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Trip Poland Poland   My trip to Poland Walter C (US)
Poland

Poland

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My trip to Poland

  • 10Mar 2011

    1 Waking Up In Poland 03/10/2011

    Stare Miasto, Kraków

    Description

    I went to sleep in one country, and would wake up in another, as I arrived into Poland on a night train, coming from the Czech Republic. I did sleep okay, as the bed was not bad to sleep on.

    The train arrived into Krakow, Poland in the early morning. I got off, and found my way to Old Town. Then through the square, as I was sweating a lot. I was able to find the Good Bye Lenin - Let's Rock hostel, which was hidden with no outside sign.

    I was at the front desk and had a little while til check-in time. I ate some of the provided breakfast there, then checked in. Once in the room, I just rested for a bit. Then saw it was snowing outside, and hoped it would stop soon. But it did not stop for a while, so I went out, as I could not wait any longer.

    I went towards the square, and sought for cover, hoping again, that it would stop snowing. But I realized that I had to stop wasting any more time, and just make the best of it. So I went to the starting point of a walking tour, which was the Barbican, just outside of the city wall.

    The Barbican was a fort that was connected to the city wall, which itself marked the boundary line of the city. And used to defend against invaders. Then I entered through the Florian Gate, into the Old Town, onto Florianska Street. A nice place to stroll. There was a McDonald's there, which had a Gothic cellar at the bottom floor. I went in to check it out, as well as enjoying a hot fudge sundae ice cream.

    Afterwards, I continued down the street, looking around. I got to the Main Market Square, where the St. Mary's Church was. I decided to check it out, so I had to go into another building, to pay for admission. Plus there was an extra fee to be allowed to take photos of the place, which I declined. After paying, I entered the church from the side entrance.

    Inside the church, I got to look around, which looked nice. And just in time to see the opening of the wooden altarpiece, which was okay to watch, but nothing special. But it was nice to look at, containing scenes from the Bible. I looked at other parts of the church, but then I started to feel tired. So I went back to the hostel, to nap for a couple hours.

    Waking up, I went back out, walking down Grodzka Street from the hostel spot. I will get back to the Main Market Square at another time. I went to Mary Magdalene Square, across from 2 churches. One of them, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, had a row of statues in front of it, which were that of the 11 apostles and Mary Magdalene.

    Then down Kanonicza Street, where the clergy lived. Pope John Paul II lived here before becoming pope. I reached the end, and went up the ramp, to enter Wawel Castle. Next to the gate, was a statue of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Pole who fought in the American Revolution. I just mention this, because I remember visiting a museum on him, in my hometown of Philadelphia. ;)

    I bought a combo ticket, and looked at the exterior of Wawel Cathedral for a little bit. But with time running out, I would do more of that after closing. So I went inside the cathedral. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the cathedral has gone through some changes over the centuries. The main part of the church is free, walking around and seeing the nave and chapels through the place. This was where Pope John Paul II was bishop at one point.

    The parts that requires a ticket, is to see the Sigismund Bell and the royal tombs. I had to climb some tight, wooden stairs, to get to the bell. And see how big it really is, and can stand under it. An okay view of Old Town, though there is a fence that makes it hard to take good photos. Then went all the way downstairs, to see the royal tombs. The burial place of who's who in Polish history, including war heroes, kings and queens.

    I left the cathedral, and went to the Cathedral Museum. I had very little time left, as it was about to close, so I hurried through it, seeing the robes and things that belonged to the kings. After that, I went to see the cathedral exterior, which was nice to look at. Then I walked around the castle grounds.

    I went to the inner courtyard, which was an enclosed square, and kind of has a Renaissance look to it. I looked around for a bit, then back out, seeing the rest of the castle grounds. There was the field, that used to have churches, which ended up being destroyed. I walked to the buildings, and past them, getting to the terrace.

    I got to see the Vistula River, and a different part of the city. And I did see some fire coming out of a dragon statue. I wanted to see it breathe fire again, but it didn't. So I continued on, walking on the other side of the castle, but saw it led me to a different part of town. So I had to backtracked, and exited the premise.

    I walked to the hostel, then to the Main Market Square. I looked around for a bit. Tried to take photos, but it gotten dark, plus that long building, Cloth Hall, was closed. So I would see it at another time.

    I went to a KFC to eat dinner. While there, I was doing some planning, and saw that a museum was open late. So after dinner, I went to the tram stop, and hopped on. It took me to a different part of the city, the Jewish neighborhood of Kazimierz. It did not seem far, but still quite a walk, and dark as well. I got off, and had to figure out where I was, and had to backtrack a block. I was able to find the Ethnographic Museum.

