Monday 27 August 2012

Cruising Through Krakow

Time was running out for Central Europe. With only a week left we still had four countries between us and Russia. We took another high-speed train from Prague, only to change over the border at Katowice to a slow, lumbering old carriage set that dragged out the relatively short remaining distance to Krakow, the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. The Polish złoty was the currency of the day, and we added another set of notes to our growing currency collection.

The old town and our very central hostel were only a short walk from the station. Krakow's old town was not as big as Prague's but it was denser, being packed into the original small-walled and still-gated city. It was impossible to not be charmed immediately by this town when sitting in the Market Square, watching horse drawn carts clip-clop past, wandering amidst the old-styled market stores, listening to talented buskers treating us to the melodies of violins and guitars.

It was a simple pleasure to wander the streets, checking out the Polish Catholic churches (well attended on a Sunday) ...

The Main Square at Krakow
... and the universities ...

Collegium Medicum Uniwersytet Jagiellońsk Cortyard - Krakow
... between people-watching at café stops while drinking coffee and munching pastries ...

Michalscy. Cukiernie - Krakow
Pastries at Michalscy Cukiernie - Krakow
... and hiking up the stairs to Wawel Royal Castle to enjoy the view.

The many textures and architectural styles of Wawel Cathedral - Krakow
One of the many Ceilings at Wawel Royal Castle - Krakow
A window with a view, Wawel Royal Castle - Krakow
We did not have the time for a tourist pilgrimage to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, but we felt that the weight of this history was more than adequately found at Krakow's Oskar Schindler Factory. For those who haven’t seen the film Schindler’s List or read the book, Oskar Schindler was an ethnic German who was credited with saving over 1,200 Jews during the World War II Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories. Now the former enamel factory is an interactive museum on Kraków's sad history during that war. Unlike many museums, the Oskar Schindler Factory was what I would term a linear format, forcing you in one direction on an emotional journey with many powerful images, sounds and scenes, enabling us to experience as well as learn. Even with wordy facts and the usual glass-encased-ledgers on display, the focus was definitely more on individual lives during this troubled time, what they were forced to endure and what they had lost.

Swastika, Oskar Schindler's Emalia Factory - Krakow
Pots and Pans, Oskar Schindler's Emalia Factory - Krakow
Propaganda at Oskar Schindler's Emalia Factory - Krakow
Gates at Oskar Schindler's Emalia Factory - Krakow
Having been to the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) I preferred this one in Krakow. While the Deutsches Historisches Museum covered this time as well and was factually honest about much of what happened, it lacked the raw emotion of the period. I guess that may be a difference between the Germans and the Polish.

After two short nights in Krakow we jumped on an afternoon train to Warsaw, waited two hours to get into our hostel, had a dinner and a couple of Wódkas (debatably, Vodka's origins are Polish) and jumped on the first northbound train out of Poland.

Vodka, Gorzka and Cytrynowka - Warsaw
Morning train out of Poland

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