Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…Krakow to another country

My last stop in Poland was Krakow, a place that had nothing but good reports from visitors and locals.

The town itself was pretty, not quite Gdansk but a touch bigger so the benefit of more to do, with the old town square circled by a plush green area the main highlight. In the summer, it’s supposed to be nice to sit here with a Polish beer and watch the world go by. Not so nice in the autumn, but the confectionery places that serve rich hot chocolates offer a nice alternative in the colder months.

krakow-chilli

Close to the main square is a nice looking castle, but really the major tourist attractions are a little outside the town centre.

krakow-castle

The first is Wieliczka salt mine, a huge underground network which, out of anywhere I’ve ever been, is the place where I’ve most licked the walls. As well as the vast size of the place — which includes a normal-sized cathedral underground — the mines are filled with lots of intricate and bizarre carvings.

Wielicka-salt-sculpture

After a downright strange tour of the Jewish areas and history of the city — which concluded at Schindler’s factory with the tour guide going on a rant about he wasn’t that much of a hero despite saving thousands of lives in the war and we shouldn’t think of him as such. The tour guide sounded very bitter because one of the many heroes of the time was well known while others were less famous because they weren’t the subject of a Hollywood film — I went to Oswiecim, better known by its Germanic name, Auschwitz.

schindlers-factory

If you ever want to see an example of horrendous human atrocities, definitely visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. Here you’ll see large hordes of tourists getting their kids to pose with the famous ‘arbeit macht frei’ sign, making wise cracks about the situation in the prisons and clapping and cheering at the end of a tour of a major genocide location. Also, there’s the Nazi atrocities to consider. These, for me, were most striking when seeing the huge mass of shaved hair (just a small percentage of what they stored), the vast size of the unfinished complex and the stories of what they made the prisoners do to each other.

Still, at least no one would treat a large group of people in such a way again. Those big walls you’ve got built in Israel are nothing like the former ghettos of eastern Europe, right?

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2 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    When we used to ‘investigate the paranormal’ (enjoy a free overnight stay in old hotels, castles and museums with friends, checking pointless equipment every once in a while), we heard about some group that was trying to organise an investigation of Auschwitz, or maybe one of the other camps.

    They were trying to get some media interest too, because they thought it would be a real publicity coup for them and that’s what’s important. Hopefully no one let that happen. They would have done the whole impressive psychic medium thing too (‘I’m getting the name… Cohen? I smell… gas?’)

    • Oliver says:

      Seems like all sorts of terrible people are drawn there. At least they didn’t have anyone there, like at the Phnom Penh Killing Fields, offering some sort of horrific death-inflicting tour when I came out.

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