Photo 1: Kraków rynek
Another shot of the Kraków rynek. In our opinion, this city and Vienna are two most beautiful (and tourist friendly) cities in old-Eastern Europe. In our last two days here we took in three attractions: 1) the Poland Aviation Museum, 2) Salt Mine, 3) Auschwitz. I took many pictures but will only show a few essentials here.
Photo 2: “pretzel” stand
This is one of many little bread stands that sell a Polish equivalent of the pretzel (not sure of the Polish word for these). The bread is more white than the heavier dough of the pretzel and covered in seeds rather than salt, but large in size. The point to be made here is that these cost 1.6 zł, less than 40 cents. We saw a lot of these kind of prices in Kraków. This has to be the most affordable very nice European city to visit.
Photo 3: Polish Aviation Museum.
I have visited nearly every significant aviation museum in the world, and the Polish Museum is a favorite: it has a very interesting history. The first picture is of the only surviving Polish-made fighter from WWII. The PZL 11 was a high-wing fixed-gear fighter confronted with larger numbers of the much more modern Me.109, and did quite well, considering everything. This aircraft survives because it was captured and incorporated into the Berlin Air Museum, by far the best aviation museum prior to WWII. But the collection was bombed and dispersed and all that remains of the many significant aircraft in this museum are about twenty aircraft, most of them incomplete, that were found in some railroad cars in Poland after the war. Those included this PZL, now returned to its homeland.
Photo 4a, b, c: Levavasseur Antoinette
What the Polish Aviation Museum has of the old Berlin Museum is an eclectic collection of mostly pre-1920 aircraft, most with German histories. This includes about eight WWI German aircraft, most being only the fuselage (wings were in another set of railroad cars that did not survive). There are four pre-WWI aircraft (including one now in Berlin), the most noteworthy being an original Antoinette, though fuselage and engine only. Very interesting early aircraft, with an interesting (first V-8!) engine. I include several pictures.
Photo 5: Siemens-Schuckert D.III (Albatros H-1)
I should show one of the German aircraft. The Siemens Schuckert D-series was an odd late-war aircraft. This had a rotary engine (the engine spun), but this design has the propeller spin in the opposite direction to reduce torque. The aircraft was small, with an enormous propeller. Some say this was the best fighter of the war, but showed up only in small numbers before the end. This is the last survivor, modified by Albatros for further innovative experimental work. Only the fuselage remains.
Photo 6: Wieliczka Salt Mine
The Kopalnia Soli (salt mine) in Wielniczka has been in operation for over 700 years and now extends to levels several km below the ground. We have heard much of the intricate salt carvings here and took a guided tour. Some of the chambers are gargantuan and none of my pictures (and flash) could do justice. There are whole cathedrals and concert halls down there; one of the chambers is large enough to host the first underground hot-air balloon flights (and bungee jumps!).
Photo 7: Salt Mine statue
I will just offer this one photo from underground. Every location of any size in Poland has a Jana Pavela II (John Paul II) statue. Here is the one in the salt mine.
Photo 8: Auschwitz
We visited Auschwitz. I resisted, as this was definitely not on our list, but friends insisted that if we were in southern Poland we had to do this, so we did. I took a number of pictures, but would rather describe that try to show. The tour is fairly low-key. You go through buildings and displays very quickly, as there is a long line – 2.2 million visitors last year, and the structures were not designed for that purpose. Some 1.3 million died here, but that number does not include the many people who died enroute to this location, or who were here and then transported elsewhere.
At Auschwitz, what is surprising is how much survives. Most of the buildings survived, and much of these are totally original and complete. The victims here were shorn of hair, cloths, glasses, and etcetera, much of which the Nazis then reused in their war effort. The Nazis did try to burn what was left of personal effects on site, knowing that this provided evidence of the crime; what was left is evidence enough. In one display, you walk about 20 meters along a display that is a pile – more than you are tall and going back for several meters – of shoes, and there is a similar pile on the other side. A huge pile of human hair, of eyeglasses, of hairbrushes, or suitcases (all labeled by the original owner with name and date of birth). There is this building and that. We had the “short” tour that was only two hours, with another hour or so at Birkenau.
Photo 9: Birkenau
Auschwitz was the work camp; Birkenau – 20 times larger – was the death camp. The initial brick buildings survive but the later wood buildings have only the chimneys remaining – and there are many chimneys, two per building. The four gas chambers were blown up by the Germans and are now only ruins. About 70% of those who arrived here went immediately to the gas chambers, the other 30% to the work camps, with most of those either executed in Auschwitz or retuned to Birkenau. The separation of who lived and who died that day was made by the infamous Dr. Mengele, among other SS officers. Visitors essentially walk the route of those who went to the chambers, past the site where Mengele made those selections. We visited only one of the buildings, which had he large shelves on which the men lay side-by-side (you have probably seen pictures of these men once they were liberated).