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Visiting Poland in 2017

Our visit starts at home learning about Poland

We are off to Poland May 10th thru the 27th. Fred’s four grandparents, when they were just teenagers, emigrated from Poland around the turn of the last century. They meet, married and raised families in the Detroit/Windsor area. Fred’s parents traveled to Poland a few times and had contacts with relatives but unfortunately Fred and his cousins have lost those connections. While in Poland, Fred will see if he can reestablish a family linkage.
We will be doing a small group (12 people) tour with Exciting Poland – Pearls of Poland http://www.excitingpoland.com/en/k1-810/k2-862/index.html for two weeks. We will be traveling throughout the country starting in Warsaw and will arrive a few days early to get over jet lag and spend some time on our own.
Most people from our part of the world still have an image of the Eastern European countries as they were under Soviet oppression; dower, depressed, huge communist era grey cement block apartment complexes, etc. Since the fall of communism in 1989 Poland has grown economically strong especially after joining the European Union in 2004.
When you consider that Poland didn’t exist as a country for 123 years, divided up by Prussia, Russia and Austria, until the end of WWI, was overrun by both Germany and Russia during WWII, oppressed by the Soviets, the last 28 years it has been independent is just a drop in the bucket of time.
We are very much looking forward to our visit to Poland.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 19:51 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Is it today or tomorrow

I hate jetlag......

semi-overcast 8 °C

Is it today or tomorrow?

Trying to stay awake until 8 p.m local time after being awake for 36+ hours. Not sure that Fred’s going to make it. We left home at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday (Thanks to Richard!) and arrived in Warsaw noon Thursday. The 4 hour layover in Vancouver was balanced out by the sprint through the maize of the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and just making out flight to Warsaw. Felt like we were in Amazing Race. Air France offered menus with choices for dinner including red or white wine. Oh and blankets and pillows and enough free movie entertainment that we could have stayed up there for quite a while.

Flying into Paris was a delightful surprise. The fields in the area are a patchwork of greens, yellow rapeseed, and red earth. Beautiful!

Our hotel in Warsaw (4+star) is the one where we meet the rest of the group on Sunday, not the usual 2 star accommodation (3rd world style) that we stay in when on these trips. It’s in Central Warsaw and very close to many attractions.


Almost all of Warsaw was destroyed during WW2. When if was rebuilt the original classical buildings were recreated and the center of town was moved from the old town area to an area near by. We did a walk this afternoon and found quite a variety of old, modern, Russian, and restored buildings. Copy_of_IMG_6758.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6752.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6750.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6749.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6748.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6747.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6744.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6740.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6739.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6737.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6736.jpgD3C3671F043A1C6F55CA15FB90D45AE9.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6728.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6726.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6722.jpgCopy_of_IMG_6718.jpg

And now to sleep.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 00:31 Archived in Poland Comments (1)

Walking Around Warsaw

Interesting City

Friday May 12, 2017 Day 2 – Part two (confused yet, we actually wrote the first part last night but didn’t post it till this morning after we got up – so we cheated a tad)

Well rested (Fred slept for 13 hrs) we headed down for the breakfast that’s included. It was a far cry from the plastic wrapped Danish or bowl of cereal so often offered back home in hotel/motels. Excuse me for a moment if I go on about the brekkies. I have never seen such an impressive breakfast buffet. Poles are known for their breads and pastries so there was quite an assortment of breads, buns, croissants, rolls, and cakes. Juices, teas, good coffees, sausages, meats, made to order eggs, pancakes, more eggs, more sausages, beans, bacon, fruits and other offerings in between. Did I mention that there coffee is really good?

After leaving the hotel we walked thru Ogród (Garden) Saski. Warsaw, like most large European cities, has a lot of open green spaces, what they refer to as gardens are more parks than botanical areas with lots of plants and flowers. We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the square at the edge of the park.


Today’s destination was Old Town, a World Heritage Site, even though it is mostly a recreation of what was there before the heavy bombing during WW2. They rebuilt the entire city from ruins but used what was left and added on. The reconstruction did not create just facades. To go in the buildings was like going back in time, squeaky floors, narrow staircases, and heavy doors. It is a testament to the Poles resolve to recover from the devastation that was inflicted upon them.


By the time we got to Old Town it was very busy with groups of school children and bus loads of tourists. Wafting through the air was the music of accordions (yes plural), something I hadn’t really appreciated until I came here. They fit, especially with old men singing along. Lots of shops selling amber and beautiful Polish pottery as well as a variety of tourist stuff.


