A Travellerspoint blog


Stunning yet painful...

View World trip 2019 on mslaurajade's travel map.

The train from Berlin was just over 5 hours, giving me time to study the town, where I’m staying in relation to where I wasn’t to visit, etc.
In Poland, I'm making 2 stops, first Wroclaw then on to Kraków.

Wroclaw (actually pronounced Vrohts-wahf) is in the southwest corner of Poland towards the Czech border.
I’ve chosen to stay in the old town, a stunning area of Wroclaw.
You know the drill! I drop off my bags and walk down to the square, it’s early evening so many people are out looking for restaurants and shopping. The old town is really well known for Market Square where the town hall buildings are located. Trading began here as early as the 13th century, the buildings are a mix of gothic (from the original build) and then as further expanded and repaired after WWII in more baroque style.
Today it's a pedestrian restaurant and shopping area and simply stunning! Here's what it looked like this afternoon!

The statue in the video is Aleksander Fredro: poet, playwright, and author, commemorated in 1897.
The coloured buildings look like dollhouses or a false a movie set because their facades are so beautiful I wondered if there really was anything behind them!
This is the old town hall building.
Several smaller streets leading odd the market are also gorgeous and there's a flower market in the smaller square behind. Sunflowers are everywhere here!

I continued to see groups of tourists (presumably) hunched over taking photos of the corners of buildings where they meet the footpath. At first, I thought I was crazy, then thought they were crazy so naturally, I waited in line with them to see what on earth they were all doing! Turns out there is a little gnome, so cute! I continued to see this happen every few blocks and finally found out these little guys are all over the city! Here are a few I saw over my visit!
There's actually over 350 of them and you can get a special map to find them all! A good way to explore and entertain the kids I guess!
That's enough for me though! Time to get some rest, so much more to explore tomorrow!

Today's adventures start at the University of Wroclaw, not only stunning buildings backing onto the Oder River but academically this University has produced 9 Nobel Prize Winners! Must be something in the water... But when you can study in these surroundings, why not be inspired?!
Next, I'm off to the market hall, built in the early 1900s. On the lower level, there's fresh food and flowers and above there are lots of lacework and souvenirs traders. It's busy as but I still manage to get a look through! Some of the most gorgeous flower wreaths and bouquets I've ever seen.
The next visit is to the Wroclaw Catherdral, it's seriously tall! The full name is The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Wrocław, a religious site since 1272, being rebuilt several times due to significant fires in 1540 and again in 1759. Finally restored in 1951 post-WWII due to bombing damage by the Soviet Union Red Army. Approximately 70% was destroyed, but what stands today is stunning, definitely one of the tallest spires I've seen at 98 meters high, these were fully restored and completed in 1991.
The cathedral is located on a little island with a series of connecting bridges, one is called Tumski Bridge, famous for the love locks placed on by couples. Most cities I've been have had one of these bridges filled with locks.
During my wanders around the streets I arrived at the intersection of Pilsudskiego and Swidnicka streets, Polish artist Jerzy Kalina installed a total of 14 life-like statues of seven people descending into the ground on one end of the junction and seven people emerging from the ground on the adjacent corner. I'm not sure if the corner I was on if they were ascending or descending but very cool wither way. I just assumed they were related to WWII but actually, they represent the changes in the rise and fall of military laws referring to the period of time from 13 December 1981 to 22 July 1983, when the authoritarian communist government of the Polish People's Republic drastically restricted normal life by introducing martial law in an attempt to crush political opposition. Thousands of opposition activists were jailed without charge and as many as 91 killed. Although when martial law was lifted in 1983, many of the political prisoners were not released until a general amnesty in 1986.

What a wonderful few days here in this beautiful city, now off again on the train to Kraków.
It was just over 3 hours on the train, again using this time to plan and explore my time here. I do have a tour booked of Auschwitz I and II which I'm still in two minds about blogging it but more on that in the next few days I guess...

