Tag Archives: Krakow

Entrance Tickets – Wawel Royal Castle, Krakow

The Historic Centre of Kraków, located on the River Vistula in southern Poland, is formed by three urban ensembles: the medieval chartered City of Kraków, the Wawel Hill complex, and the town of Kazimierz. It is one of the most outstanding examples of European urban planning, characterised by the harmonious development and accumulation of features representing all architectural styles from the early Romanesque to the Modernist periods.” – UNESCO

The Wawel Royal Castle is located in central Kraków and among the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. It was admitted to the list at the very first session in 1978 (there were only twelve from seven countries). It was one of two Polish sites, the other being the Wieliczka salt mine also in Krakow. It was the first European City to be added to the list. It played a blinder there, getting in before Paris, Rome, Madrid and London. The following year Poland got two more – Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration Camp near Krakow and Białowieża Forest and in 1980 it added the city of Warsaw.

In many respects it seems a rather curious first list. To begin with it is rather like Noah’s Ark with sites going in two by two. Two for Canada – L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site and Nahanni National Park. Two for Ecuador – the city of Quito and the Galapagos Islands. Two also for Ethiopia – Simien National Park and Rock Hewn Churches, the USA with two National Parks, Messe Verde and Yellowstone and two for Poland. To complete the list only one for Senegal, the Island of Goree and one for Germany and the Cathedral at Aachan.

Italy had to wait until 1978 to get a listing, France until 1981 and United Kingdom until 1986. Australia had to wait even longer until 2003.

There are only two European countries without a UNESCO site – Monaco and Liechtenstein. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for Liechtenstein, I went there once and it went straight onto my list of most boring places I have ever visited, the capital Vaduz especially so.  I have never been to Monaco and don’t really expect to, it doesn’t look especially fascinating either.

Anyway, back to Krakow. At the ticket office we had a lot of difficulty working out the ticket options that were nearly as confusing as buying a lottery scratch card at the local Co-op.

The place has so many precious treasures that understandably visitors can’t just buy a ticket and go wandering about by themselves in case precious treasures go wandering about.

Our first choice of the Royal Palace was no longer available because the English speaking guides had all gone home already so instead we bought tickets for the State Rooms. The tickets were timed and there was clearly no leeway but fortunately we made our entry time by the skin of our teeth and made the tour of the impressive rooms and displays.

Of course Kim, who has a history of this sort of thing, had to let us down by touching an exhibit in the very first room and that bought a sharp rebuke from the attendant museum guard.

This was a very impressive place full of treasures that we can see today because at the outbreak of World War Two they were rapidly evacuated out of Poland to safe storage in Canada where they remained until 1961 to prevent the Soviet Union getting possession.  We especially liked the room with the heads in the ceiling and everywhere there were remarkable tapestries and medieval furniture and treasures exhibited with generous space in which to appreciate them.

I have no photographs of the interior because picture taking is predictably not permitted. These are the Polish Crown Jewels courtesy of Wikipedia.

The rooms were huge, each one as big as a modern four bedroom detached house and I bet they were a bugger to heat in the Winter.  The tour ended in the most impressive room of all, the Senators Hall, which was large and spacious with a balcony at one end, an interestingly slanting ceiling and an obsession with tapestries depicting Noah and his Ark.

After an hour or so the tour was over and we were back in the courtyard, it was beginning to get cold and dark so we walked the mile or so back to our hotel stopping off at the Crocodile Bar on the way.

Entrance Tickets – Oskar Schindler Museum in Krakow

After a while we arrived at the factory, which was being converted into a museum but as the project was way behind schedule there was only a temporary exhibition to look around.

When Podgórze became the site of the Jewish Ghetto many Germans set up businesses in the area in an attempt to profit from the Nazi invasion of Poland.

Oskar Schindler was such a man, but in the end he came to save the lives of over eleven hundred Jews that worked in his factory, often at great risk to his own life and at personal expense.

 

Read The Full Story Here…

 

 

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

It wasn’t all that long ago, certainly within my lifetime, that people were sent to carry out hard labour in salt mines as a punishment. They probably still are. The Soviets especially liked compelling people to go deep underground (usually in Siberia) to mine the precious commodity but today things have changed and we were actually paying for the privilege of dropping down towards the centre of the earth.

