Krakow

Trip Start Apr 04, 2008
1
9
22
Trip End Jul 01, 2008


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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saturday 24 May
We drove for most of the day through Slovakia.  It was so green and pretty with little villages, mountains with a little bit of snow and green pine covered mountains.  We saw lots of people tending their garden plots.  There were a couple of women who looked like they were in national costume.  They wore a coloured scarf around their head, a colourful flowered skirt with a big white apron.
 
The roads deteriorated as soon as we got to Poland.  They were rutted and had large potholes and dirt patches.  They were doing lots of road works that left the new work with an 8 inch drop down to the un-bitumened side.  It was deadly and dangerous.  It took us much longer than we thought to travel the last few kms.
 
We arrived at our house where the man didn't smile or speak a word of English.  He just jabbered on, took our €250 security deposit, showed us the house and was off.  The house is in the middle of the countryside, the equivalent of Pullenvale.
 
We went into Krakow town, dodging trams and watching maniac drivers to pick up Anne and Michelle who had come to join us for a few days.  We then had the joy of showing them the house which came straight out of a 70s time warp.  Dark brown was obviously a favourite colour. There was brown lino in the kitchen, brown carpet, brown cupboards, a mustard coloured bench seat and wood panelling everywhere.     
 
The plus was that we welcomed by a very friendly black and white cat. 
 
Sunday 25 May
Wieliczka Saltmine is the only place in the world where mining has been continuous from the Middle Ages.  It is built on 9 levels and stretches for 300 kilometres.  We did the tour which took in only 3 kilometres and saw the salt that oozes through the rock to form cauliflower shapes on the rock surface. We also saw chapels cut in the salt, one of which was lit by chandeliers made of salt, as well as underground lakes.  There were lots of religious statues carved by miners.   An express lift took 40 seconds to bring us the 135 metres to the surface and back into the sunlight. 
 
 
Monday 26 May 
 Our trip to the southern town of Zakopane should have only taken 45 minutes but due to road works we arrived some one and a half hours later. 
 
We walked around the town with its unique dark wooden architecture.  It is the centre of sport and mountain tourism with lots of restaurants and souvenir shops.  We also saw lots of stalls selling what we though were small breads but ended being logs of smoked cheese pressed into various shapes.   
 
We then went up the funicular to get a view of the Tatry mountains.  They are tall and impressive with their covering of snow.
 
Tuesday 27 May
 Auschwitz - nothing can prepare you for the scale of the atrocities that were perpetrated here.  We did the tour of Auschwitz 1 camp and saw how people were processed on arrival; how their possession were confiscated and sorted.  We were also shown the death wall where 10 000 people were executed.  We were told that for every escapee 10 other prisoners were taken and placed in the starvation cells or shot.  We also went into one of the gas chambers and crematorium which was shocking and so immensely sad when you thought of all the innocent lives lost. But Auschwitz 1 is only one thirtieth the size of Auschwitz II Birkenau.  It is three kilometres away and covers a huge area.  This was where the selection of people took place on the train platform with most being directed down to the shower rooms and to death.  The camp has been maintained and is considered a cemetery even though there are no grave stones as such.  You can see the lakes into which the ashes were disposed.    
 
We stopped in town for dinner at the town square.  We watched the horses and carriages going past.  The horses are decorated with ribbons and some even have large white feathers attached to the top of their bridle.     
 
Wednesday 28, Thursday 29, Friday 30 May
Michelle and Anne went home to London on Wednesday
 
We headed into town and worked out the public transport system.  Quite amazing really when you look at the names on the route.  Polish words are so hard to get your head around.  How do you say drzwi or wyjscie or bezpieczenstwa or czesci?  Words like zdzissliwa completely confound me!
 
In the end we were right and the number 8 tram did get us in to the City square where we were able to do our walking tour.  We learnt that over the years Krakow has been invaded by the Mongols, Germans and Russians.  Now the tourists are invading.  There is a trumpeter who plays a tune from the steeple on St Mary's church on the hour and he gets cut off mid note.  This is supposedly because the trumpeter was alerting the township of an attack and was shot by an arrow mid tune.  We went into St Mary's with its beautiful carved, golden altar and several other churches that are supposed to be the sites of miraculous events.  Wawel hill was included and we saw the castle with its fire-breathing dragon.  
 
There is a lot of amber jewellery for sale and cheap souvenirs but my stroll through the Cloth Market (the oldest craft building in Krakow) didn't tempt me.  It was nice and cool inside and as it was at least 30 degrees outside in the Square. 
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