A Travellerspoint blog

June 2014

Good-bye Krakow

Leaving the keys to our love in Krakow we can never be seperated.

Our final day in Krakow started with a misty and cloudy morning. We had a couple of items on our itenerary still and were bound determined to see what we had planned. Leaving our Iraqi bunkmate who had joined us in our hostel room, he had immigrated to Norway and had a daughter living in Washington State, we headed out for the day.

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Starting at St. Mary's cathedral, we saw the opening of the alter and toured the amazing faciliity. The church was packed for the opening ceremony and we were lucky to have front row seats for the action. A nun unvailed the alter and provided us with some nice pictures.

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From there we went to the Lover's Bridge with our lock. As seen on the Amazing Race, couples come to this bridge with their lock, lock it in place on the bridge, and toss away the key into the water signifying their love to one another. Here we placed our lock, renewed our love, and tossed our key into the river.

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From there we headed to the Milk Bar for lunch where we ate like kings for pennies. Good thing we are doing so much walking. The Polish cuisine has been delicious. We proceeded to do some more shopping in Krakow's Old Town.

After that it was off to the train for our night train to Budapest, we were bth very happy to have a sleeper car for the two of us with beds that were nice and comfortable after the two nights at Atlantis.

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Posted by darrenesl 04:38 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Auschwitz and Birkenau

Evil so great, it must never be forgotten

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There is an erie silence as you enter the gates of a place that although the sunshine is there, is cold and dark all the same. We have driven an hour and a half to get to this sacreds ground and now there is a dread that almost makes one want to stay away and not enter...

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We had awoken earlier to the usual morning sunshine entering our hostel room window shortly after 4 a.m. local time and found sleep hard to come by after that. With many of the other hostelers still sleeping in their dorms or private roomes, we made use of the nearly empty WiFi that was able to meet our needs for connectivity. After a couple of Skype messages, emails, and social posts, a shower and shave helped get the tired body awake and ready for our day.

We quickly ate a breakfast of pastries, yogurt, cottage cheese, peaches, and coffee. It is becoming a daily breakfast here in Poland , quick, easy, and a good way to stretch the meal budget for the more adventureous lunch and dinner experiences. We planned a full day for Wednesday, booking a tour with Krakow Tours, run by an Englishman named Phil Clark. The trip includes Auschwitz and Birkenau and the Wieliczka Salt Mine, usually a day trip each if you go with one of the big cattle-car tours, however offered together on a private tour with Krakow Tours.

Promptly at 8:10 a.m., Mark, our driver and tour guide, who is a Brit living and working in Poland now, pulled the Renault Van up to the front door and introduced himself. We had the option of riding up front with him as the middle seat was already occupied by the other two tour takers, a couple from the UK. We chose the front for the view and were soon zipping through the countryside to our destination. We learned tha Mark, a traveling magician at the age of 17, had been to Auschwitz while traveling, and being so facinated by it, returned from the UK on weekends, 17 more times before moving to Poland to work.

A great conversationalist, Mark shared his story and thoughts on Poland, as we neared the largest and most deadly of all the Nazi concentration camps, Mark let us know what buildings to go to and which ones to avoid to have the best experience, with the least crowds. Because Auschwitz is so busy, they require tours to come with a tour guide, unless as Mark would do, enter with us and give us the option to wander on our own once he got us on the inside.

And now the moment had arrived, we passed all the queues to get in and were at the gates that are seen in movies and textbooks worldwide. "Arbeit Macht Frei" or work makes you free. The infamous words that hung over the heads of those entering this killing compound of Adolf Hitler's regime.

...Why does it feel this way, as I turn to Terri she reassures me it is not just myslef that feels this wasy as we enter the compound, but an intensity of evil that just lingers over the grounds that lie before us. Words cannot describe what the eyes see next, but there is no denying this artrocity ever happened.

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The former barracks of these prisoners show the horrors that awaited them when they arrived. Many of these people were expecting to come alomost on a holiday type experience, a chance to better their lives and that of theur families. You see the piles of their best dishes that some brought not expecting to be taken prisoner instead. You see the spoils the Nazi SS took from them, piles of reading glasses, mountains of shoes, an assortment of clothing, and even children's toys. All of this stuns you and leaves you wondering, but the knockout blow hits when you see the tons of human hair, shaved from the victims of Auschwitz that was still to be sold by the Nazis to make textiles and cloth from. Yes, they still have tons of human hair from this event on display for you to see.

