World Youth Day Comes to Poland – things to do while you’re there!

World Youth Day was started in 1985 by Pope John Paul II, and has grown into one of the world’s biggest events. It definitely draws the world’s biggest crowds; the world record for the greatest attendance of a religious festival was won by WYD in 1995 when 5 million gathered in the Philippines for the final mass (a record only surpassed last year, when the current Pope gave another mass, also in the Philippines). Young people from all around the world come to celebrate their faith, share in their diversity and generally have a great time. This year, the event returns to Poland for the first time since 1991. This year, the theme is ‘mercy’, and the event will feature a special tribute to the recently canonized founder, St John Paul II, himself a polish citizen. If you are headed to Poland this summer for World Youth Day (or for any other reason), there is a vast array of things to do. We’ve made a small list from some of the huge amount of options available to you. Eat, Drink and Be Merry One of the first things you’ll want to do when you arrive in Poland is grab yourself something to eat. Some Polish foods are famous the world over, such as kielbasa pork sausage or pierogi dumplings, and you should definitely waste no time before sampling these. But there are dozens of other treats, including an amazing array of desserts including makowiec, a traditional poppy-seed and piernik, a version of gingerbread served with a chocolate glaze. However, our favourite food from Poland has to be the amazing oscypek. Served on its own, or grilled with bacon, apple and cranberry sauce, you might have a hard time finding this salted sheep’s cheese. It’s native to the Tatra Mountain region, but the real problem is you might find yourself looking at oscypek and think it’s something else entirely. This is because the cheese is cured for two weeks, giving it a light brown colour on the outside, and also because it is pressed into an intricate spindle that gives it the appearance of carved wood. Once you’ve filled your belly (or even while you’re doing it), you’ll want to wash your food down with a drink. This being Poland, the most obvious choice is vodka. But unlike some other vodka-drinking nations, it’s not simply enough to knock back shot after shot of the pure stuff – in Poland, they prefer to blend it with other flavours. From the cherry-infused Winiówka to Goldwasser, which combines a plethora of herbs and spices with flakes of real gold, there’s plenty on offer. But the most famous Polish vodka these days is probably Zubrówka, which comes with a blade of bison grass from the Bialowieza Forest. Why bison, you ask? Well… Enjoy the Great Outdoors Poland has a huge array of environments and areas to satisfy even the most adventurous traveler, but two areas stand out. First, there is the aforementioned Bialowieza Forest, a last remnant of the vast, primeval forest that once covered the whole of Europe. It is here that you’ll find (if you’re lucky) the European Bison. While most of us think of Bison as an American icon, roaming the great plains of the Midwest, the European Bison is primarily a forest-dwelling beast. And they have a wonderful forest to dwell in. Some of the oak trees are so vast and old that they have individual names, such as Emperor of the North, the Dominator Oak and The Guardian of Zwierzyniec. With some of these great trees being over 400 years old, they are well worth tracking down. When you think of Poland, you don’t think ‘desert’ – but that’s exactly what you’d be thinking after a visit to Slowinski National Park. On the coast of the Baltic Sea, there are several acres of shifting sand dunes. There are also several large lakes, seven rivers and 87 miles of tourist tracks around the park, giving you ample opportunity to enjoy the beach, the dunes or the wildlife. Castles and other sights to see With a long and tumultuous history both internally and with its neighbours, it’s no surprise that there are hundreds of castles in Poland. From the vast edifices of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, to the ruins of Ogrodzieniec, built in the 13th Century to help fend off the invading Mongol Hordes, there are castles of every kind to be found all over the country. One that truly cannot be missed is Malbork, the largest (and most imposing?) Gothic castle in Europe. The towns are no less charming, including the old town of Krawkow which was one of the few that escaped the devastation of the Second World War. There is also Olsztyn, which has been painstakingly reconstructed. Of course, to truly bring home the awful horror of World War II, one must visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum. Another of Poland’s great visitor attractions is the Wieliczka Salt Mines. As well as tours of the mines themselves (which have been in operation since the 14th Century), concerts and plays are often held there, and there is a hotel and spa that offers you the opportunity to spend a night 135m below sea level. Enjoy the Festivities Poland is host to several key outdoor music festivals this year (including Open’er and Przystanek Woodstock 2016), but sadly none are running during the week of WYD. However, there are a couple of other festivals going on, including the 21st Open Air Jazz Festival in Warsaw’s old town. Running for almost two full months between July and August, this event attracts the biggest name in jazz from all over the world. Meanwhile, in Gda%u0144sk, another long-running festival will be taking place for three weeks between July and August. St Dominic’s Fair was first established by papal decree in 1260 and was very soon one of the key dates in any European trader’s calendar. It was not long before hundreds of ships were arriving at the port of Gda%u0144sk to trade, make deals and be entertained. Some 750 years later, it is still one of the largest market festivals on the European mainland. Stay in Touch With so much going on and so much to see in Poland, you’ll want to have a way to keep in touch with friends and family back home, to make sure they know you’re okay, and to share your experiences. The best way to do this is with our Europe SIM card. Everything is priced at 25c (17p); calls are 25c per minute, texts cost 25c to send, and data is priced at 25c per MB. With $10 free credit, this gives you more than enough to upload photos, check maps and send videos. If you’ve travelled from further afield, calling back home isn’t too expensive either, with calls to the rest of the world priced at 59c per minute. Whatever your plans, we hope that you have an amazing time at WYD 2016!