Fred decided he wanted soup for lunch so we considered a number of menus at the outdoor restaurants in the town square. Most had variations on the traditional mushroom soups, borscht with raviolis, tripe soups, and chicken noodle soups and came with a variety of breads, farmer’s cheese and pate and usually ordered with a glass of beer or wine. Instead of complementary mint we were given a glass of sherry, something we noticed in many restaurants. Although we have seen the usual Starbucks, McDonalds, and Subway they do not seem to be abundant although there are many small take-out restaurants.


Fred wanted to see if he could find if there were any relatives living in Warsaw so we headed over to the National Archives on Krzywe Koto Street in Old Town. They occupy numerous floors in a tall skinny building with all the signs in Polish. Up 3 flights of stairs we found a small reading room with someone to help us. Their records did not assist us and we were directed to phone directories which they had. No luck as there printed phone books stopped in 1976. We have tied using Google to locate people living in Warsaw with last names of either Piszczalski (Pishalski) or Zukowski with no results.


Time to head home through another park/garden (Kasinski) with another Royal Palace (now used as a state library). Across the street was a monument to the people who fought the Germans at the end of the war in an event known as the Warsaw Uprising which is not to be confused with the Warsaw Getto Uprising which happened earlier in the war.


Back to the hotel after a full and interesting day.

We went to a Polish restaurant near our hotel for dinner tonight and both ordered Periogies for dinner. I have to say that the Periogies that Fred’s family makes using an old family recipe are better than the ones we had tonight.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 11:51 Comments (3)

Putting on the Kilometers Around Town

Tired feet.....

sunny 20 °C

Saturday May 13, 2017 Day 3

Fueled by a hearty breakfast this morning we headed out for a 17 k walk. Our first destination was back to Old Town to go on a walking tour about Poland during WW2. From our hotel we headed down to a large intersection marked by a big plastic palm tree that had been an art installation in 2002 for 1 year. 15 years later it is still there but has the distinctly bluish hue of faded plastic. We turned left and found that this busy street had been closed to traffic for the day, something to do with university students but we didn’t see anything going on. It was nice to stroll down the street with no traffic past merchants who were sweeping the sidewalks and stalls selling flowers. When we arrived in Old Town we found it considerably busier than yesterday as the weekend crowd had arrived along with more balloon sellers and the odd busker.


We didn’t last long on the tour, not to our liking, so we headed back to our second destination, Lazienke (Polish for bathes) Park, about a 40 minute walk. Lots of people out strolling with their friends and families on the wide boulevards. Warsaw is the perfect place for biking. It’s flat and has well-used bike lanes everywhere and little bike stop lights like the ones recently installed in Victoria. Hop on bikes are readily available. Helmets don’t seem to be a priority.

On our way to the park we stopped at the university botanical garden. It was a pleasant stroll with a good selection of plants and better selection of weeds. It was hard to keep my gardening instinct in check. We were probably a few weeks early as the gardens here seem to be about 2 weeks behind home.


On to the park… another green space that was once owned by royalty. It has wide packed gravel and cobblestone boulevards shaded by massive trees winding through meadows of naturalized tulips and fawn lilies. Quite lovely and popular. The paths led down to a series of man-made ponds with small formal gardens and large classical sculptures and buildings along the way. In the center is the Water Palace that straddles the pond complete with peacocks and more classical sculptures. There was ice cream, boat rides and fish, ducks and squirrels that nobody seemed to mind were being fed. A lovely bit of tranquility in the city.


The desire to rest the tootsies was growing stronger so we headed back to the hotel tuckered but happy. We have noticed a number of things as we trek around Warsaw. This place is filled with young people, we don’t see many folks are own age walking around so looked at some pop demographics on line when we got back to the hotel. Nearly 20% of the population of Poland was killed during WWII. There was a significant rise in the number of children born after the war.


Another thing we have noticed is that there doesn’t seem to be much obvious poverty, many street people or panhandlers around. Our soon to be guide who picked us up from the airport, Witek Jablunski, said that unemployment was very low around 2% so anyone who wants to work can. We have noticed a lot of new construction and building cranes in the downtown area. There are plenty of new cars on the streets including high end models. People in Warsaw dress well, especially younger people. When it comes to radical hair style/punky clothes, etc more men than women have adopted that style but then again it’s only a small % of young people who have. We did walk down Embassy Row on our way back to the hotel and noticed all the extra security the USA embassy had at its complex including barriers so if you did crash thru the metal gates you couldn't get further into the compound.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 08:47 Archived in Poland Comments (2)

Pałac Kultury i Nauki imienia Józefa Stalina

More of the city and meeting our tour group

sunny 19 °C

Sunday May 14th. Day 4

This is only part 1 of today as its late, we just got back from dinner with our group and we are leaving early tomorrow morning.