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From Auschwitz we make our way to Birkenau, a bigger camp designed specifically for the extermination of people. The tools of the trade our similar, just on a much larger scale. At one point, killing 6000 people per day. The clouds that hung over the camps eventually disappated and the sun came out. Much as it did for some of the survivors of this period in history.

The women are to le left and the men to the right as you enter. The majority of the women's barracks are brick as the houses in the area were torn down and used to build them, the men's were of wood as that is what was left. The pits for the bodies and the incinerators are at the back, eventually they built the railway line straight there. Why keep the infirm, the cripple, and children as they will just be a drain on resources was their thinking. The Nazis even tried to capture the sewer to power the incinerators, however the diet of the prisoners did not feed them well enough to allow their waste to produce methane, so that plan was scrrapped.

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The sights and stories are ones we will never forget.

From here we headed to the salt mine. These mines have been worked for hundreds of years and over 130 km of tunnels had been dug in the salt mines. We toured more than 3 km of them and had a great history of the mines described to us. The chpels built underground were oppulant. When we emerged from the earth, 150 meters deep, it was pouring rain.

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Our guide shuttled us back to the hostel and we said our goodbyes to Mark. Sharing a bond that only those who have shared the concentration camp experience together can. It is a day we will always remember, and a time many can never forget.

Posted by darrenesl 14:12 Archived in Poland Tagged poland europe auschwitz krakow birkenau Comments (0)

A capital city of the past

A glimpse at Krakow's past and a look at today.

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Spending the remainder of our day exploring Krakow was the plan for Tuesday and we hit the city shortly after checking in at Atlantis. We began our journey by walking to the Old Town and Main Market Square, areas filled with vibrance and colors. The Square is just a small portion of the Old Town that houses numerous cafes, market stalls, and plenty of dive bombing pigeons to keep you on your toes. A small price to pay for the sites and sounds that fill the senses.

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After a quick lunch just off the square at Chimera, a small cafe that provides traditional dumplings as well as an assortment of locally sourced fresh salads, we were ready to conquer the sites. The contrast between the city and Old Town is not as drastic in Krakow as it is in Warsaw. Krakow has a much older look over all and the character of the city is evident in many areas. It is said that Krakow was Hitler's favorite city in Poland and thus had the least damage during World War II.

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The area was crowded with school children celebrating the last week of school with field trips, tourist, and locals enjoying the afternoon. Among the attractions are numerous churches, a cloth market that now sells trinkets and amber jewels, and buskers vying for tourist' coins.

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After several hours in the Old Town, we crossed over to the Jewish quarter and made our way to the "lovers bridge." The bridge is filled with locks that couples have placed on the bridge and thown away the key into the river below in a testament of their neverending love. The bridge was featured in a challenge on the Amazing Race recently and the detail of the locks, many engraved with couples names and dates provides plenty to see and ponder the fate of these couples today.

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After a dinner in the Jewish quarter it was time to head back to the hostel in preparation for a huge day on Wednesday with trips planned to Auschwitz and the Salt Mine in Wieliczka.

Posted by darrenesl 00:04 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Ready for Krakow

Bathroom sharing for the masses

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We rose early this morning, which is easy to do as the sun sets at about 9:30 p.m. and rises at 4:00 a.m. It was a brisk morning and we were excited to get our day going. We had a beautiful walk through the park as we headed to the metro. Our choice of Caribee luggage was a wise choice as there are many steps to climb coming and going to the many trains, subways, trams, and busses. The ability to carry this luggage as a backpack, or roll along on the ground is very helpful. With our early start, we missed the morning's heavy commuter crowds hitting the metro at about 7:00 a.m., just before the big rush.

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Once on our 8:00 a.m. train to head to Krakow, we began our media updates which had a few glitches, providing us with our first issue on the trip. When transfering our photos from our camera to tablet, the tablet said damaged memory card, but it had no problems in the camera, the next thing we knew, our pictures on the camera were all erased. Oh ....(insert your favorite expletive here)! It is a blessing that we will visit Warsaw one more time and have the chance to relive some of our memories.

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Our train-ride was filled with hillsides of lush greens sprinkled with various trees and wildflowers ~ a perfect morning commute and great way to see some of the countryside while catching-up on our writing.

