Apr 302014

Camp Fence around Women’s Quarters


Wooden Prisoner Barracks


Through “Death Gate”


Main Guard House Known as “Death Gate’

An early morning trip through the industrial and suburban parts of Krakow helped us feel like regular commuters dealing with heavy traffic and ancient systems unequipped to support everyone’s dream to own their own car. Although the transport system seems effective and reliable and is fully used, car traffic is heavy in urban areas.

We visited Auschwitz. Synonymous with fear and horror, Auschwitz was the Nazi’s largest concentration and extermination camp and was part of a three camp complex in the immediate area. It is estimated that between 900,000 and 1.5 million Jews and others were murdered here, brought in trains through “Death’s Gate” from all over Poland. The gas chambers worked ceaselessly from 1942 to the end of the war killing thousands daily.
Today it has been turned into a museum charting the history of the camp and of persecution in wartime Poland. Chilling and horrifying we were very moved.

We then visited the ancient Salt Mines of Wielicza, opened 700 years ago. The mines figured heavily in the riches of past kings because salt, before refrigeration, was essential for preserving food. Poland had enormous deep salt deposits. A salt miner was a free person and earned a good living doing very dangerous but essential work. The evolution of the mining technology over the lifetime of the mine was very interesting. For example the mine management had an entire stable of working horses who lived healthfully and worked four to five hundred feet below the surface. Each horse stayed for a 10 year stretch since they could not be lifted up and down with ease. This adventure was yet another incident of our friend Susan Spoto’s sage travel suggestions.





Apr 302014

Cloth Hall–Market Square Center


Two Lions in Springtime


Royal Castle


Royal Castle Staterooms at the Right


View from the Cathedral Belltower

Kraków is the city that attracted us to Poland. Reputed to be both an historic as well as a visual gem, it is Poland’s second largest city and covers both banks of the Vistula river. Seated at the base of the Carpathian Mountains, the metropolitan area has more than 1.4 million residents. Kraków also serves as the capital city of the Malopolskie (Lesser Poland or Little Poland) province in the southern region of Poland.

There is archeological evidence of settlements here since 20,000BC. Early Krakow grew from a small settlement in 1000AD to large wealthy city primarily through trade with the various rulers of Europe.

Brief historic highlights that impact the face of the city today include: in 1241, the city was almost entirely destroyed by Tatars. Rebuilt in a design that remains largely unchanged today. It was again over run in the 13th century by the Mongols when Kazimierz the Great set about defending the city. Walls, fortifications, and the original Wawel Castle were added. The University was also established. King Kazimierz also established the district of Kazimierz for Jews to live free from persecution. This area remained mainly Jewish for centuries until the Nazi occupation.

The 16th century is regarded as Krakow’s golden age. Under the influence of the joint Polish-Lithuanian Jagiellonian dynasty, Krakow became a centre of science and the arts. In 1569, Poland was officially united with Lithuania and as a result government activity started to move to Warsaw. King Zygmunt III officially moved the capital in 1609.

The 17th century marked a return to troubled times for Krakow and Poland. Invaded by Russians, Prussians, Austrians, Transylvanians, Swedes, and the French, Poland went through various forms of political control.
In the First World War, Józef Piłsudski set out to liberate Poland and the Treaty of Versailles (1919) established an independent sovereign Polish state for the first time in more than 100 years. This lasted until the Second World War, when Germany and the USSR partitioned the country, with German forces entering Krakow in September 1939. Many academics were killed and historic relics and monuments were destroyed or looted. Concentration camps were established near Krakow, including Plaszow and Auschwitz. After German withdrawal, the city escaped complete destruction and many buildings were saved.

In the Communist period, a large steel works was established in the suburb of Nowa Huta. This was seen as an attempt to lessen the influence of the anti-Communist intelligentsia and religious communities in Krakow. In 1978, UNESCO placed Krakow on the World Heritage Sites list. In the same year, the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyła, was made Pope John Paul II.

The Communist Government collapsed in 1989. For the last quarter century Krakow has undergone yet another period of regeneration and revitalisation creating a dynamic energetic symbiosis between historical preservation and 21st century development.

Our first full Krakow day we wandered the main Market Square admiring the amazing array Renaissance and Baroque buildings, mansions and churches defining the perimeter of the enormous square as well as the Cloth Hall in the market’s center. We spent on the afternoon exploring the museums on Wawel (the walled fortification overlooking the old section of the town) including the Wawel Royal Castle Museum and the Royal Cathedral both inextricably linked as seats of power. The trappings of power in both were stunningly displayed and arrayed and the audio-guide fascinating.

We ended the day with a fun carriage ride throughout the old town.

Apr 272014

The skies cleared and the sun broke over John Paul’s beatification mass which amassed in the park across from our hotel as we walked out.

