Krakow

Reminiscences from Poland, 2

If you read Reminiscenses from Poland, you know that I reached Bełchatów, almost without mishap.  Immediately I was enveloped in a warm Zawady welcome, in the place that Dad once called home.  His only remaining sister, Aunt Lusia, lives there still, daughters and grandchildren close at hand.  A long summer evening was spent in her garden, rabbits proliferating, and a cardboard box sheltering the tiniest kittens you ever saw.  I could feel my ankles being bitten, the pond and the sultry air an open invitation.  All in a good cause.  Her arm tucked through mine, we took a gentle turn beneath the apple trees.  Not long since she was in hospital, with family fearful that she would not recover.

As darkness fell and eyes began to droop, I was returned to cousin Jadzia’s house.  Halfway through my Polish adventure.  I had scoured timetables, and lost sleep over how I would get from Bełchatów to Kraków.  In the event, the problem was solved for me.  Jadzia’s daughter Ania and family were driving to the Tatry Mountains, south of Kraków, for a few days holiday.  If I didn’t mind being a bit squashed, they would take me with them and break the journey at Adam’s house.  I’ve never been one to mind a squeeze.  And so it was that me and 2 little girls, with 2 sunhats and a furry green frog, shared the back seat on a 4 hour journey.

We took the scenic route to avoid roadworks, but it was market day in Radomsko, and the car crawled beside the brimming stalls.  Once out in gently rolling countryside, Hubert slipped a CD in and we sang along to Polish nursery rhymes.  Two year old Nadia’s eyes sparkled as she sang, but all of a sudden they were filled with distress and she was being sick.  Swerving off the road into a field, operation clean up began.  “She’s never done that before” Hubert ruefully observed.  “She’s normally a good traveler”.  Five minutes later, in fresh clothes, she was beaming again, and munching a bag of crisps.

At Adam’s house all was suspiciously quiet.  No sign of the two little boys who lived there, but the playroom overflowed with toys.  A lovely respite for two little girls, who didn’t stop till every shelf and cupboard was empty and there was no space to play.  Out into the garden for a quick burn off energy then, fuelled with coffee and cake, Mum and Dad round them up.  Time to say goodbye….

I had a luxurious hour to myself before the onslaught.  Toys swiftly back on shelves, a peep at TV (Rafa was playing in the French Open) and I was sitting on the balcony, waiting.  Hot and mildly harrassed, Weronika and Marta shepherded two small boys through the gate.  Bedlam!  But in such a good way.  My turn to play with Marti, 18 months old and a happy soul, and his rather more cautious brother, Bartek, aged three.  Gradually the household filled as first Adam returned from work, then Wojtek, Weronika’s husband, and finally my lovely neice, Ula.  One member was missing.   Łukasz now lives with his girlfriend and I was promoted to his bedroom.  The buzz of chatter, and patter of slippered feet on the tiled floors, filled the evening as we ate and drank.  And finally, collapsed gratefully into bed.

Fluffy clouds greeted me through the skylight next morning.  Sniadanie (breakfast), and an outing to the park, followed by wolny czas (free time).  When I returned from the city, preparations were in full swing, the house full of bustle.  Adam’s pride and joy is his barbecue room, a design wonder of wood and folding glass panels.  The end wall is solid brick to enclose the grill and a smoker.  Marta’s pride and joy is her garden and the delicious meals she provides for her family.  Between them they conjure up many a feast.

That evening there was a guest of honour.  A gentleman to whom I will always be in debt.  Tomasz, Adam’s business partner, a warm and generous man and an impeccable English speaker, made the phone call to Dad that reunited him with his Polish family. (A night I will never forget, my tearful Dad hardly daring to believe his luck).  Taste is of supreme importance to Tomasz, and is one of the foundations of the bakery business.  Fond of wine and good company, with many tales to tell, you can imagine how our evening progressed.  Adam provided salmon and garlic bread from the barbecue and smoked sea bass to compliment Marta’s salads.  Wine flowed, and then Łukasz arrived, affectionate as ever.  He had spent the afternoon sleeping after an early shift.  The children played.  Sandpit, bubbles and swing, until it was time to haul them off to bed….

