Discover 10 timber-scented wonders of Polish architecture Poland’s. They disappear from our landscapes so quickly, because they burn down year after year – Stanisław Wyspiański wrote about wooden churches in a letter to his friend. presents ten timber-scented wonders of Polish architecture.

The church in Chotyniec

Cerkiew Narodzenia Przenajświętszej Bogurodzicy w Chotyńcu, fot. Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa
Mother of God Church in Chotyniec, photo: National Heritage Board of Poland

The inhabitants of Chotyniec, a village near the border with Ukraine, recall a legend about their local church, which is said to have been dragged in by oxen, and its location was supposed to be chosen by the Mother of God (the church used to be 8 km further away). The church was first mentioned in 1515, however, historians have dated the wooden building back to 1615.

The Greek Catholic (and for a short period Roman Catholic) Mother of God church is built with interlocking corners. The tripartite building is made up of the higher and the bigger nave and two lower and smaller sections: the altar and the so-called babiniec, the women’s section.

Throughout its existence, the place of worship underwent numerous reconstructions – in 1925 it was augmented by a tin-roofed vestibule which stands in contrast to the wooden shingles of the domes. The interior of the church contains a polychrome from the 18thcentury depicting the Day of Judgement, a five-rubric iconostasis from the 17th century and the remnants of the Roman Catholic church: a painting of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, figures of saints and a monstrance. A wooden bell tower, brought in from Torki, stands in the graveyard beside the church.

In 2013, the church was listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

The church in Dębno Podhalańskie

Kościół św. Michała Archanioła w Dębnie Podhalańskim, fot. Marek Skorupski / Forum
 St. Michael Archangel’s Church in Dębno Podhalańskie, photo: Marek Skorupski/Forum

St. Michael Archangel’s Church is an over five-hundred-year-old Roman Catholic church encircled by trees classified as natural monuments. Made of larch and fir (the nails were replaced with wooden dowels), the church has survived the trials of time practically unchanged. In 1601, it was supplemented with a turret tower with an overhanging top floor with a pyramidal dome, the 17th century also saw the construction of the southern vestibule. In 2003, the church was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Its interior, with an extraordinary gothic-renaissance polychrome from 1500, may be visited in the spring and autumn (the church is closed in winter to protect it from humidity). The painting was made using cardboard or leather stencils, 77 floral, geometric, figural and animal motives in 33 colours can be admired on the ceiling and the walls. The famous glockenspiel from the 15th century (there may be only five such glockenspiels in the world!) is located near the altar. It is unique because the sounds it produces defy the laws of physics: the thickest and longest key gives a high tone, the thinnest and shortest a low tone. The rood beam holds up the oldest monument of the church – a cross from 1380, which, according to legend, was brought to the town by the waters of the Białka River.

According to a different folk legend, the church was supposed to be built by bandits near the oak on which St. Michael Archangel revealed himself. This is also where the film bandit Janosik married Maryna.

The church in Haczów

Kościół Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Marii Panny w Haczowie, fot. Waldek Sosnowski/Forum
Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Haczów, photo: Waldek Sosnowski/Forum

Considered the oldest wooden church in Poland until recently (a title taken away by the church in Tarnowo Pałuckie near Poznań), it’s one of the biggest buildings of its kind in the world. In 1388, the king of Poland Władysław Jagiełło established a parish in Haczów, and the first gothic church was constructed there. In 2003, it was placed on the UNESCO list, and ten years later a monograph about the temple was compiled by Piotr Łopatkiewicz.

In the 17th century, the fir building was augmented by a tower with slightly sloping walls and sobotas (sobota is a type of a wooden arcade) in order to fit more churchgoers. During its last renovation, the planking in the framework construction was swapped with much lighter planks. The church has the oldest known interior decorations (from 1494). The priceless polychromes depict the Passion, the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the assassination of Saint Stanislaus and Saint Michael the Archangel. A discovery by Professor Jerzy Gadomski made the reconstruction of the nave ceiling polychrome possible: he found eleven loose boards in the church attic, below them a gothic figural painting. While the graceful Pietà was supposed to be brought to the Haczów church by the waters of the Wisłok River.

The Church of Peace in Jawor

Kościół Pokoju w Jaworze, fot. Wojciech Wojcik / Forum
The Church of Peace in Jawor, photo: Wojciech Wojcik/Forum

The Lutheran wooden church in Jawor called the Church of Peace was built under the Peace of Westphalia. The Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III gave a green light to the construction of three Protestant churches (one in Głogów – burnt down, one in Świdnica – still standing today). Not without restrictions – the churches were supposed to be constructed over a year, at the expense of the faithful, outside the city walls, from perishable materials, and they couldn’t have any towers or bells.

The Church of the Holy Spirit in Jawor was built between 1654 and 1655 based on a design by Silesian architect Albrecht von Säbisch, while the tower was erected in 1707. The inconspicuous temple can accommodate six thousand people. Its space is considerably increased by four levels of galleries in the aisles. The balcony parapets are decorated with scenes from the Old and the New Testaments, and the ceiling is embellished by a coffering with floral motives. The church’s rich baroque furnishings still exist today – the altar, the baptismal font and the pulpit.

In 2001, the Churches of Peace were placed on the UNESCO list. Jawor hosts Peace Concerts organised between May and September with chamber music performed by Polish and international artists.

The mosque in Kruszyniany

Meczet w Kruszynianach, fot. Marek Maliszewski / Reporter
The mosque in Kruszyniany, photo: Marek Maliszewski/Reporter

The distinctive green (the colour of Islam) covers the 18th-century Tatar mosque. If it weren’t for the crescents on the towers, it could be easily mistaken for a village church. According to the religious commandment, women and men were supposed to pray separately, so the inside of the building is divided into two. The room where the main service takes place (the men’s part) has a mihrab – a niche in the wall turned to Mecca. A mimbar, a raised platform from which an Imam preaches, is at the centre of the mosque. The floor is covered with rugs, and the walls with decorative tapestry are inscribed with verses from the Koran (so-called muhirs).

The mosque in Kruszyniany is the older one of the two wooden Tatar mosques in Poland – the other one is in the nearby Bohoniki. The Tatars settled in Podlachia by virtue of a privilege granted by king Jan III Sobieski. Once a considerable community, today, their population amounts to just a few families. They follow only some of Islamic laws, like the traditional ceremonies – giving names to new-borns, weddings and funerals.

The Orthodox church in Owczary

Cerkiew Opieki Bogurodzicy w Owczarach, fot. Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa
Protection of Our Most Holy Lady Orthodox Church in Owczary, photo: National Heritage Board of Poland

The classic Lemko church form of the Protection of Our Most Holy Lady Orthodox church in Owczary catches one’s attention: the tripartite tented roofs cover the altar section and the babiniec. The nave from 1652 (the year of construction) is the oldest part of the church.

Its furnishings are extremely valuable, especially the complete baroque iconostasis from the 18th century. Jan Medycki from Muszyny created the majority of the icons decorating the gates and illustrating the most important events of the liturgical year, the rest was painted by an anonymous artist. The aisles contain paintings of the Virgin Mary and Child and Saint Nicolaus. Polychromes with figural and ornamental motifs were created in 1938 on the 950th anniversary of the baptism of Rus.

The 1980s saw a major renovation (the shingle roofing was replaced) which was awarded the Prix Europa Nostra in 1994. The building was placed on the UNESCO list in 2013. It’s shared by the Roman and the Greek Catholic Churches.

