do could be, kayaking on the river, a visit to a steam railway museum at Wolsztyn, a tank and military weapons museum and even a Cold War nuclear bunker has recently been opened as a tourist attraction. Museums and art galleries are numerous in Poznan, shopping too in the Old Brewery shopping mall voted a top place to shop internationally. Talking of brewing Bravaria Hotel in the main square hosts a micro one under its main restuarant producing a range of well known local beers and if that is too small you could take a tour of the Lech brewery, there beer goes much wider than the city, in fact all over Poland.
The city does have a business and university feel, but it’s friendly and fairly compact making it very suitable for shorter weekend or 3 or 4 days midweek break.
It has many gardens and parks, frequent cheap public transport and taxis with population of 600,000 its been a city at the centre of many crucial moments in European history, located on the road between Moscow and Berlin it wants very much to be centered on the tourist map of Europe as well.
Greater Poland (Wielkopolskie) is very much making the most of last year’s friendly invasion in hosting many European countries and demonstrating that the country as a whole is very tourism friendly to the whole world.
That the final whistles may have blown on the football pitches of Poland but Polish hospitality does not stop…just like that.
And as my recently expanded waistline can testify, it certainly does not!
Official Poland Tourism Site