Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Last Day in Europe

Our second day in Vienna, and our last day of the trip, was sunny in its weather and in its content.  It may have been the only day of the trip that we did not visit a memorial site or museum commemorating a mass murder!

It started with a tour of an honest-to-goodness palace.  The Hapsburg
if you're going to do it,
do it really big
dynasty was ruling lands in the region from the 13th century until 1918, and it also boasted great longevity and stability in that Franz Joseph, its last ruler, was in power from 1848 – 1916. While much of the Schönbrunn Palace was built by 18th century empress Maria Theresa (Elisabeth researched and reported to us about M.T.’s great talents as a ruler), Franz Joseph refurbished the existing buildings and its 1,441 rooms with much of what was on display.  The Schönbrunn Palace served as summer palace—keep in mind that the winter palace is just a few miles away in the middle of Vienna—and had hunting lands behind it as well as a zoo.  (Doesn't every royal family needs to hunt wild animals and also to gaze upon them in captivity?)  We enjoyed an audio tour via a hand-held telephone-like amplifier that guided us through bedrooms, clothes-changing rooms, multiple dining rooms for different types of meals, and multiple halls for different types of entertaining.  Each is still outfitted with lots of its furniture, wall coverings, and accessories.  For example, there was a piece of furniture kept next to Franz Joseph’s bed especially used for kneeling in prayer (he’d do this every morning upon wakening).  The audio tour taught us about the Franz Joseph’s great love for his wife Sisi (she was bored with him, disliked his mother, and stayed away a lot), and how they raised and married off their children.  The glue that held the Hapsburg Empire together and the reason its neighboring monarchies did not invade was because the Hapsburg offspring were married to those with whom the rulers needed a peaceful alliance.  Why waste marriage on love??

our noble stallions

Olivia among the flowers
  Despite this practical attitude, the flower-covered arbor outside was very romantic and beautiful, and the garden had intimate paths for private strolls as well as huge open areas to display fine horses.

can't get enough of it
We left the palace and took a tram to Vienna’s Naschmarkt, a permanent type of Farmers Market that has been in that part of the city since the 18th century.  Today it is a gem within the city, drawing in crowds because of its local and imported goods and fresh produce.  It includes restaurants, and it’s also a great place to try out different cuisines.  The vendors offered samples, so some of us filled up on the hand-outs of aged cheeses, olives, falafel, Austrian breads, and Pistachio gelato.  Others sat and ate a real meal, then found another place for coffee and the best spot for people-watching.  Some of the students found that the highlight of the Farmers Markers was interacting with the people in the shops.  The vendors don’t simply let you walk by; they call out and talk, ask questions, and try to encourage you to part with your money in their shops.

view from the top
After Naschmarkt we had the opportunity to do two things that most groups would likely never do: we visited the café on the top floor of Vienna's Supreme Court building, and that’s where we chatted with Jon Goldberg, an active member of the local Jewish community.  The café is not widely known to tourists because there is such tight security to enter the building. The beautiful panoramic views of Vienna from the café's windows and delicious Viennese coffee were an added bonus to hearing Jon talk about his efforts to get members of Vienna’s diverse community to engage with one another.  A native of Denver, Colorado, he loves living in Vienna for all of its cultural opportunities. He, like our city tour guide on the previous day, thinks that Austria is a country with a glorious past but today’s society does not quite cohere.

We left the Supreme Court building and went our separate ways, doing our best to spend the rest of our Euros.

For our last evening activity in Europe, we went to a concert in
an appreciative audience
nothing subtle about it
one of Vienna's palaces, so it was historic and elegant at the same time.  The Wiener Hofburg Orchestra concert program featured several of Mozart's more famous operas, but most of the pieces were orchestral works by Strauss like waltzes.   There were a couple of comedic elements intertwined with the music: a cuckoo bird tweet at odd intervals, a huntsman with his gun, a blacksmith with hammers and what seemed to be an anvil, and a man holding up a yellow and red card as if the music were a soccer game.   We all had a great time hearing familiar tunes as well as songs we had never heard before.  It was fun spending our last evening in Europe laughing together and listening to music.

