Sep 072012
 
Krakow

Krakow remains the cultural and historical magnet for visitors to Poland.

If you do the Poland Trifecta (Gdansk, Warsaw, and Krakow) it is a good place to end your trip, and four days isn’t too long.  Granted, you might run into groups of British men doing one of those trips (the sight of a Ryan Air jet at the airport can be ominous) and, according to my hotel manager, the Norwegians are coming in with empty suitcases and hitting the Galeria Krakowska in droves.

Krakow, however, is not living in the past.  If you spend too much time in the city center, you might overlook that this is a regional commercial center.  And like other cities that are looking to the future, it is also trying to figure out ways to move people around without destroying the city.  The picture below shows bicycle and pedestrian traffic control.  Bikes use the lane to the left, with pedestrians to the right.  There are signs marking the dual use, and even crosswalks marked where there are pedestrians crossing — such as at this dual bike/pedestrian on/off-ramp.

Auschwitz/Birkenau

If you visit Auschwitz, chances are you’ll base in Krakow.  As I mentioned a few posts earlier, avoid taking an organized tour if at all possible — especially something like the combined salt mines/death camp tours. If you arrive before 10:oo am during the peak season you can visit Auschwitz without a guide — 10:00 am to 3:00 pm requires a guide.  But to arrive early complicates your transportation since it is over an hour by by public bus and therefore an expensive cab ride.  (Birkenau (Auschwitz II) does not require guides at any time.)

There is some discussion on whether it better to view this kind of site in the context of the specific events that took place — The Holocaust — or in the context of other genocides, pogroms, etc.  In the end, it is your decision what you want to take away with you.

Another issue is the deterioration at the sites.  One the one hand, you’d almost like so see it dissolve into rust and rot — be gone forever.  But the worry is that people will forget — and many (most?) have no idea the scope and scale of the Holocaust.  But these rails and ties just show some of the more obvious deterioration.  Time will tell what kind of balance is struck.

Warsaw

Still the industrial and commercial engine for Poland…All the more amazing when you consider the extent of German destruction. The city continues to build and change.  This display on the observation tower at the Uprising Museum is supposed to show buildings that are still standing from the WWII era (the darker shapes).  However, the some of the newer buildings on the display have since been replaced by even newer buildings.

The sights in Warsaw are farther apart than in Krakow and if you spend time touring, you’ll probably be wise to do your explorations in sectors.  If you spend more than a couple of days, it might be a good idea to learn the tram system — though they can be packed during commuting hours.

Taxi Ride to the Airport

A short distance from the hotel the driver gestured to the right with his head.  “Souvenir of Stalin”.  He was referring to the Palace of Culture and Science.

He asked if I minded the radio, which was playing Polish songs.  I didn’t mind.  We chatted a little and as we got close to the airport I heard a song:

Kayah and Bregovic: “Prawy Do Lewego (From Your Right to Your Left)”

Then I’m saying “That lady — the singer.  That’s, uh, uh — Kayah!”

“Kayah.  Yes.”

“Kayah and Bregovic.  Right?”

He was genuinely surprised that I knew.

He turned up the volume.  We were both tapping our fingers and quietly whistling along.

It was a nice way to end the trip.

Links for this trip…
Krakow

Cracow-Life:  http://www.cracow-life.com/

Krakow Info:  http://www.krakow-info.com/

Historical Museum of Kraków:  http://mhk.pl/

St Mary’s Basilica (in Polish):  http://www.mariacki.com/

Wawel Royal Cathedral:  http://www.katedra-wawelska.pl/english

Hotel Floryan:  http://www.floryan.com.pl/en/index.php

Auschwitz/Birkenau

Auschwitz (Official Site):  http://en.auschwitz.org/m/

Excellent BBC Interactive Map of Auschwitz:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/interactive/animations/auschwitz_map/index_embed.shtml

Warsaw

Warsaw-Life:  http://www.warsaw-life.com/

Warsaw Rising Museum:  http://www.1944.pl/en/

The Royal Castle in Warsaw:  http://www.zamek-krolewski.pl/?page=1114

National Museum in Warsaw Information:  http://www.mnw.art.pl/index.php/pl/english

Polish Army Museum (in Polish):  http://www.muzeumwp.pl/

Hotel Mercure Warsaw Grand:
http://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-3384-mercure-warszawa-grand/index.shtml

Sep 062012
 
Polish Army Museum

Located next door (actually the same building) to National Museum, Warsaw, exhibits include a lot of artillery, vehicles, and aircraft stored outside; and a range of arms, armor, and uniforms through the centuries.  Particular emphasis is placed on the Polish Army during WWII and on artifacts from the over 21,000 Polish prisoners (Army officers captured during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, police officers, and intelligentsia – “intelligence agents, gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials and priests.”) murdered by orders of Stalin in 1940.  It was recently decided to relocate the museum to new facilities in the Citadel, north of Old Town.