This morning we walked across the street to the Pałac Kultury i Nauki or The Palace of Culture and Science. Constructed in 1955, the building was originally known as the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki imienia Józefa Stalina), but in the wake of destalinization (Poland’s release from communist control) the dedication to Stalin was revoked. Stalin's name was removed from the colonnade, interior lobby and one of the building's sculptures.


The Palace of Culture is a notable high-rise building in Warsaw. It is the center for various companies, public institutions and cultural activities such as concerts, cinemas, theaters, libraries, sports clubs, universities, etc. It is the tallest building in Poland, the eighth tallest building in the European Union and one of the tallest on the European continent. It is 237 metres (778 ft) tall, including the structural 43-metre high spire.


Construction started in 1952 and lasted until 1955. A gift from the Soviet Union to the people of Poland, the tower was constructed, using Soviet plans, by 3500–5000 Russian workers and 4000 Polish workers. 16 workers died in accidents during the construction.


As the city's most visible landmark, the building was controversial from its inception. Many Poles initially hated the building because they considered it to be a symbol of Soviet domination, and at least some of that negative feeling persists today. Some have also argued that, regardless of its political connotations, the building destroyed the aesthetic balance of the old city and imposed dissonance with other buildings.


Socialist realism in Poland was a social, political, and esthetic doctrine enforced by the pro-Soviet communist government in the process of Stalinization of the postwar People's Republic of Poland. The official policy was introduced in 1949 by a decree of the Polish United Workers' Party minister. As in all Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc countries, Socialist realism became the main instrument of political control in the building of totalitarianism in Poland. However, the trend has never become truly dominant. Following Stalin's death in March 1953, and the subsequent De-Stalinization of all People's Republics, Polish artists, writers and architects started abandoning it around 1955.


Złota 44 http://zlota44.com/en/ is a residential skyscraper (192 meters high) in central Warsaw. It was designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind. It had been developed by a US real estate investment corporation which pulled out at the topped-out but unfinished stage. The building was sold to another US real estate investment company for about $81m USD which was less then the estimated construction cost of $180+m USD.


The name Złota 44 comes from the building's address - Złota ("Golden") Street. It is one of the tallest residential buildings in Poland and the European Union. It is a luxury 52-story skyscraper contains 287 condo/apartments which are equipped with the home management system which facilitates control of the air conditioning, roller blinds, heating, illumination and allows the possibility of placing online orders from restaurants or other service. Residents received a security card, which allows them to reach only the floor where their apartment is.

At the turn of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a Fotoplastikon was a popular device that allowed viewers to watch changing three-dimensional images. The Warsaw Fotoplastikon is unique, in that it is the only one in Poland – and one of the very few in the world – that is still in perfect working condition. Built in the early 20th century, it stands in its original spot (and with only a few breaks due to historical circumstances, it has always been here).


Posted by Fredricgail2017 13:13 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Part 2 from yesterday plus Day 5 - Off to Gdansk

Events of the afternoon and next day

semi-overcast 20 °C

Part 2

Our tour guide for the day was Paweł, a young man with a real strong sense of his history and culture. We spent the afternoon at a number of different locations which started with the memorial to the Jewish Ghetto Uprising. At the beginning of the war Warsaw was home to approx 380,000 Jews which was almost 30% of the cities total population. The actual Jewish neighborhood is long gone as it was completely destroyed by the end of the war. There were nearly ½ million Jewish people from Warsaw and other Polish cities walled into a very small section of the city where by early 1942 over 100,000 had died from starvation, diseases, and mistreatment. Hundreds of thousands were removed and transported to the death camp Treblinka outside the city. A large memorial including a carved two sided black obelisk commemorates the spot where they were marched to the waiting trains for transportation to the camps.


In April 1943, the remaining people decided that they had no alternative but to resist and attack their capture rather than simply wait their turn to be eliminated. The armed struggle was doomed from the start as they didn’t have access to sufficient weapons and were significantly outnumbered. Following 3 weeks of desperate fighting the Nazi razed what was left of the ghetto, except for a few scraps of a wall which remain to today, to the ground.


We then drove over to Lazienki Park and walked down to the Palace on the Water. Also in the park is a large Chopin statue where on Sundays free out door concerts happen, we didn’t stay as the concert had not started.


Our next stop was Old Town and the Royal Castle which, like most of Warsaw, was rebuilt after the war. In its heyday, the castle it was one of Europe’s most splendid royal residences. Today the castle is filled with a large amount of original Marcello Baccierelli 17th -18th century paintings of royalty, which don’t do much for us as they had all the power and money plus worked their surfs/peasants hardheartedly which was the common practice at the time.


