Month: September 2004

Krakow 2

Our day Taxi Due to slightly poor planning (and also the abandon, that comes with having a great time) we realized that it was our last day, and we hadn’t seen the Wieliczka Salt mine, nor visited Auschwitz.Accustomed now to style, having spent 3 nights in the most prestigious hotel in the city, we decide a private car and driver, is the only way to go.Here, the lads take part in that most manly of pursuits, who will sit in the front.For the record, and without bragging, it was me.
As we arrive at the Salt Mine, our private guide leads us down the wooden stairs to the mine.Like many of the Poles I met in Krakow, here English was so good, it embarrassed me. Salt mine guide
View down through the stairs A view down through the centre of the staircase, shows the sheer number of flights of stairs, that needed to be descended.A trip to a Salt mine, might not sound like much of a day out, but its reputation is outstanding.Originally started in the 13th Century, there are records of Salt being used from this site, 3500, BC.

It is a UNESCO world heritage site, and was once considered the 8th man made wonder of the world.

As we reach the bottom of the stairs, our guide shows us one of the walls made from salt.It was quite claustrophobic in the mine, but a surprising thing was how fresh and cool the air was.There were several different groups, and our guide cleverly steered us around them, so we always got plenty of time to look at the exciting things in the mine. Salt wall
Salt stairs As we descend further, these “steps” were cut from rock salt.The salt in the mine, isn’t the stuff you can put straight on your fish and chips, it has to be treated once its been dug out of a mine.
One of the walkways, further into the mine.It captures the depth and “closed in” feel of the mine. Dark tunnel
Underground Chapel The miners, were traditionally very religious people. While taking lunch, it simply wasn’t practical to go back to the surface.Hard working people that they were, they decided to “carve” things such as this small chapel out of the rock salt.If you look at the floor, this are not tiles placed on the floor, but actually carved into the rock salt.The crucifix and the archway are also carved from rock salt.
A Sign showing the depth at one point of the mine.Nearly 500 feet, half the height of Ayres Rock. Showing depth 130m
Chapel of the Blessed Kinga The internationally famous Chapel of the Blessed Kinga.To all intents and purposes a full blown church, the only difference being that it is 200 meters underground.
Carved entirely from salt, (including the chandeliers that hang from the ceiling) not by an outsider, but by gifted miners themselves.Here, one of the walls showing many of the carved mosaics. Carved wall
The last supper The last supper, probably the finest piece carved into the wall, about 5 feet across.Its 3 dimensional look, comes from the fact that it is actually carved 12 inches into the back of the wall, to give it depth.
Not very easy to see (the white salt, could react badly to the flash from my camera, and I was lucky that most of my pictures, turned out okay).The quotes of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 -1832) have always been an inspiration to me.Imagine my surprise, to find a statue to him here in the mine !. Turns out, that amongst his talents, he was also a mining engineer, and had worked extensively at Wieliczka.My favourite quote of his:”The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.””All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.””A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.” Von Goethe statue
Underground Salt Lake The underground Salt Lake.Our guide explained that some drunken people had been in a boat which had turned over, and because of the content of Salt in the water, they floated, and some of them suffocated, trapped under the upturned boat unable to submerge.I asked when it would re-open. She said that the incident had happened in 1918, so didn’t think it was likely to open soon !.
Before we headed back to the surface (there was a lift to take us back up, so no Alpine trekking to the top, for us).A formal assembly hall. Our guild explained that Presidents and Kings have been entertained here.Banquets and state occasions are hosted here, fairly regularly Robert Baden Powell (the founder of the scouting movement) and Pope John Paul II were the ones I found interesting. Assembly hall
Chest clinic As we wondered back to our car and driver, I noticed this advertisement, for a clinic based in the mine.Apparently, people with chest complaints, can spend time relaxing in the mine, and the dry cool air will help to cure them.An amazing commercial and humanitarian use for a truly amazing place.
The cynical inscription Arbiet macht frie (work makes you free) over the gate.This was Auschwitz 1, converted from an army barracks to a concentration camp, in 1940 on the orders of Henrick Himmler.Most people think of auschwitz as one place, but Auschwitz 2, is based at Birkenau nearby. Infamous sign
