A Travellerspoint blog

Out and about

sunny 22 °C
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We've had some lovely times just enjoying being 'out and about' around Aarhus, and checking out some of the local landmarks.

One of our earlier trips was to Brabrand Sø (Sø = lake), quite a large lake only 10mins from the city. The Aarhus River runs through the lake which is a important habitat for many bird species. A 10km path runs around the lake which is popular for cycling, skating and jogging.

Beside Brabrand another artificial lake (Årslev Engsø) has been developed as a way of reducing the nutrient flow into Brabrand which not only affects the conditions for the flora and fauna, but also impacts the Aarhus River and the bay. There is also a nature trail around this lake which has two bird hides to observe the difference species of birds. Unfortunately it was quite a chilly day and close to midday when we visited and no birds at all could we find - they must have been having their midday nap!! However I was very impressed with the quality of the hide - very solid. A lovely tranquil place so close to town.

Brabrand Sø

Brabrand Sø

Living in the fast lane

Living in the fast lane


Cycle and walking paths

Cycle and walking paths

Bird hide, Årslev Engsø

Bird hide, Årslev Engsø

At Årslev Engsø

At Årslev Engsø

Bird hide

Bird hide

Bird hide

Bird hide

Even small villages in Denmark have their own church, most are from the 'Church of Denmark', and most with a similar design to this lovely one at Brabrand. Check out the caption on the pic of the books.

Brabrand Kirke

Brabrand Kirke

Altar, Brabrand Kirke

Altar, Brabrand Kirke

Brabrand Kirke

Brabrand Kirke

Spot the odd one out

Spot the odd one out

The Deer Park is worth a visit and only 4km from town!!! This is a large forested area with beautiful beech trees, and sika and fallow deer. They are very friendly as visitors are allow to feed them and they come to you looking for food. A relaxed and peaceful walk through the forest.

Sika deer

Sika deer

Sika deer with beautiful velvet antlers

Sika deer with beautiful velvet antlers

Deer Park

Deer Park

Aarhus is the second largest city in Denmark with approx. 300,000 population. It is very easy to find your way and to get around. It has a pedestrian mall through its centre, though you may still have to negotiate the many cyclists. Most people cycle and there are cycle paths on most large roads. Cyclists even have their own street lights on some intersections. Chas and I have had to remember to check for bikes as well as cars when crossing the road.

Aarhus Domkirke (Cathedral: kirke = church) is the focal point of the city. Built in 1201, it was destroyed by fire in 14thC and rebuilt in the late 15C in its current style. Quite impressive.
Aarhus Domkirke

Aarhus Domkirke

Aarhus Domkirke - St. Clements Church

Aarhus Domkirke - St. Clements Church

Aarhus Domkirke

Aarhus Domkirke

The Aarhus Town Hall is another impressive structure. Designed by one of Denmark's most famous architects and designer (Arne Jacobsen) it is an example of Danish Modernism with the outside of the structure covered with Norwegian marble. Unfortunately, it is not one of my favourite buildings (but don't tell the Danes!!).
Aarhus Town Hall

Aarhus Town Hall

Aarhus has a very cosmopolitan feel. It is a university city which brings lots of young people and is very modern and lively. It has a strong cultural energy with many restaurants and cafes, and several large music festivals during the year.
Restaurants by the Aarhus River

Restaurants by the Aarhus River

For some reason I have a soft spot for this lovely old wooden windmill which sits proudly on the hill above the botanical gardens.
Old wooden windmill

Old wooden windmill

Our second home exchange is a lovely spacious home in the beautiful Danish Lakes District in a little place called Ry along the along the Gudenå (River Guden) the longest river in Denmark. It is a beautiful part of Denmark and we have enjoyed being part of the community for a short time and to have Aaron, Rikke and Olivia for lunch in our 'home'. We had visited the lakes on our last visit and wanted to return to a lovely restaurant we found. So we went searching, and found - Aalekroen - on the banks of Julsø. A beautiful spot for a quiet relax.

