Sunday, November 25, 2007

Eastern Europe - Poland

After completing the first leg of my Eastern Europe trip by exploring Prague and the Czech Republic countryside, I headed east to Poland. As my time was limited, focused simply on Krakow and its surrounding environs. Krakow is officially the capital of the Molopolska region and the unofficial bohemian culture capital of Poland. It is also an extremely popular and lively city that attracts tourists and artists alike. This is due to the fact that Krakow was the only major city in Poland not to be completely obliterated by the Germans during World War II. Therefore, many of its historic monuments have stayed intact and there is plenty to see and do here.
Krakow revolves around its Main Market Square, Rynek Glowny; which, at 200 sq. meters, -stands as the largest medieval town square in Europe. Several of Krakow's most renowned monuments are located here, including St. Mary's Basilica (cathedral), the Skiennive Cloth Hall market and St. Adalbert's Church. The vibrant essence of the square makes one of its many nearby hotels or hostels a good place to stay, as I inevitably wound up doing. The numerous streets and alleys leading from the square are filled with pleasant restaurants and shops and a walk down the vibrant Grodka St. eventually leads to the Wawal Castle, where Poland's rulers lived for over 500 years until the late 16th century.
Krakow also offers several intriguing day-trip sites accessible from the city's main train station. Although the Soviets managed to save Krakow from imminent Nazi destruction during World War II, the nearby Auswitz and Birkenau former-concentration camps are a grim reminder of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in Poland. A slightly more sanguine experience can be had at the stupefying Wieliczka Salt Mines.
Although not really a great place to go if you're on a honeymoon, world war II history buffs will definitely want to make the trip to the nearby Auschwitz & Birkenau former concentration camps nearby the town of Oswiecim. It was at these camps where the Nazis committed their worst atrocities of genocide. Some 1.5-2 million people, mainly Jewish, met their deaths here. The camps have now been turned into memorial centers and are visited by the thousands daily. A more uplifting experience can be found at the Wieliczka Salt Mines - about 15km south of Krakow. Although I never quite got the pronounciation right, the Wieliczka Salt Mines tour takes visitors some 300 meters below the surface into underground caves made up almost entirely of salt. Amazingly, there's even chapel constructed over a century ago located in the mines. If you're Krakow, than both Auschwitz and Wieliczka should definitely be on your itinerary!
To view all photos taken from this segment of the trip, click here:

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