Tuesday, 23 October 2012


the stained glass is in the art nouveau style
The only problem with spending a week with my mum and dad in Krakow is that Gayle gets to say, for the following week at least, "You sound just like your dad/mum*" (*delete where applicable).  Of course, at this stage in my life I already know who I take after but I think Gayle forgets.  We have a wonderful time with them, looking in churches (there's a lot of 'em), wandering the streets (there's a lot of 'em), feasting on Polish foods (there's a lot of it).  We have to re-socialize now that we are dining in polite company - on the first night out Gayle has to tug my elbow to stop me from licking my plate clean.

ice cream is still a Good Thing

Krakow old town has a large medieval square at it's heart, with a grand old market hall in the centre.  There's the requisite castle, the ancient university buildings and some large merchants' houses.  Maybe it's the time of year but it seems very tranquil, although there are plenty of people around.  Probably the fact that most of the centre is closed to traffic - less noise, less stress.  

Aside from wandering the streets of the old town there are other places to visit including the UNESCO-listed salt mine at Wieliczka and Auschwitz.  While the salt mine is a rather jolly outing Auschwitz is an inevitably depressing experience.  The labour camp is now a museum with information and exhibitions about life and death there.  After walking around we had neither the emotional or physical energy to visit Birkenau, which was the extermination camp built close by.  Walking around we were dismayed to keep crossing paths with some young Poles who made jokes and tittered their way around the exhibits - an immature response to the displays and information : the photographs of every inmate up to 1943, with dates showing that rarely did anyone survive there for longer than six months, or the room with a display case of only the hair shorn from the inmates, kept to be sold on.  The museum emphasises the way that Poland was treated by the occupying army - a programme of exploitation, starvation and mistreatment began immediately and educated Poles, community leaders, army officers, were all executed.  It is clear that Poland firmly lays the blame for what happened to the Jews and Roma and other victims on the Germans.  And here was another statistic: an estimated 3 million Poles died during the war.

A counterbalance to all of this misery is the incredible klezmer concert we attended in one of the old synagogues in Kasimierz, which was the Jewish neighbourhood.  Four young Polish musicians, led by an accordionist, perform a collection of traditional and new  music.  It's loud, sad, raucous jazz.  Wonderful stuff.

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