The filial church in Sękowa

Kościół św. Filipa i św. Jakuba w Sękowej, fot. Roman Pach / Forum
Saints Philip and James Church in Sękowa, photo: Roman Pach/Forum

Its towering silhouette has been immortalised in Stanisław Wyspiański’sJózef Mehoffer’s and Włodzimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer’s paintings. The church has inspired architects who designed new wooden temples (for example Bogdan Treter, the architect of the church in Jabłonka built in 1936). The Roman Catholic Saints Philip and James Church in Sękowa was built in 1520. With its framework construction, the larch hand-hewn logs are nearly entirely hidden under a steep shingle-covered roof resembling a tent. Initially, the church didn’t have a tower, however, in the 17th century, it was constructed using a post and beam construction and wide, open sobotas were added.

The interior is not as impressive. World War I brought destruction to the church, only a late-gothic stone baptismal font, ornamented portals and a fragment of the 19th century polychrome survived. Despite the damage, the church has been carefully renovated, and the maintenance work was awarded the Prix Europa Nostra in 1994. The unique architecture was appreciated by UNESCO who put it on their list in 2003.

The church in Szalowa

Kościół św. Michała Archanioła w Szalowej, fot. Dawid Lasociński / Forum
St. Michael Archangel’s Church in Szalowa, photo: Dawid Lasociński/Forum

The most magnificent late-baroque wooden church in Poland is located in a small village in the Low Beskids mountain range. The uniform baroque-rococo interior is kept in white-blue-gold tones. The trompe-l’œil polychrome brings out the details: ornamental stripes, shields with aphorisms, architecture motifs, a rainbow wall with a carved Crucifixion group with Jerusalem in the background. An eye-catching painting depicts a soldier striking crucified Jesus with a lance (the soldier’s hand and the lance are carved). A sense of movement is achieved through a wavy line of arcades with diagonal pillars – distinctive of the then monumental architecture.

The Roman Catholic St. Michael Archangel’s church had been built between 1736 (or 1739) and 1756 with fir and its model can been seen at the National Museum in Kraków. It has a three-aisled Basilica body and a façade with two towers and three narthexes covering the entrances to the aisles. The central space of the triangular dome is the base for a unique figure of St. Michael Archangel fighting Satan disguised as a dragon.

The Orthodox church in Turzańsk

Cerkiew św. Michała Archanioła w Turzańsku, fot. Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa
St. Michael Archangel’s Church in Turzańsk, photo: National Heritage Board of Poland

Stone steps lead to a graveyard behind which a former Greek Catholic church, today St. Michael Archangel’s Orthodox church, is located. It is classified as a so-called Lemko church – eastern, thus towerless. It was constructed between 1801 and 1803 replacing the previous one built in the 16th century. The tripartite church (with a presbytery and two sacristies) with a three-piece single-ridge roof (since 1913 the church has had a sheet metal roof) and three tented roofs was also added to the UNESCO list in 2013.

Its interior is decorated with a figural-ornamental polychrome. In 1895, Josif Bukovchyk painted the polychromes depicting not only religious scenes but also a mountain landscape and the local people. The ledge of the choir is adorned with a painting of a Lemko man planting grain and the north wall of the matroneum – Jesus Christ visiting a Lemko family. Their creator also painted the icons in the iconostasis from the first half of the 19th century.

Vang stave church

Świątynia Wang w Karpaczu, fot. Adam Lawnik / East News
Vang stave church in Karpacz, photo: Adam Lawnik/East News

The incredible Nordic Romanesque monument was nearly demolished. It was built at the turn of the 12th century in Vang (now Grindaheim in south Norway) by an eponymous lake. In the 19th century, the temple ceased to satisfy the needs of the local villagers (it was too small, and the maintenance costs were too high), so there were plans to demolish it. After the painter Johan Christian Dahl intervened, the church was purchased by King Frederick William IV of Prussia – it cost 427 marks. It was transferred in boxes to Szczecin and then to the Royal Museum in Berlin, and finally, with the efforts of Friederike von Reden of Bukowiec, the church reached the middle of the road between the towns Karpacz and Śnieżka.

The gift to the Evangelical community who didn’t have a temple of their own is built from Norway pine without the use of nails. The church had been inspired by Viking boats, and it is said that the four columns were used as masts in Viking boats. Only one fifteenth of the building was brought from Norway, the rest was reconstructed from old drawings. The interior retained its original décor – tangled snakes and plants, lions protecting gates, winged dragons that symbolise the battle of good and evil, and carved Viking faces as well as runes.

The main altar was only built in 1980. Two candelabras stand on the altar; they depict swans – the symbol of love. The candles are lit only during weddings, and the Vang temple is known as the church of happy marriages. A granite tower protects the wooden building from gusts of the mountain wind.

Written in Polish by Agnieszka Warnke, Feb 2016, translated by AP, 27 Jul 2017

Sources: Łukasz Gaweł, Zabytki architektury drewnianej, Kraków 2009, Marian Kornecki, Gotyckie kościoły drewniane na Podhalu, Kraków 1987, Grażyna Ruszczyk, Architektura drewniana w Polsce, Warszawa 2009 via

Leonardo da Vinci “Lady with an Ermine” has left chambers Wawel Royal Castle, where she spent last 5 years. Since 18th of May the painting is displayed in the Main Building of the National Museum in Krakow.

The most valuable painting of Leonardo da Vinci in Polish collection was purchased ca. 1800 in Italy, by Adam Jerzy, the son of Princess Izabela Czartoryska, and donated to the Museum in Puławy where it was exhibited in the ‘Gothic House’ from 1809–1830. It was displayed in the Princes Czartoryski Museum till its closure to the public in 2010. In 2016 the portrait became the property of the Republic of Poland and had been handed over to the National Museum in Krakow.

Lady with an Ermine

The subject of the portrait is Cecilia Gallerani (ca. 1473-1536), a reputed mistress of Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, also known as ‘il Moro’ (the Moor). The ermine in the portrait commissioned by him is an allusion to Duke Sforza himself, who was also referred to as the White Ermine (Ermellino Bianco). The portrait embodies the Renaissance idea of an image as an illusion of natural vitality. The artist managed to achieve this thanks to his knowledge of anatomy and his lighting skills, which enabled him to create a three-dimensional human figure on the image plane. The original background, which was overpainted with black in the 19th century, was also modelled with light just like the figure, which must have given the impression of the model emerging from the shadows.

see Museum website for details

Poland – about the country

It is believed that Poland appears on the map of Europe in 960. It is located in the north of Eastern Europe and is situated on a cultural crossroads between the East and the West. Poland’s strategic location has left deep traces in the culture, traditions and cuisine of this country. Poland is bordered on the east by Belarus and Ukraine, on the west by Germany, on the south by the Central European countries Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and on the north by the Baltic Sea region, Kaliningrad and Lithuania.

warsaw from above

The country is an external border of the European Union. It occupies an area of 312,685, and lies between 49 and 54 degrees north latitude and between 14 and 24 degrees east longitude.

Natural resources

For the most part, Poland is a flat country, covered with vast arable lands. To the south, however, along the borders with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, you will find two of the most impressive mountain chains in Europe, the Sudety and Tatra Mountains.

The highest point in Poland is Mount Rysy. It is located within the Tatra Mountains, which are part of the Western Carpathians.

tatra mountains poland

Rysy Peak rises to a height of 2499 meters, not far from the Slovakia border. If you are a keen rock climber or just want to visit this place, is good to know that the highest-lying areas offer negative temperatures for more than 6 months a year.

