Yesterday was such a long day I could barely keep my eyes open to post – only long enough to get a few picture up for your viewing pleasure. So in case you were wondering what it was you were actually looking at, I am here to paint a fuller and clearer picture.
We began the day early in Berlin, getting up before 6 to get ourselves checked out and onto on the U-Bahn headed towards the airport. We transfered to a city bus part of the way and made it all the way to the front doors very easily. It is hard not to admire the greatness of the Germany metro and rail system. It is so incredibly efficient and useful that a car seems almost irrelevent. TXL is a smallish airport, or at least the terminal we were in, akin to around the size of Abbotsford. Ray swears it was bigger, but I still think it was pretty small, especially given the size of Berlin. But then again, many Europeans are prone to smaller flights within the European region opposed to longer distance flights, such as the ones we see out of Vancouver. We checked our luggage and headed downstairs for some efficient but standard breakfast fare. We eventually went to board the plane, which starts with boarding a bus, and then driving us over 1km to another part of the airport where the plane was waiting. We boarded, and I instantly fell asleep, so the next thing I recall, Ray was handing me a class of orange juice while I was watching us descend into Krakow. Given Poland’s status in the EU we were able to skip customs, grab our bags and take a short bus ride to the train station where we took a 20 minute (8 zl) train ride into the center of Krakow.
Our hotel, the Globtroter, was recommended to us via a number of Rick Steves forums and came highly rated on tripadvisor. We wandered the 1 km from the train station, through the Old Town Walls, and found it rather easily. The hotel was charming and service exceptional and the price couldn’t be beat. Even before we got there, they were able to help me secure a driver for our trip to Auschwitz the following day (again, at a great rate!). The hotel was sweet and charming, with everything you could need. However, the bed wasn’t the most comfortable, and me and Ray both lost some sleep over it, which made us sad. However, we have no point of comparison to other Poland hotels, so we don’t want to complain too loudly about it. The wifi was included (which doesn’t seem to be the case in Berlin or Munich), and the hotel had that wonderful local charm that you want when visiting somewhere as unique as Krakow.
Because I had pinched something in my lower back, I was moving very slowly, and painfully, but I didn’t want it to deter me from seeing what I came to see. We started by wandering to Rynek Glowny – the main town square. We took a tour through St. Mary’s Cathedral – a BEAUTIFUL cathedral build just shy of 1000 years ago that is overly ornate (Ray actually found it too cluttered for his taste). They charge an extra 5 zloty to take your camera inside (about $1.50 Cdn) and it was worth every penny. That is the one thing about Poland – you get pretty good bang for your buck! After the Cathedral I took picture of the Cloth Hall – a pain shopping fairway inside a beautiful building. Mostly designed now for tourists, it is fully of little stalls selling local made Polish crafts and jewelry. It reminded me or Playa del Carmen, except the stuff had higher quality and the people manning the booths do nothing to try and get your business. We happened upon a sweet hand-carved Polish Chess set that called our names – the perfect momento of our trip. By now we were famished and seeking traditional Polish fair. The entire Rynek Glowny is full of restaurants side-by-side, each with a menu out front in English and Polish and usually and English speaking hostess. Ray wanted pierogies (pEERogies, not PERogies as the mennonites pronounce it) and BARscht (not BORscht), and I wanted Kolet schabowy – a play on the viennese schnitzel, an national dish in Poland. The only place we could find that had all 3 was The Piano Rouge – so we went down 2 flights into a brick “dungeon” with red lighting. It was a jazz club by night, but had a bit of a burlesque type feel based on the decor – none of which mattered because the food was AWESOME and we had the place to ourselves. Barzscht is nothing like Borscht Ray discovered – it is a boiled beet soup – but with nothing in it. He still enjoyed it, but not as much as he would have. His Pierogies on the other hand he loved (potato and cottage cheese). He had his first Zywiec (Polish Beer), I had a smoothie, and still water (have to pay for water) and my Kotlet and tempura vegetables. The whole meal lasted over an hour and came to less than 50 zl (or about $17.00). We were super pleased.
Post-lunch we began to wander, again SUPER slowly, down towards the Wawel Castle. By this time I started noticing the numerous horse-and-carriages that gave tours of Old Town and Golf Carts with 3 benches and enclosed clear plastic sides (to hold in heat) advertising tours. Ray wasn’t interested in the tours, but I really wanted to learn about the history of Krakow and the war. It was already nearing 4:00pm and we had barely seen Krakow. And again, I was moving SLOWLY. Finally Ray allowed me to make eye contact and ask a price – we found a lonely tour guide looking for work with an empty heated cart half way between Old Town and the Castle. He showed us the options and normally it was 160 zl per areas (there was three), but he was willing to do the whole thing for 160. DEAL! (It is worth mentioning that it was -4 C, so a heated ride was educational, warm and alleviated my pain from walking….) So we hopped in the back and headed out of Old Town into the Old Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz. At the time of the Second World War, this area had 9 synagogues and 68,000 Jews, one-third of Krakow’s population. Within 3 years, less than 5% survived. While some were shot within the ghetto, the majority were shipped out and killed at one of Poland’s or Germany’s extermination camps. Initially the were moved across the river to the ghetto. 68,000 Jews in an areas that was 5 blocks by 5 blocks. They were surrounded by a wall. At the top of this wall was rounded pieces resembling traditional Jewish tombstones, as to remind them that they were surrounded by their own eminent death (a picture of the wall that remains was posted yesterday). In addition, when the Jews fled Kazimierz, they took as many belongings as they could and the only furniture they could carry were the kitchen chairs. This is way, in the main square of the old ghetto, there is a memorial of chairs representing the exodus of the people from their home to the ghetto, and honouring their deaths (picture showing yesterday as well). To this day, there are only 216 registered Jews in Krakow, in a population of 1.2 million. There remain children there who are of Jewish heritage and do not even know it because their parents thought it too dangerous for them to know they were Jews. This history is a huge part of Krakow’s existence and it was incredibly moving. In addition, we went just outside the ghetto to Oskar Schindler’s Factory – a man who bought the freedom of the Jews at his own expense. There is a photo of every person he saved in the front windows of the factory.
This was by far the most AMAZING and UNANTICIPATED experience of our time in Krakow. The guide we had was awesome. We also saw churches, a monument to Pope John Paul II, and a variety of Jewish cemeteries, halls, synagogues and important historical monuments. He was also nice enough to constantly stop and let me out to take photos. Though the tour should have been just over an hour, it ended up taking a full 2 – again – because of the generosity of a great guide.
After we were done he was nice enough to drop us at Wawel Castle. We wandered around the castle and saw the sunset over the river on our way back to Old Town. We stopped for some wonderful dessert before getting back to the hotel, editing some photos to share, and attempting to get some sleep. Of course, as per usual, I was up at 3am. First day it was the cold, then jet lag, now back pain. Tonight I’ve taken a little supplement to help because I am EXHAUSTED.
There will be a post on our time at Auschwitz coming soon – but not in order I would guess. It was so sobering and heavy that processing it will take more sleep and more time. In the meanwhile, I’m off to get some sleep so I can enjoy my day in Munich tomorrow. G’night all!