Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Jewish Quarter and Schlinder's Factory

Today is moving day and we were up early to pack; eat the last of our food for breakfast and carry the luggage down the five flights of stairs by 10 am.   The taxi arrive right on time for our short ride to the Management Office where we stashed everything for the day.
By 11 am we were in the Castle again; this time to visit the Cathedral and the Museum.  We used our tickets that we’d purchased yesterday; purchased Audio Guides, and following instructions headed towards the Cathedral first.   No photos again so it was always a challenge for everyone to sneak one here and there; when the guards caught us they’d wag their finger and say, “no photo, no photo”.   Some were using flash so they were really easy for the guards to catch!
The Cathedral was more than just a place of worship; it also the resting place for the Polish Royalty and famous Polish people.  The audio guide was wonderful as we followed it along the paths of the Polish History. 
At one point we were sent up many steps; he said three floors but they were very tall floors with tall, wooden steps that wound between the rafters of the bell tower.   When we arrived we were rewarded with great views of the city and beautiful bells.  We were just in front of two groups being guided by priests in flowing black robes; not sure what price they’d paid for the privilege; but maybe they were friends as I remembered the last time I was in Rome and a priest who was a friend of my daughter’s friend took us on a tour of St. Peters.   One side note, Poland has remained very Catholic; the clergy wear the traditional garments and I must admit it was fun to see a nun riding a bicycle with her habit flowing out behind her!  I miss that in the USA.
After the bell tower we continued on our two hour visit listening to stories about Saints and the famous; some were legends and some were facts.  Towards the end of the tour we went down into another sub floor and found one of the original chapels built on this site going back centuries.  Here was a very small altar and we discovered it was the altar that Pope John Paul II used when he said his very first Mass when he was ordained a priest back in the 1940’s.  We find many memorials and memories of John Paul here in Krakow. He was not born in the city but spent most of his life here before going to Rome. 
From there we walked through the many tombs of the royals and famous.  One that Jim found interesting was the tomb of the composer Frederic Chopin. 
When we finished the Cathedral we walked next door to the Archdiocese Office that has been turned into a small Museum.  Many historical items and on the top floor two rooms have been devoted to Pope John Paul II; the same two rooms that he used when he visited during his final years we were told.   The museum only took a short time and by noon we were out the door for the walk back down the hill to look for a good deal on a Tour Cart.  We’ve been pricing them since we first arrived; so we had a good idea what we wanted to pay.
A young man named Timothy approached us and we negotiated a price; he said 300 Zolty, we said too much … we’d been offered cheaper….he said 250 Zolty and we took the price…much better than any other we’d been offered.  We walked three minutes to his carts where we discovered that it would not be Timothy but Martin who would be our driver for the next hour.
We were in a small open cart that whizzed in and out of traffic as Martin kept us entertained with stories about his city.   He was extremely knowledgeable about the historical facts and also full of wonderful stories.  Since we’d seen the old town we asked for a tour of the Jewish Quarter and Schindler’s Factory; no stopping to tour.  On the way to the Jewish Quarter he stopped several times; once at the Church on the Rock where St. Stanislaus is buried.  We had a few minutes to visit the grounds as he told us the history and also to step into the church.  There is a wonderful statue of John Paul on the grounds that was modeled after a photo of the Pope.
We learned where most of the Jewish Synagogue were.  We saw the home of the woman who created an empire from cosmetics: Helena Rubenstein.   We heard the wonderful, and he said very true story, of a weekend visit by Orthodox Jewish Rabbis that wanted to see everything but they were only allowed to take one hundred steps each day and could not ride in a car, bicycle, etc.  Martin said that each driver was given a large liter plastic bottle full of water; they had to sit on these while driving and the Rabbi’s said that “we were sailing on water in boats today” and thus they were able to see their life long dreams in Krakow!
After visiting the streets of the Ghetto where the Nazis confined thousands of Jews by putting multiple families into single apartments before they finally sent all of them to concentration camps.  Prior to 1940 there were fifty thousand Jews living in Krakow; now there are approximately five hundred.  Their Synagogues are mostly museums.  To encourage them to return the city regularly host special functions to entice them to visit and learn what this city is all about today.   It was the Polish King who originally invite the Jews to move to Krakow.  With them they brought knowledge and skills that the Polish Peasants didn’t have.  They were the businessmen and teachers that created the Krakow that we know today. 
