A Travellerspoint blog

Poland

Vrats-vrov (or some such), Poznan and Warszawa 2

(((Again, Keyboard problems with the letter "I" are not my fault!!)))

After realisng that I was gong to have to drop the Ukrane completely due to lack of tme,and that t wasn’t worth the effort to try and go to Lviv for a couple of days, decded to head West nstead, and have a look at another couple of cities i had long been tryng to fnd a few hours at least to stop off n nstead of always passng through, namely Wroclaw (pronounced something a bit like Vrats-vrov) and Poznan.

It was Wroclaw frst and I can confrm that t is a lovely cty, and bzarrely untouched / touristed (except a handful of Germans, vstng the place they once called Breslau) when you consider the fuss made about Krakow. If anything, i thnk its even nicer. The central square is a buzz wth street cafes and surrounded by wonderfully multi couloured Flemish style buildings, whch really worked well. The river Odra (also known as Oder) has been dverted several tmes over the centures, meanng that there are several tributaries of the rver (7 streams), and a handful of small islands wthn the city whch were great to walk around, and make the central area surprisingly large A large number of churches were dotted across the whole city (virtually all of whch had weddings gong on as t was the last weekend n a month lucky for weddings – I forget specifics, but n Poland t seems to be lucky to marry on months wth a certain letter in it, which June had and July at least, didnt), but n almost Bucharest style, they were dotted at random and interspersed amongst houses and other modern concrete structures etc. But the big difference in that sense was that none ever looked out of place.

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My great host in Wroclaw, Ala and her friend Ivana

I was stayng wth Ala (and her amazingly friendly mother), a friendly CSer who i‘d sent a speculatve message to a couple of days previously and had been happy to host me. Together with her frend Ivana, I was given the full tour of the cty and resolved there and then to come back at a later date f at all possble and spend some more tme in the city. After consuming a fantastc soup and the frst of ahuge quantity of strawberries i was to consume n the the following few days (it seems that n summer, strawberries are drt cheap n Poland, so everybody buys a kilo or 2 a day and uses them for everything possible – mlk shake, juce, jam, ce cream, sauces, cake/pie filling, and of course on there own. I ate more strawberries n 3 days than I thnk I’d even seen in the previous 10 years!) we headed out to the new Oder rver in the north of the cty to meet up with a load of their friends, and sit by the rver havng a BBQ (read: being eaten by Mozzies) where I showed off my near flawless Polish (ahem), and then retired to the City centre to have a drink sttng on a knd of brick pontoon in the mddle of another of the streams.

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Barbequeing by the Odra river, Wroclaw

The following day, and on the recommendation of some people the previous night we took a trp to the Jewsh cemetery. A strange place, manly consisting of graves of German Jews from the pre war Breslau days. Many of the tombs were of impressive scale, although large numbers were overgrown or damaged (storm, vandal or both), whch seemed a bit sad, as the cty suffered considerably durng the war due to ts large Jewsh communities.

After lunch with Ala’s mother, Aunt and Uncle, we were invted by the aunt/uncle to visit their new house n the country, nearing completion after 8 years of construction (in Wroclaw, huge numbers of buldngs were covered in scaffolding, but lttle work seemed to be being done. Scaffold supplier n Wroclaw can be added to concrete suppler n Bucharest, VW Golf importer n Bosnia and ‘arm doctor’ in Croatia, as unexpectedly lucrative careers…). When completed, t wll be a lovely place to live/retire, n the woods away from the cty, but close enough to not be rmote. The vllage tself s odd because lots of people had seemingly bough plots ofland, but there had been no planning to the construction, leadng to a rght htch potch of shapes, sizes and styles of house. The evenings entertainments didnt go qute to plan, as the famous (and who’s name i‘ve forgotten – Al di something?) Amercan Jazz Guitarist and his international support group who were supposed to be playng n the main square of Wroclaw were a good 3 hours late arriving….

The following day I headed for Poznan. Another place i had been through but never had chance to stop off in and even though I could only manage a few hours on this occasson, I couldn’t turn down the chance. And besides, another really friendly CSer, Ula, had responded to another speculatve message and invted me to vist, and even though i was unfortunately unable to stay the night, she was happy to meet up and play tour gude for a few hours.

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Poznan Town Hall

Whilst I didnt think (i know, i know) it was quite as attractve as Wroclaw, Poznan is nevertheless a lovely cty and well worth exploring for a day or so. Despte its larger population, the centre is more compact and the central square is smaller, but almost as attractve and desgned usng the same style of multi-coloured Flemsh buldngs and grid style of streets around it. Spent a happy few hours wandering around with Ula, her housemate Ania (who in the mddle of a scary trend here had both just failed their Englsh oral exams) and a Venezuelan-Pole friend Pamela who was visiting from Warszawa.

