Krakow, Dragons, and Auschwitz

After finishing classes on Friday morning, Dorota took us to the train station to start our journey to Krakow. First was a train from Kotun to Warsaw, where we got onto the fast train to Krakow. All in all, it was about a 4 hour journey. We took bagged dinners with us for the ride (courtesy of Reymontowka) so we didn’t even have to eat train food! The train accommodations were nice (and tickets were relatively cheap!), and once we arrived in the city we decided to walk to our hotel. We got checked in and settled and then I decided to journey out to the Old Town square, which was about 2 blocks from our hotel. There we got DELICIOUS pierogi from a little hut in the square, and sat and people-watched for a little while. It was a chilly evening, but there wasn’t any rain…and definitely no shortage of people! The square is full of adorable little vendors with everything from pottery to chocolate tools. We even stumbled upon a rally for one of the Presidential candidates…there was a run-off on Sunday for the next president (the newbie beat out the incumbent!). It was quite the event to see, even if I couldn’t understand anything that was being said. We even stopped for some gelato on the way back the hotel…which got me VERY excited for Italy!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Taking the train through the beautiful countryside!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
First view of Old Town Krakow
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Chocolate Tools!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
PIEROGI ❤
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The rally for the Presidential Candidate
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Snickers gelato 🙂

After a delicious hotel breakfast Saturday morning, Rob and I met Chester (our private guide) outside of the hotel and drove about an hour and 45 minutes to Auschwitz. The weather was cold and dreary, but it seemed appropriate. We spent the morning on a tour of both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, with a very knowledgeable and informative guide. She shared the stories of many of the individuals who suffered and/or died there, which made the experience all the more powerful. Visiting these locations was one of the most emotionally difficult things that I have ever experienced, but had a profound impact on me. Walking on the same grounds that these persecuted peoples did really made me realize just how incredibly blessed we are to have our freedom. The fact that people would treat other human beings in such an inhuman way is absolutely unfathomable; it‘s atrocious. It was a difficult morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The infamous gate to Auschwitz I
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Our guide discussing the sheer number of people killed at this camp
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Auschwitz I
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Telling us how prisoners were forced to play German military music as new people were brought in
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Original signs warning prisoners of the consequences of misbehaving
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The barbed wire fences that surround the camp…the wire itself has been restored, but the cement pillars are all original
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This room was full of suitcases of those who were killed; every single one has a story.  Most of them even have the names of the person written on the outside (like a luggage tag).
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A sampling of the personal belongings (pots, pans, kitchen utensils) brought by many women to Auschwitz…they were unaware that they would be stripped of all their belongings upon arrival.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Empty cans of Zyklon B (the chemical used in the gas chambers) that were found scattered around the camp when it was liberated.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The tracks leading into Auschwitz II-Birkenau
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
One of the many cattle cars that transported people from their homes to Auschwitz II
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A brick barrack…this was the “upscale” option; only women and children were housed here.  The men all lived in wooden barracks
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The ruins of one of the gas chambers at Auschwitz II-Birkenau.  The black stones in the foreground stand as a memorial to all who died there.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The memorial stone in English.  There is a stone in the language of all peoples who were killed at Auschwitz.

We then drove back to Krakow to pick up Kenita and to go to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It was a beautiful place, and they even have a underground cathedral! It’s one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and I can see why! There are beautiful rock salt carvings, four chapels, and even chandeliers with salt crystals. They charged us an extra 10 zly if we wanted to take pictures, but it was definitely worth it! Our day was running quite late, so by the time we got back to Krakow it was 8:30, so we decided to just find a restaurant in Old Town for a late dinner. We ended up at a fantastic Italian place where I demolished a pizza with tomato, basil, and mozzarella, accompanied by a glass of Cabernet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Yo ho, yo ho, it’s into the salt mines we go!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Hard to see, but this is looking down the 53 flights of stairs to the first level of the mine!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Selfie on the stairs!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The cathedral located underground with a beautiful salt stone altar, gorgeous statues, and salt crystal chandeliers
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Salt crystal chandeliers from the cathedral
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The altar in the salt mine cathedral
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
An underground brine lake in the mine
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Yes, that’s real salt on the walls. Yes, you can lick it. No, we didn’t actually lick the walls.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Our travel buddies are pooped!

Sunday morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel and then decided to just spend the day touring the city. We visited Wawel Castle and Cathedral, where we did some sightseeing and visited the dragon’s lair. According to legend, the king built the castle atop the dragon’s lair…it was a fun (although very touristy) place to see. I spent some time in Old Town shopping for pottery, carvings, and more. It was fun to walk around and just take in the sights, sounds, and smells! For lunch, I decided on kielbasa and pierogi (potato and cheese/strawberry). It was DELICIOUS! I swear I could eat Polish food forever…I definitely have never gone hungry here. We caught the train back in the early afternoon, and made it back to Reymontowka all in one piece, just maybe a little heavier? (thanks to food and souvenirs!). An awesome weekend all together…looking forward to the last week! I know it’s going to fly by!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Beautiful cathedral
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
WE FOUND WAWEL CASTLE! 😀
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The view from Wawel Castle Part I
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The view from Wawel Castle Part II
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Time to see if we can find the dragon…
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Inside of the dragon’s lair
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The dragon of Wawel Castle
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Some boys in traditional Polish costumes headed to a performance in the square
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My favorite little pierogi hut in Old Town
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
DELICIOUS PIEROGI 😀
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s