Read The Full Story Here…

Top Five Posts

Always, at this time of the year I spend some time looking at my statistics. This year I have been looking back over eleven years to find my Top Five most visited posts…

Number 5 – Catalonia, Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi

First posted – August 2013
Total visits – 16,792
Best Year – 2015, 8,717 visits
Consistently recording hundreds of visits each year
2020 – 194 visits

Number 4 – Sorrento – Vesuvius, Living on the Edge of Danger

First posted – April 2010 in a series about a holiday to Sorrento
Total visits – 18,183
Best Year – 2013, 4,213 visits
A very steady performer and always in my annual Top 10
2020 – 376 visits

Number 3 – Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

First posted – April 2010
Total visits – 18,287
Best Year – 2013, 5,016 visits
Did well for 4 years followed by a steady decline
2020 – 18 visits
I feel a repost coming on.

Number 2 – Royal Garden Party

First posted – June 2009
Total visits – 23.010
Best Year – 2015, 5,871 visits
Year after year, has always done well, especially in May when Palace invites go out.
2020 – 212 visits

Number 1 – Haugesund and The Vikings

First posted – March 2011
Total visits – 24,710
Best Year – 2012, 14,773 visits
It took me a while to understand this but then I found out that people in USA were searching for Minnesota Vikings Football and being directed to my post. Google put that right and the visits bombed immediately.
2020 – 9 visits

Thanks everyone for reading and Have a Happy New Year.

On This Day – Krakow Christmas Market

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 1st December 2006 I was in the Polish city of Krakow visiting the Christmas Market…

I recorded no story because this was so long ago it was even before I started to write my blog.

I did buy this rather nice chess set in the indoor Christmas market…

Newark-on-Trent, Roman Roads and Polish War Heroes

Newark Church

My friend Dai Woosnam often chastises me for being too eager to jump on a plane and fly to Europe when there are so many places in England that I have so far neglected to visit.  He is astonished for example that I have never been to the city of Bath and to be honest I am astonished myself that I have never visited the city of Bath.

My excuse for not visiting Bath is that it is two hundred miles away but I have no good reason not to have visited the town of Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire which is about thirty miles away and I bypass it regularly as I drive to visit my family in Derbyshire.  I have often stated my intention to go but just never got around to it.

Then suddenly one sunny morning I decided that I would do it because for some time I have wanted to visit the National Civil War Museum and the market town with a manufacturing and transport heritage which also has a ruined castle and a long and interesting history.  All of the things that I like.

Newark Market Place

My visit began with a walk around the main square which today was host to the weekly Saturday market which was busy and vibrant and I scratched my head in disbelief that I had never been to this fine place with an eclectic mix of medieval, Georgian and modern buildings almost as though York meets Cheltenham meets Coventry.

The town has always been geographically important because it sits at the crossroads of the Great North Road (the A1) and the Fosse Way (A46) and provided an important crossing point over the River Trent.  It is almost certain that there was a Roman garrison here but here is no archaeological evidence of that because the whole of the Trent Valley has always been subject to severe flooding and anything the Romans left behind will almost certainly be at the bottom of the North Sea.

A Roman service area on the Fosse Way…

Fosse Way Service Station

To measure the importance of a place I like to see how far the name has travelled and in the USA for example sixteen states have their own Newark – Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Vermont.

I may have mentioned before that I am not an enthusiastic shopper so I moved on.  Close to the Market is the  Church of St Mary Magadalene, one of the largest in the County and notable for the tower and the octagonal spire which at two hundred and thirty six feet is the highest in Nottinghamshire and claimed to be the fifth tallest in the United Kingdom.

Newark Church Exterior

As I explored the various areas of the church looking at the usual things that you do in a religious house I came across an interesting memorial stone laid into the floor of the nave…

Władysław Sikorski

Who was General Władysław Sikorski I wondered and what was he doing here in Newark-on-Trent?

It turns out that he was a very important man indeed.  During the Second World War, Sikorski was Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile in London and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces.

Wladyslaw Sikorski

In July 1943 he made a visit to Polish troops in North Africa but on his return the plane carrying him tragically plunged into the sea immediately after take off from Gibraltar, killing all on board except the pilot. The exact circumstances of Sikorski’s death remain unclear, continue to be disputed and have given rise to a number of different theories surrounding the crash and his death including sabotage and assassination.  Sikorski had been the most important leader of the Polish exiles and his death was a severe setback for the Polish cause.

His body was returned to England and Sikorski was buried in a brick-lined grave at the Polish War Cemetery at Newark-on-Trent.

Why Newark-on Trent? Well, during the Second World War there were a number of RAF stations within a few miles of Newark from many of which operated squadrons of the Polish Air Force. A special plot was set aside in Newark Cemetery for airmen burials and this is now the war graves plot where all of the three hundred and ninety-seven Polish RAF caualties and burials were made.

According to Wiki – A total of 145 Polish fighter pilots served in the RAF during the Battle of Britain, making up the largest non-British contribution. By the end of the war, around 19,400 Poles were serving in the Polish Air Force in Great Britain and in the RAF”

It is a shame that certain sections of English society make such a negative fuss about Polish immigrants today.