At the end of the afternoon, Paweł spoke to us of his pride of Polish culture/history and why he felt they have turn out what they are today. He explained that as a result of Poland’s tortured past, which included numerous subjugations by foreign conquerors, the people of Poland developed a stubbornness and sense of resiliency that is a double edged sword. This allows them to stand up to oppression but makes if sometimes inflexible to govern themselves effectively.

Monday May 15, 2017 Day 5

Jet lag is taking it’s toll. Despite Fred’s regime of melatonin starting before we left, he hasn’t been sleeping and Gail is sleeping less than usual. Course sleep does arrive just before the alarm goes off. Forgot to mention earlier that we have meet our group so we are 13 in all plus a guide and drive. More about them at a later posting.

A early start to the day as we’re off to Gdansk, a 5 hour drive north-west of Warsaw. Outside of the city center we drive through many large, fairly stark apartment complexes and then through the industrial area and then the agricultural area. We notice an absence of single family homes or suburbs as we know them. Perhaps the need for housing meant the building multi-family dwellings. Don’t know. And then the view is pretty much blocked for miles on end. The highway is lined by high barriers supposedly for soundproofing but where we can see behind them there’s only fields, not even cows ears to protect. Our guide and driver just laugh, shrug, and explain it with the word ‘corruption’. Hmm…


Eventually, after an hour or so, the fencing gradually thins out so that we can see the countryside. Rapeseed is in full bloom right now so the fields are bright yellow interspersed with lush green grass. It’s quite remarkable and a bit starting. The speed limit along here is 140k and most cars fly by.

Gdansk is a city of about 450,000 and known to BC ferry users as the builders of the latest 5 ferries in the fleet. As a seaport, it has been much sought over property by many rulers in the past and wears the remains of many cultures. In recent history, it was the site of the first battle of WW2 and the birthplace of the Solidarity movement lead by Lech Walesa.


After a quick stop at our hotel we were off with our local guide Lucas to visit the monument that was built to recognize those that were killed and who fought for the Solidarity movement. It was through the efforts of these people that Poland was able to break the ties to the communist regime. The monument is at the gates to the shipyard where the workers staged their strike.


Back on the bus to visit a large cathedral at the edge of town that had been repeatedly sacked and rebuilt for centuries. The Catholic Church was very supportive of the Polish movement to achieve independence from the Communist and the Polish govt’ has not forgotten as it today partially funds the church.


We headed back to Old Town Gdansk. Gdansk endured heavy damage during WW2, about 65%+ of it was destroyed. Much of it has been restored using as much material as possible that was recoverable. The Old Town today a major tourist attraction with no cars, cobblestone streets and filled with amber shops. After a bit of a wander, another church or two, we headed off to another tasty dinner and then home to bed.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 13:41 Archived in Poland Comments (4)

Malbork Castle and the seaside community of Sobot

When does the jousting begin and how come there are no bikinis on the beach today

sunny 12 °C

Tuesday May 16, 2017 Day 6

Wow! Sleep! What a difference even a short night’s sleep makes. Chilly today…only about 12 degrees but clear. We’re off to see a castle!
The castle on the agenda is Malbork Castle, the largest Gothic castle in the world and also thought to be the largest brick building in the world. Sounds interesting. The castle is 1.5 hours south of Gdansk through fields and fields of glowing yellow rapeseed. This area is very flat with the odd farmhouse and occasional small villages. We had our first stork sightings along the way. Nesting platforms have been erected in fields and yards and several were occupied.


Malbork Castle is an imposing sight. It sits on the side of a gentle river and is massive. One expects to see a knight in shining armour coming around the corner. Of course, if you need a set of shining armour, a sword, or shield they are available at the booths outside the gates. The building of the castle started in the 13th century by the Teutonic knights. Over the following 800+ years it has changed hands, been added on to, damaged, rebuilt and renovated many times. At the end of WWII it was seriously damaged. In 1997 it became a World Heritage Site.


Malbork has undergone intensive restoration and conservation. Today it was a very busy place with group after group of school kids as well as tourists learning about the storied life of the castle. It was easy to imagine knights and monks crossing the bridges over the moat, offering the password to get through the gates of the 10 foot thick walls, feasting in the large banquet hall, and praying in the chapel and the servants cooking in the dark underground kitchen or stoking the heating system.


For something completely different we jumped back on the bus and headed to Sobot, a beach community about another hour down the road. Sobot is a resort town on the Baltic Sea. Yes, despite the sun it was polar fleece weather although it appeared that the locals were ok sunbathing on the beautiful long white sand beach After a walk out the pier it was back on the bus and a half hour drive back to Gdansk for a bit of amber shopping in Old Town.