    Entering the museum, the first floor shows the different rooms in a Polish home in the countryside, as well as models of the homes. Some of the rooms include a bedroom and a classroom. On the top floor, there is a display of various costumes worn for different occasions. Plus tools, instruments, and other things on display. And see how the holidays are celebrated, like Christmas and Easter, with decorations on display. There are photos that showcase rural life, and how people live back then and today. A very nice museum to visit, and glad that it was opened late.

    After the museum, I went back to Old Town, and back to the hostel. Just relaxed and took care of some things while there, and got to talk to other travelers. Then went to sleep. This was only the beginning in Poland for me. :)

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  • 11Mar 2011

    2 Side Trip to Auschwitz 03/11/2011 Poland —

    Oswiecim, Poland

    Description

    I did get early to get a head start. After getting ready, I walked to the bus station, which was next to the train station and a little further away. Once there, I went to the depot and saw that I missed the bus that I hoped to take. I went back up to the station, and bought a one-way ticket to the town of Oswiecim. I waited for the next one, and hopped on a small bus.

    The bus took off, and I slept most of the way. When I woke up, I saw that the bus picked up or dropped off people along the way, as if it was a transit bus, with some people standing. I did get a glimpse of the Polish countryside, as the ride took about 2 hours.

    When it arrived, I walked to the entrance, and through the museum building. I can see there would be crowds, with a bunch of school groups visiting. After leaving the museum building, I walked to the gate, with the message "Arbeit Macht Fri" ("Work Sets You Free"), and entered the most infamous concentration camp of all, Auschwitz.

    Entering the camp, there were rows of barracks, each one being a Block and numbered. The first row of barracks were National Memorials of victims, presented by different countries. I went into each one, most of them I just skimmed through, as I wanted to make sure I had enough time for the next set of barracks. Going through these, just shows how the Holocaust was felt throughout Europe.

    The second row of barracks, focused on different aspects of the camp. I went into each one that had exhibitions, as some of them were not open at all. The tough part about touring these places, is getting around the groups crowding around exhibits. It can get tricky at times, as walkways are very narrow. But still, well worth the time.

    These exhibitions include the extermination process, everyday life, "Death Block", among others. I get to see the piles of shoes, eyeglasses, suitcases, and other things. All tossed aside, which is how the Nazis treated Jews and other prisoners. Also included are photos of prisoners, including graphic ones of both adults and children that became living skeletons due to malnutrition and starvation.

    After seeing the second row, there was a crematorium at the edge of the camp. I went inside to see where the extermination took place. And as the name suggests, where bodies were cremated. Just chilling to stand and see where the horrors actually happened.

    Afterwards, I went back inside the museum building, to see the short film. It was shot by troops after the camp was liberated by Soviet troops. And very graphic, as it showed prisoners who were living skeletons, plus a bunch of bodies in a ditch. Just depressing.

    It was time to go to the second camp. I had to hop on the already-crowded bus, and got squished as more people got on. But no other options, as I wanted enough time to see the second camp before closing. The bus took off, as so many people were squeezed into the bus. But it did make me think, of the prisoners who were transported to Auschwitz, as they had no idea what horrors would come to them.

    I arrived at Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau. This one was more an open field, with a lot more space. Built in 1941, when the first camp was considered too small. Looking in from the outside, just seems too surreal.

    There were train tracks that led to the camp, which were used to transport the prisoners into this camp. I went inside this camp, and would see some barracks that had bunk beds, and one that was a latrine. Following the tracks to the other side of the camp, was the crematorium ruins. Destroyed by the Nazis, as they tried to destroy evidence of their crimes when they knew their days were numbered. But they did not destroy everything.

    Then walked to a different part of the camp, to "The Sauna", which had exhibitions on the processing of prisoners. After going through that, I saw the foundations of the Canada warehouses, which was where the prisoners' belongings were stored.

    After seeing this, I headed for the exit. I tried to cut through the grass, but got confused, with the barbed wire fence. So I had to backtrack, and just follow the trail back. I exited the camp, and hopped on the shuttle bus. It took me back to the first camp. Then I had to wait for the next bus to Krakow. I did worry that there were no more, as it not clear where or when the last bus would depart. The last resort would have been the train, but that station was a 20-minute walk, which would have been too long for a pair of sore feet.

    When it came, I hopped on, paying the driver on board, and headed back to Krakow. Like before, this bus picked up and dropped off people along the way. I got back into town, and stopped by a restaurant to eat some dinner.