We visited the “chair memorial” on the edge of the Ghetto where the Nazis Office has been retained.  They are individual chairs representing the lost population.   Very moving.
Then we were off to see the outside of the Oscar Schindler Factory, made famous by the movie.  We’d decided not to go inside after visiting the Camps but did see the historical site where thousands of children and adults were saved by one man.  But, as Martin pointed out, there were many people quietly saving people from the camps.  One ran a Pharmacy; that is still there today, where they smuggled medications to the Ghetto people and also supplies that allowed them to change their appearance so that they could leave the Ghetto undetected; such as hair dye.
Soon we were back in the Old Town and said goodbye to Martin; he was a wonderful guide and earned a nice bonus as a result.  We really enjoyed our hour with him.   Not sure how you’d find him but if you look around the Castle for little green carts…ask for Martin…you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts.
Walked back towards the Management Office with a stop along the way at a “Milk Restaurant” for a late lunch/early dinner.  It was three o’clock by now.  Enjoyed both the experience and the food.  Based on restaurants in the Soviet Times, they offer simple Polish food and are frequented by Polish people and a few tourists like us.
Stopped at the office to upload some photos of our morning on Facebook and then we were off to find the Underground Museum in the Market Square.  From 2005 to 2010, the Market Square was excavated and they created a Historical Museum under the Square.  The largest museum of this type in Europe (we read) and extremely interesting.  Usually requires a reservation to enter but we were lucky today and they let us in.  We spent several hours here before returning to the street.
Our last quest for the day was to manage to get upstairs for the viewing balcony of the Salt Restaurant.  This time we were allowed, we’d been turned back earlier in the day, and enjoyed our last moments in Krakow there.  We each enjoyed a delicious dessert and the views before heading back to the Office before dark.  There we spent our last couple of hours before heading by taxi to the train station.
When we arrived the driver asked “what platform”…we didn’t know!!   He asked other drivers for the platform to Budapest; they didn’t know.  We got out at Platform 3; there we met Julian and Ivy who were looking for the train to Prague.  We exchanged names and found that they were from Canada.  We read the boards and discovered that even though they were headed for Prague and we were going to Budapest; we were leaving on the same train at 10:01 pm.  Different cars and during the night we would each be attached to different trains to our destinations.  
Our cabin is very nice; very clean, much different from the one we arrived on.  We have two men for roommates again; Chris from Romania and Recardo from Chela.  Chris didn’t talk to us but the man from Chela was very nice and talkative. 
I woke at 6:30 am and discovered we were again standing still in a station. I made my way to what had been a very nice bathroom but now was a clogged mess but at least didn’t smell too bad.   Got my computer out and started typing this blog that I’ll send from Budapest.  By 7 am I felt a jolt and soon we were moving again…this time probably with a Hungarian Engine!  Jim and Recardo, slept on…only Chris and I are awake.
Well…I’ve discovered several things:  1)  the electrical outlet only works when the train is moving and 2) we are two hours and twenty minutes late…instead of arriving at 8:35 am as scheduled we will be arriving in Budapest at 11 am.  So glad that I purchased us each two of the packaged Croissants that are sealed and good for seven days!  I’d gotten some in Prague that made our extended train ride better so hedged my bets and got us some yesterday before boarding the train.  And so the boys sleep on and I’m sitting in the dark; yes, Chris also climbed back up to his bunk when the train started again.  Jim and I have the lower bunks and I can actually almost sit up under the middle bunk.  The boys were scheduled for the very top bunks and those had sheets ready for them so we lowered the middle bunks for luggage rather than try to put them up over the hallway space.  But at least we’re moving again and I’ve had some food.  Also tried the toilette at the other end of the car where the conductor sits and those are still in VERY GOOD condition.  So nice. 
We finally arrived in Budapest at 11:30 am….we’re now in the hotel and waiting for our Yorba Linda friend Laz who lives in Budapest.
And so another adventure begins.   Hope you enjoy the slideshow link below:

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