We have had such a variety of experiences on this trip!   It’s hard to believe that in just about two weeks we’ve each learned so much.  The places we visited taught us so much about the past, knowledge we never could have gained from reading and hearing lectures.  It also taught us about the capacity of human beings to fight, to be cruel, to make sacrifices, and to love.  We are so grateful that we had this amazing journey together.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Our First Day in Vienna

Hotel Mercure had more guests than any other of our hotels, and they all crowded into the restaurant to eat the ample Austrian tourist breakfast featuring the regional version of breads, eggs, sausages, cereals, and cheeses.   Vienna’s coffee culture was evident in the machine that kept the empty cups toasty warm so that the temperature of the noble beverage poured into them would not be lowered too much.    Fully fueled up, we met our guide in the hotel lobby and walked together to the nearby train station.

government buildings
Green Party now dominates
 Our first lesson of the tour was learning about Vienna’s extensive and and cheap public transportation system of underground trains and street-level trams, and buses.

proclaiming majesty
Our guide, Kris, brought us to a large green area in the political center of the Vienna where he described Austria’s current system of rule and the recent close election (the far-right candidate lost, to the relief of the Viennese population).  
and scope of power
Vienna used to be the capital of the gigantic Hapsburg Empire, and so it is full of huge palaces and buildings decorated with phrases and statues proclaiming the majesty and heroism of the state and its leaders.  When the empire was disbanded in 1918, and when Austria was reduced in size after World War II, those royal structures still graced Vienna.  They were re-purposed or turned into museums.   Kris described a political culture that looks sentimentally to the glorious past but cannot quite unify over what Austria stands for today.

We walked into the oldest part of the city.   We came to a courtyard
proclaiming loss
known as the Judenplatz (the Jews’ place).  Vienna’s medieval Jewish community, which was established in the 12th century with some of its principal institutions in that part of the city, came to an awful end in the 15th century when the ruler killed all the Jews whom he had not expelled, and then burned down their buildings.   Today it is the site of the city’s Holocaust memorial, a concrete cube-shaped building.  The outside surfaces are like open books, the spines facing inwards, so you cannot see what the books are, and you cannot read them.  The doors cannot open – there are no door handles.  Around the base are the names of the death camps and other places where Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.   It’s a very geometric building, in stark contrast to all the decorative Baroque architecture of the city.

Kris explaining the serious matter
of shopping in Vienna
Nearby was the heart of the Old Town shops, cafes, theater houses, and concert halls.   Kris pointed out what he thought was the best place to buy cakes, coffee, and men’s clothing (we all took notes for later).

would you see this man?
Our last stop on our city tour was the Sigmund Freud Museum, where Kris served as our guide.  We learned that Freud was born in 1856 to Jewish parents.  They thought he was a genius, and they gave him many advantages over his siblings.  When he was 4 the entire family moved to Vienna.   Freud entered a prominent high school when he was 9, and there he proved that his parents’ belief in his talents was correct.  Freud was fascinated with literature and he was proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.  When he was 17 he began studying at the University of Vienna, by age 25 he had a degree in medicine, and the next year he married.  Freud set up his own private practice in his home and began treating psychological disorders.  His home and office are now the Sigmund Freud Museum.  

Freud developed psychoanalysis, a method through which analyst unpacks unconscious conflicts based on the free associations, dreams, and fantasies of the patient.
the waiting room
His theories on child sexuality, libido and the ego are some of the most influential academic concepts of the 20th century.  Even though his work has been criticized, no one has influenced the science of psychology as he has.  In 1938, people helped him leave Vienna for London in 1938, when it became truly dangerous for Jews to stay in Nazi-controlled Austria.  During the last years of his life he had been fighting cancer (lips and mouth), and shortly after he arrive in London he died after requesting a lethal dose of morphine.

