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Krakow Trip

March 22, 2011

Last week, 14 – 18 March, a group of us took a trip to Krakow in Poland. When we first arrived and walked from the station to the hostel on Miodowa Street the place felt rather dirty and run down. Many of the streets are cracked and the walls are either flaky paint or crumbling render. But as the days went on you realised that this surprisingly calm and peaceful city is undergoing an enormous renovation. The closer you get the the Rynek Glowny, a vast market square in the centre of Old Town, the more buildings are freshly painted with crisp sharp edges to the renovated stonework. The streets grow on you as you realise that virtually every building is an ‘original’ having escaped destruction during World War II.

After the first day’s orientation around the Rynek and the Old Town area, the second day was spent visiting some of the ‘must see’ attractions such as the Veit Stoss, German master carver, designed massive late-Gothic altar-piece called The Lives of Our Lady and Her Son Jesus Christ, which was completed between 1477-89. Ss Peter and Paul’s Church, an early 16th century Baroque masterpiece with it’s striking statues of the Twelve Apostles guarding the entrance. Wyspianski’s Act of Creation and the other astonishingly contemporary stained glass windows to be found in St. Francis’ Basilica. Wawel castle and Cathedral perched atop a 50 meter rock at the southern tip of Old Town.

The food was cheap and we were lucky to find a number of good restaurants and cafés during our stay, particularly on Józefa Street in the Kazimierz area where we were staying. The evenings were spent tasting polish dishes as well as Polish Vodka and beer of course.

Day three found a number of us on an old train, straight out of cold war Poland, on the way to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp of the German occupation of Poland during the Second World War. A place where over 200,000 people died during the occupation as part of Hitler’s Final Solution. There’s not much you can say about a place where such atrocities were committed other than the area was surprisingly much bigger than I had anticipated and the gas chambers and furnaces much smaller than I had expected. The place is well run and overall the right level of respect is given to the victims by both the museum and the visitors to it. Very few people spoke whilst walking around the camp. There were a number of times when I felt I should speak to people but each time I found I couldn’t as it felt inappropriate some how. It was  a long journey to and from the town of Oswiecim, the home of Auschwitz not least of all because the trains run so slowly. Considering the town is only 47 miles away the train journey took over two hours each way.

Most of my forth and last day in Krakow was spent at the Museum of National Remembrance at the corner of pl. Bohaterów Getta (Ghetto Heroes’ Square) and at Fabrika Oskara Schindlera (Oskar Schindler’s Factory), made famous in the Speilberg film Schindler’s List, which is now a museum exhibiting displays about the occupation of Krakow and in particular the Jewish Ghetto. Both these places are in the Podgórze area of the town which was the site of the Jewish Ghetto during the occupation years. The museum at the factory was completed last year and is extremely good and well worth a visit. The rest of the day was spent in coffee shops and then a night out simply enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of Krakow.

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