Where have the holidays gone? It seems like just yesterday I was headed to the airport to start the summer break. Alas, vacation time is truly over, but thanks to my camera and trusted notepad, I am able to relive the wonderful memories that keep me thinking of wonderful Poland. Poland was the destination of choice on the journey home this year.
My friend and I landed at Warsaw Chopin Airport to a beautiful summer’s day after a short flight from our connecting city of Amsterdam. We took a public bus to our hotel in Centrum, which was about 40 minutes away with all the stops. As the name suggests, Centrum is in the heart of Warsaw, which, is a bustling metropolis, even on a Sunday afternoon.
After checking in we stuck to our travel routine of bags down, freshen up and head out. You know what they say, there is no time like the present. First order of business was to get some food. We stopped at a restaurant that was packed with locals. The food was just the kind I like, home cooked and hearty. It was here that I was introduced to the humble but extremely delicious pierogi. Those dumplings of delight are not to be missed on any trip to Poland.
Warsaw is a city that was greatly affected by the Second World War. On our visit to the Jewish Ghetto the understanding of the barbarism the city endured. There, she described the process by which the residents of that area were targeted on a daily basis, for no other reason than the fact that they were of a different ethnicity. The physical city also suffered at the hands of the Nazis. This is evident in the many newer buildings that exist, in what is a centuries old city. Many of the older looking buildings are actually replicas of the structures that had stood there until the bombs took them down. I can only imagine how much more stunning the city would have been had it not been ravaged by war.
On our third day, we took a train to Kraków. The city was the exact opposite of Warsaw. Even though it had had a strong German presence during WW2, the city’s proximity to Warsaw meant that it was spared any damage. If you are as pressed for time as we were, I would suggest hiring one of the many tourguides to help with exploration of the city. They are easily spotted, on their golf carts, darting in and out of the narrow cobbled lanes around the Old Market Square.
The most significant experience I had on this trip was visiting the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkeneau. They are about an hour away from the center of Kraków and a must on any visit to that part of the country. It was by no description a pleasant excursion but rather an education into the extent to which human beings are capable of exacting pain and suffering on other humans.
We ended our visit to Kraków by exploring the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The highlight of that tour was being able to see the amazing rock salt sculptures that were produced by some of the miners.
Where available, be adventurous and make use of public transportation. Buses and trains are usually much more friendly to your pocket. A city tour or hop-on/hop-off bus is great for saving time and your feet.
By Richie Chin