Taken over too many times to count by aggressors and subjugated to ruthless foreign rule for centuries, Poland has had to endure a lot. Yet the phrase: "What can't kill you only makes you stronger" is aptly fitting for indestructible Poland. Twenty-first century Poland is trying to shuck off its violent past and look to the future.
Still, the past cannot be totally forgotten. Even though Warsaw has an exciting café and club culture along with thriving modern restaurants around the city, you still see peasant women selling flowers in Old Town. In northern Poland, 14th-century Gothic castles can be seen from the roadsides, such as Molbork, which holds the remains of the once powerful Teurtonic knights, and in Wroclaw, you'll find medieval towns. Even in major cities, such as Lublin and Poznan, you'll be a witness to Nazi concentration camps, old Jewish cemeteries, and political prisons, all horrid reminders of the country's more recent past.
A recently added member of the EU, Poland is now beginning to enjoy some benefits of membership. Money is starting to flow in, roads are being repaired, malls are being constructed, streets are being beautified. All of this is slow, however. The unemployment rate is double that of its EU partners and Poland's educated youth are leaving for richer places.
Poland's countryside has managed to maintain its rustic attraction. In the south, horse-drawn carts still transport hay from fields through the mountains. Pockets of forests in the northeast shelter herds of wild bison. The waters of the Great Masurian Lakes are home to sailors and kayakers, while the long sandy beaches along the Baltic coast are still famous for seaside holidays for visitors and locals alike.
A country as large as Poland is a year-round destination but the majority of visitors come in the warm weather, from May to October. The peak tourist season is July and August, and this is when things can get very crowded, especially the hot spots such as the Baltic Sea beaches, Great Masurian Lake and the Carpathian Mountains. If you want to avoid the crowds, come in the lake spring or early summer or else in the fall. It's still warm and many cultural events still occur during these less touristy seasons.
Despite their past, Polish people are friendly and warm, and often exceedingly generous in their invitations to join them for a bottle of vodka or a plate of bigos — a meat and cabbage stew — and they love to discuss philosophy and the world with outsiders.
So visit Poland for its culture, its history, its nature, its lakes and its mountains.