July the 9th until July the 16th: A week full of nature, sun and impressive sights! We spent two days hiking in the mountains that surround our apartment and both walks were amazing. Poland is definitely not like Austria when it comes to walking trails in the mountains. In Austria we would always easily find one of the many maps with routes in the area, but here we couldn’t find one in the local shops or gas stations. We tried book stores, supermarkets, everything, but no maps with long hiking trails. So we decided to just start walking and maybe we would find a trail leading to a peak. The mountains around us weren’t that high anyway and not chained as much as in Austria. That way when you do get lost you can easily walk downhill and take a bus in whatever village you end up in.
A dirt road began a few 100 meters from our holiday home and we began our hike going uphill. Not that steep, but soon we had a great view of the surroundings! We could see the lakes, small other villages and in the distance even locate Bielsko-Biala. On our way we saw small cabins with even smaller cars and this amazed us, because the roads in the mountains are even worse than the highway we’ve been on at the Polish border. Rocks, holes and tree trunks everywhere, but somehow those small little ‘Mister Bean cars’ manage to drive up and downhill without any problem. We were also hoping to encounter some wild animals, but unfortunately it was just us in the mountains and some Polish people who lived there. When we were almost downhill again we did walk past two elderly women, which was kind of odd, since they both needed sticks to walk and the way down was quite steep at this point. They also had quite a long way to go, either up or down, but were chatting like they were just having a relaxed walk in someone’s garden. No hikers with walking sticks, backpacks, bottled water and maps, no, elderly people, tiny cars and a few mosquitoes are what you’ll find in the mountains near Porabka. We figured out by then we should just forget about finding a pub in the mountains as well…But the hike was fun. Not that long, just a little over 2 hours, but we did manage to walk straight back to our apartment! Our second walk took us a little longer. We walked uphill to a height of 1200 meters, watched the delta flyers for a while and walk back again via a different trail. The climb uphill was very steep and the way back as well. We definitely felt our legs the next day, but got to enjoy a great view again!
On the second day of our stay we drove to Auschwitz. The camp can be found only 40 kilometres below Katowice, so for us it was only half an hour away. We have seen a few concentration camps before and went to visit Terezin in Czech Republic two years ago, which was both interesting and depressing. We took the full 3 hour tour of both camps ( the main camp and Birkenau) that were still there of the original three that were in function during the war. I was glad our tour guide spoke English very well so everything she told us was easy to follow. Since we both already know quite a lot about the war and what happened at the concentration camps, we didn’t hear many new things, but it was still interesting to get a better picture of the living circumstances of the prisoners during the war. I found the second camp, Birkenau or extermination camp, to be the most depressing, mainly because of its size. It’s huge and has two railways running through the centre so the Germans could easily deport the Jewish people and their other victims. It was already right there that most people were selected to walk straight to the gas chambers. These people had only spent a few hours in Birkenau before they found there death along with so many others. Naked, starving and scared to death and only because of their nationality. A few weeks ago I heard in Terror Haza in Budapest about the many Hungarian Jews who were killed around 1944. Here you could find the number of Jews who were gassed of each country and Hungary was on top of the list. They allied with Germany at first but refused to turn over their Jewish population. After Germany invaded Hungary, many Jewish people from that country were deported to Auschwitz… After visiting a concentration camp I always feel depressed, but I also realise how good my own life is and that I really shouldn’t complain about anything.
On Thursday we drove to Cracow, which was not far away from Porabka as well, only 65 kilometers. Normally this would take about 45 minutes or something, but there was no real highway leading to this historical city. Traffic lights after every 5 kilometres, trucks driving only 40 kilometres an hour in front you and many small traffic jams. It took us well over 2 hours to get there, but luckily the historical centre wasn’t that hard to find and the sun was already smiling at us since breakfast. No need to rush! Cracow is absolutely beautiful! First we went to see the castle, which was nice and gave us a good view of the Danube, but we didn’t feel like taking a long tour. Besides, the tour guide could only speak Polish and our Polish is not that good…at all. Instead we walked around the courtyard and went to explore the Old Town. Cracow has this huge market square with St Mary’s Church, historical town houses and the cloth hall in the centre. There are many terraces surrounding the square, so we had lunch and drinks in the shadow while we watched the horse carriages drive by with the many tourists. It’s very easy to find your away around this part of the city, since the entire Stare Miasto is encircled by a green belt, where the fortifications of the city used to be that have been destroyed in the past. Cracow is not a very big city, in a day you could easily see all the highlights, but there is a sociable atmosphere as well, which makes it a great place to visit.
Aside from Auschwitz and Cracow we also rented a pedal boat to see more of the many lakes in the surroundings and went shopping in a huge shopping arcade in the outskirts of Bielsko-Biala. Bielsko-Biala itself is not that interesting I think, but as it was raining the last day of our week in Poland we decided to forget about culture or nature for the day and just spend a lot of money :) The week was great with many long nights on the balcony with rum/cola and Machiavelli, great weather, nature, culture and fun. I definitely want to go back to Poland some day and then maybe explore the northern region near Gdansk.