I'm staying in an Airbnb with an expat pom Richard who is lovely and nice to swap a few stories with someone over a beer.
I'm keen to explore both sides of Kraków (figuratively speaking) obviously known as the capital of the German General Government during WWII and locations for many concentration camps but I'm sure there's more to this place and that's what I want to see!
Kraków dates back to the mid 7th century and was the capital of Poland until 1596 when it changed to, and remains Warsaw. In the mid 900's it was known as a central European trade hub and was a thriving city during these early centuries. The next big thing here was the emergence of the second polish republic in the early 20th century between WWI and WWII when several universities and cultural venues were established and are now world players in the academic and art circles. The other thing the people here are proud of and is that in 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II, the first Slavic pope, and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

I head off for the Market Square, much like in Wroclaw, once a trading hub now converted to restaurants and shops.
Before I even get to the square I'm awed by the beauty of the buildings and parklands. This is the Juliusz Slowacki Theatre, opening in 1893 and is still used as an opera and theatre venue today.
I pass through Planty Park, which surrounds the old town and there's a band playing which has drawn a large crowd!

The park is also filled with sculptures and monuments, this window frame one was my favourite!
Also on the edge of the park is the Barbican, a fortified outpost built in 1498, once connecting the city walls which surrounded the royal city. It is circular in structure and the brick walls are 3 meters thick!! Today it's used at a historic timeline of Krakow.
This picture on display from the 1930s shows St Florian's Gate (tower) which leads into the old city and here's one I took today, it's not a great photo but it still shows people leaving the Barbican and passing under the gate to the old town.
Here are some of the details on the tower as you pass underneath.
Ok, I eventually made it into the market square and it's massive!! Also, known as Main Square or Rynek Główny, dating back to the 13th century and at a whopping 9.4 acres of prime real estate! In the very center is a building known as Cloth Hall, used today similar to its original purpose of several single-stall traders selling their wares, nowadays it's souvenirs mostly amber jewelry.
On the first floor, there's a museum and underneath the hall, there's a tour of the underground. I didn't have time for these on this visit but would love to if I ever return! Also, a major landmark and focal point in the square is St Mary's Basilica, stunning gothic architecture from the late 13th century. It really is stunning which 80m towers!
I finally choose a restaurant after walking the entire square checking out the menus and enjoy a glass of vine admiring the horses in there traditional dress! A lovely first day here, can't want to see what tomorrow brings!

This morning I set off for Wawel Hill, which is 228m above sea level and is the site of the Wawel Castle and Cathedral. Both these and the surrounding buildings are an interesting mix of styles that look a bit miss match but at the same time fit together. Previously the home of the Kings of Poland today it's an art gallery and museum. The Wawel Cathedral or The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill (long-winded official title) has been on this site since the 11th century however the current build is the 3rd structure completed in the 14th century.
Both the castle and the cathedral are not like any I've seen on this trip, it really does capture that mishmash style I've been trying to explain.
I spent the afternoon wandering my way back towards the old town and found a little market not only selling fresh food but cooking it for you! Reminded me of the Vic Market at home when they do the summer night market with all the food stalls!

Here are some more pics from my afternoon walk through the neighbourhood!

I'm off home to get a good night's sleep because tomorrow I'm off to Auschwitz, still unsure how I feel about it. I've wanted to visit the camps for so long and now it's finally here! I feel like it's my final piece of this WWII theme I've been following through this trip. I have been debating whether to blog the visit or not as my opinion is it's not a tourist attraction. However, I have blogged the rest of my trip including other various historic sites and events such as 9/11 and the Berlin Wall. I'm not here to give you a history lesson and I'm sure Google can tell you the facts better than I can but I will give you my thoughts, experience, and share stories from my tour on the day, here goes...

