Archive for November, 2016

Underground and Schindler.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 17, 2016 by David Palmer

The wet cobbles indicated it had rained in the night but the sun was shining when I looked through the window at the early morning commuters below, hurrying  along with collars turned up and hat and gloves in evidence. Still cold out there then. We had another half hour in bed before venturing down for breakfast.

For the first time during our morning repast one of the other guests spoke to us. He had arrived last night and wanted to know where we had been and how we had arranged it.  With information imparted we returned to our room and packed for our journey home later that night.

With the job done, we set off on a full circumnavigation of the narrow forest park surrounding the Old Town. It took us around an hour or so, with frequent stops to read information boards and stare at the surrounding  medieval architecture.

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Returning to the Market Square we found the ticket office to the Rynek Underground Museum and purchased two senior citizens tickets. The whole area of the Market Square was dug up to a great depth in 2005 to uncover the historical layers below. They got down to the 11th and 12th centuries, with some evidence of earlier times. The museum has been created very sympathetically using the latest media technology to explain the history revealed to you. You step into the past along glass floored corridors, entering chambers full of exhibits and artefacts. Wonderfully done and all the more amazing because of the thousands of tourists going about their business a few metres above and oblivious to what is below. This is well worth a visit.

We checked out of the hotel at noon, leaving our cases at reception to be picked up later.

Our destination for the afternoon was Schindler’s factory and the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz). Though there are many buggies and coaches hawking the streets, keen to take tourists to such a destination, we chose to walk it on a beautiful sunny afternoon. It took us around 40 minutes, crossing the River Wista. Trip Advisor has mixed reviews of the Museum housed in the factory, but if you wish to learn about how the Jews were treated during the occupation of Krakow then this is the place to visit. You discover how Schindler managed to  save 1200 souls from the Nazis through evidence given by the factory workers of the day. You don’t learn much about the man himself and only a brief summary is given of him in the very last room. A sombre museum, it doesn’t have the same gut wrenching impact of the Museum of War Remnants in Ho Chi Minh City, though it does bring out the inhumanity the citizens of the ghetto faced and the callous way they were disposed of.

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Moving back across the river we found the Old Synagogue. We opted not to purchase a ticket to enter as we were preceded by a large school party and we preferred not to battle for positions at exhibits or shuffle behind a crocodile of students. We satisfied ourselves by meandering through the cobbled streets, disappointed that we didn’t come across any clearly recognisable Jewry.

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It was getting dark (and cold) as we returned to the Cloth Market where Sue bought herself a new spectacle case for her reading glasses. We found a restaurant just off the square and spent a couple of hours having our last Polish meal of this short break. Four days of Polish fayre is enough, you can have too much of gherkins, cabbage (in all its disguises) and large hunks of greasy meat.

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We returned to our hotel with an hour to go before pick-up, but as soon as we sat down to wait, our taxi arrived. The new Krakow airport was pretty straightforward to navigate but their security was fierce and like all airports that we have passed through, they don’t see the need to provide chairs so you can replace all those items you had to take off!!!

The flight left on time and was full. I sat next to a British concert pianist who was returning from an engagement in Krakow. We chatted for a while.

Very annoyingly a section of the A14 was shut and this meant a lengthy detour which added half an hour to the journey. It was 3am before we collapsed into bed.

This morning Sue went on a U3A walk (mad!), I was going to have a quiet day, but guilt forced me to sweep two bins of fallen leaves and take my bike to be repaired (the bottom bracket has broken). In the early hours of tomorrow I travel to Heathrow to pick-up the Rothwells from KL.

 

 

More than a pinch of salt.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 15, 2016 by David Palmer

We woke to a very cold but sunny morning. With breakfast Polished off I got reception to confirm our transfer to the airport late tomorrow night.

The mini-bus arrived to take us to the Wielizka Salt Mine on time (9am), there was already a couple of others on board and by the time we had left the city we had picked up four more (all British). The journey took only around half an hour and after a quick distribution of tour tags we were handed over to our  female guide for the duration.

We soon discovered that she had a lovely sense of humour, but more importantly, a clear non-accented voice, thus making her easy to understand. Not so some of our fellow tourists, one couple from Manchester and another pair from Scotland.

We made our descent into the mine via 380 tightly corkscrewed wooden steps to the first level. There were 800 steps throughout our journey to our final and 3rd level. There are 9 levels in all. Thankfully we took a lift back to the surface, but that was an experience in itself and I feel sure that the cage used was the one employed in rescuing the Chilean miners around a decade ago.

Above, we had arrived to a frosty scene of snow-covered roofs and fir trees, as we descended the heat gradually built up ensuring that gloves, hats and jackets were eventually discarded by all.

The mine is no longer mined for salt, just tourists. We were down in the bowls of the earth for 3.5 hours and covered just 1% of the tunnels, shafts and chambers in our 3km journey. There is 300km in all. There are three churches down there, the largest being not only huge but containing some of the most exquisite religious salt sculptures you can possibly hope to see. The ‘Last Supper’ being a highlight. We came across two lakes, one of which was used to entertain us with a light show to the music of Chopin, quite beautiful. Of course there were several Malls within the massive chambers containing gift shops and restaurants to divest visitors of their hard-earned cash.  After all, the word salary does come from the word salt.