Polish Winged Hussar — A major factor in the victory of the Polish forces over the Turks at Vienna, 1683. There is some discussion as to whether the wings were actually worn in battle — of even if the cavalryman could stay mounted on the horse while wearing those wings.

When I first glanced at the sign I thought it was warning against wing-walking on jet fighter aircraft…

The Royal Castle

Up Ulica Nowy Świat (a main shopping and historic boulevard) from the National Museum is Castle Square, the Royal Castle, and Old Town.

Zygmunt’s Column is a meeting spot for Warsaw residents and visitors, and the Castle Square is the location for festivities and official ceremonies.

Zygmunt’s Column, with the original sections, blown up by the Germans in reprisal for the 1944 Rising, in the foreground.

The Royal Castle was painstakingly rebuilt starting in 1970.  After the rubble was cleared following the German’s destruction, it was a cleared area that Poles could see every day for 27 years.  The reconstruction was based on exhaustive research, bits and pieces of the original building salvaged from the original, photographs, and paintings, etc.  The wooden floors are spectacular, with every important room having a different pattern.

Doors of the Church of the Gracious Mother of God (Kościół Matki Bożej Łaskawej)

Located midway between the Market Square and the Royal Castle, the church is adjacent the St. John’s Cathedral.  The doors are by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj, who also made the famous partial head that is installed in front of the British Museum, London.

The dates over the door are “1604 – 1944 – 1970”

The Old Town Market Square

Detail of a corner burgher house on the Market Square.

In the Market Square, probably the most famous, and most photographed, fighting mermaid.

Classic Fighting Mermaid pose.

When the mermaid gets hungry…Kabobs?

Warsaw Skyline Panoramic

Taken from a tower overlooking Castle Square.  Almost anything you can see was reconstructed after the Germans leveled Warsaw.  It is estimated that over 150,000 civilians were killed in the Rising and following, and around 550,000 people were expelled.

(Right click on picture and “View Image”.)

Sep 052012
 
The Palace of Culture and Science

Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science.

A relic of the years of Soviet domination, there are a lot of varying opinions about this building.  Some would like to tear it down, but it still has useful facilities.  And what would you put in its place (and who would pay for it)?

The Warsaw Uprising Museum

The museum’s opening was in 2004 — timed for the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Rising.  While it might be said to have an advantage by only having to present a relatively short span of time — the 66 days of the Rising and a few days preceding it — it does that in a comprehensive, innovative, and thoughtful manner.

Not to be missed is a 3D video that simulates a fly-over of a devastated Warsaw after the German’s pounded much of the city into rubble.

One feature are the desk calendar pages that are on the walls next to exhibits.

“Calendar” pages near exhibits — one for each day of the Rising.

There is a page for each day.  Each page shows (in Polish only) the date and other information for the day including sunrise, sunset, and the maximum temperature.  It also tells what happened in Warsaw that day.  As you go through the museum you can take the calendar pages — eventually totaling 71.

In many exhibits, such as the one below, there are taped interviews with those who fought.  If the exhibit is about light machine guns, there is a video interview with a man describing the Bren gun he actually used.  (All of those interviews are subtitled in English.)

An exhibit of weapons used in the Rising.

 

The “Kotwica” — Symbol of the Polish secret state and the Armia Krajowa (Home Army, or AK).

A pleasant surprise is this coffee shop.  I had to do a double take to make sure it wasn’t an exhibit.  It is themed for the time period of the Rising and there is also a contemporary area outside on a balcony.

Themed coffee shop in the museum.

On the wall near the coffee shop is this bottle of Cinzano…

“Jozef Wrobel and his Home Army friends decide on May 9, 1945, to save a prewar bottle of Cinzano wine until the day Poland regains her independence and the last foreign soldiers her soil.”

A friend once said that you have to be one heck of a city to have a mermaid with a sword and and shield as your symbol.

Warsaw’s Fighting Mermaid.

