News - Images of Poland

The team at 'just for groups!' are always pleased to receive reports from our group organisers. Here is one which touched all our hearts. This holiday to Krakow visiting Auschwitz was as much an education as a holiday. A fascinating place to visit.

Poland Group

Our group trip to Krakow started really early on a wet Sunday morning as we gathered at Stansted for our flight. We couldn’t check in any luggage due to a baggage handlers’ strike which resulted in a steep learning curve in minimalist packing to be able to get all our necessities into our cabin baggage!

We were met in Krakow by Jim, our ‘just for groups!’ tour escort, who gave us a warm welcome and saw to it that we all arrived safely at the Swing Hotel, our home for the next five nights. Situated in the midst of a retail park, in the suburbs of Krakow, it proved to be an excellent hotel. We were all delighted when we saw the standard of fittings and decoration inside.  Our bedroom was well appointed and comfortable and we even had tea and coffee making facilities in the room.  We had the rest of the day at leisure until 6pm when we joined Jim in the bar for a welcome drink and a run through of the week’s itinerary. Our group sat together for evening meals, which were buffet style and I always found something I liked from the buffet and enjoyed the food, which I found to be well presented with sufficient choice.  Breakfast was open seating, but we usually found we still sat with people from our group.

Monday saw us bright and refreshed and looking forward to our day in Krakow, which started with a walking tour with Christophe, a local guide.  The old town of Krakow is an ideal size for the tourist as everything is accessible by foot, and apart from the slope up to the Royal Castle on Wawel Hill, it is all fairly flat. Our tour started at the 15thcentury Barbican and took us across what used to be the moat, and through the gate in what remains of the city walls.  In the 19th century the moat was filled in and the walls replaced by a delightful park called the Planty, which encircles the old town with pleasant wooded paths and green open spaces.

Market SquareA short walk from the gate brought us into the Market Square.  Laid out in the 13th century, it is one of the largest medieval squares in Europe measuring some 200m along each side.  Lively and colourful with plenty of cafes, it’s an ideal place to relax and enjoy the delights of the buildings nearby:  the Cloth Hall with arcaded facades that stretch for 100m east to west across the centre of the square, the Town Hall Tower built in 1383 and the 14th century church of St Mary, with a beautiful interior, to name but a few.  Christophe then took us to the Collegium Maius dating from 1400 and the oldest university building in the world, to see the university clock. Three times a day, at 11am, 1pm and 3pm, the clock plays the university’s anthem while sending forth a procession of carved wooden figures that depict important people from the university’s history.
 
From here we made our way, passing buildings and churches too numerous to mention, to the fortified Wawel Hill, home to the Royal Castle and Krakow Cathedral.  From a viewpoint on the hill we looked down across the Vistula River and listened while Christophe told us the legend of the dragon that supposedly lived in a cave down below.
 
On Tuesday we had a thought provoking visit to the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz and the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi camp for the mass extermination of the Jews in Europe.  The exhibit of 40,000 pairs of shoes that belonged to some of the victims is a poignant reminder of the extent of the awful tragedy that took place here. We broke our return journey with a visit to the town of Wadowice, the boyhood home of Karol Wojtyta, the late Pope John Paul II.  We visited the church where he prayed as a boy and saw the house where he was born, now a museum to his life and work.

Wieliczka Salt MineWednesday morning found us at the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Founded in the 13th century the mine’s extensive network of caverns, passageways and lakes descend from a depth of 64 to 327 metres, covering nine levels.  Tourists are only allowed to a depth of 124.7 metres, which is just as well as to get there we had to walk down countless steps!  Luckily there is a lift to come up; otherwise some of us would still be down there!  It is a fascinating place to visit with wonderful sculptures and murals, and a complete church carved out of the salt. Even the ‘crystal’ drops on the chandeliers are shaped out of salt.  I had imagined the salt would be snow white and glistening, so was initially disappointed to find it’s a greenish-grey, but the craftsmanship is so amazing one finds that it doesn’t really matter.
 
In the afternoon Jim arranged for us to have a guided walk around Kazimerz, the historic Jewish area of Krakow:  65,000 Kazimerz residents were killed by the Nazis in WWII.  Following that we visited  the nearby Schindler Museum, built  on the site of Oscar Schindler’s factory where during WWII he ‘employed’ thousands of Jews saving  them from becoming part of the Nazi’s ‘final solution’.
 
ZakopaneWe spent Thursday, our last day, visiting Zakopane, a popular mountain resort in the Tatras Mountains – ‘the Polish Alps’.  In winter it is Poland’s best known and best equipped ski resort, with some 50 ski lifts and slopes for all abilities. When we arrived we were lucky enough to see a procession leaving the church to walk through the town. Someone told us it was part of the ‘Corpus Christi’ celebrations and was in honour of the ‘Sacred Heart’.  The clergy, dressed in colourful vestments, were carrying crosses and statues aloft. Many of those taking part were dressed in traditional costume and carrying beautiful embroidered banners.  Children in the procession were dressed in white, possibly because they had just celebrated their first communion.  It was a privilege to witness it.  A funicular railway took us up to a view point where we had lunch, while admiring the glorious panorama of mountain peaks. The view is the main reason for visiting Zakopane, but as well as the plentiful cafes, restaurants and fast food outlets, there were many amusement rides, market stalls and souvenir shops to wander around both up at the viewpoint and down in the town and while away the rest of the day.
 
All too soon it was time to go home.  We all really enjoyed our time in Poland and I would highly recommend the Swing Hotel and ‘just for groups!’ to anyone wishing to visit Krakow.

GTOA Group Organiser

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