Thursday, November 8, 2012

Krakow

This trip was kind of planned spur of the moment (at least compared to our trips to Greece and Prague/Vienna which were planned months in advance).  Like I said in my last post, our main motivation for visiting Krakow was to see Auschwitz, but this beautiful city exceeded our expectations!

We really enjoyed the location of our hotel because it was within easy walking distance to the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) and right in the middle of the Old Town.  Plus, our room was so cozy!  

Our room at Hotel Senacki

We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon and enjoyed our first stroll through Krakow's Main Market Square (Rynek Glowny) on our way to lunch.  This square is enormous!  And even though the high-season for tourists was pretty much over, there was still a lot of activity - wreath and flower stalls, pigeons, and vendors selling obwarzanek (yummy!).  I'll admit, I had to look up the spelling of that one... but no research necessary to know if it's worth tasting - just don't call it a bagel...



Standing in Rynek Glowny with St. Mary's Basilica in the background
 After lunch, we took a tram to Kazimierz.  It was close enough for a walk, but it's always fun to try out a city's public transportation (unless it's smelly... but this wasn't).    Before WWII, the Jewish population totaled around 65,000 and primarily lived in this area.  Sadly, only a few thousand survived the war, and now Krakow only has about 200 Jewish residents.  Before the war, though, this community thrived.  Thanks to its many synagogues, traditional restaurants, an incredible museum and a popular movie, the Jewish spirit is still intact.




We walked around the neighborhood and wandered across the Vistula River to Podgorze, the site of Krakow's ghetto and Schindler's Factory Museum.  Ghetto Heroes Square, right in the middle of Podgorze, has a monument consisting of several empty metal chairs.  The Jews were rounded up from the ghetto, leaving everything behind to sit and wait here for transport to death camps.  Just down the street from here is Schindler's Factory - now, an amazing museum.


On top of describing the inspiring story of Oskar Schindler, the museum is an interactive timeline of Krakovian life during the events leading up to and during WWII.   It has all of these touch screens if I wanted to learn more about a particular topic and different themed rooms (the German invasion, a 1940's tram car, life in the ghetto etc).  My favorite room was the Room of Choices.  The rotunda's cement walls are covered in real-life accounts of people that were opposed to the evil all around them and chose to help.  It reminded me that we are the choices we make. 



This one was a favorite.  There's no doubt in my mind that my siblings would have done the same for each other.



We ended the day walking through the drizzle, contemplating the history lesson we just had and preparing for the day ahead of us at Auschwitz.

The day after our trip to Oswiecim, we wandered around the Old Town.  We strolled through the Planty...



Reminisced about college life at Jagiellonian University (Copernicus and Pope John Paul II studied here!) ...




Jagiellonian University's beautiful courtyard


Played knights versus dragons outside the old city walls...

Florian's Gate


Krakow's Barbakan


And pretended to be princesses that lived in a castle (okay, maybe that was just me)...

Walking into the Wawel Castle grounds
Wawel's courtyard



One of my favorite sites of the Wawel Castle grounds was the cathedral.  I know nothing about architecture, but it's obvious that this one is made from a dozen different styles... and it just works!

Wawel Cathedral

Krakow is gorgeous, right?  Tourists visit the city, but not many compared to western European cities.  WWII hit Poland hard emotionally and economically.  After "liberation", the communists brought the steel industry, copious amounts of smog, and a regime based on intimidation and rationing - the country continued to struggle.  I read in my Rick Steves guide book that the communists even controlled hair dye so that there was only one color available - a shocking pinkish-red!  The Poles, known for their historical dissidence, carried out major protests and were met with martial law that lasted for two years in the early 1980s.  In 1989, the Polish people finally achieved the autonomy they had hoped for for so long.
The castle grounds
We had really lucked out with the weather in Krakow so far seeing as how it was supposed to rain the entire time and we hadn't felt one drop.  When we made it back to Rynek Glowny late in the afternoon, though, we could see the clouds rolling in.  We did a little shopping in the Cloth Hall and then took a break drinking the thickest, yummiest, dreamiest hot chocolate we've ever had.

Cloth Hall








The clouds did bring rain. Lots of it. So we made good use of the gigantic shopping mall near Krakow's train station.  Somehow, Jeffrey walked away with more merchandise - that never happens!  We enjoyed a delicious meal at an Argentinian steak house on our last night and woke up to a winter wonderland the day of our departure.  We were only there a few days but flew back to Norway with a greater understanding of Polish culture, the country's struggles during WWII, and an appreciation for this beautiful, hopeful city.



1 comment:

  1. Once again an interesting and informative post. I "almost" feel I'm traveling with you.

    ReplyDelete