Dinner tonight was traditional Polish…sour rye soup served in a bread bowl, potato pancakes with salmon or not, an assortment of savory pierogi followed by cheese and blueberry pierogi for dessert. All very yummy….off to bed with a very full tummy.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 12:39 Archived in Poland Comments (1)

On to Toruń

Living in the past

sunny 20 °C

Wednesday May 17, 2017 Day 7

Thanks to all those who have made comments about the blog. Glad that you’re enjoying it and appreciate hearing so. Not too sure about how to reply to questions so here’s a couple of answers…language is no problem. Most people seem to speak at least some English and if they don’t they take us to their friend who does. Yes, amber is big in Gdansk. Much of the world’s amber comes from the area of the Baltic Sea and actually washes up on the beaches near Gdansk.

Today we were on the road again, a 2-hour drive to Toruń south of Gdansk. More flat landscape and rapeseed fields. As we went farther south we saw less of the brilliant yellow fields and started seeing other grain crops, forested areas, and slightly more rolling hills. Very slightly.


Toruń was originally built by the Teutonic knights in 1233. It is another Unesco World heritage site recognized for being an example of a medieval village that has been preserved almost intact. It was in fact two towns, side by side, built on a set plan of the Teutonic order and surrounded by a moat. During WWII it was pretty much spared the destruction we’d seen in Warsaw and Gdansk. Having been around for over 750 years it has undergone changes as control went from one group to another. Today it is a busy tourist site with no cars inside the walls but with many shops that cater to locals…bakeries, butcher shops and flower stalls. Besides being a fine piece of heritage conservation Torun has two other claims to fame…the birthplace of Copernicus and gingerbread.


After checking into our small 13th century hotel on the edge of town, (yes, our hotel has been updated and is very cute and comfortable) we headed out on a 3 hour guided tour to learn about what makes this town so special. Toruń was built at the crossroads of two important shipping routes…north south along the Vistula River and East West from the Europe inland to Russia. Of course, we also visited the Copernicus Museum in the house where he was born and visited a shop to learn about gingerbread.


After another very good dinner we headed through the gate and down to the river where a lovely promenade has been built. It was a warm evening so there were many people out enjoying a pleasant stroll in this lovely spot. As the sun slowly went down we headed back through another gate and back to our hotel and hopefully a good nights sleep.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 11:53 Archived in Poland Comments (3)

Biskupin and Gniezno

Na zdrowie

sunny 23 °C

Thursday May 18, 2017 Day 8

Sleep may be elusive but the coffee is wonderful in almost everywhere we’ve tried it. Add a croissant or a small pastry and it’s even better.

We took leave of our fortress and headed off to an archaeological site…an iron age lake village called Biskupin south of Torun. Once we left the highway, the scenery today was quite rural with more fields of rapeseed mixed with another grain crop. Occasional we’d drive through very small towns with old stone houses, barns, chickens and not much more. People rode one speed bikes down the fairly quiet streets with nary a bike helmet in sight. Still flat country, great for biking except for the lack of shoulders.


Biskupin was originally built about 700 BC and survived to about 500 AD. when it was subject to another attack and climate change. The fort was built on an island on a lake. It had survived several attacks but was burned in the last one. By then the lake was rising and the fort could not be rebuilt so the community moved. The waters dropped in the early 20th century and a farmer found remnants in his field. Archaeologists began excavating in 1934. Today a museum has been opened and the small community of houses have been rebuilt to look like they did in 500 AD, with people demonstrating various crafts of the time. It is a lovely site on the lake with lots of birds and loud frogs.


Our next stop was in Gniezno, a small town that is thought to be the birthplace of the Polish state. We headed off to the large cathedral in town that has roots going back to around 1000 AD. The original church is gone, a second church was built on top and is mostly gone and a huge cathedral was built on top of that. We were taken down to visit the crypts in the basement that may or may not contain parts of various bishops going back to the early days of the church. The guide spoke quite a bit about the trading, repatriating, stealing, and importance of the body parts of dead bishops to various powers. It seems to result in a bit of animosity as well as controversy about who has what. Hmmm…


Many things to ponder as we fall asleep tonight.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 10:58 Archived in Poland Comments (5)

Poznan Cathedral and Parish Church

Holly batman, who let the goats in the church

sunny 23 °C

Friday May 19, 2017 Day 9

Poznan is the 5th largest city in Poland with a population of about 500,000 and about 100,000 university students. Post secondary education is free in Poland as long as you pass the exams. If you don’t pass the exams then you can go to one of the many private universities that we have been told are considered inferior.