In accordance with his wishes General Sikorski’s remains were returned to Poland in 1993 to the royal crypts at Wawel Castle in Kraków but there is still a memorial to him at Newark.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Next time in Newark I am at the National Civil War Museum and the Castle.

European Capital of Culture 2000 – Krakow

On the second day of our visit to Krakow there were two groups with very different plans.  Micky, Sue and Christine were going to visit Auschwitz but as we had been before Kim and I chose Mike’s Crazy Communist Tour instead.

We had seen this on a Michael Palin travel programme and it looked like fun so we were keen to give it a try.

To be honest, we were all a bit surprised that Christine wanted to go to Auschwitz because when we had visited Seville the previous year she refused to visit a bull ring because animals had been killed there but she didn’t seem to mind visiting a Nazi concentration camp where over a million and a half people were abused, tortured and murdered.

Auschwitz

After an early breakfast the Auschwitz group set off in their taxi and with an hour to spare before our trip we walked around the streets of Kazimierz, through buildings that were little more than empty shells with rapidly deteriorating structures, through the grounds of a grand church and into the main square that used to be even more important than the market square in Krakow itself.

Without a street map we inevitably became confused and ever so slightly lost and only made it back just in time for our scheduled nine-thirty pick up.

The feature of the tour is that the transport is in an original ‘communist’ Trabant car with the promise of a ‘crazy’ driver and sure enough outside our hotel was the vehicle and the driver who presented himself as Eric and who immediately introduced us to the features of the car.

The Trabant (which in medieval German was a foot soldier or personal guard) was an automobile that was produced in former East Germany and was the most common vehicle in that country but was also exported to neighbours inside the communist bloc and sometimes even to the west.

It was called the People’s Car and was so popular and production was so inefficient, that it could take up to fifteen years to deliver after placing the order.  The main selling point was that it had room for four adults and luggage in a compact, light and durable shell, which western critics mocked and suggested was made of cardboard but was in fact a sort of fibreglass/plastic.

There were four principal variants of the Trabant, ours was the 601 Station Wagon model, hand painted in black with socialist red trim and finishes.  Eric explained that the engine was a small 600cc two-stroke power unit with only two cylinders which gave the vehicle a modest performance with a top speed of seventy miles per hour and zero to sixty taking twenty-one seconds at full throttle ( for a rather pointless comparison a modern formula one car will achieve 0 to 60 in under two seconds).

There were two main problems with the engine, the smoky exhaust and the pollution because the car was responsible for producing nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average modern European car.

Eric explained that the car had no fuel gauge so even though there was a small reserve tank getting to a destination could be a bit of a guessing game and require a large stroke of luck.  Because there was no fuel pump in the car the petrol tank was placed high up in the engine compartment so that fuel could be fed directly to the carburetor by way of gravity.  As the engine does not have an oil injection system two-stroke oil has to be added to the fuel tank every time it is filled up, which I imagine is a bit of a chore.

This all sounded rather dangerous to me because you have to open the bonnet to refuel and after a run to the petrol station it would be almost certain that the engine will be hot so I imagine it takes a great deal of concentration and Indiana Jones type nerves of steel to visit the filling station!

Nowa Huta Krakow Poland

Keeping a car like this roadworthy probably requires divine intervention but once on board Eric carefully negotiated his way out of Kazimierz and towards the main road that would take us to our destination, the communist model new town of Nowa Huta, to the east of Krakow.

Inside, the car was basic with rudimentary controls and dashboard.  The four speed gear box was operated by a column mounted gear change which looked quite tricky to me but Eric seemed to know his way around the gears well enough and he guided us effortlessly through the early morning traffic.  One of the problems he pointed out was that other drivers didn’t often show a lot of respect to the little Trabant and this sometimes made progress slow and difficult.

I was moderately relaxed even though I knew that if the inefficient drum brakes ever failed and there was an accident that my legs were effectively the crumple zone and just a few centimetres in front of my face was the fragile little petrol tank ready to burst into flames and there was a couple of occasions when I found myself operating an imaginary foot brake and Kim admitted later that even though she was in the back seat that she was doing the same.

It took about twenty minutes to drive to our destination and in between dodging the gaping potholes and keeping an eye out for discourteous fellow road users, in preparation for the tour and over the clatter of the engine and the creaking of the chassis, Eric kept up an informative narrative about the history of communism in Poland.