Lunch at Aalekroen overlooking Julsø

Lunch at Aalekroen overlooking Julsø

Chas enjoying a nap after lunch look out to Julsø

Chas enjoying a nap after lunch look out to Julsø

Mågen - the Sea Gull - one of the vessels which travels through the Lakes

Mågen - the Sea Gull - one of the vessels which travels through the Lakes

Many Danes have an affinity with the water, and this is especially so here in the lake district. We had a lovely picnic with 'the kids' on a beautiful Danish summer day at Mossø, not only the largest lake in Denmark but also the deepest (22m).
Summer picnic on the shores of Mossø

Summer picnic on the shores of Mossø

An easy way to see the birds

An easy way to see the birds

Watching the ducklings

Watching the ducklings

Feeding the ducklings at Mossø

Feeding the ducklings at Mossø

On our journey around Mossø we also visited Gammel Rye (Old Rye), with its lovely mill and clog museum, which used to be an important town but has been outgrown by the new town of Ry. I think I will buy myself a pair of clogs before I come home.
Old Rye Mill Museum & Clogs Museum

Old Rye Mill Museum & Clogs Museum

Old Rye Mill Museum & Clogs Museum

Old Rye Mill Museum & Clogs Museum

Ry sits between knudsø and Birksø and has a lovely little harbour where tourist boats leave to travel the short distance to Himmelbjerget - The Sky Mountain.
Beautiful and peaceful Ry harbour

Beautiful and peaceful Ry harbour

Looking to Knudsø (lake)

Looking to Knudsø (lake)

Solar powered boat available for hire.  Canoes also

Solar powered boat available for hire. Canoes also

What a great spot to live.

What a great spot to live.

With a height of 147 meters Himmelbjerget is one of the highest points in Denmark, the highest being only 172 metres!! It is a popular destination for its beautiful nature and magnificent views. One can sail to Himmelbjerget from Ry, which is what I did today. Chas and I went our separate ways - he for another round of golf at the beautiful Skanderborg Golf Club (which runs beside Sandkerborg Sø - lakes everywhere!!), and I for a trip ON the lakes and not just beside them in one of the boats you can see in the harbour pic above.

Himmelbjerget - The Sky Mountain

Himmelbjerget - The Sky Mountain

Looking to Julsø from the top of Himmelbjerget

Looking to Julsø from the top of Himmelbjerget

Himmelbjerget Hotel

Himmelbjerget Hotel

Looking back towards Himmelbjerget

Looking back towards Himmelbjerget

Quite shallow and narrow in parts, the lake was busy with kayaks, canoes and private motor boats. The trip was lovely with little communities on its shores, and cattle on the hillside. Quite idyllic!!

One thing about visiting a 'mountain' - there's only one way and that is 'up'. So I had to climb the steep 1km path to the top, and I hadn't even had lunch!! In the pic looking down on Julsø (above) the white speck in the centre is the boat returning to Ry. I had already 'scaled the heights' in time to see it leave.

My plan was to enjoy a lovely meal in the restaurant and reflect on the three other occasions on which I had come to Himmelbjerget, the first of which was in 2003. I remember taking a photo of Braden not far from the one I took of the Himmelbjerget Hotel today. Unfortunately only the cafeteria was open - not many vegan options. However, while not very imaginative (and definitely not low fat!!, the chef offered to prepare a meal for me - a vegie stir-fry of sorts, cooked in oil. Surprisingly it was tasty especially with a glass of wine. A lovely day.

Himmelbjerget is a significant site for Danes. On top of the hill is a 25.1 meter tall tower that was erected to honor King Frederik VII and his role in giving the Danish people a constitution in 1849. Close to the top are more monuments, most honoring individuals, but also one to commemorate women's right to vote in 1915.

Considering the expanse of water, the reeds and natural habitat for the birds I have actually been surprised at the low number of birds we have seen. HOWEVER, I had a wonderful surprise this morning when Chas noticed a beautiful red squirrel playing in a tree in the garden. So cute. BUT, I still haven't seem my hedgehog!!

Tomorrow is our last day in Ry. We have had a lovely and relaxed time here in the lake district, but it is now off to Scotland and Ireland, returning to Denmark on 1 October for the last part of our holiday. Stay tuned ...

