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Poland and the Czech Republic
Gdansk ... Warsaw ... Krakow ... Prague
Day One – US Departure
Day Two - Gdansk: After connecting in our European gateway city, we’ll arrive in Gdansk and are greeted by our tour manager and coach driver. As we drive to our hotel, we will be oriented to our visit.
Day Three - Gdansk: This morning's city tour will explore the layers of history of this Baltic seaport, once better known by its German name of Danzig. With its mediaeval core now beautifully restored, we will see the Gothic gables and decorated facades, the Old Harbor Crane and Church of Our Lady which bear witness to the mediaeval prosperity based on the trade in amber. We will also enjoy the organ recital at Oliwa Cathedral. Following free time for lunch, this afternoon we will experience the more recent troubled history, as we view Westerplatte where World War II began and visit the European Solidarity Museum, which chronicles the beginning of the end for Communism in Poland and Europe. The evening is free for individual sightseeing and shopping.
Day Four - Gdansk (Malbork Excursion): Following breakfast we will drive to Malbork to visit the one of the biggest and best preserved fortresses in the whole of Europe. Built by the Teutonic Knights in 1276, it remains a symbol of the military strength which later became the basis of Prussian power and most dangerous threat to Poland's independence. In the afternoon, we will return to Gdansk for the remainder of the afternoon and evening at leisure – perhaps visit the new World War II Museum, which brings into focus the cataclysmic events from the Central European perspective.
Day Five – Gdansk / Torun / Warsaw: This morning we will depart Gdansk and begin our journey south, travelling upstream of the River Vistula. We will visit Torun, voted one of the Seven Wonders of Poland in 2007. Once a stronghold of the Teutonic Knights, the citizens took control in 1466 and developed a major trading power of the Hanseatic League. The exquisite jewel of the old town is a testimony to this period of mediaeval prosperity, with its redbrick Gothic buildings of the City Hall, the Cathedral of SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, the old granaries and the 15th Century house, supposed to be the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish astronomer and mathematician, who ‘stopped the sun and moved the earth’. Following our walking tour there will be some free time, before we continue our journey to Warsaw for our overnight.
Day Six - Warsaw: This morning's city tour will reveal not only the beauty of Poland's capital, but also its determination to survive. Risen like a phoenix from the ashes of wartime destruction and communist neglect, Warsaw's old town has been faithfully and lovingly re-constructed to something like its former glory. Highlights will include the Market Square, St. John's Cathedral, the Royal Castle and Royal Way, memorials to the Warsaw Ghetto and Warsaw Uprising, the monstrous Palace of Culture and the beautiful grounds of Lazienki Palace. The afternoon is free to continue individual exploration – perhaps the state of the art experience of the new POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews or the emotional visit of the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. In the evening perhaps enjoy a concert of Chopin’s music. Overnight in Warsaw.
Day Seven - Warsaw / Czestochowa / Krakow: Leaving Warsaw this morning, we will visit the Shrine of the Black Madonna at the Monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa. The icon of Mary has made the monastery one of the most popular places of pilgrimage in the world, a symbol of Polish nationalism and a particular favourite of St. John Paul II. Following our guided tour of the monastery, we will continue to Krakow for our overnight.
Day Eight – Krakow (Auschwitz Excursion): For five hundred years Krakow was the seat of the Polish kings and remains proud of its royal heritage. Miraculously unscathed during World War II and now on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, it is certainly one of Europe's most charming cities. This morning's walking tour will visit the area of Wawel Castle and its Cathedral, before walking down into the old town to see the old University, Market Square, Cloth Hall and St. Mary's Church, with its magnificent high altar by Veit Stoss. Following free time for lunch we will drive to Auschwitz, site of the notorious Nazi concentration camp. After a haunting visit to the memorial of the death camp, we will return to Krakow for an evening at leisure.
Day Nine - Krakow (Wieliczka Excursion): Today we will travel the short distance from Krakow to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Salt Mines are a unique phenomenon, once described as being 'as remarkable as the Pyramids, but more useful' - incredible to imagine that the gnomes, the chandeliers, the altars are all carved from salt. After free time for early lunch, we will visit the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Lagiewniki, where St. Faustina lived and is buried. During our visit we will celebrate Mass, before returning to Krakow for the remainder of the afternoon and evening at leisure.
Day Ten – Krakow / Prague: This morning we will leave Poland and drive into the Czech Republic, through the rolling hills which form the boundary between the two countries. We will pause in the charming town of Novy Jicin for our lunch break, before arriving in Prague in the early evening.
Day Eleven - Prague: Known as the Golden City, the city of one hundred-towers and the Jerusalem of Europe, Prague is one of Europe's most beautiful cities. Today's walking tour will take in all the highlights of this breath-taking city – the castle area of Hradcany with St. Vitus Cathedral, the Lesser Quarter, Charles' Bridge and the Old Town Square. There will be time in the afternoon for individual exploration and shopping – perhaps visit the extensive Jewish quarter or enjoy the bustle of Wenceslas Square - before we gather to enjoy our farewell dinner.
Day Twelve - Prague / USA: This morning we will be transferred to the airport to begin our journey home.