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.