A Travellerspoint blog

Poland

August 5th

Krakow walking tour

sunny 20 °C

I got up after not a lot of sleep and grabbed a bite to eat from the hostel kitchen. I repacked my bag as efficently as i could, locked up my gear and headed out for a free walking tour of Krakow.
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The tour takes about 3 hours and the guide takes you around historic and funny parts of the city giving a background picture of how it all came to be. We went around some of the older buildings in Krakow, the city walls and gate, and then onto the castle itself. The castle itself was rebuilt after a hugh fire destroyed a large part of it. The cathedral has several chapels as each king decided he wanted to have his own chapel and each one was built in the style of that time. So, as you can imagine, the outside of the cathedral on one side looks very odd indeed!
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After the tour I headed back to the town square for a bite to eat. I sat at an outside table and watched as horse drawn carriages that were fit for royalty rolled on the coble stone square. After attempting to update my blog and failing misersably I grabbed my bag and headed for the train station. I got there in time to catch the 6pm train and waited and waited and well... you get the idea. It finally arrived 6:30pm. I arrived at the airport in good time, got my visa check done and went through customs. This time Ryan Air were weighing the bags. I got a few more heavier things out of my bag and filled the pockets of my jacket etc. Thankfully it came in under weight and I walked outside, climbed the stairs and found a seat on the plane.

Posted by classique 15:31 Archived in Poland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

August 4th

Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Dinner

sunny 16 °C

Today, after breakfast at the hostel, I headed off at 11:45am with a tour group to spend the day doing a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau. I joined a french guy, Mohamed, who was from the same hostel as I. It took just over an hour by bus to get to Oświęcim which the germans called Auschwitz. There was a bunch of senior girl guides on the bus who we ended up chatting to for most of the way. We arrived and then had to wait for about 45 minutes while our tour guide waited for several more bus loads. Thankfully when we went inside and got our head sets we were sorted into smaller groups for offical Aushwitz guides. We set the channel on our headsets to 6 and were able to hear the guide who had a microphone without her having to raise her voice at all. As the tour itself took about 3 hours it is pretty hard to cover the day with any kind accuracy. We went through the gates under the signs "Arbeit Macht Frei" meaning "work will make you free".
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The origins of the camp and how it came to be were explained to us. If I remember correctly the camp was originally used Polish army artillery barracks and then turned into a concentration camp after the germans invaded as it was very easy to hide and all the buildings were already there. We were then taken into a series of barracks which showed the how the Jews, gypsies and some polish were brought in by rail carrages, processed etc. Some had spent 8 to 10 days in the carriages without food or drink. They were ordered off the trans and sorted. All luggage was to be left behind and some went to the gas chambers imediately and some went to the labour camp. We were shown how the jews bellongings were processed with stock piles of everything setup in storehouses including their hair which was shaved off so it could be used for textiles. The next barracks showed the toilets, and bedding situation and the photos of the first victims to be brought and photographed. There was one persons photo who stood out for me above all the rest which had a huge smile on his face. Most died or were executed within a year. A lot didn't make it past 3 or 4 weeks. We moved on to the last barrack on that road to be shown where the men and women sentenced to death by the SS were led out through a door to a wall where they shot. Inside that barracks was where the SS commander/judge made his rulings as to whether people would be shot, starved to death, suffocated or other sentences. There was another room which had boxes in it which were just big enough for 4 people to stand up in. They would be forced to work all day, then stand all night in this box which they had to crawl into and then work again all day with the possibilty of this going on for up to 10 days. We were led to the spot where the jews were grouped and roll called every morning and evening and where hangings were carried out. And then finally we were led to and through the gas chamber were a hugh amount of jews were killed.
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This was the end of our tour of Auschwitz I, so after a 20 minute break we jumped onto a shuttle bus and headed over to Birkenua which was also known as Auschwitz II(the final solution). It was many many times bigger then Auschwitz I. Once again we were shown through the barracks and toilet blocks. They were only allowed to go to the toilet twice a day, once before work and once after with many hurrying others up so they could go. They had barracks enough to hold 90,000 people which they crammed in 200,000. The beds in the barracks were 3 high and cramed next to each other. Each bed heald 10 jews. The top bunk was generally wet from the leaky roof and the bottom bunk was where you were attacked by the ferocous rats which woul deat living and dead people.
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There were i believe 4 gas chambers. They were led into the changing rooms where they all had to strip and then crammed into the gas chamber which was disguised as a shower room complete with dummy shower heads. It took an hour to get 2000 people into one and then they closed the doors. An SS officer wearing a mask would open and drop the contents of several cans of Zyklon B which was a granulated substance down the air vents. As soon as it mixed with oxygen it reacted and became cyanide gas. It took 15 minutes to end the lives of those 2000 souls. They were then incinerated in the the ovens by other jews who had this job. These jews also had to strip any remaining valubles from the corpses. The four gas chambers were destroyed by the germans who left just before the allies arrived. over 20,000 jews could be gassed and incinerated in a day. After walking around the remains of a couple of the gas chambers it was time to head back to Krakow.
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I went for a wander around the town square and listened to a few pepole who were busking. There was one guitarist who could really play! Later in the evening I caught up with Mohamed for a drink in the town square. We headed off to a italian restaurant for dinner where we had a selection of breads, pasta and wine for only 38 sloty which equates to about CAD$15.Mohamed___I.jpg

