Niedzica, literally 50 metres over the border, a small but well developed ski resort with a few nursery slops into the village, a reservoir, two castles and numerous hotels and pensions. For some reason we couldn’t fathom they keep a life sized model of Pope John Paul II in a box outside the church! In contrast the last village in Slovakia was just 30’ish small cottage type houses, five of which had been converted into alcohol shops – we guess its cheaper to buy booze that side of the border. On the polish side the houses were much bigger, more Austrian design with lots of wood and deep overhanging eaves. We did walk back over the border Sunday – I realised I hadn’t bought a magnet, from Slovakia so off we went and luckily the first bottle shops sold them :).
life-sized Pope In a Box Pope John Paul II at Niedzica
The main castle, known as both Niedzica and Dunajec, claims to be the most picturesque in Poland and was fairly spectacular. Built in 1320 it was perched high on the hill until the river was damned creating an artificial lake on one side of the castle.. The tourist info says the best view is from the second castle, Czorsztyn, on the other side of the lake. It was absolutely freezing and snow in the air so we took their word for it and made do with photos from the damn. Whilst only a few zloty to get we gave it a miss, more of a museum as most of the castle is in ruins inside – and of course there were signs of ‘haunting’ so best to avoid those!
Warnings of haunting at the castle!
Instead of touring castles we went out for lunch. For once we found a typical authentic restaurant (not a toasted sandwich we usually end up with). Iain went for ‘bigos’ a traditional soup of sauerkraut, cabbage, smoked meats and tomatoes, sounds rough but not a bad choice at all. I on the other hand went for ‘pierogi’, a boiled dumpling filled with potato and onion – something like a wet ravioli with steamed mash – no-where near as good as the soup and it’s not something we will be trying again. For under £8 for two meals including a large latte each we can afford to eat out in Poland occasionally – hurrah.
The ‘collapsing damn’
On route to Oswiecim is the Chabówka Rolling Stock Heritage Park – “Skansen”, on the site of an old steam depot constructed during WWII. For the ‘spotter’ (read Iain there, he may deny it but he is really) its an Aladdin’s cave of steam locomotives, electric and diesel locomotives, snow ploughs and rail mounted cranes plus a selection of heritage carriages and freight wagons. The line there was never electrified or modernised, so nearly all the original railway furniture is in place.
When we arrived it was open, no one charged us the £2 to get in or the £2 to take photos, people waved or smiled but no-one wanted our money – can’t beat that! It seemed they were getting ready for official opening with plenty of people painting and cleaning but nobody worried who came in for a look around or a climb on the footplates or even a walk on the lines on which the odd shunter was moving.
Chabowka Rolling Stock Heritage Park
Our first impressions of Poland are how clean, modern and just big everything is. The roads are brilliant, we paid a toll today for 40km it was £2, in general though most rolls are toll free. After several weeks of seeing Lada, Skoda and Trabant on every corner this is definitely BMW, Audi and Mercedes country, and the driving speeds have increased in line with the road surface and engine sizes, boy racer territory for sure. Houses appear to be built with the plan of big and bling – three of four storey, plenty of colour on the walls and roof, and garden ornaments seem overly popular. It feels like we are back in a fully fledged Western European country for the first time since Italy.
We are now in Krakow, arrived this afternoon at Camping Smok just a tram ride out of the city centre. As luck would have it one of the largest motorhome service centres in Poland is five minutes from the campsite (thank you someone up above), Iain rang them today and they stock our tap so we are popping round tomorrow, fingers crossed water could be running where it should be soon!
On route to Krakow – bigger than the average garden ornament!
Since we first decided to take this trip we agreed our route would need to take in Auschwitz. Somewhere we both felt we would like to see and as importantly should see. We found details on the internet of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer, just a few hundred yards away from the museum and offering full motorhome and campsite facilities in the grounds of their conference centre, which were less than five minutes walk from the museum, we pulled in Monday afternoon planning on visiting Tuesday.
Entry to the museum requires you join pre-set tours from 10 am onwards, we saw the crowds the afternoon before and decided against that. Instead we went in a 8am, literally us and a dozen others without guides were the only people on the site. From the moment we passed under the infamous “Arbeit macht frei” (work makes you free) signs on the gates there was so much to take in and think about. One of the most shocking things we saw were the belongings – hundreds of suitcases, hundreds of thousands of shoes and literally tons of human hair. And also the photos, showing the dates of birth, deportation and death of so, so many – absolutely heartbreaking.
By 10 o’clock the guided tours were coming through and it was nearly impossible to see anything inside the exhibitions so we went off to see Auschwitz-Birkenau II which is just 3 km up the road.
If it is possible then Auschwitz Birkenau II was even more thought provoking. The scale is colossal – the site stretched as far as we could see. Where the huts and barracks no longer stand the brick chimneys do, hundreds of them that once housed over 500 people in each hut. The crematoria were demolished just before the allies arrived but the piles of rubble, masonry and even parts of the roofs are still at each place – even the stairs that lead down to each are still visible. Without a doubt the most poignant part for us was the railway lines leading up to the entrance of the camps and the platforms where selection took place.
Auschwitz Birkenau II
I could write thousands of words about what we saw but the history is too well known for that to be necessary. Suffice to say visiting Auschwitz is forever etched in both our memories.