Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Krakow, Poland

About a month ago. we headed back to Poland once again with our Polish connection Lukasz, this time visiting Krakow and the surrounding area. After another death defying drive courtesy of Luksaz, we made it. On our first night there we headed out to the Old Town Square which happens to be the biggest in Europe. It put Prague's Old Town square to shame because it was about 5 times the size.

On Saturday morning Alex and I headed off to sight see and our first stop was Wavel Hill where the castle is. There is a lot to see up there but we only did a tour through the Cathedral where we visited a famous bell that is very old and only rung on very special occasions as well as the royal tombs including King Kazimierz's (I love saying that name). I really liked the area around the castle, there is a lot of flowers and greenery and definitely felt more relaxed than Prague Castle.
We made our way back into the Old Town to meet Lukasz and Magda and enjoy a proper Polish lunch. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the Square. On a whim we walked into St. Mary's church and it turned out to be probably the most beautiful Catholic church I've ever been to....well minus St. Peters.

St. Mary's Church

The night scene in Krakow is pretty good based on what I saw. It's a big University town so that helps but then they also cater to tourists a lot, especially the Brits. I'm not gonna mention what time I saw some drunken people walking around. We wanted to see something more unconventional so after a couple drinks in the square we headed to the Jewish district where there are lots of smaller pubs and bars around. There was definitely a different crowd there and we had a good time just having a few drinks and chatting.

Krakow used to be home to many Jews and has an interesting Jewish district. Again I found myself comparing it to the Jewish District in Prague but they are nothing alike apart from the fact that both have synagogues. The one in Krakow is a lot less polished and some parts literally look like the ghetto. You can almost imagine what life would have looked like on those streets when the tanks rolled in.

Walking around the Jewish Ghetto

Since we had the time, we headed to Wieliczka salt mine (another UNESCO site) situated just outside of Krakow. This place has been around for about 900 years, hard to believe really, has about 200 km of passages, and the worlds biggest museum of mining, underground of course. After a 64 meter climb down winding stairs we got to the oldest part of the salt mine. Literally everything around us was made of salt, we even tested the walls by licking them; I'm ashamed to admit. The most impressive part is the Chapel of Saint Kinga, adorned with beautiful chandeliers, statues and very high ceilings.

On our final day in Poland, we made a trip to Auschwitz. I knew that it would be difficult to see first hand all of the remains of what was once a horrible place of destruction, but I also felt that it was important to go. Needless to say, I felt somber as soon as I walked through that barbed wire fence into Auschwitz 1. I'm not gonna go through the details of everything I saw, but it certainly opened my eyes to a lot that I was completely unaware of before. After seeing Auschwitz 1 which is the sort of administrative center of the whole operation and has the brick buildings, we then headed to Auschwitz 2 or Birkenau. This is the camp that appears in all of the movies about Auschwitz and has the big watch tower with the railway down the center and hundreds of wooden housing. Most of the exterminations happened at Birkenau and you get a real sense of what conditions must have been like as they've tried to keep it in its original form. I learned a lot that day and it was a very humbling experience that I will remember for a while to come.

What all Polish People look like :)

The famous bell inside cathedral on Wavel Hill; I'm very proud of myself for not having a panic attack in all that. Alex and I by the river.

Puff the Magic Dragon.... Just kiddin; Dragon at the bottom of the Castle at Wavel Hill. You can send him a text message and he writes back right before he blows fire. Genius Marketing!


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