The Wieliczka Salt Mines are located right outside Krakow. This mine has been in operation since medieval times (over 700 years). Thus, it is the oldest industry in Poland. The mine is made up of hundreds of tunnels covering over 300 km and descending to 327 meters underground. The tour itself covers a museum route of sorts. It made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List. You basically walk for 2 km across this labyrinth with exhibits ranging from a statue of Copernicus (who was Polish), to the various exhibits showing the history of the mining techniques (first was men powered, then animal powered, it was followed by water/gravity power, then steam, and finally electricity and petrol). It even has a few altars and chapels. All the rooms and exhibits were made out of Salt (though some wood is used from time to time). The best exhibit is the Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, which is more like a church with beautiful religious carvings depicting scenes from the bible. Even the chandeliers are made out of salt! It took them over 30 years to built this room, from 1895-1927. A new addition is the statue of Polish Pope John Paul II.
That afternoon, I met my friend Maciek and his wife Urszula from Tychy, Poland. We were later joined by Mischka. We spend a wonderful weekend touring that region of Poland and beyond. It involved tons of drinking at night of course :). Nevertheless we covered quite a bit. The town of Tychy is an industrial creation of the Soviet era. Except the old town, you can see hundreds of Soviet buildings surrounding this free-tax zone industrial city. One of the largest Fiat plants lies in this city. The other famous factory is the Tyskie brewery.
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Krakow was the capital city of Poland for hundreds of years before it was moved to Warsaw. My first stop was at St Mary's Church, which stands overlooking the main square. At the hour, a guard of sorts will plat the famous Mariacki Tune, which was a warning against intruders that attacked the city. Afterwards, I went to the Florian Gate, which to my dismay was being restored (thus it was covered). It's the last surviving gate of the old city. At least I was able to admire the walls around it. From the inside the old city wall was actually covered buy beautiful local artwork. The nearby Barbican, which lies right outside the gate, is definitely worth seeing. Funny thing is that I haven't seen many intact barbicans elsewhere in Europe. After admiring the architecture of the Teatr im Slowackiego and finding that the Church of the Holy Cross was closed, I walked to the Collegium Maus, which is one of the most historic bldgs of Krakow Academy, in turn one of Poland's most famous Universities. Right next door is the refined Baroque styled St. Anne's Church, which has serves as the University Church. Afterwards, I walked back to the main square, Rynek Glowny. The Town Hall Tower stood straight ahead, overlooking the square. Right besides it lies the Cloth Hall, which as the name implies used to be the place were cloth was sold. Today, it serves as a tourist market, a place where souvenirs can be bought. On the other side lies the Statue of Adam Mickiewicz, a local poet who is buried in the Wavel Cathedral. A bit further, at the NE corner, lays the St. Mary Church I discussed earlier. Walking south of the town square, you pass the Franciscan Church and the Dominican Church, each lying within 200 meters of each other in perpendicular angle to the Grodicka Street. A few hundred meters south, on the same street, you come across the beautiful Church of SS Peter and Paul. A few minutes further south lays the crown of Poland and Krakow, the incredible Wavel Castle (pronounced Vah-vel).
Inside the barracks there were rows of three level bunk beds. It was rotting in the summer, and freezing in the winter. In order to meet some health requirements, the nazis had to erect heating systems in the barracks. This they did, and the design for heating was incredibly efficient, using little coal and sufficiently heating the area. The only problem - the prisoners never got any coal to actually burn in there.
After killing and burning their victims, the nazis were still faced with the problem of what to do with these tons and tons of ash. They started digging these holes in the ground and filling them up with ash. This is one that wasn't covered up when they were escaping. If anyone from anywhere in the world asks for a handful of ash of their family, this is where it's taken out of. The black marble 'tombstones' in front are memorial plaques in several languages.
This is the memorial built at the back of the camp between the ruins of the two gas chambers. Back in the operational days of the camp, this area really was nice, there was a sort of garden and hedges. It was all done to keep the prisoners calm as they were tricked into going inside. Unlike the ones in Auschwitz, the gas chambers here really did look like showers. There were much larger numbers of prisoners murdered here, so the nazis had to keep them very calm because if panic broke out, they wouldn't be able to control it.
This place is enormous. Over 300 prison barracks, four huge gas chambers complete with crematoria. Each gas chamber accomodated 2000 people and Birkenau could hold 200,000 prisoners at a time.
Visiting Info: The entrance to the camp is free. Give yourself at least an hour to walk around and see everything. Hire a tourguide. They will give you many facts you might not pick up otherwise, as there are no informational plaques of any sort here. It's open at the same time as Auschwitz I: June July August 8am-7pm; May September 8am-6pm; April October 8am-5pm; March November 8am-4pm; December January February 8am-3pm.
Birkenau is the 2nd camp after Auschwitz 1 & there's another one called Auschwitz 3 in Monowice.
If you pay for the tour guide to visit Auswitz 1, then the tour guide will also guide you through Birkenau/Auschwitz 2.
There's a bus transportation from Auschwitz 1 to Auschwitz 2. That's why you shouldn't leave your group just to look for ghosts in Auschwitz 1 because what you could see in Auschwitz are more ghostly sights that you would probably remember for the rest of your life !...
Also in Birkenau, you can see the railway tracks which transport the prisoners to the camp.
Walk on the tracks, as most people love to do. Say a prayer, get a solemn feeling...
It was on these tracks that the train came in & once the train stopped, the prisoners were thrown out of their wagons & the selections began.
Those who were able to work, stayed as hard labour workers & those who were unable, especially old folks & young kids were immediately transported to the death chambers.
A memorial has also been set up in Auschwitz 2.
The monument is called The International Monument to the Victims of Auschwitz.
It is a commemoration to the prisoners who perished here.
This monument is situated at the end of Auschwitz 2.
IF YOU WANT TO SEE THE REST OF THE PHOTOS IN AUSCHWITZ 2, PLEASE GO TO MY BRZEZINKA PAGE.
Also in Auschwitz 2, you can see the prisoners' barracks.
Look with your own eyes the conditions of the places/barracks as they were called then.
Toilets sit side by side with their beds.
No sanitary whatsoever for the prisoners in here...
This is the flowers left by people at the end of the train tracks - the tracks ended at the two gas chambers which lay in ruins today. Far in the background you can see the entrance gate. This camp is unbelievably enormous.
Off the beaten path in Auschwitz, well don't forget to also visit Birkenau. a few km away.
On VT & also in Polish language, Birkenau is known as Brzezinka.
Birkenau is the true hell in Auschwitz Camp !
Birkenau is the so-called Auschwitz 2.
It's bigger but none the better.
Here was the true evil doings took place to the inmates & prisoners resided in Auschwitz.
Iker fell down after hours shouting laughing never shut up this guy... and after some "argues" in Auschwith with a jewish group lol ... everybody were so tired after a long day walking and loosing our path as well for half an hour..we walked a little bit more than the common people trying to find Ausch 2 and coming back to thr train station on foot, and spoiling the free bus
by the way ..Lech a quite good beer
I put this to "off the beaten track" for two reasons - many visitors don´t visit Oswiecim itself, and those who do often have no idea that the town once had a thriving Jewish community. It seems bizarre that in a place that became a synonym for the holocaust a synagogue survived, but it was consecrated again some years ago, after a US based foundation made efforts to restore it. It is now both a synagogue without a community - the last Jew in Oswiecim died some months before it was consecrated - yet a place of prayer and contemplation for all who come here. It also holds a cultural centre informing about the Jewish history of Oswiecim and offers research possibilities to trace Jewish heritage