Poland is leading the way for the countries of New Europe, as much of the old Eastern Bloc surges out
of the Cold War and into the 21st century. Two world wars rolled across Poland's countryside and
there is much remaining physically and emotionally. The borders shifted east and west, but since the
1990s and particularly since joining the
Poland is looking towards a bright future.
It was a family trip to Krakow in late 2014, for a family wedding uniting
and Poland, that
was my first foray into this part of Eastern Europe. Either we were lucky with the weather, or it's
always that way in the autumn as there were warm, sunny days for much of the trip. As it was a celebratory
visit, we elected to steer clear of Auschwitz which we felt would not have been appropriate
to visit at that time.
Wawel Castle on the banks of the Vistula River is the old fortified centre of Krakow, and a very grand
place indeed. Built in the 14th century and remodelled over hundreds of years, it now houses an art
gallery and museum. Our hotel was just along the riverside from here.
The Main Square of Krakow's Old Town, or Stare Miasto as it is locally known. The whole old town is
a World Heritage Site, and it's clear to see why. Underneath the town square is a comprehensive exhibition
of the town's history.
A tourist poses with the colourful Krakow sign in the main square, outside the Cloth Hall.
Inside the Cloth Hall, which now serves as a market place selling all sorts of souvenirs and bric-a-brac.
It wasn't always this way, as the Cloth Hall was built as a major trading centre in the 15th
century and dealt with all manner of commodities from far and wide.
Horses and drivers line the main square, ready to take tourists for a trot.
An altogether more elegant form of horse-drawn transport can be seen in amber, at one of the city's
many amber shops.
The Church of Saints Peter and Paul, on Grodzka leading up to the main square. It is the largest church
in Krakow and was built in the early 17th century. I like this photo particularly for the texture
of the sky, and the lined up statues in front of the church. Another Peter and Paul place I have
visited is the fortress by that name in
Karol Jozef Wojty or Pope John Paul II as he was latterly known, was of course Polish and turned around
the eponymous phrase regarding a Pope's nationality. He was born in Wadowice, not far from Krakow,
and served as Pope from 1978 until 2005. I was fortunate enough to see him in person in the
a few months before he died.
Inside Wawel Castle the grounds are kept very pretty and we sat in a cafe for a while in the sun. Amongst
other works, the museum was exhibiting Leonardo da Vinci's "Lady With An Ermine", one of only
four female portraits he painted, along with the Mona Lisa in
We also visited the Collegium Maius, part of the Jagiellonian University, Poland's finest. It was here
that Nicolaus Copernicus studied, using such instruments as the Globus Jagellonicus seen here, the
oldest surviving globe to represent
the Americas, dating from 1510.
The Church of St Joseph stands as a stark landmark on the south side of the Vistula. Despite its old
appearance, it was built just after the turn of the 20th century. I took this as we were walking
a circuit around the river near the old town.
The Vistula river wends around the south of the old town of Krakow, and is flanked with substantial
embankments to contain it after heavy rains. Further downstream it flows through the capital Warsaw,
before discharging into the Baltic Sea at Gdansk.
Krakow's Jewish Quarter was all but decimated during the war, with most of its population being holed
up in the walled ghetto south of the river, and ultimately taken to Auschwitz or Plaszow. The recovery
has been slow, but there is a small community building up again in Kazimierz. We went to this
restaurant for dinner.
Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist, ran this factory in Krakow during the war. By recruiting
workers from the nearby
ghetto, he was able to prevent the deportation of over one thousand
to the concentration camps. The story was portrayed in Steven Spielberg's 1993 film "Schindler's List".
The Jewish ghetto has been reintegrated as part of the city, however some of it is still in a state
of disrepair. From this square the residents were deported at the liquidation in 1943. Each memorial
chair represents one thousand people.
In the town of Wieliczka outside the city is one of the world's largest and oldest salt mines. We entered
by walking down a shaft descending 64 metres underground, before following a series of tunnels
over two miles until we were twice as far underground.
The salt mine dates back to the 13th century, and it was amazing to see some of the woodwork and walk
through tunnels built hundreds of years ago.
Throughout the mine are various statues and carvings all cut from rock salt, and produced by the miners
themselves. This regal chap looks as if he's just stepped out of a dwarf mine in "Lord of the Rings".
A giant chamber deep underground, lit by rock salt chandeliers. Whilst the tour took all afternoon,
we explored only a fraction of the mine's corridors, which stretch over one hundred miles.
Salty artworks abound in the mine, my favourite was this representation of Leonardo's Last Supper, complete
without the doorway cut through it, as is the case with the original in
A historic beer truck leaves us in no doubt as to what's offered by this establishment.
Walking back to our hotel along an atmospheric leafy lane. This is a stretch of the park that encircles
the old town completely.