Bianca, who is a psychology major, wrote the following about our visit: “It was an amazing feeling to be able to walk the halls in which Freud studied and developed many theories which I study in my classes.   To actually enter his home and the room in which he treated patients, and to learn more about Freud right there was surreal.  One of the most interesting things I learned was how he was addicted to cocaine!  This surprised me, yet in a way explains some of his theories.”

soaring ceiling
After our museum visit, we made our way via public
transportation to St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the heart of the Old Town.  It is massive and towers over all the rooftops. Inside it is very beautifully decorated and its ceiling is webbed with Gothic arches.  

Dosed up with spirituality, we broke up and went on our separate ways to eat, drink, and shop.

beauty at the table
another gorgeous church
A number of us went to the places that Kris had recommended.  Some of us had awesome Viennese cakes, nearly everyone sampled the coffee, and Adam and Shant got outfitted with hats.   A few of us (after eating cake) went to the Jewish Museum of Vienna.

Eventually we all met back at the hotel.  We walked together to a nearby restaurant for a group dinner, sharing our adventures of the day and our lives back home.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Last Stop in Poland (Auschwitz), and Travel to Vienna

just a few of the many buildings
With mixed feelings and emotions, everyone got onto the bus and traveled to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  We were feeling somber and anxious.  A visit to the memorial site and death-and-work camp remains had always been part of the trip itinerary, and all of the students wanted to see it. Yet, it would be awful.

where people would
disembark from the trains 
The following description of the visit was written by Avital:

"We walked through Auschwitz-Birkenau in disbelief, in pain, in tears.  Auschwitz, the first camp, was intended for concentration of the Jews, and others who were considered enemies of the Third Reich. Although there was a gas chamber, the Nazis quickly realized that the quantity of people being murdered was too much for their incinerators. Thus the Birkenau death camp was built, a short distance down the road.

"Our guide spoke as we silently walked through the camps.  She shared details of each place and each exhibit in the barracks, now turned into a museum. We saw the hair used to make textiles, and hundreds of glasses once belonging to the individual victims.  We saw the confiscated Jewish prayer shawls with which the Nazis would force the Jewish inmates to clean the floors. We walked through the first gas chamber in Auschwitz, looking up at the holes in the ceiling where the gas canisters of Cyclone B were dropped to kill those locked inside.

 While touring Auschwitz-Birkenau, our distinctive faith, ethnicity, nationality, and all other differences melted away. Here we were all simply humans who were horrified by the capabilities of humanity less than 100 years ago.  Here we comforted each other in silence, with a look, a hand on the back, a hug."

Czech lakes
waving at the sunset
At the end of the tour, everyone got back on the bus and we drove to a nearby restaurant for one of our quieter lunch meals.  The afternoon and early evening would be spent driving about 390 km (242 miles) through the Czech Republic and Austria, arriving at Vienna at night.  The countryside was beautiful, with lakes, rolling hills and fairy tale villages, along with modern wind turbines.

Some people say that the journey is just as important as the destination, and so this seems like a good point to describe our bus rides through Eastern and Central Europe.

The bus is very luxurious, large enough for each of us to have a 2-seat row to ourselves.  Some people napped, especially those in the back of the bus who spent nights out on the town.    Some looked at their photos, wrote to friends or in their journals, reflecting on the activities of the day.  The bus was equipped with a sound system, and we sometimes listened to music and often sang along (not always in key).  Profs. O'Sullivan and Myers would start the drive or end it by making an announcement using the built in microphone, and some students delivered their research presentations through the bus microphone also.
not so light reading

Frequently, a group up front discussed (argued) politics, religion, and history while gazing out at the small town buildings and beautiful landscapes.  Everyone munched on snacks and anticipated the next real meal.  It was a time to talk, laugh, and get to know each other.  We built lasting friendships through a once in a lifetime experience throughout Poland and Austria.

