When I last left you, I was boarding an overnight train to Krakow, Poland. Stuart and I headed to the seat area of the train while Jackie and Heather went to their bed area. After a fitful sleep trying to stretch out over four seats each in a little room that reminded me of Harry Potter’s adventures on the Hogwarts Express, we finally arrived at the Krakow train station at 6 in the morning. Throughout the night, our sleep was interrupted by people mistaking our room for theirs and loud laughter from annoying people who boarded the train at 3 am. A sweet little old Polish lady entered our room and sat down next to me around 4 am, so I moved my legs for her and tried to fall back asleep. It wasn’t too long before I felt her hand tap my foot, and she gestured for me to stretch my legs out. She then moved to sit by Stu and left me with all of the seats on my side. Sorry Stu.
But there we were, in Krakow. Now, I call it the city of dragons, because a local folklore tells of a dragon that lived in a cave at the foot of Wawel Hill. The King wanted to rid the city of the dragon, but no knight was able to kill it. One day, a cobbler’s apprentice decided to take on the challenge. After stuffing a lamb with sulphur, he left it outside of the dragon’s cave. The dragon ate it, but he became incredibly thirsty, so he want to the river for a drink. No amount of water could quench his thirst, and he ended up exploding after drinking so much water. The cobbler’s apprentice married the princess, and they lived happily ever after. Now, a metal dragon sits at the supposed entrance to the dragon’s den. This dragon even breathes fire every few minutes. That was pretty cool to watch.They also have dragons on a bunch of souvenirs and stuffed dragons to buy. I have to say it’s quite the city mascot.
Anyway, our main purpose in visiting Krakow was wanting to visit Auschwitz, so that’s the first thing we did. After settling down in our hostel, which was initially very sketch but turned out to be super awesome, we boarded a bus headed to Auschwitz.
I’m not quite sure I have the words to describe my experience at both Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. We definitely didn’t have enough time in both places due to the nature of our tour, and that was annoying. But the thoughts that ran through my mind while there just bring tears to my eyes. As soon as you pass under the iron gates saying Arbeit macht frei (work makes you free), you are transported to a new world. You walk down the paths in between barracks where thousands lived and millions were killed. Many of the blocks have exhibits within them, the most disturbing of which was the shaved hair and the collection of children’s shoes.
Some of the block buildings have been changed over time, but one that has never changed is block 11. Block 11 is also known as the death block or prison within a prison, because the basement was filled with standing cells and starvation cells. The first gassing was also done in these cells as an experiment. You walk through these halls and can touch the fading walls that prisoners grasped as they were dragged to the basement. You walk along the paths they were forced to take. Looking into the dark cells where they lived until they died was incredibly difficult. The final part of the Auschwitz tour takes you through the only gas chamber still standing. You walk through the changing room and see where they undressed in anticipation of the showers they were promised. Then you walk through the gassing portion of the chamber. I had to exit quickly or else I was going to lose it completely. Side note, if you haven’t seen The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, you really should. Anyway, the next stop was Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest part of the camp. Remember those scenes of people getting off of railway cars and being ushered into the concentration camp barracks from history class? That’s where these took place. The main gate is still there, and the main tracks run all the way through the camp, eventually ending where a memorial stands for Holocaust victims in the site of a destroyed gas chamber. Much of Birkenau was destroyed before the liberation, but some barracks still exist. These tiny buildings held hundreds of prisoners in the most disgusting situations I have ever seen. The concentration camp sites are haunting, and the experience visiting the sites is painful. But I’m glad I did it. I would go again. You have to remember how awful things in our history are, and you can’t be afraid of learning about it. The cliche is right. Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, and there are some things in life that should never be repeated.
But enough about the sad parts of Poland, because Krakow surprised me with it’s beauty. The adorable Old Town Square with the best cupcake shop I’ve ever been to (banana split cupcake and cinnamon cookie latte for the win), a splendidly designed Wawel Castle, a super adorable waterfront area and a historically beautiful Jewish Quarter are all present in the city. Also, with the exchange rate, I felt like a queen. I took out a total of $16 for two days in Krakow and had plenty of money for everything. Those exchange rates do not exist in London. No sir. After potato pancakes and milk on the second day, it was time to depart for Italy. We boarded our flight to Bologna, rode a bus through the adorable city streets, hopped on a high-speed train to Firenze, and arrived in the early evening. I’ll write about Italy later.
Have a good day readers.