Krakow, Poland

We spent Friday, September 4 through Wednesday, September 9 in Kraków. On some of those days we left the city with our guide Pawel, and went to some of the major tourist locations in the area.

I would love to give you a day by day synopsis of what we did in Kraków but that would be nearly impossible. In 2013 when I visited Kraków I was unable to spend much time there and knew there was alot to do. With the fiasco of our plane tickets and return date, I decided to add a few more days to our Kraków experience. I had quite an extensive list of things I wanted to see and do in Kraków, so the plane ticket mix-up actually benefited us.

Knowing a little about Kraków, I knew location was everything. I wanted to be close enough to walk to all the main tourist attractions, the main one being Main Market Square. I wanted to spend some time there. If you’ve never been to Kraków, the square itself is the focal point of the city. You could spend weeks there and never try all the restaurants that line the streets around the square.

Main Market Square

Main Market Square

I knew one place in particular that Denise would like would be the Cloth Hall. If you’re looking for souvenirs of any type, the cloth hall is the place to go.

Krakow Cloth Hall

Krakow Cloth Hall

Our hotel Kraków Residence Hotel, was about a 25-30 minute walk to the square. We did this walk at least 3 to 4 times a day. Any opportunity we could do lunch or dinner at the square in Kraków we did. By the last day we decided to try a change of pace and had dinner at a Chinese restaurant just down the street from our hotel.

The square itself is a hustling, bustling place of restaurants, vendors, musicians, break dancers, and various other forms of entertainment. One particular musician was getting a rather large following while playing in the square. He is Imad Fares and his guitar playing is amazing! ( Video1 ) ( Video2 )

There are lines of horse drawn carriage rides available around the square. They take you for quite an extensive tour around the city.

View from the carriage.

View from the carriage.

We spent the better part of one day touring and seeing the sights of Wawel Royal Castle. The tour of the castle is broken up into nine parts, and we toured six of them. Many are limited to the number of people that can go in per day at a certain time. If you’re visiting Kraków, this is your primary tourist location.

View from Tower in Krakow

View from the tower in Krakow

Wawel Royal Castle

Wawel Royal Castle

Tower outside Wawel Royal Castle

Tower outside Wawel Royal Castle

The day after we arrived in Kraków I finally got the opportunity to meet Zenon from PolishOrigins. I’d spoken with Zenon a few times during our trip, as he called to check to make sure that everything was going well with our customized tour. Zenon had been on tour with another group for the first part of our trip. He had only one day off and took the time to come to meet Denise and I for dinner. It was our first experience dining in the Jewish district of Kraków, and the food was absolutely amazing. His visit spoke volumes to us in regards to the PolishOrigins business. You don’t find many tour companies whose owners take the time to come to meet you and keep in contact with you the way he did. PolishOrigins definitely strives to make sure that your trip expectations are met and/or exceeded.

On September 5, my cousin Kazmierz and his wife came from Olesnica to meet us for lunch/dinner. Zbigniew took the time out of his day to come with us and act as our translator. We had a great time dining, talking and laughing at a very unique restaurant.

After dinner Kazmierz mentioned and old monastery The Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec that served great coffee, so we headed there. Standing by the wall looking down at the river below was a magnificent view.

View from the monastery

View from the monastery

After bidding my family farewell, we headed back to Kraków . When we arrived we noticed a long line of people waiting on the street near a building called, Lody na Starowiślnej. We asked Zbigniew what was going on there, and he replied it ice cream/yogurt. Being the curious sort, we decided to try it, and waited in line for 15 minutes. It was well worth the wait! (check out the link for their facebook page above. The photo at the top shows how long their lines usually are.)

We spent nearly five days in Kraków, and while some of those days we were off viewing other destinations, I still feel like I had enough time there. Kraków is an absolutely beautiful city and you really need like a month to take it all when. Maybe next trip. 🙂

We left Kraków on Thursday, September 10 via train and headed to our final destination of Warsaw.

Torun, Poland

Saturday August 22nd – Torun, Poland.

After getting our luggage and making our introductions, we drove two hours and 30 minutes directly to Torun. We stayed at the hotel Retman on, ul. Rabianska 15, 87-100 Torun.
We chose this location so we could be closer to old town, a place that I had visited prior but did not get a chance to see completely. We took a walk around Torun to see some of the sites, got some food and enjoyed Torun’s beauty.

FamilyLater in the evening around 6 o’clock, we met my cousin Piotr Batlyn and his family for dinner at Pierogarnia, Stary Torun in Old Towne. It was great to see them again, and just as wonderful to get to introduce them to my new wife Denise. Later in the evening after walking around Torun, Peter, Zbigniew, Denise and I stopped by an outdoor Polish bar to enjoy some of the fine Polish vodka. Peter recommended a vodka Zoladkowa, Gorzka. I can tell you I am not a huge fan of the vodka in the United States, but this was very smooth. If you’re going to go to Poland, remember they expect you to shoot the vodka not sip it.  It hurts less going down that way. After a great evening with Piotr and Zbigniew, we had to call it a night as we were both exhausted.