Who is in the driver's seat?
Our driver, and often road guide, Darik (Dariusz) genuinely enjoyed and cared for us, and it was clear that he wanted us to have a good time and leave with a positive view of Poland. Getting to know him allowed us to get to know Poland and the Polish people from a different perspective.  He was born during the communist era and watched his country develop into a democracy.  Darik's real training was as a safety inspector, but like many Poles he needed to take on extra work and that's how he ended up as a driver.  After every site we visited, he wanted to hear our reaction and share his viewpoint.  In response to the darkness and sadness of memorial sites, he would say that laughter is the best medicine.  He liked to smile and joke.  Darik had his quirks: he trusted only his GPS, not the paper map, and so he'd try for the shortest route even though the road wouldn't be passable for our huge bus!  After one jolting turn he told us about the bus driver who was treated better in heaven than a minister.  When the minister complained, God told him, "You put people to sleep with your sermons, but the bus driver through his actions prompts his passengers to pray!"  Darik added soul and friendship to our journey, and it is hard to imagine our travels without him.

After getting us safely to Vienna, we bid Darik goodbye.  We'd be using Vienna's public transit for the last two days of the trip.  It was wet and rainy outside.  We checked into our hotel, went our separate ways for food, and called it a day.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Saturday in Kazimierz and Krakow

On our final day in Krakow, we visited the famed Schindler Factory Museum.  The story behind this starts when a German man, Oscar Schindler, opened up an enamelware factory in Kazimierz that, during World War II, employed over a thousand Jews.  These Jews became known as the Schindlerjuden (“Schindler’s Jews).  Because Schindler employed them and found ways to help and protect them, they were spared from certain death at the various death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland.  The factory is today a detailed museum showing the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its affect on the Krakow area.

The entire exhibit made a big impact on us not only because of the information it contained, but also
Memorial in Krakow's Ghetto
Heroes Square 
because of the feelings that it tried to convey.  For example, one room describing life in the local ghetto showed that the Nazis built the walls around the ghetto to look like tombstones. They did this to show the Jews that they were facing their impending deaths.  Not only were the Nazis causing physical pain; they found ways to psychological terror, too.  We found the whole experience to be shocking and disconcerting.  Sitting together afterwards in the museum's café, we shared our insights and questions with each other.  

Old Town Krakow
full of goodies
Eager to move away from such deep sorrow, we turned in earnest to happier distractions for our afternoon free time activities.  In small groups, we found our way into Old Town Krakow for light-hearted shopping, eating, and fun.  The sheet amount of history and character in the Old Town squares are unlike anything in the U.S.  Krakow's square (rynek, in Polish) is especially massive, with little cafes along its sides, incredible restaurants and bars in every direction, a huge market building, and a big open stage with live music and performers.  In the middle of the square is a huge indoor market building, an old structure that had housed merchants for centuries.  We found that souvenir shopping is a way to go back and forth in time.  The market contains shops selling old-type garments like fur and modern era printed t-shirts.  Other stands offer shot glasses, carved music boxes, leather hand-bags, decorated ceramic mugs and handmade wooden chessboards.  Everywhere there are merchants selling amber jewelry.  Outside the market building we could find traditional Polish cuisine as well as the familiar American Starbucks.

Would you trust these boat pilots?
Three members of our group decided to go on a boat ride around Kraków.   After finding the small pier, Shant, Adam, and Professor Myers hopped onto a private boat piloted by an experienced Polish woman.  From the serene River Vistula, they gazed upon the gorgeous Krakow buildings.  After about 15 minutes on the boat, Shant put in place his personal philosophy ("always ask, and always say 'yes'") and asked the pilot if he could steer the boat.  To everyone's amazement, she said "yes, of course!"  After a while, Shant handed the wheel over to the others.  Who would've thought that this trip would include driving a boat through a river in Poland?