Last day…ostatni dzien… and one last trip into the city.  A tram ride home, stopping to collect a deep red rose bush for Marta, and a bag of cherries.  A whirl of emotions.  Adam, watering the garden after another hot one.  Marta, pottering beside him, relaxed after feeding everybody again.  The children at a birthday party in the neighbours’ garden next door, laughter and occasional tears drifting our way.  The evening settling around us.  Time for more goodbyes… we don’t know till when.  In halting Polish on the way to the airport, I try to tell Adam how very grateful I am.  His eyes twinkle as hugs me….

You must have met Cathy over at Wander.essence?  I’m adding this to her Prose challenge.  It’s the last of my Polish adventures… for now.

Jo’s Monday walk : That bridge, and beyond

Last week I guess I cheated a little on my walk in Kraków. There was a bit too much sitting about at the riverside, but it was a very warm day so I make no apologies.  I knew I’d be making up for it.  ‘Obiad’ was rather special, with a big family gathering for my last night, and all was peaceful in the house next morning.  Time to slip away, and savour my last few hours in the city.

I was warned that ‘Saturday service’ on transport would be different, but I was lucky and bus 178 sped me into town.  Rattling over Most Jozefa Pilsudskiego, I spotted my bridge with the intriguing sculptures in the distance and hopped off.  Walking back on ul. Krakowska, I noticed a plaque commemorating Jan Pawel Drugie, Pope John Paul II.  I hesitated there on the pavement, thoughts of Dad suddenly filling my head.  Pushing open the heavy wooden door, I slipped inside the church to light a candle.  Without him, I never would have been here in Kraków.

Out again, into warm and hazy sunshine, it was on with my quest.  Pausing to look at the map on the bridge Jozefa Pilsudskiego, I was more taken with details of how the city once looked than in absorbing my whereabouts.  A common fault of mine.  I have a hopeless track record on following maps.  Fortunately I’m much better at finding beautiful bridges.

This one, ‘Between the water and the sky’, had called to me since first I saw it.  I was mesmerised.  You do, however, have to beware of cyclists.

I got ‘honked’ at as I daydreamed beneath the sculptures.  Apparently it’s supposed to have a ‘cyclists only’ path.  I’m not the only one to have been captivated.  The ubiquitous love locks have made an assault on the bridge, but nothing can detract from it.  Kładka Ojca Bernatka, or the Father Bernatek Footbridge, was opened in September, 2010, on the site of a former road bridge dismantled in 1925.  The 130 metre structure, designed by Andrzej Getter, has no supports and is suspended upon an arch.  The wonderful acrobatic sculptures are the work of Jerzy Kędziora.  The districts of Kazimierz and Podgórze are linked once more, which will benefit the latter.

Tearing my attention from the bridge, it was time to investigate the corten steel clad building, which turned out to be the former power station in Podgórze.  Now an exhibition space and cafe, as it was 10.45am and opening time not till 11.00, I decided to push on and explore the area.

It’s a bit ramshackle in places, but turning onto Rynek Podgórskie I looked across a huge space at a striking church.  Sw. Jozefa w Krakowie Podgórzu had a delightful surprise awaiting me.  But first, a peep inside.  Dressed all in finery, as befits a wedding.  I dared not linger.

But outside, behind the church, an invitation to a wonderful garden.  Mounting the steps I looked down upon a grotto and out across the rooftops.  A young couple, similarly entranced, were taking detailed photos, so I bided my time.  As I descended a sprinkler played across the flowerbeds, a mist of water catching me out.  You can see the droplets, if you look closely.

A smile still on my face, it was time to retrace my steps across the bridge.  Naturally I couldn’t resist a few more shots.  I needed a coffee, but the big old wooden barge ‘Barka’ was closed, and smart ‘Augusta’ was busy with a conference.  That left me one other option.  A smaller boat with a comfy seat on deck, and a view.  Two guys in a blow-up dinghy drifted by and waved.  I smiled and waved back.

Wondering about cake?  I was good on this occasion, but with a venue for later in mind.  First I had a walk along the riverbank.  Music was drifting across the river from the big stage at Termy Krakowskie, a nicely relaxed vibe, as my son would say.  He’d love it.

Boat hire was quiet, but Wawel Castle looked Saturday busy.  Any ideas where I’m heading?  Hotel Pod Wawelem has a roof top restaurant, as the name indicates, directly below the castle.  No doubt about it- cake with a view!

Fully satisfied, the trip wouldn’t be complete without paying my respects to Wawel.  Even on a busy Saturday, the place is sublime.