View of the museum’s observation tower from the Rose Garden — on the back side of the Memorial Wall.

Sep 032012
 

I seem to be having a hard time finding sunshine here in Krakow.  However, for a trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau, a bright sunny day might be a bit too incongruous.

Auschwitz

The main gate at Auschwitz — from the inside.

Below is one of the early attempts to deal with the remains of murdered persons.  One pair of a total of four ovens at Auschwitz.  The turntable on the floor allows operators to pull ashes out of an oven, turn the cart 180 degrees, and the push the cart over an ash pit to be dumped.  This particular setup was abandoned as more efficient equipment was developed to handle the mass of murdered people.

Early ovens at Auschwitz.

 Birkenau (Auschwitz II)

The other iconic gateway.

The rail gate to Birkenau.

A railway wagon of the type used to transport to Birkenau for work or to be killed.  This is the place seen in many photos showing people being taken off the trains and, in many cases, immediately sorted and taken to the gas chambers.

Railway goods wagon of the type used to transport people to Birkenau.

Electrified fence line.

On the Birkenau site, opposite from the railway gate, are the remains of gas chambers and crematoria — destroyed by the SS at the Soviets advanced westward.  A picture of the structure is on the sign to the left.

Gas chamber and crematorium destroyed as Soviet forces drew closer.

The memorial, opposite the camp from the railway gate.  The group in the center are Israeli students.  The government of Israel sends thousands of students every year to tour the death camps.  This practice is considered controversial by some.  The students are accompanied throughout their visit to Poland by Israeli security guards (I counted at least 4 with this group).

Israeli students at the memorial.

Inside one of the wooden barracks.  These were designed as stables for the German Army — to house 52 horses.  They held up to 400 prisoners.

Inside a wooden barrack.

Israeli students light candles in one of the brick barracks.

Visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau

Many people take an organized tour, but I’d recommend avoiding them.  You can do all the research you need online, and I don’t think Auschwitz and Birkenau are best absorbed when you are part of a herd.  Also, during the peak tourist months, you can only enter Auschwitz I between the hours of 10:00 am and 3:00 pm as part of an organized tour– due to the crush of visitors.  There are no such restrictions at Birkenau.

My recommendation is to take a bus from the Krakow bus terminal (right next door to the main Krakow train station).  Get a bus that will get you to the museum no later than 11:00 – 11:30.  Then take the free shuttle to Birkenau (Auschwitz II).  You likely find it very quiet.  Take your time and then take any of the shuttles back to Auschwitz that leave Birkenau after 2:45 pm.  You will have managed is to avoid the surge of tours that starts at Auschwitz, then goes to Birkenau, and then home.

Panoramic Photo of Birkenau

A 360-degree view taken midway between the railway gate and the memorial.  (Right click on photo and then select “View Image”.)

Sep 032012
 
Birkenau Panoramics

These are panoramics — each roughly 180- degrees — from Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and provide some sense of the expanse of this Death Camp.  They were taken from the midpoint of the path between the famous main gate and the memorial — at the spot where the first life-or-death sorting of news arrivals occurred.

After you select a photo, enlarge it on your screen so that it is fairly high (about 100%) and then pan right and left.

Sep 022012
 

So I step out of the hotel a little before noon and there is a crowd lining both sides of the ul. Florianska (the street which carries the “Royal Way” into the city and to the Market Square).  The event?  How about a dachshund parade?

Dachshund Parade down ul. Florianska.

On up to Wawel Hill, home of the Wawel Castle and the Wawel Cathedral.

Wawel Cathedral

Passage from Wawel Castle towards the Cathedral.

After Wawel Hill a walk along the Wisla, and a crossing over a pedestrian/cyclist bridge, Love Padlocks (or Love Locks) — and a newlywed couple.

Newlyweds and Love Padlocks on a pedestrian bridge over the Wisla.

The Pharmacy Under the Eagle (Apteka Pod Orłem).  Operated by Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Roman Catholic, the pharmacy was started in 1910 by his father, and served both Gentiles and Jews in Krakow’s Podgórze district.  The district was turned into a Jewish Ghetto by the Germans in March 1941.  Pankiewicz remained on the premise despite the offer by the Germans to relocate him across the river.

Pharmacy Under the Eagle (Apteka Pod Orłem), taken from Plac Bohaterów Ghetta.

The pharmacy became a hub for a range of activities attempting to support, ease suffering, and to save Jews from transport to death camps.  In 1983 Pankiewicz was recognized as a “Righteous Among the Nations” for his works.

