Monday, January 27, 2020


June 25, 2019

We were picked up at our hotel at abut 8:00 AM for a 2 1/2 hour drive to Częstochowa, home of Poland's most famous icon, the Black Madonna.

The icon is housed in a chapel within the basilica anchoring the Jasna Gora Monastery, which was founded in 1382 by Pauline monks from Hungary. Because of her presence in the monastery, Częstochowa is the third largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.

A 350-foot-tall bell tower dominates the approach.

"Totus tuus" is Latin for "All yours." Pope John Paul II's motto was "All yours, Mary!"

Side chapels protrude from the side of the basilica.

We were herded into a waiting room where we were assigned to a group of four other English-speaking tourists and to Father Foster Muir, one of the Pauline monks. He was Scottish and had a delightful accent. We found him to be very knowledgeable and often quite funny. He pointed out that we were lucky not to have come on a day like the one shown in this photograph that was hanging on the wall. That's a lot of people. Father Muir said that many poles walk to Częstochowa from Warsaw or Krakow, the two cities Częstochowa lies more or less half-way between. (Krakow is about 92 miles away, and Warsaw is about 135 miles away.) It is typically a nine-day journey.

Sunday, January 19, 2020


June 24, 2019

One of the great things about Krakow is that there are so many nearby places that make good day trips.  One such destination is Zakopane, a resort town sometimes called "the winter capital of Poland" that lies about 70 miles south of Krakow on the Slovakian border.

The drive there was at least as fun and interesting as Zakopane itself. 

Our first stop was Chochołów, a 16th-century village of wooden cottages built by the highlanders living in the region. The homes are still occupied today.

And some of the high points are occupied by storks.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


June 22-25, 2019

We ate so much good food in Krakow that our restaurant rambles are worth their own post.

To begin with, there was this rich chocolate ice cream cone that we bought while we were waiting for our tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine to begin. It was not the first nor the last of an embarrassing number of ice cream cones we would have on this trip.

On our first evening in Krakow, we took a recommendation from our guide and planned to eat at Love Pierogi, Krakow's five-star pierogi spot, but when we got there it was closed. We were so disappointed! We were on a relatively busy street near Old Town, and we figured there had to be lots of good restaurants around us.

Sunday, January 12, 2020


June 23, 2019
I have to throw in one picture of a building that is next door to the Oskar Schindler Museum. Any guesses what "MOCAK" stands for? 
MOCAK = Museum Of Contemporary Art Krakow. That was easy, right? It was built in 2011 on a piece of land where part of Oskar Schindler's factory once stood.

The Schindler Museum is actually not a museum about Oskar Schindler and his personally dangerous attempt to save as many Jews as possible. Rather, it is a museum about World War II, including the Holocaust and with a little bit of Schindler. Our guide told us that many people are really disappointed by that fact, but I thought it was one of the best WWII museums I've seen.

I'm pretty sure most people today know who Oskar Schindler was, due largely to the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie Schindler's List. Much of the movie was shot in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow, with some of it filmed in Schindler's factory itself. The factory manufactured enamelware--dishes made of metal covered with a porcelain-like material.

Monday, January 6, 2020


June 23 2019

Our next stop was the Jewish Quarter of Krakow, known locally as Kazimierz because it was founded in the 14th century by King Kasimir as a gathering place for Jews. By 1939, the Jewish population of Krakow was 70,000, about 25% of the population.  In less than 18 months, the Jewish population was about 15,000, and in March 1941, the Krakow Ghetto was established to house what was left of the Jews. More about that later. By the end of the war, the Jewish population of Krakow had been essentially decimated.

After the war, this neighborhood was largely neglected in rebuilding efforts. It was a poor area with a high crime rate. In 1988 a Jewish Cultural Festival was started, and the neighborhood began to turn around. Then the movie Schindler's List was filmed here in 1993, and the place became a tourist attraction.

Today, the Jewish Quarter is the second-largest tourist attraction in Krakow after Old Town. It's a busy, famous part of the city, but the Jewish population remains quite small.

When we were there, a flea market was drawing a lot of people to the square around what was once the kosher slaughterhouse:

Tuesday, December 31, 2019


June 23, 2019

Krakow (pronounced "krack - ohv") is one of the oldest cities in Poland and traditionally the center of Polish culture, academics, arts, and economics. Therefore, this is a good time to discuss Polish money, which combines at least culture, arts, and economics.

First off, can I just say that our US dollars are so BORING compared to these colorful bills?  The green 100 zloty note (roughly pronunced "zwall-tuh") has the face of Wladyslaw II Jagiello (King of Poland 1386-1434) on front and the eagle from his tombstone and the Grunwald swords on the back. The blue 50 zloty has the face of Kazimierz II Wielki (aka Casimir the Great, King of Poland 1333-1370) on the front and the white eagle from his personal seal on the back. The pink-orange 20 zloty has the face of Boleslaw I the Brave (first King of Poland in 1025) on front and a silver coin from his reign on the back.  
In the US, our "faces" only go back to George Washington (President from 1789-1797). We are such a young nation.

By the way, $1 USD = 3.78 zloty OR 1 zloty = about 25¢.

We had booked a personal tour of Krakow through Our guide, Krzysztof Blaszczyk (who told us to call him Chris--thank goodness), met us at the edge of Old Town in Jan Matejko Square at the Grunwald Statue, an imposing, hard-to-miss piece:
When I looked up this statue for this post, I learned that the monument was commissioned by Ignacy Jan Paderewski, an internationally famous pianist who became the president of Poland in 1919, nine years after this statue was erected.

The Battle of Grunwald, fought in 1410, was the turning point that marked the end of the domination of the German-Prussian Teutonic Knights and the rise of the Polish-Lithuanian Union. The guy on the horse on the top is King Wladyslaw Jagiello, the king on the 100 zloty note. The prone body on the front is the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Urluch Von Jungingen. His pinky finger looks like it gets rubbed/touched a lot:

Friday, December 27, 2019


There are SO MANY books about Auschwitz: fiction, memoir, and historical. I think most people have probably read at least one. Here are a few that I have read within the last few years. If you have another one that you found insightful and worth reading, please leave the name of the book in the comments.

Man's Search for Meaning 
by Viktor Frankl
Perhaps the first significant book written about Auschwitz, this book was published in 1946 and is considered one of the most influential books of the 20th century. I first read this book when I was in high school, and while some of the deep psychological underpinnings of the second half of the book escaped me then, I nevertheless had a profound experience as I read about Frankl's experiences as detailed in the first half of the book. The older I get, the more meaningful his discussion of choosing one's response to suffering becomes.

My favorite quote from the book is this: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."