Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A visit to Auschwitz

Disclaimer: This post is about our visit to the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps in Poland. I’m not going to be detailed in any horrific descriptions or include too many pictures, but I am going to reflect on my experience. It was a deeply moving and disturbing experience, so this reflection will be highly colored by those emotions. Be forewarned.

A few pronunciations for you:
Auschwitz: OW-shvits
Birkenau: BEER-ken-now
These were the German names assigned to these places; they are not Polish names.

I spent a great deal of time waffling about whether or not I would even go to Auschwitz. I knew for a while that it was on the group itinerary (because it’s less than 2 hours from Krakow), and I could not decide until the night before if I would actually be able to go through with it. The rational part of me argued that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But the emotional part of me (which is, admittedly, much louder than the rational part), kept saying, “DON’T DO IT! YOU WILL CRY BUCKETS AND HAVE NIGHTMARES FOR WEEKS!” Which is not an unreasonable argument. I know this to be accurate because right before we left the States for this trip, Brad and I watched a short Rick Steves episode about Krakow, which included approximately 5 minutes about Auschwitz, and I BAWLED through the whole 5 minutes, giving myself a migraine. I am not even kidding. I do not handle details about the Holocaust well AT ALL.

Despite that, I decided to do it. I packed tissues and headache medicine and steeled myself (to the best of my ability) for the trip. I was very happy to see that it was a bright sunny day, as I had been dreading walking through the camps under a gray sky. We sat with fun friends in the van on the way there, and my spirits were feeling buoyed…until the van driver started a video about Auschwitz. I was not prepared for an hour-long prequel to our visit, so that threw me off. The video covered quite a bit of background on the development of the camps, as well as an overview of the many heinous and inhumane treatments and experimentations the SS officers implemented among the camp victims. Things I knew about, as well as a few I didn’t. That shocked me; I was unaware of experiments they performed on women at Auschwitz. Or what it meant for a prisoner to go to the “hospital.” I won’t write about it, but I’m sure you can learn about it, if you’re wondering. I bet you can guess that it’s horrific. One quote from the video that haunted me was in reference to the words over the wrought-iron gate leading into the Auschwitz camp: Arbeit Macht Frei (work will set you free). The video narrator commented: “No one was ever made free by work- only through death.” That was a chilling thought to process.

By the time we arrived at the camp/museum entrance, I was genuinely nauseated. Some of it was probably a touch of motion sickness from the trip (back of the bus + switchbacks), but a lot of it was emotional. I couldn’t eat lunch, but thankfully, there were some Polish bagels available. Our group of Lilly folks ended up going in two different tour groups (although we were joined by other visitors in each of our groups). Groups touring the camps are organized by language (and there are many languages present among visitors), and tour start times are staggered, so the first half of our group started half an hour before the second (we were in the second). At the time, I was actually bummed not to be in the first group, so that I could get it over with sooner. However, I learned later that I ended up in the group with the far superior guide- and I’m so grateful for that. She was very professional and had an appropriate gravitas, but a sense of responsibility to the memories of those lost shone through her manner and demeanor.

Rather than reconstruct the tour and try to remember everything we saw, I thought I’d write about the things that stuck out to me the most. I took very few pictures; it’s not something I wanted to document, but yes, we saw all the things you’ve probably read about: the infamous Auschwitz gates, the train tracks and unloading platforms, barracks, gas chambers, rooms piled with possessions taken from Jews when they arrived, starvation rooms, public execution sites, solitary cells. They were all as dreadful and haunting as you can imagine. And I did cry a lot.

This might be one of Piotr's...but it could also be Brad's. Not sure. This is the gate that says "Work will make you free." It was haunting to walk through it.

