Before I get too much into this blog, I want to explain the picture I chose. So I finished my last blog mentioning that I was off to Krakow, Poland. Why you might ask? It is very close to where the (for horrible reasons) famous extermination camp of Auschwitz is located. The picture I have chosen is a picture of my fellow Canadian friend that I met in Krakow who he himself is Jewish. His grandpa was the lone survivor of his family during the Holocaust. The rest of his family was killed by the Germans in concentration camps very near Ukraine. It was a unique experience on its own but getting to witness Auschitz with a guy like Dave with such a sad family history like his was something else.
So here I am driving in a car with a man from Berlin. The driver was a very nice man and there really was no lull in the conversation for about six hours we drove from Berlin to Krakow. He was on his way to the Czech Republic and so did not want to drive to downtown Krakow at 10pm so he dropped me off on the edge of town. It was a little scary seeing I had no Zloty (Polish currency) in my pocket and a big backpack. I rode the local train to downtown without being asked about money and then showed several people the address on my phone until I arrived to the hostel at about 11pm.
Like usual, my first day usually consists of walking around, getting lost and just seeing what there is to see. Things I saw included parts of the Jewish ghetto, Schindler's factory where the movie was based from, a few churches, and the best part of all was the food. Not only was the food extremely cheap for Europe but very good as well. I found a place which the locals eat all the time. It is essentially a sub bun that is cut in half and opened up so it does not close. Then comes all of the meat and vegetables you coose followed by cheese and then toasted to perfection (similar to a Quizno's back home). These slightly more than foot long costs only 2$. That night, Dave from Ottawa arrived from Prague, we met and then hung out the rest of the time.
Most of the major European cities offer Free Walking Tours around their cities. There really is no catch to the free other than the fact that their guides only make money based on your tipping. So, the next day we went for a tour of Krakow by way of the three hour free walking tour. It was interesting to learn the history and get to see the city. The afternoon was filled with visiting Schindler's factory which was very interesting and provided much more history than just the factory but the history of the Holocaust in Krakow. The new food for today was eating home-made perogies that were really good, (just missing sour cream and bacon bits) but very scrumptious nonetheless.
Auschwitz is an experience that is difficult to explain and to really understand it, one must really see it in person. The history, stories, pictures, videos, all become real when you're there. Knowing that people were tormented each and every day for the name on their passport or the color of their eyes or the fact that they challenged a government that was purely evil is hard to fathom. As you walk through block 4, you see the display cases filled with all the adult shoes, baby shoes, suitcases, uniforms, cosmetics and by far the one that made everything so much more real was seeing the hair. Your heart can't help but to skip a beat seeing something like that and learning that they used to make clothes and pillows out of the hair makes me want to puke. I found the more I learned about everything that went on in these camps, the more I found myself getting mad/upset thinking that someone actually took the time to plan all of this.
I was completely naive arriving to Krakow not know all of the history that was here namely the fact that the Pope John Paul II was born near here and spent much of his adult life. What makes this a little more special for me is that I teach at a school called JPII Collegiate in Okotoks. It was interesting learning more about him and I found the more I learned about the guy, the more I appreciated him. For example, he spoke eleven languages, lived through the Holocaust, and was the first pope to visit a mosque. I visited the churches he gave his first masses, where he lived throughout much of his time in Krakow and the window where he would speak to the crowds of people wanting to talk to him.
The last night which was actually the same day I visited Auschwitz was arguably the best supper I've eaten all my trip. Dave had found out that there was a popular local restaurant serving schnitzel for cheap. It would have been a really cheap meal if it wasn't for the huge beer we drank and the appetizer that was equally amazing as the schnitzel along with the potato salad and bread. All in all, I really enjoyed Krakow and the price was certainly right!