We walked through a park and started mid-city with the tacky over-the-top Palace of Culture and Science which apparently resembles a Socialist/Realist tower block. A gift from the nations of the former USSR, it was once the tallest building in Europe. To this day it provokes extreme reaction from admiration to demand for demolition.20140427-184405.jpg

Our next stop was the National Museum which had mounted a very comprehensive retrospective of a Warsaw favorite son Alexander Gierymski.
Apparently the museum has a vast collection of Gierymski’s work including his sketches and small drawings done in preparation for his major works. The show was very interesting, well supported by visitors along with us and although he was not well received in the art world in the latter half of the 19th century he is appreciated for his colorist work and his working class subjects.


The National Museum

Onward to the Lazienki Palace which is a park formerly owned privately as a royal summer residence but is now a museum in a vast 18th century formal park. Lazienki Park has the feel of the world’s most elaborate parks, Central Park included and it like the others was redesigned in about the same period. We join hundreds of families enjoying the beautiful Spring day and gorgeous setting.


About Lazienki Park

We are packing up to leave after breakfast. Apparently we are taking the beautiful weather with us because people below us on the street are shrouded in rain gear and heavy jackets.

Apr 262014


Former Pope John Paul will be officially canonized on Sunday so there are major celebrations all over Poland, his native country. As we drove into Warsaw the city is awash in banners and posters.

Today it is raining. We are staying adjacent to the oldest part of Warsaw, founded at the turn of the 13th century, so it makes it very easy to meander the cobblestone streets among the reconstructed buildings. The streets follow a regular grid pattern typical of medieval towns and are laid along the original patterns before the bombings of 1939 and 1944. Every district or neighborhood has a memorial or monument to either the fallen, the atrocities or to individual heroism. Warsaw does not intend to forget or to let future generations forget.

In the Old Town, the Royal Castle which was the official residence of Polish monarchs, is in the Castle Square at the entrance to Old Town. It was almost entirely destroyed but literally arose from the ashen rubble entirely funded from donations of the Polish people who saw it as a symbol of their own resiliency. The Castle is shown in the above collage.

We are also very close to the University which we will visit tomorrow.

Yet another important Warsaw historic district is the” New Town” which  was established at the turn of the 14th century as an independent city and after 1791, due to the tenets of the Constitution which unified Lithuania and Poland,  New Town was incorporated into  Warsaw.

We did our bus ride over view of the city to get oriented and today in part, to stay dry and still sight see. The last collage is through a drizzly windshield as
Warsawians head home from work.


Carmelite Church Built in 1661


Copernicus and Copernicus Hopefulls at the Stazic Palace


Chopin Family Home


Old Town Square


Staying Dry on the “Royal Way”


Swordfighter Mermaid


Awash but Inside the Bus

Apr 232014

An Early Morning Between Our Hotel and the Main Square

Wroclaw (pronounced Vrots-waf) is on our way to Krakow and according to our friend Susan Spoto, is reputed to be more manageable and just as beautiful and so should have been good practice for the Nelsons. Maybe…but on our way our GPS spirit and guide tried to take us via Prague instead of directly via the autobahn. Turns out that she must be told specifically that we are willing to pay tolls or she only takes us over back roads and through small villages (for 3 hours until we figured out what we needed to tell her!). Oh well we saw gorgeous Czech Republic back country and villages and tonight we are in Wroclaw ready to explore this lovely old historic town tomorrow,

Wroclaw is located in southwestern Poland in the historic region of Lower Silesia and has a fascinating storyline; through the course of its history it has gone under five names, been passed between four countries and seen the painful end of both fascism and communism. Today as we set out we see a Wroclaw that boasts fascinating architecture, criss crossing rivers and bridges, and a lively and metropolitan cultural scene energized by university students who comprise 20% of the population. The family friendly appeal seems to be exemplified by the 100 plus gnomes dotting unassuming spots throughout the historic area.

Prior to the Second World War, Wroclaw (Breslau in German) was the capital of the German province of Prussian Lower Silesia. It was annexed by Poland when, after the War, the Soviets moved the German/Polish border westward to the Oder/Neisse Line. Wroclaw was almost completely destroyed during the end of the War as the Red Army fought its way into Germany towards Berlin, being declared a “Fortress City” by Hitler. However, it has been wonderfully restored and can now be counted amongst the highlights of Poland and of all Central Europe. Combined with the current unrest in the general region (Kiev) we hope to be ahead of the tourist hordes as Poland rushes headlong into further integration with the rest of Europe. As a naive American, I am still astounded by the fluid regard for Poland’s borders over the centuries as they have been shoved and tugged back and forth by neighboring countries depriving the people of the stability and safety that we Americans assume as our birthright.











The Royal Palace-Historical Museum


If Gnomes Don’t Drink They at Least Pour


The Hunt was on for Gnomes


More Gnome Discoveries