In no particular order, here’s a bit of my stream of consciousness that I jotted down as we walked…

The Nazis were terribly thorough in their handling of European Jews. They thought through their processes with precision and efficiency, for lack of a less de-humanizing word. The goal was to “constrain, humiliate, and eliminate.” And they were quite good at all parts of it. Again, I don’t want to write too much about the details; I can never unhear or unsee what I heard and saw, but I won’t put it all in writing here in my corner of the internet.
One of the best parts of the tour for both Brad and me was the barrack in which the halls were lined with pictures, names, and dates for Polish Jews (before the Nazis began tattooing numbers on the prisoners, they took their photos). Somehow, seeing faces and reading names was empowering to me. I read all the names that I could, trying to look into their faces, doing my best to pay my respects by noting them and refusing to acknowledge the anonymity in which they suffered and died. My favorite pictures were of the men and women who insisted on holding their heads high, thrusting their chins out, looking away from the camera. It was as if their resistance and courage was captured on film. It was so heartening.

photo credit: Piotr

Perhaps the most moving story told was of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Brad had told me about him beforehand, but hearing it again while in the camp was very powerful. When a prisoner successfully escaped from the camp and it was discovered during the daily roll call, the Nazis would choose 10 prisoners to lock in the starvation chambers in the escapee’s place. Maximilian Kolbe was a Catholic priest who volunteered to take the place of a man chosen in this manner, knowing that the other man was a father and had a family. Maximilian was canonized by Pope John Paul II, and his cell has been specially memorialized (it was the one thing I actually wanted a picture of, but it’s located in one of the only areas of camp in which you can’t take pictures). The man whose place he took survived the camp and passed away only a few years ago. He visited the camp every year until he died so that he could honor St. Maximilian. Isn’t that beautiful?

Bunkers + barbed wire

There are actually 3 camps that comprise “Auschwitz”: Auschwitz I (the main camp), Birkenau/ Auschwitz II (built by prisoners and the site of the primary gas chambers), and Auschwitz III (which isn’t part of the museum). When we visited Birkenau, the desolation of everything was overwhelming. This was the main site for unloading trains of Jews and for sending them to the gas chambers. It was oppressive. But also- surprisingly- upsetting to me was the fact that the barracks built at Birkenau (by prisoners) were built out of the bricks taken from the houses of Polish residents. Aga (our guide) said they were living in the wrong place at the wrong time; they were sent away and their houses dismantled to be used to build the death camps. I can’t even process that.

Train tracks and unloading platform at Birkenau.
photo credit: Piotr

Something that struck me forcibly during our visit was a sense of connection. I realize that the things I’m about to write bear almost no resemblance to what the inmates of that horrible place endured, but it shaped for me an ability to experience empathy in a way I wasn’t expecting. When we were getting set up for our tours, we were all given stickers that labeled us by language- which brought to mind the prisoners’ tattoos when they arrived (as well as the stars identifying Jews in the ghettos). Our tour group was comprised of a wide range of ages and abilities, including parents, children (although not young children, thank goodness), the elderly, the intelligentsia (that would be Brad and his cohort)- much like I imagine the composition of the groups of Jewish arrivals would have been. We were led from place to place, not knowing where we were going next or what we would see. An older man in our group struggled to keep up on occasion, needing help up and down stairs. One of the Lilly guys in our group even shared his water with this gentleman at one point, which made me think of the elderly Jews who would have struggled getting to the camp. I also had the horrifying realization that that gentleman, as well as myself (being a mother with two small children) would have immediately been sorted out as “unfit to work.” It was shocking. I have never so clearly imagined the terror and confusion the millions who passed through that place must have felt.

Map of locations around Europe from which Jews were deported to Auschwitz.

My language-labeling sticker.

I haven’t been able to fully stop thinking about what I saw and learned at Auschwitz in the days since. I’m still not completely sure that I’m glad I went. It has been one of the most mentally, spiritually, and emotionally confusing events of my life. I’m not sure I can recommend it. Maybe? I don’t know. But I am glad for the opportunity to think about and honor the courage and bravery of so many. Did you know that the Auschwitz camp museum was begun with the help of a group of women who had been inmates at the camp? When the Nazis fled and the Soviets arrived, these women were still alive (barely) but had nowhere to go- no homes or families. They chose to stay at the death camp and help develop it into a memorial. Can you imagine? It is unbelievable to think about human resiliency in the face of such horror.

