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Monday, September 22, 2008

Krakow, Poland

Tyskie, Zywiec, Cellars, Zurek, Auschwitz, Bar Mleckny, Snow.....

Mark and I left on the 11th for a well-deserved trip to Krakow, Poland. And it started out with a big surprise... in the train to Brussels we ran into a guy (Bart) who was also going to the airport. Since all of us were way too early for our flights we decided to go for a beer in Charleroi. There it turned out that Bart was a "hobby-magician" who also did trick with balloons. And of course now Mark and I are expert-balloons-men ;-)
The Hostel we ended up in is called the Let's Rock Hostel from the Goodbye Lenin hostels, just 2 minutes from the main market square in Krakow. The hostel had a great vibe to it and an awesome breakfast was included (oh yeah, and all-day-long free, good coffee!!!).

So why visit Poland and Krakow in particular? Well, it's cheaper than i.e. Spain, they have good bear, there is a long history and we heard it simply is a great place to spend a couple of days. First thing we noticed it that beside historic buildings, they also have historic cars and they did cause a laugh or two... The most famous spot in Krakow is the Main Market Square, supposedly one of the largest mediaeval squares ever built. Just look at the photos to get an impression.

Another famous attraction is Wawel, a castle/fortress with a cathedral on the premises for the old Polish rulers. We were lucky since we had very nice weather (the only nice day we had during the entire trip...) and could enjoy the sights. Although neither of us is really interested in religion, the church was pretty impressive (although the interior was pretty "tacky"... haha).

The place we really enjoyed is known as Nowa Huta. This is a neighbourhood built especially for the laborers of the nearby steel factory which was owned by the (at the time) communist government. Therefore all the buildings in that area are very commie as well. All similar, big slaps of concrete surrounding an even bigger and emptier main square. Efficient, yes; pretty, no! But the best experience of this trip was our visit to a local bar. No one spoke English or German, but we still managed to make new friends and celebrated these new friendships with a couple of beers and vodka-shots. But the greatest guy ever was 95-year-old Jan, who was so sweet and nice we almost wanted to take him home with us!

When in Krakow a visit to Auschwitz is almost compulsory. Not that it is a fun trip but it is just something you have to have seen (I had been there already once about seven years ago, but joined Mark anyway). The story of Auschwitz is well-known, so no reason for me to elaborate on it. Just check the pics...

Time for some active things. We took a bus to Zakopane, which is knows as the place to be in Poland for skiing in winter and hiking in summer. We decided it still was "summer" and went there to go hiking for a couple of days. But the weather was being a bitch. It rained non-stop and on the morning we wanted to go for our hike it even snowed... but of course we went anyway and it proved to be beautiful! The day before we enjoyed a healthy, heavy dinner and were totally prepped for a good walk. During the hike we had absolutely no views of the surrounding mountains and lakes (which are supposed to be beautiful...), but we saw snow, snow and more snow. Nevertheless I loved the hike and it was a good opportunity for some pretty pictures. After our 6,5 hour hike we still felt great but decided to leave this area and head back to Krakow.

Back in Krakow we planned a trip to the Wielizcka Salt Mine. Amazing to see and a lot cleaner than for example a visit to a coal mine. The place is enormous and is very nice to go to on a rainy day (as we had every day...). They even have a church and restaurant 125 meters below the ground. Of course Mark and I had to take this chance and we drank our deepest beers ever ;-)

On the last day we walked to a fortress with an akward cone in the middle... kind of a strange description but it was a strange place as well. In the old days it was used to defend the city against intruders and now it is a symbol for Poland's independence.

Of course we also had quite a few drinks, heaps of food, the occasional party, lots of fun, but I won't bother you with any stories but will show you some pictures. The only thing I do want to say it that I really love Krakow's underground scene, in the literal sense of the word. Almost all bars are underground. This is a result of raising the land around the main square, causing old living rooms to become cellars. And these cellars is where you find the most relaxed places for a beer and music.

That's it... quite a lot, but worth it. This week I'll be working at Parc de IJzeren Man and going to Amsterdam. Also there is a fair in town this weekend, so I'll have something to show you before my working life starts ;-)


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