I left you last night as the door closed on our sleeping compartment on the night train from Vienna to Krakow. Our own wee caretaker man gave us instructions in how to manage our compartment then left us to enjoy the journey. As we drew away from the Austrian capital, I realised I had no idea which were the intermediary stops because frankly it didn’t matter to us much as we’d be sleeping when we reached them. The train noises associated with slow speed and point-changes gradually gave way to a low hum as the train found its rhythm and, with me above and Lady Burton below, we slipped off to sleep. Clunk! I slipped back to awake mode. Crash, Bang, Wallop! They were chopping the train up! We started to head back to where we’d just come from when …….. we fell asleep again! Clunk!!

And so it continued until 06:30 when the wee man knocked to ask us which hot drink we wanted to go with our pre-packed breakfast! Tea and toast with butter and cheese gave us some kind of a breakfast to believe in and left us to reflect on whether we could sneak unnoticed into a country nowadays. You see, ever since Billy Connolly taught us “no need to panic, there’s no need to cry, I’m an undercover agent working for the FBI!” I’ve known something Mary has known all her life. These trains are full of spies! Cue the intro music from “The Third Man”.  Midge Ure ensured we know most of them get on in Vienna and from then on anything East is definitely dodgy! Now, it just so happens that Lady Burton wanted to be a Spy way before she chose to be a teacher. She finds European cities very romantic despite there being a spy on every corner and of course she knows full well that they all travel incognito on the night train.

I hate to disappoint but Daniel Craig was nowhere to be seen! Nor were any of the other frequent travellers on the Orient Express. No, all these spies were doing their nighttime spying so well that we couldn’t find any of them. Not a single one tried to access our locked door with a hairpin and the group playing Bridge in the salon carriage started and finished with the same 12 people. Not one disappeared out a window or was found dead, stabbed in the neck with a particularly sharp fountain pen! We’re ashamed to admit it but we’ve done Munich, Bratislava, Vienna, Budapest and Krakow and not had a single drop of poison slipped into our nightcap or been stabbed by a brolly!

Safely in Krakow Glowny station we pondered over a cup of Darjeeling what to do. It was obviously way too early to check-in at our hotel but we couldn’t walk about all day with our luggage, so we agreed to go and leave stuff at the hotel luggage store then get in a bit of tourism if we could. Two very helpful young girls from Warsaw helped us pick out the correct tram to catch but in the end we took a taxi once we realised the sign at the stop said “Line closed for maintenance”! The hotel did agree to store our luggage, leaving us spies free to go get some real breakfast which we found right next door at a cute wee café. Refreshed, we made for the main square a 15-minute walk away and found ourselves right in the middle of busy Krakow.

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The main square market

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St. Mary’s of the Assumption

St. Mary’s of the Assumption dominated the square so we paid and went in to see the famous altar tryptych carved in wood. The cathedral itself was splendid indeed and we spent an hour admiring its attributes before managing to buy a ticket for 3 areas of the historical museums of Krakow: Schindler’s factory, Tadeusz Pankiewicz’s  Apoteka under the Eagle and Pomorska Street (Gestapo HQ) with the common theme being the annihilation of the Jewish Ghetto under Nazi occupation in WW2. We would do these on our own as all the official tours were fully booked. At 13.20 we were finally admitted to our room but 10 minutes later we were in a taxi and on our way to the Emailwaren factory of Oskar Schindler.

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Schindler’s factory front door

Most of us know the story of how Schindler helped 1000 Jews escape almost certain death at the hands of the SS from the Steven Spielberg Oscar-winning film “Schindler’s List” starring Liam Neeson which was shot in the actual factory we went to visit. It is a wonderful story of a German entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to make a fortune from the war but who was appalled at the treatment he saw being dished out to Krakow’s Jews and then did all he could to protect his employees from the excesses of the Third Reich. The witness accounts were heavy reading at times and once or twice I had to stop to compose myself but it was a sobering afternoon in there. We moved on straight to another tale of defiance in the jaws of death from a Krakow pharmacist who broke all the Nazi rules to set up a tiny chink of humanity while surrounded by unspeakable horror.

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Commemorative plaque

We worked out how to get back to the hotel by tram this time and we were soon both fast asleep as 18.00 hours came round. But we woke up in time for a delicious dinner back at that wee café next door and going by the quality of what we were served, we’ll be going back tomorrow as well!

We’re now both back in bed as we have a really early start tomorrow for an organised tour of a place we all know and whose name sends shivers down our spines. We’re going to visit …. Auschwitz.

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Mary in the Apoteka

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