I have many many thoughts that I’ve been mulling over, but this is where I’ll leave it. Has anyone else been? And if you've been, what did you think?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pentecost in Poland

Our Sunday in Poland, June 4, was both Pentecost and our 6th wedding anniversary! It was a beautiful day, and we actually went to church twice (we're super spiritual, guys). For morning church, we attended a local Lutheran congregation. I was kind of amazed at how much I could pick out of the service because of having studied Russian. There's a decent amount of crossover between languages, apparently. The next two pictures were both taken by Piotr, by the way.

After church, we headed to an Italian restaurant in the town center for lunch. On the way there, we had a blast watching all of the dragon parade (yep, dragon parade) festivities. It was hilarious to see all of the inflatable, flying dragons. 

Happy anniversary, Brad! Got you a dragon.

We chose our own meals a la carte at lunch (as opposed to the prix fixe meals that Piotr had been choosing for us), and I decided that I'm not very good at choosing for myself. I ended up eating quite a bit off of Brad's plate. Our lunchtime conversation began by discussing the progression of Ginny's character in Harry Potter and ended by discussing the ethics of writing from a viewpoint that is not your own. It was fascinating (and also got pretty deep, due to the philosophers at the table).

After lunch, we went to the National Gallery (I think? I'm forgetting the names of things) and wandered through the art exhibits. There were some beautiful (and massive) paintings of Polish history by Jan Matejko that I particularly loved.

Statue of Matejko
photo credit: Piotr

photo credit: Piotr

Look how massive this is! Also, we were allowed to take pictures. I wasn't being sketchy, guys.

I walked past this one and thought, "That looks SO Ukrainian!" I read the title of the painting..."Ukrainian Night." 

View of the town center from the entrance of the gallery.

The Fellows had a long afternoon session, so The Wives hung out again. We set out to find a couple of Polish pottery shops Jared had mentioned but stopped for coffee and a fantastic chat on our way. Brittani told us about her business helping Syrian newcomer families get started in their new lives in Canada (that's where her husband is in school, although she's not Canadian), and it was wonderful to listen to her describe it. You should look at her website! Especially read about all of the chefs and directors. I want to be friends with all of them. And if you live in Hamilton, Ontario (or visit!), you should partake of their menu! She and Ashley are both such kind, resourceful, and generous women. I'm so glad I got to spend time with them while The Fellows were doing their sessions! 

We found the pottery and had such a great time looking around and picking out the things we wanted to bring our husbands back to see (and purchase). Except for Brittani who went ahead and bought a wedding gift she needed. As we were finished up our shopping, THE BOTTOM FELL OUT OF THE SKY. Did I pack an umbrella for our European adventure? Yes. Did I have said umbrella in my bag when it started pouring? Of course not. There wasn't any rain predicted that day. We could have just waited it out except for the fact that we were supposed to be meeting the rest of the group...at that exact moment. OF COURSE.

Some of the pottery

Brad said no to this one...

I loved it all so much.

So, I wrapped my scarf around my head like a village grandma, and we skittered from covered storefront to covered storefront. We must have been hilarious to watch. When we got to our meeting spot, the rest of the group was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully, the rain had slackened, and Piotr showed up to tell us that the group was running long and he would take us to the restaurant. The place we ate at was kind of famously known for being the bohemian haunt of artists, writers, and musicians of the 1800's (precursor to a hipster coffee shop, perhaps?), but, as Piotr put it, "now it just looks like your grandma's living room." Ha! But really though.

