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Published: September 9th 2014
Kraków Poland 6 September 2014
We arrived in the city at about 3.30pm and found a gated park about 5 minutes walk from the Old Town. We were looking forward to visiting Krakow because we had heard so many interesting accounts from other travellers. Immediately we saw some imposing monuments of some of the past conflicts that Poland has found itself in, over the centuries.
The main Market Square was easy to find and we immediately saw Cloth Hall which was the 1st shopping mall in the world, so they claim. The little shops are full of tourist 'stuff'.
We just wandered around the Old Town watching the live statues playing tricks on bypasses, listening to piano accordionists', popping into a couple of the churches and generally soaking in the atmosphere on this beautiful Saturday afternoon.
We decided to leave the visit to the Wawel Castle complex until the next day so we organised to attend a Polish Fold Dance Concert at a restaurant on the Square. They were dressed in their traditional costumes. There was a cello player, violinist and piano accordionist playing while 2 girls and a guy were dancing and singing. They also
invited us up to participate in some of their dances. It was a lot of fun.
We drove to our new camp site in the dark but found it with no problems with the GPS.
The next morning, we drove back into the city and after 45 minutes of trying to get a park unsuccessfully, we went back to our parking yard that we had parked in the day before.
We visited the Gothic Wawel Castle which was built in the time of Casimir lll the Great, who reigned from 1333 to 1370, and consists of a number of structures situated around the central courtyard. It was an impressive little walled township. We climbed up one of the towers to get a good view of the city and how the river meandered its way through the area.
The Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute the most historically and culturally important site in Poland. For centuries the residence of the kings of Poland and the symbol of Polish statehood, the Castle is now one of the country’s premier art museums.
As we are all 'castled-out' we didn't see the Crown Treasury or the historic
Gothic rooms of the castle.
Also the district of Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarters was very interesting. After the Invasion of Poland at the start of World War 11, Kraków became the capital of Germany's General Government. Poles and Jews were classified as Undermenschen by the Nazis and were targeted for eventual extermination. The Jewish population of the city was moved into a walled zone known as the Kraków Ghetto , from which they were sent to German extermination camps such as the nearby Auschwitz and the concentration camps like Plaszow. We walked around the area visiting the old markets which were packing up by the time we got there. There is a really easy to follow signed path which took us past all the significant Jewish history sites, memorials, synagogues and the old (1500s) and new cemeteries. The area is full of pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and accommodation.
Another district, the district of Nowa Huta was built during the Communist Era, and was made for the people working in the huge steelworks (5 times larger than the Old Town of Krakow) that are located there. The architecture of the district is typical socialist; huge buildings surround green parks.
The district now is poor and run down.
We walked further on to visit the Schindler's Factory Museum which is a very well put together permanent exhibition "Krakow under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945": evolution of living in Krakow through the World Wars 'till Communism times, with special focus to WWII period. It was a very detailed account of what the Polish Jews went through. Schindlers was a man who started a manufacturing business and employed Jews during the Nazi Occupation. He got the Nazi's confidence and pretended to be on their side, sometimes to the detriment of Jews. However, this was his strategy so that he could help prevent Jews being sent away to the concentration camps where they would usually lose their lives. Some of the photos were horrific, including the hanging of many Jews in the streets of the Ghettos.
After a couple of hours, with bursting heads full of new and revised information, and tired feet, we caught an electric tour car back to our motor home and drove onto the Wieliczka Salt Mine which was only 15 kms out of town.
A bit of information about Kraków:
Kraków is the second largest and
one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life and is one of Poland's most important economic hubs. It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1569.
The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland's second most important city. It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill (pronounced Vavel) and was a busy trading centre of Slavic Europe in 965. With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and throughout the 20th century, Kraków reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic centre. The city has a population of approximately 760,000 whereas about 8 million people live within a 100 kilometres radius of its main square.
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