Buildings around Aushwitz I had previously visited the Killing Fields in Phnom Pen, but it was nothing like this.You could almost feel the repression, fear and hopelessness.1.5 million people died here, at the hands of fellow human beings.As I saw more of the camp, I came to wonder if that was an appropriate description.
People were chosen to be sent straight to the gas chamber, or to literally be worked to death.Everything about the place was about breaking the spirit of the inmates. Public hangings during role call, were fairly common.During the freezing winter, dousing in cold water, as a means of execution, was commonplace.It must take a very low regard for other human beings, to do these kind of things. Bunks
Auschwitz buildings If a Polish prisoner escaped, his family would immediately be sent to Auschwitz.They would be made to wear a sign explaining why they were there, so the penalty for escaping, became well known.Auschwitz isn’t small, but if you look at the facing walls on these buildings, you can get something of the feeling of claustrophobia that descends on this place.
The Nazis shot thousands of people against this wall.Normally political prisoners, clandestine operatives and people who helped others to escape.A sign leading here, said “you are entering a courtyard where the SS murdered thousands of people. Please maintain silence: remember their suffering and show respect for their memory”.I saw one bunch of flowers being placed here by some young people, who’s great grandfather had died against this wall. Wall
Wire fence It was in Auschwitz 1, that Maksymilian Kolbe a Franciscan priest, gave up his life for another inmate.For his “crime” Kolbe (who was later canonized), was sentenced to death by starvation.
The camp “orchestra” used to play here.I couldn’t imagine what kind of sick mind, would torment people already facing death, by playing them music.The Nazis were nothing if not practical. The music was designed to make the prisoners move in time, so the line moved at a speed where they could be counted easily.The “musicians”, were literally playing for their lives. Band spot
Birkenau Our driver took us to Auschwitz 2, Birkenau, and advised us he would drop us of at the back of the site, to avoid crowds.This walkway, shows the sheer size of the place.As we walked towards the entrance, nobody felt like talking much.
At the end of the war, the Nazis ordered many of the buildings to be destroyed with dynamite .This is one of the demolished buildings.The silence was broken, when the mobile phone of a nearby person began ringing. He quickly silenced it. Rubble
Birkenau window Through a window in the upstairs room of the gatehouse, its possible to see the full length of the railway lines leading to the disembarkation area.From here, people would be chosen for extermination, or literally worked to death.Another option, was for a person to be chosen for experimentation.Joseph Mengele, would make a point of being there, whenever the train arrived, to make the clinical selection himself, his preference was for identical twins.It was said, that once selected he treated twins like his own Children.
The railway sidings, where many people would leave the train, and be dead minutes later.Its not easy to describe the feeling, when standing at the end of these railway lines.Something akin to the end of hope. Until this point, the poor people on the train must have thought some kind of intervention or luck would save them.We were told a story where Mengele had selected a young girl for experimentation.Her mother put up a savage fight, and bit one of the guards who was trying to remove her daughter.Mengele drew his pistol (quite why a Dr was carrying a pistol, was never explained) and shot them both.He then ordered that day’s arrival (thousands of people) to be sent to the gas chambers in its entirety, before returning to his office for a cup of coffee. Railway line
Gas chamber The remains of an actual gas chamber.Hundreds of thousands of people died here.Most of you know, that I am not religious, but I hope there is a special place in Hell for Joseph Mengele, and the others responsible for these crimes, which for me, are beyond words.If you want to visit a great holiday destination, then go to Krakow, you wont regret it.If you have problems in your life, visit Auschwitz.Your problems won’t go away, but they will certainly be put into perspective.

Krakow 1

The tower at Auschwitz Ash, Paul and I head to the amazing city of Krakow in Poland.We stayed for 5 days, and had a brilliant mixture of lads nights out, seeing all the sights of a beautiful city, and visiting the Wieliczka Salt mine, and both of the Auschwitz sites.
We arrived at 8pm in the evening, and got a taxi to our hostel (we had decided on hostel accommodation, as it was cheap and a lads holiday, doesn’t normally require the fineries of a couple’s holiday).Never mind, we went out local, for a pint. Although a quiet out of town bar, we were given our first experience of the sheer hospitality of the people in this country.