‘Home’ one last time.  Just one more Reminiscences from Poland to come and that will be my trip complete.  Already it feels distant.

I hope you enjoyed sharing Kraków with me.  Time to put that kettle on for this week’s walks.  Many thanks, everyone!  Join me here at any time on Jo’s Monday walk.  You’ll always be welcome.

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One of Debbie’s loves is street art.  She was richly rewarded in Madrid :

This is a Square

Drake has been captivating me with a series of photos of the island of Gozo :

When bath rocks

An enigmatic title from Jackie this week :

Snakes and Lattes

Lady Lee sets the world on fire, but don’t worry- it’s quite safe!

Summer solstice bonfire

Gunta shares more of the beautiful, natural world on her doorstep :

A stroll through the meadow

Share some ‘lolling kangaroos’ with Pauline.  She’ll be delighted if you do :

Australia’s iconic creatures

Or hoof it from snow to ‘shy rays of brightness’ with Susan :

Walking a rainforest trail in Olympic National Park

A heart stopping moment, just looking at one of Cathy’s photos.  Don’t miss it!

Ottos’s Trail & The Devils Kitchen Trail at Colorado National Monument

And if you have time to spare you could join Indra on Prince Edward Island :

PIE (PEI) in the Ocean

That’s it for another week.  Can you believe, we have a drop of rain here in the north east?  I’d forgotten what it’s like.  Have a good one!

Jo’s Monday walk : Same river, different city

You might remember, a few weeks ago, I had the bubbly and delicious company of Gilly on the banks of the River Wisła (Vistula) in Warsaw.  Fast forward a mere 5 days and there I was, beside that same river but many miles further south, in Poland’s second city, Kraków.  A mighty river, this one, it begins its journey on the Baltic Coast and flows south for 1,022 kilometres (635 miles).  How I got there is another story, but my mission today is simply to take you for a wander and, as luck would have it, a boat ride.

Earlier that morning I’d been in Kraków’s green and leafy suburbs, assisting with toddlers aged 3 and 18 months on an outing to the park.  Wilting in the heat, the little family had been glad to return home.  A cooling drink, then I hopped a bus into a city that never fails to delight me.

With no particular aim in mind, as I approached the river it was almost automatic to jump off.  If cooling breezes were to be found anywhere in Kraków, this would be the place.  Truth be told, I didn’t get very far before the notion of a glass of wine and an icecream became very appealing indeed.  What could be finer than sitting on the deck of a restaurant boat, facing lovely Na Skalce (the Church on the Rock)?  The steady hum of traffic crossing Most Grunwaldzki became a soothing murmur.  Hooray!  Here comes the paddle steamer, big wheels churning.  And a burst of speedboat cleaves the water in front of Wawel Castle.

I couldn’t sit there enjoying myself all day.  Time to cross over the river.  But scarcely was I on the other side than temptation struck again.  No, not cake!  The first time I ever came to Kraków I walked my husband’s legs off.  He was more than happy to agree to a boat ride, just to sit down.  Unfortunately on that occasion the ride was accompanied by a light drizzle, whereas this was the perfect day to be afloat.  One of those lovely little wooden boats was about to leave the jetty.  It was meant to be, and 30zł (about £6) for an hour wasn’t going to break the bank.

The boat sailed in one direction along the river, as far as the Salwator Church, then returned to the jetty.  This half hour trip cost 15zł, but if you stayed on board it then sailed in the opposite direction, passing Na Skalce and a sequence of bridges before returning to the jetty.  This second leg I found fascinating as the area was less familiar to me.  An idea was germinating that I might return the following day to explore on foot.

Trams and trains passed overhead, but it was the bridge Kładka Ojca Bernatka that particularly captured my imagination, and I resolved to come back for a closer look at the figures suspended over the river.  A building with an industrial chimney and appearing to be clad in corten steel also caught my eye.  On the river bank, the footpath stretches grandly into the distance, stylish riverboat restaurants just calling out to be visited.

Disembarking, I look wistfully up at Wawel Castle.  No time today.  I am being summoned to ‘obiad’, late afternoon lunch with my Polish family.  Walking back to the bus stop I mingle with school trips, and the riverside coach park bustling with vendors.  Billboards shout holiday destinations, demanding my attention, but who would willingly leave this fair city?