The amount of wood used in support of the infrastructure of the mine is quite boggling and I would say is a definite must for the ‘bucket list’ of any carpenter, particularly if they prefer salt on their chips!

Returning to Krakow and the Rezydent we first warmed ourselves with hot drinks before setting off to Wawel Royal Castle. Our hotel is central to the Old Town, so none of the main attractions are much more that a 15 minute stroll away.

We attempted to hire a guide, but a rather large American couple had booked the English-speaking one moments before. He did offer to let us accompany them, but we declined as they  had obvious problems with walking and I am sure the slowness would have been annoying, plus the guides heavy accent may have been too  much for our failing hearing.

We opted for an entrance ticket with headphone and recorded commentary instead. For the next two hours we discovered every part of the castle cathedral and listened to its enthralling past. Anyone visiting the castle and cathedral I recommend you take the headphones, it is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the history of the place.

We had no such option for the castle itself, other than a very few information boards and so after a brief and very cold wander about we followed the signs for the cave that contained the dragon that King Wenceslas had killed (of course he did). We found the cave, the dragon was standing outside his layer and regularly spouting flames. Honest, we took photos!

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As it was starting to get dark and even more chillier we headed back towards our hotel, diverting to the Cloth Hall market for Sue to buy a bauble for the Christmas tree. We sat in a warm room catching up with BBC 24hr and watching the shoppers and tourists milling around on the cobbled street below wrapped in their furs and fleeces.

Checking on Facebook we discovered that the Rothwell’s had landed safely in KL and had checked into their hotel. Annoyingly one of their cases had been broken into, but luckily they thought nothing had been taken.

Tonight, for once we chose the same dish for our evening meal, two potato pancakes with pork goulash. I asked for three pancakes and the waitress advised against it, she was right, it was enough. Especially with the obligatory banana sized gherkins with bread and dips that precede most meals.

To help the digestion we took a lengthy stroll through and around the Old Town, first visiting the very impressive medieval fortifications at Florian’s Gate and returning by way of the narrow forested parkway that circumnavigates the town. Though rain had been forecast, it did seem warmer than this afternoon and we caught glimpses of the moon through the gaps between buildings that hopefully indicated the weatherman had got it wrong, again.

Returning to our room I settled down to watch the England v Spain friendly on my tablet.

Auschwitz

Posted in Uncategorized on November 14, 2016 by David Palmer

The clip-clops seemed to clatter over the cobbles up till around 11pm, but it had been a long day and I only received this vital piece of information at breakfast from Sue. I had started a lovely relationship with my Polish pillow and was oblivious to the nags outside.

Breakfast was a hearty affair of cheeses, meats, sausages, eggs and breads. Yogurt and cereals were also on offer but I stayed away from such Devil’s fayre. Appetite satisfied, we made our way through an icicle shower to the lobby of the Radisson Blu hotel where we read the English newspapers until our coach to Auschwitz arrived.

The journey lasted just under an hour and we watched a very informative video of the ideology behind, and the operation of the camp. A good preparation for what we were to experience.

On arrival we split into two smaller groups and were issued with headphones and receivers linked to our guide for the day. We followed our leader through the various huts and buildings in the camp, stopping frequently for information. The site was very busy, it is always very busy, irrespective of the time of year or weather conditions. Hearteningly, many of the visitors were young, many as groups of large school parties. All failed to display any exuberance of youth and many seemed particularly touched by what they were discovering.

Much of what you see, has been preserved sympathetically and doesn’t over-egg the monstrosity of what took place, it doesn’t need it. The absolute evil of the concept and operation of the place is profound. The accommodation blocks, the torture cells, the electrified barbwire, the execution wall, the garrets and the gas chambers are not for description or even photographs, they should be experienced, ‘in the flesh’ and contemplated. Sombre descriptions of both horrific acts and of unbelievable heroism and self-sacrifice play with your emotions and will hopefully serve as a warning to our fellow young visitors for the future.

We spent 3.5 hours in the relatively complete Auschwitz Camp 1. After a short break for breath, we boarded the bus and travelled the short distance to Auschwitz Camp 2, other wise known as Birkenau. There are 4 camps in all, with Birkenau being the largest. It is massive. That is the one fact that I had difficulty with. It was mass destruction of fellow humans on an industrial scale. Seventy percent of the 1.5 million people (that is a guess and is probably more, a lot more) passing through its gates were murdered  in gas chambers within hours and their ashes scattered into pond within twenty-four. The rest were worked to death.

Again, as in camp 1, we wandered through the complex, though the majority of the huts were wooden and to cover their crimes the Nazis had destroyed much of what was there. We stood awhile at the central memorial, before passing by the destroyed changing room, gas chambers and ovens. It was very sobering, as was passing through the Death Huts where  the women who had been worked to exhaustion and could do no more, waited without food or water until their time came to be killed.

