In recent years my travels have taken me to what many still see as the “new” countries of Eastern Europe. New in the sense that true democracy has only come about in our lifetime. People of my age can clearly recall the events that saw the former Soviet republics fall one by one.
But for all that the grandeur that places Budapest and Prague can offer, to the smaller and pretty Old Towns of Tallinn and Riga, I’ve overlooked a significant corner of the continent, that perhaps has been closer to my own life than any of the other places.
Growing up in a Catholic household, religion was the centre of everything. Sunday meant church, with no exceptions. Socialising was controlled within the community – and while many of the families that I knew were of Irish descent, there were a significant minority of those from Poland. When Karol Józef Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II, we knew that not only was he Polish, but that our shared religion was something significant.
So perhaps it’s surprising that it’s taken until 2022 for me to consider Poland as a destination for my travels. I should say that I have little or no intention of doing anything remotely religious – other than staring upwards inside a few Cathedrals. For me it’s the draw of cities that boast – as many do – historic centres that are welcoming for visitors. And, it these times of belt tightening, a selection of lovely cheap beers.
John Paul’s adopted city, Krakow, will be my second destination. But the proliferations of budget airlines and routes means that I can fly into a different city – Wroclaw. And unlike some of my journeys, I have no “must do” moments in mind. Too many trips have been been planned in detail – this one’s a case of simply seeing what’s out there without the aid of a guidebook.