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The guiding girls - Ula, Ania and Pamela who's name i have forgotten, in Poznan

I headed back to Warszawa in the late afternoon, although in typical style, a combinaton of delays and problems meant I was later arriving than i should have been. Was met by Andrzej and a couple of other guests he had – Dominika, a girl from Lublin who i already knew online and her Kiwi friend Jay (they originally met in Croydon, poor people) and spent a couple of happy hours in a cellar bar in the old town (which, oddly and flying n the face of logic, is cheaper than places further out of the central core).

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Pictures from Warszawa from my two visits combined - The centre, the view across the semi-surreal University Library roof gardens, the Statue of King Zygmunt Waza at the entrance to the Old Town, The Theatre and satue in the Park, Dominkia and Jay and group photo with Andrrej, Me, Dominika and Jay

I’m being followed. That was an inescapable conclusion I had reached. Often felt lke I’m beng watched or followed – paranoia is a wonderful thing – but n ths case i knew it was true. In the week or so since i had last been n Warszawa, the cty had been flooded wth cows, in huge numbers, and now seemingly on the way to world dominaton.

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Selection from the numerous cows in Warszawa who mysteriously appeared in the week I was away, seemingly intent on following me or world domination. I'm not entirely sure which yet.

Posted by Gelli 15:38 Archived in Poland Comments (2)

Warszawa strike 1, and Krakow Owiecim-Brzezinka

With the exception of a gut which really didn’t like me (mine) and a few hours transit through Slovakia - the only visit to the country on this trip - the night journey from Budapest to Warszawa was uneventful. Despite my excursion to Warszawa and the fact that Andrzej should be receiving my cards – reliably informed that they would arrive before midday – he was unable to host me for another week or so, so on arrival went and checked in to my second Nathan’s Villa (after Sighisoara) on the trip. In between dashes to the toilet spent a few hours wandering aimlessly around the city waiting for news which never came. With no way of tracking the package except phoning the UK who agreed that t should have been delivered (and not managing to get an online tracking number even then, *sigh*) there was nothing that could be done. Poor Andrzej sat at home all day until 5.30 (yes, that is after midday), before calling it quits and arranging to meet me in town.

We had a wander through the new Old Town, a trip around the University library (the most bizarre place, including landscaped gardens on the roof), the old squares, tomb of the unknown soldier – which barely a couple of months before had been filled with 500,000 or so mourners after the death of the Pope – parliament and the Park complex whose name never remember, but which includes a lake, some theatres and watched a slightly surreal fight on the lake stage between 2 peacocks, who’s every move was greated by rapturous nose from the assembled other peacocks watching.

The following day whilst Andrzej kept vigil at home, took advantage of the rapidly improving weather to undertake my usual wander at random whilst also keeping n close contact with the wishes of my gut. Finally, that afternoon with money beginning to run low and hope even lower, good news emerged, and around 4pm, I met Andrzej at the station where he passed me not one, but two packages (slightly unexpected) of cards. He had discovered that the problem was that his street number had been left off the address, and hence the company had had to try and search phone books etc looking for a number. I don’t want to apportion blame, but Rowan seems to have fucked up. So, reunited with cards and a source of funds (which astonishingly actually worked as well), i was free. I groveled in thanks to Andrzej for wasting 2 days sitting at home, retuned and grabbed my stuff and headed straight to Krakow.

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Krakow main square
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Krakow city gate on Northern edge

Krakow has long been raved about, but its one of those places i‘d somehow never managed to see properly – i‘ve probably passed through it or changed trains there a dozen times, but never managed more than a few hours there to quickly look around – and was keen to make amends. After an amazing inability to move the following morning, I took a wander around town with a Canadian guy, Bob, who soon discovered had also spent a few days with the Swindon guys John and Farid from Bran/Brasov, I think in Budapest and the same hostel at around the same time as Melanie and Kate were meeting. Dodging the thunder clouds again, we took in the Jewish quarter, Vistula river, Wawel castle, some pierogi and the main square with the fabulously ornate (and very colourful, with its blue ceilings etc) Maracki church, whilst also wondering about the vast number of pope-mobile style golf carts used to transport tourists around the centre [‘follow that pope-mobile!’, anybody? – Admittedly that made more sense when I was actually there]
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Follow that Pope mobile!

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Wawel castle

The following day, and after 40days and nights, it was time to do something serious, so I took a trip out to Oswiecim-Brzezinka, a strange little town of a combination of lovely honeysuckle houses and harsh concrete tower blocks, but of much more relevance for its role under it’s German name, Auschwitz. I have been to concentration camp sites before, but Auschwitz was home to arguably the most horrific camp in human history, and some of the most cruel and largest ‘genocide experiments’ ever, and was a trip I had to make.
So much has been written about the camp that the history is already know in excruciating details, so i won't cover that here.

