Krakow was the most pleasant surprise of the trip. Put in the itinerary primarily due to proximity of Auschwitz, the city is a vibrant university, cultural and tourist mecca. The weather was superb, and we enjoyed yet another ‘bike around town’ tour the afternoon of arrival. The hotel was 5-star, and the service and rooms the best we’ve had.
Poland has the unfortunate distinction from going from unspeakable Nazi extermination to oppressive Soviet domination. Before that, it was invaded and ransacked by the Mongols (twice) and then a part of the Austrian empire up until the end of WWI. Yet, the Poles are a gracious people, and very welcoming to tourists.
We enjoyed the history and the culture of the old town as we learned much about this delightful city via our bike tour.

20130724-213005.jpg(boys scowling on purpose)

20130723-212640.jpg Cloth Hall, St. Peter and Paul Church, and Wawel Castle.

20130723-212817.jpgSt. Mary’s Basilica.

Next on the agenda was a visit to Auschwitz by Michelle and Aubrey. As she includes the horrific Holocaust in her yearly geography curriculum, Michelle was particularly moved to see the places she had only studied. Aubrey’s words: emotionally draining. Yet, is important that these stories are never forgotten and that younger generations are educated in the atrocities that took place here just seventy years ago.

20130724-104500.jpgAuschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps; the largest in Poland from 1940-1945. More than 1.1 million people were killed here.

Brad and Gabriel did a tour of a nearby salt mine. Most interesting fact about salt: it was used for wages in Roman times, given its value. The word “salary” is thusly derived from the word “salt”. The mine kept Gabriel’s interest, probably due to the fact we were about 1000 ft below ground. Incredible excavation and even sculptures exist in the mine, attesting to the down time the miners had I suppose.

20130724-203556.jpgGabriel listening attentively, with Pope John Paul II, The Last Supper (both sculpted from salt)

We do grow a bit weary…from the transit, the truffles, each other (!). Two stops to go.