If you only read two books this year!

One of the very few benefits of my hubby no longer commuting with me comes from the fact that I have had to change my own commute.  I now get a train closer to home as hubby can drop me off and pick me up, which avoids the £9.00 daily parking charge.  It costs me more each month in train tickets, but overall is better than the petrol I would have had to pay from having to drive myself each day to the other station, which hubby and I used to share.

So, what is the benefit?  Well it is twofold!  I now get a seat each day, rather than standing cheek to cheek with other passengers!  As the journey time is longer, I have time to relax and read a book.  This has completely changed my daily 3-hour commute.  What used to be a stressful time, is now quick relaxing.

Having the opportunity to sit and read has also awakened a passion I had almost forgotten.  A book I have been trying to read for over 6 months was finally finished.  It allowed me to move onto another book with I can only describe as a truly moving piece of literature.

I overheard a couple of colleagues at work one day talking about his book. Both were saying how good it was.  It was the word Auschwitz that sparked my interest.  I had been to Auschwitz and Birkenau twice.  Both trips were very different in some ways, but similar in others.

On my first trip in around 2006/2007 I remember there was an exhibition in Birkenau of photos taken by a prisoner.  Knowing what I knew about the camps, I couldn’t understand how a prisoner could smuggle a camera in.  It had troubled me for years.

The first visit was more of a relaxed tour.  We had our own private guide who had been our driver for the whole week while we were in Poland.  He took us around at our own pace, telling us all the stories and history of the two camps. 

I remember the silence that fell over them both.  It was like the world had stood still in remembrance of those that had lost their lives there.

I returned to the camps in 2018 with my hubby.  This time, it was an organised tour.  My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I felt that there was less huts open to us to visit.  Or maybe they were missed on the tour, I really don’t know.

The emotions I felt on the first trip returned.  The pain and suffering that had gone on was felt deeply.  I couldn’t imagine what these people could have gone through.

When I returned, I posted some photos of my trip on my Youtube channel and Facebook page.  Someone on Facebook criticised me for posting my pictures.  They felt I was dramatizing the camps.  I absolutely wasn’t.  My photos, I felt told the story of my visit, of how I felt, the conditions the prisoners lived in, and the life they may have lived.  They were not photos of people having fun.  I don’t think on either visit I could have found the emotion of being happy whilst walking around the camps.  I don’t know anyone who could.

With my visits brought back to the forefront of my memory, I needed to know more about the book my colleagues were talking about.  It was called ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris.  It was based on the life of a survivor – Lale Sokolov.  The author had the pleasure of meeting Lale in his later years and was given the privilege of telling his story. I quickly ordered my own copy from Amazon.

I was captivated from the very first page.  The story she told was like an emotional roller coaster.  Of determination to survive against all odds.  The sadness of losing loved ones, newfound friendships, of loyalty, trust and so much more.   I finally understood how that camera could have got into the hands of the prisoner.  How he took the photos unseen will always remain a mystery.

I don’t want to go into the story in detail.  Firstly, because I couldn’t do it justice, but secondly because it is a story that has to be read.  I felt I knew the characters by the end of it.  Having been to the camps, I could picture them, I felt their pain and willed them on to survive. I cried when they died or were tortured.

At the end of the book, Heather sparks your interest in the sequel – Cilka’s Journey.  Unlike with Lale, Heather never got to meet Cilka.  Her story is from people who did know her and research.  Whilst not from Cilka, you still feel that you are with her.  I’m so glad as with Lale, her story has been told.

Whether you have been to Auschwitz or not, both books are a must read.  What happened in those camps is past anything I can ever begin to understand.  How someone can choose who should live or die based on their religion or looks is beyond me.  The things they had to do to survive.  Their bravery and strength.  The bonds they formed.  I am completely in ore of them.

So many people lost their lives, their only crime was being different from others.  As with my photos, these books keep the memories of those that died or survived alive.  I don’t think we should ever forget what happened in these and many other camps.  By knowing what we know, it should make us better people.  To not judge people by their race or religion.  To be kinder and not judge.