We had fully expected it to be basic, but it was a bit more basic then we intended (had no bar, beds 2.5 feet wide, and the on-suite bathroom, wasn’t.)

First evening
Ash trying to sleep After a fairly late night, Ash attempts to fight against nature, and get comfortable in this bed.But we weren’t there, to lie in bed, and after a quick wash, we packed our daysacks with guidebooks camera’s and all the usual hoo-ha before hitting the town centre.
I took the lead navigating, and on the way, we passed a traditional Krakow Tram. As we proceeded further, we hit the “Planty”.There used to be a wall, all the way around Krakow.The wall is no longer there, and is now made up of a sort of circular park, that rings the city.In reality, we had been going in the wrong direction, and heading out of town. Polish Tram
Church of St Mary The Church of St Mary, in the Market Square (the largest town square in Europe).The Church is one of the few Asymmetrical Churches in existence.The left tower is the Bugle Call tower, the right is the South Bell tower.
Continuing our walk around the centre, we visit the famous Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) built in 1555.Around the outside of the Hall, are arcades with restaurants and shops.On Saturdays, the whole of this area would become an open air market.In the evening, tables would be put out, serving every kind of cuisine, to hundreds of people, both tourist and local alike.

Photographed from the East side, the sun really brought out the colour of the building.

The Cloth Hall
Inside the Cloth Hall Inside the Cloth Hall.A vibrant market, selling just about everything you could think of, as well as cloth.It wasn’t just tourist tat either, there were a lot of locals in here, shopping for clothes, food etc which for me proved it authenticity.

I bought most of my presents in here.

One of the many types of environmentally friendly transport, the old favourite a horse and cart.These ran up and down the square, seemingly all day and all night.

With all the traditional buildings around, this helped to give the square an authentic feel.

Horse & Cart
Church of St Anne The Church of St Anne.A traditional Baroque Church.The story goes that John of Kety (Jan Kanty) was already a saint when he died, and was put to rest in a Church on this site.To honour him further, the original church was demolished, and this building was built around his grave.Construction began in 1689.

Because it was in a small street, it was impossible to photograph the building from the front.

There is a clever architectural feature of the doorway, which gives it an enhanced 3 dimensional look, from the front.

There were loads of interesting buildings, all a short walk from each other, starting from the squareThe Collegium Nowodvorianum is a hidden gem within the city.

The outside walls, give no clue to the beautiful building inside.The first secular secondary school in Krakow, established in 1586 and one of the best preserved Baroque buildings in Poland.

Collegium Nowodvorianum
Rare street graffiti As we headed towards the Kazimierz quarter, I took this picture, as the arches kind of lead the eye so well.

It’s also one of many pictures I took, where Ash was walking in front of me, and I took a superb picture of the back of his head.

One other interesting thing, is the Graffiti featured on the right of the picture. It is one of the few occurrences of Graffiti I saw in an otherwise spotless city.

Equally, there were no gangs of teenagers, loitering drunks or anything like that during the whole trip, overall and extremely safe City.I realized later, that although friendly, the City is quite conservative.

We were passed on the way by this “vehicle”.

The “driver” steers, and passengers pedal to propel it forward.

Although it looked a bit silly, it further convinced me of the commitment to environmentally friendly transport within the city.

The time machine
Church of St Peter and St Paul The Church of St Peter and St Paul.The architecture was superb.

I found Krakow everything I had hoped Prague would be.

Remuh Cemetery.I had originally intended to go inside, and see the wailing wall.

When I got there, it just felt wrong somehow, so I looked around outside.This wall has plaques which commemorate the deaths of peoples family members.

One of the plaques had been put up by someone who had lost 83 members of his family.

Remuh Cemetery
Monument by the Nissen Foundation A monument laid by the Nissen Foundation. It commemorates the death of Polish Jews by the Nazis.

There was a small park behind it, and a series of nice bars and restaurants around the area.

I felt it was symbolic. If the victims of the holocaust had been alive, they would probably have been relaxing on a nice day like this, in one of the bars, or having a picnic in the park.

The point is commemorating tragedy and loss, can be a celebration, and needn’t be sombre.

On the way back, we had a few drinks in a pub in the Square.

The conversation was very contemplative. Probably because of the Jewish cemeteries we had seen, and that we knew we would be visiting Auschwitz quite soon.

