D-14, May 5,  From Oswiecim (Auschwitz) back to Krakow

We showed up at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp only to discover it was closed because of a Survivors Parade. To them I would defer a visit any day; we’ll try again on the 7th (Saturday). 

We traveled back to Krakow, found a “Pilgrims’ Price” hostel very close to the center ($15 per person per night!) and reserved it for two nights, and took a 2-hr “free” walking tour of the old Krakow City. Also made reservations for a pickup for the Salt Mines tomorrow at 9 am to go to Wieliczka (a short bus drive away).

We won’t bore you with dozens of beautiful pictures of this impressive city except for two venues: (1) the Residence that St. John Paul II used when he came back to Krakow as well as the basilica where he would pray (he was archbishop of Krakow 64-78) and (2) the The Jagiellonian University founded in 1364 by Casimir III the Great in Kraków–it’s the oldest university in Poland, the second oldest university in Central Europe and one of the oldest universities in the world. And, its two most notable alumni are Copernicus and St John Paul II.

I had to include two pics of Eddie and me on the largest medieval market square (200 m. x 200 m.) standing by a row of carriages waiting to take tourists through the city and a second of us enjoying kebabs on the square with throngs of others.

D-13, May 4, Wieliczka to Krakow and on to Oswiecim (Auschwitz)

A short 13 km (8 mi) walk had us experiencing the Krakow morning rush hour. The two inbound lanes were just inching along. We eventually crossed a bridge over the Vistula River, Poland’s longest and arrived at the city center. The game plan was to head to Auschwitz (Oswiecim), with their intercity train. That would give us a chance to prioritize what to see on Krakow.

The walk to the train station took us by the Krakow Galeria, a gigantic mall bustling with people, eateries of all sorts (incl. all the usual American brands), and the train ticket office. The train ride lasted nearly two hours and when we arrived at Auschwitz we had a difficult time getting oriented–the downpour didn’t help. It took a cabbie to find us a “pilgrim-priced” hotel across the river from the camp.

D-12, May 3, Targowisko to Wieliczka

We left our backpacks at the lodging (Hotel Savana)–sounds fancy but was simple–and trekked two km to the site of the 9th century Chelmie Castle. Not much of the castle can be seen, but the early settlement became occupied by the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Early travelers on the Via Regia (Camino) were protected by this Order.

The Order’s history through absorption by other orders (eg. the Knights Templars, Hospitallers, etc.) is so complex–I don’t pretend to understand it, except to mention that an 80-year-old priest has taken on the task of keeping the history alive. We took his personal tour in “his” museum. And we touched a little part of that! 

Today was also confirmation at the church there in Chelmie (note the hearts at bottom left of altar–one for each youngster being confirmed). We saw them arrive at church. The one pic shows their vestments (the boy lives in the house to his left–quite a mansion. The other pic shows the older girls helping the priest with confirmation. Note: everyone is super excited about the upcoming World Youth Day celebrated in Poland at multiple venues, even at this little village!!!!

Near the end of our walk we saw some spectacular motor bike stunts and then came one of the best goulashes I’ve ever had–the meat layered on top of two scrumptious potato pancakes. Again we’re in a hotel; the pilgrims’ hostel was closed and we couldn’t raise anyone at the Franciscan-run college.

D-11, May 2, Brzesko to Targowisko

Left our trail angel’s house at crack of dawn with full stomachs, lunches, and a bag of food and drink–unbelievably hospitable. On entering Brzesko proper, we found St. James church along with mass celebrated at the newer church “next door”–their apses being orthogonal so that being in one felt also like being in the other church (see altars side by side),

One of the priests (with good English) served us coffee and cake, followed by another one asking us to write into their visitors’ log (see pic).

The real walking began thereafter, 25 km (16 mi) in all, but for the first time some climbs that took us   500-600 ft up with great views of the surrounding hills. We’re still pretty much in southeastern Poland and closing in on Krakow.

D-10, May 1, Tarnow to Brzesko

We left after 6 am mass at the Cathedral (top left pic) to head out into a foggy mist and cool air. We spotted a WW I cemetery with German soldiers who perished in the war. It was a stark contrast with the many Polish cemeteries bedecked with bright flowers (see pics).

