Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Travelers making pierogi in Krakow.

The Nury family learn how to make pierogi. Photo: Traveler Doug Nury

The current state of our world is disheartening. Our March 2023 travels (arranged by a Wendy Perrin WOW List agent) took us to Israel as tourists, never imagining that seven months later, Israel would be at war with Gaza. Since October 7, our family regularly discusses the conversations we had with our two tour guides, Daphne (Israel) and Isla (West Bank) about the conflict and how both of them want a peaceful, but fair solution. Through our vast international travel experiences, our family has learned to seek as many perspectives as possible, particularly from non-US citizens on domestic and international issues. As a result, we jumped at the opportunity for Gwen Kozlowski to plan an Eastern European trip over Christmas not only to enjoy the Christmas traditions and markets, but also to hear the views of Europeans very close to the Ukrainian/Russian conflict. Our trip included four nights in Budapest, Prague and Krakow.

Gwen’s tour guides were the best part of our trip. During our first four days in Budapest, Julia explained to us the devastating history of the Jewish population and how close to 500,000 citizens were murdered during WWII. She also arranged an enjoyable boat tour (the boat had heat!) on the chilly Danube, pointing out architectural landmarks on the Buda and Pest side, while cruising on the river. In Prague, our guide Christina spent the rainy morning with us inside the Strahov Monastery, an active monastery that houses the largest collection of Bibles in the world, and gave us a VIP tour of its two main halls, the Philosophical and Theological halls. In Poland, we toured Auschwitz privately with Wojtek Smolen, a tour guide with over 30 years of experience who had two family members imprisoned at the concentration camp. His narration and walking tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau was fact-based, with no political slant. The things I saw that day — the massive size and scope of the concentration camp, the vast piles of victims’ strands of hair, abandoned shoes and suitcases on display, will forever be tattooed on my brain.

Following Auschwitz, we drove back to Krakow and met Julie at the Krakow History Museum, which is located at Oscar Schindler’s factory for a tour of Krakow before, during and after the Nazi occupation. The museum is well done and definitely worth visiting. Our final day in Krakow was spent making pierogi with Marta in her home. While rolling out dough, adding the fillings and pinching the pierogi before dropping it into the boiling water, she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war and is concerned about the conflict due to the proximity of Poland to Ukraine.

My husband and I hope that this trip punctuated the importance of visiting historical relics and learning from experts at the site about past events instead of watching a YouTube video for our teenagers (ages 19 and 16). It’s also essential to engage with people worldwide to gain insight on their perspective of US leadership and diplomacy.

Gwen and her team planned a wonderful Christmas week in Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. This is the second trip with Gwen and she impressed us once again. Both hotels — the Sans Souci Hotel in Vienna and the Andaz in Prague — were great choices. Both were near the center but in a quieter area. The rooms, staff and breakfasts were lovely.

The guides in all three locations were personable and knowledgeable. All transfers were on time and efficient.

Our walking tour of Vienna was enjoyable — the cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave. A truly interesting and unique experience. The food tour was fun and enjoyable. We went to five different locations and got to sample different Viennese specialties. We enjoyed the outstanding museums and lovely shopping streets. We loved the tour of the magnificent Schonbrunn Palace. Another day we took a train to Bratislava and were met on the platform by the guide who showed us this interesting city.

The train to Prague was easy. We walked everywhere in Prague — Old Town, Jewish quarter, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square. The Strahov monastery library and Prague Castle complex were impressive. We were so lucky that the line to the remarkable St. Vitus cathedral was quick and we got to see it. The Lobkowicz Palace is a treasure — we could have spent hours there. We enjoyed walking through the Mala Strada district.

Gwen and her team suggested terrific restaurants, including two outstanding meals at Michelin-starred restaurants Field and La Degustation in Prague.

It was a wonderful vacation — the days spent in each location were just right.

My good friends, their daughter-in-law and 2 grandchildren and I went to Warsaw to see their son play in an international amputee soccer tournament. That was an adventure in itself! Since we had time between games, I contacted Gwen to help with activities for this eclectic group! She did a great job. She had Maria take us on a walking food tour. We met by the library in an older part of town. We walked to the top of the building where there is a garden and great views. Maria said she didn’t usually have children on her tours and she was great with them! She kept them interested, gave them tasks and interviewed Maddie as to what her favorite taste was—pierogis!! We also tasted some cheese and jam on delicious bread, herring and beef tartare and, lastly, an array of fabulous desserts. Maria also shared her family’s history, including the time of the uprising.
The next day was spent with Agnieszka who, again, was great with our group. We toured the Old Town, other parts of Warsaw including remnants of the Warsaw ghetto, the Jewish museum, the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising with a lovely lunch and walk in Lazienki Park. It was a full and educational day! Both kids really enjoyed it, too—including trying to catch squirrels in the park!

We are all very grateful to Gwen and our guides for their expertise and guidance during our visit. It was a great trp!

Romantik Hotel Markusturm in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

The Romantik Hotel Markusturm in Rothenburg, ob der Tauber, Germany. Traveler Ted Embacher

Gwen Kozlowski provided outstanding advice on the best places to stay, helpful information about the places we were visiting and provided us with amazing guides where we toured. The hotels that Gwen chose for us were not just great hotels, but their locations were convenient. She listened to what we wanted for our trip and planned it accordingly. We are already planning another trip that we’d like Gwen to help us with. I think the highest compliment that we can give Gwen is that after our trip we were reviewing all that we experienced and decided that there was nothing that we would have changed. We’ve traveled extensively and I don’t recall ever coming home and deciding that we wouldn’t have changed anything. We’d highly recommend Gwen and her team.

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