Friday, May 14, 2010


More than a month ago I embarked on a trip with a friend to a country less frequented in usual tourist escapades…Poland….A country which had its share of tragedies and which was rebuild on both stones and souls, bricks and aspirations over time….There is something about this country which is unique…It has faced twin tragedies…the world war II and a long communist rule…Both of which had significant impacts on the life of people there. My desire to visit Poland goes a long way back since the time I watched movies like Schindler’s list and The Pianist. Part of it had to do with a personal desire to have a pilgrimage to the place where millions of people died in a manner unimaginable to us and suffered consequences of a Nazi plunderage the testimonies of which exist till date. And then there was a side of Poland which managed to hide its charming and beautiful past in the lovely town of Krakow where the churches and castles did manage to survive the rampage going on elsewhere. I had good polish friends back in Hamburg and probably it endeared me with the country as well.

My trip started from the city of Warsaw which had completely been rebuilt after a particularly devastation carpet bombing which had flattened the famous Warsaw ghetto in a lethal dominos game played by Nazi Luftwaffe. Our first stop was a relic from the soviet past called the Center of culture and Science. A typical soviet architecture which starkly did not gel with the city skyline and ofcoz the place was presumably boring.

Maybe it helped actually to enhance the charm of our next destination. The old Jewish town.

The pastel color buildings and the vast open square or rather a triangle with the palace façade on the right was outright impressive. An ideal place to bask on a sunny day listening to sounds of the horses galloping along the cobbled stoned path. (Of course you should be good at temporarily holding your breath when they go by).

The best part of visiting this part of town is unlike in Western Europe where such a place would be thronged by hundreds of tourists the place was fairly less crowded. This is arguably the most charming part of Warsaw where café’s and bistro’s seamlessly exist along with shops selling amber and tourist memorabilia. And as common in most of Europe you would find street artists selling their skills and wares or an odd musician playing his violin and in the backdrop dogs having merry along with children. It is a temporary transportation to things we calls, beautiful in life for the brief moment you spending in a charming place like this.

Splurging is not easy for most budget travelers in Europe and surprisingly Poland is an exception. The weaker currency (zlotys, 1 EUR=8 zlotys) allowed us to splurge on luxurious hotels and restaurants which otherwise is unaffordable somewhere like in Germany.

The next day we packed our bags early in the morning to Krakow. Our first destination was Auschwitz.

I suppose most of you know about Auschwitz-Birkenau which was the ground zero for Nazi crime. Please read the hyperlink if otherwise. Auschwitz is a good hour and half drive from Krakow and by the time we reached the place from Warsaw it was almost noon. When you visit a place like this you should be prepared that you are going to see something sad. I cannot imagine anyone going in to this place just as a tourist and not coming out unscathed or emotionally exhausted. As I entered through the same gates where millions walked in not to return you realize that you are entering a place that would forever be etched in human history. ARBEIT MACHT FREI the sign says…..(Work liberates you). A cruel irony indeed!

The concentration camp in Auschwitz actually exists in two different camps. The Auschwitz which is the smaller camp and Birkenau the bigger one where most people were actually exterminated. It takes atleast 3 hours to walk inside Auschwitz entering each rooms where we actually see what happened back then. Believe me..I think no body talked much inside the place coz its hard to….Cameras don’t come out easily partly due to the absurdity of taking pictures here and to a extend because you wouldn’t want to see them again and again. When you see those holocaust movies its true that they touch you. But it’s a different ball game when you actually see those heaps of glasses, toys , clothes, kitchen utensils, human hair etc heaped into gigantic glass containers for visitors to see. I would prefer to skip detailing the Auschwitz part of the trip.

Our next spot was the Birkenau camp.

Folks who have see the movie “Life is beautiful” might be able to recognize these famous rail gates.

Auschwitz makes you realize what the Nazis did to the Jews, homosexuals, disabled and others. But Birkenau makes you realize the true scale of it. The camp is so vast and seeming to end nowhere. Only few remnants of the crematoriums remain. But you get an idea how big it was. At one end of the camp you will find this.

Walking around this place I got a feeling that the ground was soft...almost cushion like…which actually gave me goose bumps when I though about why it might be…We spend a hour here as well and walked along the rails back to the exit. And then embarked on the drive back to Krakow.

Reaching Krakow at dusk we retired to our rooms quite early. I don’t think it would have been a good idea to enjoy Krakow just after a trip to Auschwitz.

The next day our exploration of Krakow began. Hired a golf cab for a ridiculous price and started the hip hop tour. Visited the Kazimierz which was the important Jewish part of Krakow. And then we moved along to the place I badly wanted to see in Krakow. The Schindler’s museum. Unfortunately it was closed on Easter Sunday. But I managed to see the famous gates and a glimpse of the factory through it. There is nothing spectacular about the place. But I was more than happy to be there.

Later in the day we explored the Wawel District, which was home to a beautiful church and an adjoining castle. And I must say Polish cuisine is actually good. I particularly liked the roasted duck and the famous zubrowka vodka. The town part of Krakow is typical old european with majestic churches like St.Mary’s church and a lively square in Stare Miasto. The square is an ideal place for a coffee or a beer on a good sunny day.

What was striking about Poland was how catholic the country. It was amazing to see the churches packed with people attending the Easter mass. The faithful were even getting chairs from their home as the seats in the church were overflowing. This was very unlike what I have seen in Germany where people are predominantly atheist.

Krakow was definitely the cultural capital of Poland where the squares and streets effused a charm of its own. I enjoyed having my regular coffee in one of the numerous café’s that dotted the main square. I also picked up my share of Amber for which Poland is particularly famous for…

Took the evening train back to Warsaw and checked back at the nice hotel in the city. Probably the best value for money hotel I have ever stayed in Europe! The last day of the trip was primarily to cover the places we missed on the first day in Warsaw.

Visited the calm and soothing Łazienki Park in the morning where you could stroll in the company of squirrels and peacocks.

I think the place would be awesome during summer when the trees would be lush green. We reached a bit to early at the cusp of winter and spring. Nevertheless it was a delightfully peaceful and tranquil place.

Later walked along the royal route which was dotted with buildings in neoclassical architecture. A really beautiful route which takes you all the way till the Jewish town in Warsaw.

And as we reached back the old town area we knew it was time to bid goodbye to Poland. Climbed the stairs of a nearby tower to get the aerial view of the colorful part of Warsaw which otherwise is jaded in character compared to Krakow.

Poland cannot boast of landmarks like Eiffel tower or a colosseum nor locales as touristy as its Western Europe counterparts. But it has its own little treasures which I felt were grossly underrated. Unlike the snobbish Pariser, people in Poland are quite friendly and eager to help you in the streets.

It was a trip worth taken and in some sorts a mix of tourist adventurism and personal pilgrimage. My travel mate was a school/college junior and a blogger as well who generously agreed to have a coffee which I was drinking like crazy…As I bid goodbye at the airport I went back to the shops to buy my last piece of Polish memorabilia. A small bottle of Chopin vodka and shot glasses to accompany!
Dziękuję Polska! ;)

Thank you!

My sincere apologies to all for the lull in blogging..Thanks a lot to all blogger friends who made me feel special!! I had to stop blogging mid-way due to several reasons..personal and otherwise....The space would be up and running soon.......