Program 326: Exploring Poland; Classical Titans

Release Date: 05-18-2013

On Air Description

When you learn what Poland has to offer its visitors, you'll wonder why it remains one of Europe's most overlooked destinations.

On this week's on Travel with Rick Steves, guides who specialize in Eastern Europe highlight  the charms of Krakow, Poznan, Warsaw and Gdansk, where the prices can be as friendly as the people. 

And Fred Plotkin explains how this is a really big anniversary year for opera.  He recommends venues where you can enjoy special performances celebrating the birthdays of Wagner (VAHG-ner), Verdi, and Benjamin Britten. 


  • Cameron Hewitt, tour guide and co-author of the "Rick Steves' Eastern Europe" guidebook (Avalon Travel)
  • Eszter Bokros, tour guide to Eastern Europe, based in Budapest
  • Fred Plotkin, author of "Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera" (Hyperion)

Related Links

  • Czestochowa is an important religious city for Poles, where the Jasna Góra Monastery is located, which houses the "Black Madonna" icon.
  • The city of Warsaw has an extensive website in English for visitors.
  • Information about Krakow, Poznan, and Gdansk, Poland.
  • Rick's TV show episode #310 covers Krakow, Auschwitz and Warsaw.
  • Rick summarizes his favorite highlights about "charismatic Krakow."
  • The website for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp museum includes a search engine for information about prisoners at the camp.
  • Fred Plotkin's definitive guide to Opera is called "Opera 101."
  • Fred Plotkin has voiced an audio version of his book, "Opera 101."
  • Fred Plotkin's opera blog postings are hosted by classical station WQXR in New York. 
  • Fred recommends the website to plan opera outings in your travels.
  • Villa Verdi is the home in the village of Sant'Agata where Giuseppe Verdi lived, and is near the village where he was born. Reservations on its website are needed for a guided tour of the site.
  • The Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Seattle Opera are performing Wagner's Ring Cycle this year. 
  • The L.A. Opera has scheduled multiple performances for the Benjamin Britten centennial in 2013.
  • On Nov. 22, 2013, Carnegie Hall hosts the St. Louis Symphony in a performance of Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes."
  • The Aldeburgh Festival at Snape in East Anglia, UK was founded in 1948 by Benjamin Britten. They have scheduled many special performances of his music, and have a website dedicated to the Benjamin Britten 2013 centennial.
  • Richard Strauss founded the Salzburg Festival.


  • Ttraveling to Warsaw for first visit to Poland. "We will have 3 1/2 days in the city. Are there any sites nearby, outside of the city that would be worth taking a half-day or full-day trip to visit? Or is there enough to see to keep us busy within the city for this timeframe?" (Lana in Madison Heights, Michigan)
  • Caller's grandparents were from the Poznan region. "What are sites to visit in or around Poznan? Is it economical to rent a house in Krakow, then make day trips to Poznan and Czestochowa? I also want to visit the salt mine outside of Krakow." (Pat in Elkton, Minnesota)
  • "I have family that comes from Poland and went through Auschwitz during WWII. I heard there is supposed to be a photo of those that were in Auschwitz on the walls. I was wondering how do you find a specific person so I can show my respects?" (e-mail from Joseph in Indianapolis)
  • Caller is eager to attend performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle by Seattle Opera this year. Also is a big fan of Benjamin Britten. "Is it possible to see any of his operas anywhere but in Britain?"   (Steve in Albany, Oregon)
  • "Wagner's oeuvre is still controversial, especially since he was known to have been Hitler's favorite composer. Not only Jewish people are aware of this -- therefore, why celebrate Richard Wagner?   (e-mail from Claudia in Durham, North Carolina)

