Fresh off the back of a nice easy drive down from Estonia, through Latvia and into Lithuania, Mrs P and I decided that perhaps The Child could handle something a bit more extreme. This next run started in the heart of Poland and we cut west through the country to the Czech Republic. Then we took a sharp turn south into Slovakia and finished in Budapest, Hungary. It gave us some incredible experiences as we visited the spectacular Wieliczka Salt Mine Cathedral in Poland which is 135 meters underground, a Slovakian ski village with no snow, an enormous rip-off of the Houses of Parliament in Budapest and ate one of the best pastrami sandwiches I’ve ever tasted in Brno in the Czech Republic. This was all put into stark and definitive perspective when we visited Auschwitz because this focused centre of such unimaginable cruelty and suffering was harrowing, incredibly thought provoking and very emotional for all three of us.
So let’s start in Poland and despite the fact that we arrived in Modlin Aiport at 1am, missed our rental car collection, paid for a taxi to get to Warsaw, got up five hours later and paid for another taxi to get back to the airport all because Ryan Air had once again proved to be unable to fly to anywhere on time this year, we felt great. We stayed in Warsaw for a couple of days visiting the city, eating gherkins, drinking Polish ‘lemoncello’ (which is essentially lemon flavoured lighter fluid) and generally indulging in my favourite pastime of embarrassing The Child by dancing in the street with carefree abandon. They also have a particularly fantastic museum on the Polish Uprising of 1944 – do pop by if you ever get the chance!
So, it’s official; Warsaw is great, there is loads going on. The Old Town, having been almost completely obliterated in WWII, has been amazingly reconstructed to look like its former self, just with a bit more vibrancy and fun. Music, street theatre and main square trumpet solo performances gave an otherwise dreary day some life. After trying to consume more meat and sauerkraut than you should be legally allowed to buy for less than the price of a cinema ticket, we walked through the city centre and was only distracted by the incredible cake reputation of Café Bristol. Ever since Austria, Mrs P’s cake radar has been developed, perfected and she homed in on this place like a beautifully lady shaped but sugar-crazed bloodhound. It certainly lived up to its reputation and all cakes were demolished before I could even take a picture!
After Warsaw, we started the long road west. I say long because I honestly didn’t appreciate just how big Poland is – the place is massive! It’s true that the roads aren’t exactly up to much but that just makes for a more interesting drive and as we travelled through the countryside playing the family-favourite ‘Why is there a sheep on the motorway?’ game, we had time to reflect on the year of incredible experiences we have had. But we couldn’t reflect for long because we arrived in the popular town of Krakow threw our bags into our AirBnB and bundled off to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The place is unbelievable – a total of 327 meters deep, housing museums, enormous caves, lakes and even a Catholic Cathedral, it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. With 178 miles of tunnels, the mine could house the population of a small country and still have room for a few extra sandwiches.
But if we thought that Warsaw was good fun, Krakow was even better. Perhaps it was the lemoncello or maybe it was the most freshening rainy break in the global climatically disastrous hot weather but whatever it was, Krakow had what we wanted. Sweeping city views, lovely city markets, nice ice cream and an actual dragon to boot. They do have a bit of an obsession with the Pope though, for those of you who don’t know your Catholic history (or like us have been to the Vatican but can’t remember much of the detail), the last one was Polish which made a bit of an impression in this 95% Catholic country. So yeah, they like him and they’re not shy about it.
After Krakow we took some time to visit Auschwitz and the memorial museum there. There are many people who tell me that I shouldn’t have taken The Child to see the horror and sheer depths of man-made evil that that place exposes in such stark and clear ways. It was as upsetting, emotionally uncompromising as it was uplifting to see the struggles and to read the stories of those captives suffering and resisting there. Some prisoners were held for years while others lasted less than 24 hours before being sent to the gas chambers. These stories are so important to remember and so I think that our children and their children must understand just what we, the human race, are capable of in order to do everything we can to avoid such things happening again.
In all sorts of ways and for many reasons, I hope this trip has given her some perspective on just how much damage fear can do to the world. Saying good bye to Poland seemed so wrong, I don’t want to say goodbye, I want to remember what the Country has sacrificed and how they are warning us about what might happen in the future.
The #2MenEUTour Big Brexit Tour journey so far: