Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Exploring Krakow

On Friday, we did some walking (over 23k steps, about 10 miles and we climbed 64 flights of stairs). We followed the Rick Steve's guide book and did some self guided walking tours of old town, the castle area and the old Jewish quarter.  It was the beginning of our education as well - we ended our walking at the Oscar Schindler factory - which is now a museum related to what occurred in the factory but also generally about that time in history.  This is the factory from Schindler's List.  I haven't watched the movie recently, but I roughly remember it.  Here's some highlights of the day.

A look at one of the watch towers along the wall - on the way into old town there were some street performers in historical dress and playing music of that time.

A piece of art in the park around the old town.

On the square was a cathedral which we visited (seen at the end of this street below).  Poland is very Catholic and Krakow follows.  Prior to WWII, many Jews lived in Poland, but after the war hardly any remain.  It is quite remarkable.  The Catholics do have a lot to celebrate though, Pope John Paul II was from Poland and lived in Krakow.

 Inside the church, I took some photos as well.
 The chapel dedicated to Pope John Paul II.

One of the interesting items at this cathedral is the story board (I forget the official name).  On the main altar is this wood carving, which is a book.  The panels on the sides fold in and out to reveal various stories from the bible.  From afar it didn't seem much, but up close the carving was very impressive.

 Up closer

This was another tour group that at first I thought was a service going on - there were at least five different guides with different groups in the church explaining the altar (not in English though, so I couldn't eavesdrop).

Street vendors blowing HUGE bubbles on the square.

This was where the Pope lived when he was in Krakow, which is across from the church where he performed services (not the cathedral).  When the Pope died, people lined this street to mourn his passing.

We consumed a lot of hot chocolate on this trip (mainly because I don't drink coffee or tea).  However, hot chocolate in Poland is more like melted milk chocolate in a cup.  It took a few times ordering to realize this, but it is soooo thick! This one had raspberries on the bottom and was really good :).

There were lots of horse drawn carriage rides all over old town.  It was cold enough walking, so I wasn't up for sitting in the cold.

At the castle, there's another cathedral (they're everywhere!).  This one was interesting because it was built over time and from the outside you could clearly see the different architecture of the chapels as they were added.  Below is the entrance and then the side view of the chapels. Even the materials used are clearly different.

Inside the castle, there's actually a false wall :).  They wanted the castle to look grand but didn't have the space.  If you look across to the other side of the square, you can see sky through the windows because there is no building on that side, only a wall and a drop off.

In Krakow, there are dragons everywhere! There's a legend that the dragon came out of the river to save the city (or something like that).  Below the castle (there's a huge drop off to go down to the river) is a metal dragon that actually breathed fire! It's not easy to make it out with the tree in the way, but the dragon and fire are visible.

I mentioned milk bars in the last post.  These are carry overs from Soviet times.  After the Germans invaded and took over Poland during WWII, the war ended, but the occupation did not.  The Soviets rolled in as the Germans rolled out.  I'm not sure of the correct political terms, but Poland was part of or under the direction of the Soviet Union and therefore were communist.  Milk bars were basically cheap cafeterias for locals to get subsidized food, including milk.  Today, they are a little more modern (and some done up for tourists) but some are still subsidized and can offer good, cheap food.  We each got a soup and then shared a plate of pierogi.  There are all types of pierogi - basically dumplings filled with potato, cabbage, mushrooms, fruit, etc.  I think these were mushroom and cabbage.  These were the best of the trip :).  A great lunch, especially for a cold, drizzly day.

We visited the Jewish quarter on the way to the Schindler Factory.  Here was a cemetery (not readily open to the public as we tried twice and could not find the entrance).  I didn't get a lot of photos as we didn't spend too much time here.  Not knowing much of the Jewish faith, it's harder to appreciate touring the synagogues and such (similar to when I visit Buddhist temples or Islamic mosques).

I was very impressed with the Schindler Factory museum.  You could easily spend a full day in here with all the exhibits and interactive stations.  You can listen to people who were at the factory and lived it.  Schindler was a German businessman who came to Krakow when the Germans invaded. He ran the factory, which at one point made pots but may have had other uses during the war as well.  He tried to get as many Jewish workers in the factory as possible to improve their chances of survival.  Life was still very hard and they lived in the Jewish ghetto, which was eventually set up right next to the factory.  One story I heard that stuck with me was that Schindler would do little things to help his workers.  He would light a cigarette, take one drag and toss it on the floor so the workers could then pick it up and have a smoke.  It sounds horrible as I type it, yet the man who told the story held that up as such a kindness that worked within the system. I highly recommend visiting the factory and allowing a lot of time to explore it.

After a long day of walking, in one of the smaller squares in front of our hostel.

Some random pictures with a head and Mike Tyson :)

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