Posted by patsaunder 12:05 Archived in Denmark Tagged me lakes churches art boats places historical denmark Comments (0)

Poland - Wieliczka Salt Mine


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The Wieliczka Salt Mine is the only site in the world where mining has continued since the Middle Ages. It is also a major tourist attraction. Our guide told me that a tour starts approx. every 4 minutes and around 8000 people visit each day. Again, we were collected from our accommodation for the 1/2 hour drive to the mine. This was appreciated as the tour company has an arrangement which allows their tours to enter the mine quickly without queueing. When we arrived there were rows of people lined up waiting so I was very pleased we were part of a tour!!

The mine has been worked as a source of rock salt since the late 13th century. It is an extensive excavation with corridors, galleries, chambers, and even underground lakes. It covers some 300km connecting more than 2000 excavation chambers on nine underground levels to a maximum depth of 327m below the surface.

However, what brought us to the mine is the tradition by the miners of carving sculptures out of the salt. The mine has underground chapels and dozens of life-size sculptures which are unbelievable, and beautiful. There is also an a museum, cafes, and a special area which is used for rehabilitation for people suffering from asthma and respiratory problems as the dry air is very beneficial to them. The largest chapel, The Chapel of Saint Kinga, located 101m below the surface, is over 50m long, 15m wide and 12m high.

The tour takes approx 3 hours (over 2km). To enter the first chamber you have to descend 380 stairs to a level of 63m.

The tour describes the conditions for the miners over the years, the challenges they faced by cave-ins, how they prevented being poisoned from the methane released when excavating the salt, and the tools and methods used for producing the salt and bringing it to the surface. The miners carved the salt into large cylinders so they could easily manoeuver them. Horses were also used. They were brought into the mine by strapping them into a harness and gently lowering them. Unfortunately, as this was quite dangerous for them, and several died in the process, those that survived remained in the mine for all of their life.

Depiction of miners moving a solid barrel of salt

Depiction of miners moving a solid barrel of salt

Depiction of horses working the mine

Depiction of horses working the mine

To alleviate one of the biggest concerns, the chambers collapsing, the walls and ceilings were reinforced with wooden beams. This has worked extremely well as the wood is not affected by the salt and in some places the beams have been petrified and totally encased with the salt. Considering the work involved in building these structures they are almost a work of art themselves. The salt contains many beneficial minerals and we were invited to lick the walls to taste the salt. I decided not to take advantage of this offer!!

Wooden beams built to reinforce the chambers

Wooden beams built to reinforce the chambers


Wooden beams encased in salt

Wooden beams encased in salt


Wooden reinforcements

Wooden reinforcements

However, the biggest draw card to the mine is the beautiful and amazing sculptures which the miners have carved out of the salt over the years. They are quite extraordinary. I have only a few pics to show, but they give an idea of the skill of the miners. There were many many more.

Salt sculpture

Salt sculpture

Lovely salt sculpture

Lovely salt sculpture

A number of chapels have been carved on different levels in the mine to give the miners a place to pray. One is especially exceptional. The Kinga Chapel is a large chamber carved entirely with salt, including floor, walls, ceiling, and decorations. Even the beautiful chandeliers are made with salt crystals. You can get a sense of the size of the chamber from these weblinks. Excellent!!

http://www.khiart.com/travelphotos/poland_wieliczka_salt_mine.html
http://www.pbase.com/bmcmorrow/saltmine&page=all

Saint Kinga Chapel

Saint Kinga Chapel


Altar in main chapel sculptured from salt

Altar in main chapel sculptured from salt


Chandelier in Kinga Chapel, Wieliczka Salt Mine,

Chandelier in Kinga Chapel, Wieliczka Salt Mine,


Salt sculpture - The last supper

Salt sculpture - The last supper


Salt sculpture in main chapel

Salt sculpture in main chapel

Water continues to be the mines biggest enemy. Water leaks through the ground and deposits into large brine lakes. While the mine is no longer worked for economic purposes, they continue to process the salt from the lakes in order to keep the mine safe, which you can buy when visiting.

