Sunday, October 20, 2013
Southern Poland is place that mixes breath-taking setting with a trendy cosmopolitan culture like a perfect cocktail; Krakow was our home for three days. What people would do normally is stay in the grand city of Warsaw and do Krakow on the side – but normal is so boring. And hence we arrived one morning from Frankfurt.
BY FOOT IN KRAKOW
Within an hour of our arrival we were out to explore. This is a place that greatly rewards the visitor who grabs a map-not that you can ever really get lost in the orderely grid of roads. Fast becoming one of the most popular cosmopolitan towns of Poland, Krakow is the unofficial culture capital of the country. It is a fantastic city to walk around, with its cobbled streets, old style buildings, and fantastic churches with beautiful designs, statues and colours everywhere. Our first stop was the Kazimierz aka the Jewish District and the old town, which was a special place.
I stood there looking out for several minutes – there was a soothing loveliness in all this that is hard to describe. As was the dinner I had that day, which is still fresh in my memory. At the Piano Rouge restaurant in the Old Town Square, you must ask for the roast chicken. The succulent, delicious preparation gave new meaning to melt-in-the-mouth and was an impeccable combination with the Polish Vodka, one of my great discoveries on this trip.
A SALT MINE AND MORE
Next morning we headed to ‘Wieliczka’ salt mine, the tour started by descending into the mine in a group, arriving first at a depth of about 65 meters, and continuing on the tour to reach a maximum depth of about 135 meters below ground level. That’s over 400 feet, and guess they had free Wi-Fi and even a restaurant down there. Once we were below the surface, the guide took us through a series of rooms and passageways, telling us about the history of the mine as we walked along. I loved the fact that almost everything in the mine is made of salt, and I actually licked a wall for proof. The salt mine is truly one of the most amazing things I have ever come across in my travels, and the star of the show is the underground salt cathedral and I couldn’t help but marvel at the salt engineering contained therein.
After a nice meal at the restaurant at the mine went back to Krakow to simply soak in the ambience at the old town square which is the largest medieval plaza in Europe. An old Cloth Hall stands in the centre, with the Town Hall Tower at one end and the huge, twin-towered, Gothic basilica of St Mary opposite. Street performers add a buzz of excitement and it's completely clear why Krakow was the European City of Culture for the millennium. I walked looking around for souvenirs, sipping my cuppa coffee before I finally headed for dinner to ‘Wesele’ for an authentic Polish experience.
Stomach happy, went clubbing to Club Bracka 4, definitely the hippest in town.
We’d had a whirlwind three days but there was still a place on my itinerary I just could not ignore. Auschwitz is 30 miles west of Krakow. That said, I was a bit horrified and confused at what to expect. Auschwitz II – Berkenau is the main concentration camp, where we hired an English speaking Polish tour guide who took us to see the few barracks in original state that are open to the public. At one point she took us into a Block which in the basement had rooms where I found it so difficult to grasp as to how they could think up such vile ways to kill people.
The worst were the gas chambers where children, cripples, women and the old were enclosed and just left to die within minutes basically the ones who were deemed unfit. On the short journey from Birkenau to Auschwitz 1, I was just so numb and sadly walked around the barracks which displayed life in Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
Nothing I can write about Auschwitz would be adequate. You need to go there, stand and struggle to comprehend man’s blackest depths, and feel grateful being able to walk away. Life goes on and our coach headed towards a train station in Ostrava from where we continued to our next destination which was the Perky Prague!
published in tlf