McKinney Gypsy Caravan

One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Category: Poland

Day 4: Wroclaw, Poland and back to Czechia

Standard Euro breakfast this morning at the Radisson. They had Ratatouille, which seemed odd for breakfast- but I ate it. I also had some smoked dried fish and pickled herring because I absolutely love that weird stuff for breakfast.

We had to get some Polish cash out as well to pay for parking for the day. In case you ever wondered what Polish Złoty looks like.

Our first stop of the day was the Panorama of The Battle of Racławice, a 360 degree panoramic painting depicting a battle in a war against Russia called The Kościuszko Uprising. Poland eventually lost the war to Russia and eventually lost their independence, but they won this particular battle in 1794- so its remembered as a point of national pride. I had never heard of Thaddeus Kościuszko… but I totally recommend a read through his Wikipedia! Turns out, he had quite the life and was quite an asset to the United States. When the American Revolution began, he set sail for the US and enrolled to fight for the American side. He was a huge engineer asset for the Americans- fortifying structures and setting up roadblocks for the British, serving under multiple generals and even Benjamin Franklin. He sailed back to Poland after not being paid for his 7 years of soldiering (he got an IOU basically that he would collect 20 years later) and was made a commander of the Polish Military where he led this famous uprising and war of peasant Polish fighting with scythes against their Russian overlords. He was captured, but political Tsar change in Russia led to him being pardoned for his crimes of rebellion. He returned to the US-became friends with Thomas Jefferson.. returning to Europe again when he found out his sister sent his nephews to fight with Napoleon in his name.  Seriously- there are memorials and namesakes to this guy all over Poland. He was a Revolutionary war hero in the US, was smuggled into France under fake papers as a spy for Thomas Jefferson, worked with Ben Franklin and left his entire US estate to the education of black slaves and for buying freedom for all of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves (which- was never executed, by the way… apparently friends up to the “take my slaves away” part.) Basically- a truly interesting guy. I cant wait to read more about him! I feel like you should, too. We all know names like Benedict Arnold or Paul Revere who are famous for things they should never be infamous for.. (Paul Revere didn’t actually even make the ride… don’t get me started. ha) but I’ve never even heard this guy mentioned. Have I just been living under a rock? I do find that I missed human class sometimes.

Anyway…. panoramas seem to be a cultural thing in this area of Europe. I see a lot of towns with some sort of panorama exhibition. This particular painting is the oldest panorama in Poland and considered one of the best. You ascend up the circular ramp into the viewing platform. They held us hostage for a 20 minute Polish-only description of the battle and painting. Norah made friends with a group of Polish schoolgirls of course. Poor thing just wants some friends. Can’t wait for her to go back to school in August.

The painting was completed on canvas custom made in Brussels for the project and painted over 9 months by multiple artists. The painting was originally in another city- Lviv- since 1984 but since Poland was “owned” by the Soviets after WWII, the painting was considered “politically sensitive” – meaning portraying Russia in a bad light… so therefore they wouldn’t restore it. It wasn’t restored until the 1980s, reopening at its present location in 1985.

It really does have a semi-realistic feel to it because of the real trees, bushes and dirt that stand between you and the painting, making it feel like you’re looking out into the distance instead of staring into a painting in a frame like usual. It was neat… but for like 5 minutes- not 30. ha I was ready to go when they finally released us.

  

After finally exiting the panorama, we encountered our first Wroclaw dwarf just hanging out eating an ice cream cone.

The Wroclaw Dwarves actually have quite the history as a form of anti-communist rebellion. A movement called The Orange Alternative in the 1980s. Sort of a peaceful protest against the soviets who had declared martial law in the city. People would spray paint anti-communist slogans on walls and the government would come through and paint over them with white paint. So, some students started spray painting dwarfs over the white paint. Soon, dwarves were popping up everywhere around the city…the students and artists started organizing marches for “dwarves rights” and other ridiculous things… basically requiring the police to arrest them for protesting dwarves or some other extremely ridiculous or awkward thing. One march everyone dressed up as Santa Claus, so in turn over 76 Santa Clauses were arrested. For what?… no one really knew. ha It was a satirical way to stick it to a government that was oppressing people. The police tried to crack down on these pro-dwarf gatherings… but hearing the news report about the police shutting down a demonstration about dwarfs sounded ridiculous. ha A non-violent jab with a stick if you will. The movement’s biggest event would later be known as The Revolution of the Dwarves in 1988 with over 10,000 protesters marching wearing orange cone hats chanting “Freedom for the Dwarves!”

In 2001, the city wanted to honor its history of anti-communist rebellion with a bronze dwarf statue at the location where the group originally used to meet… but it has since become somewhat of a tourist attraction. There’s even an iPhone app for tracking the dwarves you find. Anyone who is anyone in Wroclaw seems to get a dwarf in their likeness.  In fact, I may have a new life goal before I die- attain status where I am deemed worthy of bronze dwarf-dom. ha I’m gonna need my dwarf to have a passport, a laptop and some sort of gardening tool…  “travelling wifi garden gnome”, if you will. 🙂

We walked along the waterfront of the Oder River checking out some of the historic buildings along the way.