If you only ever read 2 books this year, these are the ones you should choose.

God bless all those that suffered in the camps.  May they rest in peace.

Getting around Krakow!

The best and easiest way to get around Krakow is on foot.  Its also free of charge, and a great form of exercise!

Krakow is flat so you don’t need to worry about any hills, well in the centre that is!

One of the great things about Krakow, is that the centre is pedestrianised!   You can walk around, relaxed, without worrying about cars.  It makes getting around so much nicer!

It also feels very safe!

There is so much to see around the city, that it would be a shame not to put at least a day aside to just wander!  Whilst the square is pretty in itself, as you explore the streets, you will see so much more on foot.

Don’t forget to look all around you, both in front, side to side, and upwards.  Many of the buildings have beautiful paintings or statues on them.

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You can’t really get lost if you keep to the rule, that all things end up back in the square!

When you visit the castle, take a walk over the river to view it from another perspective!  Its such a unique castle, with different types of architecture, it would be a shame to miss it.  If we hadn’t done this, we may have missed the fire eating dragon!

The parks are small, but again worth a walk.  You will fall upon different sculptures along the way.  Many of them hidden amongst trees, or on benches.

There are many churches in the city.  If the doors are open, pop in and have a look.  I was blown away by some of the decorations inside.  Remember to have your shoulders and thighs covered though!

If walking isn’t your thing, don’t worry.  There are a couple of other options.  How about a tour in an electric car?  Prices will vary depending on where you are going and for how long.  I would say no more than £20 per person.  Ask the driver and agree a price in advance.   We took one of these for the short ride to the Jewish Quarter, for dinner.   It was only £2.50 each for us, as it took probably only about 15 minutes!

Here you will find a square of chairs, dedicated to the Jews who lost their lives.  Its situated just over the river in the Ghetto, and worth a visit around sunset, where the chairs are lit up!

You will also see many horse drawn carriages.   They leave from the square, and take you for an hour ride around the city.  Again agree a price before you start.  They are usually around 400 PLN (£100) and can seat 4 comfortably, but if you negotiate you may get it cheaper!  On a sunny day, it is quite a nice way to explore the city.

Trams are plentiful.  At under 4 PLN (£1) each way, they are a cheap way to get around.  They run from 5 am to 11 pm.

If you want to go further afield, I would certainly recommend the train service.  We used it to go to the Salt Mines.

To go into the Salt Mine, you just have a 5 minute walk up a slight hill.   The cost is 89 PLN each plus 10 PLN if you want to take photos or videos (£25 in total).  Certainly a nice day out and well recommended.

The station is clean and everything is easily signposted.  It cost us around £0.85 each way for a single trip lasting about 20/30 minutes.

The trains were clean and spacious.  They have ticket machines on board if you don’t have time to get one before boarding.  Alternatively, there are ticket machines on platforms, if there isn’t a ticket office.  It is also a nice way to sit back and take in the scenery.  I do love looking at other peoples lives.  The houses, streets and countryside always interest me.

Taxi’s are also plentiful.  A ride from the airport is around 90 PLN or £20.

We also took a private hire to Autschwitz as there were 7 of us.  It was all included in the price for the tours.  The cost was 160 PLN each (£40), but well worth it.

There are so many options to get around the city, there really isn’t any excuse not to explore.

 

 

Eating and drinking in Krakow

You will never go hungry or thirsty in Krakow! There are absolutely loads of options open to you !

The big decision is, do you want food on the go, in a relaxed or formal setting, inside or outside !

When we go away, we like to eat local food. You will find a MacDonalds everywhere in Krakow, but there is no way you would find us eating there. We can have one of those at home!

The weather for us was gorgeous, so it was perfect for sitting outside!

We were staying a few minutes from the main square, so we tended to gravitate there!

There are many restaurants running around the square. Each have their menus on boards outside, so you can check before committing yourself.

Don’t worry if you think the menu is limited in some, they have just put a selection on display! Ask them for a full menu.