We met our guide at a monument to commemorate a worker’s protest in 1956, the first mass worker’s protest in the Soviet Bloc. The interesting thing about the monument was that it was built in 1981 when the area was still under communist control.


Since it was about time for another church we headed off to the Poznan Cathedral that was built on the sight of the original chapel built in 966 AD. Down to the crypt to where the ashes of numerous bishops were kept as well as the remains of the original chapel.


Old town Poznam was badly damaged during WWII but has been rebuilt and was busy with hundreds of school groups and tourists. In the middle of the square is the old Town Hall where every day at noon crowds of tourists stare up at the tower waiting for two mechanical goats to come out and bash heads.


More impressive was a baroque church built for the Jesuits in 1651. The town is also famous for its St. Martin’s croissants made with white poppy seeds. Of course we had to try them and soon realized that one croissant would have been enough for both of us with some left over.


Back on the bus for a 5.5 hour drive to Czestochowa, a town of about 250,000 that is famous for its Black Madonna. Most of the drive was through more flat farmland, flat to the horizon. Closer to Czestochowa a few bumps appeared possibly signs that the landscape may be changing.


After a dinner with sour ham soup and beef cheeks (not sure but something like a delicious potroast) we wandered down the main street where there was an Italian food street market. The booths were stacked with sausages, cheeses, sweets, olives and herbs.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 12:12 Archived in Poland Comments (1)

Black Lady Queen of Poland Sanctuary & Auschwitz-Birkenau

Day of extreme contrasts

overcast 14 °C

Saturday May 20, 2017 Day 10

Off to church again this morning. Czestochowa is the home of Poland’s biggest monastery and considered the religious capital of Poland. The monastery is particularly famous for 13th century painting known as the Black Madonna.


We headed off up the street expecting another large cathedral. What we found was the beginnings of a crowd that was expected to reach 100,000 by the end of the day. Apparently religious groups from all over the world and especially Poland have pilgrimages to the cathedral continually from spring to fall. Today’s group were Evangelical Christians, who are apparently a spirited group as evidenced by the loud Christian rock that started about 7:30 a.m.


Our tour guide was a monk who had lived in the monastery for 40 years. Fortunately his robes were white as following him through the crowds was quite a challenge. He took us to the back entry of the chapel with the Black Madonna where we squeezed through the crowd. Hundreds and hundreds of people were lined up at the front entry waiting to get into the chapel to receive Holy Communion. Popping out the other side we headed over to the main cathedral. It was a spectacular baroque display of angels and other religious figures and of course, gold. Carrying on we went through the Monastery’s treasury where gifts, including a ring from JFK, to the Madonna going back 100’s of years and from all over the world were kept.


At the end of the tour three of us decided to take the option of climbing up the tower to get a view of the city. We stared into the darkness through an obscure door that we were directed to. As our eyes adjusted to the light we saw a spiral staircase that corkscrewed up into the tower eventually widening out along the square sides of the tower. After about 200 stairs we reached the view over the complex and the city.


We then drove for about 1 ½ hrs to Oswiecim where one of the most famous WWII death camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau is located. (On purpose, I did not take many photos and will only post a few on the page out of respect for what occurred there) Most of the German records were destroyed towards the end of the war but it is estimated that 1.5+ million people were killed in the camp. I was surprised at the huge number of people visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau while we were there and was told it gets in excess of 2 million visitors per year.


Auschwitz was originally a Polish army camp that was converted to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941. Birkenau, which is considerably larger and close by, was then constructed using camp detainees and materials from surrounding villages whose populations were completely removed. The combined camps became a major site of the Nazi Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

Around 90 percent of those killed were Jewish. Others deported to Auschwitz included Poles, Romani, Sinti, Soviet prisoners of war (Soviets were not protected by the Geneva Convention), Jehovah's Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals.


In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. The Allied Powers refused to believe early reports of the atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial.


As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was sent west on a death march. The prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on January 27, 1945 a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 1947, Poland founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau and in 1979 it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Visiting this place was difficult.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 12:45 Archived in Poland Comments (3)

Wadowice to the Dunajec River and then to Zakopane

Int the Tatra Mountains

overcast 13 °C

Sunday May 21, 2017 Day 11

The hotel we stayed at on Saturday was very much into it’s ‘relaxation’ spa. It had 3 different saunas and a hot pool that were done in small coloured tiles and lots of lounges to relax in. Relaxation not being one of her fortes, Gail decided to go for a massage to see what a Polish massage would be like. Expectations were for a large, muscular woman in a white uniform but instead there was a small young woman with a gentle touch.