Come with me next week and we’ll explore the world beyond that beautiful bridge.  Meanwhile there are many stories to tell.  Thanks for bearing with me as I flit from here to there.  I’m grounded now, for a little while, and looking forward to my English summer.  I hope you’ve got the kettle on as there are some wonderful walks to share.  I’ll go easy on the cake as I over-indulged at an Open Garden event yesterday.

From high in the Alps to the lovely capital of Malta, with my good friend Drake :

Last morning in the Alps

Little pearl in the sun

You can always rely on Debbie to make life colourful and interesting :

Industry and art come together in Seoul

And for Susan to write beautifully, whatever the weather :

Walking Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

32 years together!  Lady Lee shares a special celebration :

Many thanks!

Share an extravaganza of food with Jackie, and then…

Coffee to go

Jesh takes a look at life, always in her own unique way :

Background Jumps

While Jaspa takes us back in history for a closer look at these ruins :

The Step Pyramid of Djoser – Part of the Saqqara Necropolis, Egypt

Persistence rewarded for Eunice and ruins of an entirely different nature at the end of her walk :

Part 2 – Llanlleiana, Porth Wen, and a long walk

Emma treats us to one of Wales’ great beauty spots, lovely paintings, and even a hang glider ride!

Gower Coastal Walk : Rhossili Bay

Who IS that mysterious lady on the beach?  Walking with Meg always makes me smile :

Eurobodalla beaches : around Tuross

It’s a while since Jude took a walk.  She’s usually too busy in the garden.  Wild orchids and butterflies, a lovely reward :

A Walk to the Lighthouse

Another orchid, I think, from my lovely Gilly, enfolded in lushness with a dramatic dragonfly :

Walking to the mill

And in complete contrast, Cathy finds spellbinding beauty in the desert :

Upper Ute Canyon & the Coke Ovens Trail at Colorado National Monument

A magnificent collection and many thanks to one and all.  Join me any time on Jo’s Monday walk and I’ll try to make you welcome.  The sun is still shining here in the north east and it’s time I rejoined my English walking group.  Wishing you all a lovely week!

Six word Saturday

The nicest rooftop bar I know!

Last Saturday I was saying a fond farewell to Poland in the rooftop restaurant at Hotel Pod Wawelem,  Kraków’.  I can highly recommend it, both for the views and the hot apple szarltotka with icecream.  You’ll have to wait for that photo and the accompanying walk because this is all about Becky’s Roof Squares.  And, of course, to wish you happy Saturday in Six Words (or more).

Apologies to both ladies for the links, as I’ve scheduled this post, while I’m enjoying the high life in Nottingham.

My Call to Poland

Sukiennice, the impressive Medieval Cloth Hall, in  Kraków’s Rynek Glowny

You might call me unimaginative, but I’d never thought a great deal about Poland until that strange evening, 12 years ago, when Dad got a phone call from ‘home’.  For 64 years he’d had no contact with his Polish family, leaving the farm aged just 15, and in German custody.  That phone call turned our lives upside down.  Until then Dad had been my only Polish relative.  Imagine, overnight, you belong in an enormous family, who don’t even speak the same language as you.  But who welcome you with open arms.

That’s just how it was, and when Cathy asks ‘what is it that draws you to a place?’ then the lure of family surely has a part to play.  Over at Wanderessence she’s been exploring the reasons why we travel, and so much more.  I’ve always had that restless urge, but my first visit to Poland was a revelation.  I’ve never been hugged and kissed so much in my life.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Outside of family and friends, Polish people are not normally smiling nor especially welcoming.  Given their history, they have good cause to hold a little in reserve.  But Dad was the long lost brother, and was treated like Polish royalty, while I followed along in his wake, smiling fondly but often with little real idea of what was going on.  The language barrier, you see.

Coach and horses have right of way in Rynek Glowny

The country looked so very different to the one I was used to calling home.  The chalet style houses looked different, out in the countryside.  One of the things I found really strange was that pipes often ran overhead alongside the country roads, rather than underground, as I was used.  But in the historic centres of the cities, the intricately painted and decorated facades had me stand and gaze in awe.   Kraków and Wrocław- I’ve been privileged to know both of these beautiful cities, because of my family.

