A Travellerspoint blog

Krak me up Krak me down...

Krakow in the Spring...can be miserable and cold.


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Krakow...what a lovely city.
Very charming. Very manageable. Compact. Easy to navigate and beautiful.
Unfortunately the weather was exactly like Seattle in the early spring. Cold and wet. There were some infrequent dry sunny spells.

Okay, right off...Stairways in some of these tourist attractions boggle the mind. In the bell tower of the Castle you were climbing up steep steep stairs and crawling through gaps in the timbers to get across and go up the next flight. Someone with any girth would have had difficulty - extreme difficulty. The bell tower at the castle was interesting. The bells were enormous DSCF1926.jpgand you had a good vantage point from the top of parts of the old town below.

A word on churches, cathedrals and their ilk. I have now instituted a one church, cathedral etc a day. I have reached a saturation point with church interiors. They may be breathtaking, beautiful and all the usual colorful words. But I'm just weary of them. I can be interested in one a day...after that I go in look around shrug my shoulders and walk out. So to prevent that I now have my one cathedral/church a day rule. Keepin it fresh...

Krakow was overrun with tour groups of kids. they were everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Mobs of them. Touring the cathedral on the castle was my most miserable tour of a cathedral to date. Waist tall humans swirling around you like a sea foam and you being a bobber. Hearing the guide was a challenge because the place is basically an echo chamber. Great for Gregorian and monastic chanting - awful for touristing. As the castle cathedral tour wore on I became increasingly stir crazy to get the heck out of the place. The tour guide was wonderful telling us about each sarcophagus adding witty anecdotes from legend and history...but by this time I didn't care. I wanted OUT! I couldn't even take pictures to amuse and distract myself. We finally did get outside after wading hip deep in mini humans which I'm sure were covered with e-coli and snot. I think there was a chapel on the way out...I also think there was some 20th century sarcophagi but I just couldn't give a rats ass. Ooooh This church had 2 amazing windows. In the short cross part of the cathedral (is that the naive?). At each end there were stain glass windows of what I presumed to be the king and queen of the time. The colors were vibrant. The glass wasn't delicate and ornate. It was more modern looking yet made hundred of years ago. They were refreshing amidst all the other chaos of eras and styles of design and the din of the petri dishes with legs all about. We FINALLY got outside and there were streams of children everywhere. It was like being in a middle school quad. By this time the line for the cathedral (We got there VERY early) was at least a city block long. We were given a pee break (as I said the tour was long).

Food was great in Krakow. Our first night there dinner was provided at a very nice quiet restaurant - well it was quiet until 27 ultra noisy Americans and one super sweet Hungarian guide descend like locust and sat at our UN "U" shaped table in the middle of the place. Yummy white asparagus soup and a choice of Chicken or Salmon. Here you will find another of my rules. If I can help it I try not to order Salmon. We have such great salmon that ordering it away from home seems somehow like heresy So I had the chicken, with roasted apples and pan fried potatoes. The desert was strawberry tart and was delicious. The crust was thick on the bottom and there was a layer of creme as well then the strawberries.YUM! It was all very elegant. We also partook of the local drink...it's non-alcoholic and tastes a bit like Dr Pepper with Molasses in it. The other night after the Krakow Symphony I had street food since I was running solo, and all the restaurants were in "dreamy eye mode" you know, filled with candles and couples. I had what they call Kebab - what we might call a super jumbo Gyro.DSCF2149.jpg It is an enormous flat bread they fill with meat (origin I'm still unclear on), cabbage, cucumber slices, tomatoes, sauce and onion. It takes two hands to hold and eat and is as big as your head - $3 us. Prices are pretty good in Krakow even in the restaurants. Last night we had Eastern Polish food at a little place recommended by our guide book. Ended up being a great place and an excellent recommendation. Pickled spiced meat with Paprika sauce and hunters stew is what I had. The place was oozing charm. On the table was a gorgeous white china vase with 3 roses. Matching salt, pepper and sugar. Starched brocade floral linen. Candles on the tables with views of buildings with domes out the windows and two old guys playing music. One unsmiling piano player on an old slightly out of tune piano and one unsmiling violin player. They played a variety of ethnic music - Ukrainian and then launched into a series of patriotic American music. So we're sitting there, enjoying delicious ethnic food, delightful atmosphere, in Krakow Poland and suddenly I know this folk tune they are playing...no...it's not a folk tune it's America the Beautiful. The player piano sounding piano and loose violin improvisation was jarring. Then God bless America. I was with Betty (73) and Mary (39) from our tour group. DSCF2336.jpgBetty loved it and hummed and sang along and was giving them thumbs up and acted like she had been held hostage in a communist country for the past 30 years and was hearing it again for the first time. Mary and I thought it was a bit out of character and a bit weird. We suddenly felt very conspicuous. It was difficult to describe. The unsmiling guys ended up being nice. After regaling us with songs of American patriotism the piano guy came over and unsmilingly but nicely hawked some CD's he and the violin player (along with a few other performers) made. Ukrainian music. He also hawked some cd's in Yiddish that he and the violin guy (and again some other ensemble players) made with a survivor of the holocaust singing in Yiddish (is that possible?). We were planning on asking the duet if they had made any recordings anyway...but I couldn't help the 'merican music was a ploy. I wondered if he also knew patriotic Japanese and Chinese songs for when they were in the place. I had some "Zeldas" (my word for the Polish currency - in no way even close to the correct way to say it) I needed to use so I got the Ukrainian one from the unsmiling violin player...still unsmiling even as I purchased his 50 Zelda CD. They really were quite good in a folksy way and wonderfully entertaining (even if unsmiling). An excellent way to spend the last evenings dinner.DSCF2529.jpgDSCF2166.jpg