The coastline of Poland is slightly indented and offers extensive sandy beaches. The largest relief form along the coast is Hel Peninsula, which is more than 34 km cut into the Baltic Sea. Approximately 30% of the territory is covered by dense forests.

More than half of them are occupied by conifer species. Poland’s forests are extremely rich in animal life and here you will find practically almost all the large species of mammals, typical of Europe, as well as many others that are endemic to Poland.

The country is very rich in water. Through the territory of Poland run many large and deep water rivers such as Odra and Vistula. Land of thousands lakes, the northern parts of the country, especially Mazuria and Pomerania, are extremely popular tourist destination.

Here you can enjoy birds watching, fishing or just camping on the shore of a lake. If you are looking for cold glacial lakes and fast-flowing rivers, you can find them in abundance in the Tatra Mountains.


Poland has a temperate continental climate with mild summers and long, cold winters. The average day-time temperatures during the year vary between 2°C and 21°C in Gdansk on the Baltic coast, and between 1°C and 24°C in Krakow, Southern Poland.

The Baltic Sea maintains the average winter temperatures higher, but also keeps summers significantly cooler. The climate of Poland, however, is very different from year to year.

The flat topography of the country allows moving of warm air masses from the south during the summer months and cold air masses from the north during the winter months.

Although the average winter temperatures are moderately low, extreme cold weather is also possible. Under appropriate conditions the frost may lasts for weeks.

The lowest temperature ever recorded in Poland is (-41) °C. It was recorded on January 11, 1940 in the city of Siedlce, about 80 km east of the capital Warsaw. Unbearable heat waves are also possible, though not every year.

Although summers in Poland are traditionally fresh, sometimes temperatures of over 30°C can last for days. In the city of Pruszkow, located in the vicinity of Warsaw, was recorded the highest temperature in Poland.

On July 29, 1921 the thermometers in the city climbed to 40.2°C in the shade! The amount of precipitation in Poland is moderate throughout the year, ranging between 30 and 80 mm per month.

Traditionally, winters are a little drier in comparison with summers. The largest increase of rainfall usually occures in July and August. Snowfall is possible in a very long period between November and March.

Usually the depth of snow varies greatly from year to year. In dry and mild winters the snow barely whitens the ground, but during cold and snowy winters is possible snowcover with a depth of over 1 m.

malbork castle poland

What not to miss while in Poland?

Coast. Although it sounds surprising, while in the country do not miss to visit its fabulous beaches. Poland boasts the lightest and finest sand in the entire northern half of Europe.

Of course, sometimes the weather is cool and not quite suitable for swimming, but most summer days are really nice.

The temperature of sea water in July and August usually reach to about 20-22 degrees and is warmest during the first half of August.

Masurian lakes. One of the greatest beauties of Poland are the notorious Masurian lakes. More than 2000, they are located not far from Lithuania, in the northeast of the country.

The lakes are very beautiful, surrounded by dense deciduous and coniferous forests. This part of Poland boasts an amazing biodiversity.

The lakes are home to a large number of waterfowl. In remote areas you can see bears, wolves, foxes, lynx, deer, wild pigs, rabbits, beavers, badgers, and large raptors.

The Białowieża Forest. Located on the border between Poland and Belarus, Białowieża or Belovezhskaya forest is under the auspices of UNESCO. The forest is home to unique animals such as a small population of European bison – a species that today is extremely rare in Europe.

Warsaw. Be sure to visit the old part of the capital Warsaw. Established in the 13th century, the old town was partially destroyed in World War II. However, many buildings have been preserved in their original form and now they attract crowds of visitors.

The Wooden Churches of Southern Little Poland. This place is worth to be visited not only because it is a World Heritage Site, but also because it will offer you an entirely new and unexpected idea about what it should look like a church.

Auschwitz. If you have strong nerves and want to familiarize yourself with the most sinister and dark pages of European history, then you can visit the small town of Oswiecim, situated in southern Poland.

Here are the death camps Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2 (known as Birkenau). Over a million people, most of them Jews, were killed here.

Silesian Culture and Recreation Park. Situated on a large area of land in Katowice, Silesia Park is considered one of the largest in Europe. It is famous for its unlimited opportunities for recreation and entertainment. Immersed in lush vegetation, the park offers a real contact with nature in an urban environment.

Tatra National Park. Located in the southern regions of Poland, the Tatra National Park is famous for its spectacular mountain scenery. Raw and inaccessible mountain peaks, fresh pine forests and crystal clear glacial lakes form together an amazing landscape and turn this place just into the perfect paradise for lovers of wildlife and ecotourism.

Old Krakow. The old town of Krakow is something you should not miss while traveling in Poland. Cobbled streets, numerous cafes, old buildings, museums and cathedrals make Krakow a paradise for travelers.

Everything radiates history and culture. Walking around, you will find numerous craft shops, offering surprisingly interesting items to buy and take home for yourself or to give as a souvenir to your friends.

Malbork Castle. Situated on the River Nogat, Malbork is the largest brick structure in Europe. The castle is very beautiful and is a true architectural masterpiece. Its bright red color contrasts to the surrounding emerald green landscape. The castle is under the auspices of UNESCO since 1997.


Taxis. It is advisable to be careful when using taxis. Remember that some of them are much more expensive than others. Do not forget to ask the taxi driver about how much does it cost to reach from one location to another?“.

Pickpockets. Beware of pickpockets, especially if you are planning to visit crowded places and squares, where they most often take advantage of the bustle and the crowd to get closer to you.

warsaw old town street

Poor suburbs. Although Poland is not a dangerous country, there are also some places to be avoided. Stay away from places, neighborhoods and areas that seem obviously poor, abandoned or unsupported.

Food. When you get hungry, you have to select carefully the place to eat. This applies not only to Poland, but any place you visit. From a hygienic point of view, risks in Eastern Europe are almost always higher in comparison with Western Europe.

Ticks. Watch out for ticks, especially if you enjoy spending time in nature. As they love moist and mild weather, the risks are greatest in spring and summer, when Poland provide ideal weather conditions for these dangerous creatures.

When to visit Poland?

As a typical country in Northern Europe, Poland offers the best conditions for tourism during the summer months.If you are traveling in June, July or August, you will encounter perfect weather conditions with daily temperatures between 21 and 24°C. You should also know that summer offers numerous music festivals and a bunch of concerts under the open sky.

How to get there? Poland has very well-run transport system. The country boasts 14 international airports, some of which are brand new, while others are still unfinished.

Warsaw, the largest and busiest center of air transport, maintains regular and seasonal flights to almost all major European cities, as well as numerous major international destinations.

The road and highway system of the country is well-developed. The transport connection is most developed in direction Germany and the Czech Republic.

The city of Dresden (Germany) is connected with the cities of Katowice and Krakow via European route E40, which crosses from west to east the entire continent.

The density of railway network in the country is very good and provides transport connections with almost all the neighboring countries. High-speed rail road, however, still does not exist. For this reason railways still cannot compete with road and especially with air transport.

Politics, population and economy. With a population of around 38.2 million people, Poland is one of the large and densely populated European countries.

The population is relatively evenly distributed across the country. A total of 14 Polish cities have a population of over 250,000 inhabitants.

The largest cities are Warsaw (urban agglomeration of over 3 million), Krakow (760 000 inhabitants, urban agglomeration 1.5 million), Lodz (740,000 people, urban agglomeration of about 1.43 million people), Wroclaw (634 000 inhabitants ), Poznan (over 565,000) and the agglomeration of Gdansk – Gdynia (710,000 inhabitants).