Out for the evening
The mystery hotel room I woke up in We continued drinking, until around 2.30am.

In process we had become separated from each other (the thing I advise friends, never to do, when travelling !).

I tried to read the guidebook, and find my way back to the hostel, but my vision was blurred.

I saw a hotel, and booked into it.

When I awoke in the morning, I had no idea where I was, then slowly the realization hit me. I found myself in the plush Alexander Hotel.

I checked out, and then walked for an hour to get back to the lads at the hostel. I found that it had taken Paul 2 hours to get home, the evening before.

The Royal castle at Wawel hill.

The slightly projecting section to the right of this picture, is the “Hens Claw” wing which houses a study and a collection of musical instruments.

The Royal castle at Wawel hill
The Castle Cathedral As we headed inside the Castle, we stopped to look at the Cathedral, the spiritual home of the nation.

One of the most popular buildings in Krakow, among the locals, it has been the scene of Royal Weddings, Coronations and funerals.

There was a cafe nearby and some nice gardens.We sat down, and had a drink, while looking at the Castle, shortly before we were attacked by wasps, and forced to leave our beverages.

As we walk through the main entrance to the Royal apartments, Paul is distinctive in his snot coloured t-shirt.

The castle had real charm.

Main entrance to the castle
Castle Balconies I took several shots of this, but could never really capture the size and opulence of the setting.

The balconies around the courtyard, must be fantastic to stand on and take in the view.

We left the Castle by a different route, than the one we entered, and made our way along the water front of the River Vistula.

We passed this boat, where a band were playing and had a few drinks.It was a lovely day, and everyone was having a good time

. I have never sung along to a Hammond organ before.

A riverboat with a live band
Pauline Church on the Rock The Pauline Church on the Rock, has an interesting history.

In 1079 the king gave orders for his knights to kill a meddlesome bishop (similar in a sense to the English story of Thomas A’ becket).

They found the bishop and, drawing swords tried to kill him. A mysterious power repelled their blades as each man tried to strike – it was an omen to be sure.

Later the king arrived and killed him while praying. The king became cursed, and a little while later was exiled.

The martyrdom of Stanislas Szczepanow gave rise to a powerful cult which led to the late Bishop becoming the only Patron saint of both Krakow and Poland.

During our 3rd day in Krakow, we decided that the hostel just wasn’t for us (it was only about £10 per night, but we just couldn’t get any sleep, and the bathroom wasn’t what we expected).

We decided to go a bit upmarket. After making enquiries, we decided to stay at the 5 Star Grand Hotel.

The hotel had originally been a house built for one of the Royal princes, and had the styling to demonstrate this.

Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel dining room The dining room, where we could eat breakfast in the morning (we normally had it, in our room).

The whole place reminded me of the people in the film Titanic, and the luxury to which they were accustomed.

A luxury, which after 20 years working in computers, I can also enjoy 🙂

On one evening, we stayed up in the bar, quite late, and found out later, that the girl serving us, had worked 50 minutes past her shift, when she could have gone home.

This kind of customer service, was common in Krakow.

Our receptionist was not used to clientèle such as us (i.e. seemingly wealthy lunatics !), but remained professional and helpful (and at times mildly amused).

Okay, it was a bit expensive, but its one of the best hotels in the country, and well worth the investment in both our comfort, pleasure and ability to sleep without being disturbed.

Friendly receptionist
Archaeological museum garden We visited the Archaeological museum (is there a city in the world that doesn’t have one of these ?).

The park outside was one of the nicest I have ever seen.

Inside, they had some really excellent exhibits, including some authentic bows and arrows (I had just returned from a bow making course, so I found that quite interesting.)


This statue represents a four faced idol holding a cornucopia.Evidence of ancient pagan cults like this, have been found around the Wawel area.

You can see what I mean about Ash, can’t you.

Swiatowid pole
Main Square at night The Market square in the evening was full of atmosphere.We went around several of the pubs in the square.

Restaurants, serving everything from Mexican to Curry were of superb quality food.

This shows the inside of one of the many excellent bars we visited. Authentic, friendly and spotlessly clean.

On one afternoon, Paul and I went drinking for 3 hours, while catching up (Paul works in Brussels now).