After taking a few shots of Krakow after dark I head back to the hostel for a much desired sleep.

Posted by classique 15:26 Archived in Poland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

August 3rd

Wieliczka Salt Mine

all seasons in one day 13 °C

We headed out, and as I hadn't had anything to eat since 4:30am, I was ravenous. We headed down the street looking for something to eat. I found a local kebab place for a fair dinkum Polish kebab!? Before I knew it I had the most odd looking kebab I had ever seen sitting in my hand.
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As I slowly devoured this new concept we attempted to find a local bus that would take us directly to Wieliczka Salt Mine. After a few enquiries we found out that we should take bus 304 which stopped just around the corner. We hopped onto the 304 and as it lurched forward, started and stopped etc. we attempted to purchase tickets from the polish ticket machine which was on the bus. In the end we chose randomly based on price as all of the choices were written in Polish. Once the tickets had printed out we inserted them into the validation machine. We took our seats and rode along for about half an hour. As we pulled up to a bus stop I read the word Wieliczka and jumped off figuring that this was our stop. As the bus disappeared into the distance I realised that this stop was just a suburb of Wieliczka. Thankfully we were only a 15 minute of walk from the salt mines, We purchased our tickets and waited about 3 minutes for the English tour to begin. We were led through a door and down 374 steps. When we eventually got to the bottom of the stair case we were approximately 64 metres down. The total tour would take between 2 and 3 hours. We walked through passageway after passage way slowly going further down. The floors were generally just grey salt as were most of the walls and some of the ceilings. There were carved knomes, full size human sculptures, cathedrals, lakes etc. all carved out of salt. The most impressive site was the chapel of St. Kinga. You arrive at the top of it and look down 20 to 30 metres. The floor looks like it is tiled and the walls nearer the front look like block work but it is all grey salt. There are several chandeliers made from wood but with clear salt decorating them. Carved into the wall were art works like the last supper. Their was a life size sculpture of pope john Paul the 2nd. A most impressive sight.
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We also got to see how they used to drain water from the rest of the mine to a chamber which was more like a lake then anything else. All the drainage was made from hollow tree trunks as they will not corrode. We finalised our tour and found the way out which was via a pre-historic lift. It was perfectly safe but old fashioned. All four walls had holes in them specially for air flow. Their was no lights and we were herded in about 8 at a time. There wasn`t much room to move. We arrived at the top in good time and exited our coffin.., I mean lift, and headed for the road. We found what looked to be a bus stop chatted while we waited. After about 20 minutes the 304 bus came into view heading for us and then continued right past us. After realizing that this probably was no longer used as a bus stop, we then walked to the next bus stop which was about a kilometre further down the road. It began to rain and after about another 10 minutes another 304 bus came into view and actually stopped this time. We headed back into Krakow and decided to grab dinner as it was already 6pm. We found a local Bar mleczny which translates in Milk Bar in English but actually has nothing to do with milk. They are a Polish form of cafeteria. They were invented by the communist authorities of Poland in the mid-1960s as a means of offering cheap meals to working people who didn`t have a canteen at their work. The food is authentic polish. After spending sometime trying to decipher the polish menu board I took the chefs special, a bowl of tomato soup and a drink.
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The tomato soup was very salty, the potatoes, snitzel, salad were good and the fruit drink had fruit in the bottom of the glass. The total bill came to 20PLN which roughly equates to $8 Canadian dollars. We headed back to the hostel for awhile. Thankfully I didn't have to worry about others snoring tonight and slept all the way through.

