Journeys end

Well, Twizzles and I have been Home for a day now. Having had time to sleep and reflect on our adventure I’m ready to write my concluding post.
It feels like we were away for months but in reality it was 12 days.. 304 hours.. It sounds so small but this time last week we were flying back to Poland from Kyiv. I worked out that we covered 3304miles in 304hours which means our total average speed was 10.86mph lol. I’m rather pleased with that score :-)

So to sum up for anyone who wishes to follow us… Auschwitz is incredible (lonely planet is a bit wrong here, it takes 2hours to get there from Krakow by train and you can easily walk to the museum and to Birkenau… Allow a day). Wieliczka salt mines are an absolute must (20 mins by train from Krakow but check times coming back. If you come out of the ‘miners entrance’ afterwards head down towards the square and head left, if it’s hot there’s an ice cream kiosk on the edge of the square, allow a day if you want both tours). Kyiv is amazing, definitely a must see. Make your life easier and learn how to translate Cyrillic letters to Roman letters but make sure you learn Ukrainian not Russian as there are differences in the two alphabets just as you find in European languages.
Finally my beloved Gdansk…. Take a few days, wander the streets, visit Hel and Sopot, take a boat around the shipyards… Go and see the monument at Westerplatte and at the shipyard gates. You will never find hospitality like you find in Poland.

This has been the most amazing experience and Twizzles and I are already planning our next.

I’ll finish by thanking everyone who helped make this journey for us. Firstly, and most importantly, let us all give thanks to the Liquidators of Chernobyl, without their sacrifices the long term effects of the disaster would be far far worse than they are today, Twizzles and I saw their work first hand and they deserve the highest honour. They truly did save the world.

Thank you to the staff at the hotels and hostel we stayed in. The people at the restaurants, particularly in Kyiv who were so patient with me whilst I butchered their language into some weird Polglishrainian. The friends we made who shared little slices of our lives. To my family near Gdansk and once again to our readers and followers.

We wish you all fair winds and clear skies

Дуже Дякую
Zombie & Twizzles
Xxxxxxxx

Sopot and Cieplewo.

Today we went for a wander round the town we’ve been staying in for the last five days Pruszcz (Proo-sh-ch) and to the village his Mum & Grandmother used to live in Cieplewo (Ch-ple-voh). Zombie hasn’t been back here in 20 years but much is still the same, they’ve just multiplied almost infinitely. The route to the train station being the main thing he wanted to see and the plot where their houses used to stand, it’s a road now.

We walked from his Uncle’s block (flats were, and are still, the main abode of the Poles) down the route over the river to Pruszcz Railway Station and from there a winding 3K route mostly along the railway line to Cieplewo. We stopped a few times to take photos of this and that and we had been in the village for quite a while before they mentioned that we were in “Stare Cieplewo” the old part of the village. Just a couple of houses later and the road narrowed before letting out again to the plot where Zombie’s Mum’s and Gran’s houses were. The “cottage” was three houses stuck together, the end two only being one level each. Here’s a before and after photo from the same spot as best we could do.

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After some reminiscing we continued up the street and going to “drop in” on some friends. The Polish way is you just turn up somewhere and you’ll be greeted warmly and presented with coffee almost before you’ve sat down. It’s really nice and not something that ever happens in England, you turn up un-announced you’d be lucky to get an invite in let alone hospitality.

Anyway, we ended up staying for a few hours during which I took more photos (flowers, kittens, grape vines, butterflies), we picked walnuts & apples and we had Polish sausage barbecued for lunch.

Whilst I may only have command of 80-100 words of Polish I have begun to understand a lot more of what people are saying in the context of a conversation so even though three of the four people spoke exclusively Polish it was a wonderful time. I’m glad that boything’s family friends & uncle like me so much, makes me know I’m doing something right by learning Polish and coming to this wonderful country, though apparently my name means “small crying girl” in Polish! We got a lift home round 2 and since then we’ve just been packing and reading.

Flight tomorrow is at 10.15 local time so this will be posted when we have Internet, hopefully before the flight.

Thank you, Poland, for a very wonderful holiday and don’t forget to be awesome.

