Poland was the first country I've been to with very little English signage. I had learned some basic Polish and learned more while there. For instance, I caught on pretty quickly that sklep means store. I rented apartments for my stay from Apartments Apart which worked out really well. It also gave me the experience of going to the grocery store - examining packages and trying to determine what they contained. I think it helped me eat more healthily since I was sure what the fruits and vegetables were. Apartments Apart also offered a Welcome Package which I bought so my first apartment had basics (milk, corn flakes, butter, bread, jam, cheese, water) which was very convenient.

Auschwitz was sobering, even though the buildings (which originally were Polish Army barracks) didn't themselves seem bad now that they are clean and airy and nicely painted with green grass all around. The buildings have different displays - some are factual, others have displays of personal items. There are rooms of hair (and an example of the cloth made from the hair), shoes, suitcases, toys, clothes, dishes. It adds a layer of heartbreak to know that prisoners were led to believe that they would need these items in their life at supposedly settlement camps. It amazes me that the Nazis kept such detailed records. At first, they took pictures of all the prisoners, when that got too expensive, they started tattooing. Another horribly amazing realization was how close to the camp the commandant, Rudolf Höss, lived with his wife and children. They could easily see the camps and crematoriums and must have been able to smell the burning. His wife loved her years there. Höss was hung right outside the gas chambers and crematoriums, in sight of his lovely home. His wife should have been hung alongside him. This picture is the infamous gate into the camp. I don't know if the "Halt" sign on the barricade was a leftover from when it was barracks - I can't imagine the need to ask people to not go into the camp.

Kraków's Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) has been here for centuries. From the East spices, silk, and leather were brought here and Polish goods such as textiles, lead, and salt were sold. The Hall stands in the center of Rynek Główny (Market Square) which was laid out in 1257. The statue in front is of Adam Mickiewicz, the greatest Polish Romantic poet of the 19th century. It was unveiled on June 16, 1898, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. During the Nazi occupation of Poland the square was renamed after Adolf Hitler and the statue was destroyed. The statue was restored in 1955. The statues at the base depict Poetry, Motherland (facing camera), and Science. On the other side is Courage.

My father is 100% Polish. All of my Great-grandparents came from Poland in the 1880's. My Great-great grandfather, Franciszek, came from the tiny village of Fraça. The next village over is Lalkowy. This is the inside of the church there - it's also where the 5 older siblings of my Great-grandfather, Jan, were baptized. I don't know where Jan was baptized. There is a cemetery next to it - I looked around to see if I could see any family names, but didn't see any. Later I found out that spaces in a cemetery are rented from the Church and a grave can only usually stay in place for a maximum of 40 years. After this time, the graves are dug up, the bones removed, and the space re-rented to someone else. For this reason it is rare to find graves over 50 years old in Poland. Since my ancestors left over 120 years ago and WWII destroyed so much of Poland - and without anyone to care for existing graves - it's not surprising I didn't see any. This church apparently has been here since 1409 (not with this building however, it looked newer). It's difficult to trace ancestry since not only was so much destroyed during invasions of Poland, Poland as a country didn't exist during the 1800's.

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Gdansk is an easily walked city. My apartment here was right next to St. Mary's Church. The church is between the port area where Lech Walesa started the Solidarity Movement leading to the downfall of Communist control and Long Market Street. Long Market Street is lined with interesting brightly colored buildings and cafes. (The buildings are reconstructed since there was so much damage during WWII.) This building is the New Bench House. In the 17th century, a young girl by the named of Hedwig was imprisoned there by her Uncle. Every day at 1:00, she appears in the window at the top of the building. I saw her and ran around yelling that someone should set her free, but everyone ignored me!

Malbork Castle is on the river Nogat and was built by the Teutonic knights in 1275 and expanded over the years. Over half of it was destroyed in WWII. It was damaged even more by a fire in 1959. The castle has been mostly reconstructed, with restoration ongoing since 1962. This picture is of part of the main cathedral in the castle. It was fully restored just before WWII and is still in ruins from the war. The restoration that has been completed is great - but it must have been so disheartening to see it all in ruins.

Some of the papers from my ancestors list Poznań as one of the cities they came from. I lost some sightseeing time due to the pouring rain. This is the beautiful Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. A basilica was first built on this site in 938. This being Poland, it was destroyed or damaged throughout the years, most recently in WWII. It makes me wonder how my Polish ancestors felt about all the damage done to Poland during the war. The Cathedral was very peaceful when I was there, only two workers were there, and I was the sole visitor for a while before two other people strolled in. The tomb of Mieszko I and his son Boleslaw I, the first crowned King of Poland are in the Cathedral's Golden Chapel.

I stayed in two areas of Warsaw. I stayed in Old Town when I first arrived. Old Town is actually a reconstruction of the buildings that stood there before...well, I'll let you guess when they were destroyed! Using drawings, photos, and written descriptions, the buildings were reconstructed - even giving some of them the same leaning they had due to passing time. Old town and the adjacent New Town (which should be Slightly Newer Town) are very walkable. Cars are not allowed to drive on the streets - which is nice, except for pulling a wheelie over cobblestones for a couple blocks gets a little annoying/noisy. This figure was at the front of the store. I'm not sure of its meaning, I'm thinking it wasn't always meant for the front of a jewelry store. There are also lots of ice cream places in Old Town. When I returned to Warsaw at the end of my trip, I stayed in the modern section, which is also very cool. The two areas are linked by the Royal Route. The Royal Route begins at Warsaw's Castle Square and runs south down Krakowskie Przedmieście (Kraków Suburb Street) which becomes ulica Nowy Świat (New World Street.)



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