    I returned to the hostel, and just chilled for the rest of the night. I did talk with some people in the room, and took care of some things.

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  • 12Mar 2011

    3 Quiet and Empty Old Town 03/12/2011 Poland —

    Stare Miasto, Kraków, Poland

    Description

    I wanted to get a little bit of head start, so I woke up really early, and head to Main Market Square. At this time, it was empty, which is how I like it.

    I started at the long building in the middle of the square, called Cloth Hall. Named that, because cloth was sold there during the Middle Ages. Entering through it, I saw the various stalls just about to open. These days, they sell mainly souvenirs.

    At the other side of the square, there was the Town Hall Tower, the only thing remaining of the Town Hall building, dating back to the 14th century, when Krakow was the capital of Poland. It was closed during the offseason, so I could not go inside it. Near it, is a model of the Town Hall building. And I can't help but notice the huge head on its side, a sculpture created by Igor Mitoraj.

    About a block away, I went inside St. Francis Basilica, which used to be the base of Pope John Paul II, when he was archbishop. I enjoyed looking at the art, including the stained glass window and a painting of St. Kolbe. I exited in the back, and saw the Archbishop's Palace, where the Pope used to live.

    I went back to the hostel, and ended up sleeping some more. When I woke up, I headed back out, and to a bus stop, as I would heading to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, just outside of Krakow.

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  • 12Mar 2011

    4 Going Underground 03/12/2011 Poland —

    Wieliczka, Poland

    Description

    During the ride, I had to stand the whole time, and got to talk to a couple of exchange students from China. Strange thing, was that we would talk about the NBA.

    The bus arrived at the salt mine, and I went inside to buy a ticket for the individual tour. I thought I could tag along with the student group, that the exchange students were a part of, but when trying to enter with them, I was stopped. So I had to wait until my tour time was up next. I got in line to get a camera sticker (yes, a fee to take photos), as I figure, why not? But it was time, so I had to leave the line, to enter the mines before the door closed.

    I would go down a bunch of stairs, which seemed to go on forever. When reaching the end, I joined the English tour, as the tour guide gave an introduction. And there was a chance to get the camera sticker later on, which was good thing for me.

    We were given a tour of the salt mines, where salt has been mined since the 11th century. Along the way, there were displays of equipment used and how the miners did their work. Also there were art work made of salt, as miners built them to pass the time. Some of the artwork would include the huge underground cathedral, the Chapel of St. Kinga, where the miners would need a place to pray to just get through the day. There are nice carvings on the wall, including one of The Last Supper, in the cathedral. There is also a chapel there, where people can get married there, if they really wanted to. Plus there sculptures of people who have visited the mines over the years, and even an underground lake. Really impressive to see.

    There were breaks along the way, but they were too short. One of them being in a restaurant, as I did not have enough time to eat. I bought just fries, and quickly the break was about to end. So I ended up shoving all the fries in my mouth, as I did not like wasting money like that. Also, I had to keep up with the group, as it is very easy to get lost in the mines. And it can get quite chilly too.

    I just can't imagine going to work in the mines, having to go underground every time, where miners go to work before sunrise, and leave after sunset, not seeing any daylight. Even today, there are workers who have to go underground to work at the gift shop or restaurant, although most of them probably don't stay there as long as the miners did back then.

    Towards the end, we were led to the museum. But at this point, my feet were sore, and the museum itself just seemed like a rehash of what we have seen already before, all crammed into one space. After getting through that part, it was over. Not really worth the time, and can be skipped. And I went back up in a shaft elevator.

    I left the salt mine, and took the bus back to Krakow.

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  • 12Mar 2011

    5 Got Milk Bar? 03/12/2011

    Stare Miasto, Kraków

    Description

    Coming back from the salt mine, I would have to stand the entire time. Both at the stop while waiting, and on the bus as there were no seats left. I was heading back to the Old Town of Krakow. Once there, I went to the hostel, and relaxed for a while. Then back out, as I wanted to get something to eat for dinner.

    Looked around for a bit, until I came to a bar mleczny, which is Polish for milk bar. This cafeterias date back to the communist days, and currently subsidized by the government. Now considered a relic, these cafeterias are disappearing, as they face tough competition. As a result, the meal is so cheap, and the food was really good.

    I just went back to the hostel, and just chilled and hung out there. Even got to know some people there as well. Then had to pack up a little, as I will be leaving town the next day. Then to sleep.

