From Krakow to Eger, via Slovakia

Today we leave Poland. I have to say I have fallen for this country which has delighted and inspired me in so many ways. From the gorgeous lake district in the north to it's big cities; from it's complex history to its proud desire for a better future - it has captivated me more than I imagined it would. And we haven't quite got to the mountainous region yet - that's on today's itinerary. Our wonderful guide Fil is partly to thank for this penchant for the place; although he's from Latvia, he has lived in Krakow for many years (his wife is Polish) and I've learnt so much from him. We all have. Dziekuje, Fil (thank you, in Polish - pronounced "jekoya").

We each take a bulging picnic lunch bag from the hotel (two large filled baguettes, plus much more besides!) and set off on our way to Eger in Hungary, via Slovakia. Outside the city confines of Krakow, there are rolling green hills and pretty villages. It's not unlike New Zealand c…

A confronting day - visiting the Schindler Factory and Auschwitz-Birkenau

We know that today won't be as easy one. The morning starts with a stop in the Jewish district of Kazimierz, specifically the Ghetto Heroes Square where 33 Memorial Chairs sit, symbolising the tragedy of the Polish Jews who were imprisoned here in the Ghetto during WWII. Made of iron and bronze they are a stark reminder of the resolve of the Jewish people during the German occupation of Poland; so many of them went from here die in camps.
We walk sombrely through this square, sit on a seat, contemplate life here; but it's hard to envisage what it was really like.
For this, we need to go to Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory which is now a museum showcasing the difficulties of life in Krakow and the horrors that befell the citizens here. The Square was peaceful and empty, but the museum is very crowded.
It's an intriguing museum with narrow corridors which move you from room to room, from one vignette of life to the next. It's not easy to negotiate your way through th…

Interim Update - and a new travel scenario!

Well as you'll know, if you've read this far, there has been a hiatus in this blog and we haven't yet got out of Krakow. Except that the group arrived back home on 17th August!
Keeping this blog updated on tour became a tad too difficult - busy, tired, wifi issues, laborious to write on the iPad - there were a raft of reasons and it came to a bit of a halt.

Around this point I also committed to a back-to-back trip following directly on from the Russia one - this time a holiday with my husband Brett. We'd been invited to a friend's 50th in Portugal and had factored it out on account of me being away, various projects on the go and it consequently got put in the too-hard basket.

While I'm away, Brett gets the urge to just go. I say go and give him my blessing. He then says why don't I come with him. Hmmm, that's hugely tempting but not really possible, I'm already in Europe and due to fly home when he's planning to fly to Lisbon.
How about you fly…

Krakow - A Fine Old Town

Breakfast at Andels is very nice - although I’m on the verge of giving away full cooked breakfasts for a bit! I think we all are. So much food ...
The bathrooms at Andels are also very nice - but they have this intriguing scenario where the toilet within the bathroom is fully enclosed in glass, complete with a glass door. I fail to see the point of it - it’s just a thing to have to open or bump into, and closing it offers no benefit whatsoever. Unusual and completely unnecessary. Glass around a shower is one thing, but around a loo ... !? They could have saved a fortune by doing away with all that glass! 

We set off for the old town with Fab Fil guiding the way. Rain is brewing and umbrellas are on hand, but not needed yet.  We walk along Planty Park which surrounds the city centre - it used to be the old city wall and has now been turned into trees and grass and parkland. The city is contained within this strip that encircles it, and buses and heavy vehicles are kept outside it. People …

Next Stop - Krakow

Leaving Warsaw we head south, stopping first at a strange roadside joint - a huge and quite new-looking log cabin hotel/restaurant complete with windmill and very little else except some great slabs of meat in a fridge in the lobby. It’s a loo stop and it’s a mission to find them in this vast and empty place.  
Onwards to CzÄ™stochowa for lunch. It’s hot and the restaurant is underground which is cooling. We like the mosaics and railings on the steps down. We also like the chips they serve here which have the perfect amount of crunch.
We go across to Jasna Gora Monastry with its iconic Black Madonna and various lovely treasures. This is where thousands of Poles come in pilgrimage, on foot, similar to El Camino de Santiago in Spain. Father Roman takes us through this vast Monastry; he is delightful in every way and as impressive as the building itself where he has lived for 40+ years. We drink fresh water from the wells; it’s the purest tasting water ever and quenches the thirst on this ve…

Warsaw - A City Rebuilt

This morning we head off on a city tour - wide streets, modernist buildings, statues and squares and gardens. The main square is busy, there’s a dapper man grinding an old organ and there is red and yellow everywhere - the colours of Warsaw. This is an excellent people-watching city - women yakking in the street, old men peering out of windows, couples lunching at outdoor cafes, families feeding pigeons ... some streets are deserted, others have horses and carriages clip-clopping by. The court is impressive - it’s a modern glass building that straddles the street. We are taken to the Wedel Cafe - a chocolate cafe. A large glass of warm thick liquid chocolate is put in front of each of us, and then a piece of chocolate cake. It’s rich and decadent and yummy. I’m a chocoholic but I couldn’t finish the chocolate drink!  There is free time for a spot of lunch (if any room after all the chocolate!) and shopping or relaxing or walking the city. For Sheila and I, it’s time to take a taxi to her…

Off to Warsaw We Go

We check out of our fortress hotel after an eclectic breakfast (thankfully no tripe but some other interesting bits and pieces!) The dining room is rustic and charming. We collect our picnic lunch bag as we leave. We’ve not seen apples so huge and, OMG, we will not go hungry!
We drive a short distance, past flat green fields and tidy hay bales, to the Wolf’s Lair in the Gierloz forest. The complex was constructed in 1941 as a top secret, high security site for The Fuhrer and his planned attack on the USSR. His infamous bunker is here amongst the trees and it is at this very site where the unsuccessful attempt on his life was made. We are standing right there. What a damn shame it failed.
Our very earnest guide is a Professor of History and he gives us a full-on history lecture as we stand in front of a large map showing how things used to look. We may have sweated our way around many sites on this trip, but here we are standing in shady woods with a cool breeze blowing. It’s actually jo…