~Twizzles

Taking a boat to Hel

The Hel Peninsula is the bit that sticks out the top of Poland in the Baltic Sea, we had planned on getting a train there as at some points it’s a single track that’s you can throw a stone across the width of the land but turns out that would take far too much time. So we took a ferry, or “sea tram” as the translation would be, taking just under two hours to cross. There was a slow departure along the river through the well known Gdansk Shipyard and then we were in the Baltic Sea! Well enough that it got choppy and horrible half way across but we were technically never in open sea as we didn’t leave the peninsular.

Arriving there we decided on finding the first beach spot we could and parked up, unfortunately whilst it was lovely when the sun was out it was far too cloudy to be much good. Zombie got his attempt at swimming in the sea and I braved a short paddle but it was far too cold.

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They did have wifi on the beach though! Europe seems to have a great love of contactless bank cards and free wifi, it was in every air port and lots of other places too get back to England and you’re lucky to find wifi you have to pay for in the airport let alone free stuff. But I digress, we gave it about half an hour and decided to go for a walk and find sme brunch, we had had breakfast as like every morning Zombie’s uncle kindly made us eggs & cold meat on bread (v yummy) but it seemed like quite a while ago. We bought some souvenirs and found a little waffle/ice cream place. We had seen signs for “Gofry” in quite a few places but didn’t know what it was, turns out the most awesome waffles ever. Cream and your choice of about 10 different fresh fruits. Boything had raspberries and strawberries and I had ice cream (lody) which was amazing and neon colours.

As the peninsula is pretty easily walkable we followed a sign post for Plaza which is beach in Polish and what did we find but another amazing beach and strangely this one was warmer and sunnier! So Zombie went for his proper swim in the sea and I read my book enjoying the sun and heat, making sure every so often he hadn’t disappeared or drowned.

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After a lovely few hours we went to find some lunch, we had fish and chips of course! Can’t not at the sea side, even if you are 800 miles from home. We had to make the 3:30 boat back as we’d booked on to it so we hoofed it and got there in plenty of time, this crossing was much nicer as the sea had calmed a lot.

We wandered back through old Gdansk and caught the bus back home. There will be lots of photos to post once I’ve had a go through all of them but here’s one of me and Neptune.

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Back in the homeland

So the journey from Kiev to Warsaw was relatively uneventful. The only real panics were at Kiev airport when our STA travel card declined on us! There was money there but when you can’t explain what’s happened and you barely speak the language, it’s good to have a second card. That’s the second time it’s declined on us too!
Also at Warsaw railway station, the display boards only show some of the station stops, we had a quick dash into the passenger office to check but all was fine. So 6hrs later I come across some familiar sights, it’s been 20 years since my last visit here but everything is just as familiar as if I was here 20 days ago. And yet it’s all so different, towns and villages have expanded, Tesco is here!!! But my Uncle’s flat is more or less how I left it and I still know all of the streets and paths.

We visited the family plot in the cemetery too, there have been a few more names added to the tablet since I last saw it,but I cleaned it down and placed some flowers and a candle there which was really special :-)

I’m going to wrap this up here, it’s so so wonderful, please make sure you come and visit Gdansk, you will love it

Much love

Zombie xxxxx

Travelling up the country.

Today was much of a quiet and trains day. Due to a slightly restless night we jut had breakfast in the hotel then packed up our things watching Dr Who. We did find out that after my stomach’s wrestle with yesterday’s chicken nuggets I’ve pulled a muscle so it’s a wee bit hard to move more than an inch. But luckily that pharmacist’s understanding of “deep heat” has got us some muscle cream that’s doing its job slowly.

Anyway we found some snackables in a mini supermarket with a grumpy cashier and what did we find but two bottles of coke next to each other with the Polish spelling of Zombie’s full name! As a side note Coke have assumed that there’s a lot of Pawels in Poland alongside the odd Stephen and Nathan.

