Monday, September 1, 2014

Summer vacation part 7, Three days in Krakow, Poland

After our stay in Vienna and a very short visit to Bratislava, Slovakia, we took an overnight train to Krakow, Poland.  Poland is another country that neither my wife nor I had ever visited.  I had heard many great things about Krakow and had wanted to visit the city for a long time. Krakow was very interesting in many ways and has the largest medieval square in all of Europe.  It is a city for walking around and people watching throughout the enormous square.  My family was quite surprised how reasonably priced everything was in Krakow. The city had a very Western feel to it and the service and quality were top notch at just about every place we visited.  We had some very nice and gourmet meals for fractions of what they would cost in Helsinki, Finland.  We had three full days in Krakow and made it a very cultural visit.  

The first day we ventured all around the city and in the afternoon saw the famous factory that was formerly owned by Oskar Schindler.  Schindler, who was immortalized in the Spielberg film, "Schindler's list" was famous for employing Jews during the Holocaust in his factory in order to save them from extermination by the Nazis.  The entire factory has now become a memorial and history museum about the German invasion and occupation of Krakow during World War II.  Krakow was fully invaded and Poles just like Jews were persecuted and even put to death in the extermination camps.  The second day in Krakow was a somber day because we took a tour of the infamous Nazi extermination camp that is in Auschwitz.  The extermination camps Auschwitz and Birkenau (Auschwitz II) are known as the world's largest graveyard as up to 1.5 people million perished there. It was a very heavy and depressing subject and tour, however also a very important and educational experience that I feel should be experienced at least once by everyone in their lifetime because we should never forget and never repeat history again.  The last day was spent in a more uplifting and fun fashion as we visited the Wieliczka salt mines.  This incredibly deep and humongous salt mine was an amazing experience for the entire family.  First, you must walk for at least 10 minutes just to get down the flight of stairs to the very bottom of the mine and then you walked around countless tunnels and rooms in order to see all the different passages and art that is in the mines. The tour only covers about 1% of this cavernous and interesting place. There was an underground church carved out of Salt as well as theaters, gift shops, exhibitions and even a restaurant well underground.  At the end of the tour we were luckily able to take an elevator that raced up to the top of the mine back to solid ground again. Overall, I really loved Krakow, Poland and it's surrounding areas. In fact, we found Krakow to be one of the highlights of our entire Summer tour of Eastern Europe.  I would even recommend it over my former favorite Eastern European city of Prague, Czech Republic which has suffered a bit from over tourism during the last 25 years.  More on that to come in part 8, which will be the final chapter in our summer tour of 2014.

Krakow's grand square

Pope John Paul II, Church in Wielickza salt mines



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