Chopin (the famous composer) was born in Poland and actually visited the mine at some time. To acknowledge his work, a piece of his music was played when we visited one of the brine lake. While the music played the chamber was in darkness except for some strategic lighting. It was well done and a lovely treat.

A sculpture reflected in the salt brine lake

A sculpture reflected in the salt brine lake

The mine also has the world's biggest museum of mining with unique centuries-old equipment among its exhibits. They hold concerts and other events (even weddings) in the mine’s biggest chambers (up to 500 people).

The site was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1978. The tour takes visitors through 23 different chambers to a level of 135m below ground. Luckily, we didn't have to climb the 380 steps back up as a lift takes only 40 seconds to return you to the surface.

It was an excellent tour and well worth seeing.

Steps going deeper into the mine

Steps going deeper into the mine

Posted by patsaunder 11:16 Archived in Poland Tagged places poland historical Comments (4)

Poland - and there's more

sunny 28 °C
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Religion (Catholicism in particular) plays an important role in the lives of many Poles. There are at least 11 churches just in the Old Town. It is not uncommon to find lovely grottos as you walk or travel around. Some are very small, and other more elaborate.

Local grotto on a main street, Krakow

Local grotto on a main street, Krakow

Grotto, Zakopane

Grotto, Zakopane

As well as the Old Town, we took a trip to Zakopane, in the Tatra Mountains. a beautiful part of Poland. While normally a 2hr bus trip from Krakow, the roads were so busy that traffic was bumper to bumper in parts, making it a 3hr trip.

Zakopane is the Polish capital of winter sports and mountain tourism, and also the capital of Polish highland culture, which I was very interested in. However, we only had an afternoon and a full day to see the sights.

We were told that we can get anything we want in Krupówki Street, the centre for activity in Zakopane, so we set off to check it out. As it was summer holiday time it was indeed busy. It is quite a long street with stalls selling souvenirs and local handicrafts, and restaurants and ice-cream parlours nestled between the chemist, bank, clothes shops and others selling everyday necessities. As in the Market Square, Krupówki Street was a buzz at night.
krupówki Street, Zakopane

krupówki Street, Zakopane

As we didn't have time for a hike but wanted to experience the mountains, we caught the cable car up to the Harenda district of Zakopane.
Taking the cable car up the mountain

Taking the cable car up the mountain

In summer it caters to children with water and adventure activities. This was one I'd not seen in Australia. The children actually get inside the ball and then try to walk around on the water. It is such fun ... kids would love it!!
Fun water activity for children

Fun water activity for children

This is also an area which still has a strong connection to traditional customs, clothing and music.
Local traditional transport

Local traditional transport

We took a lovely walk which had stunning views to the Tatra mountains opposite. I was able to capture the view from our room and from the restaurant where we had lunch.

View from our room

View from our room

Beautiful Tatra Mountains

Beautiful Tatra Mountains

We decided to take the chair lift back down the mountain. It was a slow trip which quietly carried us above the trees, giving a wonderful view to the mountains and Zakopane nestled beneath. It was beautiful. I almost wanted to go back up just so I could catch the chair lift back again.

View to the beautiful Tatra mountains from the chair lift

View to the beautiful Tatra mountains from the chair lift

Enjoying our chair lift ride

Enjoying our chair lift ride

Zakopane has its own special architecture called the 'Zakopane style'. It was interesting to see examples of this as we wandered through the town, some more elaborate than others, but all lovely.

