Poland fights its outdated image

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NEW YORK -- Selling Poland often involves combating its image as a dark, monotonous place, according to Zbigniew Wegiel, president of American Travel Abroad, based here, and Ingrid Bolski, manager of the operator's Poland department.

That outdated notion is easily dispelled, however, by touting the country's unknown advantages, the operator said. American Travel Abroad sent about 45,000 clients to Poland last year, a number that has increased by 10% to 15% each year for the past several years, Wegiel said.

Following are some of the operator's key selling points:

  • Clients might not be aware of Poland's warmth toward Americans. The Poles don't have a "Yankee go home" attitude, Bolski said. "They love Americans, because so many Poles have emigrated to the U.S."
  • Dining in Poland is cheaper than in most European countries. Most of the bargains are found outside the major cities of Warsaw and Krakow, however, where restaurants can be as pricey as New York eateries. Meal tabs at roadside diners -- where travelers can dine on potato pancakes with sour cream -- and country inns are "unbelievably low," Bolski said. In Zakopane, a mountain resort town in the south, restaurant prices are 30% cheaper than in Warsaw, she noted.
  • Wegiel touted the city of Krakow as a destination that represented a new and more vibrant Poland. Unlike Warsaw, Krakow escaped the destruction of World War II -- its Old Town Square dates to 1257. Restaurants are found in ancient cellars filled with paintings, said Wegiel, who compared the city to Vienna. Next year, the city will take the spotlight as one of nine European Cultural Capitals.
  • Ecotourism is becoming a vital part of Poland's economy. The Mazurian Lake District, a summer resort in the north, is emerging as a hot tourist destination, Bolski said. Many travelers combine this area, a complex of 30 lakes, with trips to nearby Lithuania and Latvia.
  • Poland's travel infrastructure is on its way to matching that of its Western neighbors, a point Polish tourism officials have been promoting during the past two years. Modern trains, roads and hotels have lured more travelers to forgo escorted tours and explore Poland on their own. Independent travelers can find their way around the nation's cities, as many Poles -- especially the younger set -- speak English, Wegiel said. "Even the maids in hotels speak English," he added.
  • Pope to Poland

    NEW YORK -- Pope John Paul II will visit 20 Polish cities June 5 to 17. The Pope's eighth trip to Poland will begin in Gdansk and end in Krakow, where he served as a bishop in the 1960s and '70s before moving to the Vatican in 1978. In Warsaw, the Pope plans to pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust at the Umschlagplatz monument.

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