Sunday we traveled by bus to Kraków (about 200 miles). We made a
lunch stop in Czestochowa, the spiritual capital of Poland. We
visited the old Jasna Góra Pauline Monastery site of the famous religious icon,
the "Black Madonna." We had a Scottish, newly ordained priest escort us through
the monastery and explain the history. He was the only
English-speaking priest available to guide us. He took us where
tourists don't normally have access. We visited the church
during a service, entering from the sanctuary toward the back of the
church. We had a good view of the Black Madonna and beautiful stained
The "Black Madonna"
icon has been at the monastery since 1382. The Scottish priest
told us he's awaiting his assignment, possibly to Chicago (of all
On exhibit in the monastery's museum was the Nobel Peace Medal awarded to Lech
Walesa of Solidarity fame. First time we ever saw a Nobel
medal. Also on display were priceless jewels and other
donations. Unfortunately, taking pictures wasn't allowed.
Unlike other countries under communist rule,
Poland's churches were never
closed. Even though they were the center of religion (about 80% of
population actively practice the Catholic faith) and were also
the chief opposition to communist rule, they remained opened. Having
a Pole elected Pope (John Paul II), had a lot to do with this
decision by the Soviets. Our guide
told us that in 1981 martial law was declared. Phone service was
interrupted, there were no newspapers, a curfew was
imposed, no travel was allowed and all borders were closed.
Poland was cold and snowy. The temperature was
never higher than the low 30's. We did a good amount of walking
which kept us comparatively warm.
Further Polish history from our guide as we
traveled: Poland is the 6th largest country in Europe, 30% is
forest. A favorite pastime is mushrooming in the forests.
Individual houses are mostly brick or cinder block with metal
roofs. Family is usually 2 working parents and 2 children, with
no savings. Farm crops are potato, wheat and barley. Private
farming existed when Soviets ruled - Soviets did not nationalize
private farms like in other Soviet-block countries. Average farm
is 20 hectacres (about 40 acres).
Some more economics: Besides the 22% VAT, there is an income tax
rate of 19%, 33% and 40% depending on income. Social security
tax is 18% plus 18% by employer. This covers health
insurance. The lowest professional wages are doctors at about
$400/month - BUT their education is funded by the government.
Government schools are free and so is college, but entrance exams must
Now on to Kraków