We got to have a nice long chat with Piotr while we waited on The Fellows, which we thoroughly enjoyed. He's an interesting guy. Once everyone arrived, we had a super delish Polish dinner (of which I ate entirely too much. Again. No self-control.). After dinner, we headed to the Dominican Catholic Church nearby for mass. Part of Brad's cohort is Protestant and part is Catholic, so Piotr scheduled our day for everyone to participate. The mass that we went to is one comprised predominantly of university students, and y'all, there were probably 1,000 people there. I know I hyperbolize a lot, but this is not one of those times. It was standing room only, including people standing on the massive staircase that wrapped around the wall. It was amazing to see. 

Inside the Dominican church.
photo credit: Piotr

Outside of the Dominican church.

We decided on dessert after mass (it was raining again. And cold. Village Grandma Scarf got a lot of action.), which turned into quite an ordeal, trying to find a place that could fit us all. But we finally did, and it ended up being one of my favorite chatting sessions of the whole week. I talked with Brittani and Hilary, who is one of the women in Brad's cohort. It was a marvelously encouraging and thought-provoking conversation with Hilary about her studies and work (Philosophy), as well as her son, who was born with some very complex and rare disabilities. She has a blog where she thinks and writes beautifully, and I highly recommend you check it out! 

It was a really lovely day full of lovely things to see, and more importantly, lovely people.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Kazimierz: The Jewish quarter

Our second full day in Krakow (Saturday) was a slow start for the wives (Erin, Brittani, and Ashley) and Piotr, as the cohort had their first group meeting all morning. Ashley, Brittani, and I set off to scout out souvenirs and generally chit chat. It was a slowish but fun morning for us, and it was, apparently, a great morning of discussion for the cohort. They all seemed really energized by it when they showed up for lunch.

I passed these flowers in a market and took a picture for Claire. She loves pretty things.

After lunch, we set off for the Jewish quarter of Krakow: Kazimierz. You can read more about the long history of Kazimierz (the Polish king who created this part of the city named it after himself) on Wikipedia (it’s actually pretty interesting), but for the purposes of this blog post, I’ll just include the information that stuck out most to me.

Old map of Old Kazimierz
Kazimierz was historically the Jewish sector of Krakow, although the Jewish community did interact with their non-Jewish neighbors. When the Nazis arrived in Krakow, the Jews were relocated and relegated into a Jewish ghetto in a different part of town. Of the approximately 120,000 Jews living in Krakow at the beginning of the Nazi occupation of WWII, only 3,000 survived. 1,200 of those 3,000 survived due to Schindler’s factory (of Schindler’s List fame), which was located in Krakow. Today, only about 250 Jews still live in Kazimierz. Our tour guide commented on this by saying, “Nobody wants to live in a graveyard. Every corner tells a different story.” It was chilling to process that.

Street leading to the synagogue
photo credit: Piotr
Our tour was through the Old Synagogue. It’s not currently in use as a place of worship, only as a museum now. We had a great tour guide, although the acoustics of the synagogue made it difficult to hear him at many points during the tour. I know I missed all kinds of stuff because of being unable to hear, so the things that stuck out to me are very scattered. I would like to acknowledge that our tour guide, though not Jewish, had the most wonderful deference for the traditions and memories of the Jews of Krakow. Throughout the tour, he took every opportunity to point out any commonalities and similarities he has found between Jewish and Catholic cultures, very clearly in an attempt to forge a bridge. Poland is a deeply Catholic culture, most Poles viewing Catholicism as a part of being Polish from what I gathered, so I found it wonderful that he sought so genuinely to find human connections with those different from himself.

Old Synagogue
photo credit: Piotr

Much of the tour revolved around details of Jewish culture and worship practices. He explained the layout of the synagogue and the significance of the different elements. I loved him for his continual references to Fiddler on the Roof, as it is a favorite of mine. He pointed out that the eastern wall of the synagogue is the holiest location for prayers, and the poorer Jewish men were never able to experience that honor (like Tevye mentions in the musical). So, eventually, the poorer Jews of Kazimierz built another synagogue so that they would have the opportunity to pray at the eastern wall. We saw that synagogue later in the day, after our tour.