These birds have 4 wings. i have no idea why. lol Art is weird.

We crossed over the Tumski Bridge. oh my gosh…so. many. locks. Turns out it’s nicknamed “Lover’s Bridge” and couples come here, declare their love, lock their lock on to the bridge and throw the key into the river. I remember a similar bridge in Paris just had a piece collapse a couple of years ago because the locks in total weighed something like 40 tons. I’m not sure if Poland is checking the health of their 120 year old footbridge… but they might want to.. ha

 

The Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is the seat of the archdiocese of Wroclaw.  The twin spires can be seen towering about the skyline. It also houses the largest pipe organ in Poland and what used to be the largest in the world. We were going to go inside, but there was an admission fee that amounted to like $20 for us to tour it… and I have a problem in principle with someone charging for me to look at a church… so, I decided I didn’t care that much. ha

 

We really should have went across town to see the Old town square and look for more dwarves, but Norah had decided she didn’t want to walk anymore and Kegan had been carrying her… so we returned to the car and headed back towards the Czech Republic. There were a couple sites we ran out of time to see the day before, but with extra time today, we decided to swing a little out of the way to fit them in.

The first was the Muzeum Molke- a “museum” of sorts.. it was more like a guy living in an airstream who owned the land and was hoping to make money off showing off some old Nazi factories and mine. His dog was on guard outside his trailer to “welcome” us. haha

The reason I was interested in this site was for this thing right here: the “Muchołapka” or “Flycatcher”. In the beginning stages of WWII, this area of now Poland was Germany. Alfred Nobel (same Nobel- prize…dynamite…etc) had a munitions factory here… and prior to the war, there was already a huge coal mine active here… so the Germans just decided that the mine would be a perfect way to power their war machine.

 

There is so much conspiracy and so many unknowns surrounding this site. Most people believe this was just the base of a cooling tower for a power plant like another one that exists a couple hours away:

Which is of course the most logical… but the conspiracy theories are WAY better. LOTS of people seem to believe that this site was the location for a top secret Nazi secret weapon program. An author, Igor Witkowski, even has a book in Polish about it, based on interrogation and testimony of soldiers after the war.

Some people believe that Nazi scientists were working on an anti-gravity machine- called The Nazi Bell or Die Glocke and that this concrete structure was a test rig for the device. Some say time travel was the goal. Some account of a local kid says that a mirror on top of the bell could show images from the past…

There ARE some things that don’t add up with this being a standard cooling tower. Inside the mine we went through and out from the concrete structure are giant trunk power cables…. according to people with much more experience than myself…would not have been needed for a standard cooling tower. Also, the area was tested for radiation and they found increased levels of Cobalt-60… so… maybe the Nazis were working on figuring out time travel! 🙂 I guess we will never know.

We did get to go inside of the Nazi bunker which was pretty cool. I think what was best about it is that we were literally the only people around, there was no signage… and it felt almost like we were trespassing into some secret place we shouldn’t have been. Especially since this wasn’t a well-toured facility… like, we went down one tunnel inside and it was pitch black and water was running on the concrete slope.. finally after turning our phone lights on… we were like…ok- lets head back.. this obviously isnt the way. ha  Giant swastikas on the doors didnt really help that feeling of being inside an enemy stronghold.

Norah was scared. ha

On into the Czech Republic, I found a house along the way that needs a little McKinney love. ha  Gorgeous AND run down- our specialty 🙂 (We will NOT be moving to the Czech Republic I can assure you. haha)

Some beautiful views along the drive.

We stopped in the little town of Kudowa-Zdrój to see the Kaplica Czaszek or “Chapel of Skulls”.

The chapel was built in 1776 by the local parish priest. He was inspired by his pilgrimage to Rome by the Capuchin Cemetary ( an ossuary cemetery we tried to visit when in Rome-but it was closed that day). He returned here and exhumed and cleaned the bones of over 3000 bodies- mostly who died of famine or disease or during the Thirty Years War one hundred years prior (one of the deadliest wars in history- over 8 million casualties…I’ll write more about that from Prague, when we see the window that started it all when the Protestants threw a couple Catholics out of a 3rd story window. ha)

Under the floor of the chapel are 21,000 more bodies. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside- the above is from Wikipedia. A very stern nun in her habit told me no photos and no phone in Polish- but it was quite clear what I was being instructed. ha. We got there for the last tour of the day-rushed into the back of a group by said stern nun after it already started. Another 20 minute hostage situation while we listened to a Polish presentation on the history and the bones. ha But overall, a pretty neat place.

Everything in town seemed to be closed except a little food cart across the street that had Tosty’s. An open face sandwich with mushrooms, cheese and other toppings. I got ham on this one for Norah. It was decent for the $3… but nothing crazy. Norah was happy.