Between 1945 and 1989 Poland falls under the influence of the USSR. Although it never became one of the republics in the Union, the country was forced to comply with the rules of the communist bloc, maintaining close ties with the USSR.

Poland has always been considered one of the largest domestic opponents of the communist regime. The reason probably lies in the highly developed sense of individualism of the population.

wroclaw poland architecture

Since 1989 Poland went through more than a decade of changes affecting the economy in depth. Today the country is part of the European Union and belongs, together with many of its neighbors, to the group of developed countries.

Today it is one of the 6 largest economies in the EU and significantly improved the quality of life for its citizens. In recent years, the closest trading partners of Poland are the EU (especially Germany), the U.S. and China.

Poland is a predominantly industrial country. Leading sectors are engineering, food industry, chemical industry, shipbuilding, textiles and clothing, and many others.

It is believed that the country has real potential to become the largest food producer in the European Union.

Additional information:

Official currency: Polish Zloty (PLN)

Official language: Polish

Driving: on the ride-hand side of the road

National Day: May 3th

Territory: Poland is the 69th largest country in the world


A few dozen exhibitions commemorating the centennial of the Avant-garde movement in Poland, the 80th birthday of a Polish feminist art legend and the opening of the new headquarters of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Here’s a guide to museum and gallery-related events that we are looking forward to in 2017.

The Year of Avant-garde

Wystawa grupy Plastyków Nowoczesnych w Instytucie Propagandy Sztuki przy ulicy Królewskiej w Warszawie. Sala wystawowa z pracami Henryka Stażewskiego, Katarzyny Kobro i Władysława Strzemińskiego, lipiec 1933, fot. Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe,
An exhibition of the Plastycy Nowocześni group at the Instyt Propagandy Sztuki (Art Propaganda Institute) on Królewska Street in Warsaw. An exhibition hall with works by Henryk Stażewski, Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński, July 1933, photo: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe (National Digital Archives)

In 2017, Poland will be celebrating the centennial of the avant-garde, whose symbolic birthday is considered the opening of the First Exhibit of Polish Expressionists at the Kraków Society of Friends of Fine Arts in 1917. For this occasion, numerous museums, galleries, theatres, festivals, as well as cultural and academic institutions have prepared special exhibitions. Jarosław Suchan, director of the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź and initiator of the Year of Avant-garde celebrations, said:

The Avant-garde constitutes an important part of our heritage. It is connected to the notions of experimentation, universality, a sense of responsibility for society as a whole, and a search for a new, better way of arranging the world. Although it is sometimes thought of as a foreign ‘import,’ it is in fact an integral part of our culture, a fact that can be proven by the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź itself – it is the oldest contemporary art museum in Poland.

The most important event being organised by the Muzeum Sztuki will be an exhibition of the works of Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid. The history of Avant-garde will also be presented during five exhibits organised at different departments of the Łódź museum:

  • Superorganism: Avant-garde and the Experience of Nature (10th February – 21st May 2017), about avant-garde artists’ interest in nature

  • Enrico Prampolini and the Theatre of Mechanical Constructions: Futurism and Staging Techniques of the Polish Avant-garde about its links to Futurism

  • Montages: Debora Vogel and New Urban Legend about the aesthetic ideas of the Jewish writer and art theorist

  • Life Organisers: De Stijl and Avant-garde Design in Poland

  • Moved Bodies: Choreographies of Modernity about Katarzyna Kobro’s impact on contemporary dance

Igor Krenz at the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź

Supergrupa Azorro, kadr z filmu "Wszystko już było", 2003. Od lewej: Łukasz Skąpski, Oskar Dawicki, Wojciech Niedzielko, Igor Krenz
The Azorro Supergroup, stills from the film Wszystko Już Było, 2003. From the left: Łukasz Skąpski, Oskar Dawicki, Wojciech Niedzielko, Igor Krenz

The solo exhibition of Igor Krenz (23rd June – 24th September 2017), one of the most important Polish post-conceptual artists, co-founder of the Azorro Supergroup, will show the most relevant themes and strategies in his artwork. The Transmisja Jako Zapis (Transmission as a Record)  exhibition at the Muzeum Sztuki is a project by Grupa Budapeszt – a collaboration between Krenz and two curators – Michał Libera and Daniel Muzyczuk. A bonus: the first catalogue of the artist’s work will be published in honour of the exhibition.

Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz and Georges Perec at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art 

Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz, "Przedszkolaki", 1947, fot. dzięki uprzejmości Królikarni
Przedszkolaki (Kindergarteners) by Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz, 1947, photo: Królikarnia

The monographic exhibit of Jerzy Jarnuszkiewicz at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art (27th January – 17th April 2017) will recall the artist’s versatile work. Jarnuszkiewicz is author of the Little Insurrectionist in the Warsaw Old Town, the Ironmaster sculpture on the façade of MDM (Marszałkowska Residential District) as well as the monuments of the pope and primate Wyszyński in the courtyard of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. His sculptures, medal-engravings and graphics will be on display alongside works less known to a Polish audience – including a collection of polychrome metal sculptures made during the artists’ stay in Canada. Dr. Waldemar Baraniewski, the curator of the exhibition,  and professor of the Academy of Fine Arts, explains:

It’s hard to identify the moment in which he became an independent sculptor. But thanks to his manual talent, it was easy for him to express himself through drawings, graphics, ex libris, medals, small sculptures, as well as abstract and realistic monuments. His artistic vision can be divided into two main themes: the first, striving for monumentalism, the power of expression, dynamics and geometric analysis. The second, by contrast, is more private, and more ornamentally-graphic.

Another international exhibit at Zachęta Life: A Manual (4th February – 23rd April 2017), inspired by Georges Perec, appears equally intriguing. The curator and artist, Jadwiga Sawicka, wrote:

(…) One of Perec’s most well-known novels Life. A Manual is a multi-layered story of a Parisian town houses’ inhabitants. Composed based on the rules of combinatorial analysis and chess, it was the embodiment of the postulates of the OuLiPo literary group, of which Perec was a member since 1967. As Anna Wasilewska wrote about his oeuvre: ‘The book, of very rigorous construction, is an avant-garde and experimental work, which reads like a realistic novel, the reader tends not to notice the complicated machinery moving the plot forward.’

Art in Art at MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków

Oskar Dawicki, "Gimnastyka profana", 2013, tusz pigmentowy / płótno, 200 x 100 cm, fot. dzięki uprzejmości Galerii Raster
Gymnastics Profana by Oskar Dawicki, 2013, pigment ink / canvas, 200 x 100 cm, photo: Raster Gallery

Art in Art at the Kraków Museum (28th April – 1st October 2017) is yet another exhibition from a series designed to confront different areas of life with artists’ imaginations. So far there have been exhibitions on history, sports, economy, crime, gender and medicine in art. The curators, Delfina Jałowik, Monika Kozioł, and Maria Anna Potocka, write:

However, this exhibit will differ from the others. The previous ones were very much connected to life, and analysed its truths and manipulations. (…) Art in Art doesn’t have the power to directly affect our lives. It is an area of reflection, stimulating us to think more deeply and more critically about everything that is existence.

