A Travellerspoint blog

Poland

Can I buy a vowel?

Our first stop in Poland was Wroclaw (pronounced vrak-wahf, apparently) which had been recommended to us by the owner of the Kiwi Pub in Berlin, who loved his recent trip. We found a cheap camp ground, parked up and headed into the centre of town...

We wandered around town to find the pride of Wroclaw, the panoramic painting of the Polish peasant army giving it to the Russians in a small battle that in no way effected the outcome of the war (the Russians smashed them!) Regardless of the eventual outcome, the battle has become something of a Polish Gallipoli and the people of Wroclaw take their panorama very seriously.

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The huge 360 degree painting is impressively mounted in a specially built complex along with dirt and props arranged to give the appearance of actually standing on the battlefield.

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After the panorama we wandered along the river to the town centre. We were surprised when we got there because up until that point all of the buildings were drab, uninspiring and for lack of a better word, communist. In contrast, the town square had a great laid back atmosphere and was full of street performers and buskers. The buildings were colourful and there were literally hundreds of cafes and bars to choose from...

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The colourful Wroclaw main square

We (Rob) chose a brewery and we had a few drinks while we listened to some of the buskers...

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The Gentlemen of Squalor – A fairly humourous UK jazz band on tour...

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One of Wroclaw's gnomes... There are 15 hiding in plain sight around the city centre - I think we found seven. They commemorate the garden gnomes used as a super secret signal by the Orange Alternative, a Polish anti-communist group during the post-WWII communist era.

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Rob discovered that alcohol does not improve his chess game...

We had a great meal at a traditional Polish restaurant – the slow roasted pork knuckle with Polish dumplings was amazing – before heading back to the town square to a communist-themed bar for a couple of vodka shots. Unfortunatelty, by the time we got back to our bus stop the last bus had already left so we were forced to fork out for a cab...

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The next day we headed to Oswiecim and went to the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau (Brzezinka in Polish). It seemed totally wrong that we should have such a stunning day walking around places which we have always imagined on a horrible grey backdrop of sky or covered in snow.

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The "Gate of Death" at Birkenau

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The infamous front gate at Auschwitz: "Work makes free" - someone's idea of a sick joke...

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We were surprised to find that a lot of the buildings at Auschwitz (a former Polish army barracks) looked relatively normal and wouldn't look out of place at all in a sleepy suburban town.

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The barracks at Auschwitz

Walking around was a pretty harrowing experience for us and we were disgusted to see a group of tourists laughing, carrying on and posing for photos outside and inside the gas chamber and crematorium at Auschwitz!

Not really wanting to spend the night near Auschwitz we started heading towards Krakow. Unfortunately we couldn't find anywhere to stop on the way, so ended up driving all the way to Krakow a day earlier than expected.

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Krakow embraces alternative transport...

The next morning we grabbed an early bus and tram into town and after quick coffee we wandered around the massive castle complex.

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Krakow's Wawel Castle

We took the medieval equivalent of the tradesman's exit down a long spiral staircase into the cave complex below the castle (now called the Dragons Lair for the kids) and walked along the river to a great little vegetarian place called Momo, after the Tibetan dumplings we fell in love with on our trip to Lhasa (no prizes for guessing what we had for lunch...)

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Spooky - the Dragon's Lair

After a huge (and cheap) lunch we headed to the Jewish sector to walk it off... The area was surprisingly run down and, according to our free Krakow map, zoned as an industrial area. Although it felt (and looked) like the war ended yesterday, there were some really funky (in the unwashed Bohemian sense) cafes and bars scattered around some of the side streets.

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The Great Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter

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The Singer Cafe - all the tables are old sewing machines

We made our way to Oscar Schindler's old factory but found that it had been turned into a (quite expensive) museum of Krakow during the war years, so we decided to flag it and catch a train back to the centre of town instead.

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No seriously, tell us how you really feel...

Our arrival in Krakow apparently coincided with a massive Polish scout jamboree, so we had to wait around at the Florian gate for about ten minutes watching thousands of merit badges shuffle past us before we could get into the city centre...

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The centre of Krakow was every bit as busy as Wroclaw, but it lacked the laid back atmosphere and the town square was full of kitschy knick-knack vendors. We found a small cellar bar on one of the side streets and enjoyed a few drinks before catching two trams and a bus back to the camp ground.

The next day we decided to check out the massive salt mine at Wieliczka (yeah, don't ask us to pronounce it either...) There is no longer any underground mining done at the site and its primary focus is tourism, which meant that we almost walked away after seeing the ticket price. In the end, we coughed up the 140 zloty (about 35 euros) for entry, fully expecting to be disappointed...

We were amazed at the sheer scale of the mine, and the incredible salt sculptures (in some cases, carved by the miners themselves...)

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The amazing underground chapel... Carved entirely out of salt!

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Salt chandelier

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After a tiring three hour tour, and sharing some more Polish dumplings at a depth of 135 metres, we caught an elevator back to the surface

After getting out of the mine we drove down to Zakopane and grabbed some supplies, before driving a bit further east to Bukowina Tatrzanka (yes, that is the correct spelling...) on our way to climb Poland's highest mountain, Mount Rysy (2499m). We managed to find a guest house that let us park for the night in their car park for the equivalent of about 4 euros – we were pretty happy as it meant we only had to drive for about 20 minutes to the start of the Tatras National Park in the morning...

The next morning we were parked, fed and walking by 7.30am, although we did end up cheating a bit by catching a horse drawn carriage the 9km into Morskie Oko ("Marine Eye"), a large mountain lake which is the official start point of the Rysy trail.

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The view up from Morskie Oko

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The second (and higher) alpine lake, Czarny Staw, had some epic reflections

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Czarny Staw again, from a bit further up the mountain...

The trail was pretty good until about two thirds of the way to the summit where it basically became a rock scramble. A few of the ferrata (fixed chain) routes closer to the summit gave us a few nervous (read: “f*&cking terrifying” ~ Eve) moments.

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Eve going hard...

Unfortunately the clouds closed in on our way up and the views from the top were disappointing, although we did get a brief break in the clouds which allowed us a pretty good view past Rysy's true summit at 2503m (in Slovakia) and into Slovakia itself. The former border crossing is still visible just below the summit – before the EU, climbers used to have to carry a passport with them...

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The top - halfway done...

After seven and a half hours on the mountain we got back to Morskie Oko and smashed a couple of beers before starting the 9km walk back to the van.

The next day we were both completely farked... Eve maintains that she has never been as sore in her life and did win the 'in-the-wars' competition with a splendid 50 cent sized (the coin, not the rapper) blister on her big toe. She also copped a fair bit of flack from Rob for a hilarious saddle-sore swagger, and for insisting on reversing down staircases...

That day we headed to the Slovakia border after a brief stop to check out some crazy Polish hay bales on the way...

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Posted by RobandEve 04:14 Archived in Poland

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Comments

..You let Kent off lightly ...but all said and done sounds like you had a "splendid" time!!!

by erynne

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