Wednesday, April 2, 2008

And now for that bit about the shrubs...

Naomi and I had a couple of really nice days in Poland. On Saturday we got up bright and early and were fortunately able to negotiate a cheaper price with the hostel owner due to the lack of Crystal. He was very, very nice and I promised in my head to promote his hostel, so if you ever got to Krakow you should check out the Moon Hostel. It's not exactly right next door to the square, but it doesn't take much walking and the rooms were quite nice.
We wandered through a little market right next door and were able to get some breakfast pastries there. Had we wanted fruit, vegetables or fresh flowers we could also have acquired them there in abundance.
Our next order of the business for the day, after the settling of accounts, was to get back to the bus station and from there head out to Auschwitz. It was on the trek there, whilst being licked by the friendly miniature pincher "Freka" that I became acquainted with the shrubs of Poland. It's nearly epidemic I tell you. It seemed as though every yard was vying to be that which contained the most manicured shrubs possible. It's the land of Edward Scissor Hands dreams! I won't deny that the Czech's likewise fancy a shrub or two, but they've got nothing on Poland. In deference to Naomi, I will also mention their obsession with chickens. Every small plot of land that could be dubbed a farm was being traversed by feathery biddies. They were actually quite pretty for chickens.
Our time at Auschwitz, while not being the cheery sort of time in which you take lots of Hong Kong pose pictures, was definitely reflective. To think of the horror that took place within those fences, the suppressed dreams of the millions, the silenced footsteps that drudged with forced purpose...It's the sort of thing that quickly becomes to much to even contemplate. I did take a few photos, but more as a way to remind myself of the frightening reality of the darkness of the human soul, and the contrasting brilliance of those who strove to remain human, and to help their fellow human beings. Gravity is a good word for this place. It pulls you firmly to the ground. It roots you in the realization that your life is so, so easy.
We spent about three hours wandering around, looking into the haunted eyes of the murdered. There was the possibility to take a shuttle and see Birkenau as well, but we didn't have the will to take any more by that point, and were relieved to get back on the bus where we could once again be enthralled by the massive number of shrubs that over populated all the yards.
The evening was spent taking in the sights of Krakow itself. We had a great time in the beautiful town square, looking at the old buildings and wandering through the stalls of the Easter Market.

We wandered around until we were quite hungry and then found a little Kebab place. These places are popular throughout Europe, and we actually have several in Cheb, but this was the first time I'd tried one out. Except for the fact that spicy apparently doesn't mean much to these people, and cabbage is a popular vegetable to be combined with pretty much anything, it was quite good.

Did I mention that I was a little windblown by the end of the day? Um yeah.
We spent a goodly amount of time in a coffee shop before wandering back to our hostel. On the way there we saw at least 15 emergency vehicles speed by, sirens blaring. We never figured out what the big deal was all about, but were quite relieved when we found our way back to the hostel and didn't have to worry about any mass protest or whatnot.
Sunday, being Easter, we would have liked to have found a way to a church service. Instead we got snippets of about 50 Polish services. I have never seen so many monks and nuns wandering around the streets. They were all over the place. Quite a contrast to the lack thereof here in the Czech Republic. We spent a lot of time wandering about the Castle.

I really enjoyed all the swans that were floating around on the Vistula River. This photo made me think of a counting book for some reason.
From the castle we made our way to the Old Jewish Quarter. Krakow is one of the few cities that really didn't suffer any physical damage when the Nazi's took over so a lot of the old buildings are still as they were before the war.

The rest of the day we walked through the square, checked out as many churches as we could find, and spent more time in the market. I'll end with a few more photos from our wandering.

So I hope you enjoyed this small taste of Poland. What a blessing to be able to do some traveling and take in the wonders that Europe has to offer.

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