Inside the synagogue
photo credit: Piotr
I did not know that in Jewish culture (at least in pre-WWII Poland), women came out on top in divorce situations. Something about the way their dowries worked meant that the men would be left high and dry. Fascinating. Pre-War pre-nup options?
We also learned that bagels originated in Poland! The Polish Jews developed the method of baking bagels because the boiling phase of bagel-making serves as a cleansing phase (making things kosher). Brad and I have made bagels on a few occasions, so we understood the process he was referencing and felt super fancy in our knowledge.
My very favorite part of the tour, though, was when we were wandering around at the end of the tour, and I stumbled across the guest book. I found this written on a page dated that very day:
It says, ”This was my father’s synagogue in his youth before the wartime. He often spoke of it. I came to see his shul and to say the Keddish in his memory.”
I was so excited about it that I made a point to show it to everyone in our group that I could. How special is that? (Also, shul = synagogue and keddish (kaddish) = prayers of mourning.)
We walked around Kazimierz afterward and saw the “poor man’s” synagogue, as well as a monument made out of broken Jewish headstones. The Nazis bulldozed over many many Jewish headstones, but after the war ended, fragments of the broken headstones were gathered and made into a unique monument. Unfortunately, we had a camera malfunction and didn’t get a shot of it.

Poor man's synagogue. I thought it was beautiful.
While we were killing a bit of time before dinner, we came across a monument to Jan Karski. Piotr told us a bit about him: he was not Jewish, but he got himself sent to a concentration camp so he could see and experience what was happening. He managed to escape and then attempted to communicate to various world leaders the horrific conditions and heinous crimes being committed against the Jewish people and political prisoners. He didn’t find much help at first, as so much of what he reported sounded crazy and unbelievable. He continued his efforts, despite the roadblocks he encountered and became a hero to Jews and Poles. What a great story of bravery and courage.

Jan and Piotr.

Dinner was, once again, fabulous (and in Kazimierz). I actually decided to order a beef tip salad because I needed to go a little lighter than I had been. But never fear- I totally ordered dessert. And enjoyed every bite. We had really fun dinner conversations and laughed a lot (the cohort members we were sitting closest to didn’t delve into any super deep waters, which was a reprieve for my tired brain). The restaurant brought out apple cinnamon vodka shots to everyone at the end of our meal (probably because we’d ordered so much food). Now, I don’t drink, and I definitely don’t drink vodka, but I was intrigued by the “apple cinnamon” part, so I took the world’s tiniest sip. It tasted like apple pie! And alcohol. Which ruined it. I passed it along to someone else.
Both of our Polish-speaking, Krakow-familiar group members (Jared and Piotr) opted to stay out a bit longer after dinner, and Brad and I successfully guided everyone back to our hotel, a feat of which I am quite proud. Thanks, Greenbelt!
And then we crashed hard because of the jet lag and all the walking.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Old Krakow: Old Town Center and Wawel Castle. And a dragon.

Y'all. Krakow is so interesting. 

Our hotel, the Blue Aparthotel, had a really great continental breakfast each morning, which got me started off right after a fitful night of jetlaggy sleep. WHY is that a thing? You're so tired from travel that sleeping should just happen. I'm a little bitter about it. Quick aside: before we left on our trip, I had not seen the name of our hotel written down, so the first time I heard Brad say it out loud to someone else, I heard, “Blew-apart hotel.” WHOA. What a frightening name! I learned once we got to Poland that “aparthotel” seems to be the Polish word for this style of hotel. But wow. 

You can't unsee it now, right?

