Pole's apart...

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Jan 01, 2014

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What I did
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Oswiecim
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Oskar Schindler's Factory Krakow
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The transport from Prague to Krakow was a new experience for both Shelley and I.  Having both been sold on coach travel after the stuod-luxury bus experience, we were forced to re-think when informed there was only one coach to Krakow on the date we needed to travel and that it was fully booked.  So it was we were booked into the sleeping compartment of the overnight train, which would take us from Prague to Krakow in 11 hours.

Sadly visions of a Poiret-esque experince on the Orient Express were soon dispelled as we were ushered into a small, but clean, sleeper cabin with two very narrow fold down beds at opposite sides of the cabin.  In theory, the room was designed for six sleepers but luckily we appeared to be the only two in the entire carriage, let alone room.  The beds were incredibly hard, and the train sped along at a furious pace before screeching to a very abrupt stop every half hour or so.  It was only thanks to the fact that we were both exhausted from several miles of walking everyday for the past week that enabled any sleep.  I also awoke to find that I had been eaten alive by bed bugs, which was a nice bonus, but that said it was a new life experience and - at about 40 pounds each - a whole lot cheaper than it would have been in the UK for a similar journey...

As with Prague, it was bitterly cold, but we had little time to waste - with a busy itinerary planned - so immediately deposited our luggage in a smelly baggage office at the train station before wandering the streets to look for a tourist office in which to sign up for a tour of one of the sites we wanted to visit in the next couple of days.

By the time the offices had opened at 9am, a couple of the Auschwitz tours had already departed so we opted for the Salt Mines tour.  I was looking forward to this, whilst I think Shelley would rather have been in bed (based on the fact that she said as much).  The Salt Mines were only 40 minutes out of the centre of Krakow, but were, and still are to a lesser extent, a huge industry, particularly for the town in which the mine sat.  At its peak, 4,000 people were employed in the mine and two tonnes of salt were enough to buy two villages (the way property prices in the UK are heading, I may have to accept a kilo of salt for my flat...).  I admit that the start of the tour, as we descended 400 steps to the tunnels below was a bit (understandably!) dry but then we entered a series of huge chambers in which the miners had carved elaborate salt scultpures/churches and magnificent halls including salt chandiliers.  Shelley was still unsure of the trip but I tried to raise spirits by regularly licking the salt walls, like a small child, leaving me with a very dry throat for the rest of the day...

The tour hadn't taken a huge amount of time so - after a quick, cheap and delicious lunch of zurek (spicy sausage/boiled egg/veg soup) and bigos (boiled cabbage and spicy meat) - we wandered over the bridge into the former Jewish area of Krakow and spent the afternoon and early evening at Schindler's factory (of film fame).  The factory has been turned into an exhibition of the history of Nazi occupation of Krakow, including the Schindler story (which it turns out was slightly embellished for Hollywood's purposes), and was fascinating.  I eventually had to drag Shelley out, reminding her that we still needed to collect our luggage from the station and find our accommodation for the next couple of days...

The snow had fallen over night and we awoke on Wednesday to a thin white blanket as we walked through the centre of Old Town Krakow to catch our tour bus out to Auschwitz.  An hour long video on the way out to the site set a sombre tone and the site itself is pretty much beyond description in terms of the images and feelings it invokes.  Suffice to say, after visiting the linked Birkenau extermination camp before returning to town, we travelled home in silence.

All of this was appropriately poles apart from my previous visit to Krakow, when I had been dressed in Primark velour clothes purchased by a colleague and spent most of my time drunk accompanied by a young man dressed as a parrot.  Long story...

Anyway, sadly part one of the adventure ended today with the most arduos and depressing transfer to date - the journey from East Midlands Airport to Bedworth, which involved three buses and more than three hours of wasted life.

Next week, Thailand...
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