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  • 13Mar 2011

    6 Last Day in 'Old' Town 03/13/2011 Poland —

    Śródmieście, Warsaw, Poland

    Description

    It was time to be on the move. So I had to pack up and check out of the hostel. And I had to check train schedules on the internet. Then left, and headed to the train station. Once there, I bought a ticket, but saw that I would wait at least an hour until the next train. So I headed back to the hostel, and waited it out there.

    Afterwards, I went back to the train station, and to the correct platform, then hopped on the train. I was in one empty compartment, but then got told it was for personnel only. So I had to move to another, and would be in one with 2 other people. The train took off, leaving Krakow, and headed to Warsaw. The train ride took 3 hours.

    Arriving into Warsaw, I walked around the train station, which was rundown and confusing. Basically, like a chicken with its head cut off. I was able to find a kiosk to buy a bus ticket, then went outside to find the stop. I would see the Palace of Culture and Science, which was built by the communists. I hopped on the bus, and headed to Royal Way. Then went down that street, as I was following directions to get to my next hostel. I followed them, until I found the Tamka Hostel. A good place to stay, even if the rooms are cramped and seeing graffiti on the exterior. And out of the way.

    Got settled, and took care of some business, then went back out. I was hoping to do everything that I had on my list, and planned it out. Or so I thought. I went back to Royal Way, and to the palm tree at one end of the street. The palm tree was there, because of a local artist visited Jerusalem, and thought Warsaw should have one as well, since they have a street named Jerusalem as well. I started to go down Royal Way.

    Royal Way was an old route that Polish kings took to their summer palace. Now it's a busy boulevard, with shops and restaurants. The first part of this route is called Nowy Swiat, which is a charming place to stroll, and for shoppers to do some of their shopping.

    After strolling for a little bit, I hopped on a bus, hoping to get to Royal Castle on time before they stopped admitting people. But I hopped on the wrong one, as it took me out of the way. I had to get off, and find my way back. I got on Royal Way, and walked through the Castle Square, to Royal Castle. But I was too late, as no more people were admitted for the day. So I had to backtrack, to the Copernicus statue.

    This part of Royal Way is named Krkowskie Przedmiescie. Near it, is a painting of the same street scene in 1778. It's interesting to look at it, then look at the present day. A bit of a transition, as some things are the same, while others are different. Paintings like these, were used to help rebuild the city after World War II.

    I went inside the Church of the Holy Cross, and sat there for a bit, as there was a rehearsal in progress. Then I left, and saw more of those paintings of street scenes. Not real ones, but basically a picture of it on a block of stone. I continued on, passed Warsaw University, and went a block off Royal Way, coming to Pilsudski Square.

    I walked on the square, which has its share of history, to the colonnade. This used to be part of a palace, which then got destroyed by the Nazis. Now, it's part of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by soldiers standing still. Behind it, was Saxon Garden, built by the Saxon kings.

    Getting back to Royal Way, passing by the Radziwill Palace, where the Warsaw Pact was signed during the Cold War. Continued to Castle Square, to St. Anne's Church. I went inside, and climbed to the top. This one did not have as many steps as others, so less time to get there. Once there, just nice views of the city. I looked around, seeing the Old Town and Royal Way being full of activity, and the Vistula River on the other side. Even seeing someone trying to do some breakdancing. At least what I think it is, spinning on their head on the ground.

    Back down, I walked through Castle Square, entering into "Old" Town. Looking around, all these buildings have been rebuilt. That was due to the city being completely destroyed after World War II, as the Nazis retaliated for the 2 Uprisings that the people staged against them. Not a single one remained standing, so there are none now, that could be older than 1945. And throughout this area, there are white plaques on buildings that commemorate the victims from the war.

    I continued walking around Old Town, looking at buildings, passing by churches, and taking a peek into a few of them. I got to Old Town Market Square, and just sat and did some people-watching. Seeing the city today, it is a vibrant place, as I saw kids chasing pigeons and each other, and running around the mermaid fountain. A great place to people-watch. And yes, even heard the kids spoke the local language to each other. Hard to believe that this square was complete rubble at one point.

    I went to the Barbican, the gate to the city. But I decided to turn around, as it got dark. On the way back, I stopped by a cafeteria to eat some dinner. Then tried to use the remaining Polish currency, stopping by a few places. But no luck. I got back to the hostel, and took care of some business, like getting my boarding pass printed to buy myself more time to get to the airport.

    Afterwards, I had to go to sleep early, since I had to wake up way before sunrise. The next early morning, I woke up on time, and was able to catch the bus to the airport. Then took the flights back to the US. One of those flights, I had the whole row all to myself.

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