LeeAnn people-watching
from her hotel window
Saturday night was to be our last night in Poland, and the group dispersed to cafes and strolling through the town.  A couple of our group attended the Kazimierz event called 7@Nite.  For the previous six years annually it is a JCC event free and open to the public designed to celebrate Poland’s rich Jewish heritage and to introduce Poles to Jewish traditions.  Each of five Kazimierz synagogues and the JCC (Jewish Community Center) hosts a different presentation about Jewish life and culture.
Izaak Synagogue (where we
attended Friday night service)
featured a photo exhibit
about Ethiopian Jews

In all the 7@Nite venues, the presentations were short, only ten to fifteen minutes, in order for people to visit all the synagogues in a night.  Among the presentations was a multimedia slideshow about Jewish populations in India,  a photography exhibit of Ethiopian Jews, and photos and posters featuring current Jewish Poles.  Jewish food was being served in the JCC and a small crafting event to create a hamsa, the Jewish/Middle Eastern symbol of the human hand.  The streets were packed.  It seemed like thousands of people were on the streets attending 7@Nite and/or the local cafes and
bars.  It was both exciting and safe at night on the streets, and we could not imagine having such experiences back home.

Back at the hotel, everyone made sure their bags were packed for our departure from Poland the next morning.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Friday in Kazimierz

Today was our first full day in Krakow and it marked a full week in Poland.  We started our day with yet another hotel breakfast, and this too featured some foods that we, as Americans, would never consider eating for the first meal of the day: deli meats, pickled fish, marinated vegetables, and strange concoctions of all of those together in one elaborate pastry.  Most of us opted for the breads, eggs, sausages, cakes, and coffee.  These would have to fuel us for our first activity of the day, a walking tour of Kazimierz led by our professors.

Once a town of its own, Kazimierz now constitutes a neighborhood of Krakow.  Before World War II it was the heart of the Jewish community featuring at least eight different synagogues, Jewish community buildings, and markets.  Abandoned for decades after the war when the Jews were expelled to the ghetto and did not return, Kazimierz is now a center of night life and student hangouts, as well as a tourist area featuring Jewish themes.    

front gate of Remu synagogue
We first visited the 16th century synagogue of "the Remu" (the acronym for its famous rabbinic scholar Rabbi Moses Isserles) and sat in its main gallery, which—in the Orthodox practice—was reserved just for its men.  During the worship service women would not be able to sit in the pews in the main prayer room, but instead just sit in back behind a curtain.  

Behind the Remu synagogue is the old Jewish cemetery in Kazimierz.   This cemetery was unique from the others we had visited as it had been refurbished during the post war
the memorial wall 
Remu cemetery
period after being destroyed by the Nazis. Many of the headstones that were left in pieces after the war were placed into a wall around the cemetery, making it a very special monument to those who suffered. Headstones that were not destroyed were placed back in the ground in whatever place was thought fit.  According to local Jewish lore, only the Remu's grave had not been touched, and it had pride of place next to other stones from that family behind a wrought iron fence and under a leafy tree.  This was the smallest of the cemeteries we had yet visited, because the Nazis’ destruction was so nearly complete.

Learning together
the Aron Kodesh (Torah cabinet)
in the Old Synagogue
During our tour we also visited two other synagogues: the "Old Synagogue" is partly restored and most of it is used as a  museum.  It focuses on the Jewish cultural heritage, exhibiting both artifacts and informational plaques. The museum is aimed at educating the Polish public.  As the Jews were nearly wiped out under the Nazis and relegated to the background or completely ignored under communism, many modern Poles are ignorant of the Jewish heritage of their country.

We passed other remnants of Kazimierz Jewish life on the way to the second synagogue,
gazing up at the Jewish study house
the "High Synagogue," which contains an exhibition on the struggles of select local Jewish families during the Holocaust.  These seemed designed to remind the public that not all Jews who suffered from the Holocaust were  über-religious, but many lived "normal" lives with their friends, families, and lovers.  We then stopped at the Galicia Jewish Museum, a coffee shop/bookstore/photo exhibit space where everyone had the chance to look around and also recaffeinate.

Once we'd finished our tour, we stopped for lunch at an Israeli restaurant in the old Kazimierz town square. For many it was the first taste of Israeli food, and the general reaction seemed to be positive. We tried a variety of flavors of hummus dipped in freshly baked Middle Eastern bread, as well as kebabs and lemonades spiked with exotic spices and fruits.  It was great to sit down as a group during the day and socialize over a meal.