Tourism during our time in Krakow involved umbrellas and dodging tsunamis of school children fresh out of exams and on school field trips. To add interest the city was setting up for a old town run/walk. In addition Saturday was the Polish championship football (Soccer) game. So you had this strange confluence of children touring, footballers reveling, tourist and barriers all up and down many of the streets. There was also the now familiar sight of weekend English stag parties roaming in their matching tees being obnoxious. We had a free morning. I spent it walking the very easily traversed old town and picking up a few things. Later in the afternoon the tour then set out for some salt mines. Sounds boring...but it really wasn't. Bordered on slightly cheesy actually. This unused salt mine has enormous chambers in which they have created some attractions and curiosities. DSCF2447.jpgDSCF2459.jpgFirst you walk down this incredibly long staircase. I am guessing near 25 stories - the stairwell had a vanishing point DSCF2381.jpg. Then your guide walks you through various chambers. Some have sculptures. Some have demonstrations. The guide leads us to one dark chamber, played Chopin and illuminated various features, another gives a dramatic reading of how the methane gas is burned off. They had many chapels and even a "cathedral." Pretty cheesy but interesting. Of course the miner were fervently religious so there were many chapels...one of my group members took great glee in pointing out my one church/chapel/cathedral a day rule was broken. I hissed at them. Cheesy aside it was a neat thing to see. I guess they have to do something to make your trudge down the zillion stairs worth your while.

As I mentioned there was a major football (soccer in the states) game on Saturday. Unfortunately I missed the victory celebrations in the old town square. Krakow won and there was much reveling in the town square while we were having our lovely Ukrainian/Lithuanian dinner. We could watch gents stagger by as if on the deck of a badly pitching ship - chants and cheers breaking out somewhere in the distance every so often so we knew something was up. Dinner finished, our bags packed and the lack of rain drove Mary and I out into night time Krakow and the square, broken glass crunching under our feet, dozens and dozens of riot police marching in groups here and there, more police in similar garb lurking by groups of paddy wagons. DSCF2618.jpgVery large groups of completely inebriated men (and some women) shrieking cheers and singing spirit songs, the broken glass which totally covered the cobble in the square, twinkling and flashing like the bodice of an Olympic ice skater. DSCF2615.jpgThe sound of glass being broken was everywhere. Beer bottles getting dropped on the cobble. Apparently a few hours before the square was packed with passionate Krakites. The winning team appearing on the cloth halls balcony to the frenzied mob. I was sorry I missed it. It was a championship game and the spirits of the locals were high indeed. The tourists were there to take it all in.