Polish eating habits are different too.  Second breakfast, lunch at 3 in the afternoon, and cake before and after almost everything! (that must be where I get it from 🙂  )  In the previous year, I and my husband had acquired a holiday home in Portugal.  Totally different culturally and in climate too, yet I found myself wondering, if we had known of the existence of the Polish family sooner, would I have been looking for a house in Poland?  I suspect I might.  I’ve always had the sea on my doorstep, and Poland is landlocked on 3 sides.  The Baltic coast is too far from family, but I’ve always been drawn to lakes and mountains too.  A visit to the Pieniny Mountain range, and the spa resort Szczawnica, linger in my memory.  Rafting through the Dunajec Gorge was a totally unforgettable experience.

I have shared some wonderful times with my Polish family, and written about them extensively, while trying not to give embarrassment.  The series My Personal A-Z of Poland has many tales to tell.  Dad died in October 2016 and I haven’t been back to Poland since.  But I can still feel the call.  Writing Easter cards took me back into each of their homes.  New youngsters have been born since my last visit, but my elders are growing older and, in some cases, frail.  I’m feeling the need to return, just once more, before starting my new life in the Algarve.

Dad with Uncle Wlodek, at home in Zgorzelec

I’m linking this to Cathy, on her series A Call to Place.  The lady is a human dynamo, seeking to improve her travel writing and to entertain us along the way.  Pay her a call.  She’ll be so glad to see you.

Jo’s Monday walk : a Tale of 3 Churches

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For my Polish family, religion is a part of everyday life.  The routine of going to church begins in the cradle, and in adult life is fitted in between shift patterns and housework. For myself, faith has never been a given, but I am awed by the beauty, created by man in celebration of his God.

My last day in Krakow dawned bright and beautiful, and I knew that I would spend it outdoors.  When I outlined my planned walk to my cousin Marta, it was greeted with her usual enthusiasm.  In no time at all I found myself deposited in a car park, facing a church, and surrounded by greenery.  I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, so I was relieved to see, in the far distance, the surreal outline of the Sanktuarium Bożego Miłosierdzia. It was my eventual target, but first I would look inside this church.

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From the exterior, Sanktuarium Świętego Jana Pawła II, looks rather severe and forbidding, but that impression is quite false. The finely sculpted cast bronze doors testify to somewhere very special.  Then, across an enormous font, you catch a glimpse of the altar.

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The octagonally shaped church is dedicated to Pope John Paul II, one of Poland’s most famous and best-loved sons.  He was a very human pope, and a man who filled me with deep respect.  All of Poland mourned his passing, and tributes are to be found to him everywhere.  I was unprepared for the scale and the sensory indulgence of what lay inside.

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I drew closer and closer, affected by the emotions and the glowing colours.  A disturbed Peter and the eloquence of Mary’s love.  The compassion in the touch of a hand.  I have never seen mosaics used to greater effect.

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Observing a stern and sorrowful angel Gabriel, I turned to walk away.  The church was almost deserted at this early hour.  Footsteps echoed in the empty space and a priest came through a doorway and crossed my path.  I did not know the correct form of address.  Father, ‘Tata’ in Polish, seemed too familiar, and before I could think he was gone.  ‘Ojciec’, I should have said.

Out again, in the still and sunny morning, I began my walk.  A path was newly laid and there were signs of ongoing construction, but I had the place almost to myself.  A gentleman sat on a bench, his dog at his heels, and we exchanged greetings and a smile at the balmy morning.  A lady strolled with pushchair.  And I drew nearer to Sanktuarium Bożego Miłosierdzia.

An extravagance of yellow curly-wurlyness caught my eye, and then I stopped, unsure of the way ahead.  Steps led down to what appeared to be a construction site and I wasn’t sure if it was accessible to the public.  What to do, but carry on?  I had no idea how else I could approach the church.  I had been there once before, years ago with my niece Weronika, but we had arrived by car.

Down the steps and over a narrow bridge, the workers looked up from their tea break but made no comment.  A digger or two puttered about, and I’m sure that in the near future there will be a formal path.  Relieved, I followed a gravel path past the stations of the cross.

Sanktuarium Bożego Miłosierdzia, Church of the Divine Mercy, is an extraordinary building.  I walked around it, looking up at the 77 metre high tower, completed in 2002.  I knew that it was possible to ascend, and that the day was perfect to do just that.

On the grass in front of the tower, a party of school children frolicked and ate packed lunches.  Steps led to the main body of the church, where a service appeared to be taking place.  Clad all in white, the youngsters looked angelic.  I permitted myself a discreet shot, then headed for the lift.