How do you get busy college students to take time out to write a trip blog?  It was an ingenious plan that worked well: that afternoon, we trekked across Kazimierz for a writing session at a Laundromat-Café, armed with our dirty clothes, iPads, laptops, and cell phones. Who writes with pencils and paper anymore??

all dressed up for the synagogue
After that it was back to the hotel for a short rest before attending a very different Friday night service than a week ago.  Not only was this going to be held in a free- standing synagogue  building (unlike in Warsaw where the service held in a small building space rented by the Jewish community), but it was also an Orthodox service held in the Izaak Synagogue.  The men went to the main section of the sanctuary with a full view of the action at the front of the synagogue, and the women were relegated to a shuttered-in area on the side where they could view – a wooden shutter!   This is one of the key differences between Progressive and Orthodox prayer services.
prayer on Izaak Synagogue wall

In the Orthodox view, men and not women have the obligation to pray communally, and women are regarded as a distraction to the men's prayers and so should be out of view.  Unfortunately, this meant that the women in our group had to blindly guess what was happening during the first parts of the service based on sounds alone. That and the language barrier made it quite difficult for all but the Jewish students familiar with the Hebrew service.  During the second half of the prayers, one of the presiding rabbis stepped up on bimah (a platform in the center of the entire room) to lead the service and the women could at least view him.  Through the small gaps between the wooden shutters, they could also catch glimpses of the men.  This became interesting when the men began dancing around in a circle to the music, and then the women danced around a circle on their own side.

The most interesting portion of the service was the sermon.  It was delivered in English, so we could all actually understand it.  It was passionate and powerful.  The rabbi referred to the fact that this
Ride for Life cyclists
arriving at the JCC before Shabbat
synagogue—which had been used by Jewish people for hundreds of years, and then had been left bereft because its congregation had been murdered and the region had lost all its Jews—was once again a place of prayer.  He spoke about the importance of uniting the Jewish community in Poland and across the globe, and on how necessary it is to encourage young people who have only just discovered their Jewish heritage to join the community.  He emphasized his point by referring to the Ride for Life event that had just concluded at the local JCC, and using it as an example of what could and should be done.  Some of our students reported that his talk was very much like listening to a sermon in a Baptist Church, to the degree that they had to refrain from yelling “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!” at the more rousing points.  Despite frustrations at the separation of the sexes and the language barrier, this service proved to be an enlightening and enjoyable experience. The familiar aspects from the previous week made the service less foreign, while the use of English for the main speech made us feel welcome and included.

Shabbat meal items display
 at the Old Synagogue 
We then walked to the Jewish Community Center to participate in Shabbat dinner. For those of us that had never done such a thing, it was truly memorable and positive.   Throughout the meal we were welcomed and thanked for our presence.  We were seated with a large group of non-Jewish and some Jewish older people from Norway who were getting an introduction to Poland and Judaism at the same time.  Professor Myers led us in the blessings, and then the rabbi who led the other group did the same for the other group and included explanations in both Norwegian and English.  What an intercultural experience!  While eating our kosher meal and dessert, we heard stories from two members of the JCC and participants in the Ride for Life bicycle event (55 miles, starting from Auschwitz and ending at the JCC).    The entire evening was beautiful and educational on both a cultural and religious level.

It ended at about 11 p.m., and some of us sleepily walked down the street to our hotel and dropped off to sleep, while others went off to town and celebrated life.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Tarnow and Arrival in Krakow

percentage of Romany in
European countries
In the morning, we left Rzeszow and headed east for Tarnow. Tarnow is a charming city with a market square and Eastern European architecture.  Instead of focusing on the Poles of Tarnow, we visited the Gypsy Museum.   According to one of the museum displays, for some people the term “Romany” is preferable and the term “Gypsy” is regarded as quite offensive, but this is not always the case.  There are multiple sub-divisions of the Gypsy people, in multiple lands, and not all of them regard the term as an insult.