I have seen more nuns, monks, priests and whatnot in Krakow than anywhere in my life. Just thought I'd throw that in. They stick out cuz the monks are in monk clothes, the nuns are in nun clothes and the priests are in priest robes. DSCF2313.jpg

Posted by jreuer 07:46 Comments (0)

Auschwitz


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I have a stomach ache.
We just finished Auschwitz & Birkenau.
I recommend not doing this with 26 people and that if you can, go it on your own or hire a private guide.It is incredibly moving and disturbing. You see movies, read books but to see the actual camps is totally different. Most impacting to me is the evidence of "proof" which are set up in different massive displays. Hundreds and hundreds of suitcases, tens of thousands of shoes, thousands of children's shoes, baby clothes, hundreds of eyeglasses, an enormous room full of the pots and pans recovered and a gigantic display of human hair - I can't even begin to describe how many tons of it...human hair. It's with these en-mass displays of a tiny tiny fraction of the personal property and physical property taken from the prisoners I felt the true gut punch of the horror and choked back tears. Many on the tour were crying. These were peoples things, and hair and I was looking at them some 65 years after the fact. Much of the property that hadn't been sold was still in the warehouses being sorted and the Nazis torched them. They robbed and used everything from the prisoners to sell back to the German people. The hair shockingly was sold and made into nets and textiles. I think the hair disturbed me the most the enormous corridors of rooms filled with shoes may have tied those...of course there were the baby clothes. In totality and individually it was all a slap upside the head. The fact the Hungarian lot had almost survived the Nazi purge but in the last 4-6 months, even when the Germans KNEW they were going to loose, they ramped up the slaughter even faster so in fact the Hungarian nation lost the most to the purge.

It staggers ones mind and causes it to spiral that humans can do that to humans. Humans preached a campaign that these other humans were out to get them. "These" people had a different way of living and were going to harm them and harming their way of life. "These" people must be stopped or they will destroy it all - ruin for us all...ruin. When I say "these" people it was more than Jewish folk who were thrown in the camps and killed. Dissidents, Gypsy's, Jehovah's witnesses and Homosexuals were also included in their lot of folks who would do harm to the homeland. They are different - we must eliminate them. It's a lesson humans just don't seem to get - even today. Mans repeated inhumanity (in it's various degrees) to man is reprehensible. And we call ourselves civilized. I am not just talking about wars and death camps. Though certainly dropping bombs on civilians is more tidy and efficient and less accountable (especially when you don't count them) than an organized death camp. I speak of mans intolerance of other people who may not think, live or love the way they do and they feel the need to demonize and hate monger. People just don't seem satisfied to monitor him/herself and his own actions and leave it at that. He needs to have a bad guy, he has a pathological need to force conformity. So he looks to find someone to demonize to keep fervor amped up.

Persecution in degrees is apparently acceptable. Bigotry is tolerated...after all you aren't killing them you are just denigrating them and keeping them "below you." But doesn't it plant the germ and start the disease? Oh! Right! But if you do it because of a religious belief that sanitizes it doesn't it. Okay. That's a nice slippery slope. I can't wait until some new leaders start saying it's okay to demonize a specific group and keep them down because they are different and "threaten" a way of life. Oh wait...it's happening.

Sorry but that's where my mind is right now.

Don't even talk to me about the people who say the Holocaust didn't happen...

Posted by jreuer 08:50 Comments (0)

So that's where it is...

Mystery place revealed!


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Everett and I attempted to figure out where my tour was going after we left Prague. We had the name of the place but couldn't find it on any maps he had.

Well it was a ski resort. But first...

My room in Prague was delightful. Typical attic room. Newly remodeled. Had a peekaboo window to the Betlem church in the square. Dark rafters I had to duck under. DSCF0847.jpg Oodles of outlets. AND a bathroom door that was short. Copy_of_DSCF0846.jpgI banged my head about 200 times over the course of the 3 nights exiting the bathroom. I don't fault the room...after all. How many times does one have to smack ones head on the sharp edge of a door lentil before he learns. Well apparently I just don't. ESPECIALLY when I was distracted with unpacking then packing. The days/nights in between I didn't strike my noggen near as much as when I was unpacking/packing. I must have hit my head 7 times in a row packing. Of course when I did I just was so pleased and happy that I wrote poetry! Unfortunately I waxed so eloquent and so profusely that I failed to get any of it down on paper. :) My Room also had AC which I would have died had I not had.

