Thursday, May 27, 2010

Driving Through Poland

We arrived in Cracow last evening after a day of driving from Kazimierz Dolny to Sienno and then to Cracow. The drive got extended a bit as we kept hitting detours because of the flooding in Poland. The Polish police have been very helpful in getting us to routes that work and usually speak a little English. One actually input the route into our GPS.

Before we began our journey we explored the town of Kazimierz Dolny which is a little town on the river with cafes, galleries and the remains of a castle. We found the old synagogue tucked behind the main square. The town square is surrounded with Renaissance buildings with a well in the middle. We climbed to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the city. The flooding appears to have receded, but sandbags line the water.

As we drove along the road we could see water a few feet away seeping into the nearby fields, but after we made it across to the other side the driving was relatively smooth. The country roads are narrow and there are often pedestrians and bicyclists that one must avoid. We passed many older women in babushkas working in gardens. We had a sunny day and the countryside was quite beautiful, very green and rolling hills.

I had wanted to go to Sienno, a small town in route where one set of great-great grandparents lived. I had no addresses or specific things I was in search of, just a sense of the place. While there I photographed buildings that looked like they might have existed in 1851 when my great-great grandparents married in Sienno. No one we encountered spoke any English so we couldn’t inquire about any former synagogue or cemetery.

Then we were on our way to Cracow. We arrived at dusk when we could see the beginning of a full moon. We stopped to take a photo and a Polish man invited us into his back yard for a better view. Amazing what one can communicate with no language. I’ve mastered the word for “thank you” and say it a lot for lack of any others.

We found our way through twisting streets until we came to the former Jewish district of Kazimierz where we are staying at the Hotel Rubinstein, named after Helena Rubinstein who lived in Cracow in the early part of her life. The hotel is right in the middle of Kazimierz on Szeroka Street. There are three old synagogues on the plaza, one virtually next door. The hotel was once a tenement house that dates back to the middle of the 15th century. It underwent many renovations and expansions over the centuries and the final renovation seemed to preserve the history of the building. Today we are off to see the Jewish district with the assistance of one of my fellow students from the Vilnius Yiddish Institute who lives in Cracow.

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