Wednesday, September 2, 2015

We visited Poland - Krakow 06 to 08 May

We left Prague around 0730. Prague to Krakow was a very pleasant journey in an 8 seater Mercedes van. The roads, which are in an excellent state of maintenance, some good signage and a very picturesque countryside, made the journey a very comfortable and satisfying one. We noticed very little traffic on this route and the driver was able to maintain a constant 140 KMPH

I had visited Poland – Gadansk in 1978, courtesy the Indian Navy. It was then under the communists and a proxy of the Soviet Union. One can see a sea change between then and now. 

The cities now are energetic and supported by a very vibrant economy. Poland's high-income economy is considered to be one of the healthiest of the post-Communist countries and is one of the fastest growing within the EU. They trade a lot with Russia and consequently the Ruble has a lot to do with the health of Polish economy.

We deliberately chose Krakow to be able to see Auschwitz and get a ring side view of what happened in these parts between 1940 and 1945 

Auschwitz - 06 May

A Very sad period for the entire humanity

We reached at about 1400 h and after a quick lunch embarked on a very distressing and mentally disturbing trip.  The Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of German Nazi concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in occupied Poland during World War II. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz I Birkenau (a combination of concentration / extermination camp), Auschwitz III (a labor camp), and 45 satellite camps.

Auschwitz represents the most decadent and bestial side of humanity, a story of unbelievable horror, murder and mayhem. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the German SS systematically killed at least 960,000 Jews deported to the camp. Other victims included approximately 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and at least 10,000 from other nationalities. More people died at Auschwitz than at any other Nazi concentration camp and probably than at any death camp in history.

It is extremely difficult to imagine how a group of human beings could exterminate fellow human beings in a routine fashion without any regret or remorse.

Horror stories
Collected from the crippled and the disabled before execution
It cannot get any worse than this
Incarceration chamber

I still wonder – “Have we humans fully evolved as a species”?.
What happened in those concentration camps are acts so inhuman and so dark, one cannot understand how human beings could ever stoop to such levels; the scary part is that maybe they actually felt justified in killing those who were not of the so called superior race. To do it so clinically and so efficiently is beyond the realm of comprehension of a sane mind. What we saw left us without words to describe the depths of degradation, humiliation, torture and suffering that the inmates underwent.

Concentration camps
Public hanging posts
Entrance to Camp II
Open execution site

Finally some hope and redemption

We left the camp around 1900 h totally depressed and confused.

Thereafter we checked into IBIS Kraków Stare Miasto hotel located in the heart of the city.

Krakow  - 07 May - Wieliczka Salt Mine 

After an early breakfast we went to visit the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine, located in the outskirts of Krakow. The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as "the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland." The mine is nearly 900 years old. In 1978, it was placed on the original UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites  The mine, built in the 13th century, produced table salt continuously until 2007, as one of the world's oldest salt still in operation. Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996 due to low salt prices and mine flooding. The salt mine reaches a depth of 327 metres (1,073 ft) and is over 287 kilometres long. The rock salt is naturally grey in various shades, resembling unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look. The mine features an underground lake; and the new exhibits on the history of salt mining, as well as a 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) touring route (less than 2% of the length of the mine's passages) that includes historic statues and mythical figures carved out of rock salt in the distant past. More recent sculptures have been fashioned by contemporary artists. The mine's attractions include dozens of statues and four chapels that have been carved out of the rock salt by the miners.

The salt mine tunnels
Art in the mine - tribute to the horse

Miner operating the shaft

A place for Jesus

The main cathedral- unimaginably huge

Sanctum Sanctorum

As we walk down well lit narrow passages one is automatically captivated by the sheer size and the complex web of the mine. The mine represents the better side of the human race – our capacity to work under most inhospitable conditions, our engineering achievements, our artistic impulses and above all our tenacity to create a mine of monumental proportions. The cathedral in the salt mine is huge and full of the most beautiful and intricate carvings; a unique and unforgettable experience.

Last Supper
Yet another example of human ingenuity
Humans are complex indeed.


Situated on the River Vistula, Krakow is the second largest city in Poland. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centers of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life and is one of Poland's most important economic hubs. It was known to be a busy trading center in 965AD. The city is clean and beautiful, especially the outskirts. It is a haven for meat eaters and the food is excellent. I came across some delectable pork ribs – it was so tasty, I had pork ribs for lunch and dinner, day in and day out.

A typical house
One more example

A typical village scene

A well preserved castle

08 May - Zakopane

Zakopane, Poland's premier mountain resort is one of the country's most popular holiday destinations situated in the foothills of the majestic Tatra Mountains. Visited both in the winter for skiing and in the summer for hiking and camping. Zakopane has long been a playground for Poles and travelers from Eastern Europe. 

Zakopone main road

With the horse buggy master


Fr Bernardek footbridge- love locks

At first glance it is nothing special, just your ordinary pedestrian bridge. But as you are crossing you see all these locks attached to the bridge. Look closely and you will see ordinary padlocks are inscribed with the names of couples before they get married.

Jai on top of the world

KM and self in the rope way cabin

Tatra Mountains

Very happy couple

Lovely ladies

The mountain resort is very well connected by bus from Krakow. We did a one day trip. The weather, vivid scenery and the snow capped mountains - all add up to making the visit very memorable. Add to that a buggy ride and long transfers in cable cars; it was a day well spent.

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