This morning we were back on the bus with a destination of Zakopane. Our first stop, you guessed it, was church. Today’s church was special because it was where Pope John Paul II was baptized as a child and right next door to the house where he was born and spent his early years. It was a small church (by Polish standards) in a small town and very busy for Sunday Mass. We were then taken for cream cake which apparently the Pope enjoyed as a child on the way home from school. We didn’t find it all that exciting. However there were a bunch of Polish bikers that came for the religious gathering which was surprising.


The scenery has now changed dramatically. This is what we expected Poland to look like. Rolling green hills with big dairy cows, sheep, and chickens, narrow streets, and more chalet style houses. By the look of the roofs, this area must get significant snowfall. The temperature dropped to about 13 degrees under cloudy skies. We arrived at the Dunajec River where we were to go on a raft down the river for 1.5 hours to a small mountain town. This was not white water rafting, class 1 rapids at most, and with most of our tour’s folks not being the outdoor types it was thrilling for them. The rafts were of a traditional style where 4 canoe type boats that were lashed together. There no life jackets provided or available and we wondered if any of these trips ever had a mishap and ended up in the river. The guides poled the boats down the river past walls of granite and forests. Poland was on one side of the river, Slovakia on the other. It was a pleasant, fairly gentle and damp for some because of water splashing into the boat, ride downstream.


The town we arrived at was classic mountain culture with some kind of mountain running race just finishing. While waiting for the bus we decided to sample a local food that we thought was like a perogi with cheese inside. It turned out to be solid cheese with a combination of sheep and cow milk. Sheep cheese is very salty and after a few miles on the winding roads our stomachs were complaining.


An hour later we reached Zakopane to a very nice older European style hotel with indoor pools, gym, and even squash courts. We wandered down to town that turned out to be a Polish version of Whistler. Lots of sheep’s cheese shaped into logs with pressed patterns. We weren’t tempted. Tomorrow we will do more exploring.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 12:00 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

Zakopane Architecture and the Strążyska Valley

Cool cabins and a hike

semi-overcast 17 °C

Monday May 22, 2017 Day 12

Off we went this morning with our guide to learn about Zakopane. Yup, first stop was a church but the point here was to learn about the Zakopane architectural style as this church was a fine example of it. The style was developed in the late 1800’s and features log construction, peaked roofs and a high degree of wood craftsmanship as shown in the abundant ornamentation in the buildings. The town has embraced the style. Building after building follows the same principals and give the town a unique and delightful character. The influence has spread to the arts and crafts in the town and even to the cemetery that has a collection of creative and unusual grave stones.


Zakopane is in the Tetra Mountains and is the winter capital of Poland. The 30,000 inhabitants host millions of visitors every year, mostly in the winter but a good number in the summer too. We took the cable car up one of the hills for a view of the valleys on either side of the ridge. There are many ski hills in the area to accommodate all the winter visitors. We walked along the ridge, flanked by tourist and food stalls, even a pay toilet, to a ski lift to take us back to the valley below.


After a quick visit to the shopping area of Zakopane we met our guide to go for a hike in the National Forest that surrounds Zakopane. It was a short walk to the end of our street and we entered the park. The trail was wide and well marked. It started at the edge of a huge meadow with a large flock of sheep being watched over by two local type sheepdogs. Fencing didn’t seem to be needed. Birds here seem to have an especially loud cheerful song and don’t seem to restrict themselves to dawn or dusk singing consequently the woods are full of birdsong whenever we’ve been in them. The trail went up the Strążyska Valley following a stream up towards a waterfall. As we neared the waterfall the trail was over large rocks that had been worn smooth by the years of hikers heading this way. Wildflowers were abundant and included violets, primulas and marsh marigold. The waterfall was 23 meters high and a welcome sight.


Dinner tonight was a Highlander Feast. Highlanders are the people of southern Poland and Northern Slovakia. They must eat a lot. We were presented with a sour cabbage soup followed by a huge platter full of Hunter’s salad, blood sausage (kiszka), white sausage, spareribs, chicken, pork’s knuckles, mystery meat, roasted potatoes, perogi and sauerkraut followed by baked apples for dessert. Needless to say there were leftovers.


Darkness has fallen but the birds are still singing. Zakopane is a delightful, interesting town. It is easy to see why so many people visit the area.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 12:24 Archived in Poland Comments (4)

Wieliczka Salt Mine and Schindler’s Factory

How did we get here........

rain 15 °C

Tuesday May 23, 2017 Day 13

How did we get here? Sipping champagne in our elegant suite having just strolled back from a dinner of roast duck and salmon with apple pastries for dessert. This is definitely not our usual style.

The day started out in the fresh mountain air of Zakopane. It was sad to leave the scenery and architecture of this delightful town. It would have been nice to spend a few more days there. There’s more to see so off we go.