When I booked the tour about a month prior to arriving in Poland, I wasn't given a time for the tour but I received an email a few days before explaining that my tour pick up time was 5 am. Of course, my initial reaction was one of self-indulgence that I would have to get up early and find the meeting point on my own at an ungodly hour. As quickly as I thought those things I shut them down with "really, this isn't about you, do you know what these people endured?" I changed my perspective and decided it was an honour to get up and pay respects to these people.
The tour combined visits to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau. After a few more hotel pick ups we set off with a full minivan of about 14 people. It took about 1 hour 20 mins to arrive at Auschwitz I where we met our tour guide Lena, we each had those little earpieces which were great as we could look around and hear her perfectly. Lena took us to the infamous sign at the entrance to the camp "Arbeit Macht Frei" translating to "work sets you free". About 7 years ago the original sign was stolen, later recovered and now in a museum, this one is a replica.
She provided a brief overview of Nazi ideology which was basically the belief they were of superior race status, had a hatred of Jews, democracy and, communism. The invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939 was the event leading to the beginning of WWII and divided Poland in half between the Germans and Soviets (invading Poland 2 weeks later). The Nazi invasion was to gain more territory for German settlement also later invading Denmark and Norway in Aril/May of 1940, Moving through, gaining strongholds in Belgium, Luxemburg, Holland and the following year Greece and Yugoslavia. Most of eastern Europe was now under German hold. The Nazis began displacing the Jews from their homes and communities and moved them to "ghettos" which were cities with good rail access. The Jews were told they were being moved on to a better life and they brought their belongings and possessions with them. Time in the ghetto was also subject to starvation and mass executions. Auschwitz I was originally a Polish army barrack which was intended to hold political prisoners or war (POWs). The first prisoners were brought here in June 1940, eventually extending to include Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexual men, Slavs, gypsies, criminals, and non-Jewish pols.
We left the gate and moved into the grounds of the 20 odd buildings, very uniformed in rows.
Once you enter the first building (block 4), boards of information hit you with some pretty hard stats. There were several concentration camps used during these years but unfortunately, it's the following numbers why Auschwitz is infamous.
Next to these statistics is an urn which contains human ashes collected from the crematorium at Auschwitz II- Birkenau where most were killed in the gas chambers.
Continuing upstairs in Block 4 several areas are filled with confiscated belongings, glasses, shoes, suitcases and perhaps most shocking of all over 2 tonnes of human hair. Men, women and children's hair was sold off to make felt and textiles. Seeing that large amount behind the glass was only probably a few hundred kilo's I can't even fathom 2 tonnes worth. You're not allowed to take photos of the hair but it's definitely these more personal things that are the real stand out and make you sickened of what these humans endured.

Moving through the other rooms in this block you get an insight into daily life in the camp with food (approx 900 cals per day rationed), clothing and uniforms.
Moving through the corridors there are photos on the walls, similar to police mug shots. Both photography and tattoos were used to identify all of the prisoners, many of these records were deliberately destroyed before Auschwitz was liberated by the red army in January 1945.
Of course, I could go on forever covering the rest of the blocks are rooms but it really is something to hear and experience for yourselves, I really do encourage all to visit. Before leaving we are taken into one of the gas chambers, a chilling experience I'll never forget...
5-6kgs of Zyklon B was used to kill 1500 people in 30 mins, there are just no words for these crimes.

We head back on the bus over to Auschwitz II Birkenau, this are was chosen for its flat land, rail access and proximity to town. Construction started in 1941 and when completed the area covered 435 acres and housed 120,000 prisoners at any one time. These rows of what look like houses could hold up to 775 people each.

People were transported here in these small wooden wagons, each one full with no windows.

Most of the tour here is outdoors and stories of families and life here before ultimately taken to the 2 largest gas chambers and killed. Also, the memorial is et between these 2 chambers, it's in 23 languages to represent all that was killed here. The German Nazis through dynamite sticks down into the chambers to destroy them and these are what remains today.
After completing the tour, I just felt heavy and sad for what had taken place here. But I'm glad I saw it and we continue to honour these lives.

A sad end to a wonderful time here in Poland but I will be back to visit again one day! I have to say it's probably the most underrated country I've been so far and it really is stunning and friendly.
Off now on the train again to Prague!
Much love,
L xx

Posted by mslaurajade 22:08 Archived in Poland Tagged bridges buildings trains history travel cathedral heritage gothic tour tourist jewish adventures war wwii loss pows auschwiz

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


Hello! Thanks for the travel report. Are you going to travel also to Northern part of Poland? The easiest way it to reach Warsaw by plane, then to Szczecin by plane, to Poznań, Gdańsk, Gdynia and Malbork by train, to Warsaw by plane and to Białystok and the Great Masurian Lakes, and return to Warsaw by train or bus :) I wish you good time!

by pic

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.