Walking back, I pass a long line…

A line for ice cream.

The clue is a little brown sign below a red sign on the left of this picture:  “LODY” (ice cream).  I have no idea what makes this shop so popular, but ice cream shops and small storefronts are a feature in Poland — at least in the larger cities.

Sep 012012
 

A dreary day in Krakow, with clouds and occasional rain — Just like the forecast.  But inside it didn’t matter — especially for a couple of Krakow’s highlights.

A dreary day in Krakow — From the Cloth Hall towards St. Mary’s.

Nowe Sukiennice/National Museum in Krakow, Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art in Sukiennice

For the first time in four visits to Krakow, the improvements in the Market Square are completed.  The renovations to the Sukienice took place between 2006 and 2010, and a whole new museum dedicated to the centuries of Krakowian history, was built under the square in an area roughly covered by the left half of the photo above.

About half of the “Chełmoński Room: Realism, Polish Impressionism, Beginnings of Symbolism.”

Some of the paintings I liked:

Four-In-Hand, Jozef Chelmonski, 1881

Powerful imagery of horses racing across a barren landscape…One of the Museum’s signature pieces, it is a big painting, as you can tell from the objects to each side.

Four-In-Hand

A Meeting on a Bridge, Jozef Brandt, 1886

A Meeting on a Bridge

Christmas Eve in Siberia, Jacek Malczwewski, 1892

Christmas Eve in Siberia

School of Talmudists, Samuel Hirzenberg, 1887

School of Talmudists

Saint Mary’s Basilica, and the Veit Stoss Altar

Occupying a corner of the Market Square from the end of the 13th Century, St. Mary’s shares major landmark duties with the Cloth Hall, as well as being a functioning house of worship.  What draws visitors is the High Altar, carved by Bavarian Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz) between 1477 and 1489.  Opened, it is about 13 meters high and 11 wide.  When the wings are closed, there are 12 scenes of Mary’s suffering.   At the start of WWII it was taken apart by the Poles, crated, and hidden around the country.  The Germans discovered it, and sent the altar to the basement of Nuremberg Castle.  It was repatriated in 1846 and restoration was completed in 1957.

The walls of the presbytery are lined with painted and gilded relief sculptures, and the ceiling is painted blue with golden stars.  Wall paintings by Jan Matejko and windows by Stanislaw Wyspianski and Jozef Mehoffer.

 

View along the side of the Presbytery towards the High Altar.

The main panels of the Veit Stoss High Altar.

The Presbytery from altar to ceiling.

Sep 082010
 

You know you’re in Gdansk when…

Crossing over to the Green Gate - Evening in Gdansk - Ferries and the Crane.

…You look down the Stara Motława and see the crane (that tall dark structure on the left bank that almost hangs over the water).

Gdansk (Danzig when the Prussians or Germans controlled its history), while not held in the same romantic historical regard as Krakow or Warsaw, nonetheless is practically bursting at the seams with history and historical connections.

This was just an evening stroll after crashing in the hotel.  (I’m no longer fighting it…My arrival day in Europe might as well be dead time.)

The stroll turned into dinner outdoors on ulica Długa.

Ulica Długa is yet another part of another city in Poland blasted to bits during WWII — and painstakingly restored with the help of old photos and paintings.  Gdansk became known more for it’s massive Lenin Shipyard (birthplace of Solidarity) and related industries.  As a result, some of the rebuilding and reconstruction has been later coming.

May 162010
 

(Actually, about eight pictures.)

Here is a little background on the photos in my slideshow “Dawn” which ran on World Hum

Capturing dawn presents some technical problems – photographic and geographic.  A “dawn” picture may be taken before the sun comes up, or after.  But somehow it has to meet our expectations of what dawn looks like.

One of the difficulties is figuring out where the sun will be coming up.  NOAA has a great web site that lets you calculate matters solar.  One thing you can do is calculate the azimuth of the sun (the point at or above the horizon, expressed as an angle, measured clockwise from north) observed from any particular point (e.g. If I’m standing at the corner of the Metro parking garage at sunrise, which direction will I face to see the sun as it rises, or an hour later, etc.).  Operationalize this information a couple of different ways:  (1) With a decent handheld compass, you can line up your camera in advance to capture the rising sun; or (2) by using Google maps, you can identity landmarks that can be used to align the shot.

