Tuesday 3rd & Wednesday 4th July 2018
Today we visited Krakow, after giving our keys over to the RV centre to fix the air con in the cab, the bus stops directly outside and the grumpy driver wouldn’t let us buy a ticket, Dave had a 20 ZT note only, the tickets are 5zl (zloty) each, we tried the machine on the bus but that only takes coins, a friendly guy behind us says to go and ask the driver for 4 tickets, that way we’ve got 2 for the way home, it seems the drivers don’t give change anyway he gave us 4 tickets. We can’t understand a system where you can buy from the driver and also from a ticket machine, once you have the ticket it has to be validated in another machine, having said this the buses arrive on time and are spotlessly clean and modern, there’s a high-tech map with a GPS system showing how many minutes to the next stop, when it reaches the next stop the ball pops in to a virtual hole, Dave loved it!
We are going on a tour of the old town at 4pm and we had 45 minutes until the tour so we went in to a little courtyard café and ordered two pretzel type sandwiches, they took 40 minutes to arrive! we gobbled them down and dashed to the meeting point, the lady conducting the tour was lively and she made it interesting, she lives in Krakow and studied history of art and she knew her history well, we were in a mixed group from many countries, that’s often the case on English tours. Starting in the amazingly beautiful Grand Square called Rynek Glowny we saw the St Marys Basilica which has 2 towers of different heights, it is a brick Gothic church and legend says that two brothers building the towers competed for the highest and one killed the other before jumping from his own tower to his death, the knife he killed his brother with hanging above the Cloth hall opposite, on the hour every hour since the middle ages a bugler plays from a small window in the tower a different window for each hour and it is said that this was done to announce the opening and closing of the city gates and also to announce enemy attack or if a bugler saw a fire in the city, it is also fabled that one bugler caught an arrow to his neck and that is why the tune they play is halted mid-way,
Cloth Hall was once a medieval centre of trade and commerce and today it is a UNESCO world heritage site, it houses many gift shops it’s beautiful wooden interior housing each little shop, it also houses a museum and art gallery, rebuilt in 1555 after it was burned down.
The oldest university in Poland and the second oldest university in Central Europe is called Jagiellonian and was founded in 1364 and it is beautiful, in 1939 the Nazis arrested the university professors, they were ordered to attend a conference called Sonderaktion Krakau this was supposed to be about German plans for polish education, they were never to return instead the camps awaited them.
We tipped our guide 35 zl (zloty) about £7 and headed off to the bull-dog bar again to get a good seat for the England vs Columbia game, the bar was empty at 7pm and packed to bursting point by 8pm, we got chatting to a couple from Nuneaton and another lady from Manchester all on a mini break, the game was end to end all the way and just when we thought it was in the bag for England Columbia scored! The atmosphere was buzzing and so it went into extra time, Southgate’s team eventually coming through on penalties, there was a huge uproar and the Manchester lady insisted on buying us some drinks! bring it on !
We had missed the last bus back and hoped we could get a taxi, as it turned out that was nice and easy and cost just 33 zl (£6 ish). We did wonder where Pogo would be when we got back as the RV centre had the keys and people can park where they want on the allocated camping lawn, the security guard lets us in and we were happy to see Pogo parked in the same place.
Wed 4th July 2018
We’re still at the RV centre, we were up quite early and did some blogging, the breeze blowing through the windows, Dave sorted out the photos and resized them, so they will upload to WordPress quickly, I made a chilli in the Mr D, you can put another little pot on top of the chilli so the rice cooks too! all sorted in case we’re late back.
We went to see Matthew about the air con and has it been repaired, apparently the pipe had come apart or had been pulled off so although we thought it was rubbish in fact it hadn’t even been working at all! Matthew then arrived at Pogo proudly holding a fridge heating element, he had been scouting around the repair shop and had found one! That’s free too! it couldn’t get any better, he couldn’t fit us in today though, so Dave will fit it another time.
