For the last five days I've been based in Krakow, Poland. Prior to arriving, Wroclaw had been my favorite stop of my trip, but Krakow has also been very nice and has been challenging for the top spot. The architecture is beautiful, and there are so many things to do in the city and just outside of it.
Main market square.
Art in the old Jewish ghetto.
I took two side trips. The first was to the Wieliczka salt mines, the oldest in Europe. We toured a number of different chambers which showed the mine throughout history, had statues made of salt, and even chapels. We went 135m down into the mine via approximately 800 stairs - probably the most stairs I have ever descended at one time. About halfway through my camera died and I attempted pictures with my iPod, but the quality was not very good. At the end nine of us were crammed into the smallest elevator ever and we were "saved" from having to climb back up the from the mines. It was a very short, but very scary ride.
Looking 300m down.
Salt formations on the wall.
Statue of Copernicus made of salt.
This afternoon I went to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, which are located about an hour and a half outside of Krakow. It's kind of surreal being there, because on one hand you feel like such a tourist with the headsets and the giant tour groups, and on the other it's such a serious place. It was also a beautiful, sunny day, which seemed kind of inappropriate for the occasion. At first I was hesitant to go with a tour group, but in the end the guide gives so much information that it's worth putting up with tour. We spent about two hours walking around Auschwitz itself, which has a lot of small museum-like exhibits explaining the site's history and showing just some of the artifacts left behind in 1945. We then took the shuttle to Birkenau, which is enormous. It's difficult to describe the day - it's so overwhelming and brings to life what I'd only read about in a classroom setting.
Smoke stack of gas chamber 1.
Birkenau is enormous.
Ruins of gas chamber 2.