Trip Start May 27, 2007
21Trip End Nov 27, 2007
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Poland was fantastic. We only covered the south of the country (have to leave something to come back to!) but really enjoyed it. From Wroclaw we went east to Czestochowa, famous (apparently) as a pilgrimage site. It was very scary. The monastary itself, at Jasna Gora, was extraordinary. Huge and incredibly ornate. Cathedrals can sometimes get a bit, well, samey after a few, but this one was very different. However, even though it wasn't one of the six official pilgrimage days of the year, it was full of several hundred people, on their knees, chanting responses to a voice at the front. There was something quite eerie about it (this is going to sound wrong, but to be honest it reminded me a bit of Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom). I think the language barrier made it come across as more intimidating than it really was, but we were quite keen to leave.
We went a bit further out of town instead, eventually finding a small campsite (someone's garden really, but very nice) in a town called Olsztyn. Words in Eastern Europe aren't worth having if they don't have a z and a y in. Quite often vowels are a luxury, so communication can be difficult. English is very rare - if we're lucky the people might speak a little German. Anyway, we stayed there for a couple of days, making use of their huge bbq pit to cook our sausages. It is another interesting feature of shops over here that meat counters usually comprise of sausages, ham, salami, sausages, chorizo and sausages. Claire bought something which she hoped was better, but it turned out to be chicken livers which, as you might be able to tell from the photos on Kooljuice, were revolting. Apart from that incident we've been eating pretty well (my favourite meal out so far was my "Selection of Bavarian Pig Slaughtering" in Czech R. which was delicious!).
We travelled south then to Auschwitz and Berkenau concentration camps. Both camps are well worth visiting and despite being extremely busy the sombre atmosphere is unavoidable. Birkenau gives a real sense of what a camp really felt like to be in, whereas some of the displays at Auschwitz really bring home the scale of the atrocities.
From there it wasn't far to Krakow which is a beautiful city. We cycled in from the campsite and had a great day wandering around. If you ever go I highly recommend the dumplings at the Miod Malina restaurant. Yum.
We then went south to the Tatra Mountains. About a quarter of these are in Poland and we stayed first at Zakopane. This was a bit of a revelation - it was heaving. All the way down through the main street were market stalls and thousands of people. We caught the funicular up the mountain and there was more at the top, as well as lots of activities. We strolled round then walked back down to the town, stopping for a couple of beers at a great bar called "Roosters". Great because of the beer, location and sun, nothing to do with all the waitresses being in hotpants.
The next day was very wet as we set off to Slovakia. Unfortunately the windscreen wipers packed up not long after leaving (they're now permanently stuck in the 'up' position) so the lack of visibility meant we couldn't see much of the scenery. (some might say it would be more useful to try and look at the road really any way? - C) It's breathtaking though, incredibly beautiful and I don't think my photos do it justice. Fortunately the next day (yesterday) was sunny again so we went for a good six hour trek along the Magistrala Trail, from Stary Smokovec. Fantastic walk, with great views. I'll get those photos online next time.
Hope all are well at home. Heard a rumour there's a new prime minister, funny to be missing events like that. I'll live with it though.
Bye for now!
Mark and Claire xx