Poland: Another Reunion With a Good Friend!
July 6th to 13th
I arrived in Krakow at 7:00 am on the 6th of July, where my friend Jakub, one of the guys who was also on exchange in Iceland, met me at the train station. We first went to Jakub's house, where we just relaxed for the morning. I was happy for a shower after traveling for a couple nights on trains and to just relax. It was also raining quite a bit, so I was happy just staying inside where it was nice and dry. Eventually, we ventured out into the rain though. There is a museum about the history of Krakow in the city centre, that is actually under a market place, that Jakub recommended visiting, so we had booked tickets to go see that. A rainy day is always a good day to take in the sites that are indoors! First, though, Jakub needed to have his photo taken for a graduation photo as he just finished up his Master's program. (Yay!!!) but when we got to the place, his shirt had bog wet spots from the rain going through his jacket. So we decided it was best to come back later with a dry shirt. And to buy umbrellas! Back to Jakub's we went for a few minutes, then off to the store to buy umbrellas, which I think was a pretty solid decision. For two months, I had gone without one and had always toughed out the rain, but I finally gave in to purchasing one. And it was pretty good to have that day! With umbrellas up, we went to the city centre to visit the museum.
It was a pretty cool museum and I am glad Jakub recommended it. It was interesting because they had layers of roads from throughout the centuries that had been buried and then excavated. You could see how over the centuries the roads built up and that they were made differently depending on the time. They also had little artifacts that had been recovered and examples of how life was. Very interesting. I wish I could tell you more about it all, but to be honest, I'm writing this blog a few weeks later and I already forget stuff. Too much information on this trip to keep it all straight.
Then we also wandered up to the castle. Originally, Krakow was the capital city of Poland but at one point in time it was changed to Warsaw. But, as I learned, Warsaw doesn't have a castle and Krakow does! Also, interesting point: The past president of Poland is buried in the castle. When we were in Iceland last year, a place carrying important Polish dignitaries, including the President and his wife, crashed. They then buried his body in the palace, which is a topic of debate in Poland. Some people are pleased his body is there while others feel like he does not deserve to be.
The next day Jakub and I went on a tour of the Jewish district of Krakow. Next interesting fact for you: prior to the war, there were thousands of Jewish people living in Krakow; now, there are only 100 registered Jews. There are lots of synagogues that still stand empty after the war. Also, the movie 'Schindler's List' was partially filmed in this area, and you are able to tour the factory of Oscar Schindler. Another very interesting Jewish history. It seems to me that wherever I seem to visit, I often remember the history of the Jewish people the best. Maybe it's because no matter how much I hear, I still find it hard to believe that there can be so much cruelty in the world, especially when it was only 60 to 70 years ago that this was all happening.
On Friday I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, concentration camps used during WWII, which was quite the eye opener. Auschwitz was a death camp, but also a work camp, whereas Birkenau was basically just a massive death camp. In Auschwitz they have rooms filled with things that were collected by the Nazis when the Jews arrived, so you can see tons of human hair that they kept to make textiles from, and thousands of pairs of shoes, and combs and toothbrushes and suitcases. Nothing was to be wasted. The shoes bothered me the most though because of the sheer amount of them. It's sad to think that they all belonged to people who perished there. And the human hair, which has all turned grey throughout the years, was also sad to see. When we entered the building, the tour guide had asked us to not take pictures of these things as they were all that were left of the thousands of people who perished there, and to be respectful of their memory and simply observe the items and think about it; I got so angry with one man though who didn't seem to have that ability to understand this. Instead of quietly observing everything and thinking about the people who were no different than you and I and how cruelly they were treated, he had his camera and was just snapping away. He seemed more intent on capturing the best photos than respecting the lives that were lost. It frustrated me so much to see such little respect. Another building had a wall of photos of Jews who were sent there, with their birth dates, the dates they arrived in Auschwitz, and the day they died. Some lasted less than a month while one guy lasted four years there. I can't even fathom living in that hell that long. I think Birkenau was worse than Auschwitz though - it was just a big open field with tons of buildings. It was huge compared to Auschwitz. And we got to go into the wooden buildings they had to stay in. The walls were so thin - I can't imagine how cold it would have been in the winter in them. At Auschwitz, the buildings were at least made of brick to help block the winter cold a bit better. I honestly don't know how some people can be so delusional that they believe an entire race of people deserved to be treated so inhumanely. It was a sad day to see this, but I think it was worth visiting. Definitely makes you think how lucky we are to not have had to endure a hell such as this. It also makes me think about all the other wars and terror going on in the world that we hear about - or don't hear about for that matter as well - and wonder how people can still treat others so horribly. How there can still be so much hatred for others because of a different skin colour, different beliefs, and so on? Do people not realize that we can all learn to get along and live together despite our differences? There was one quote written on a wall in Auschwitz that read "The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again. " - George Santayana. That quote sums up how I felt about the day. It was not a particularly cheerful visit, but something I felt was worth my time, to try understand what people have been through rather than just turning a blind eye.
Okay. Time for a happier note... On Friday night, Jakub and I partied on a tram. Jakub's roommate and some other people have started a business, in which they rent a tram from the city for the evening. They then decorate it and set up some speakers, and PARTY TIME!!! They aren't able to sell alcohol on the tram, but you are able to bring some along with you! Also, the tram is actually going around the city, so you get to see the city at night from a different perspective. It was a lot of fun and I'm glad we went!
On Saturday morning, I wandered around Krakow by myself a bit. Jakub had some work to do, so I was off on my own for a while. Then, in the afternoon, Jakub went to another city for his friend's bachelor party, so I had his room to myself that night. It was a Saturday night in Krakow and I could have gone out and found a pub crawl or something to do, but instead I just wandered around the city centre for a while, watching the street performers and taking in the atmosphere, then headed back to Jakub's fairly early and just relaxed at his place for the night and did laundry. It was the first time in over two months that I had a room to myself, so it was nice just having some alone time for a while!
The next morning, I slept in, went for a short walk to find some food, then went back to Jakub's where I relaxed some more. It was a lazy day, which is sometimes the best thing. When Jakub returned in the afternoon from his friend's, we drove out to a newer part of the city to just see that.