Although we visited separately, and I know its possibly disrespectful to do such a thing about such a serous place, but Bob’s account of the camp is extremely good and virtually identical to what I would write, so i have shamelessly plaigerised it using Copy and Paste. Bob - i hope you don’t mind too badly…

Bob Routhier:

Auchwitz has to be seen to be believed. I took a lot of pictures while I was there and I've since had them developed, but I don't think they can quite capture the feeling of the place. The odd thing is is that when I was there, walking through the barracks where the jews were held as prisoners and up and down the streets and pathways where many were murdered and beaten, I didn't feel as I felt I should. I was not sad, I was not overly moved. I was a nice
sunny day with a cool breeze and I was quite comfortable walking around. What I did feel was respect for the people who had suffered there and I was upset when I saw some high school kids running around and laughing in a place that I thought deserved a little more respect. I remember seeing the furnaces in Auchwitz where the cremations took place and there was a group of jewish high school kids who were passing through many of which broke down in tears at the sight of them. I just stood in the background and watched them. I tried to feel some of what they felt, but I couldn't.

In about half of the barracks there were exhibits on various aspects of the camps and nazism. One of the exhibits was for the material evidence of the crimes and was based on the plundered items that the nazis had left behind when abandoning the camp. What I saw was only a small percentage of what had been stolen from the jews and other prisoners. There was an entire room filled with suitcases that had been marked with the names of the owners. Another room was filled completely with shoes. Probably the most disturbing was a room
completely filled with human hair. The nazis had kept it with the intention of making textiles out of it.

I left Auchwitz and headed to the neighboring camp of Birkenau. Birkenau had been called Auchwitz II when it was built and was much, much bigger than Auchwitz. It lacks the exhibits that Auchwitz has but makes up for it in sheer size. When you enter the grounds of Birkenau you walk along a set of train tracks and through a large gatehouse. When I passed through the gatehouse I was immediately shocked by the size of the camp. The train tracks continue all the
way to the back of the camp and it took me ten minutes to walk to the end of them. All along the way were roads leading off from the main track and into rows and rows of barracks. To walk the circumference of the camp would probably take well over an hour. At the back of the camp are the furnaces where the nazis cremated the bodies of the dead prisoners. I think there were five crematoriums which each could cremate about 1000 bodies a day. They are in
ruins now as the nazis destroyed them before abandoning camp. I read a placard in one of the Auchwitz exhibits that said of all the jews presented for inspection only about 25% were taken to work. The rest; women, children, elderly and infirm were taken immediately to be gassed. In order to keep them calm and orderly they were assured that there would be jobs for them and that they first had to be disinfected to be sure that they would be clean. After the
gassing, the bodies were shipped straight to the crematoriums to be disposed of. It was an assembly line of death. Again, to emphasize the size of the camp, I had about fifteen minutes to get back to the front gate and catch my bus into town. Walking fast, I still managed to miss the bus.

With Many thanks to Bob!

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Oswiecim (Auschwitz) main entrance and old barracks which housed Prisoners in the original camp

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Oswiecim-Brzezinka (Auschwitz-Birkenau), main entrance with the railway unloading tracks, Inside a typical barrack cell, the ruins of some of the camp showing it's vast scale and the remains of one of the gas chambers where untold hundreds of thousands were murdered

After the somber experiences of the previous day, I did the other required day trip from Krakow and took a minibus trip out to the world famous Weliczka Salt mines. Huge in scale, over 300metres deep and 700 years old, and on the UNESCO world heritage list, expected something really special. And whilst it wasn’t exactly a let down or wasted trip, it didn’t quite live up to its billing. After decending 380odd steps, we wandered – or rather, were rushed - deeper into the mine, past at least 3 churches/chapels (one hugely impressive), some very tacky but bizarre tourist shows (mechanised characters and lights etc, but never really actually having any reason whatsoever) and endless corridors and staircases of salt – laughably, 98% of the salt sold in the gift shops etc isn’t from the mine, or even the same area, but rather is imported in from elsewhere. No idea where, but guessing it was made in Taiwan – and then the museum. The most notable place was a huge cavern which now was used as a 200m underground restaurant and bar, and even held wedding receptions, but what found most facinating was that it was originally built as a basketball court!

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Wieliczka Salt mine entrance Staircase (386 steps is a long way down and only goes to level 2 out of 7), the Salt Cathedral and Underground restaurant, originally a basketball court.

Krakow itself is undoubtedly beautiful and worth a trip, and at the moment as t has yet to be really discovered by the budget airline stag/hen do network is still untouristed enough to be enjoyable. It is relatively cheap to western Europeans, and has a great array of literally hundreds of underground bars and caverns to relax in later on, which are really cool, and amazingly untouched by the war, so without any concrete spoilers in the centre. But to be honest, for the amount of fuss made about it, I thought it overrated, especially considering the lack of tourist profile of any other Polish cites, some of which are some other equally beautiful and two of which I am about to visit.

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Krakow Cathedral

Posted by Gelli 15:36 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

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