A different kind of roller-coaster
Trip Start Mar 28, 2010
140Trip End May 31, 2011
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Waking the next day to the sound of church bells and trumpets (a tradition of the Old Town in Krakow) we found ourselves rejuvenated by a good night’s sleep, though Shane’s back was still incredibly sore. After a light breakfast, we set out to explore the city. Krakow, despite being in the centre of the bitter conflict (especially in Poland) that was WWII, managed to escape the complete destruction that befell many other ancient cities in Eastern Europe. As such, the buildings and squares that remain today are in fact originals, dating back centuries. It is a truly beautiful city. We opted to head south of the main tourist square on our first day, exploring the Jewish quarter (Kazimierz), the former Jewish ghetto and Oscar Schindler’s famed factory. While the Jewish ghetto pays homage to its former inhabitants through various memorials and retains one fragment of the former ghetto wall, Kazimierz is virtually undistinguishable as the former Jewish centre of Krakow. Schindler’s factory is now a museum. There is a distinct sadness to these sites, despite the fact they are today bustling areas of business and habitation. Perhaps it is simply because we are cognisant of their tragic histories that we noted this – the knowledge that close to 65,000 Jewish Poles were lost from this city alone is hard to overlook
Our second day was kept a bit lighter and more central, simply wandering Old Town. After taking in our fill of statues and historical buildings, we ventured up to Wawel Castle, dubbed ‘The Image of Poland’ and the seat of Polish power for over 500 years. We chose to simply circumnavigate the building rather than venture inside however were blown away by the extravagance of the building nonetheless. We retired early that evening after a meal of traditional Polish food in a traditional restaurant... the arteries are taking a beating these days!
Our final day in Krakow was actually spent in Oswiecim, aka Auschwitz. It is difficult to put into words how one feels upon first viewing of the Nazi regime’s largest concentration camp and even more difficult to describe all one feels setting foot on its soil. The site is massive, larger than either of us could have imagined – it is actually split into two camps, Auschwitz I (then primarily administrative, now primarily museum and largely restored ) and Birkenau-Auschwitz II (the main extermination site, now preserved rather than restored). Though both camps are horrifying to see, it was Birkenau that affected us the most; while Auschwitz I on the surface resembles a university campus (though we in no way use this analogy to downplay the atrocity), Birkenau’s vast and violent emptiness evokes a feeling of hopelessness and despair unparalleled by anything we’ve ever experienced..
From Krakow we travel to Warsaw, though most people we’ve talked to ask us why (apparently, after the old world beauty of Krakow, Warsaw is ‘just an ugly concrete block’). Though it may not seem from our account of our time here thus far, Poland has indeed provide some relief from the travel ups-and-downs... there is a difference between the roller-coaster created by images and experiences and the one created by wrenches in travel plans. The story we’ve encountered of Krakow and its surrounding area’s incredible resilience has been inspirational to us – a resounding reminder of the strength of the human spirit, no matter how low life may sink us. This is not to say we in any way compare our travel struggles with those who have experienced the hardships and ruthlessness of war... if anything, we have actually been brought a little perspective.