There were three rooms in the rafters - all facing into the same tiled atrium which seemed to amplify any of the slightest sound. Doors in Eastern Europe seem to all be working the same way. You have a handle and a lock mechanism that requires 4 turns. As you turn the mechanism with the key it typically makes a racket. Well there was no being subtle when I locked or unlocked my door. It sounded like a jailer locking and unlocking a cell. The loudest clack clack snap clack you have ever heard echoing off the vestibule for the 3 cells in the attic. Then no matter how quietly I attempted to close the door it always made a thwump. I tried to be quiet...but then of course shortly after entering my room I would smack my head coming out of the bathroom so I was likely a very noisy neighbor.

The morning we all loaded up and left it was cool and rainy. DSCF0855.jpgAs I mentioned Everett and I had attempted to figure out our next destination....but we couldn't. The bus is gigantic and spacious. I have 4 seats to myself most of the time...so I can shuttle back and forth from one side to another depending on which side I feel has better views. The views outside Prague are great. DSCF1005.jpgDSCF0985.jpgDSCF0983.jpgDSCF0982.jpgEvery little town (and there are many) has a central spire with a dome. The countryside was LUSH LUSH green with puffy trees and fields. When the light was right the blades of the grain leaves would all catch the sun (they were wet) it was really very lovely. Lots of communist era housing. DSCF0873.jpgDSCF0866.jpg

On the way I discovered we were heading to a mountain resort.

We stopped first for lunch at a lovely town (I don't know the name just now) and had an hour to eat where we wanted and take in the wee village. DSCF0968.jpgDSCF0965.jpgDSCF0950.jpgDSCF0938.jpgDSCF0921.jpg
A couple of us were standing outside a bakery and a mentally challenged individual came right up to me and I'm assuming introduced him/her self in Czech. I told him my name and I got theirs in return. Then the person who was accompanying them discovered we were interacting and whisked him/her away (I couldn't tell if I was talking with a female or male) and they waved as they were dragged by the hand down the incline the market square is built on. We all looked at each other and smiled as it was such a pure and genuine expression from that person. He saw new folk and said hi. It was nice.

We all piled back into the bus (I may blog on this whole tour "experience" but I haven't decided yet) and continued into the mountains.

We got to the ski resort. DSCF1096.jpg It was cold and fog was pouring over one side of the mountain and down the other. The resort is right on top. You could see the fog blowing up the slope and swirling down the back side. It was very cool. The designs of the couple elaborately decorated hotels and the whole design of the place made it somewhat mysterious.
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Our hotel was not one of the "decorative ones." it reminded me of our church lodge in McCall Idaho. Utilitarian and sparse. Floors that made you self conscious to move because they made so much noise.
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We couldn't see how high up we were that night. They run the lift on the hour...but there was no point to sit and freeze to death. We were the only group up there. There were a few other people but we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Dinner was arranged by our guide. The food was enormous and delicious. Two 'ous words I have been running into a lot as of late.
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We were treated to a local Czech group dancing and singing. It was a hoot.
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Posted by jreuer 08:17 Comments (0)

Gettin' out of town

Visit to Troja Palace outside Prague


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Prauge.
I was surprised at the number of tourists...the place was jammed with them. Swarms. Especially at the popular places like the castle, old town square and Charles bridge. Didn't hear much English. Hearing what I think is German, Czech, Italian.