The bill came to £10 !.The décor and atmosphere, seemed to rub of on the clientèle.

Some lads on a stag do, came in to play pool. We were all expecting the usual sillyness, but this didn’t happen.

They came over chatting, asked for recommendations for sights and venues.

They were so nice, that we actually bought the groom a drink (if I am in somewhere quiet, I would normally leave, when a stag do arrives, which I think illustrates the contrast).

Traditional Polish bar


La Rambla sign I am sat at Barcelona Airport at 12 lunchtime, and my flight doesn’t leave until after 10pm.I decide to get the bus into town, and do some sight seeing.

Is it possible to tour a whole city, in 5 hours ?.

Armed with my DK eyewitness guide I set off to find out.

The bus (which takes only fifteen minutes to reach the city, and runs every 6 minutes 24 hours a day) arrives Plaça Catalunya, the central square in Barcelona.I wander further into the old town. Placa Catalunya
Looking down the Rambla The most famous street in Spain. I walk down the Rambla.I really thought it was superb the way all the bars, cafe’s etc were centered around one place.

I could see why so many “cultured” Stag and Hen Do’s are now held there.

Placa Reial, Barcelona’s most lively square, just of the Rambla. Placa Reial
Souvenir sellers I continued down the Rambla, and saw lots of people selling souvenirs (but these weren’t tacky), offering to draw/paint pictures of me, a guy balancing footballs (he was up to 5 when I left) and various musicians.
At the bottom of the Rambla, the Columbus Column.

It is said to be positioned on the first spot that Christopher Columbus set foot back on land, after discovering America.

It is inscribed with the word TIERRA, and shows him pointing. The basic idea, is it captures the moment he first set eyes on America.

The Columbus Column
Cable car mast A tower for cable cars, connecting the waterfront and Montjuic.
Montjuic hill overlooking Barcelona.

I really wanted to climb it, the views of the City are said to be spectacular, but time was scarce, and it just wasn’t possible to fit it into my itinerary.

Montjuic hill
Rambla de Mar Rambla de Mar in Port Vell, at the bottom of the Rambla.
Rebuilt for the 1992 Olympics, Port Olympic is 2 miles long.
There were Palm tree’s running all the way along the see front, and people roller skating, cycling and walking dogs.
Port Olympic esplinade
The Beach It has beautiful Sandy beaches.
Considering its called Port Olympic, the only sport going on while I was there, was a volleyball competition, with a DJ playing really loud “euro” pop. Volleyball
Beach looking out to sea I was quite surprised at how many people had come out to sunbath.

Its hard to imagine loads of people in London, popping out after work, wearing bikini’s and sitting around Canary wharf 🙂

The Arts hotel and the Torre Mapfre, the 2 buildings on the water front, are both 44 stories high, and the highest in Spain.

The one on the left is the Arts hotel, and the one on the right is the head office, of various companies.

2 tallest buildings in Barcelona
Modern building A civic building in Barceloneta.

It was such a wild shape, I couldn’t help photographing it.

Parc de la Ciutadella. Parc de la Ciutadella
Boating lake The boating lake.

It was just about the best park boating lake I had ever seen.

I really wished I had the time to hire one of the boats.

The Zoo on the Park grounds, is famous as it was the first to use moats to contain the animals, rather than cages so that they could be seen more easily, and would feel more at home. Zoo inside the park
Barcelona railway station Inside Barcelona Railway station.
The Seven Doors.

Inside, the menu was in 14 languages. The staff were very suave, but you were aloud to go in, in fairly casual clothing.

The decor and ambiance inside was like something out of James Bond.

Winston Churchill ate here.

Front of the seven doors
Inside the seven doors Inside an army of cooks, prepared superb food. The waiting on staff, were impeccably polite and helpful.
One of the small alleyways around Placa Reial.

Very long and thin, I wouldn’t like to wander around here at night.

The four cats The Four Cats restaurant.

Four Cats in Spanish means something of little importance.

It was popular meeting place for Pablo Picasso, and the Stella Artious advert, where famous artists exchange panting’s for drinks, is said to have actually happened here.

On the flight, I had read the guidebook, which talked about Architecture and Anton Gaudi.

I wasn’t really impressed, as that’s not normally my thing.