Incidental Music

  • Ronald Smith, "Mazurka No. 5 in B flat, Op. 7, No. 1 (Chopin)," Essential Chopin, disc 1 (collection) / EMI Classics
  • Silesia Philharmonic, "'Closing Credits' to the film 'Bleu' (composed by Zbigniew Preisner)," Trois Couleurs: Bleu (soundtrack to the film ‘Blue’) / MK2 (France)-Virgin Records America
  • Daniel Adni, "Polonaise No. 3 in A, Op. 40, No. 1, 'Military,'" Essential Chopin, disc 1 (collection) / EMI Classics
  • Leonardo de Amicis and Stefano Mainetti, "Beatitudini," Abba Pater / Sony Classical
  • * Polish Radio Orchestra, "Enjoy Yourself," Flip Your Disc (compilation) / Apollo Sound
  • Lemongrass, "La mer," Nikki Beach, vol. 1 (collection) / Loungism Recordings
  • Dmitri Alexeev, "Waltz no. 9 in A flat, Op. 69, No. 1 (Chopin)," Essential Chopin, disc 2 (collection) / EMI Classics
  • Amsterdam Klezmer Band, "Takaj Zhizn (Remix by Janfie)," BalkanBeats - A Night in Berlin (collection) / Pranha
  • Chantal Juillet, violin, Pascal Rogé, piano, "Kaddish (Ravel, trans. by Lucien Garban)," Ravel:  3 Sonates pour Violin / Decca
  • Polish musicians Rybka and Przyjaciele, "Modlitwa," EBU World Music Workshop, vol. 2 (2003 collection) / Radio Netherlands Music
  • Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, "Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs' II: Lento e Largo (Henryk Górecki)," Górecki Symphony No. 3 / Philips
  • * Vienna Philharmonic (Georg Solti, cond.), "'The Ride of the Valkyries' from 'DieWalküre,' WWV86b (Wagner)" The #1 Opera Album, disc 2 (collection) / Decca
  • New Philharmonia Orchestra (Adrian Boult, cond.), "Prelude to Act 1, Tristan and Isolde (Wagner)," The Key to the Classics: Wagner / Angel
  • Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala (Riccardo Muti, cond.), "Va pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) (from the opera 'Nabucco' by Verdi)," Aria: A Passion for Opera (collection) / EMI Classics
  • Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, "'Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves' (from the opera 'Nabucco' by Verdi)," The #1 Opera Album, disc 1 (collection) / Decca
  • London Philharmonic (Leonard Slatkin, cond.), "'Sea Interludes' from 'Peter Grimes,' III-Moonlight (Britten)," Out Classics (collection) / BMG
  • Seattle Symphony Orchestra (Gerard Schwarz, cond.), "Thus Spake Zarathustra, part 1, op. 30 (R. Strauss)," The Great Works Collection: Strauss / Musically Speaking
  • Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Baden-Baden (Michael Gielen, cond.), ""Liebestod' from 'Tristan und Isolde' (Wagner)," The Kiss: Music for Love and Passion (collection) / Intercord

Dated References

  • In promoting the segment C interview about the bicentennials of Wagner and Verdi in the promo, billboard, and in the open to segments A and C, Rick notes this is "a big anniversary year for classical music."
  • Also in the billboard, Rick notes "this century is starting to see a renaissance" of Polish culture, including its Jewish culture in Krakow.
  • Cameron recommends, at 26:17, a new express train from Warsaw to Krakow, which has shortened the time between the cities to just over two and a half hours.
  • The segment C interview has several mentions of events being held "this year" to celebrate the 2013 bicentennial anniversaries of composers Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi. In the open to segment C, Rick notes that Wagner was born on May 22, 1813, and that Verdi was born on October 10, 1813.
  • Caller Steve says at 49:46 that he's excited to attend a performance of Wagner's "Ring" Cycle at the Seattle Opera "in August."
  • At 50:54, Rick introduces a discussion for the centennial of the birth of composer Benjamin Britten (Nov. 22, 1913).
  • At 53:40, Rick notes that "next year, 2014" is the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss' birth.
  • Starting at 54:51, Fred lists major performances in May and beyond for the composer anniversaries.

Program Extras

Pgm 326 extras — Poland - Cameron Hewitt notes that the scruffy port town of Gdynia, Poland is becoming a popular stop for cruise ships on the Baltic Sea, due to its proximity to Gdansk. (runs 0:35)

Pgm 326 extras — Opera - Fred Plotkin tells us which of Wagner's operas he does not care for, and clarifies the difference between Richard Strauss and the Vienna waltz composers with the same surname. (runs 1:34)