Poland (Polish: Polska) is a nation in Central Europe with a long and exciting history, a colorful legacy reflected in the diversity of monuments from many eras, and a highly diverse terrain that stretches from the long Baltic Sea coast in the north to the Tatra Mountains in the south. Between them are rich primeval woods teeming with interesting wildlife, including bisons in Biaowiea; magnificent lakes and rivers perfect for a variety of watersports, the most famous of which are in Warmisko-Mazurskie; rolling hills; flat plains; and even deserts. Among Poland’s cities are Toru’s completely preserved Gothic old town, Gdask’s Hanseatic history, and ód’s 19th-century industrial development.
While Poland today has a very homogeneous society in terms of ethnicity, language, and religion, it was a very multi-cultural and ethnically diverse country for centuries (when the erstwhile Republics of Poland encompassed a much larger territory than it does today), and was known for a time as Europe’s most religiously tolerant country. Poland, in particular, had Europe’s biggest Jewish population, which was almost wiped out during World War II, yet the enormous legacy endures. Poland’s western areas, which include significant portions of Lower Silesia, Lubuskie, and Zachodniopomorskie, as well as other regions, have historically been a part of neighboring Germany. The natural border of mountain ridges that separates Poland from its southern neighbors, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, has had little effect on cultural impact (and periodic warring). To the east, modern-day Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine constituted a continuous political unit centuries ago, and cultural evidence of this may be found closer to the present-day boundaries. Finally, although Poland currently shares just a tiny strip of border with Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast in the former’s northeastern corner, the Russian Empire formerly ruled the whole eastern half of Poland, leaving many cultural and architectural remnants.
Despite losing a third of its people during World War II, including a disproportionately significant percentage of its elites, and suffering many economic losses as a Soviet satellite state after the war, Poland thrived culturally in many respects throughout the twentieth century. Poland’s difficult transition to democracy and capitalism in the 1980s laid the groundwork for its fellow Soviet-block nations. Poland entered the European Union in the new century and has seen uninterrupted economic development unmatched by any other EU member. This enabled it to significantly enhance its infrastructure and had a dramatic impact on its society, which once again became fairly cosmopolitan while maintaining its characteristic hospitability. Poles are inventive and entrepreneurial, always coming up with new ideas for events and festivals, and new structures and organizations sprout up practically overnight, so that each time you return, you are certain to find something new.