While I was staying with Everett I suggested going to Troja palace. It's out of the "tourist ring" and just getting there could be an adventure as it involved walking, trams, buses...even though it's not that far from Prague. It was a hot day again and to make our journey easier we needed a specific number of tram so we could get to the area to catch the bus. We waited and waited and waited...the sun was blazing down on the group of folks who where also waiting for the 12 (only a few tram numbers stopped and it was easy to id folks waiting for the 12 if you paid attention.) Finally FINALLY a 12 showed up. Crowded, sweaty and hot we got on...not really sure exactly what the train station (which is where we catch the bus) would look like. It was nice to get away from the tourist crowds. Prague is really quite beautiful, everywhere you look is a photo op waiting to happen. Interestingly when the communists were in control of Prague many of the buildings suffered. Decay ruin and worse hit many of the buildings that you would otherwise think a country would preserve or maintain. Buildings looking nice wasn't a priority to the communists...I guess they were too busy making propaganda films about the plentiful food supplies when store shelves were bare and keeping luxury goods out of the hands of the people - you know...first luxury goods then who knows what could happen. I'm not sure when the restoration of the buildings that were suffering began but their current beauty attracts everyone. It's medieval road layouts are a maze of shops...the touristy and mundane on the more popular routes...but charm and solitude can be found if you just turn off the main thoroughfares. Small eateries and shops on the side streets offer a welcome respite to the main corridors. Troja too offers respite and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Prague. The directions the DK guide give are perfect. The bus drives right past it so you know exactly where to get off. Basically the Zoo stop...the Prague Zoo is adjacent.
We however weren't really sure where the Palace was...would we have to hike a bit to it? Was it really obvious? Well there was a Troja stop and we almost got off but Everett asked the driver if this was the palace and the driver indicated no....thank goodness that stop was actually what would have been quite a hike to the chateau. When we drove up we realized how very obvious it would be next time as I mentioned above. The chateau or palace is a striking Red and white - Italian style I'm told. Everett's neighbor, who speaks no English, when he found out we had been to Troja, brought over a very lovely book on all the castles and palaces etc. in the Czech republic. As I browsed through - there are a startling amount - I saw a red and white building on just about every other page. Which I found interesting...they liked the Red and white. But I digress.
First thing you see is this striking 3 story structure that is painted this assertive color and surrounding it are wonderful french style gardens. DSCF9559.jpg
French in design. They were looking slightly ragged. Not up to Versailles standards but beautiful none the less. The mazes grass was a wee long. Some of the planting beds were full of weeds - a bit long in the tooth...but the garden had charm. We had the added luxury of the cotton from the cottonwoods. It was as thick as plankton in the air. You could scarily open your mouth without getting some in your mouth or nose. It was interesting. The Troja palace is on the Vltava so I assume it was from there.
Once in the palace you are looking up a lot. Every room had frescoes on the ceiling and some on the walls. It was quite beautiful. They provided some laminated sheets explaining the symbolism of all the various figures and symbols. There were really no furnishings to speak of. - you go to look at the grounds, paintings on the ceilings and walls and exterior.
We had the place to ourselves which was a pleasant relief from the crowds in Prague. Walking through there were likely only 3 or 4 other folks...the tenders of the chateau far outnumbered the visitors.

One of my fav things to do in Prague is to hang out at the monastery at the very top of the hill where you have a fantastic view of the city. I was lucky enough to do it twice this trip. Once with Everett and another time with some traveling companions from my tour group that I hooked up with. You sit there and sip ice tea, beer wine whatever and absorb the view. When I was there with Mary and Betty we ate. Great quantities of good food and surprisingly the prices were very reasonable given the prime view. Huge plates of food (typical). I have noticed (I can't remember if I have mentioned this before) that the wait staff have stopped asking you when they take your plate and you haven't been able to finish "you not like?" Now it seems they don't care. :)

The other view site I was extremely pleased with was the top of the Astronomical clock tower. I didn't realize until Diane Toomey told me, you could go to the top. They have a very neato elevator that is unattended and you just pile in. (you have to pay to get to it). The view from that vantage point is great...there are some snaps in the gallery of me cheezing it up (shine and all).

Posted by jreuer 08:04 Comments (0)

Mustard

To go along with my catchup post...


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Soooo...

This won't be my usual article form. Sorry. No time to sit and reflect and collect my thoughts.
We embark on our bus ride to the Czech countryside and mountains tomorrow. Tomorrow night at a mountain hotel...lord knows where it is. I'm SURE no internet access.

Prague has been a gas. Love Prague. It's an eyegasim. Everywhere you look there are things that delight the eye and make me whip out my camera.

On the pictures I posted to the gallery. I HOPE they are the good ones. I take scads of the same picture using different settings and the upload utility has tiny thumbnails AND I haven't had time to organize my photos AT ALL. So I was guessing as to which were the good ones from a stamp size image. You'll see 2 theaters. The blue one is a theater that Mozart debuted Don Gianvoni (I think I spelled that wrong) we saw Marriage of Figaro in it...stunningly beautiful. Some Amadeus scenes were filmed in it. The second is the National Theater. Interesting history. Later. Saw a modern dance show there. Very very good and the space is also breathtaking.

You'll also see various shots of St Nicholas (both of them) and Troja Palace (a red and white building) then the obligatory tourist sights.

I'm getting used to my new camera but it sometimes pulls a fast one on me with regard to focus...so I'm hoping these are sharp.

As I mentioned we have many long bus rides ahead so I'll pen some thoughts.

Posted by jreuer 09:39 Comments (1)

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