It was great fun especially as we rattled over tramlines and Eric fought with the steering controls to negotiate some tight bends but eventually we arrived at our destination, left the car and began our visit to Nowa Huta.

http://www.crazyguides.com/

Weekly Photo Challenge: Boundaries

We now had some time to spare before the others returned from their visit to Auschwitz so we walked into the market square which was now bathed in gentle central European mid March sunshine and found a café with pavement tables and a good vantage point to be able to see what was going on.  As the horse drawn carriages jangled by and the place filled up with tourists I wondered how they were getting on at the concentration camp tour and I began to recollect our own visit there in 2006.

Read the full story…

Cities of Poland

Krakow – Read the full story…

Wroclaw – Read the full story…

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

Warsaw – Read the full story…

Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city.

Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

Warsaw, Research and Travel

Map of Poland

I have visited Poland before, twice to Krakow some time ago and last year to Wroclaw.  I liked it and this year there was an opportunity to travel to the capital city of Warsaw.

I had never really thought seriously about going to Warsaw before and I put this down to the fact that when I was younger I always associated it with two things.  Firstly, word association and the town of Walsall, which is a dreary unattractive, industrial town in the Black Country in the United Kingdom which is a place that few people would visit by choice.  Secondly the term Warsaw Pact, which was the name of the Soviet military alliance in Eastern Europe which during my early years seemed to be the sinister organisation responsible for plotting to wipe us of the face of the map in a messy nuclear strike.

Anyway, I have overcome these objections now and when cheap air fares and a good hotel deal coincided on the same dates I needed no convincing to go there and I set about carrying out my usual research.

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

Poland is placed thirty-ninth in the Human Development Index which means that it is the top fifty or most highly developed countries.  The Index ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.  It is rated nineteenth out of thirty in the European Happiness Index, which may not sound very impressive but is two places above the United Kingdom so when people complain about Polish immigration I say perhaps it is a good thing and more Polish people might cheer us all up!  Iceland, by-the-way remains way out in front.

Poland has fourteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites which puts in nineteenth place in the World and tenth overall in Europe which is no mean achievement.  One of these sites is the historic centre of Warsaw which was rebuilt after the German army destroyed it as they retreated in 1945 and this one of the sites that I was really looking forward to seeing.

Perhaps not surprisingly the country was rather late joining the Blue Flag Beach initiative but is now catching up and has by 2014 achieved the status at seventeen beaches and Marinas on the Baltic Sea, although that represents a loss of eleven from the previous year.

Warsaw Old Town

But some things are not going so well, in football Poland has finished third twice at the Football world Cup but has been spectacularly unsuccessful in the European Nations cup where it has qualified twice but on neither occasion progressed beyond the group stages and if you think that is disappointing it has made the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest only nine times in sixteen attempts although it did manage to come second in 1994 despite almost being disqualified for the curious reason of rehearsing in English!

But it is the history of the country that fascinates me most because Poland has had a most dramatic last one thousand years and the reason for this is largely down to its unfortunate geographical position on one of the volatile European political fault lines with powerful neighbours to both east and west using it a convenient buffer state and taking it in turns to use it as a punch bag.

For the entire period that there has been a place called Poland its borders have expanded and contracted and moved this way and that as other more powerful states have invaded it, subjugated it and periodically annexed those parts that they took a liking to.  The last great redrawing of the boundaries came in 1945 which gave us the geographical shape of Poland that we recognise today.

Poland Border Revisions in 1945

It was an early morning flight to Warsaw Modlin airport and as the Ryanair flight was called we lined up ready to board the plane. Ryanair has a reputation as being a pretty shabby airline but has improved recently but this morning it was back to the bad old days.  For this flight someone at the personnel department had assembled the rudest possible team of people to administer the departure gate and I can only assume that there must be a special selection process to achieve this sort of ill-mannered combination of staff.

They began with the baggage check and pulled out a couple of young girls for the ritual humiliation of testing the bag size in the dimensions checker.  While they struggled to rearrange the contents the sour faced rottweillers looked on smugly waiting for them to fail and to present them with a £50 bill each – a nice little earner!

Generally speaking I think it is people’s own responsibility to ensure that the baggage complies with the rules but this morning I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the two victims. Why? Well, because I cannot understand the selection process in the bag witch hunt and there were plenty of others that would so obviously have failed the dimensions test as well.  As I struggled to comprehend this the answer became blindingly obvious – most of the other oversize bags were being carried by six foot brawny Polish builders and I imagine that it is a whole lot easier to pick on a young girl than a towering man mountain!

And then on the plane one of these giants came and sat next to me.  Most people know that Ryanair seat space is not very generous and this man was huge in both height and girth and he had a massive padded coat that smelled of salami and stale cigarettes and he seemed strangely reluctant to remove it.  It was a very uncomfortable journey and I was so glad when we landed in Warsaw and I could get some space and some fresh air.

Palace of Culture Warsaw