The scenery in this area is classic storybook. Rolling hills with cows and sheep, chalet homes either in the valleys or on the low ridges overlooking the valleys. Even the dandelions, which are prolific in Poland, add to cheerful colour to the scene. Small groupings of fairly big homes appear sporadically. We’re heading to Krakow, which is about an hour and a half drive. As we get closer to Krakow small businesses become more prevalent as does the return of the barriers along the side of the highway.


Our fist stop is Wieliczka Salt Mine. Salt mines conjure thoughts of downtrodden men labouring in the cold. Not here. Salt has been mined in this area since the 13th century. They stopped mining in 1992 due to flooding but today about 1000 people are still employed maintaining the tunnels and taking tours (the tours were started in the early 19th century). The mine has 300 km. of tunnels although we only explored about 3. What we saw is hard to explain. We walked down stairs to the first level down about 350 steps. The tunnels are carved through the salt. Walls, floors and ceiling are mostly a grey looking salt although when a light is put to them they glow. The tunnels open up into chambers with salt sculptures. Going back hundreds of years, miners built chapels in the tunnels, not surprising considering the danger of the work. At one point there were more than 40. Today we only visited 3 or 4 (what would a day be like in Poland without visiting a chapel?) built in the chambers. Going down further to about 327 m. we reached a huge chapel that was carved over 70 years in the 20th century. Services are held in the chapel every Sunday. There are banquet rooms, restaurants, gift shops, and even a spa down here. Continuing further we walked by underground salt lakes. At the end of the 2.5 hour tour we took an elevator back up to the surface in about 30 seconds. 1.5 million people visit the mine every year.


On to Krakow to Schindler’s Factory. The factory has been turned into a museum depicting what life was like in Krakow just before and during the Nazi occupation. It is a well done, creative museum depicting a brutal time in Krakow’s history. The recovery of this country after all the turmoil that has been imposed on it, is remarkable. The movie Schindler’s List was filmed as much as possible on the original sites where the story took place including the factory and Birkenau.


Thanks to Robert, our patient and skilled driver, our very tired and overwhelmed group, made it through the crowded streets to our hotel. After a quick rest we walked down the street to dinner at a lively (good thing as otherwise we might have nodded off) restaurant for another hearty and interesting Polish dinner and that’s how we got here today.


Posted by Fredricgail2017 13:39 Archived in Poland Comments (0)


Its raining

rain 14 °C

Wednesday May 24, 2017 Day 14

Somebody put a street car right next to our room. We can look right down on top of not just it but numerous and frequent electric streetcars. They run from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. Since this is a 4 star hotel they provided us with earplugs, not that they stop the physical rumbling through the building. Apparently the 4 stars is because of the buildings heritage designation. Other than the street cars it’s quite elegant, we have a huge room with a separate sitting area and spiffy bathroom. Altho, I will have to say that European toilet paper needs improving. Our next door neighbour is a big old church. I can see Jesus hanging out from where I’m sitting as our windows looks down on the street and across to the church.


It was raining this morning when we set off on our Old Town tour. Kraków is Poland’s 2nd biggest city with close to 1 million people. It dates back to the 7th century and was not destroyed during WWII however, it has been invaded, burn, and sacked many times in the last 1400 years. It was the capital of Poland until the 1500’s when the king decided to move to Warsaw. Our first stop this morning was the Coronation Cathedral the burial place of Polish kings and then on to the Royal Castle which now houses several museums. After being ‘renovated’ during several occupations, part of it have been restored to medieval times in recent years. Probably most impressive were the huge tapestries of Biblical scenes, thick with gold and silver. They have survived partly due to being stored in Canada during WWII. After the war, when Poland was in the hands of Russia, the tapestries were hidden in museums, churches and hospitals until after Stalin’s death. Photos are not allowed inside so all the pics are exterior shots.


From here we went over to the Jagiellonian University that was founded in 1364 and still operating today. Onward to Market Square, one of the largest town squares in Europe dating back to the 13th century. Like so many places we’ve visited it was very busy with school groups of all ages as well as tourists in general. On the square is the 14th century St. Mary’s Church. Having been to many elaborately decorated churches in the past week, we were not prepared for the incredible Baroque décor in this cathedral. Every surface seemed to been adorned by a carved figure or gold or both. We just stood and stared, there was far too much to take in and that was before being told some of the stories behind the works.


Time for a little shopping and quiet time before dinner. It’s our last night with some of our group so we will be saying ‘good-bye and happy trails’ to them.

Posted by Fredricgail2017 12:29 Archived in Poland Comments (1)

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