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 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.

Bad Behavior has blocked 18 access attempts in the last 7 days.