Getting to the end of the May tour here, this was the last country on the tour. We would visit two cities here: Warsaw and Krakow.
Poland is a fairly large country with many neighbors. It’s bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast to the northeast.
Poland is definitely catergorized as Eastern Europe. So are Czech Republic and Hungary which we visited along the way. The connotations with the east: Post-Communist, Poorer, More dangerous.
For example, when our friend from Montreal was visiting here for a project this month, he wanted to take his company rental car for the to Prague for the weekend to visit his brother who is living there. The rental agency would not allow him to drive his Mercedes model there (he happened to get an upgrade since no mid-size car was available when he arrived in Germany). They didn’t allow it because auto theft is a problem in Hungary and Poland.
Many countries in this region, including Poland, have suffered greatly in the last 60 years. First WWII, then Communism. Poland was the country that, after over a decade of rebelling, broke free of Communism in 1989. Our guide, Stu, told us about Lech Walesa, a man who was influential in leading Poland out of Communism. Started out as a shipyard worker, led a rebellion, won the Nobel Peace prize, became President of Poland (1990-95). Amazing story.
Since the early 90s this region has been improving fast though, and while they don’t have the Euro in Poland, Czech Republic or Hungary, every country we visited said they plan to become part of the EU within the next 10 years.
On thing I was surprised about the beauty of the Polish countryside. Green and lush. I kinda have the feeling it rains often in Poland just like Germany. All that rain makes it beautiful on days when the sun comes out:
Our first stop in Poland was Krakow, which, by it’s own claim, is the cultural center of Poland. It did seem full of culture.
Old town square at dusk:
We had a city tour, with a very informative guide. The first place we visited was Kazimierz, the historical Jewish district of Krakow.
We saw many synagogues here where the Jewish community worshiped before WWII. Now there is a very small Jewish community here.
The yellow building in this picture is of the Pankiewicz Pharmacy. This was the only pharmacy that remained open in this area when it became the Jewish Ghetto during WWII.
Not far from here is Schindler’s factory, famous from the movie Schindler’s List. The building was closed for renovations. Our guide said until recent years no funding had been gone to maintain the building.
Next we visited Krakow’s castle on Wawel Hill.
Courtyard influenced by Italian design:
When souvenir shopping in Krakow you will find many stores with dragons. The dragon mascot comes legends that a dragon lived under Wawel Hill before the founding of the city, when the area was inhabited by farmers.
The Wawel Dragon:
Once upon a time during the reign of King Krak, there was a dragon living under Wawel Hill. Each day the evil dragon would beat a path of destruction across the countryside, killing the civilians, pillaging their homes and devouring their livestock. The King certainly wanted to put a stop to the dragon, but his bravest knights fell to its fiery breath.
One day, a poor shoe maker’s apprentice named Skuba Dratewka accepted the challenge. He stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it outside the dragon’s cave. The dragon ate it and soon became incredibly thirsty.
He turned to the Vistula River for relief and he drank and drank. But no amount of water could quell his aching stomach, and after swelling up from drinking half of the Vistula river, he exploded.
Dratewka married the King’s daughter and they lived happily ever after.
After seeing the castle, we walked the old town of Krakow. This part of the city was so colorful and rich that day.
The late pope, Jean Paul II spent much of his life in Krakow. It’s easy to see how much Krakow loved him. When he was visiting, he would often say hello to the people from this building.