Leaving the lift, there were two further flights of concrete steps to take you to the top.  The views encompassed Nowa Huta, the former industrial district, and all of Krakow’s suburbs. My third church, dedicated to Sister Faustina, was visible just below.  I headed back down the stairwell.

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Back down to earth.  I was reluctant to leave.  The atmosphere was so calming.  So peaceful.  In wandering, I discovered John Paul II’s tiny chapel.

The wall celebrating the sponsors of the church complex led easily into the courtyard of Saint Faustina’s.  Born Helena Kowalska in 1905, Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska was a visionary.  Her death from TB in 1938 followed numerous mystical experiences.

The monastery of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy dates back to 1889.  It contains a very special painting of Jesus, as seen in a vision by Sister Faustina.  A place of international pilgrimage, it has close links with Pope John Paul II.  The nun was beatified in 1993.  As I approached the church a group of excited youngsters, all in white, spilled down the steps, chattering and smiling.  Proud parents took photos.  Marta later explained to me that the ‘mini pilgrimage’ is a regular feature of the church.

The joy shone out of the young faces and I longed to take a photo as they milled about.  I watched for a while and then turned to go.  I strolled back through the beautiful grounds and was just in time for one last treat.  On the auditorium steps a group of children were having photos taken with the priest.  I just about caught them before they dashed off.

My walk home was long, but maybe that’s a story for another day.  This concludes my series of posts about my visit to Poland.  I’ve touched on many aspects of Polish life and hopefully shared my joy.  And now, we really have earned that cuppa, haven’t we?

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As always I must say thank you to my many contributors and supporters who make this weekly post such a pleasure for me.  I hope you can find time to read them, and maybe you’d like to join me in a future Jo’s Monday walk.  Details of how to join in can be found by clicking on the logo. Here we go!

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Budapest never looked more lovely than through Debbie’s eyes :

Walking the Danube

Spectacular alpine scenery from our intrepid Elaine this week :

An excellent view of the Glacier des Bossons

‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’- immortal words shared by Drake :

Fly on the wings of love

Jackie posted a reminder of Gay Pride in Toronto :

Toronto Pride Murals

England has some beautiful homes and gardens, doesn’t it?  A lovely share from Lady Lee Manila :

Charlecote Park 

Explore her latest home from home, with Liesbet :

Visit to Northampton, MA

A rousing cheer for Mlissabeth, who joins us this week!  The family came too :

Our Walk through the Gardens

Miriam managed an overnight escape from her family, and that can also be blissful :

Twenty four hours in Marysville

And then a little magic, up in the clouds :

Marysville Magic 

While Biti continued her ramble along the Blue Coast :

Cote Bleue – Calanques Part II

You know I said last week how much I loved the Italian Lakes?  Check this out!  Thanks, Rosemay- it’s beautiful :

Exploring Lenno

And Susan continues her fascinating look at Eastern Europe.  There’s a book too!  More about that later :

Walking Moldova

Becky turns conformist this week, but only for a little while :

Hiking the Ladeiras do Pontal trail

And in case you didn’t know it, Becky has a second blog, featuring her English life :

Fingringhoe Wick

A charming Irish walk next, from Inese, with a little bit of drama :

Anne Valley- Walk through the Fairy Door

Next I have a jaw-dropper from Meg!  Go and see just why I wanted to visit Gdansk :

A ramble round Gdansk main town

Gilly has her very own city wall, and lovely gardens too, in beautiful Devonshire :

Beside the City Wall

Exhausting isn’t it, all this walking?  But I’m so glad you could come along.  Next week I have a totally English walk for you.  See you then!

And if you have any spare time, give a shout to the busy folks at Monday Escapes.

Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory

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What do you do when an occupying force moves into your beautiful city?  You resist, of course.  Just how mightily the Poles resisted Nazi occupation was made abundantly clear to me at Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory.

It was a damp morning in Kraków, but I didn’t want to waste one of my few remaining days in the city.  I had an imperfect understanding of the location of Schindler’s Factory, but I alighted from the tram, south of the river, and began my search.  I knew that I was in the right vicinity when I entered a huge square, full of sculpted seats and a sad photographic display in black and white. Plac Bohaterów Getta (Ghetto Heroes Square) commemorates the Polish Jews who were imprisoned and died in the Kraków Ghetto between 1941 and 1943.