Museum on the River Vistula

Wizualizacja skali i lokalizacji pawilonu Muzeum nad Wisłą projektu Adolfa Krischanitza, fot.
A rendering of the scale and location of the Museum on the River Vistula pavillion designed by Adolf Krischanitz, photo:

The new, temporary headquarters of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw will open on 25th March 2017. A wooden pavillion, which will stand by the River Vistula (next to the Copernicus Science Centre) is a design by Austrian architect Adolf Krischanitz, which served as the Temporäre Kunsthalle art gallery in Berlin in 2008-2010. The inaugural exhibit will be called Syrena Herbem Twym Zwodnicza (English title TBD) – a quote from a poem by Cyprian Norwid. The façade is made to serve as a canvas and will be painted by Sławomir Pawszak.

There is currently an exhibition on at the museum’s previous headquarters, behind the recently dismantled Emilka pavilion, Ministry of Internal Affairs: Intimacy as Text (26th January – 2nd April). The curator, Natalia Sielewicz, was named one of the 20 most influential young curators by The common factor of all the works on display is the first-person narrative – texts, voice recordings, video clips and objects, poetry readings and performances, sincere confessions and self-creations, full of intimacy, emotions and narcissism, personal experiences and critical perspectives.

Sputnik Photos at the Arsenal Gallery in Białystok

Sputnik Photos, "Stracone Terytoria. OSAD", fot. materiały prasowe
Lost Territories: OSAD from Sputnik Photos, photo: press materials

Shortly after its presentation at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle (until 5th February 2017), an exhibition by the international collective Sputnik Photos will open at the Arsenal Gallery in Białystok (3rd March – 20th April 2017). The collection consists of photographs taken in former USSR republics, as part of the Lost Territories project. The exhibit will be accompanied by two publications: the Lost Territories Word Book and Fruit Garden. According to Dagmara Staga of

The photographers of Sputnik Photos take the viewer on a journey around territories of the former USSR, lands of painful and unfinished transformations. In past years they have registered the life and space of all the 15 new countries that emerged after the collapse of an old empire. The photographs created stories about problems of propaganda in Georgia, veterans of the Georgian-Russian war, the degrading effect of uranium and nuclear waste on the environment, veterans of the great Patriotic War (…), urban cultivations in Yerevan or the earthquake in Spitak, Armenia.

About National Identity at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle

Joanna Malinowska, Cycle of Life, 2013, photo: courtesy of the CANADA gallery, New York
Joanna Malinowska, Cycle of Life, 2013, photo: courtesy of the CANADA gallery, New York

The exhibition Późna Polskość: Nowe Formy Narodowej Tożsamości Po 1989 Roku (editors translation: Late Polishness: New Forms of National Identity Post-1989)  (31st March – 6th August 2017) and the rich programme accompanying it will explain the Polish sense of distinctiveness in relation to other nations. Ewa Gorządek and Stach Szabłowski, curators of the exhibition, elaborate:

Late Polishness (written about by artist Tomasz Kozak), about disputes over its shapes and boundaries and about the dilemma: what mold should we ‘pour’ Polishness into in order to obtain its contemporary shape, while preserving its essence. The territory of this story will be Polish culture. (…) Our main goal is to introduce the narration of visual artists about Polishness into other areas of our national culture, primarily cinema, theatre, television and literature.

The exhibit will feature works of artists such as C.T. Jasper and Joanna MalinowskaRobert KuśmirowskiDorota Nieznalska,  Robert RumasWeronika SzczawińskaRadek SzlagaKrzysztof Wodiczko and Piotr Uklański.

17th Media Art Biennale WRO 2017

Paweł Janicki - portret wielokrotny, fot. Zbigniew Kupisz / WRO
Paweł Janicki – multiple portraits, photo: Zbigniew Kupisz / WRO

The 17th edition of the Biennale (17th May – 30th June 2017), the most important event in Poland dedicated to new media, presenting the newest work of artists from around the world, will take place in Wrocław. This year all of the exhibitions, shows, conferences, performances and concerts will be under the slogan Draft Systems. The participating artists include the GrinderMan Group, Norimichi Hirakawa, Paweł Janicki, Maciej Markowski and Suzanne Treister. Piotr Krajewski, artistic director of the Biennale, writes:

The context of the presentations and meetings of the Biennale in 2017 is a series of observations on the irreversible character of contemporary phenomena. (…) Technological development has proven costly for the planet; (…) the barely established supralocal co-operation is already coming apart at the seams; democracy, the best of the worst political systems, is on the decline and is steadily losing its supporters. Expanding access to information hasn’t saved us from stereotypical world views and prejudices.

Natalia LL at the Centre of Contemporary Art in Toruń

Natalia LL, "Sztuka konsumpcyjna", 1972, kadry z filmu, fot. dzięki uprzejmości artystki
Stills from the film Consumer Art by Natalia LL, 1972, photo: courtesy of the artist

This will be a retrospective of the co-founder of the international feminist movement,  legend of Polish neo-avant-garde and conceptual art in honour of the artist’s 80th birthday. The exhibit Sum Ergo Sum at the Centre of Contemporary Art in Toruń (19th May – 1st October 2017) will show works from different periods of Natalia LL’s career, including her most well-known pieces: Consumer Art and Post-Consumer Art.

The series (…) consists of a set of black-and-white and colour photographs, along with films of women eating a variety of foods in a suggestive manner, bananas, hot dogs, jelly.

Sources: after:,,,,,,,,; originally written in Polish, 27 Jan 2017, translated by WF, 2 Feb 2017


Think of a fairytale setting: a medieval castle with a cave that was home to a fabled dragon; a large market square encircled by colorful buildings; cobblestone streets; a bugler playing from the top of a medieval basilica. This is Krakow, and if it is not already, it should be at the top of your must-see list when traveling in Europe.

Krakow is small enough to be friendly and welcoming, yet rich enough in history and culture to make you want to stay. Child-friendly and affordable (Poland operates on the zloty instead of the euro), the city makes a great family destination. Here are some of the highlights for a 72-hour trip.

Bubbles on the Rynek1

Chasing bubbles in the Rynek on a beautiful day

Best Things to Do in Krakow with Kids

Day 1: The Old Town, the Main Market Square, and Wawel Castle

Start by heading to the very heart of Krakow, the Old Town (Stare Miasto) and the main market square (Rynek Glowny). Surrounded by colorful townhouses, the impressive 14th-century St. Mary’s Basilica, and numerous cafes and shops — and marked in the middle by a 14th-century market hall, the Sukiennice — the Rynek easily fills half a day or more. Kids can run free in this pedestrian-only zone, and will delight in watching street performers, chasing pigeons, playing in the fountains and indulging in ice cream or a cup of divinely rich hot chocolate, depending on the season.

The best way to explore Krakow’s Old Town, perhaps, is to get lost. Cobblestone streets lead past cultural centers, museums and churches, while alleyways border shops, piano bars and cafes. Oftentimes, cafes contain beautiful open-air gardens, which you won’t know about until you meander inside.


Horse and carriage1

Taking a tour of the Old Town via horse and carriage

As you discover the Old Town’s charms, there are a few things you should not miss. Take the time to listen and watch the city’s famous bugle call (hejnal mariacki) from the top of St. Mary’s Basilica, which plays every hour on the hour. Second, don’t miss the Rynek Underground museum, located directly below the Rynek (entrance via the Sukiennice). The museum, an archaeological site itself, has a number of touch-screen and holographic exhibits that show life in Krakow hundreds of years ago, plus a fantastic area for kids that includes a performance by automated puppets. Teens will find it cool that the museum is home to an 11th-century cemetery that was home to vampire prevention burials. Due to the popularity of the Rynek Underground, purchase tickets online in advance.

