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.
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.
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 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 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 (Official Site): http://en.auschwitz.org/m/
Excellent BBC Interactive Map of Auschwitz:
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: