I love to travel and some time ago discovered I also love to write, combine this with my husband's photography and we get to share it all with you. Please visit us at www.facebook.com/brucevandersluisimages
Published March 1st 2014
Dive in to a world of adventures
Poland is not one of those countries that people tend to go to on holidays unless they have a reason. However, in 2012 after an organised tour that we were booked on was cancelled, we decided to visit Krakow anyway. We did our research and found that there were enough places of interest to visit and by the time we left Australia we had tours booked to Auschwitz – Birkenau and the Wieliczka Salt Mines.
We stayed in a beautiful 15th century building, which is now operating as a hotel. The one thing we found when travelling as a family and with an older teenager in tow, especially in Europe, is that the rooms tend to be a bit snug; however, the room we were allocated at the Hotel Rubinstein was fantastic. Right from the original beams, to the fabulously appointed ensuite bathroom with floor level soft lighting which came on at night to guide your way without disturbing your room mates. What was even better was the old fashioned customer service that is a rare find anywhere!
When it comes time to explore, taxis are available to take you wherever you want to go; we however feel that the best way to get to know a city is to walk. One of the first places we visited was the beautiful gothic Wawel Castle. It's a fair walk from the Rubinstein but not unpleasant.
The castle has many areas to see, including an extensive display of medieval weaponry which my son really enjoyed. You need to decide before buying your entry tickets which parts of the castle you want to see, however I would suggest that you see as much as you can as the architecture throughout is breathtaking.
Not far from Wawel Castle is the town square where regular markets are held and which includes the 16th century cloth hall. St Mary's Basilica is located at one end and the square itself is surrounded by old brick buildings. The little laneways surrounding contain many small interesting shops for you to browse through. Around the edges of the square sit a variety of horse and carriage, which you can pay a small fee to go for a ride. Be sure to barter as the first price you are offered will be high.
The full day tour of Auschwitz – Birkenau was humbling. Having lost family in both the first and second world wars we have done extensive research into both wars and know well the stories of both of these camps. However, no matter how much research you do it will never prepare you for the stories you will be told and the emotions you will experience from visiting these locations. As I stood listening to the guide tell us about the history of the camp and some of the horrors which took place there, I felt that I was seeing what those who were there during the war had seen minus the guards with guns and other inmates. Without looking away I raised my camera and took this photo. Seventy years ago the atmosphere and scenario would, without doubt, have been far more grim, however although I felt I had gained a sense of their imprisonment, I cannot truly say that I will ever fully understand what they went through.
From Auschwitz we again boarded our transport and made our way to the sister camp of Birkenau. Not too far away, but by far a worse picture. The atrocities carried out on human beings here are evident from the minute you walk up to the entrance way. The photo below is taken from inside the camp looking back towards the entrance.
Again you will be guided around the camp; you will see the memorial to those who never left and the destruction waged on the buildings as the occupying forces tried to eliminate the evidence of their deeds. If you are in doubt about what happened here or simply just want to understand more, make the journey!
A half day tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mines completed our organised tours. From the entrance you walk down approximately 800 steps into the mine. At the end of your tour you get to board the elevator which takes you to the surface, however be prepared, once you are packed into the elevator which all your other tour friends personal space is not optional.
There was so much to see here that it is hard to capture it all, however the whole site is full of amazing carvings and sculptures. The photo below shows the chapel which was carved out of the salt by a number of miners over an extensive period of time. It took so long to do this that the work of the fathers was carried on by the sons to ensure completion. To this day they still hold regular services and weddings in the chapel.
Since we were there they have expanded their tour offerings and you can now undertake the Miners' Route, the Pilgrims' Route and the Mysteries of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Each of these extended tours appear to be more adventurous than the basic Tourist Route and probably for those a little more energetic.
We left Krakow after our 4 days hungering to see more. We ran out of time to visit Oskar Schindler's Factory and felt that we just had not seen enough of the markets and many other attractions. Krakow gave us the first taste of pierogi and a genuine love of the people. We had some adventures; from trying to communicate with the lady in the supermarket who couldn't speak English and we couldn't speak Polish to the tears for the fallen in Birkenau which I did not expect but could not hold back.
I am grateful for having had the chance to experience Krakow and look forward to our next visit when we will probably return to many of these sites. Next time around we will make sure that we have enough time to explore further and visit those sites we missed.