We headed out on Friday morning with Piotr as guide (with Jared supplementing) for a morning of walking around Old Krakow’s town center. A helpful element of Krakow’s layout is the Greenbelt, which is a grassy ring that surrounds the Old Town, giving visitors an extremely handy reference point when wandering about. Piotr made sure we knew about this at the very outset of our stay; I’m assuming he foresaw losing a few of us otherwise. He’s a smart guy. We had incredible weather for our first day of sightseeing, and Old Town Krakow is so beautiful and quaint. Part of the original city wall still stands (although most of it was taken down in the 1800’s (? That might not be quite right. I was still tired.). Jared, Brad’s cohort friend studying Polish history, told us that the local legend about the remaining section of the wall is that one of the town aldermen insisted this particular part stay so that the wind wouldn’t cut down the alley and blow up the skirts of the women going into St. Mary’s. I definitely wouldn’t have thought of that, but kudos to him for protecting the honor of the women of Krakow.

Old Town Krakow is lovely. It’s obviously very touristy- but with good reason. It’s bursting with history and is a beautiful walk. The walkways are paved with cobblestones, and the buildings are so quintessentially European. We walked through and around it many times during our stay, and I never got tired of it.

First views of the old Town Center.

Part of the old city wall.

The main attraction in the middle of the square is St. Mary’s Basilica. It’s enormous and quite unique. There are two grand steeples, but they are not identical. The story of the steeples is that they were constructed by a pair of brothers, one of whom killed the other before the steeples were finished so that his would be the tallest. Yikes! We were able to visit the inside of the church, and it was beautiful. There was so much to see (including a relic that was unidentifiable to those of us who don’t read Polish), and it was fascinating. Another interesting part of the St. Mary’s experience is that a trumpeter plays a partial anthem from one of the steeples every day at noon. Piotr explained that it’s a memorial to the man who warned Krakow residents of an impending invasion by the Mongols in the 13th century. The messenger was in the midst of his warning when a Mongol arrow took him down. The trumpeter only plays part of his song to mirror the incomplete warning of this Polish hero. So interesting.

St. Mary's (photo taken by Erin with bleh angles and lighting)

St. Mary's (photo taken by Brad with awesome angles and lighting)

The alterpiece in St. Mary's
(photo credit: Piotr)

(photo credit: Piotr)

Right as we were leaving the church, they opened the alterpiece.
(photo credit: Piotr)

Piotr took the best pictures of the trip.

We took in the beautiful architecture, including the clock tower and cloth hall (which is now full of souvenir stalls), wending our way toward Jagiellonion University, which was perfect for a group of scholars. This was the university where Pope John Paul II (a native of Krakow) studied for a year. He only studied there for a year because after his first year, the Nazis moved in, and scholars had to take their studies underground, as the Intelligentsia was being ousted. Continuing studies in secret was a way of resisting the Nazis, which I find quite admirable.

Clock tower

Courtyard in the oldest part of the university.

A drain shaped like a dragon. Perfect.

Our Friday lunch was at a traditional Polish restaurant and was goooooood. Guys. I love central/eastern European food so much. I think it’s due to my Slovak heritage (did you know my dad is half Slovak? My grammy was full-blooded Slovak. #funfacts). And then I lived in Ukraine. Basically, it’s my destiny. Give me all the beets and goulash and cabbage and borsch and pan-fried meat. LOVE IT. There was also a great apple pie/cake and ice cream at this particular lunch. I scarfed it all (minus the potatoes).

Wawel Castle was our afternoon, which was excellent, since we needed to walk a LOT following all the eating we did at lunch. By the way, Wawel is pronounced “VAH-vel.” It’s situated up on a hill and is beautifully grand. We did a 2-hour guided tour, and I’m pretty sure we actually did walk off all of the effects of lunch. We saw and heard a lot, but here were the highlights for me:
      1. The castle is centuries old and hearkens back to when Krakow was the capital of Poland. Our tour guide told us that the castle burned down several centuries ago (in the 1500’s), and the capital was moved to Warsaw, where it has remained. Jared supplemented the fire story with this little tidbit which I loved with all my heart: apparently, the king of Poland at the time of the fire was an alchemist. Just not a very good one. Thus, the fire.  


