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! ;)


Priya said...

Amazing pics. By the way, what did u make that squirrel to freak out. Poor guy.

Recently I saw a movie about Polish genocide in Katyn on TV. I thank god I was not born those decades.

Ann said...

Poland cannot boast of landmarks like Eiffel tower or a colosseum nor locales as touristy as its Western Europe counterparts:
Thats the keyword.The visitors of poland,whoever is will be insearch of the 'real' something.
The narration was beautiful and lill' bit emotional esp when you mentioned about the goose bumbs on how soft the ground was.SOrta mixed visuals came into my mind,a collage of many holocaust movies plus the dirty dark mud on which Ann Frank and Peter meets at night and talks in the camp (the movie).

Reg the church and beliefs as you wrote it,It is still Poland that remains so faithful to church,coz of horrific experiences they had from the communist rule.Eversince Church was the POWER Station there .(you didnt get Kiewslowski still ?)

pinne,polandine patti parayaruthu.polandine patti mathram parayaruthu.

Jackfruit said...

nice one ... back in style .... :D

di said...

Welcome back.. nice post as always.. and excellent snaps!

Anonymous said...

Yipee you are back. What a refreshing break you have had. The pics are awesome.

Poland is beautiful and your narration about the camp makes one so sad even without being there. I think the pain that was felt there by the people during the holocaust will re-vibrate forever in hearts for decades to come.

Nona said...

Welcome back! Nice pictures

mathew said...

haha..not was just having its nuts..;)

I think we share same sentiments on this..I am yet to catch up Kiewslowski...going through the post you had send me..:)

thanks buddy..:)


Yes poland is really beautiful...much unexplored like india i think..:)

thank you:)

Ashwathy said...

Trust u to come up wtih a post abt a place that nobody wud even think abt :-)

well written...and goes without saying, lovely pics!

P.S.: the squirrel has my sympathy: i guess he's allergic to ur camera :P

scorpiogenius said...

yay! Good ol Sparkie back to blogging best! Welcome welcome...

Biju said...

Hi mathews, good to see you back. I had also stopped blogging for a while. :-)

Hey nice travelogue. The part where you explain about the concentration camp is very touchy. I loved the movie Schindler's list & life is beautiful. I had tears in my eyes while watching them. Just imagine the cruelty of the Nazi's :-(.

Nice pictures, you have your share on photography as well. Which camera did you use?

I've not been to Poland but you are so right about the french who are very snobbish. I was there for a week in the month of March holidaying.

I'm currently writing my travelogue. Its a loooooong one :-)

Which part of Kerala are you from?

wanderlust said...

Good to see you back and glad to know that you have been having a nice time meanwhile :-)
Awesome pictures, as always!

mathew said...

thank you...and for visiting the blog :)
no actually the squirrels were quite friendly...they were coming quite close to us! ;)

thanks a lot da. :)

Nice to see you hear as well..
I had exactly same feelings when i saw the movie..add the pianist to the list..

I used a normal sony point and shoot H2 got damaged during the trip and hence i had to buy a new one in Poland itself...

P.S. settled in tvm though we are basically kottayamkaars..

thank you...and thanks a lot for the means a lot!

Dhanya said...

Hey welcome back :) Missed ur posts a lot.. And amazing pics as usual..
Have you been to the Dachau concentration camp in Munich?

Usha said...

good to have you back, Mathew!

loved the way you took us all along with you to Poland, with this post..

keep posting.
n take care.

Vaidegi J said...

lovely place n beautiful structures i guess..had a e-friend from poland, used to say how it still has this old-world charm to it, both the people and the place.
nice narration very fluid !

Unknown said...

an absolute treat to read. I love history and hope to travel to Poland one day...!!

You are indeed lucky to have visited this country.

Pink Mango Tree said...

Wow... lovely pictures and amazing descriptions!

Ancy said...

Your pics are simply awesome. You have a real knack for it.

starry said...

Beautiful pictures and enjoyed reading the history of poland.

Shrutz said...

You are welcome ;) Coffee is on me next time.

By the way, you forgot to mention the holocaust memorials in Warsaw, the search for a replacement camera (:P) and the stupid locker that made us skip the Auschwitz tour.

Goes without saying, the replacement camera was a great buy!

Happy Kitten said...

Welcome back!

Loved the narration... brought back memories of Shchindler's list seen many many years back...

Guess one should take time to remember the gruesome incident, else history has a way of repeating itself...

Small Talk said...

Hey nice to see you back in action !!!!
The new post is truly worth the wait...its heartening to know tht while you were not blogging you were busy travelling....
I m amazed tht u choose Poland as a travel destination...nt many wuld do tht I guess...
U ought to write more travelogues buddy !!!

anN-series said...

mr. mathew...kollaaam kolllaam...really nice pics...welcome back and continue staying here....

K V Madhu said...

thanks. poland ennal sreenivasaneyum orma varum.
oru question
yathra ennal ningalk enthanu?

Neha said...

What made you choose Poland for a holiday? I might sound cold, but I will never want to visit such a place if my intention is to tk a break, these things just stress me out, as if we dont have worries of our own! And about the cruelty, India has had its own share of it, I dont want to visiit another country for it.

But. The post was very well written, very heartening. I could visualize Schindler's list, Life is beautiful and Der Untergang (The Downfall). Way to go!

Btw, how did you manage to converse there? I dread going to a place where people do not speak English!

SM said...

Mathew, I so loved this post.. Gave me a vicarious pleasure.. If you have read Mahabharata and are aware of the character called Sanjay, Dhritarashtra's companion, you would know what i mean... Btw, I too have posted a couple of new ones recently.. Keep up the great work!!


david santos said...

Hello, Mathew!
Alemanha, congratulations!!!!!!

Sreejith Kumar said...

"Polandine kurichu parayaruth" :))
Truly enjoyed this post. Blogger is an amazing platform, without which I may never have read gems like you...

Dhanya said...

Mats, u r missing in action. Take up the tag :)

wanderlust said...

There you go missing again. If it is another trip and ypu bring back lots of pictures, you will be forgiven :-)

wanderlust said...

Get back, you are tagged.

Nishanth said...

Great photos!!/Post. Seen or heard references bout Auschwitz in a dozen WW2 based movies but it would be a whole different thing when you visit the i right? .

Timeless Memories - My Bygone ! said...

Sme great photos.. and nice narration...

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

we are missing your posts.

Monica said...

Sweet! Amazing city, beautiful landscapes and great food! I must visit it!