An elaborate house in 'Zakopane style'

An elaborate house in 'Zakopane style'


A 'Zakopane' style house

A 'Zakopane' style house

Local houses in 'Zakopane style'

Local houses in 'Zakopane style'

I was thrilled on our last evening when we found a lovely restaurant which had four young men dressed in traditional costume and playing traditional Highland music. We were the only customers in the restaurant who clapped in appreciation, and were rewarded by lovely smiles when we thanked them as we left. It topped off a lovely couple of days in Zakopane.
A group of young men playing traditional Polish music

A group of young men playing traditional Polish music

And not to be outdone, on our last evening in Krakow we 'gatecrashed' a performance of traditional music held at the restaurant at which we had dinner. I didn't feel guilty as I took this video as I was encouraged to do so by the restaurant staff. It was excellent and we were very pleased to be there - right place, right time!!
Traditional Polish dancing, Bohema Restaurant

Traditional Polish dancing, Bohema Restaurant

The other topic I would like to mention is food. Yes, always a topic of conversation for me!! Even with my vegan lifestyle I was hoping that I would be able to sample traditional Polish food. I am pleased to say that I was able to request special items from most menus and was able to sample several of the traditional vegetarian meals which were delicious, with many of the restaurants housed in magnificent beautiful old buildings. I only had two not-so-good experiences, one of which is shown below. They couldn't understand 'no meat, butter, or cheese' so I ended up with ... very little!!). The other was just not worth bothering to even take a pic. But overall, my meals were delicious (and to the best of my ability, vegan, given language considerations), and I'm sure Chas would say that his were delicious.

Cabbage rolls in delicious mushroom sauce

Cabbage rolls in delicious mushroom sauce

Bohema Restaurant, Krakow

Bohema Restaurant, Krakow

Asparagus soup, beautiful fresh salad, bread, Guliver Cafe Krakow

Asparagus soup, beautiful fresh salad, bread, Guliver Cafe Krakow

Sitting in a beautiful little nook in Bohema Restaurant

Sitting in a beautiful little nook in Bohema Restaurant

Pierogi (Polish Dumplings), grilled vegies and potato

Pierogi (Polish Dumplings), grilled vegies and potato

Trout with cherries

Trout with cherries

Entree platter

Entree platter

Polish potato pancakes with delicious mushroom sauce

Polish potato pancakes with delicious mushroom sauce

Enjoying Polish food

Enjoying Polish food


A not-so-good food experience

A not-so-good food experience

And as I have previously mentioned, coffee and vodka in the square after dinner was a lovely end to each evening before heading to bed. Perfect.

And .... there's more. I still have to tell you about the salt mine!!!

Posted by patsaunder 11:06 Archived in Poland Tagged me mountains churches buildings people children places poland Comments (0)

Poland - Krakow

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After an early morning flight (6.30am) from Denmark we arrived in Krakow 15mins early. We were therefore extremely surprised when we suddenly found ourselves only about 15m off the ground and coming in to land. What we thought was high cloud we were flying through was actually heavy fog, and as the flight was early we didn't realise we were flying low. It seemed like we literally fell out of the sky. Quite a scare!!

Our accommodation for our time in Krakow was a guesthouse 'Pokoje Gościnne Isabel' in Wislna Street. Quite basic, inexpensive with ensuite and free internet, its biggest benefit was location - in a little side street just off the Krakow's Old Town market square. Literally 1minute from where everything was happening. Absolutely fantastic. It had a couple of little quirks, like being on the 2nd floor with no lift so we had to cart our luggage up the stairs!! (yes, more stairs - the theme continues!!). The steps themselves were so old and worn you had to lean forward or it felt as if you were falling backwards when walking up, and forwards when walking down. Chas actually fell backwards when trying to pull my luggage up the stairs!! But it is these little quirks which make a holiday memorable. The entrance is the door on the right, and our room was the one top left.

PC Isabel

PC Isabel

Stairs with sloping steps

Stairs with sloping steps

Wislna St 1st on left, looking from the square

Wislna St 1st on left, looking from the square

Well, what is there to see in Krakow, or at least in the Old Town. So much, that we didn't get to see it all. Believe it or not(!!) we even missed out on a visit to Wawel - including the Wawel Cathedral and Royal Castle!! So what did we see?

Firstly, Main Market Square, the largest medieval market square in Europe. This is the heart of Krakow, and it's abuzz. The length of each of the four sides of the square is lined with restaurants, and from early morning they are busy as this is where tourist from all around the world come together in Krakow. It has a fantastic vibe - excitement, fun, history. Most of the townhouses and buildings surrounding the market were built in the Middle Ages. It is also the location for several of the city's major historical sites - The Cloth Hall, The Town Hall Tower, St Adalbert's Church, and St Mary's Basilica - to name just a few which I will share with you. We spent many lovely times just walking through the square and taking in the fantastic atmosphere.

