Sep 072012

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.  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 Info:

Historical Museum of Kraków:

St Mary’s Basilica (in Polish):

Wawel Royal Cathedral:

Hotel Floryan:


Auschwitz (Official Site):

Excellent BBC Interactive Map of Auschwitz:



Warsaw Rising Museum:

The Royal Castle in Warsaw:

National Museum in Warsaw Information:

Polish Army Museum (in Polish):

Hotel Mercure Warsaw Grand:

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.

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