Leaving Cesky Krumlov, we took a quick stop in Vienna for a night before taking the first train to Krakow in the morning. It was nice, because Vienna is not an easy place to find accommodations, so we were able to book a pension for Thurs/Fri of this week when we return en route to Munich.
Krakow is both and exciting and busy place packed with both tourists and locals. The Rynek Glowny is the largest square in Europe and has an abundance of architectural wonders and street performances both traditional in nature, and modern western influence. We spent some time here just people watching and it was fascinating. Its hard to believe that every corner you turn, you see some cathedral or castle that dated back in the 11th, 12th, or 13th century. And it is still standing! Krakow evaded most of the bombings during the war, so many of the sites are still in natural form. It is such an amazing city to just walk around in. We were lucky enough to hit an antique market in Rynek Glowny that only happens twice a year. The biggest attraction here is Wawel Hill which contains Wawel Castle and Cathedral which are iconic symbols of Poland. This site used to be home for coronations and burials of Polish royalty.
Of course, with Mike's polish background, we had to try all the traditional polish food. The first night, we hit a local, yet a bit touristy, restaurant called Jama Michalika. It is decorated with antiques. The polish eat their biggest meal of the day between 2pm-5pm called Obiad. It is a traditional zupy followed by dania drugie (soup followed by main course). We tried barszcz (an offshoot of russian borscht), golacbki (which we got to compare to Mike's Mom's home cooking), pierogi, kielbasa, zurek, and there are kebab stations scattered throughout. Mom, sorry to say there was no comparison on the golacbki, even Amy liked it here!
Today was more depressing as we took a day trip to Oswiecim and Birkenau, better known as Auschwitz I and II. It was quite a sobering experience starting off with a 15-minute documentary followed by full tours of the barracks, gas chambers, and crematoriums. Amazing stories and amazing sites of these camps that took up over 400 hectacres. The famous Auschwitz I was actually much smaller than its partner Birkenau that was only 3km away. But Auschwitz I survived much of the architecture and barracks where Birkenau was destroyed by the Germans around liberation time. We learned quite a few stories about the people forced to live and die here. The Monument erected in memory of the Prisoners of Auschwitz & Birkenau is subtle and in the back of Birkenau next to the crematorium and gas chambers. There are plaques in 20 languages to represent the prisoners of these camps. Above the plaques represent tombstones from the cultures of these people. The tall structure represents the chimney of the crematorium with the darker stone in front representing the execution wall. In front of this tall structure is the symbol of people falling over dying in the gas chamber and others crawling over them, piling up, trying to reach the top which they thought was fresh air. It is a beautiful monument that describes these camps very well.
Krakow is the farthest east in Europe we will travel, and from here we will re-route and head down south to the High Tatra Mountains on the Polish/Slovak border. These mountains are supposed to be beautiful. We will head toward the polish town of Zakopane and cross by foot into Slovakia toward a town called Stary Smokovec. It will be nice to get out of the city.