Most staff speak very good English, so if you have any specific requirements, they are happy to cater for you.

On every corner you will find a little stall selling ‘Precels’! These are rings of bread, and delicious, perfect for eating on the go. They come in various toppings, cheese, sesame, spicy and salted. At only 1.8 PLN (approximately 45p) they are a bargain! We had them the day we were running for the train to the Salt Mine, for breakfast, as well as to take to airport when we left!

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If you want to sit down, don’t be fooled by the price! Most meals are under £10! That doesn’t mean the portion is small! Oh no! This is one of my dinners ! It was a starter but I had it as my main!

That is a litre of beer next to it! It was filled with a selection of meats including, chicken, pork, Polish sausages and beef, with sauerkraut in a dry sauce! It was very filling so the bread wasn’t eaten!

Other local dishes include Bigos (hunters stew) which is also served in a bread bowl, smoked sausages, Pierogi(dumplings), which are stuffed with a variety of fillings ranging from cheese, minced meat, cabbage and mushrooms.

Don’t forget the good old pork schnitzel too! These are also usually the size of a dinner plate!

And one of my hubby’s favourite, the pork knuckle! Be careful when you choose this option as some are a set price, others are charged per Kilo! This is the one my hubby ordered! It was 1.2 kilo ! Way too much for 1 person!

Every meal is served with bread, but rarely butter. If you want it, ask. I’m sure most restaurants would be happy to provide you with some!

What was lacking for me though was the lack of vegetables. Some dishes came with potatoes but that is all. You will need to order vegetables and salad as an extra!

My tip would be to order your drinks, look at the menu, and then look what others have had ! It will give you an idea of how it’s served, and more importantly, the portion size!

You can share a main, or even ask for a doggy bag!

If you are visiting the Salt Mine, I would recommend the sausage for lunch ! For 15 PLN, you get a large sausage, bread roll and a bottle of Coke, which is less than £4! It’s delicious!

We had most of our meals at the same restaurant. Why? It was sooo good! And the beer was the cheapest we had found ! 17 PLN (£4 ish) got you a litre of their local beer! It was one of the very few without patio heaters, but as we were lucky with the weather it didn’t matter!

So what was that restaurant ? Sukiennice! It’s named after the building it’s located in – Cloth Hall! Sukiennice is its Polish name.

Breakfast was also the most reasonable we saw! Scrambled eggs (3 eggs) wit bread was only 9 PLN (less than £3), you could them add extras such as bacon, mushrooms, cheese etc for only 1 PLN (25p)!

I opted for one of their bagels for breakfast. Beetroot, rocket and walnuts. Oh wow! What a taste delight! At only 9 PLN (just over £2), it was a bargain!

Beetroot is a traditional food item of Poland. Most restaurants will have a delicious beetroot soup on its menu, served hot and cold!

They had a good selection of tea and coffee too!

Because it is on the square, you get to people watch, while eating, which I always enjoy!

They also have a cosy basement for late night tipples!

Another restaurant I’d recommend is Chopin! It’s on the opposite corner of the square!

The head waiter was such a charmer! When I tried to make a joke with my friends that they didn’t serve alcohol, he joined in. He told the group they only sold potato water, grape water and hop water! Aka vodka, wine and beer!

I had one of the very few salads here! Roast beef! It was cooked to perfection and at only 23 PLN (less than £6).

When in Krakow, I would also recommend a walk to the Jewish quarter. There are also some lovely restaurants there too!

I’m sorry but I can’t remember the name of the one we ate in, but wow, it had the best bread I’ve ever eaten!

I had had a big lunch, so wanted something light for dinner! I chose a mushroom soup, served in a bread bowl! The soup was good but the bread, out of this world ! If you had the hunters stew here, it also came in the same bread bowl.

The bread was firm enough to hold the liquid, but light and flaky to eat! I wish now I’d asked how they made it! I can still taste it today, a week later!

On our last day, we had lunch at Max 18 in the square! I had chicken kebab, salad and chips! Again a really large portion of food!