There is always something happening. We were regularly approached by young people (and I must say, very politely) soliciting you to visit a particular restaurant, or one of the many sightseeing tours either by horse and carriage or local tours available by electric cars. There was always someone wanting your dollar, but I certainly hope they are all able to earn a dollar. Language is no barrier. One of our tour guides told me that English is a pre-requisite for anyone wishing to work in hospitality in the main market square.

We took advantage of one in particular on our first afternoon in Krakow which ended up being a highlight of our visit. We still hadn't got our bearings and were just wandering when a young lady approached. Initially not interested, Chas's ears pricked up when she mentioned a concert for 65zl (Polish zloty) roughly $20AU. BUT it was the Royal Chamber Orchestra performing in the beautiful St Adalbert's Church, the oldest church in Krakow. And it was a treat - Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Chopin, Gershwin, Miller, Brahms - to name a few. This tiny church with its beautiful domed ceiling created an intimate and special atmosphere. These concerts are held every day at 7pm. A very special treat, and great start to our Polish holiday.

Tiny but beautiful St Adalbert's Church

Tiny but beautiful St Adalbert's Church

Chamber orchestra, St Adalbert's Church

Chamber orchestra, St Adalbert's Church

Statue, St Adalbert's Church

Statue, St Adalbert's Church

Statue, St Adalbert's Church

Statue, St Adalbert's Church

Interior, St Adalbert's Church

Interior, St Adalbert's Church

Domed ceiling, St Adalbert's Church

Domed ceiling, St Adalbert's Church

Standing tall over the market is St Mary's Basilica. One could spend a whole day exploring this beautiful building which is separated for those wishing to pray, and those wanting to sight see! The yellow umbrellas in this pic shows the flower stalls which have been operating in the square for over 500 years.

St Mary's Basilica, Krakow

St Mary's Basilica, Krakow

Ceiling and side murals, St Mary's Basilica, Krakow

Ceiling and side murals, St Mary's Basilica, Krakow

Magnificent 15thC altarpiece, St Mary's Basilica

Magnificent 15thC altarpiece, St Mary's Basilica

Stained glass, St Mary's Basilica

Stained glass, St Mary's Basilica

Side walls, St Mary's Basilica

Side walls, St Mary's Basilica

An interesting story of the building is that for a long time the tower was used as the city's watchtower. Every day the trumpeter would call the opening and closing of the city gates at dawn and dusk, and also call the alarm for fire or an approaching enemy. The tradition continues to this day with a bugle call played every hour in four directions. However, the tune ends abruptly to commemorate a bugler who died from an enemy arrow while sounding the alarm. It is one of the most famous symbols of Krakow which you are aware of each time you hear it. Just after visiting the basilica, I looked to the tower when hearing the bugle and was thrilled to see the bugle protruding from the tower. Everyone clapped when the tuned finished, and a hand came through the opening and gave a little wave. Very special.

The bugler in the Basilica tower

The bugler in the Basilica tower

St Barbara's Church is another beautiful church which stands right beside the basilica.
Beautiful ceiling murals, St Barbara's Church, Krakow

Beautiful ceiling murals, St Barbara's Church, Krakow

In the centre of the square is the magnificent 180m long Cloth Hall erected in the 13thC. A main centre arch way leads to two rows of market stalls inside selling beautiful traditional Polish goods and handicrafts - beautiful amber jewellery (from the Baltic Sea), leather goods, glassware, pottery, Polish dolls, lacework, and anything you like with Krakow written on it!!. I bought a lovely pair of traditional slippers made from felt with Polish motifs. It is very busy with people all hustling for a bargain. Fun. On the first floor we visited the Gallery of 19th Polish Art which was great, and which has its own balcony cafe. On the ground floor are more restaurants.

