A Taste of Poland

July 29, 2009 at 2:54 pm 4 comments

Krakow, Poland

Location: Krakow, Poland
 
I never thought crossing the border into Poland from the Czech Republic would be a non-event. We went straight through without showing our passport.

It wasn’t hard adjusting to the Polish language either as it shares the same Slavic heritage with the Czech. I didn’t have to struggle as much to learn the key phrases to survive. For example, if I want to say “Hello” in Czech, i’d say “Dobrý Den.” In Polish, it’s “Dzien Dobry.” If I want to say “Please” in Czech, I’d say “Prosim“. In polish, it’s “Prosze“. If I want to say “Thank you” in Czech, I’d say “Dekuji“. In Polish, it’s “Dziekuje.” And so on.

We stayed for four days and three nights in Poland.

It included a visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps where millions of jews were exterminated during World War II.



Walking around the sites surrounded by barbed wires and guard towers brought back memories of the holocaust.



Some of the barracks have been converted into exhibits. There are thousands of personal artifacts belonging to the prisoners: shoes, eyeglasses, kitchen utensils. There’s a mountain of shorn hair from female prisoners destined for textile mills (yes, the Nazis used human hair for manufacturing clothing materials). There’s even a collection of salvaged canisters of cyanide used in the mass gassing of the Jews. These exhibits left a chilling and lasting impression on me, especially when we entered the actual gas chamber in Birkenau and heard the squeaking door closed behind us.

Our hotel was situated in the center of Krakow where the major sights are conveniently located. A local guide led us on a two-day walking tour of the city. You’d know that Pope John Paul II was here. Posters of the late pope are all over in this predominantly Catholic City.



We went to see the bishop’s place where he once lived and St. Mary’s Church where he preached and heard confessions. Among the other places we visited were the market square, considered to be Europe’s largest medieval marketplace, the Jewish district, the Wawel Cathedral and Castle, and more churches where outside, newly-weds in their wedding attires, gladly pose for pictures to anybody with a camera.



Twenty years might have passed since the fall of communism, but traces of the old regime are still around in the gray-colored buildings that dot the city landscape. while some members of the tour went biking, I joined three women in going to Nowa Huta, an industrial town built in 1949 as a showpiece for Stalinism. We took the tram and made sure our tickets were validated. Failure to do so would subject anyone to a stiff fine. While on the way, I tried to do a little experiment. I opened my phrase book and looked at the elderly lady sitting beside me. I pointed to a phrase and said it aloud. She smiled and shook her head and pronounced it correctly. She then proceeded to help me with the other phrases as well. The experiment proved that the polish people aren’t cold and suspicious of strangers as I’d been told. As she and her husband standing beside her were getting off the tram, the husband smiled at me and said “Konichiwa.” He mistook me for a japanese, which I didn’t mind. Japanese tourists are well -liked in this part of the world for their generosity and good manners.

The trip to Nowa Huta was well worth it even though it started to rain when we were there. It was like traveling back in time behind the iron curtain. We observed an aspect of “sameness” in the town’s architecture further accentuated by the gloomy weather.



We also got a glimpse of how ordinary Poles live their everyday lives.



On our last day in Poland, we went to the small town of Wieliczka to visit its famous salt mine. It has been turned into a tourist attraction after active mining was discontinued in 1996. We walked two miles underground to its many levels to see underground lakes, chapels, statues of historic and mythic figures, and displays of old miners’ clothes and equipments. Most of the statues and frescos were carved out of rock salt.



Although taking photos was allowed, it wasn’t free. There was a fee charged for the privilege.

At the end of the tour, we took a small elevator. It could only carry four people at a time back up to the surface. It was a tight and thrilling 1072 feet ride up in the dark.

Next stop was Hungary. I’ll write about it in another post.

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Entry filed under: Blogroll, travel, vacation. Tags: , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. thatwordinme  |  August 3, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Would love, love, love to visit Poland someday.

    Reply
    • 2. plaridel  |  August 4, 2009 at 7:00 pm

      kz:

      poland is a great place to visit. it offers lots to history buffs. it’s also inexpensive compared to other countries in europe. at least, for now.

      Reply
  • 3. emilayskie  |  August 4, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Wow! Poland’s architectural structures are really amazing! I would really want to travel there someday.

    Thank you for sharing these pictures Mr. Plaridel! I feels like I have been there too.

    Reply
    • 4. plaridel  |  August 5, 2009 at 11:11 am

      emilayskie:

      every pinoy would be proud to visit poland. its velvet revolution that finally threw the soviets out was inspired by our very own people power revolution in 1986.

      Reply

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