Tuesday, 2 September 2014

From Pole to Pole: Krakow

After a peaceful journey I got to Krakow. Finding the hostel wasn't quite as stressless - it seems the instructions make perfect sense when you know where the hostel is, not so much when you don't.

Once I got settled I had some dinner - the hostel was also a beer house, and I had a pizza for dinner, which was nice. I decided the next thing that was important was that I needed to do some laundry. I asked at the reception and they gave me directions, but again that was a difficult exercise to find the place. Once I did it was too late to do the laundry myself, but for a little extra they'd do it and have it ready for me in the morning, which ended up being a blessing.

The next morning I got up and had a quick bite and went to pick up my clothes. I realised when I got there that I wasn't that far from the Jewish quarter, so I went there for a look, complete with my bagful of clothes, I felt a little like a sacrilegious Santa, but the good thing was that I was in a shirt and jeans, so I probably looked like a local going about his errands as opposed to some tourist.

I swung back to the hostel past the bottom of the Wawel (castle) and through the main square. I'd been thinking about how I was going to go and visit Auschwitz, as you can get a train there yourself, or take a tour. I decided on the tour for simplicity reasons (and because I was sick of taking the hard road) and knew I could do that in the afternoon. It was probably a good decision also in the sense that it was guided, rather than just me walking around by myself.

It was an experience - in some ways quite moving, but sometimes I felt as though I should've been moved more by it. There were moments where I wondered if I was going to tear up, but others where I felt bad for being desensitised to it. They also made you pay for the toilet, which when I thought about it, wasn't too bad as it was like 2 zloty - virtually nothing, had it been in euros I would have told them to send the bill the the German government as it's the least they (Germany) can do.

Birkenau was just down the road, it was open air, as most of it had been destroyed before liberation, but the size of it in itself blew my mind. Again when you stood next to the gas chambers it felt as though I should be feeling more. Something that irritated me a little was some people who'd brung their 2yo. Naturally a 2yo isn't going to appreciate the history and restrain themselves from bouncing around and making noise. I felt like being a smart arse and asking them at the end if they enjoyed learning about genocide today.

After the bus ride back to town, I had dinner at the hostel - which was free - some spicy tomato soup and a pizza bread. I got to talking to a guy at my table, an Indian guy called Rohan. Had a great conversation with him, turns out he used to work for Microsoft in Seattle, but must've made his fortune and now is essentially retired and travels and volunteers back in India - and he looks as though he is only about my age.

The next morning I checked out, but had the whole day to sightsee. There was a French guy from Paris in my room who I'd conversed with several times, who was in a similar situation, so we combined forces and sight-saw together for most of the day. We mainly went and had a look at the Wawel grounds and then the Jewish quarter. It was nice to share a beer with someone for a change. When it came time for him to get the train to where he was going I went to the station to double check on my ticket, find out the platform etc. After that I went back to the hostel, and was even allowed a shower (despite having checked out hours earlier) then headed to catch my night train to Prague. At the station I picked up some McDonalds as I hadn't been particularly hungry before, and didn't feel like a huge meal before the trip.

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