Kraków – Part 2

Our first day after the Segway debacle we were up early for the Wieliczka Salt Mines tour, it was a private tour so we had our own mini bus to take us the half an hour journey to the mines. We had to walk down 350 stairs to get to the bottom of the mine and it made you really dizzy, it was funny looking down and not being able to see the bottom and knowing how far you had left yet! We were 135 metres underground and walked 3km through all the underground corridors of salt, there were huge timber trunks holding up the walls and lots of different sculptures carved out of salt. The best was the hidden cathedral which had lots of carvings and ornate chandeliers it was really beautiful. I must say though we were all very happy to get above ground again and even more happy that there was a lift.

We had another lovely lunch around the main square, there is a trumpeter that comes out of the tower every hour and plays a turn north, east, south and west and then waves at everyone.

We then went back to the apartment for a nap before our polish food and vodka tour. We were picked up by our guide Kate at 7 and she walked us to the polish restaurant which was decorated like an authentic polish mountain restaurant. I was a little but apprehensive about the food, but not the vodka! The menu included polish dishes and five accompanying liqueurs:

Vodka
Krupnik (honey vodka)
A normal polish vodka but it was 72%
Soplica (Cherry Vodka)
Slivovitz Plum Brandy
Żołądkowa Gorzka (a herbal vodka good for digestion)

Food
Bread with lard and pickles
Oscypek (smoked cheese)
Zurek (sour rye soup)
Grilled polish sausages
Pierogis (polish dumplings three different flavours – spinach, cheese and beef)
Kaszanka (polish black pudding)

It was interesting to try the food but it was very heavy and unusual to what we are used to, it felt very strange actively eating lard! My favourite were the pierogis, I love dumplings and they were so tasty. The vodka was seriously strong the cherry one was my favourite, poppa Pete and Chris were the only ones who managed to shot all five and they both went a bit crazy for a few minutes after the strong one. It was a really good night to sample the polish culture.

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We had a Schindlers List tour which was a walking tour, the guide took us around the Jewish Quarter telling us all the history and showing us locations from the film. She took us into a Synagog and explain all the religious rituals. It was a really lovely sunny day too, mother Jules bottle of fizzy water exploded as she opened it and terrified everyone it was hilarious.

The guide then took us too a memorial in the old Jewish Ghetto which is lots of metal chairs, which signifies the Nazis throwing the chairs and furniture out of the windows and everything they had to leave behind.

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After some lunch we went to Schindlers Factory which was more of a museum to the whole of the history rather than what Schindler did (saved thousands of Jews, risking his own life) but it was a really good interactive museum. It showed the Ghetto flats they had to live in which were tiny, the Nazi rule that one window equalled four people in a room!

The afternoon was spent having a horse and cart tour around the square and then a tour of an underground medieval market!

I would recommend to anyone that Poland is an amazing holiday and very reason all price wise too. It is a beautiful country with so much history, and we had a brilliant time. I would like to thank my lovely family for coming out to meet us we had an great time with you and it was so fun catching up! Love you all.

Lucy

Kraków – Part 1

We are in Kraków! We arrived on Sunday by train and went straight to the apartment to meet my family! For those of you who have wondered ‘Why Poland?’ It’s because my dad has always wanted to go, and whilst me and Chris were in NZ we missed his 60th birthday so this is a little family trip to end the holiday and celebrate his birthday. So anyway we met the family at the apartment and had lots of hugs it was amazing to see them, we are here with my mum, dad, brother Josh and his girlfriend Amy. We cracked the gin open straight away and spent a few hours chatting and catching up it was so great to see them all.

That night we went to an Italian which was in Lonely Planet, the family have so far gone along with my Lonely Planet obsession which is nice of them to humour me. The Italian was lovely and I had an amazing chicken and almond pizza washed down with some wine, it was a lovely first day.

The next day we were up early for our trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau, which we were all a bit apprehensive about. We were picked up on a mini bus and we watch an hour video all about the holocaust and the horrors that went on there. It was so harrowing and the whole bus was silent for the journey, apprehensive about what we might see or feel when we got to Auschwitz. As we entered the first camp there was a huge sign that read ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ which means ‘work brings freedom’ and I just couldn’t help but feel how untrue that statement was as we walked underneath the sign.

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Auschwitz camp was established in 1940 on the outskirts of a town called Oswiecim chosen for its location due to good rail links and already existing buildings. I still cannot get my head around the fact that over a million people were killed here of 27 different nationalities. There are 13 of the 30 surviving original prison blocks present as some of the camp was destroyed when the Nazis were fleeing.

We were taken into many of the brick prison blocks which have been converted into museums, with horrible images on the walls and exhibits behind glass. It shows the gas pellets that were used to gas the victims in the gas chambers. In one room there was a huge pile of human hair and shoes which really shocked me. It was the hair from 40,000 woman and it just made you think that even the amount of hair there was nothing compared to what there would be at the time. We were told that the Nazis actually made money from killing selling people’s belongings, hair, teeth, clothes anything they could.

