In the middle of the night on our overnight train to Krakow, a curious lack of motion disturbed our slumber. Micah poked his head into the corridor to investigate. We never actually determined what had caused the halt, but our conductor informed us that the train had been delayed and would be arriving in Krakow at 9 am. Our concerns assuaged, we returned to bed and reset our alarms from 5:30 am to 8:30 am.
Giana stirred earlier than expected, and overheard the conductor knocking on doors up and down the compartment at 8 am alerting them of an 8:30 arrival. After rousing Micah and Maria from their slumber, we all assumed that he had notified the passengers of a stop before Krakow. At 8:25, a knock sounded on our door. The conductor announced "Five minutes to Krakow." Our punishment had come.
Five minutes later the train screeched to a halt in Krakow. In the flurry of last minute preparations, Giana could not find her jeans, and was forced to flee into the early Polish morning dressed only in a thin pair of leggings. As we dashed off the train, the conductor made sure to bid each one of us a cheerful farewell.
We walked to our hostel and took a breather for approximately five minutes. We then watched Schindler's List in preparation for visiting Schindler's factory museum and Auschwitz during our time in Poland. After the movie we visited Schindler's factory museum. It turned out to be dedicated to preserving the whole of Poland's WWII experience, rather than just Schindler's story, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.
Afterwards, we met up with Ania and Sabina, two friends Maria and Giana had met at 2011 World Youth Day. We first grabbed coffee with them while we waited for Micah to finish looking at the museum. We then went for sushi with both of them and Jacob, Sabina's boyfriend. The girls discussed Ania's impending nuptials, our travels, and other life events of the past four years. Micah chatted with Jacob about politics and religion, two of the safer dinnertime topics. After dinner we walked around Krakow and enjoyed a lovely tour given our hosts. We saw Wawel castle, the JP2 window, a wedding photo shoot, and stopped in to a really old church for a few moments of Adoration. Micah went back to the hostel early for a Skype date. Maria and Giana went to visit a pub in the old Jewish quarter with Ania and Sabina. After some lovely tea and dessert items, the girls parted ways looking forward to their eventual reunion someday.
The next day we suffered the consequences of major sleep deprivation. Maria nearly purchased tickets back to Prague instead of forward to Vienna. Micah attempted to do some shopping and failed to get the change needed for lockers at least once. Eventually we made it onto our train to Auschwitz. The trains in Poland were dilapidated, stopping frequently for no apparent reason, never traveling faster than 20 miles an hour. The temperature seemed more appropriate for a hot yoga studio than a public transport vehicle.
We spent several hours visiting Auschwitz. The 70th anniversary of the camp liberation had occurred the previous day, so the camp was packed with visitors. We had to clear near TSA level security, which was complicated by our traveling habit of keeping a lot of things in our pockets. Before passing the metal detector the order came "Empty your pockets." Maria and Micah, both carrying several pounds of coins in five different currencies in their pockets, reluctantly began the arduous task. We passed the metal detector and quickly began to gather our belongings and a puddle of change as the people behind us began to accumulate. An exasperated security officer helped us gather our things when she realized the volume our pockets had turned out. With larger and quicker hands, Micah gathered most of the coins in what has become known as "The Great Change Up of Oswieçim."
Out of respect for the suffering and death of so many people at the site, we took very few photos. It's difficult to describe the feeling of being there. The rooms filled with belongings, photos, and piles of human hair could only hint at the crimes perpetrated. Claw marks on the walls of the gas chamber told stories of thousands of agonizing deaths. Our tour guide was informative but dispassionate with her academic tone. We left the camp and headed back to Krakow for our night train to Vienna.
"Part of the ship, part of the crew"
- Giana and Micah