Kiri and


The salt’s all mine!

June 2nd, 2014 (by Steve)

Parking appears to be big business in the south of Poland; at Auschwitz we (nay, I) blindly followed the directions of the first person in a hi-viz jacket to a car park before thinking “hang on, we want to be somewhere else”, then going there. Wise to this ploy though, in Wieliczka we passed the hoards of hi-viz-jacket-wearing touts and hung on for the official car park. I swear that this town’s main income (after the salt mine) is car/coach/motorhome parking!

Once tucked away in the corner of the official car park, we assessed our surroundings. We had a parking space, a 24 hour guard, free municipal wifi, and access to a toilet block for our 30 zloty, but nowhere to fill up with water (unless we tapped a fire hydrant… now there’s a thought!). We also needed to empty our toilet… but weren’t sure whether we’d be allowed to in the shiny-looking toilet block. Commence operation flush! After monitoring the guard’s movements (no, not like that) for about 15 minutes, we realised he occasionally left his post, which would give us time to heft our cassette across to the block without him noticing. Timing and subtlety would be everything. The guard moved… we stirred… but then he was back at his post. Too slow. He moved again, and we were off. Apparently my nonchalant swagger whilst carrying a Thetford toilet cassette across a car park coupled with whistling isn’t particularly subtle, but it was enough to fool the guard. Mission accomplished! Ah, the joys of motorhoming; doing stuff that you would never think about in normal life!

Anyway, enough about loos… we were at the salt mines; one of the greatest attractions near Krakow, with over 1 million visitors a year. Our guide for the day was Magdalena; without whom the tour would have been as boring as walking around a mine for 3 hours talking about salt. The injection of her dry wit and humour throughout really brought the tour to life though, and we found ourselves rather captivated by the tiny fraction of the 300km of underground tunnels, chambers and lakes we saw. We also learned that Magdalena is allowed to lose up to 5 tourists a month in the mines and that you shouldn’t talk to strangers underground. 2 hours into the tour, we were shown a map with 3 queues to join; 2 would take you to the surface and the third would take you on the remainder of the tour. As we joined the third one, we were warned by another guide that it would take another hour and be another 2km of walking. We said that was ok. Another guide then checked that we were sure that we wanted to continue, rather than return to the surface. These dissuasion tactics didn’t work on us (thanks Ju + Jay for the advice!), but they must have on some; our group now consisted of us and a Japanese lady, rather than the 40 who started with us. We’re definitely glad we stayed; the second part was just as engaging as the first.


As our eyes adjusted to the sunlight once we were above ground again, our quest was to find water (all of that salt makes you thirsty!). The local supermarket had 5 litre bottles for 1.55 zloty each (approximately 30p), so we grabbed a couple of those and topped up Bertha’s fresh water tank, before proceeding to consume Paluski… a very tasty, but salty snack!

The following morning, we paid a rather bemused guard for another night in the car park (it’s cheaper than a campsite for visiting Krakow) then headed for the 304 bus stop. We had an hour and a half to spare until the start of a church service we wanted to attend in Krakow, so plenty of time. We waited. No bus. Half an hour later, no bus. So we headed to the train station… next train in an hour and a half. We tried another 304 bus stop… this one had a red line through it, which is a pretty universal sign for “not in use” (maybe it should have said “404 – not found”?). Doh. As we arrived at the 204 bus stop, we saw a temporary “304” sign on it, so caught the 304 bus into town, arriving exactly 10 minutes too late for church. Maybe God didn’t want us to go? So, instead we watched some people defying physics with bikes.


We could have watched the flying magicians all day, but we realised that we would miss out on the rest of Krakow, so we ventured into the old town, where we found a procession of children, dragons and drums in the main square. As you do. All this surrealism works up an appetite and the street food we sought was the zapiekanka… a cross between a Subway and a pizza. The way to enjoy it is best described with a picture I think:


Having consumed our body weight in cheesy bready tastiness next to a purple Trabant, we returned once more to the centre of Krakow, where once again we encountered people in strange costumes. We also encountered a protest (not sure what it was about) and hoards of people trying to push city tours in our faces as we tried to find suitable postcards to send back to the UK. Having narrowed the choices down to two (which we named “trippy” and “creepy”… we’re all about the unique postcards!), we decided that we’d maybe had too much excitement for one day, so retreated to Bertha back by the salt mines.

