A very interesting city, I think the trip will have given the students a better sense of the effects communism had on Eastern Europe especially economically. Our first evening was uneventful and dinner one of the best so far. However, we discovered very quickly that service at restaurants in Poland is incredibly slow. People in Poland must be accustomed to it, for others it seemed like you needed to calculate an extra hour for any meal out you planned. The city was quite a mixture of medieval, Baroque and the Neo-Classical the Nazis & Communists tried to use. Most of our time was spent seeing the medieval and the effort to become new. Their shopping district had many cultural things happening, including a performing arts festival. Bursts of music, sometimes independent, other times tied to skits went on throughout our time there.
We visited the Royal palace of the Polish kings. Beautiful and surprisingly influenced by the Renaissance. The King in the 1400s had married an Italian and he had allowed her to bring Italian architects. Their influence was not just apparent in the castle but in other parts of the town as well. Sadly the Nazi period was also apparent with a huge office complex, completely out of place on one side of the main courtyard starkly apparent. As we moved to other parts of the city our guide Eva, who had also been with us at Auschwitz, pointed out the Jewish ghetto, the Jewish quarter before the Nazis forced the Jews into the ghetto and Schindlers factory. We visited the area where Schindler’s List was filmed with locations such as the sorting square and the pharmacy were apparent. The oldest Jewish synagogue in Poland was there, no longer functional it served as an art center for students.
Upon arriving where most of the Jews lived, we learned of the efforts of a Pharmacist to help Jews and the Resistance. He allowed them to meet, hide and store Black Market materials in his basement. No other Pole lived in the Jewish Quarter. The square where Jews were sorted to be sent to the ghetto or Special Processing (extermination camp) contained a special exhibition designed by graphic art students. 65 chairs, covered in a kind of rope and shawl, were spread throughout the square. Each chair representing 1,000 Jews who were killed from the Quarter, 65,000 Jews dead, killed in either the extermination camps or the ghetto. With the square sitting next to a train station, it was yet another clear reminder of the victims killed in the Holocaust. We finished this leg of the tour at Schindler’s factory where students could see the plague commemorating Schindler’s efforts and pictures of most of the survivors.
We headed off towards the old city center, stopping by the University along the way. It’s main building had more Renaissance influenced architecture. Students commented on it’s beauty, but also marveled that students in the EU pay only 200 Euros a year for college, and books. Transcripts move from university to university and students can attend any public university they qualify academically for. They will learn in Vienna that Germany has many expensive private universities and so many German students go to Vienna if they want to attend public or private universities more cheaply. It’s kind of like our students who go out of state just to get away from the life they know and have a new experience that is not so far away they can’t go home to visit.
After traveling 10 more minutes to the square, travelers were given time for lunch and/or shopping. Many of us hunted down wonderful places for perogies or kielbasa or both. When we joined back up we were loaded with perogies in our bellies and many shopping bags in hand. Some students were working on lists of items they wanted to get during their travels or individual things they stumbled on. As a group we all decided to head to the National Museum and a view of Leonardo DaVinci’s Lady with an Ermine. After some minor linguistic difficulties, we got our tickets and gained entrance to the exhibition. The painting was amazing! We learned how it had been touched up in the 1600s and restored in the late 1900s. The kids had quite a time taking pictures with a fake version, and we acquired a picture of the real version with some cooperative subterfuge since photos of the real painting were prohibited. After a nice walk back to the University students were given some free time to shop or visit something in the area they had seen but not had time to visit. A few in the larger group returned to the castle, many in our group picked up last additions. The Franciscan church in the area was magnificent.
Our last dinner in Krakow was fantastic, a cornacopia of perogies! Some meat, some cheese but such variety everyone was satisfied. Sadly lol, we again experienced the Polish struggle in service. We hiked back to our bus and headed to our hotel. I must admit, it was the worst hotel of the trip. When combined with a bus situation in Prague I didn’t like I felt compelled to call EF. I mention it here, because yet again the company rewarded my loyalty. I was called by someone in Boston after the bus episode. Ally was fantastic! My tour consultant was on the road with another tour, quite typical, but Ally had been contacted and wanted to check on our traveler who had gotten ill in Prague. She listened to my concerns and with her help, Martina our tour guides efforts and an EF friend in Lucerne we received dinner upgrades in both Budapest and Vienna. Those will be described in future blog posts. EF is not perfect, but they have always responded quickly when I have contacted or indicated to the tour director that something needed fixing. They not only fix it but make every effort to make up for whatever may have soured the tour experience to any degree. That said rooming issues were worked out here in Krakow, with EF making sure it would not happen in Budapest or Vienna.
As we headed into the home stretch of our tour, we were soon to discover EF and the cities we were to visit would not disappoint.