Beautiful detail, The Cloth Hall, Krakow

Beautiful detail, The Cloth Hall, Krakow

St Mary's spire and lovely gargoyle details on the Cloth Hall

St Mary's spire and lovely gargoyle details on the Cloth Hall

Two other structures - The town hall tower and the Monument to Adam Mickiewicz - also stand majestically in the square.
The Town Hall Tower at night

The Town Hall Tower at night

Adam Mickiewicz Monument

Adam Mickiewicz Monument

Old Krakow was protected by the Barbican which was surrounded by a moat and connected by a causeway with the entrance to the city at St Florian's Gate. Both of these structures are impressive, with beautiful and detailed artwork.

The Barbican defensive structure, Krakow

The Barbican defensive structure, Krakow

Inside The Barbican

Inside The Barbican

St Florian's Gate, Krakow

St Florian's Gate, Krakow

Buildings near St Florian's gate

Buildings near St Florian's gate

In early 1800s the defensive fortifications and medieval city walls were demolished and replaced with a beautiful 4km long green belt surrounding the Old Town. Known as The Planty it is one of the largest parks in Krakow with over 21ha. which exactly follows the original shape of the former city fortifications. They say that if you get lost in Krakow, you only need to continue walking through the Planty and you will eventually find your way. It is also a beautiful cool sanctuary for the city.

As I said previous Krakow is a vibrant and energetic international city which comes to life at night and brings its own atmosphere. Each evening after dinner we found our way for after-dinner coffee and vodka at a restaurant playing live jazz. Fantastic. We had a wonderful time. Poland is fantastic. And I'll leave Chas to have the final word at the end.

Evening buzz, Main Market Square, Krakow

Evening buzz, Main Market Square, Krakow

The Town Hall Tower at night

The Town Hall Tower at night

St Mary's Basilica at night

St Mary's Basilica at night

The Cloth Hall at night

The Cloth Hall at night

St Adalbert's Church at night

St Adalbert's Church at night


Full moon rising over The Cloth Hall

Full moon rising over The Cloth Hall

Posted by patsaunder 00:53 Archived in Poland Tagged churches art buildings skylines night places history poland Comments (0)

Poland - Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau

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Our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was the main reason for our trip to Poland.

In July 1947 the National Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau was established to preserve, and remain as an authentic memorial the two parts of the former concentration camp: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The museum is devoted to the memory of the murders in both camps during World War II. Its website is http://en.auschwitz.org/m/

We were picked up by minibus from our accommodation, the journey to Auschwitz taking approx. 1 1/2hours each way. Each site tour was approx 2 hours, with a short 15min drive from one site to the other (which was also the only time we could eat lunch) -- a total of 7 hours!! I hate to think of it as a 'tourist attraction', and hope that the thousands of visitors each day come more as a pilgrimage for humanity. The tour is very structured, and is so busy that visitors have to wear headphones tuned in to their own guide's commentary as many groups hustle together in and out of the rooms. While it is excellent, it is quite rushed and, together with the large numbers of people, takes away from the solemnity and respect which these sites deserve. There is also not a lot of time for reflection and contemplation.

Auschwitz
The camp was established in 1940 and operated for five years near the town of Oświęcim in southern Poland. Prisoners came from all over Europe, with Jew being in the majority but also including Soviet POWs, gypsies, dissidents from all these countries - Hungry, Poland, France. the Netherlands, Czech, Slovinia, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, Italy and Norway. From 1942 it became the most important camp for the extermination of European Jews. Being exposed to the actual numbers of people who perished is very confronting.

Auschwitz

Auschwitz

The inscription on the front gate says "Work sets one free". It was very humbling to walk through the gate knowing that the prisoners passed through it each day to go to work. When they returned to the camp in the evening, the SS guards would ensure that the exact number of prisoners that left in the morning returned. Therefore those who had not survived the day were carried on the backs of their comrades as a prisoner band was forced to pay marching music so they could keep in step and be easily counted.