Sunday, August 23 Torun

The breakfast at most hotels is amazing in itself. Generally, you can find numerous types of ham, eggs both scrambled and boiled, deviled eggs, salad, (yes you reading that right) sliced tomatoes, fruit, bread of many different styles, sausages-too many to list, soup, (again not a mistake, great for hangovers we were told) yogurts, cereal, coffees, juices, and desserts. If you leave the table hungry, there is something wrong with you.

PolishOrigins had set up a guide for us for Torun so we could see many of the sites we had requested, and hoped that our guide could show us more.

Ruined Castle of the Teutonic Knights

Castle of the Teutonic Knights

Our Guide was Paweł Bukowski. He was very knowledgeable of Torun and its history. He took us to the castle of the Teutonic Knights, the oldest church in town and for a walk around Torun showing us the city.  He explained what each of the many medieval buildings were and what they were used for. It was very informative. He also showed us the original towers surrounding and protecting the city which were later used during the wars in Torun’s defense. We also learned that Torun was the place to get gingerbread. The gingerbread there is the best in the world and Torun it is the holy mecca location of gingerbread.

Torun at night

Torun at night

We took a tour of the castle of the Teutonic Knights, or the monks as they are called in Poland, saw where Nicolaus Copernicus had lived, worked, and the street named after him. We also took a walk along the waterway near the Vistula River, which at that time was at its shallowest point ever recorded. There was so little water people were actually walking across the Vistula without any problem. Archaeologist were also digging in various areas of the river that they hadn’t been able to get to before.  After about five hours on the tour, we went back to old town for lunch. We only spent two days in Torun but fell in love with the city and if I go back to Poland I will definitely be going back to Torun.

Our guide in Torun, Paweł Bukowski was very knowledgeable. I wish I could go into more detail about our tour, but we were overwhelmed by all the information that he shared with us. That is not a bad thing is as that is exactly what we were looking for. I wanted to know as much as possible about the city and its history and he knew it very well. He also took us to a few places that we did not know about. Overall, our experience with Pawel was a very positive one and I would definitely recommend him to anyone touring Torun Poland.

Piotr & Mike, cousins

Piotr & Mike, 3rd cousin 1x removed

I had the opportunity to see my cousin Piotr and his family again before I left. We were able to watch a light show that was tied to a water fountain.

What I learned from both my visits to Poland, is it’s not about what I get to see, but the people I get to meet and interact with. Family is important, and I’m proud to say that the Polish people in Poland haven’t lost that. The American Polish people have in some regard. How many American people do you know that if you contacted them and told them that you were a cousin from a mutual great-great-grandfather, would invite you into their house or even talk to you? Thankfully the Polish people are not like this and I think that’s what I miss most in America.



2015 Poland Trip – Part 1

Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland

In August 2015, my wife Denise and I took a trip to Poland. I had been to Poland in 2013, met some family members, and saw some of Poland. The trip had a profound impact on me and I really wanted to go back. We had originally planned to go in 2014, but were unable to do so. When the opportunity presented itself to go in 2015, we jumped at it.

I would love to start telling you the story of our trip, but I think it would be best to inform you of the issues we had prior to going there.

We made the purchase of our airline tickets on We both sat down together and worked out what we thought would be the best times for both departure and return flights. We both looked at the information on the screen repeatedly and even asked each other numerous times, are you sure, are you sure, before we clicked purchase. We ordered our tickets, looked at the information on the screen and on the paperwork but somehow missed the obvious. (wait for it)

Meantime, prior to our trip, I had contacted, run by Zenon Znamirowski and company. I had done some business with them in the past, mostly genealogy work, and knew that they offered tours of Poland. When I contacted them, I inquired about a genealogy based tour. I’ve been keeping notes on my family since I was a child, and have in my possession many photographs from the early 1900’s of my family. For some reason, I knew these would come in handy someday, so I never got rid of them. For the last 10 years I’ve really focused a lot of time and resources on trying to find as much information as possible on my ancestral lines.

I decided to pick because I felt they could not only help me with my research, and see the ancestral grounds of my ancestors, but most importantly, they could help me find family. That was key for me! They had pages and pages of good reviews, not only for the company but for their guides. I spent a lot of time reading the reviews on the PolishOrigins website, and what I read reinforced my decision.

So I created a two-week itinerary and sent it to They altered and focused it based on availability of their guides and what would be the best route for travel overall.  They handled everything from the hiring guides for major cities, to booking and finding our hotels. I can tell you from my experiences in 2013 that finding hotels in Poland can be difficult at best. It’s not like in America where you can just drive off the highway and expect to find a hotel within a few miles. You could drive for hours sometimes and not see a hotel in the Polish countryside. Many of them are on off road locations and finding them would be difficult, even for the most experienced traveler. It’s easy to locate a hotel in a larger city, but even there sometimes it can be difficult during peak travel months.

Polish Countryside.

Polish Countryside.