We set off for the bus with a minute to spare, the bus is bang on time, this time Dave has the right money, but the driver ignores him again! this ticket machine however takes credit cards only! Not cash! So we won’t be getting done for fare dodging.
Today we have a tour of the Jewish quarter planned for 1.30pm, we head in to another cafe and ordered a cold vegetable soup with coriander, I really didn’t like it as it was a lot of cream and I don’t like cream, Dave lapped it up like a cat that got the proverbial!
We’re late again but the group was still there when we arrived , we headed off around Kazimierz, it had been a separate city to Krakow just like Buda & Pest but when Austria acquired the city of Krakow after 1795 Kazimierz lost its status as a separate city and became a district of Krakow it had been a place of coexistence of ethnic polish and Jewish cultures until 1941 when the German occupying forces forcibly relocated the Jews to a Ghetto in Krakow, the Ghetto was liquidated between 1942/1943 and most of its inhabitants sent to die at either Belzac extermination camp, Paszow slave labour camp or Auschwitz.
We visited the synagogues, strange to find out that they mostly have 2 entrances one for men and one for women, the men are separated from the women we are told so as not to be distracted from their prayers and in some women are not allowed to read the Torah? There is a more modern less orthodox group which allows this I was glad to hear but only in some synagogues. The Jewish synagogues are very plain on the outside almost indistinguishable from any other building, all the beauty is on the inside as the insides were heavily decorated and full of treasures.
Pope John Paul II was born 50 miles outside Krakow, his name was Karol Joseph Wojtyla and he was the first non-Italian pope to be elected in four centuries, we were taken to a small grassy square outside the Franciscan church and on a building opposite where he stayed when he visited there is a picture of him on the window that he once stood at, waving and addressing the people of Krakow, the small square being ram packed with people.
We also went to the Ghetto which is tiny compared to the many, many thousand people who were crammed into it, some living 5-10 people to one small room, we stood in the square opposite Schindlers factory and now known as heroes square and featured in the Movie Schindlers List, on the edge of the square there was a chemist shop named Eagles Chemist, the owner of which was called Tadeusz Pankiewicz who like Schindler also helped to save over a thousand Jews, he managed to convince the Germans that his chemist must stay open so as to prevent spread of disease and stop it reaching the German armies, him and his staff were the only non-Jews in the Ghetto, he provided medication but also hair dye to help disguise escapees who needed to look less Jewish with their dark hair, later in life he wrote a book ‘’The Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy’’ which I am planning to read.
In the square there are 33 huge chairs made of iron and bronze, these are there to commemorate and depict the families fleeing their homes from across the river as the Germans moved all Jews in to this ghetto, the young children and families were carrying their belongings and furniture as they arrived not knowing that from this square they would go to meet their deaths, each chair in the square represents 1,000 Jews who were taken from this ghetto and died in the extermination camps.
There are many hundreds of ‘’Schindlers’’ some of whose stories don’t make it to the regular media outlets, it is said that Steven Spielburg who went on to make the film Schindlers List felt at first that he was not ready to make it and so tried to enlist Roman Polanski whose was a holocaust survivor and whose own mother died in Auschwitz but he declined as he wasn’t ready emotionally to do it.
Some of Kazimierz areas are quite run down even today, the communist influences are very obvious but somehow Kazimierz has a village feel to it and its eclectic style and abundance of cafes and little shops gives it a community feel and there is only a tiny community of about 800 Jews living here now.
We climbed up Wawel hill and the castle as it’s known and in the courtyard there a church. I wanted to see inside the church of many styles, it’s a hotch potch of gothic, baroque and renaissance and I really liked it. Unfortunately it was closed as there was a ceremony going on outside, we only managed to peak inside one church all day as we timed it badly, they were either closed or there was a mass being held.
Back to the bus stop and we realise we are a bit exhausted not just from the many kms walked over the last 2 days but with information overload so much so that I can’t properly remember information fromthese tours, maybe we need a couple of days of nothingness!