Need Advice for Trip to Poland (and possibly Lithuania)- Early Planning Stages
I am researching my family's genealogy in Poland (may also have some ancestry in Kaunus, Lithuania) and have also found some info on my husband's Polish Jewish side (we did the heritage leg of the trip for his Italian side last year and it was great) in Warsaw. I also know where my maternal grandmother's village is in extreme SE Poland near the Ukrainian border. Have also received my DNA results.
Re: us, healthy, active, and retired in our early 60s. Have traveled extensively in western Europe and lived there for several years many years ago in the military. Spent nearly a month in Italy last October. Neither of us speak Polish, but are willing to put in some time with Rosetta Stone and carry some translation apps on our phones. We enjoy the usual cultural and historical stuff (cathedrals, museums, picturesque countryside), seeing a soccer game, drives in scenic countryside, and special activities, like a cooking class, fishing excursions, an afternoon hike, etc. We generally do a mix of independent and programmed stuff. We like to travel the shoulder seasons in Europe, and found October was great in Italy. Am considering May or May into June for this trip. Has anyone here traveled to Poland in the late spring?
I am thinking this trip will run two to three weeks, and using public transportation when not on a tour. You may ask, why a tour? I have heard that while the Poles are great, that the language can be difficult, and there are few English speakers around. At this point I am considering landing in Warsaw and staying there a couple of days (we can use Marriott points to save money and take a local tour of the old Jewish ghetto there as well as other historic sites). We could then do some programmed travel with a company, and then use a guide/driver who can help us navigate the ancestral towns, churches, and archives (or vice versa). I have located a couple of companies on the web that do both tours and custom stuff for family heritage. Has anyone here worked with Polish Origins or Ancestral Attic? The former has an eight-day tour of Galicia (the area where my maternal side and paternal grandma lived) that sounds good, and a roster of driver/guides who take people like us to ancestral villages and act as translators and facilitators.
I have heard Krakow is spectacular, and I may want to spend an extra day or two there after the tour. The tour I'm looking at ends in Krakow. Would also like to see Czestohowa (the black madonna) and Wadowice, the home of St. John Paul II, maybe using Krakow as a base. If we head back East (I know there's a high speed train between Warsaw and Krakow) to see my maternal grandmother's village with a guide, perhaps we could go on by rail to Kaunus after the guide drops us in a nearby larger town like Premysl.
I know this may sound all over the place, but I am in the earliest stages of planning. Any suggestions, other things to consider or comments are welcome!