This is a tough entry to write. Mainly because our experience here was equal parts heartening and heartbreaking.
Heartening because of how unspoiled the town of Krakow is with its astonishing, well-preserved medieval buildings in the Old Square. The determined will of the people, the rejuvenation that has come of that rallying spirit, and the bustling nightlife. Speaking of nightlife, lots of people partying. Like shenanigan-type partying. Granted it was Friday at around midnight when we arrived, and our ride into Krakow was an ominous dark road aside with the eyes of a dimly lit castle perched above the city, but people were blowing off some steam. As we made our way into the festive glow of bars, restaurants and all types of music, we enjoyed quite the array of people-watching while scarfing down the Polish delicacy known as pierogis.
The city is so beautiful and full of life, it’s refreshing to see all the good being celebrated, and also important to see the past not forgotten. We spent our first few days sightseeing around the Old City where Leah played amateur tour guide, escorting us along the Royal Path, narrating facts of olden times. The Wawel Castle is something else with golden accents, mixed with patinaed roofs, and amazing architecture.
Given the vast history of Krakow, one of our profound experiences was visiting Oskar Schindler’s factory, which is now a museum. This pot-manufacturing factory saved nearly 1,200 lives and walking the halls gives a path back in history of everyday life in Nazi occupied Poland.
It was heartbreaking because of what the city of Krakow, it’s surrounding areas and the country in general has gone through. When we decided to muster up the courage to view the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, a lot of emotion ran through our minds. The ride there provided angst, but setting foot on soil such as that was even more difficult. Seeing what just decades ago was a land of torment and horror of the worst kind, hearing the stories and knowing where we stood is where entire lineages were wiped away, the experience was shocking. Witnessing the purpose of what the latter built Birkenau was used for was deplorable. Being where so many millions of innocent people’s demise was, is indescribable. The experience was beyond powerful and sliced through our souls from every angle; a tremendous piece of history we should never forget.
Thankfully we scheduled a second tour that same day that was lighthearted and a lot of fun. Dropping down some 200 feet into a salt mine where a salt-encrusted city is preserved, complete with running water, two churches, wall carvings and a health spa. With elaborate chandeliers hanging down, this church is still active every Sunday and is also a venue for weddings, too. And absolutely everything, down to the crystals hanging off the chandeliers, is made of salt.
Our last day was spent walking around the Vistula River. While a “beach” doesn’t necessarily exist, they sure can fool you with the waterfront watering holes and the tons of beach chairs they have on gravel rocks. Certainly a unique way to spend an evening, amongst a flowing river complete with a medieval frosted skyline!