Krakow and Auschwitz

Trip Start Nov 21, 2007
Trip End Oct 01, 2008

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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

First of all, we have to mention that we met a great couple from Vermont. Our hostel in Riga asked if people could share a ride with us to the airport. We said, "Of COURSE!" (cheaper for us and we had no other choice since we had to leave the hostel at 4:15am) We met Jason and Ailey (sp? sorry!) on the way to the taxi AND they were headed to Krakow too! We ended up hanging out with them some in Krakow and hope to meet up in Budapest.

We got to Krakow around 10:30 am and took the train into the central city for about 6 zloty which was a little more than $2 each. On our way into town we saw wheat and wonderful fields before hitting the actual city. We found our hostel which was rated 8th in the world or something like was small, quaint and the staff was super helpful (they also provided breakfast which is always a big plus.) ANYWAY, the city was very walkable and navigable. We toured around the famous Wawel Castle which is perched on top of a 50 meter high hill. Poland is very proud of this castle that had kings sit in it for over 500 years.

OH! The city was founded upon the defeat of a dragon by either Prince Krak or a humble shoemaker (which ever legend you choose to believe). We liked the humble shoemaker story which was said to have fed gun powder to a sheep that was then eaten by the dragon and then the dragon blew up! There are "Puff the Magic Dragon" look a like stuffed animals all over the city for sale. Also, there is a super cheesy iron dragon statue that ACTUALLY breaths fire every now and then! After that excitement, we moved to a more solemn topic, Kazimerz, the Jewish area of town. This is where the Spielberg movie, "Schindler's List," was based. Many synagogues and museums have been restored. We visited a Izaac's, High, Old, and Temple Synagogues as well as the Old Jewish Cemetery. As you can see in the pics, we feasted on some Zapiekanka's which are like french bread pizza type cuisine. They were awesome. Jana's was called Zapiekanka Full Wypa Salami, and Layton had one with tuna, mayo, garlic sauce and sour cream! We finished our walking tour through the Market Square which has the Town Hall Tower, Cloth Hall and St. Mary's Church. The square is one of the largest in Europe as is the souvenir market in the Cloth Hall complex. This was a really lively place with horse carriage rides and many beer gardens to relax at.

One quick legend about St. Mary's goes like this. The town used to hear a song played every hour to chime in the new hour. Then, during an attack one day, the bugler got shot in the neck while playing. So, today you can hear a trumpeter playing a melody and abruptly end just like the old days. The trumpeter plays a few bars, blasts an ending note and then waves to the crowd. He plays it this way to the north, south, east and west so all the world can hear. Pretty cool story and funny to listen to while roaming the Market Square.

We met our fun friends for dinner where we ordered WAY too much food. Jana tried Beetroot soup with dumplings. Layton had white borscht with sausage and potatoes. Then we shared two plates of pierogies which are like big ravioli filled with meats, cheeses and veggies. VERY FILLING TO SAY THE LEAST. We ordered one plate baked and the other boiled. Both were good but we should have only gotten one plate. OH! Guess what the garnish was? Fried lard!! Seriously, it was squares of fat fried and dumped on top of the dumplings. We rolled out of Kushnia Aubacimaliny (with doggie bags)!

Our second day was not as fun in Krakow. Not for any reason except we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau which is one of the most well-known concentration/death camps of the Nazi occupation. Our tour lasted about 3.5 hours which included both camps and a documentary film. We don't mean to be short on such a deep and oppressive topic/place of history. However, we are pretty sure you all are versed in the evil acts of this time. We are glad we went but it is not a fun place to all. One random fact that we learned. Auschwitz was more of a concentration/work camp whereas Birkenau was the place where they received people that had been deported and sent them directly in to the gas chambers. Birkenau was much bigger than Auschwitz. There was no way out of Birkenau...the rail ended for about 1.1 million people.

Our day ended with catching an overnight train to Budapest! Guess what? We had a private double room on the train. It was just us in our cabin which was much nicer than our train we took through Siberia! We even got a bar of soap and free water.

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