Poland - The Potato Chick

Krakow, Poland

In a sentence...sadness and deliciousness.

Food we loved...pierogi – little dumplings filled with potato and cheese and topped with sautéed onion.

Our time in Krakow was one of stark contrasts. On the one hand, we thoroughly enjoyed wandering the picturesque old town and eating delicious food without a care in the world. On the other, we had to face the reality of the holocaust. Overall, I think we struck a good balance between the two and we left Krakow all the better for having visited.

We spent a day visiting two of the most infamous concentration camps of the holocaust: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz Birkenau. Although not the happiest experience, visiting these places I had learned so much about at school and uni was somewhat of a “bucket list” item for me. The thing that struck me at Birkenau was the sheer size of the place, coupled with the fact that all of the barracks were constructed by the inmates themselves. At Auschwitz I was particularly moved by the large cabinets full of the belongings of those who had been sent to the gas chambers. There was something so tragic about seeing the measly possessions left behind after they had been murdered. As for the gas chamber itself, the feeling in there was indescribable. Even having stood in there I still can’t quite believe that it was the venue for so many murders.

Our trip was made all the more harrowing by the freezing conditions. The temperature was minus 3 with a “feels like” temperature of minus 8. All the layers I was wearing did very little to alleviate the feeling of utter misery whenever we were outside. I can only imagine what these temperatures felt like for the inmates who wore nothing more than a pair of striped pyjamas. What was most disturbing is the fact that the infamous “death march” (where the Nazis forced them to march on foot to another camp 56ks away to remove evidence from Auschwitz itself as the Allies approached) took place in January when the weather would have been much worse. How anyone survived is beyond me.

Back in the city itself we ran a few laps of the old town walls which allowed us to see a lovely side of the city although I had actually lost the feeling in my bum after an hour outside in only sports clothes. We also did a free walking tour and visited the contemporary art gallery and Schindlers Factory Museum. Housed in the former enamel factory owned by Oskar Schindler (the man portrayed in the movie Schindler’s List), the museum provided some information about Schindler’s efforts to help the Jews but mainly focused on Krakow’s five year occupation by the Germans and what life was like during that time. It was a really well set up and interesting museum.

What did we eat in Krakow? I have two words for you...Christmas market. Krakow has a particularly good one and so we were able to eat there for almost every meal with very little double up. Highlights included shashliks, bratwurst, pierogi, grilled cheese with cranberry sauce and a special Polish dish made of toasted bread slathered with garlic butter and topped with a slightly strange bacony sort of meat and sautéed onions. As luck would have it, on the way home from the market was a newly opened Berliner shop. We tried Berliners filled with chocolate, jam and toffee.

Not even the terrorist like pigeons in the main square (one of whom dive bombed straight into Nick’s crotch and then wandered away in a concussed state) could stop Krakow from making it on to the list of our favourite European cities.

Next stop...Berlin, Germany.

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Posted 15 December 2014

Warsaw, Poland

In a sentence...a great introduction to Poland.

Food we loved...cabbage roll – steamed cabbage filled with rice and minced meat, topped with a tomato sauce.

I wasn’t expecting Warsaw to be as lovely as it was. With 85% of the city being destroyed during WW2 (the only cities that suffered more damage were Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan) almost every building has been rebuilt in the last 70 years. Yet the city still feels “old” and similar to other European cities. I am obviously easily fooled by reconstructed architecture.

Our time in Warsaw was limited to one full day. We focused on Warsaw’s interesting and tragic WW2 history, particularly life in the Jewish ghetto and the uprising that took place in August 1944. A free walking tour gave us the base knowledge we needed and we followed that up with a trip to the very interactive (and children-filled) Warsaw Uprising Museum.

In between all the history lessons we tried to stay out of the cold and ate lots of delicious Polish food including pierogi (potato and cheese dumplings) and Polish sausage. We left Warsaw looking forward to learning more in Krakow.

Next stop...Krakow, Poland.

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Posted 13 December 2014