We were then shown a replica of where people would have slept, either on the floor of six to a three tier bunk bed. There were often fights as people were fighting to get the to bunk so that the very ill people who had diarrhoea due to starvation wouldn’t poo on them in the night, it really is harrowing.

Next was the camp prison in a cellar, it was hard to believe they needed a prion as the whole place was enough of a prison, with electric fences and barbed wire around the entire camp. In the prison we were shown the different types of punishment cells, such as the starvation cell and standing cell. The standing cell was a bricked cell with a tiny door at the bottom in which you had to crawl into and then stand all night there would be five or six people in there at a time.

The reasons for punishment seem so unjustified and it appears that they just wanted any reason to be as cruel as possible. If you helped a fellow weak prisoner – you got punished, if you gave someone you food – you got punished, if someone ran away they would punish ten other prisoners for that persons actions. There was a killing wall where people were regularly shot and it was horrible to stand on the same ground where all these people have brutally lost there lives.

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The bit that I wasn’t looking forward to was the gas chamber, the only way to describe it was a concrete underground bunker. When the prisoners arrived after being stuffed in a train for three days they were told they were being taken to shower. They were split into men and woman with children and then selected on whether they were fit to work. If they weren’t fit to work they were taken off separately naked for a ‘shower’, led into the gas chamber and killed. Hardly any children survived as they were all killed. The thing that upset me were the nail marks down the walls from people clawing to get out. They were then burned by other prisoners, which must have been horrendous.

Next we were taken to Auschwitz II or Birkenau as it is more well known as which is the camp where actually most of the killing was done. This is more to show the scale of the camp and reflect, hardly any barracks are open as they are falling down. The Nazis did everything as cheap as possible in order to make as much money as they could.

There was just barbed wire and barracks and the ruins of gas chambers it was so horrible to see how big the camp is and the horrors that went on there, I must say it was a quiet journey back to our apartment.

After a debrief and in-depth conversation about what we had seen we went out for a lovely Mexican meal and then headed to the main Old Town Square for a drink. There was a jazz band playing and the funniest drunk man dancing for everyone it was such a laugh. After a few cocktails we went home to bed.

The next day was a free day with no trips booked so we went to hire segways as Josh really wanted to give them a try. We were given a lesson and I must say I was terrible at first as you always feel like you are going to fall off, and it all about balance. We had hired them for an hour but the guide for some reason wouldn’t let us go off on our own and insisted on coming with us (must have seen trouble coming). We had so much fun whizzing around on them, it was a bit scary going up curbs on them as you had to lean forward with full power to get them to go up, and because we were scared me and Amy always ended up stopping at the curb and then not being able to get up!

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The one lady who did surprise everyone (in more ways than one) was my mum, she was so good at segwaying, riding around taking videos and handing our mints. Then the disaster happened at one very narrow bit she hit a parked car and fell off really hurting her shoulder. Then when she got back on the Segway she felt faint and then briefly fainted in the street and at one point we thought we might have to call an ambulance. I must say we are joking with her about it now, but it was pretty scary at the time and we are really glad she’s ok!

So after a steak lunch and a wanderthat afternoon the parents went back as my mum wasn’t feeling very well.

Me, Chris, Josh and Amy hired three wheel bikes with motors, they were just like mobility scooters it was hilarious. They were so rubbish but we had such a funny afternoon. We had to go back early though as two lost battery and the other had a popped tyre!

We finished the night with a few cocktails then back to the apartment as we were up early the next day for our salt mines tour!

Lucy

Warsaw

Warsaw is such a beautiful European city, we are so excited to be back in Europe and even more excited to see my family in Kraków today! We arrived in Warsaw around midday and got the train to the hotel – which is so amazing and luxurious compared to what we have been used too! A lovely lady we saw at the train station gave us a free tour bus ticket as she was leaving so that was the afternoon sorted. We had a ride on the bus which was a great way to see the city in our short time! We drove past the old town which looked gorgeous and said we would go back the next day. I was so tired as I didn’t sleep much on the plane and we had been travelling for 16 hours.

In the morning we hit the breakfast buffet and something amazing happened – we had our first proper bacon (in our opinion) in 14 months it was sooo good.

We got the tram to the old town which was beautiful so quaint and the buildings at
are so intricate and ornate in such nice colours. Everywhere is cobbled and there are no cars we spent the whole day here – I really have missed how much history Europe has and how lovely it really is. I feel we sometimes take it for granted living so close.

We had a tour around the castle which is actually a replica reconstruction as Hitler demolished the original, the inside was so lovely. There was so much gold and marble and expensive furniture, there were portraits everywhere – they looked like they should move like in Harry Potter.

After this we stopped for a cheeky gin or two in a cafe on the square and watched all the street performers, it really was a great day finished with a meal at Hard Rock Cafe!

I haven’t mentioned at the obvious which is the history of Poland in regards to the Jews it is there and a lot of museums and statues and memorials acknowledge the tragic times. We haven’t been to any of the museums yet as we have a full week in Kraków planned with my family to visit these areas, which I must say I am nervous about as I know it will be harrowing.

Today we have spent the morning killing time in the technology museum before our train to Kraków!

Lucy