While I was preparing for my trip to Poland, I set up a special, guided tour in Krakow. I was looking for something different from the normal tourist mob rides. I don't enjoy being hustled from site to site with 150 other people on a set schedule. We all pile off the bus and step into the depressions left by the previous tourist hordes; take the obligatory postcard photo; and scurry back to the bus for the next mandatory stop. There are times when you choose this kind of tour (and I did a big tour later in the week), but I avoid them at every opportunity. I want time to explore and find my own photographs.
So, I booked a tour with a small company, Crazy Guides, that American Express Concierge found for me. I called it my Communist tour. My guide, Jurek, picked me up at the hotel in the classic car of Eastern Europe before the Berlin Wall came down - the Trabant or Trabi.
This little vehicle was once listed by Time magazine as one of the worst cars ever produced. It has an under-powered, polluting, two-cycle engine that is noisy, and the interior lacks almost all creature comforts. I had the seat pushed back all the way and still had my knees pushed against the metal dash. But the cars were durable and easy to repair (very important in the communist bloc countries). How else would you want to travel around Krakow to some old communist landmarks? We threw the camera back in the back seat, and Jurek and I hit the streets.
We headed out to Nowa Huta, a communist planned community on the eastern outskirts of Krakow. Nowa Huta - The New Steel Mill - was started, in 1949, as a center for heavy industry. It was to become an ideal town for communist propaganda. At one time, you could find the Lenin Steelworks, a tobacco factory, and a cement factory, all of them the largest in Poland, in addition to the huge blocks of apartment buildings to house the workers.
There was once a large, well-known sculpture of Lenin, on the centralized Avenue of Roses, but that was pulled down in 1989. We stopped in an Avenue of Roses restaurant which was restored in the communist-era style; they had a replica of the Lenin statue inside.
Obviously, the Communists' community plan did not include a church. But the Catholic people of Poland began demonstrations in the 1960s, demanding a church be allowed. They were supported by their local bishop, Karol Wojtyla. He consecrated the church, the Lord's Arc, in 1977. You may not recognize the name, but he went on to be elected Pope John Paul II. Today, there is a statue of him at the church.
Jurek took me to other locations, too: the World War II Jewish ghettos; an ancient burial mound overlooking the city; and some of the locations used for the film Schindler's List. It was a great tour for very little money. As I said before, I highly recommend a local guide for trips to foreign trips.
Still, the highlight for me was the Trabi ride. It may have been uncomfortable and noisy, but it was quite the adventure. Jurek had tools with him in case it broke down during the tour. It didn't, but I had him pose for a photo as if it did. We had a great time.