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Shopping gotten we went and waited on our platform for the train. Now I’ve never travelled British first class because it’s hellishly expensive compared to normal but in Poland it’s another 30PLN which is about a fiver so we decided to give it a go. The train which turned up was really long so we had to walk the entire length of the platform to even get on. Polish platforms are a but crazy as they’re not standardised in the least, some you have to go down steps to get on, some you have to go up steps and some have a gap that’s easily a foot across, the steps on the side a tiny bit closer than that.
We found our seats and hoped nobody else would join out 6 seat cabin, unfortunately an Israeli guy did however he proved to be a bit of amusement for us. We got underway and once out of the city you can see green for miles, we even saw a tiny baby pony and lots of very thin cows!

As you always have a nice chap with Zombie’s Uncle’s name comes round with a tea trolley, drinks, crisps etc and our new companion thought he’d buy a bag of crisps, with a 100PLN note, now that sounds excessive to anyone but its pretty common to have them here as it would be about £20 but the crisps were 5PLN (£1.20~). Also as we were first class we were the first customers for them so the poor lad didn’t have any change or enough English to explain so. Luckily Zombie Translator to the rescue and he managed to tell the passenger that they trolley man would come round again and should have change so the guy can pay then.

Continuing on we took some pictures, watched the country go by, played some games and about half the journey had gone by, it took just over 3 hours overall. It was hot and sunny but there’s large windows on these European trains so we had it pulled all the way down.

Now, having the window open caused the curtains to blow about a fair bit, mine even went out the window at one point! But our cohabiter thought he’d tie his out of the way in the EMERGENCY BREAK PULL! Good thing Zombie noticed quick enough!

Here’s some panoramas Zombie took out of each side of the train.

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We’re going to have a quiet night in as there’s not much to do here other than a restaurant so we’ll eat in the hotel and we have an early morning tomorrow because we have to pick up our tickets 3 hours before our flight to Kiev, so early D:

The weather is still gorgeous, I hope it is there.

DFTBA
TWIZZLES & ZOMBIE.

Wieliczka

So I’ll preface this with why a blog wasn’t posted yesterday, I got light food poisoning from chicken nuggets I had for lunch. It’s the only thing we didn’t both eat and boy do I regret them now. Suffice it to say that I was not a happy bunny at about 8pm last night and now I’ve got a pulled muscle in my tummy that’s making is hard to do much of anything. Luckily Zombie thinks I’ll be fine for Chernobyl on Monday.

Anyway back to the story of our adventures, this was written on the train back and then where I left off Zombie’s writings from the evening will carry on.

There’s been a lot of waiting on this trip; for the plane, for busses and trams, 2 hours on a train to Auschwitz (we’d assumed it was closer than that) and now an hour to get back from the salt mines. The train timetable is completely incomprehensible at times, there won’t be one for over an hour then three leave in a 20 minute window! So we’re chilling in the sun on the platform of Wieliczka Rynek-Kopalnia.

Wieliczka (v-yea-leech-ka) is home to the biggest salt mine in Poland (though they can no longer fully mine it due to floods and the fact that there’s not much left). Just to get to the first of the three levels we visited it was 380 steps, 64 m! Overall I think we walked about 3k through the caves and halls and went down to 130m deep. We saw 10 chambers of varying sizes from about 50 feet wide to the two biggest there at 6 stories, even that was just 5% of the chambers and 10% of the tunnels.

Most of the smaller chambers were much the same but were set up with many salt rock carvings by the self-taught miners and different exhibits to tell the history of the mine from the recent history of flooding and water evacuation then going back to the two explanations of how the salt came to be there.

Zombie will now take over to tell you about the two biggest chambers and the explanations of how the mine came to be, let us know which you like best!

So here I sit on our last night in Krakow. I have to tell you about the salt mines of Wieliczka.