Oskar Schindler was a Nazi party member and a war profiteer, who earned the gratitude of 1100 Jews by giving them a second chance at life.  It is a remarkable story and one that touches me deeply.

The museum is a little off the beaten track, and my map reading skills sadly lacking, so I went inside the tiny art gallery on the square. The proprietor kindly gave me precise instructions (in English!) and I found my way around the excavations and building work to Ul. Lipowa.  It was raining steadily and I fell into step with a young Polish couple with an umbrella, who were also going to the museum. It being Monday, admission was free from 10-2.00pm, and understandably the museum was busy.  Initially I was a little confused by the layout, and the number of students clustered around, but once I found the correct door I was hooked.

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Just a handful of the former workers saved by Oskar Schindler’s intervention.  The museum takes you through the years 1939-45, starting with life before the war.  Then comes German occupation, with its restrictions and consequences.  People are evicted from their homes with nothing but a few personal possessions.  A curfew is imposed and it becomes necessary to queue for hours to obtain the most basic food.  Polish secondary schools and universities are closed.  The Polish press is liquidated.  Any figure of influence or authority is regarded as a threat and dealt with accordingly.  The use of home radio sets is forbidden.  Loud hailers broadcast propaganda twice daily, and eventually the names of those sentenced to death.  Inexorably the rounding up of the Jews into the ghetto begins.

And the Polish response to this?  ‘Secret’ schools conducted in defiance, though involvement was punishable by death or consignment to a concentration camp.  An underground press and formation of a resistance movement to sabotage German efforts wherever possible.  The gallery below features a ‘secret’ teacher and messages from pupils.  The first face reminds me so much of photographs I have seen, from that era, of a deceased family member.  Many stories, both of pathos and of heroism, are featured throughout the museum.

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Up concrete stairs to the first floor, the museum really comes to life, introducing a pre-war Kraków photographic studio and a cast of characters. Before the war Jews accounted for over 25% of the community, and both Christians and Jews sat together on the City Council.

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A narrow corridor leads to the Stereoscope- a device used for looking at individual stereoscopic photos.  They rotate inside a drum, giving the illusion of three-dimensionality.  This one dates back to the late 19th century.  It was a revelation.

On 1st September, 1939 war broke out, and on 6th September the Nazis entered Kraków. The Wehrmacht flag flew over the sacred site of Wawel, and from the outset the prohibitions and orders began.  Jewish shops had to be marked, and were plundered by the Germans, and all Jews over the age of 12 had to wear armbands with the Star of David on the right arm.  Racial segregation had begun.

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And then the nightmare of the Ghetto.  Intimidation, round-ups in the streets, imprisonment and interrogation in the Gestapo HQ on Ul. Pomorska and the prison at 7 Ul. Montelupich.  I read a few of the accounts of life in the ghetto, and the tram that ran through but didn’t stop.  There were sympathisers, of course, like Tadeusz Pankiewicz and his staff at the Eagle Pharmacy, who smuggled letters and messages to and from the ghetto.

17,000 people were contained within the ghetto walls, where 250-300 calories was the daily allowance for a Jew.  Details of the resettlement can be found here.  I had not realised that the arched shapes of the ghetto walls were intentionally designed to resemble Jewish tombstones.  How sick!

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Residents worked both within and outside of the ghetto, the luckier ones at Oskar Schindler’s Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik- DEF. These were taken to and from work under armed escort.  If you were not fit to work you would eventually be deported to an annihilation camp.

Zabłocie was an industrial area, with successful factories dealing in wire, mesh and iron products, soap, and enamelware and metal products. During the war a production plant for aeroplane parts and radiators, a crate factory and a barrack builders were added. Schindler took over receivership of the enamelware company, which was in financial straits, and with the aid of Jewish capital set about expansion.  A munitions section was added, to make mess tins for the Wehrmacht, and shells and fuses for artillery and air missiles, to assist in the war effort.  Working conditions were hard, but by steadily increasing his Jewish labour force from the ghetto, Schindler saved around 1100 grateful souls.

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In Schindler’s office a glass cube designed by Michal Urban is the centrepiece.  It contains metal cylinders, inscribed with the names of the 1100.

He was no saint, Schindler.  Perhaps that makes his story all the more remarkable.  I have included links that will enlarge on the story if you are interested. The museum is over 3 floors, in the original factory building.  I found it to be charged with atmosphere.

The Historical Museum website brings together information on all of the Kraków museums.