After a month of working with PolishOrigins we finally finalized the trip itinerary. Two weeks before we were supposed to leave my wife Denise comes downstairs and says is this a typo? She is holding a copy of our flight manifest. We were supposed to return from our trip on September 6, however, somehow the return date was listed as to September 13. and the insurance we had obtained with our tickets were absolutely no help in resolving our issue. They wanted an astronomical $900-$1500 per seat to change the date back. For that price, we realized we could stay in Poland for an additional week and spend less money.

So, now in panic mode, we had to work out details in a very short time. Luckily my wife was able to get the additional time off from work, and both my family in Poland and PolishOrigins jumped to our rescue in regards to our additional time and itinerary changes. I can tell you that PolishOrigins went out of their way to help us, rearranging hotels and guides and calmed a panic situation.

When you’re dealing with a genealogy based tour, always prepare for changes in your itinerary. After the return flight issue was resolved, I foolishly believed we were all set and everything would be fine. That was not the case.

The very reason why I was going to Poland to begin with was to see where my grandparents had come from and to meet family. My maternal grandmother was the one who really got me into genealogy, and when I was there in 2013, I was unable to find anything on her family. Her family hailed from a little village called Skulsk.  She had spoken about her family so frequently and told me so much information on Poland that I fell in love with it from childhood.

Village of Skulsk, Poland

Village of Skulsk, Poland

While I am a professional genealogist, and I’m very knowledgeable on Polish records available online, more recent records are held at the civil record offices in the towns and villages, or within the archives.  Contacting the archives can sometimes take months to get records back.  So PolishOrigins helped get me in contact with a genealogist prior to my trip, Katarzyna Grycza.  Katarzyna traveled to my grandmother’s village and was able to locate some more recent records on my grandmother’s family. I was so excited when I received an email from her, telling me she had located the married names of my grandmother’s two sisters, something I’d previously not known. She was also able to locate some children’s names of one of the sisters, and the death date of one of those children. That death date would become instrumental in making contact with the family.

Information Katarzyna located was then handed off to our genealogy guide who would be spending the first 10 days with us, Zbigniew Stettner of Before I tell you what happened to throw the itinerary into a tizzy again let me explain to you why we were working with another company,

I think it’s important for people to know how works in relation to helping you with your trip, such as a genealogy based tour. PolishOrigins hires out to reputable subcontractors. These subcontractors, such as Zbigniew at, are the best in the business. If you’re visiting a city, they will hire you a guide who will show you things in that city you’ve never seen or heard about before. They also help you locate hotels, get tickets, and try to help you plan your entire tour so that you get the most out of it possible.

So back to the itinerary change.

Zbigniew Stettner, I can’t say enough good things about him. Nine days before we were supposed to go on our trip to Poland, Zbigniew contacted me and told me he had found some descendants of my grandmother’s family. Remember the death date that had been located earlier? Zbigniew made contact with the civil record offices of the town mentioned in the death listing and found that the descendants of my grandmother’s family still resided there. He spoke with them at length on the phone and they were very interested in meeting me. He was able to gather a lot of information on the family, that matched a lot of my notes. I was so excited and amazed.  I had finally found my grandmother’s family and was going to be able to meet them, I couldn’t believe this was finally happening. I’d made a promise to my grandmother when I was a child that someday I would go to Poland, see where she came from, and find out what had happened to her family. The last part of the promise was about to be fulfilled. This family lived minutes from the German border, five hours away from Torun, where we would be spending our first few days. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity!  So again, PolishOrigins to the rescue as we had to alter our itinerary for the first three days, and add and cancel hotels that had already been booked.

Another itinerary change…

It’s unfortunate that it happened, but a week later, the daughter of the family he had located had contacted Zbigniew and told him they did not know anything about their family prior to their grandmother, who was my grandmother’s sister. They did not want to be bothered, which was a first for any of the guides and for PolishOrigins.  I felt terrible and was very upset, but based on what I was told, it made sense. The information that had been given to Zbigniew was that the family was taken to Germany during World War II and knew nothing about their ancestral past. The daughter did not know what we wanted and they were very leery of strangers. The reality of it was that I was just trying to keep a promise, and to possibly answer some questions in regards to my grandmother’s family that have plagued us to this day. This did put somewhat of a damper initially on my trip, but PolishOrigins came to the rescue again, canceling and booking hotel rooms and altering our already over altered itinerary just three days before we were supposed to arrive.

After the final round of itinerary changes our trip was set. No, really, it was!

Part two coming soon!

2015 Poland Trip

In August 2015, my wife Denise and I took a trip to Poland. Read about our custom guided genealogy tour with

Welcome PolishOrigins Newsletter Viewers!
Thank you for your interest in my trip. If you need genealogy assistance in the United States or are considering a trip to Poland and need some advice, please contact me. I would be happy to assist you!
For first time travelers, view my page titled “Traveling to Poland”. This was created based on my own travel experiences. It gives you an idea of what to expect and bring for a better overall experience.


The streets of Tarnow, Poland.

The streets of Tarnow, Poland.