As we passed out of the chamber demonstrating the use of horses to work the massive rope lift we passed through one of the 40 chapels carved out by the miners. Incredibly the wood for the alter is Limewood (I think) which rots so easily on the surface but the high salt content of the atmosphere has held the wood in perfect preservation for 300 years!!! My god! You struggle to remember that the first celebrity to visit the mine was Nicholas Copernicus in the 1400s! This beautiful mine seems to be held in some kind of time sink where time moves at a fraction of the speed on the surface! But this was nothing, NOTHING! Compared to what awaited.
There are two theories as to how this salt deposit formed:
1: Science
The land that became south Poland was in fact a sea some 13m years ago. Due to the high temperature the waters evaporated leaving this massive salt deposit.
2: Legend
The Duke of Poland was to marry Princess Kinga of Hungary. Whilst she knew Poland was a rich land they lacked in salt (vital for preservation of meats etc). She asked her father the king to give one of Hungary’s many salt mines to Poland as a wedding gift. The king agreed and she went to visit the mine her father had gifted the Poles. During her visit she took off her engagement ring and threw it deep into the mine where it vanished into the depths. She then journeyed to Poland where she made a brief stop over in the town of Wieliczka.
She asked some of the men of the town to start digging where they discovered a salt deposit where before there had been none. In the centre of the first rock of salt they pulled out, there, held inside was Kinga’s ring. They continued their excavation and discovered the huge salt deposit, brought to them by Kinga’s magic ring.

I prefer the legend myself :-) during the time of Pope John Paul II he visited the mine and canonized Princess Kinga. Now the reason for the preamble is because we were brought next to St. Kinga’s Chapel…

It took my breath away! The mighty chamber held sculptures, dioramas and beautiful chandeliers, all crafted from the very salt around them. An amazing representation of the last supper that gave the illusion of great depth but was barely 15cm deep. A perfect nativity scene with the baby Jesus in salt from another Polish mine where the salt is high in iron oxide creating an orange glow from the light behind him. And this vast expanse was created by 3 men working for over 60 years! My words cannot do it justice, no ones can, this must be seen to be believed. (internet pics won’t do it either, you have to see it for yourselves, it gave me goosebumps).

Moving onwards we passed by a massive lake, now whom amongst you spots the problem of water in a salt mine… Yes you at the back!

Correct! Salt dissolves in water, which is a little unnerving when you are 100m underground and surrounded by salt. However this water (like the Dead Sea) is saturated with salt. Throwing salt into it is no different than throwing a rock in, it won’t dissolve (phew).

We finally came to a chamber second only to St. Kinga’s because of its size… Easily 6 stories high!! During the war (lol) the bloody Nazis (yes, them again) used it to make plane engines, clever really because no matter how much it was bombed, it was secure. So we brought some tat from the gift shop in there (yes, the most amazing gift shop to work in! (Oh yes! Must buy some stamps for the post cards)). They also had a lift, clearly liberated from a shopping mall, to take you up to a viewing level… It was pretty great but to be honest it was almost like looking up… Just from the other direction lol.

Oh by the way, this was the end of our tour, I’m sure the guide to take us out said 500 metres to the lift. LIES!!!! we walked for ages to the lift but eventually we got to the lift that’s all over in 30secs (it’s damn fast). Just a note for anyone who decides to come to Krakow and the surrounding locations. There is no clear defined route back to the station.. Head down the hill and head left.. But get an ice cream from the good looking polish girl at the counter in the wall, they were epic.

So Twizzles told you about waiting for the train home but once we did some shopping in town her tummy was really hurting so we made our way back to the hotel for a siesta. Five minutes after getting off the tram we heard an almighty screech and a SUV comes hiring down the street, over the central reservation across the oncoming traffic (luckily they had been stopped at previous lights) up the pavement, clipped the back of a parked car and then rammed into two further parked cars narrowly missing a tree. It looked like the guy was alright and there were plenty of locals on the scene so we left them to it but the car was clearly going about 100mph! Imagine if we’d been walking faster or the tram hadn’t been stopped at so many traffic lights, it was just 30 metres in front of us. Nothing on the news yet we can find but Zombie went out for dinner in the evening and the 4 cars were still there banged up. Crazy!

You’ll have to wait for photos from inside until we get back home because you had to pay for a photo pass so we just used Twizzles’ DSLR camera and we have no way of getting them off the SD card.

It’s a few hours before our 3 hour train journey to Warsaw, you’ve been good to us Krakow we must do this again some time.
Peace, love and DFTBA.

Twizzles & Zombie.