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It was a bitterly cold day and I think it was a good time to visit this place. On our return journey to Krakow I considered what would have happened to  our little island or indeed the rest of the world if this German ideology had not been defeated. I shudder to think!

Back at the hotel we had several cups of warming coffee and caught up with the news on BBC24 before finding a restaurant for our evening meal.

After much perusing of the many options available, we eventually settled for  a small restaurant on a side street off the Market Square, purely because the banter from the ‘usher-in’ was convincing. It was a good choice. Sue’s pork chop and Polish vegetable nonsense and my pork ribs and Polish vegetable nonsense were very tasty, and very …………..  ah that’s the word ……….. Polish. For the first time ever we chose the same dessert, marshmallow and chocolate, with citrus crisps and parsley ice-cream, I think we have been watching too much Master Chef together!

 

Tonight was significant because there was a super-moon. Charlotte had posted a photo of it several hours earlier on Facebook from Bali and it was nice to post our photo of its Polish version as we ate our meal.

Hot and Cold

Posted in Uncategorized on November 13, 2016 by David Palmer

Then day after I published the last blog, the frost arrived, the morning fog appeared and the leaves began to fall, most of which, to the benefit of the ‘in-house’ worms at my top allotment have now been dug into several trenches and covered over with soil.

The cobnut hedge that Sue and I plundered earlier in the month is no more. The Council have chopped it down. On the bright side, his means that the bottom part of my allotment should now benefit from increased sunlight and  produce better vegetables. But, I guess that will depend on the vagaries of the British climate.

I made another trip to Heathrow Airport, though on this occasion it was to drop the Rothwell’s off at the Mercure Hotel in readiness for their flight to Bali. Though they had a little incident with a hotel operative who took it into his head to clean their room while they slept, however, everything else went according to plan and they made it to Bali via a transit through Kuala Lumpur.

They have been having a wonderful time savouring the delights of the far east. They have met monkeys, white water rafted, pulled the tails off lizards, cycled down a volcano, swam under waterfalls, quad biked and enjoyed the food. I think they are having the time of their lives.

Meanwhile, Sue went to see ‘Ben Hur’ and I went on an eleven mile walk with John. Ireland beat the All Blacks and England were victorious of South Africa.

On the 12th Nov Sue and I went on a completely different jaunt of our own. Not to the heat of the east but to the cold of Europe. We checked into the Hilton Stansted, luckily, just in time to watch  three cracking rugby matches on the TV before retiring for an early night.

The following morning saw us catch the 8.45am RyanAir flight to Krakow. Probably, the worst experience of flying Sue has ever experienced. She was sat in the middle of threes seats with me on one side and a Polish girl on the other. The girl was obviously ill. She spent the entire flight with her head buried into her lap hardly moving. The problem was that her illness was most likely of a ghastly, gastric nature and every five minutes or so, Sue was treated to mustard gas attack of foul cabbagy odours. Sitting a seat away was no fun either. Though I felt for Sue, I didn’t offer to swap seats. We survived the two hour flight.

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Our taxi to the hotel was waiting for us as we left the Arrivals Hall and twenty minutes later we were checking into the Rezydent Hotel. Ourf room wasn’t going to be ready for another hour so we took our selves on a walk through the Cloth Hall in the Main Market Square and perused the delightful tourist outlets. Very Polish. Afterwards we visted St. Mary’s Church, a large imposing building full of gold, candles, murals and paintings. A service had just finished and the packed congregation were just leaving as we entered giving us a brief impression of the fervour of Polish Catholicism.

Returning to the hotel we were escorted to our room. A large high ceiling affair that looked out onto the cobbled street two stories below on which the crowd was mingling among the frequent horse-drawn tourist carriages clip-clopping their way around the centrum. I wonder what time of night they stop, and why is their little packets of ear plugs at the side of the bed?  After a refreshing cup of coffee I went to reception to confirm tomorrow mornings excursion to Auschwitz and to book the following days trip to the Salt Mines (I always knew I would eventually end up in one of these!)

We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the location of the Radisson Blu Hotel where we were to meet a bus tomorrow and wandering through the streets of Krakow, visiting more churches and markets. It began to snow. Very Christmassy.

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We ate a very substantial meal at a restaurant near our Hotel. Keen to sample the local food we opted for the Polish Platter. If it hadn’t been for the ridiculous banana sized gherkin and bread starter with cream cheese and humus we might have stood a chance of finishing the shoe sized steak, chicken, pork and lamb slabs of meat accompanied with mince wrapped in cabbage, potato wedges, coleslaw and a ridiculous 10 dumplings. The waiter wished us good luck when he brought our meal and despite our best efforts we were beaten. If it hadn’t been for the underhand nobbling of the starter course I feel confident that the waiter would have been eating his own words.

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It was dark when we left the restaurant, snowflakes were gently swirling down through a myriad of hidden spotlights lighting up the medieval buildings all around us. As a contradiction a full moon could be clearly seen silhouetting the central tower of the Cloth Market. Magical.

We took one last turn around the huge market square before returning to our room to watch BBC 24hr and listen to the clip-clops from outside.