The past 2 months spent in Poland were quite exciting and fun, but I sure am glad to be home now. It was a bit difficult getting back to the US, though. The airline we were using, Lufthansa, went on strike the week before we were supposed to leave. Our original flight, Krakow to Frankfurt to DFW, was canceled, so they gave us a new flight: Krakow-Dusseldorf-Paris-Atlanta-DFW, for an extra 9 hours of travel time.
When we arrived at the airport at 4am, the airline had scheduled a better flight for us from Krakow to Dusseldorf to Chicago to, finally, DFW. Even better, they had bumped us up to Business Class for the long flight; that was an incredibly comfortable flight.
We stayed busy our last week in Poland. We went to Prague, Auschwitz and a little town called Zakopane. We took an overnight train and spent only 1 day in Prague. The train experience went much smoother than our Vienna trip.
We first toured the Prague Castle, which is just huge. In the center is St. Vitus Cathedral; it was the largest and most extravagant cathedral we had visited yet! It would have taken a couple days to explore everything at the castle, so we left at lunchtime to walk over to the famous Charles Bridge.
It is close to the castle and connects right into Old Town over the Vltava River. There are statues all along the bridge, along with stalls selling jewelry and art. The artists were very talented based on their work displayed, and they would draw your portrait right there on the bridge.
We ate at an underwhelming Italian restaurant on the other side of the river, and then we started exploring Old Town. We watched the medieval Astronomical Clock at 3pm. It shows the sun, moon, and the months, and on each hour it shows “The Walk of the Apostles” (figures of the apostles rotate through the windows above the clock, while a skeleton pulls the cord to ring the bell). One myth about the clock is that the clockmaker was blinded after its construction so that he could never make another like it!
After souvenir shopping we headed back to the hostel to take a nap before dinner (we’d been up and walking around ever since our train got in at 6am). We later had a nice steak dinner at a little place called Sherwood down the street. Everything was so much cheaper in Prague! Even though it was momentarily startling to get my dinner bill for 450 korunas, it was actually only $30.
Our last weekend before we left, we went to St. Mary’s Church and Auschwitz concentration camp on that Saturday. I studied the altarpiece in St. Mary’s last semester in an art history class, so I was really excited about seeing it in person. It was even larger than I had pictured it (about 43 ft tall, 36 ft wide); each figure is over 8 feet tall! While St. Vitus Cathedral was much larger, St. Mary’s was even more extravagantly decorated. Every wall, ceiling, and column had gold leaf or carvings or some amazing decoration.
After St. Mary’s, we took a 2-hour train to Auschwitz; it started storming on the way there to set the solemn mood. I was surprised to see young children visiting, as there were quite graphic pictures everywhere. While it wasn’t the most pleasant of ways to spend the afternoon, I am glad I went. Actually being there and seeing it in person made it more real than just reading about it in the history books.
On Sunday we went to Zakopane, a town in the mountains near the southern border of Poland (2 hr bus ride from Krakow). It is the perfect little ski town right between the mountains with streets lined with shops and stalls. We hiked up the closest face, me taking many breaks along the way. At the top is a paved road that runs along the ridge a long ways, lined with shops, restaurants, and even an amusement park.
We went tobogganing when we first reached the top. It was so much fun and a good cool-down from the hike. We browsed the shops and had dinner with a beautiful view. I definitely could have spent more than one day there.