What was exciting though, was behind my shoulder, in the next restaurant, they were filming! I asked our waiter what was happening. It was a scene for a local Soap Opera! I didn’t recognise the main man, but still, it made for an interesting lunch !

I’m usually a wine drinker, however it’s a bit more expensive in Poland, so I stuck to the beer!

Local beers are really easy to drink. Price ranged from 10 PLN for half a litre, to 17 PLN for a litre at Sukiennice Restaurant. So basically £2.50 to £4.00.

The two we mainly drank were Tyskie and Zywiec.

When in Krakow, it would be rude not to try their specialty!  Vodka!  At home, I love toffee vodka, but here, I would strongly recommend the cherry and hazelnut.  If you like Ferrero Rocher, you will love the hazelnut one in particular!  Its like a liquid version of it!  It was so nice, I had to buy some at the airport to bring home!  At only 16 PLN a bottle (£4), it would have been a crime not to!

All restaurants will offer a range of soft drinks too.  The homemade lemonade is also a really good choice, if you don’t want anything alcoholic.  You don’t get tap water on the table, so if you do want water, you will need to pay for it.

When you pay the bill, they will also give you a little shot of cherry liqueur, which is really really nice!  It certainly leaves you wanting a second!

Krakow is definitely a place worth a visit.  Make sure you try eating and drinking local specialties.  You won’t be disappointed!

Auschwitz & Auschwitz-Birkenau

Today is our first full day here! We arrange to meet at the ‘head’ in the square at 8.30 am for breakfast.

We decide on the same restaurant that we had lunch in the day before ! The food is good as is the service . In fact the waitress remembers us! Is that a good thing ? I hope so!

I opt for the beetroot and walnut bagel, which was delicious.

Today we are off to Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. We have some time before we are due to be picked up, so hubby and I decide to try and take photos of the Castle on the opposite view from yesterday!

It’s a bit dull this morning so the photos are not as good. We cross the river and look back ! There opposite us is the famous dragon, with fire roaring from its mouth! We decide we have just enough time to go across and take some pictures!

We get to see it in action, but it’s too light to capture it on camera !

We head back to our hotel ready to catch our tour.

It’s not a long drive. Approximately 50/60 km. As we are a group we have our own car which is nice.

It’s a good drive, it’s lovely to see the countryside around Krakow. The houses, many churches, as well as how people live away from the main city!

We arrive relaxed and ready for our tour.

I visited both camps over 12 years ago. It’s changed now. Security has increased . You can’t take large bags in anymore. They have to be 20cm x 30cm or less! Mine is slightly larger, so I take my camera, phone and go pro out of my bag! I’ll have to carry them all separately, but I need them to capture the trip!

When you arrive, you are given headphones and a receiver, so you can hear your guide easier!

The tour at Auschwitz takes about 2 hours. There are a few rooms missing from my last visit, but the sadness I felt then is still here now !

It’s hard to believe people could be murdered just because they were Jews! Young innocent children, with their whole life ahead of them !

You visit some of the huts, see where they lived and died!

After the first tour you take a shuttle to Auschwitz-Birkenau. This is far bigger than Auschwitz. You can still see the railway line that brought people to the camps !

Wandering around, looking at how they slept and were treated, you can’t help feeling angry!

Row upon row of huts! All built by the people who ended up loving and dying there !

When you go inside you see their sleeping area. Can you imagine how cold they must have been in winter?

If I said I enjoyed the camps again, I don’t mean in a fun way! I think it is so important to go to these places. See what happened and how they lived, with your own eyes!

More important, I want to remember them all. I hope they are all at peace now !

If you are ever in Krakow, you have to do this trip. It’s very humbling !

I have published my photos on my YouTube Channel. Please take time to view them.

https://youtu.be/-KuqAIZJ9d4

We heard back to our hotel. I think we are a little weary now, so a quick drop off of our stuff, before we head out for dinner!

Tomorrow we plan to do the Salt Mines !