After resurfacing to the main square, take a signature horse and carriage ride around the old town. This experience will truly delight children. The carriage ride winds through the Old Town, down to the Wawel Castle and back; altogether, it’s about a 20-minute ride.

Dragon's Den1

Visiting the intriguing Dragon’s Den at Wawel Castle

Spend the second half of the day visiting Wawel Castle and Cathedral. Situated along the banks of the Vistuala River, Wawel Hill has been a place of political power since before 1000 AD, and the cathedral is where almost every Polish king and queen throughout history has been crowned. A full tour of Wawel would be overwhelming for children, so hit the highlights instead. Walk through the opulent cathedral, stroll along the castle’s inner courtyards and gardens, sit and have lunch at Pod Baszta’s terrace garden, and last — but certainly not least — descend into the depths of the dragon’s den.

As legend has it, this underground limestone cave was once home to the Wawel Dragon. Be on the lookout for a bronze sculpture of the dragon at the exit of the cave. Kids will love to watch it breathe fire, which happens every few minutes! The exit to the cave leads right down to the Vistula River, so finish the day by taking a stroll and enjoying the waterfront scenery.

TIP: To make a visit to the dragon cave extra-special for kids, purchase The Legend of Wawel Dragon online or locally and read it ahead of time. Also, note that while the castle and cathedral are open year-round, the dragon’s den is only open seasonally (April-October).

waffles on the rynek

Enjoying waffles on the Rynek during the Easter markets

Twice a year, the Rynek becomes an extra-special place: during the Christmas markets, which generally run early December through early January; and the Easter markets, which run the week prior to and during Easter. If you are in town during these times, do not miss the exquisite stalls and wonderful traditions that accompany these festive seasons in Poland.

Day 2: Kazimierz and the Kosciuszko Mound

Head on over to the hip, Bohemian and historically important district of Kazimierz. The home of Jewish life and culture in Krakow for more than 500 years, Kazimierz was systematically destroyed during World War II and fell into disrepair during Communist times. Since the 1990s, though, it has rebounded, becoming one of Krakow’s most vibrant neighborhoods. Not only has the neighborhood made a social and economic comeback, but its reputation as the Jewish quarter has survived and grown stronger. The district is home to numerous synagogues and Jewish cemeteries and hosts the Jewish Culture Festival each year. Packed with art galleries, cafes, museums and historical sites, Kazimierz is a fun place to stumble about, get a bite to eat and visit a few museums.

Engineering museum

Having fun with hands-on activities at the Museum of Municipal Engineering

With kids in town, head to the Ethnographic Museum. Children will love walking through recreations of a 19th-century Polish classroom, village home and blacksmith shop. On the second floor, you can view colorful folk costumes, interesting instruments and beautiful crafts from Polish celebrations and holidays. Another excellent museum in Kazimierz is the Museum of Municipal Engineering. It offers many hands-on, interactive exhibits that will excite kids of all ages, as well as a collection of the city’s earliest trams, buses, motorcycles, cars, fire trucks and much more. Want to see the city’s first horse-drawn tram? This is the place to do it!


Taking in the view from the top of the Kosciuszko Mound

If you find yourself with good weather in the afternoon, head to Kosciuszko Mound for a beautiful view of the city. Located just a few kilometers outside of the city center, the mound is a monument to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish military leader and national hero who fought against foreign invaders in Poland and, interestingly, on the American side of the American Revolutionary War. Climbing to the top of the mound on a clear day will allow you not only to get a good view of Krakow, but even to see the Tatra Mountains. Kids will enjoy exploring the encircling mound, as well as taking a walk on one of the many trails in the surrounding Wolski Forest. The mound is open every day from 9a until sunset and later in the evenings as the days get longer.

Salt mine

Licking the walls at the salt mine. Photo by Heather Emerick

Day 3: Wieliczka Salt Mine and the Planty

Spend the morning visiting one of Krakow’s biggest attractions and a UNESCO world heritage site, the Wieliczka Salt Mine. A tour of this giant underground cavern, in which everything is made from salt, will leave you mind-blown. Wieliczka has nine underground levels, but tours generally visit the first three, a maximum depth of around 450 feet. The classic tourist route spans two kilometers of underground tunnels, chambers and chapels and lasts about two hours (three if you decide to visit the museum too).

With children, opt instead for a private guided tour in English (request form available online). This will allow you to hit all of the highlights, including the magnificent St. Kinga’s Chapel, decorated chambers, statues and salt chandeliers, and it gives you a child-friendly option to leave the mine at certain points. Highlights for the kids include licking the walls (yes, this is encouraged!), operating a medieval winch used for using moving big blocks of salt, using touch-screen displays to learn about the mine’s history, viewing the Seven Dwarves display, and visiting the salt mine playroom.

TIP: Even with a privately guided tour, we recommend visiting the salt mine only with older children (ages 5 and up).

Open air gardens1

Sipping on fresh lemonade at an open-air cafe in the Old Town

Wrap up your time in Krakow by heading back to the Old Town and taking a stroll around the Planty. Now a beautiful green space that encircles the Old Town, the Planty was once the location of Krakow’s medieval city walls. All of the defensive fortifications were torn down in the 19th century, except for the notable Barbican and Florianska Gates (which you should not miss).Walking the Planty’s two and a half miles will give you yet another appropriate perspective of Krakow’s personality and history.

In the warmer months, stop at the open-air Bunkier Cafe. Younger kids can play in the outdoor sandbox while adults have a drink. In winter — or any time of year — visit Krakowska Manufaktura Czekolady, one of Krakow’s famous chocolate shops, for an adventure in all things chocolate. The cafe even offers chocolate workshops for children (make sure to book in advance).

Where to Stay

The Old Town is the most convenient location to stay in Krakow, and the Sheraton Hotel Krakow has an enviable location at the base of Wawel Castle. It is only a 10-minute walk from the hotel to the main market square or to the famous Kazimierz district. The Sheraton is situated along the Vistula River and has a number of room configurations that work well for families.

Families Should Know

With so much to offer, Krakow is a fun destination to visit with kids. Not only does it deliver beauty, history, culture and charm, but public transportation is reliable, easy to use and stroller-friendly, and the city itself is extremely child-friendly. To experience the most that Krakow has to offer, visit during the warmer months of April-October, and you might even be able to take a little cruise down the Vistula River. Happy traveling!

Written by Loren Braunohler – former diplomat turned full-time mom and writer. Born in US, now living in Krakow


Royal Łazienki Museum, the Palace on the Isle, photo: Wikimedia Commons
Royal Łazienki Museum, the Palace on the Isle, photo: Wikimedia Commons

As part of the fifth edition of Free November, Wilanów Palace Museum, the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Wawel Royal Castle, and Royal Łazienki Museum have made their collections open to visitors free of charge for the duration of the month. Guests to Wawel Royal Castle will be able to see the most valuable painting in Polish collections, Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci.

Free November is part of the Available Culture (Kultura Dostępna) programme of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The action is especially addressed to children, youth, and seniors. It has three main aims: cultural education, increasing the accessibility of national cultural institutions, and increasing participation in culture.

For Free November, the four royal residences not only offer free entrance to their historical interiors, but also many accompanying events. Their programmes include museum lessons, guided tours, workshops, lectures and games for children.