As we woke on our 3rd morning at the mines, Bertha’s fresh water warning light was flashing ominously. We passed the guard on our way to get another few bottles of water from the supermarket, who kindly charged us only 20 PLN for our final night here (“maybe if I reduce the price, these crazy people will leave?”). With 20 more litres of water in Bertha (and plenty more than that falling from the skies), we set off for Krakow again; finding it rather more subdued and rather less surreal than the previous day. We dutifully wandered around Wawel Castle, but we weren’t really “feeling it” as we were both feeling a little under the weather (in more ways than one). So, we found shelter in the Milk Bar and had our first proper meal out of the trip (with real crockery and knives and forks!); 2 courses and drinks for under a tenner for us both. You can’t say fairer than that. At least not in Polish. Actually, we can’t say much in Polish…


Having selected “creepy” over “trippy”, we bought stamps, then returned to the salt mines on a very crowded bus. I’ll give you a clue where we’re off to next, with a story that one of my friends told me. He’d been looking for a cleaner for his flat for a while, and finally selected a very friendly Polish girl. On her first day, he headed out to work, leaving a note asking her to hoover his flat. He returned after work to find that she’d only managed half of one room. It turns out she wasn’t a Pole after all; she was a Slovak. Slow-vac. Get it? As in slow at vacuuming… play on words…? I’ll get my coat.

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A trying few days

May 31st, 2014 (by Steve)

First impressions matter… or so they say. But maybe not in Poland. As we crossed over the border from Germany, the smooth tarmac motorway gave way to an “interesting” road surface, accompanied by a sign warning us that this would continue for 13.5km. 13.5km later there was a sign warning that this would continue for a further 17km. 17km later… you get the picture. The carriageway going in the opposite direction? As smooth as a lake on a still day. Add in a few other road-surface-related signs and we wondered whether all roads were like this in Poland.


It wasn’t to last though, and soon we were driving on wide, smooth roads. Bertha was just breathing a sigh of relief, when a storm of biblical proportions threw all sorts of things at us. With torrential rain, huge claps of thunder and stunning fork lightning, I’d picked a good time to swap out of the driving, so it was Kiri who had to cope with driving through flash-floods. An hour later, all was calm and the sun was shining once more as we stopped for the night at the home of a lovely German ex-pat couple who open their garden for use by motorhomes. Along with a Dutch motorhome, we were the only guests and we received a very warm and enthusiastic welcome… totally in German!


This is where the tone of the blog post changes I’m afraid, for our next stop on the route was the town of Oświęcim, better known by its German name of “Auschwitz”. Why were we going there? Well, there was no simple answer really. A few years ago I went to Dachau, near Munich and I found it an extremely grim experience, seemingly devoid of hope. Why would I put myself through something like that again? Was it some kind of masochistic tourism? I battled with these questions and the best conclusion I came to was that without being in that place and seeing the scale of it, genocide would just remain a concept in my mind. I had a need to see it first hand in order to connect with the concept. I can’t put it better than Jay did – to not go would be cowardice.

If you want to know the history of Auschwitz, or what there is to see at the two remaining sites I would recommend that you steel yourself and go there. Nothing that I write about my experience will be eloquent enough to communicate the feelings you get as you walk the paths that so many people have walked before. The 3 words that kept going around in my head throughout the visit were “people are people”. You may have a different job to me. You may have a different faith. You may be a different age, have a different culture, come from a different country. But you, like me, are a person. Somewhere, someone didn’t recognise this. Labels were applied. The rest is gruesome history. After a harrowing day, we had the privilege of being able to walk out of the gates.

Yet Auschwitz isn’t a place devoid of hope. Yes, there’s a “feeling” about the place, but birds do sing. Flowers are laid. And millions of people go there every year; there’s hope in that. I only took one photo at Auschwitz (not the best photo I’ve ever taken); my aim being to capture a moment of hope – here a group of Jews having an impromptu service in the courtyard of the notorious block 11 where so many had been shot.


And Kiri found hope in one of the printed information boards.


For once I’m at a loss to know how to end a blog post. Sorry.

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