When I got there and actually saw some of the buildings, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

This one is Casa Batllo.

From the front it looks like the scales of a dragon. Its hard to explain, but the balconies and things are just stunning to look at.

Casa Batilo
Casa Mila Casa Mila.

The building can be considered more of a sculpture than a regular building.

Barcelona has more Art Nouveau buildings than any other city in the world.

Sagrada Familia – The Guadi Cathedral.

Unfortunately, he died before it was completed (he was hit by a tram and later died of his injuries).

It’s said that he was so obsessed with this work, that he took up residence on the construction site.

During the revolution, the rioters destroyed his working papers and models, so that it could never be completed (they did this, in their minds to honour him).

Sagrada Familia
Park Guell A terrace in the Park Guell, designed by Gaudi.
The twisting rock pillars that support the terrace above. Around Park Guell
Steps near Dragon fountain The steps near the Dragon fountain.

In summary, it was possible to see a place in 5 hours, but there was no time to relax or take anything in.

I had been there before, but if I arrived in a different place I wanted to see, and I only had 5 hours, I would rather not see it, and come back when time was available.


 Shinjuku Shinjuku, the main shopping area in Tokyo.Tokyo is like several cities all connected together by the underground. I wasn’t really that interested in shopping, but it was amazing to see a kind of shopping Las Vegas.
Akihabara. A kind of Turkish market of electrical goods.You can buy new technology here, that hasn’t been seen anywhere else in the world. Akihabara
Cyberface Inside a Tokyo Cyber Cafe. I make my living in technology, and know a lot of people who are interested/skilled in technology.These people were in another league !. There were people in this room, instant messaging people sat a few feet from them.I went in and had a few beers, but it was hard to relax in a boiler room like this.
In the hotel grounds was a really beautiful Japanese Garden.I spent 2 hours here in meditation. It was one off the highlights of the trip. Japnise Garden
Budhist Temple During a tour of the city, we were taken to the largest buddest temple in Tokyo.The 2 main religions in Tokyo are Buddhism and Shintoism.
The gold building on the left is the headquarters of the Asahi beer company.

The main building is meant to be gold, with the top to floors being white (to look like a glass of lager).

On the right is the golden flame, which some Architects have dubbed the golden turd. The golden flame, was originally meant to be 3 flames rising vertically.

The residents off the building in the background complained it would ruin the view.

Beer building
50 foot TV A fifty foot wide television. Commonplace in Tokyo, but still amazing to me.
Entrance to the Royal garden, the residence of the Japanese Royal Family. Door to the Royal Gardens
Inside the Royal Gardens A bridge passing over a lake in the Royal Garden. It was beautifully peaceful in here.
The goldfish in the garden were 18 inches long. Massive Goldfish
Clever Archutecture There were many clever pieces of Architecture in Tokyo, but this one caught my eye.I don’t know if you can tell, but this was actually built as one building and not extended as it appears.What a classic mix of culture, in one building.
Only 10 minutes walk from my hotel, was the house of the 47 Ronin.They feature heavily in the plot of the film Ronin with Robert Deniro. House of the 47 Ronin
Shrine to the 47 Ronin It made me think, in these times of terrorism, that although we don’t like what they do, society will always need warriors.
We went on a boat trip along the river whilst on the day tour.Its a bit hard to see, but some homeless people live on the banks of the river, in improvised accommodation, they have made from plastic sheets and pieces of wood.It was hard to believe that such a modern and developed city would have people without homes. Homeless people by the river
Japanise Dinner During the day tour, we stop for a traditional Japanese meal.
Dr Olga takes a picture of me at the entrance to the largest Shinto Shrine in Tokyo.I was told that Shinto is basically, the worship of heroes family and nature.

I can really identify with this, as I always visit the Alan Turing statue when I am in Manchester, and it has a special meaning for me.

Me at the Shinto Shrine
wedding1 A wedding was taking place in the Shrine.Although the Japanese are very private people, they were happy to be photographed during the ceremony.
A small geisha was present at the wedding. A little Gisha
Walking around Tokyo A wooden walkway in Shinjuku.I wandered around here for hours, as I love walking.
The view from the Tokyo tower.It is actually a small version of the Eiffel tower, and is cleverly lit, so that it can change colour. View from the Tokyo tower