Wilanów Palace Museum, photo: Przemysław Jahr/Wikimedia commons
Wilanów Palace Museum, photo: Przemysław Jahr/Wikimedia commons

The programme of the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace Museum at Wilanów includes weekend sightseeing every Saturday and Sunday at 11 o’clock concentrating on the history and design of the palace’s interiors. Children as well as adults will be able to participate in music and dancing workshops titled Games and Plays from the Royal Yard. History and science lessons, cooking workshops, calligraphy workshops for children and youth, and free thematic walks for adults are in the programme as well.

Bathroom of Marshal Lubomirski’s wife, Wilanów Palace Museum, photo: Zbigniew Reszka/ The Wilanów Palace Museum
Bathroom of Marshal Lubomirski’s wife, Wilanów Palace Museum, photo: Zbigniew Reszka/ The Wilanów Palace Museum

Royal Łazienki Museum will host 200 free museum lessons for schools about Stanisław August’s royal collection, meetings with visitors entitled Kings and Art and sightseeing tours of the Palace on the Isle and the Old Orangery by night (every Saturday in November, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.). The programme also features poetry salons and photography workshops for children. Concerts at the Paderewski Festival and the DeMusica Festival are part of the Free November prepared for music lovers. In addition, a symposium entitled Away from Warsaw: Provincial Republic will tale place on the occasion of the 252ndanniversary of King Stanisław August’s coronation.

The Royal Castle in Warsaw has prepared free museum lessons for students at every level of education dedicated to the artistic patronages of Stanisław August and his art collections. The museum also invites families to weekend workshops – activities for families with children from the ages of five to nine.

Dragons Den (Smocza Jama) under Wawel Royal Castle, photo:
Dragons Den (Smocza Jama) under Wawel Royal Castle, photo:

Wawel Royal Castle’s exhibitions – the State Rooms, the Crown Treasury and Armoury, Lost Wawel, and the Ogiński Tapestries from Słonim – will be open free of charge for visitors. The most valuable painting in Polish collections, Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci, is also on display. The museum will also host free activities like museum lessons and workshops for children and adults.


So, you’ve just landed in Poland. You’ve read your share of facts about Polish history, learned a few phrases, and you already know how to survive a Polish business meeting and a Polish dinner party…

You think you’re pretty much set. Yet… in the mysterious land of Poland, there are some things that might still surprise you! You can be thanked, fined or frowned at when you least expect it, so here’s a guide on how to behave on the street, on public transport, and in shops. 

On the street

Warsaw, WYKI 17 Street. Kindergarten No 222, Delegation of Educational Program - Road Traffic Mini-city, photo Jerzy Dudek / Forum
In Poland, children are taught not to jaywalk early on. Photo Jerzy Dudek / Forum

When it comes to walking, wandering, and strolling around, Poland isn’t that different from other Western countries, except for one thing, crucial both for your safety and your wallet. You have to remember that jaywalking in Poland is a definite no-no. Really. There are actual fines for pedestrians who cross the street when the light is red – even when there are no cars in sight, if the police catch you, you will be expected to pay. Why? Well, there’s one quite popular opinion about Poles that they like rules and then they like to break them… More and more often this law is considered ‘victim blaming’, since pedestrians are weaker and easier to harm, while far more accidents in Poland are the drivers’ fault, but for now it’s better to keep this opinion to oneself and simply wait.

Poles tend not to look strangers in the eye, nor do they smile at them, usually behaving as if they were alone on the street. And watch out! Some surprised foreigners claim that they even tend to suddenly stop or change direction, often bumping into passers-by!

Body language 

Kadr z filmu "Kłopotliwy gość", reżyseria: Jerzy Ziarnik, 1971. Bronisław Pawlik i Barbara Krafftówna, fot. : Jerzy Troszczyński / fot. Filmoteka Narodowa/ Click and drag to move
Still from “Kłopotliwy Gość”, directed by Jerzy Ziarnik, 1971. Bronisław Pawlik i Barbara Krafftówna, photo: Jerzy Troszczyński / fot. Filmoteka Narodowa/

While Americans, for example, often use smiling as a coping mechanism (to apologise, thank or greet), Poles only smile when they have a solid reason. Cultural differences in the perception of smiling have been recently researched scientifically – interestingly, by a Pole.

In an article published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior (June 2016, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 101–116), Kuba Krys from the Polish Academy of Science focused on a phenomenon called ‘uncertainty avoidance’. When a society has unstable social systems (such as courts, healthcare etc.), people tend to view the future as uncontrollable and therefore perceive smiling – a sign of confidence – as somewhat weird and even consider it a sign of stupidity or dishonesty. On the UA scale Poland is rather low and so Poles tend to think people who smile for no reason are possibly less intelligent.

There’s even a phrase, ‘to smile as a fool at the cheese’ (śmiać się jak głupi do sera). On the other hand, a common proverb also states that ‘laughter is health’ (śmiech to zdrowie), so don’t be too afraid of showing positive emotions in public.

As for gestures, do what you please: Poles are less energetic than Italians, but more enthusiastic than Scandinavians, so it largely depends on individual traits.

Public transport

Ticket Control in ZTM, photo Krystian Maj/Forum
Ticket control in the Warsaw metro, photo Krystian Maj/Forum

Travelling by means of public transportation at first glance seems pretty obvious: you need to check the schedule, buy a ticket (and remember to validate it) and off you go. There is no differentiation between doors (like, for example, in London, where you are expected to enter by the front door and show your ticket to the driver), but you should remember that ticket controllers (often called by the mildly offensive name kanary) randomly enter buses and trams or even wait at underground Metro stations. As on the street, Poles avoid touching, rarely initiate conversations, or smile at each other, although some curious passengers have a tendency to stare at whoever looks a little flamboyant. You are definitely expected to give up your seat to the elderly and to pregnant ladies – this is just a sign of good manners. No surprises yet? Well, there is one peculiar thing…

If you stand anywhere near a door, you shouldn’t be surprised if someone (most often an elderly lady) asks: czy pan/pani wysiada? (‘are you getting off’), even if the bus or tram isn’t even approaching the stop yet. Why is this person interested in my destination? Isn’t it obvious I’m not blocking the door on purpose? – you might ask. They are not really interested and it probably is obvious, but you should either move over or nod and get off at the next stop – ever-suspicious, Poles like to be prepared.

Shops and cafeterias

photo: Rafał Kuzma / Forum
It’s always best to have some change. Photo: Rafał Kuzma / Forum

You take money from the ATM, you go to the grocery store, excited to buy your chewing gum, and… ‘nie mam wydać’ (I have no change) is what you hear at the counter. One of the first peculiarities foreigners notice when shopping in Poland is that they are often expected to pay with an exact amount of money. ‘Can I owe you a grosik?’ and ‘I have no drobne’ are phrases often heard in shops and kiosks. It’s considered quite rude to pay for matches or a bread roll with a 100 złoty bill, and when the exact amount is 22.34 it’s best to at least find 34grosze. Alaistar, a teacher from Northern England residing in Warsaw, who often uses his experiences while preparing lessons for Poles, says:

Maybe I find this annoying as I come from a culture where you can buy a box of matches with a 20 pound note and the most you will get is a suspicious look while they check to see if the money is counterfeit. Also, I think there is an obligation to the customer from the proprietor to provide them with change because bottom line they are making them richer. That said, keeping the tills stocked with a steady supply of change, is not only more convenient to the customer but also reduces queues which result as a knock-on effect of the exact money only rule.