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly a trail angel who offered us a ride at midway. Although we turned down the ride, we accepted her offer to stay at their house! So after finishing our 29 km walk (18 mi), we arrived tired and weary at Monica’s house. She made a scrumptious dinner for us, we talked (her English was excellent), and Eddie took her Rhodesian Ridgeback dog for a stroll–they’re now buddies for life and Eddie will miss her. Am also doing laundry using a machine–what a treat!

D-9, Apr 30, Pilzno to Tarnow

Edward has decided to leave his backpack behind because of his injuries sustained on the job years ago. He’s just carrying a small bag of essentials. 

Easy day of 21 km (13 mi). Lucky to find quarters at the rectory, but only one bed–so we’ll see. Just waiting for a wedding to end, then the priest will have time for us.

On the way we spotted examples of muddy patches that we missed for not taking the muddy route–we stick to the highway. Also saw a stork (good luck symbol) and an old Trabi (East German car during Communist times. The pic of the buildings was here in Tarnow dating from Soviet times.

The painting in Pilzno’s St John’s Church is the famous “Our Lady of Consolation” from earlier than 1241, destroyed, then recreated in ca. 1500.

D-8, Apr 29, Ropczyce to Pilzno

We trekked 27 km (17 mi) over rolling hills–a great walking day. After 2 1/2 hrs without coffee / breakfast, I couldn’t resist the call of a McDonalds. We try to avoid them, but …. There were no accommodations at the Carmelite Cloister, so we ended up at the Taurus Motel–a small little room, but clean and all that we need.

Importantly, I failed to mention before, my 2000-mile walk is taking me from the Polish state of Galicia to the Spanish state of Galicia–what a coincidence!

On the way, a car stopped and a fellow in all black came up to us to wish us “Buen Camino”–he had done the Frances last year and was so overjoyed to meet us. We first thought he was a priest! Today, as usual, we see lots of roadside memorials for someone who lost their life prematurely. We also saw another statue of St. John Paul II. 

And also, I noted that all the towns seem to adjoin: the end of one is always the beginning of the next. Probably a good way to set maintenance responsibility! Final pic is of the Pilzno Square: City Hall and Church.

D-7, Apr 28, Rzeszow to Ropczyce 

We pushed and did 21 miles and now stand at day 10 of the itinerary–3 days ahead!!! We’ve been waiting at the rectory for about 2 hours trying to obtain the head priest’s permission to stay. It’s not easy to “work the network,” but such a treat to be able to stay at the religious facilities.

Two comments on the day, one at the beginning and one at the end. At Rzeszow we passed a traffic circle surrounded by NATO flags, that we expected to guard a majestic statue at the flags’ center. Instead we saw a cell tower, important as well in its ability to bind the NATO nations together. 

Then at this end, at the church where we hope to find lodging, we encountered a statue of St. John Paul II, the former pope from Poland, and loved dearly by her people. I don’t think I found a single church where his likeness isn’t conspicuously displayed.

Here’s hoping we can stay.

D-6 (add-on) Apr 27, Lancut to Rzeszow

Trekked 17.4 km (11 mi) today to Rzeszow with a population of over 180,000. We had the benefit of a walking path set off from the highway nearly the whole time (see the pic). The city’s vibrancy was visible at the suburbs with mega-malls and mega traffic–all good things. Then came a McDonald’s–but only the second since starting my walk. That’s not bad.

We had lunch on the low walls of a nearly forsaken Soviet cemetery with burials of Russian soldiers through the liberation in 1944. There’s evidence like this here and there. Interestingly, Poland will not celebrate the 1st of May (brings back memories of the Soviet May Day); instead they celebrate the 3rd of May!

D-6, Apr 27, Lancut to Rzeszow 

This morning’s send-off by the nuns was special. One of the school staff took a picture that imprinted on my mind the best of what there is on the Via Regia/Camino: the love and caring these sisters exude for all, but especially to the children entrusted to their care. The picture says it all.