Once we arrived in Krakow we found our way to the Atlantis Hostel, our home base until Thursday night. Here we have our four person shared room. That's right, we will be having two people we don't know sharing a room with us. We checked in and discovered our room would be on the 3rd floor here, 4th floor for those in the US., as the numbering starts with one being the first level up. We also discovered our co-ed bathrooms with two toilets and two showeras side-by-side, just a little odd.

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Anyway, we are off to see the Market Square and will share more later.

Posted by darrenesl 21:14 Archived in Poland Tagged travel train square atlantis fun hostel krakow marketplace pierogis Comments (0)

Do Widzenia

A trip to the Milk Bar ends with good bye

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The first full day in Poland has been incredible so far. The day started with a 5 am jet lag induced wake up at our hostel? Why 5 am? Probably because we laid down to read and write last night and promptly fell asleep. So when the sun started peeking through the windows of our room and curtains, we found ourselves ready to begin the day.

Starting off after breakfast we rode the rush hour packed metro to Centrum again. The Warsaw metro during ruch hour could possibly rival the Washington D.C. during their commuter hours. Packed in with no room to move, the trip provided for some prime people watching. Upon arriving at Centrum stattion, we made our way to the TI for some needed maps and to find out about any special events going on.

With the news that free tours were offered in old town, we decided to continue with our plan of taking the Royal Way to old town Warsaw and the square. Turning on to Nowy Swiat, we ventured down it until we came upon A. Blikle pastry shop. Blikle is known for their paczki (rose flavored jelly doughnuts) that are famous inthe area and were seen on the Amazing Race.

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After a doughnut with rose jelly filling the world certainly looks like a brighter place. Or perhaps it was just the extra-strong espresso like coffee that is called Americano Kawa. We headed off to see several magnificent buildings, monuments, and unique sights. One of these is the Church of the Holy Cross where composer Ffryderyk Chopin's heart is inside one of the pillars in the church. Also in this building is a memorial to Poland's 22,000 POW's massacred by Soviet soldiers in 1940 near, Katyn, now a village in today's Russia.

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After a couple of more sights, we meandered over to Pilsudski Square. Once home to a torn down Russian Orthodox church, later named Adolf Hitler Platz, here now there is a stark reminder of Poland past and present. A plaque commorates the place in the square where in 1979 Pope John Paul II returned to Poland and spoke to the people. Also here is where the tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in Poland. In 1981 under the communists, when martial law was imposed, the citizens silently protested here by filling the square with a giant cross made of flowers. Today a cross is still here with the words, "Let thy spirit decend, let thy spirit descend, and renew the face of the earth -- this earth." This was one of Pope John Paul II's favorite sayings and a subtle dig against the communist regime during his visit.

Capping off our Royal Way journey was a hike up 150 steps to the top of St. Anne's Church. The sweeping views from the top of this tower give a birds-eye view of downtown Warsaw and beyond. It provides a stark contrast between the old and new city and the changes that have occured.

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For lunch we ventured into a local establishment translated into English as a Milk Bar. A milk bar is a government subsidized cafeteria filled with locals seeking a cheap meal. A true cultural artifact and an experience we will never forget.

We chose Bar Mleczny Familijny. The menu, completely in polish was posted on the wall. None of the titles appeared in our guidebook, and no WiFi connection was available. We were unable to find a friendly local that could speak English to help these tourists out, and the little window you ordered from looked like a small confessional window with no hope of pointing to the dish we wanted.

As we turned to leave and look for another milk bar an elderly lady with two canes entered and we held the door open for her. She said thanks in English and that provided the chance. This kind elderly Pole helped us find a chicken dish on the menu, as well as boiled potatoes and a cooked beet dish that was out of this world. All this totaling 25 Zloty for two or about 8 USD. She explained to us that she had been coming to this milk bar since she was in college and it was still the same. The place was extremely clean and efficient, with some solid Polish cuisine. She told us that it invoked memories of her past and held a special place in her heart. Our encounter with her was too brief as we longed to hear more from her and learn what it had been like during communism. As she left she made us repeat after her: Do Widzenia or as she taught us Good-bye.

A fitting way to end our first experience with Warsaw, and its charming scenes. After this encounter, we are ready to speand more time exploring the city.

Posted by darrenesl 09:29 Archived in Poland Tagged warsaw way holy cross bar milk royal kawa paczki mlechzny Comments (0)

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