In the museum we learned about the history of the Romany peoples and the lands where they roam and settle.   Part of the exhibit is devoted to Romany martyrdom during the Holocaust.  We also saw photographs by Jozefa Kolarchik as well as objects such as baskets as well as the carriages and a gypsy tent in the yard in the back.  It was raining outside, and so we imagined what it might be like to have shelter only in a tent or a carriage.  The Romany carriages are short and squat, yet they
cozy inside?
carried the group’s entire possessions.  When they would camp for the night or for a few days, the Romany group would arrange the carriages in a circle around a fire pit.  These made the encampment more secure, and it was a windbreak for the fire.  We saw six carriages.  They were all decorated colorfully, and each had a fantastic animal decoration under the corner roof eaves.  

Although the sky was wet and grey the entire time we were in Tarnow, the Gypsy Museum brought color into the day.  It is amazing how they lived their lives on the road and adapted to multiple environments.

a stark reminder
Before leaving Tarnow, we stopped at the remains of the Jewish area and learned about the town’s Jews.  By 1445 there were already Jews living in Tarnow because the local prince granted them his protection.  By the end of the 1700s some 200 Jews lived on “the Jewish Street,” and at that point they built a large synagogue.  By 1785 the Jews comprised 75% of the town’s population, and a few years later the Hapsburg Monarchy of Austria took the area under its control, and these Jews experienced less discrimination than the Polish Jews who were put under Russian control.  Some of Tarnow’s Jews were influenced by Zionism, and among the first European settlers in 19th century Palestine were from Tarnow.  Of course, the Jews who stayed in Tarnow suffered much during World War II.  We were a bit startled by the sight of the synagogue ruin in the midst of the Jewish area.  It was just the bimah (the synagogue’s interior prayer platform) standing in the center of an empty courtyard.  It was overwhelming to realize that in the past there was a large synagogue in that precise location, before it was destroyed by the German army.

We were so excited when our motor coach entered the Kazimierz neighborhood of Krakow.  After unloading our luggage into our rooms in Hotel Kazimierz and the Annex, we met our tour guide Kristina and walked through the drizzle across city streets until we approached Wawel Castle.

The castle is huge, colorful, and a relic from the past.  The first part of the castle was built in the 12th century!   Outside, it is surrounded by green grass, trees, and cobblestones.

The castle complex includes an incredibly beautiful cathedral containing gold and silver ornaments and coffins of some of Poland’s most important rulers.  It was astonishing to think that kings and queens walked around in the cathedral and the other parts of the building.  Inside, we saw the rooms in which they held meetings and royal parties.  Off the balconies, they
gazing out the tower window
 could see a whole panorama of Krakow and the Vistula River next to it.  Peeking out the windows of the tower, we saw gorgeous vistas as modern buildings, such as the museum housing a large collection of Japanese art.  Our tour included some of the castles’ interior rooms.  The walls could be quite colorful, and some appeared to be covered by either paper or painted and etched leather – the guards would not let us touch or photograph.  Ceilings and floors were also mesmerizing for their intricately patterned stones and tiles.    One of the ceilings was composed of hard wooden or sculpted heads with eyes gazing upon the people below, as if they were eavesdropping on peoples’ conversations.  Perhaps the message was “the king knows all!”
Jimmy and the bell 
Inside one of the castle towers was a huge bell which, according to Polish legend, will give back luck to anyone who touches it with their right hand but grant the wish of anyone who touches it with their left hand.  We all did that.  There has been a persistent rumor that Jimmy touched it with his right hand, and unfortunately this photo does not confirm or disprove that.

on a sunny day
Kristina walked us from Wawel Castle into Old Town, stopping at a sandwich place so we could stave off our hunger.  Walking up the streets toward the center of town, we were mesmerized by all the stores.   There were thousands of people in the streets, which were free of all vehicles except horse-drawn carriages.  Up at the top of the town, Kristina took us to one of the Jagiellonian University buildings.
wet Krakow Old Town streets

The campus is integrated into the Old Town and newer parts of Krakow, and there are 150,000 students total!  Finally, she brought us to the center of the rynek, just in time to hear the trumpeter blow his horn from the window high in the tower of St. Mary’s Cathedral.

We had free time the rest of the day and evening, and most of us spent it enjoying the exciting sights and sounds of Krakow.