Krakow, Poland (6.9.10 – 6.11.10)

I arrived in Krakow several hours late due to train delays, and was met at the station by my CS host, Wiktor. We headed back to his place so that I could drop off my backpack, and I chose to shower quickly before we headed out to see the city. Late arrival is the rule, not the exception when it comes to the Polish rail service, and in addition to this, is the unfortunate fact that the trains are without air conditioning. Once I felt human once again, Wiktor and I went to see the old town, noting old churches and museums along the way. We then went for dinner at an absolute treasure of a restaurant; the meal started with soup, and was followed by the main course, accompanied by a salad, which was all superb, and the whole meal cost less than $4. Heaven? Basically. After dinner, we went back to Wiktor’s, stopping by the store on the way to pick up necessary supplies: vodka and beer; he called some friends and the night progressed beautifully… i.e. by the end of it, I was considerably inebriated.
On Thursday, we took it easy in the morning and in the afternoon went for a walk up the man-made Kościuszko Mound, built as a monument to Kościuszko’s achievements; the view over the city was superb. We walked home, then purchased supplies for the night, and then left to go to a CS meet-up/dinner at the house of a local CS’er. Dinner was a team effort, and consisted of pancakes, stuffed with a grain, the name of which I can’t remember, mixed with cheese and cream. The hours passed by with the aid of many different types of alcohol, that flowed freely, and before long, it was time for us to catch the tram home.
I had decided that Friday was the day on which I would visit Auschwitz, which is about an hour outside of Krakow. I joined the 1PM tour of the grounds, which is split into two parts: the tour of Auschwitz I, and the tour of Auschwitz II Birkenau. It is not possible for me to do the experience justice, but I’ll start by saying that the experience was devastating, and though  upset me tremendously, I was glad that I went. I think that it is, beyond anything else, important to see these places, and to be aware of the tragedies that man has inflicted upon his fellow man. In Birkenau, particularly, I was an absolute wreck and at times was unable to stop crying. Particularly harrowing were the rooms filled only with human hair, and children’s shoes, among other rooms filled with various belongings. In the Birkenau camp, the tour guide led us through the barracks in which they lived; the conditions were inhuman and were truly designed to degrade and make life as uncomfortable as possible, with the ultimate goal of causing death for the inhabitants. We walked along the railroad tracks that run through the center of camp, and it was difficult not to break down entirely as we walked the same path that countless people walked to the gas chambers, many of them not realizing that these were among the last moments of their lives. The experience was haunting. After I was done at the camp, I walked to the station and headed back to Krakow, where Wiktor was waiting for me at the station, and off we went to his place. I showered because the long day and train rides sans air conditioning had left me feeling disgusting, and after showering we left to go to his friend’s house for a party. I could only stay for a short amount of time before I had to leave for the train station to catch my night train to Budapest en route to Belgrade… so off I went.

St Mary’s Basilica, in the Rynek Główny, or Main Market Square

The Florian Gate, one of the gates into the old city, is part of the city’s fortifications.

Krakow’s Theatre house.

Wawel Castle, from the outside of its walls

Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle

Kamil, Piotr, and Wiktor

Kamil, me and Piotr

The view from the Kościuszko Mound

Wiktor at the top of the Kościuszko Mound

Hello city!

“Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.

Auschwitz – Birkenau

1940 – 1945”

There were over twenty of these plaques, each with the same message written in different languages, each language representative of the nationalities of people who died at these camps.

The train track leading into the Birkenau Camp; this view will give you chills.

But now, onward to happier things… to Belgrade!

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