DSC01915-002.jpg

Many of the exhibits graphically illustrate the horror of these years - a room filled with human hair (used to make blankets), piles of shoes (including children's), spectacles, artificial limbs, pieces of luggage with the name still intact, combs and other personal items - a symbol and a memorial. Living conditions were dirty, crowded and inhumane with 700-1000 people in each barrack. The outside condition of the barracks today belies the horrific conditions inside, such as the medical experiments laboratory, the prison cells, and the death wall were prisoners were executed.

Barracks built with prisoner slave labor. The number of prisoners assigned to EACH barrack was 700 - 1000, living in extreme conditions.

Barracks built with prisoner slave labor. The number of prisoners assigned to EACH barrack was 700 - 1000, living in extreme conditions.

Warning signs posted along the electrified fence

Warning signs posted along the electrified fence

Standing in silence in the gas chamber In Auschwitz where prisoners had stood and died as the gas was dropped down from holes in the roof was very emotional. However, this system was only an early version of their horrific methods of mass destruction on which the Nazis were to greatly improve in size and efficiency in Birkenau.

The first commandanent of Auschwitz, SS-Obersturmbannführer Rudolf Höss, was tried and sentenced to death after the war by the Polish Supreme National Tribunal, and was hanged at Auschwitz on 16 April 1947. His gallows still stands.

Birkenau

Birkenau was known not only as a concentration and labor camp, but also a death camp. It was opened some time in early 1942. Here trains from all over Nazi occupied Europe traveled with their human contents to be, in large part, murdered in the gas chambers. Birkenau had five crematoria.

Immediately after disembarking from the trains, the Jews, and others, were made to line up in two columns: women and children in one, and men in the other. Next, SS physicians separated the strong and healthy people from the elderly, the sick, pregnant women, and children.

Those regarded as fit for labor were sent to the camp. Birkenau had 153 barrack buildings which were actually prefabricated wooden stables designed to house 70 horses. However, up to 400 prisoners were squashed into each barrack. As in Auschwitz washing and personal hygiene facilities were atrocious, with no privacy, very little water, accessible for only short periods, with little or no opportunity for personal cleanliness causing typhus and other illness.

Those who were not sent to camp, usually 70-75% of each transport, were sent to their immediate deaths in the gas chambers.

In the lead up to the liberation of the camp the SS set about their final steps to remove the evidence of the crimes they had committed. They made bonfires of documents on the camp streets and set fire to the complex of storage barracks holding property plundered from the victims of extermination. They blew up crematoria II and III, which had already been partially dismantled, on January 20, and crematorium V, still in operational condition, on January 26, the day before liberation on 27 January 1945.

Looking back to the rail entrance to Birkenau, known as the Death Gate.

Looking back to the rail entrance to Birkenau, known as the Death Gate.

Remains of Crematorium II

Remains of Crematorium II

It was interesting to see a prisoner transport car still standing on the rail line into Birkenau had been donated by a prominent Australian, Frank Lowy (co-founder of the Westfield group). I actually remember seeing this story on ABC's Australian Story.

Freight car donated by Lowy family

Freight car donated by Lowy family

Memorial on freight car

Memorial on freight car

The Polish authorities have erected a memorial on the site - The International Monument to the Victims of Fascism - which bears inscriptions on more than a dozen languages to honor the more than 1 million murdered at the Auschwitz camp complexes.

The text depicted on the memorial for each country who lost their citizens

The text depicted on the memorial for each country who lost their citizens


Memorial to those lost in Birkenau

Memorial to those lost in Birkenau

My visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau has been emotional and I have found it difficult to find the words to describe it. However, writing it has helped me to reflect on the visit and to connect to a sense of sadness for those who died and their families, and for Poland. I also feel sorrow that man is capable of such inhumanity to fellow human beings.

I was also very moved by the final words from our tour guide, a Polish older lady, who actually lost family at Auschwitz, and whose country and its people have been forever affected by the five years these camps existed. Her presentation of the information was professional and factual but without bitterness or malice. I can't remember exactly her words but she encouraged each of us to be happy, love each other and take the lessons from our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau with us into our life. I suppose this following message says it best.

Auschwitz

Auschwitz

Posted by patsaunder 10:43 Archived in Poland Tagged places history Comments (1)

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