After spending time in the Old Jewish Quarter, Krakow Ghetto and Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, it seems as if Krakow is a place defined only by its depressing events from the past. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’m not quite sure how to write this post. Having visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, I found it to be a moving experience and I’m not in the least bit ashamed to admit that I was moved to tears on numerous occassions. Even now, thinking back on it makes me emotional. At times I felt a little bit awkward taking photos whilst at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, but my own personal thoughts on this is that it is far, far more important for the events that took place to be documented, discussed and brought to light than risk being forgotten about. Part of what, I think, is support for this way of thinking, is that as early as 1947 Poland had founded the Museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both signify the absolute need for the attrocities that occurred to be laid bare.
There’s a lot of sad history throughout Europe and none more so than that which occurred in Poland during World War II. For centuries, Poland had the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world which by 1939 numbered 3.25 million and comprised 10% of the total Polish population. By the end of World War II and the Jewish Holocaust, only 100,000 remained - a staggering loss of 97% due to systemic murder from the Nazi regime and it sympathisers.
Six days in Prague hardly seems enough. Thankfully we’re not completely done and we’ve got another opportunity to drag the kids out for more walking. We decided to head up to Petrin Park and its accompanying gardens at the top of Petrin Hill. Whilst the funicular is definitely the easiest way to get to the top, we thought the kids would appreciate it more if we walked up the many pathways that lead ever upwards. After I removed my tongue which had been wedged firm in my cheek we began at the Memorial to the Victims of Communism.
My last visit to Prague was 22 years ago. Prices certainly were cheaper back then, especially for beer, which might also have something to do with not remembering that much of my time in the city. Three things I do remember; Charles Bridge, the Astromonical Clock (blame that one on the beer) and Prague Castle and no self respecting tourist would visit Prague without checking out all three.
We’ve arrived in Prague, historical capital of Bohemia and now of the Czech Republic. We’ve been a bit careless though and managed to lose our luggage for the second flight in a row. This time round, it isn’t slowing us down at all and it isn’t long before we’re out and about exploring the city of Five Hundred Spires, which takes into account spireflation that has occurred since the original “City of One Hundred Spires” phrase coined by the 19th century mathematician Bernard Bolzano.
With only one day left, it’s time to finally visit the sight that dominates all of Tbilisi, the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Also known as Tsminda Sameba Cathedral, it was only consecrated in 2004, yet its physical presence is something that can’t be ignored and it is well worthy of the 30 minute walk from the Old Town to reach it.
Our last days in Georgia are upon us. We’ve spent four weeks in this gorgeous country and had a blast and most especially the last three days that we spent with friends from the UAE who met us for our final days. Seeing the faces on Emily and Alayna when they met up was, to paraphrase Big Chris out of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, emotional. It also was a reminder that in this day and age, distance is of no matter and that the world really is too small a place. I mean, if an Irish family and a New Zealand family can arrange to catch up in Georgia, then anything is really possible.
We’ve traded in the Georgian interior for Georgia’s Black Sea coast, which forms part of the Caucasian Riviera. Specifically, we’re in Batumi, capital of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara which is a political-administrative region within Georgia. The city has close to 150,000 people and exhibits a distinctly different feel from the rest of Georgia. There are noticeable influences from its southern neighbour, Turkey and a much larger Muslim population, which is estimated to be approximately 30%.
I recall when travelling last through Europe (22 years ago!), that we constantly used the acronym ABC, meaning Another Bloody Church and Another Bloody Castle. As I’ve got older, I’ve found my capacity for churches, cathedrals and castles to be infinitely higher. Which is just as well, as there are plenty in Georgia, with a high proportion being absolutely stunning. Kutaisi is no exception to the rest of Georgia and we managed to visit three of historical significance while staying there.
Kutaisi is a perfect hub for getting out and about in nature. Before arriving in the city, we took the backroads from Gori to check out Katskhi Column, located only five minutes from the town of Chiatura. Strikingly situated in the small river valley of Katskhura, Katskhi Colmumn/Pillar consists of a small restored church perched atop a 40 metre high natural limestone monolith that can easily be seen well before you arrive.
Having seen both where Stalin was born and more importantly Fraggle Rock, we headed to George’s third largest city, Kutaisi. Kutaisi has historically been the capital city of a number of Georgian Kingdoms, including the Kingdom of Colchis in the 5th to 6th century BC, Kingdom of Lazica from 1st century BC, Kingdom of Georgia in the Middle Ages and the Kingdom of Imereti shortly thereafter. Looking to recapture some of its past glory, it was even briefly made the seat of the Parliament of Georgia from 2012 to 2018 until this was returned back to Tbilisi in 2019. Nowadays, Kutaisi seems happy enough with simply being the capital of the western region of Imereti and content to watch the world go by from the banks of the Rioni River.
About 15 kilometres to the east of Gori, cut deep into the surrounding natural rock, is the 12th century BC settlement of Uplistsikhe. One of, if not the, oldest urban settlements in Georgia, during its heyday between the 9th and 11th century AD, it is thought to have housed up to 20,000 people due to its strategic location along a main caravan road from Asia to Europe. The town lasted up until the Mongols invaded the country in the 14th century, after which it was virtually abandoned before being “rediscovered” in the 1950’s. It’s importance to Georgian culture is such that it was placed on the UNESCO Heritage Tentative List in 2007.
You may or may not know that Joseph Stalin originated from Georgia and that Stalin wasn’t his original name. Born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (and more commonly called Iosif Jughashvili) into a poor family, the man who would go on to become one of the most powerful figures in the 20th century, suffered a lifelong disability to his left arm as a child due to an accident with a horse drawn carriage. This may have had some bearing on his desire to be portrayed as a hard man when rising through the Soviet ranks, which resulted in him changing his name to Stalin, meaning “Man of Steel” in Russian.
We’re not much of mountain people. Neither Veronica nor I are interested in skiing, we don’t get into home brewing moonshine and nor are we any good at growing beards. So the idea of heading up to the mountains might see a bit strange. But when researching Georgia, the town of Stepantsminda and the iconic Gergeti Trinity Church kept popping up as one of the things that had to be seen when visiting the country.