There and back again: Krakow 2013 Part Two

Day three:

I woke up a 25 year old and felt exactly the same as I did at 24. After opening a few cards I took with me, we decided to grab a few pastries from a bakery chain down the road from the hotel for breakfast.
I didn’t have a clue what I was ordering but I definitely got lucky as most of mine were oozing with chocolate.

Today we didn’t have anything really planned but we loved the Jewish district so much, we decided to go have a wander down there again. Plus there were a few things we didn’t get a chance to do on our first day that we wanted to get in too.

So we started with Wawel Castle which was about five minutes down the road from us and offered the lucky people at our hotel a pretty decent view at night.

Wawel Castle

The main reason I wanted to go here was because outside the cathedral there are bones hanging just over the main entrance doors said to be that of a dragon. Whilst obviously untrue I thought this was a cool little legend that was worth checking out. After seeing them, I have to say they did look like what I imagine a dragons wing bone would have looked like whilst Adelle thought it looked more like a whales rib bone. I was obviously right though.

The actual cathedral and castle weren’t anything special though and we ended up spending very little time there and made for the Jewish district again. We walked around many of the landmarks we were shown the day before, took a few more pictures and just enjoyed having a look around without having to rush anywhere.

For lunch we had Zapiekankis which are open baguettes with fried garlic, onion and melted cheese with whatever toppings you want. The day before, the walking tour guide had recommended these so we thought we would give them a try.

For some reason, I decided to get probably the hottest one there. This would come back to haunt me later on in the trip. It was also stressful to eat, piled high with peppers Etc which would fall on the floor every now and again and attract the fat pigeons that were hanging around, to the table.

It was like eating fire

My nose running and head blown off, Adelle and I headed back to the hotel to make plans for the rest of the night. This was the only night we didn’t have a meal booked somewhere so we had a look on trip advisor for suggestions.

Eventually we decided on Resto Illuminati. It was close to our hotel and sounded really nice. We arrived and even though we hadn’t booked we still managed to get a table. This was by far the poshest restaurant we ate at on the trip which was great in terms of the food but in terms of service it was pretty cold and I couldn’t help but think our waiter hated our guts.

Other than that, the atmosphere was great. Other than another couple it seemed like we had our own little area and were sat close to the piano player they had there too.

My main course

On leaving we even managed to get a smile from our waiter, probably due to the tip we gave him which wasn’t to fuck off, as much as I wanted it to be.

By the time we got back to the hotel though my stomach started to cramp, those Zapiekankis came back to haunt me big time. I spent the next half hour on the toilet, mood killer or what. How did I know it was the Zapiekankis? Cause it bloody burnt. Happy Birthday me!

Day Four

This was the last full day we had in Krakow and was when we visited Auschwitz.

We booked our trip to Auschwitz way in advance with a company called escape to Poland. It had great reviews on its website and was a good price as well.

We were picked up by a minivan outside our hotel at 9:00. We were the last people to be picked up as the minibus was packed. The driver introduced himself, told us how long it would take to get there and played a film for us on the way there. The film was a documentary called The Liberation of Auschwitz and was great in preparing us for what was to come. I say great, it was pretty grim, dead babies and all. Adelle struggled to watch it and to be honest I found it a bit tough too.

Once this had finished the atmosphere on the bus was pretty somber. Then the driver put the radio on, going from that film to listening to the latest pop hit was a little weird, especially when we actually pulled up to Auschwitz with Meatloafs I would do anything for love playing in the background. Surreal.

On arrival we were given our tour passes and headphones so we could hear our guide better as we walked through the buildings. This was really cool because I didn’t feel the need to fight my way to the front of the group just so I could hear and didn’t feel rushed to keep up when we were looking through the exhibits. The tour guide could be in the other room and you’d still be able to hear what he was saying, I was impressed.

“Work will set you free”

The tour itself was excellent but harrowing. The exhibits, some of which were filled with mountains of human hair, clothes, shoes and suitcases taken from the Jews and other prisoners held at Auschwitz made me feel angry and sad all at once. One thing which really stuck out for me in particular was in one of the exhibits which was filled with hundreds, maybe even thousands of prosthetic limbs and walking sticks etc. Amongst them was a prosthetic leg, clearly that of a child no older than ten. I’m not sure why that stood out over everything else there but it’s an image which is still very vivid to me now.

The horror of all this though didn’t stop people taking pictures at all, even when they weren’t supposed to be and after a while I found myself questioning why these people even came in the first place when all they really did was take pictures every two seconds. I know people want to take stuff back to show their families and stuff but if you can’t just put your phone away for five minutes to absorb the atmosphere and experience of actually being in Auschwitz then there really is something not quite right there.

Anyway back to the tour. After the exhibits we were taken to Block 11 which was where a lot of the prisoners were punished by the Nazi’s. We got to see the standing cells where prisoners would be crammed in to such a small area for a long period of time, the rooms where Gestapo officers would hold “trials” for people who had tried to escape etc which would end more often than not with an execution.

We were then taken to the area outside where these executions took place and to the gas chamber on site which was used as a prototype for the larger ones in Birkenau. Again, it felt so surreal and eerie to be stood where so much death occurred.

Just outside block 11, where prisioners were executed

With this, our tour of Auschwitz was over and it was time for a quick fifteen minute lunch before heading over to Birkenau on the mini-bus.

We arrived at Birkenau and our tour guide was waiting for us. This tour was shorter than Auschwitz mainly as there wasn’t as much to see, despite it being a much bigger area and where most of the people were murdered. Even though I’d seen images of Birkenau, the sheer size of it is overwhelming when your actually there.

We were firstly taken to the mens barracks where we were told some horrible stories about mattresses literally moving due to infestation to name but one.It was freezing while we were in there and it really hit home as to how tough it would have been to survive there in the harsh winters and even in the boiling summers.

Mens barracks

From here, we followed the train tracks down to where the gas chambers used to stand before the Nazi’s destroyed them in an effort to cover their tracks. Here, in front of the rubble was where our tour ended. The tour guide who was excellent throughout, ended by saying that it is important to remember the reasons why this happened in the first place and that if it happened before it can easily happen again. I’m sure that gave us all plenty to think about on our way back to the bus.

On the journey back to our hotel me and Adelle both had a nap as I think we both felt pretty drained by this point. We felt all the better for it afterwards though and after being dropped off decided to go to a cafe called Chocoffe which we had walked past a few times now and liked the look of. We both had a hot chocolate which was more than likely the best one I have ever had or will ever have due to it being basically pure melted chocolate.

Now, filled with sugar, we headed back to the hotel and got ready for our final meal in Krakow. This time we eat in Aperitif, a lovely little restaurant in the main square. When we arrived we were greeted to a sign saying “There are no strangers here, just friends who have not yet met”, which was a nice little touch and the service we had here was the best we had during the trip.

The food was good and me and Adelle ended our night with a toast to our trip with one last shot of Vodka, this time cherry.

The next day we had another long one filled with travelling. We were again sat by idiots on the plane, there were delays and we managed to catch our bus back from Bristol only in the nick of time. Despite all this though, after our trip and especially after seeing Auschwitz and Birkenau, all of this didn’t seem to be such a big deal anymore.

 

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