Here is info on the pictures.  You can copy and paste the latitude and longitude into Google Maps to see some of my shooting positions:

Opening picture: I was looking for a general shot and figured that shooting across the water would be good.  I went to Google Maps and looked for a location down the Potomac from Washington, DC that would give me clear shot.  I picked the Virginia shore looking towards Fort Washington, MD.  The very faint light-colored vertical object near the water under the sun is the Fort Washington Light.  I selected a shooting position just off the bike path to Mt. Vernon using the NOAA site.  (38.711318, -77.051588) (Nikon D300 on tripod with Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 lens; 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 800, 19mm.)

Philadelphia: This is one of those shots that makes you glad you remembered to take your camera along.  I was on a business trip and looked out the window early in the morning.  (Voigtlander Bessa rangefinder film camera, handheld with Voigtlander 35mm f/2.5 lens.)

Commute: I tried this shot the week before from the top deck of the Metro parking garage in Vienna — but the sun was a little too far to the right (over that clump of trees).  I went to the NOAA site and found out that the following weekend was probably my only chance from that location until autumn.  On shooting morning I set up the tripod and made shots over a period of time.  I collapsed the tripod and had put it in the car when I looked back, and saw this.  No time for a tripod, but I used a stabilized lens.  (38.878309, -77.272347 ) (Nikon D300 handheld with Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens – stabilization on; 1/125 @ f/4, ISO 400, 102mm.)

Dulles: This shot happened in the opposite way from the commuting picture.  The selected frame is one of a few shots I made checking the camera setup — before the sun actually came up.  Shooting as the sun rose, the terminal “paled” out and lost that glow.  (BTW:  I emailed the airport authority media relations office ahead of time to advise them what I would be shooting.  They only asked that I call police operations when I showed up.  The police were very pleasant when I called them.)  (38.953767, -77.451961) (Nikon D300 on tripod with Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 lens; 1/10 @ f/4, ISO 200, 32mm)

Car: I knew that I should have a road shot, so I rigged the Benbo tripod in the car.  I checked the map and saw some straight east-west stretches of Highway 7 west of Leesburg, VA.  As I drove west, I was checking my mirrors and saw that the time was right.  I made four laps back and forth between two overpasses.  A shot from earlier that morning is also posted on this blog.  (39.144473, -77.68791 to 39.143808, -77.655573) (Nikon D300 on Benbo tripod with Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens; 1/320 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 800, 11mm.)

Krakow:  I discovered how nice it is to walk around Krakow early in the morning on the last day of my first trip there.  For these pictures I had another project in mind that didn’t really pan out, but the sequence of four worked out fine for this slideshow.  The first three frames show for a little less than one second each in the slideshow.  (50.062472, 19.936835) (Olympus E-1 on tripod with Zuiko 11-22mm f/3.5 lens; 1 sec @ f/8, ISO 100, 11mm.)

Zoo:  The National Zoo in Washington DC is open around the clock.  In the summer you can beat the crowds and beat the heat by showing up really early – and also find parking in their lots.  This shot just happened.  (Nikon F100, film, on monopod with Tokina 300mm f/2.8 lens

Airplane: This is the source photo for my blog banner and is discussed in an earlier blog entry.  From a technical perspective, this is an almost hopeless picture.  The one I used in the slideshow hasn’t been fixed up in PhotoShop like the blog banner version.  (Minox EC camera, film, handheld.)

Apr 102010
 

Dusk in Krakow

The Vistula (Wisła) seen from Krakow's Wawel at Dusk

On a day where our thoughts may be turned to Poland’s tragedy, I wanted to offer up a image that expresses some sense of the nation’s endurance.

The Vistula runs from the Carpathian Mountains in the south of Poland, past Krakow, over the plains, through Warsaw, and eventually into the Baltic near Gdansk.  That watershed covers a great deal of Polish history and culture.

Dec 192009
 

I shot it.  Then I ate it.

M

M

One of the small joys of Poland is the chance to drop into a little shop, enjoy paczki, relax, and watch the world go by.

This little kuchnia is on Ul Jagiellonska, a block off Krakow’s Market Square.

Backstory:  This was originally one of the exercises in a course about “Travel Writing in the Digital Age”.  I was encouraged by the instructors to add the link to the paczki definition.  And they also suggested more information on how to find the place, etc.  My head went in to auto-bob mode, but that evening I decided that too much information was not a good thing.  The point is to relate the possibility, but then to let the traveler finish the journey.

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