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Oswiecim

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1 day 16 hrs AET
I’m sitting on a train heading back to Krakow. I’m going to open this blog with a quote from a film
“Everyone forgets that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own”
I was pleasantly surprised by the clunky old train that was the same type running in Poland when I was small, even the smell was the same :-) but they were old then.
In the south of Poland is a small town called Oswiecim (osh-fyen-chim). Its quite a nice town in its own way it’s got a huge station building that echos it’s important past as a massive rail interchange. When the Nazis occupied Poland they also saw the importance of the railway there and so this town was renamed to the German translation: Auschwitz.
The name synonymous with one of humanities most horrific acts. At Oswiecim station we met Ellie and Bianca who were on an Interail jaunt around Europe. We all walked along to the site of the original Auschwitz prison camp OKA Auschwitz 1. This was an army barracks converted for the purpose of a concentration camp. Political prisoners, Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals and anyone who had physical or mental impairments were amongst the early inmates. As you take your first look at the barbed wire and the infamous sign over the gates Arbeit Mact Frei (Work makes/sets you free) you feel that knowledge strike you that it’s real, this happened. I have to impress this on you that this is very real, it really did happen but you truly feel it when you see it. Amongst some of the more novel methods the Nazis had for torture and killing were to march them off to work then March them round the camp where they had to sing “hooray we’re back” then they were shot. These people were broken quickly, upon arrival they had their possessions removed, then were shaved all over then showered with freezing or scalding water then they had their picture taken. The camp commandant gave them a speech: “a rabbi with not live longer that 2 weeks, a priest, 3 weeks and the rest of you will probably be dead in a few months. There is no escape, the only way out is up the crematorium chimney”
With this in mind the Nazis began research into “the problem of the final Jewish solution”. Shooting? No… A waste of bullets. Injection? No… Too slow. So they came upon the idea of poison gas. Cyclone B, a rat poison which turn to gas when activated by body heat and shuts down the oxygen transfer system of the body was perfect. So they began gassing prisoners. The first gas chamber was able to do 700 people at a time, it showed the Nazis the way forward.
It is right now I want to remember a prisoner of Auschwitz 1: In block 6 there are photos all over the walls, hundreds of terrified eyes starring at you all except for Jan Krasinski, a watchmaker born 16/05/1915… He survived 14 months and in his picture, he was smiling and his eyes glittered with a humour that seemed to say “you can’t break me”.
There are rooms in the other blocks with displays of items plundered from the dead of both Auschwitz camps. Suitcases, spectacles, pots and pans, shoes (80,000 of them!). But possibly most horrific of all is the hair.
2000kg of female hair (never taken from men), taken from approximately 40,000 corpses. Since it would take the Nazis about 20 mins to kill 2000 people in a gas chamber in Auschwitz 2, 6 gas chambers all doing between 1400 and 2000 people it took about 1hour 20mins to kill enough people to generate that much hair. They would send it to companies to make cloth!!!!
I’m going to mention Auschwitz (2) – Birkenau. Situated on a spur from the railway 3km from Auschwitz 1 the Nazis built their killing masterpiece. As you have read it was damned efficient in its task. Almost every picture taken shows the selection process on the area between the lines. Twizzles and our friends took one look and then walked back to the main gated archway. I sat at the crossroads (the point of selection) and wrote:

I feel alone here
Here people met their end
Not by the actions of their past
But by the life they were born into
I see before me the path they had to take
To the left as I face the gates
This is where they believed they would live
This is where they would die.
I hear the horn of a train
People here must have heard the whistle of a steam train
People must have heard the sounds of a world
That one man decided they could no longer be a part of
I am lucky, I can walk back out of the gate.

As I walked away a thought occurred to me that gave meaning to a phrase from a story/game I enjoy. If Auschwitz-Birkenau could talk and it could speak to Hitler and Himmler and all the rest of them it would say “I am a monument to all your sins”.

Auschwitz is a monument, everyone should visit it once, but I promise that you won’t want to again.

It’s time to find a beer and a meal (it’s taken that long to write this) but I’m including a picture of what I could could see when I wrote those words above.

Much Love
And after today all I want to say is: be excellent to each other

Zombie and Twizzles
Xxxxx