Posted by classique 14:43 Archived in Poland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

August 3rd

Krakow - Poland - Arrival

sunny 30 °C

Last night I took the train into London and took a cheap connecting bus to Stansted airport which is just over an hour out of London. We had a polish bus driver who when someone suddenly decided to turn off right in front of us screamed out the window an obsenity telling the driver where to go. It made me laugh as it wasn't what I was expecting from someone who was the face of the company. Afetr I arrived at Stansted I familiarized myself as to where the Ryan Air desks would be for check in in the morning and headed out to catch a coach to the Holiday Inn which was my accomdation for the night thanks to Hugh. I checked in and dropped my bags in the room. I headed downstairs and checked out the menu. Once I saw the exorbitant prices I decided to walk the short distance to Mc Donalds for dinner. Once I had gotten back to my room and was ready to retire I realised that I still hadn't printed out my boarding passes. I headed down stairs and the reception staff kindly printed them off for me. Before going to bed I set the alarms on the phone, Mobile phone and tv to wake me at 3:30am.
Thankfully two of the three alarms roused me at 3:30am. I had a shower, repacked my bags and headed down stairs for a quick breakfast. I was out the front door at just before 5am waiting for the coach. I arrived at the airport at about 5:15am and went straight for the Ryan Air check in desk which was of course backed up with a hugh queue. One of the Ryan Air guys came forward and asked individually what every person was waiting for. Once I had advised him I just needed to get my documents checked he quickly checked over my passport and signed my boarding pass. I went through customs and checked the main screen to find that my flight had the status "Final Boarding". I ran all the way to the boarding gate to find an enormous line. Thats when I really started to sweat. As Ryan Air has such strict rules about the size and weight of the bags I was wearing a singlet, T-shirt, shirt, Sweater and jacket. And the jacket was loaded up with all the heaviest stuff I could fit in it. Thankfully my bag fit inside the size check cage and I was allowed to board. We walked out to the aircraft on the runway and climbed the steps to board. I asked what seat I was in and was advised that they didi not have seats allocated. It was first in best dressed. I gave up looking for a seat and started looking for a place where my carry on bag could go. Eventually I found a spot and a seat right accross from it. After take off the flight hostesses came by every 10 minutes or so to try selling different things. Aftere watching one and a half eppisodes of Top Gear on my MP3 player, kindly gifted to me by Pastor Lewis, we landed at the Krakow airport.
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I tried to take a picture of the customs signs and was instantly given a bollocking by one of the army personel. Needless to say it was deleted from my camera. After changing $200 Canadian dollars I headed to the bus stop. I got onto the transfer bus and waited for about another 15 minutes or so. Finally the bus started up and we arrived at the trainstation which only had one terminal and one tain. After boarding I purchased a ticket with the help of another person whic I was glad that i did as another couple seemed to get majorly over charged by the ticket lady when she came around. After being told in Polish that I had purchased the wrong ticket, the one from Krakow to the airport, my ticket was signed and we headed on our way. It was a hot moring and there was no air conditioning on the train. We arrived into Krakow about 15-20 minutes later. I headed to the Flamingo hostel which I had a booking at. I arrived, checked in and lay down on my bed for a bit. Then at about 12:30 Sabina, a german girl, and I headed off to the Wielicza Salt Mines

Posted by classique 07:20 Archived in Poland Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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