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Not as sunny as Greece or as romantic as France (and still recovering from Soviet rule), Poland is usually overlooked by the student traveler. But the country’s eccentric combination of history, nature, and nightlife may help to put it on the map, according to a host of recent travel articles:

Veteran traveler and television personality Rick Steves touts Krakow, Poland, as both “the next Prague” and the “Boston of Poland” in his CNN article. With historic sites at Main Market Square, folksy market stalls, affordable dining, and pastoral countrysides, Krakow has a unique and sometimes wacky spin on history. A salt mine just outside the city, for example, houses an underground cathedral carved entirely out of salt.

According to the New York Times, the city of Wroclaw has an equally unique combination of modernism and history. Over 150 bronze dwarfs, symbolic of the communist resistance movement in the 1980s, have dotted the city since 2001.

But don’t let its quirky exterior fool you: Residents praise the vitality of the “young” town, as evidenced by student-friendly clubs and cafes. The article also lists recommended hotels, restaurants, and sights.

Even the Polish sector of Minneapolis is having its own revival. Previously ruled by Polish delis and clothing stores, the 13th Avenue stretch of northeast Minneapolis is now home to art galleries, restaurants, and record stores, according to the New York Times. Neighborhood artists and students alike can afford nights out at the well-priced Anchor Fish & Chips or the 331 Club (no cover charge).

Experience the offbeat culture of Poland for yourself with a semester-long study abroad program in Warsaw. And since Rick Steve says that it is one of Europe’s least expensive countries, Poland may even be worth an independent trip.

The magical and crazy world of Tim Burton’s newest film, “Alice in Wonderland,” was almost entirely computer-generated. Everything from the giant vegetation to the Red Queen’s castle exists only on top of a green screen. Yet there are a number of very real places that would have functioned well as the backdrop of an imaginary world like Wonderland. I chose a few of the most whimsical buildings that you can visit—without falling down a rabbit hole:

Photo courtesy of the "Works of Antoni Gaudi" sector of the World Heritage Collection

1. Pargue Guell. Any list of fanciful buildings would be incomplete without Antoni Gaudi, who built this site in 1914. A winding wall covered with colorful, recycled mosaic tiles surrounds his public park in Barcelona, Spain. The playful nature of the space is accentuated by the tiled dragon that greets visitors at the entrance of the park, as well as by the caretaker’s lodge, which resembles a gingerbread house.

2. St. Basil’s Cathedral. With its Candyland-inspired “onion domes” and central location in Moscow’s Red Square, this building is as much a symbol of Russia as the Eiffel Tower is of France. Legend has it that after Ivan the Terrible commissioned the Cathedral in the 16th century, he blinded its architect so that another equally beautiful structure could not be built elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of the Hundertwasser Non Profit Foundation

3. The Crooked House. Created by Szotynscy Zalesk in 2003, and inspired by a series of fairytale illustrations, this sagging “house” actually contains a number of restaurants and shops. It is located in Sopot, Poland, and has become the most photographed building in the entire country.

4. The Forest Spiral. This curving apartment complex is located in Darmstadt, Germany and was built by Austrian Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 2000. According to the author of the Armchair Travelogue blog, all 105 of the apartment units are accessible by a series of spiraling ramps, instead of stairs or elevators. Its façade is not only made up of eye-catching bands of color, but also features a garden of various trees on its “green roof.”

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