Monday, June 1, 2009

After Auschwitz, I continued on to Krakow. The drive through the Polish villages took a while, but was quite worth it to get a glimpse of suburban side. After finally finding my old town hotel and ditching the car, I was able to do a little walking to get a sense of the city, which was one of few Polish cities to remain relatively undamaged during WWII. It was nice to stroll and admire the original architecture, not rebuilt versions like you’ll find in Warsaw and other cities. On the drive in I got a beautiful glimpse of the castle so I walked back to the same spot to take a photo and enjoy some much-needed coffee on a dreary spring day, from a floating café on the Vistula river. The next morning I got an early start so ventured off to the Wawel Castle, and explored some of the exhibits in the complex. I particularly enjoyed seeing the 16th & 17th century suits of armor, shields, swords, and other medieval weapons (sadly, no photos allowed!) and of course the statue of Krakow’s infamous citizen, Karol Józef Wojtyła more commonly known as Pope John Paul II. Note to readers without children, do not fall for the “dragon’s den” it’s only steep climb down the inside of the castle walls that ends in a cave and exit to the castle near the fire breathing steel dragon statue.
After the castle I walked on to Kazimierz and then on to Podgorze, the old Jewish districts. When Nazi Germany invaded, the Jewish population was forced into a walled zone known as the ghetto before being later sent to the concentration camps. The only pharmacy that stayed in the ghetto belonged to a Catholic who administered medicines to the ghetto residents, often free of charge. Tadeusz Pankiewicz and his staff also smuggled in food, information, and hid Jews facing deportation and so he saved countless Jews from the Holocaust. Just in front of the pharmacy is a memorial of 70 chairs that represent the furniture and remnants of other belongings that were discarded by the ghetto’s Jews as they were deported to death camps.
Another infamous name, Oskar Schindler, a German businessman, came to Krakow specifically to get labor for his enamelware plant from the Ghetto. Although it was initially only a business decision, eventually he sympathized with the Jews and took measures to protect as many as he could, personally intervening when 300 of his workers were deported to Auschwitz.
My last stop in Krakow was back to Rynek Glowny, the largest medieval town square in Europe, for a shop around the craft stalls in the Sukiennice or Cloth Market and a tasty, delicious, beautiful meal of pierogies and apple strudel at Wesele.

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