Krakow

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
1
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Trip End Ongoing


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Tuesday, July 4, 2006

This time we were both puffed from running for the train, and spent quite a while recovering and still stunned in disbelief about how we managed to catch that train!

That evening we arrived in Krakow and wanted to head straight to our hotel... it was getting late after all. Unusually, we had to first search for a taxi to take us to our hotel. After finally finding one that looked reasonable we were on our way.

Nice hotel! For the first time in Europe we actually had our own bathroom - luxury! We had only booked for one night and asked about staying longer but they weren't able to accommodate us for our whole stay. Bummer! This meant that we had to find somewhere else to stay in the middle of our visit as well as fit in sightseeing.

Our accommodation was in the Kazimierz area of Krakow - the Jewish quarter. As we had only one night left in the area, we decided that it would be wise to visit it first.

We went to the Old Synagogue Museum, which had some really interesting exhibits on the Jewish religion. It answered some questions that we had for some time which was great. There was a lot to read though and as it was near closing time we got kicked out before we had finished fully understanding.

After that we went to the High Synagogue which was disappointing - just a room with photos displayed of survivors of the holocaust, with no explanations and nothing remaining of the religious aspects of the synagogue.

We then walked past a Jewish graveyard and even though it was closed, you could still see walls made with remnants of old tombstones which had been buried for preservation during Nazi occupation, and had been put together like a mosaic. An interesting way to commemorate.

The following day we visited Wawel Castle (pronounced "Vavel"). An old castle that had been restored, with period exhibits in the rooms and tapestries of the 18th and 19th centuries. It didn't terribly interest us.

We left the castle grounds through the "dragon den"... where legend had it that a dragon used to haunt. No sign of the dragon there ... now it is just a cold cave, although the souvenirs of the dragon were soooo cute.

After the castle it was time to change accommodation. This again was not as simple as it sounded as although they had two nights available for us, this involved a change of rooms each night!!! This was a considerable pain as we had planned to visit Auschwitz the following day. More time wasted packing.

Then off to explore the main square of Krakow, the big attraction of this town. It was quite beautiful, with typical European architecture, but very colourful, very grand and full of life. However, we did give the edge to Wroclaw as the most beautiful square - perhaps because it is slightly smaller and less touristy and not quite so much scaffolding!

In the evening, after a bit of shopping, it was back to the hotel to pack our bags for our next room change (our hotel graciously offered to move our bags for us ... hehehe little did they realise that Glenn's bag is pretty damn heavy!)

Next morning we rose early to get a bus to the town of Auschwitz (Oscwiem in Polish). We had a bit of trouble trying to find the bus station as a whole lot of construction was occurring near the train station (the bus station was supposedly behind it). We queued up at the information office at the train station to ask where the bus station was... they unpolitely told us that we could get a train to Oscwiem or basically we could get stuffed!. Thanks!. Luckily for us there were some much more polite people standing in the queue behind us who helped us out and told us where the bus station was.

We found the bus station and bought tickets for our bus. Getting onto the bus was a bit crazy - in Poland (just like Asia) they just donīt know how to queue! Christie was getting a bit squished by some of the locals until one nice Polish guy told them to back off and let Christie on the bus, and they did! (wish we knew what he said!).

Once on the bus we had to prepare ourselves for a grim day ahead. We knew it wasnīt going to be easy, but we both felt it was something we had to do.

The bus dropped us off at "Auschwitz I", the first camp. After buying our tickets we decided it was probably a good idea to see a short film which was meant explain a bit about what people went through in the camps before you saw the camps themselves. It was quite graphic and hard to watch. What was even harder to deal with was the people that insisted on talking to each other about completely unrelated things the whole way through the film. We guess some people cope with this stuff in different ways but we thought it was quite disrespectful (unfortunately this was just the start).

After the film we walked around the camp. There was a recommended route, however we just made our own way around as it seemed to be easier. The place was set up so that there were displays in different buildings, some with old belongings of those who suffered at the camp, some with explanations of what the buildings were used for, some dedicated to particular countries who suffered during these times. It was a lot to take in.

We however found it a bit too much like a tourism circus. Christie found it particularly hard to deal with and felt it was a bit like going to death camp disneyland. People just showed such little disrespect we couldnīt believe it.

At the end of our visit we went to the cremation building, something we werenīt looking forward to but felt was necessary to completely understand. There was a huge sign at the entrance to this building asking people to respect what had happened here by remaining silent and not taking photographs. There were a group of Jewish men saying a prayer with a rabbi over an old cremation oven (obviously in respect of the dead). It was a very moving sight for us....yet another group of people decided to talk away at the top of their voices and take flash photographs (even of the Jewish group praying). They were even laughing at some points and it left a sour taste in our mouths for the rest of the day. We just felt so angry! Whether the full impact of what happened is starting to fade with new generations, we are not sure, but that being said, this museum is still very important as a reminder of what happened so that future generations donīt forget.

Then, while waiting for the bus to Birkenau (Auschwitz II), we decided to get some lunch. All we could find for a decent price was a hot dog. It was to be just a continuation of very bad hot dogs that we have experienced on this trip.

Auschwitz II has less buildings remaining (or less reconstructed buildings anyway), but the sheer size of what remains give you a chill down the spine. The entrance - with the railway going straight inside, along with the electrified barbed wire, shows how little chance there was of escape.

This camp was massive. We wandered around a basic recommended circuit and had a look into a few remaining sleeping quarters - where rows of bunks remained. Building after building of these gave a shocking realisation that thousands of people could be kept in this camp.

Exhausted from a hot day and the images we experienced, we made our way back to Auschwitz I, where we caught a bus back to Krakow.

Back at the train station we organised tickets for a train to Warsaw the next morning and then after reflecting on our day we got some much needed sleep...
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