As we sat in traffic for a bit I was able to snap a couple pictures of the cherry blossom trees here right now. They are gorgeous and they seem to be everywhere. Also, apple trees- they are literally in everyone’s yard, alongside the roads, fields full of them. Apparently, this is an apple growing region…

We got to our hotel and restaurant fairly early… around 5:30pm. Pivovar means brewery in Czech. They had their own beers on tap, a wonderful menu, playgrounds inside and outside for the kids, rock climbing wall, tennis courts, outdoor bowling lane, concert venue… this was your one stop shop in this area- for sure.

Norah played on the playground before we ate dinner, played inside in the little ballpit while we ate dinner, then was back outside again. She was in need of some free play time.

I forgot to photograph our appetizers from the restaurant. I had beef carpaccio and Kegan had a beef broth gnocchi soup. Kegan’s main was Beef Cheeks.

I had Lamb shank, which really was mutton shank…and I was totally ok with that.

and we had a lighter fluffy cheesecake to finish.

Also, with the exchange rate.. our 2 appetizers, 2 meals, Norah’s pizza, 2 apple juices, 4 large beers and 2 cheesecakes cost us around $65. and this was gooood food. So far, food is really cheap here comparatively to the rest of Europe.

We’ll head to Prague in the morning for a couple days, but that will be the end of our trip this time. We changed our flights to return home earlier to be with family due to Kegan’s grandmother’s condition.  Updates overnight have not been positive and we felt like this was the right decision. We would have been able to head home today on a flight, but we are 7 hours from Berlin at this point and we couldn’t make the flight in time. Friday and Saturday were sold out on our airline, but Sunday we were able to adjust to. Perhaps another trip to explore Poland will be in the cards down the road.

Off We Go Again!

This evening we’re heading out to Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland for a two week trip. I’d call it a “vacation”, but that makes it sound like a great escape that we excitedly planned haha This was just leftover Ireland plane tickets that I was going to lose the value of if we didn’t use them before May and we were limited to Ireland, Berlin or Madrid. Since we just went to Spain and well, Ireland didn’t really want us…I chose Berlin since we’ve never been there.

Really, outside of World War II knowledge, I didn’t know much about Poland or the Czech Republic….I vaguely remember the Berlin wall coming down as a very young kid.. so I went into this trip sort of blind about what we would find to do. I fully admit to a lot of history reading and research for this trip! I was worried this was just going to be a 2 week super-depressing concentration camp/Hitler tour haha but I think we were able to incorporate WWII sites and history with plenty of other cultural things as well. But prepare…WWII touched everything here. More like demolished everything here. So its hard to discuss most things without at least including that context.

Itinerary highlights for this trip: We are flying overnight into Berlin via Iceland, followed by Dresden, then into the mountains known as Saxon Switzerland in the Czech Republic. Cutting into Poland to visit Wroclaw (pronounced something like RO-clawv – Polish and Czech are HARD to pronounce it turns out! ha) then to Prague in the Czech Republic, next- a tour all around Poland: visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp, Krakow, Warsaw, Gdansk and back to Germany for a couple towns like Potsdam and Leipzig. All the yellow marks on the map are places we’ll be visiting.

We usually stay in AirBnb houses or apartments but the last couple trips I have had some issues with people cancelling our reservations same day, not being around, the property not really being clean or really even being a rental… I guess just since AirBnb has gotten so big and easily accessible, there are more people using it that just shouldn’t. This trip we stuck to mostly hotels…only one apartment- in Prague that seems like it will be awesome, right downtown overlooking a big historic bridge. Here’s hoping anyway.

We should have a good mix of city, country, history, modern, beach and mountains in this trip and hopefully some great Polish food. This is the first time we will have visited a country with Russian history, so seeing Soviet influences and residual culture will be neat.

There is a little area on the edge on Northeast Poland that is actually still owned by Russia. There is a city there called Kaliningrad that I thought might be neat to visit… so I looked into what it would take to visit. Basically, long story short… as Americans, we cant. They offer a 3 day visa for Canadians and Europeans…but not for Americans….and after the events of the last few weeks with Russia, I think it best to stay firmly in the EU for now 🙂 I’ve never met a Russian person I didn’t like… but I fear their government. But never judge a people by it’s government. haha

While we’re both exhausted from work and house projects-(Kegan built a fence around our house this week and I’ve spent all week in Alabama on a red-alert client issue) I hope the trip is worth the time away. We just got some drywall finished up that will allow us to finally finish our master bedroom and dining room and it’s prime gardening time, so really about the least ideal time for us to pick up and spend two weeks away…but thankful for family to watch the dog and water my plants!

We are currently boarded and leaving Chicago.

Kegan is already disappointed because he thought they said there was an “orgy” on board 🙄 Boys. Haha

They just brought Norah a cute little travel bag with a bottle of water, a padded eye mask for sleeping, headphones and a turkey sandwich. Pretty cool.

I’ll post after Berlin. See ya soon!