photo credit: Piotr

photo credit: Brad

Chapels of the castle cathedral

photo credit: Piotr

photo credit: Piotr

In the main courtyard. 
photo credit Brittani. I told her on day one that I needed to make sure I got pictures of Brad and me, and she was stellar about making it happen. Thanks, Brittani!
      2. The castle treasury included all kinds of beautiful jewelry. The most interesting one was a fancy-pants toothpick that was bedazzled and would be worn as jewelry. You know, so you were never without the ability to clean your teeth. Dental hygiene is important.
      3. There is a room referred to as “the room under the heads.” When you look up, the ceiling is divided into a grid, and in the squares of the grid, there are a couple dozen ceramic heads (a little bit creepy, I gotta say). One of the legends is that the heads represent all the different types and classes of the Polish people and that they hung over the king’s head to remind him of his duties. There is also a “room under the zodiac” and a “room under the gods.” Obviously, the signs of the zodiac are above one room and paintings of the Roman gods are above the other. Lots of things hanging over heads.

Piotr got this incredible nighttime shot. Clearly, I did not capture this fabulous-ness.

      4. There were MASSIVE tapestries in many of the rooms, and they are absolutely gorgeous. It’s overwhelming to think of the work that went into creating them. They are changed out every 5 years so they can be kept in good condition/restored. One of the throne rooms is covered in floor to ceiling tapestries with scenes of Noah and the flood. They’re so ornate (and also include unicorns and dragons amidst the animals, just to keep things whimsical, I guess), and the tour guide likened a series of tapestries that tell a story to the way we today go to the movies. It was fascinating to think of it in those terms.

A scene from the Noah sequence. Photo credit: Piotr
      5. One famous monarchs of Poland was Queen Jadwiga (Hedwig in English, apparently). The interesting thing about Jadwiga is that she, being a woman, caused a bit of a confusion for the kingdom. They had no structure in place for a female monarch, so she was actually crowned King of Poland. Bless it. When she died, she left all of her jewels to the university, so, you know, girl power.

Jadwiga's crucifix in the castle cathedral
     (photo credit: Piotr)

         6. In the room full of suits of armor, I about died when I saw the suit of chain mail…that had enormous, feathered wings coming out the back. What??
      7. And my favorite: the legend of the Krakow dragon. According to (one) legend, there was a dragon that lived beneath Krakow and wreaked havoc on the citizens. In order to rid the people of this menace, a cobbler (according to one version) stuffed a sheep full of salt and left the sheep to tempt the hungry dragon. The dragon ate the salty sheep and became so thirsty that he drank from the Vistula River until he exploded. Voila! No more dragon. I definitely bought the girls a tiny stuffed dragon in honor of this hilarious legend. Had to. (Incidentally, Claire named him Buddy and loves him. I won't tell her of his end for a few more years.)

      At the end of our castle tour, we walked through the castle cathedral, and most of the group climbed to the top of the bell tower (I didn't). Piotr took the pictures of the bell and the group, and Brad grabbed the shots of the city. 

For dinner, we went to a restaurant whose Polish name means “under the angels,” and it was delightful. We had a prix fixe menu chosen by Piotr, and it was a scrummy (any “Great British Baking Show” fans out there?) Polish dinner, including a beet soup that everyone raved about. At this dinner, those sitting at table 2 (ours) really enjoyed Griffin’s conversation promoter of Top 5 Lists. We started with music, movies, books…but also discussed top poets, philosophers, and theologians (obviously). At our table, we had 2 philosophers, a poet, a novelist, and a historical theologian (that’s Brad). And Brittani and me (the tagalong wives). Although, I should mention that Brittani has started a catering company that employs Syrian refugees, and she is an amazing person.

First full day in Krakow was quite full and absolutely delightful.

Also, anyone want to share your top 5 poets, philosophers, or theologians? Go for it in the comments, guys.

Group shot at Wawel (photo credit: Piotr)!