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Poland
 
Poland is set at the heart of Europe and has played an important role in the continent’s history and culture since medieval times, when Jan Sobieski saved Vienna from the invading Turks. The capital Warsaw has itself been repeatedly occupied, notably in World War II, and a magnificent sculpture memorial is a vivid reminder of the 1945 uprising. Polish history is rich with innovators in arts and sciences – Copernicus, Mme Curie, Chopin, and Warsaw contains many notable museums and galleries. Beyond the cities, Poland is a country of forests, mountains and countless lakes. Within the deep forests, unique wildlife has survived: the ‘wisent’ or European bison, grey wolves, wild boar, lynx and brown bears. Cracow, in the south of the country, as well as being a charming old town, is the gateway to the High Tatras, offering splendid skiing and climbing. A short drive from the city also brings you to the remarkable salt-mine at Wielicza. A key part of the country’s medieval economy, it is now mostly a tourist spectacle with 300km of tunnels, vast underground caverns, rock salt sculptures and ‘crystal’ chandeliers. In the same region are the well-preserved 17th century Krasicki Palace in Krasickzyn and 12th century castle of Pszcyna.
 
Kraków
 
Krakow was the capital of the former Kingdom of Poland and is one of the country’s largest and oldest cities. Situated on the River Vistula, it is now both a major European commercial centre and an increasingly popular tourist location. Visitors rightly tend to focus on the old walled town with its medieval barbican and magnificent Cloth Hall in the main Market Square, while the renaissance Wawel Castle holds the graves of many of the Polish kings. Despite the terribly suffering of the Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation, the present Kazimierz district is lively and attractive. The city has a strong music culture ranging from Chopin (naturally) to avant-garde jazz.
 

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