Anthropologists explain that the behaviour in Polish shops can be connected to pre-war times when salespeople and cashiers held a much higher social position and were not expected to do everything the customer wanted. On the other hand, one might look for the explanation behind this fear of larger denominations in the PRL era, when having a large sum of money was considered suspicious.

When it comes to crowded cafeterias and informal restaurants, don’t be surprised if strangers come to your table and ask if they can sit with you. This – apart from being practical and quite trendy in the ‘common table’ era – is actually a habit acquired during communist times, when staff and tables were scarce and you had to sit wherever possible.

Whether you ate your meal with strangers or with colleagues, it’s always polite to say ‘thank you’ after you’ve finished. Even if nobody at the table cooked the food, saying thanks for each others’ company is just another sign of Polish good manners.


World Youth Days gathered in Krakow more than a million Catholic youth from around the world. Over 2 million pilgrims attended Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on Sunday. “Catholic Woodstock” has already finished and this was a truly amasing time for Krakow.

World Youth Day was established in 1985 by Polish-born Pope John Paul II, whom Francis declared a saint in 2014, and aims to inspire young people to follow Christian values of peace and love in life. The gatherings are held every two or three years. The first meeting was held in Rome in 1986, attended by John Paul II and some 30,000 participants. The largest World Youth Day gathering was in the Philippines in 1995, when an estimated five million people attended a Mass celebrated by John Paul II.


World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Pope Francis waves as he is welcomed by Polish President Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda at Balice airport near Krakow David W Cerny/Reuters
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
People in traditional outfits wait for the arrival of Pope Francis at John Paul II International airport in Krakow-Balice Joe Klamar/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Pope Francis is greeted as he is driven from Balice military airport into Krakow Joe Klamar/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Pope Francis is welcomed by the faithful as he travels to Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow Kacper Pempel/Reuters
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Pilgrims dance during World Youth Day in Krakow Agencja Gazeta/Michal Lepecki/Reuters
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Pilgrims covered in rain coats play on World Youth Day at the Main Square in Krakow Agencja Gazeta/Mateusz Skwarczek/Reuters
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Pilgrims wearing raincoats pray before the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow David W Cerny/Reuters
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Despite the heavy rain, pilgrims gather on the Blonia Meadows in Krakow, to celebrate the Opening Mass Wojtek Radwanski/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
A pilgrim waits for the opening ceremony of World Youth Day in Krakow David W Cerny/Reuters
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Pilgrims sing songs at the main square during World Youth Day in Krakow David W Cerny/Reuters
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
A pilgrim prays during the World Youth Day Opening Mass Joe Klamar/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
A priest gives a holy communion to a pilgrim during the Opening Mass in Krakow Joe Klamar/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Pilgrims from Brazil walk the streets of Krakow after the Opening Mass Bartosz Siedlik/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Pilgrims pray during the Opening Mass for World Youth Day Janek Skarzynski/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Pilgrims from all over the world celebrate after the Opening Mass of World Youth Day Janek Skarzynski/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Young people and a monk play football in front of the main railway station in Krakow Janek Skarzynski/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Young Catholics and a nun from France dance on the market square in Krakow Janek Skarzynski/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
Young people from around the world gather at the market square in Krakow Janek Skarzynski/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
A woman carries a Pope Francis puppet near Cracovia Stadium in Krakow Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki/Reuters
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
A poster with Pope Francis is seen near Cracovia Stadium in Krakow Agencja Gazeta/Jakub Porzycki/Reuters
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
A policeman stands guard during the Opening Mass in Krakow Joe Klamar/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
A pilgrim poses next to a picture of Pope Francis at the main square during World Youth Day in Krakow David W Cerny/Reuters
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
A pilgrim watches a mass on a large screen in Krakow Joe Klamar/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
A priest listens to a confession on the first day of the World Youth Days in Krakow Joe Klamar/AFP
World Youth Day Krakow Poland
A view of the altar during the Opening Mass in Krakow Janek Skarzynski/AFP



Karol J. Wojtyla, known as John Paul II since his October 1978 election to the papacy, was born in Wadowice, a small city 50 kilometres from Cracow, on May 18, 1920. Upon graduation from Marcin Wadowita high school in Wadowice, he enrolled in Cracow’s Jagiellonian University in 1938 and in a school for drama. The Nazi occupation forces closed the university in 1939 and young Karol had to work in a quarry (1940-1944) and then in the Solvay chemical factory to earn his living and to avoid being deported to Germany.

In 1942, aware of his call to the priesthood, he began courses in the clandestine seminary of Cracow, run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, archbishop of Cracow.

After the Second World War, he continued his studies in the major seminary of Cracow, once it had re-opened, and in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University. Soon after, Cardinal Sapieha sent him to Rome where he worked under the guidance of the French Dominican, Garrigou-Lagrange. He finished his doctorate in theology in 1948 with a thesis on the topic of faith in the works of St. John of the Cross.

In 1948 he returned to Poland and was vicar of various parishes in Cracow as well as chaplain for the university students until 1951, when he took up again his studies on philosophy and theology.

Later he became professor of moral philosophy and social ethics in the major seminary of Cracow and in the Faculty of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lubin (where he became the Director of the Chair of Ethic, and lectured for 25 years until his election for the Pope in 1978).

On July 4, 1958, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cracow by Pope Pius XII, and was consecrated September 28, 1958, in Wawel Cathedral, Cracow, by Archbishop Baziak. On January 13, 1964, he was nominated Archbishop of Cracow by Pope Paul VI, who made him a cardinal June 26, 1967.

Since the start of his Pontificate on October 16, 1978, Pope John Paul II has completed 95 pastoral visits outside of Italy and 142 within Italy. His principal documents include 14 encyclicals , 13 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions and 42 apostolic letters. The Pope has also published three books.

No other Pope has encountered so many individuals like John Paul II: to date, more than 16,700,000 pilgrims have participated in the General Audiences held on Wednesdays (more than 1,000). Such figure is without counting all other special audiences and religious ceremonies held [more than 8 million pilgrims during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 alone] and the millions of faithful met during pastoral visits made in Italy and throughout the world. It must also be remembered the numerous government personalities encountered during 38 official visits and in the 690 audiences and meetings held with Heads of State, and even the 226 audiences and meetings with Prime Ministers.

Watch a short movie about St. Pope John Paul II

St. Pope John Paul II HD

For more detailed biography can be found – click here

I wish I had this shirt when I was in Afghanistan. In 2009, we were situated in a little Observation Post somewhere in Kandahar for a week or two at a time, with nothing but rations to fill our bellies. After many days and much elaborate drawing, I finally managed to communicate to a local Afghan National Army soldier that we were interested in real food. For the rest of our stay, and for just a few dollars per week, we were treated to hot meals twice per day. But had I had this IconSpeak shirt, weeks of eating cold rations could have been avoided.

IconSpeak is a useful T-shirt printed with 40 universal icons, perfect for those occasions when you don’t speak the local language and have forgotten how to sign “I think there’s a problem with my carburettor.” The shirt was thought up by three Swiss “pen-pushers” over numerous drinks and after an adventure with a broken-down motorcycle, somewhere in Vietnam. Read a little bit of their story below:

“Many times we were confronted with a language barrier that was only to be overcome by drawing signs, symbols or icons on a piece of paper, map, or into the dirt,” explain George, Steven, and Florian. “We thought it would be great to have an essential set of icons with you, permanently, so that you could just point on whatever you need – and people would understand. Soon the notepad was pulled out again and we started listing more or less essential icons that would have been of great help during not just ours, but basically anyone’s trip.”