Before I start, the reason these posts are coming now (instead of when I was in Poland, like my previous post) is because I was warned by a friend about the potential dangers of posting my location online, thanks Lydia.
So anyway, Poland, Kraków, Fun times.
The second day, despite involving a trek 135m underground, was known as the ‘Chill Day’. Starting with what I now know as a ‘Continental’ breakfast, consisting of bread, ham, cheese, salad, eggs, a variety of cereals and other wonderful things and… cake? Yes breakfast cake. I love travelling.
Our first stop of the day was to a Jewish Synagogue we’d briefly seen on the Walking Tour the day before; this was a new experience for us – as we, in our small Devonshire town, are not close to a Jewish Community. Around the grounds of the Synagogue is a cemetery, with graves displaying the traditional Jewish practice of placing stones on the graves. I was mindful not to knock any accidently, it seemed a fragile place. Encompassing the area is a wall made up of fragments of Jewish tombstones, this is not as a design feature but in fact a link to the horrors Jews suffered here in Kraków during World War Two. Under the Nazi rule, Jewish graves were destroyed, or buried in hope of protection by the relatives – the wall being made of recovered pieces of these graves. Upon entering the building, a few of the boys put on a Kippah (a Jewish hat, men are required to cover their heads) in order to be respectful. Inside was a beautifully designed ceiling and chandelier, yet the rest of the interior remained woefully simple – it seems this community is still recovering, like many areas of the city, from the conflict its country has suffered in the past.
We then had a chance to walk over the Vistula River, on our walk to the Schindler Factory Museum. What was striking about this to me was the sudden transition in architectural style- on the first side of the river, buildings are traditional, kept relatively as they were in the forties and fifties (with the expectations of shopping centres and the other influences of modern life) and on the second side of the river, everything is under development, either being reconstructed or just completely new.
Before going into the museum we took photos of the iconic gate (anyone familiar with the film, Schindlers List, will recognise this) and our group was split into two. Thankfully I was in the first group, and we could enter immediately. The museum, despite being named after the man, only touches on the incredible work of Oskar Schindler, focusing mainly on Kraków before, during and after the war. What I can summarise is…
Pre-war Kraków was culturally diverse, with Germans, Poles and Jews living alongside each other but as war broke out in 1939, the Nazi’s gained control of the city and viewed it a better fit than the current capital, Warsaw, as their central ‘base’. From Wawel Castle, Hans Frank led and the creation of the Kraków Ghetto followed suit. 15,000 Jews were relocated there, and its liquidation begun in 1942 – Jews then being sent to the nearby concentration and labour camps. Nazi power inflicted mainly on Jews, but also on any groups seen as a threat to their power – so professors of the Jagiellonian University were also arrested and sent to a concentration camp. Part of a Ghetto was reconstructed inside the Museum, which was one of my favourite parts – it made it easier to understand the awful conditions in which Jews were forced to live.
Another story I remember from this part of Kraków’s history is that of Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Polish Chemist who opened a pharmacy in the Ghetto. Risking his life to help Jews, he was later declared ‘Righteous Among the Nations’. He was the only non-Jew to live in the Ghetto and very much, a hero.
Speaking of Heroes, it’s about time I mentioned Schindler. I’m sure many people are familiar with the story: Oskar Schindler, a rich, German businessman ran a factory that hired Jews thus saving them from persecution – being sent to a Death Camp. If you haven’t seen it, I would recommend the film ‘Schindlers List’- a tough watch, in some parts, but a poignant reminder of a hideous event, and the story of a very brave man.
The Museum is actually built inside of what was Schindler’s actual factory, and although much of the interior has changed, his office still remains intact. There is the recreation of a forties desk, but the map Schindler used is still hanging above. It felt weird to think that seventy or so years ago, he was actually there.
After learning about Kraków after the war, and the sad truth of its dwindling Jewish community, we had a quick lunch and got back on the bus for another drive – the next stop being Wieliczka Salt Mine.
The Salt Mines… What to say?
I never thought being 135m underground would feel spacious, or even vaguely un-claustrophobic. But seriously, we were only on the tourist route and it felt massive. Corridor after corridor, tunnel after tunnel, staircase after staircase – all with that slight salty taste in the air (well, what did I expect). We were taught about the history of the mines by a tour guide along the way; they date back 700 years to the medieval period where being a miner was a tremendous honour, and great danger. All the work was driven solely by sheer human hard work and ingenuity, salt being ‘white gold’ and Kings commissioning salt statues in honour of visitors. Workers were given bonuses of salt, the term ‘Salary’ originating from this period.
Okay, I’ll stop with the history lesson for now.
The mines aren’t just all tunnels and statues, however, there are many small salt pools, almost ancient mechanisms and even a Church (which you can even get married in – if that your style). The Church was my favourite part, I’m not religious, it is just simply beautiful.
In the evening we went shopping in Kraków’s famous Cloth Hall Market, where amber jewellery is sold on almost every stand. I bought amber trees for my friends, an amber charm for mum and myself an amber tree pendant. Seeings as orange is my favourite colour, this was all very appealing.
Food wise we had chicken, potato wedges and carrot (with orange?) with soup for starter and poached pear for dessert.
Also, me and my roomate Hannah built a fort. In a hotel room. Aren’t we cool?
PHOTO OF THE DAY: Fragments