Krakow

The last part of our journey was probably my favorite. Well, I guess it’s pretty unfair to compare each part because they were so completely different and each was so wonderful in its own way, but I think we chose wisely choosing Krakow to be our final stop.  By the time we got to Krakow, we were already beat from the big city life of Berlin, the free liberties of Amsterdam, but we were still excited to go exploring another brand-new city.

Krakow is a place that I knew nothing about. I had no previous idea in my head of what it would be like, what the people would look like, anything.  So I think not knowing anything made it that much better.

The city itself is full of charm and it immediately captures you with its highly-characteristic architecture, the numerous high-towering churches, and the sporadic palaces (or at least domed buildings).  When we first arrived, we were pretty beat and were thrilled to see that the sun was shining bright despite the snow we were supposed to get.

Upon arrival, the hostel was one of the most home-y, cozy, and certainly inviting hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Appearance-wise, it’s not the most attractive, but the people that work there and the atmosphere are top notch (highly recommendable for other travelers: Greg and Tom’s Hostel).

However, as much as we wanted to just enjoy the day and the nice weather, we were told that the following day was Easter and everything was going to be closed and no tours would be running. We hadn’t taken this into account when we booked the trip. Well, shit, we thought, what are we going to do tomorrow if we explore the city today?

Well that meant one thing: We had to go visit Auschwitz that afternoon, which just so happened to be a 6-hour journey (as if we didn’t just get off a plane….)  That was the last thing we wanted to do; it would have been perfect to just take it easy, go to the supermarket and stock up on food for Sunday, get a big lunch, bask in the sun for a while, maybe even take a nap, but that wasn’t an option. Furthermore, Angel really had to get something for his mother and if everything was going to be closed, he would have been really upset not getting her something. In fact, as we boarded the last bus leaving for Auschwitz for the next two days, I could tell Angel was really down about potentially not being able to get his mother something (he almost opted out of going all together just to get his mom something!)

We dropped our stuff off at the hostel before we caught our tour and we went into the center to find some food and some souvenirs for the Polish part of Angel’s family (maybe you can see the theme here: we hit up Amsterdam and met my “people” and now we were meeting Angel’s).  The center of the city was stunning: There were high churches with beautiful towers, a series of decorated wooden holiday shops all set up in the square selling all sorts of objects, people grilling tasty shish-kebabs, and what seemed like the entire town was out enjoying the day before Easter and the nice sunlight.  Angel wandered a bit for souvenirs but we were pretty rushed to get to our tour, so we snarfed down some amazing shish and took off (literally at a run) to get to the bus.

Well, we took the journey to Auschwitz. I don’t want to discuss the trip too much because it was the most horrific, depressing and moving place I’ve ever been to. I can honestly say that I am glad I got to see it, but I will never visit another concentration camp in my life. It was just too much.  As if seeing the biggest concentration camp ever built wasn’t horrible enough, the weather quickly turned for the worse and it was cold, dreary, rainy, foggy, and overall miserable. It added to the experience certainly, especially when we went through the Jewish living quarters. It gave me chills (and not from the cold) to imagine how cold I was stand there in the light drizzle, staring into these barns that hundreds of starving, freezing, naked, sick and severely over-worked people were living. I felt so thankful for everything in my life at that moment (and I certainly appreciated my jacket). I could only imagine how difficult it must have been for those people. And as I tried to cover myself further into my jacket to fight the cold and rain, it just made the whole experience come down on me even more heavily.

I didn’t take many pictures of Auschwitz because it’s not a place I want to revisit, especially not through photographs. I still have the chill in my blood and any thought of it will bring that icy feeling for the rest of my life, I can guarantee that. I don’t need pictures to remember all of the terrible things we were shown there.

It’s so strange to think that this enormous death camp was so close to such a wonderful city. Krakow is only an hour drive away.  When we returned to the city, you could feel life and joy coming back to you, like the feeling you get as you enter a warm house after running in the snow for several hours and you start to thaw.  It’s difficult to imagine how any of those atrocities occurred, especially in such a beautiful place.

It was a nice relief being back in Krakow.

Later that night, we went out, just like usual, but nothing exceptional until after we left the mediocre bar we had gone to.  We took a two-hour stroll through the city and discovered the palace at the far end. It was an enormous castle that sat at the top of a small hill that overlooked the river.  It was especially spectacular at three in the morning, all lit up by city lights with a red sky that threatened snow.

So Easter Sunday, we woke up and went into the city center to find that all the shops and the city-center market from the day before was still going at full steam.  Angel was able to buy all his Polish relatives gifts (he was the first of his family to ever return to Poland) and I was able to finally get a good nights’ sleep (I’m a drama queen, I need sleep.) We took our cameras and explored the city deeper and went back to the palace from the night before and got to go inside.

However, my favorite moment from my entire Semana Santa holiday was that afternoon, after we stuffed ourselves with Polish dumplings (called pierogi), we drifted back to the center and the snow started to fall. It’s been over two years since I’ve seen the snow, and being from Colorado, that is something that I have truly missed. Also, it was Angel’s first time ever standing in falling snow!

It was a perfect moment: just standing in the slowly falling snowflakes in the middle of one of the most striking cities in Europe I’ve ever visited.  The snow came down not thick, but real slow, but in huge flakes. It swirled around us like something you’d expect to see in some romantic chick flick.  But it was so much more than some crappy Hollywood love story; it was real. It was one of those moments, one that you will relive in your mind forever.  It was one of those moments when the world just seems to fit together and makes sense. It only lasts a second, but it’s a frozen-frame in your mind forever.  And that was Krakow to me. Angel and I are already planning our trip back as soon as possible.

So that was Semana Santa, a tale I have divided into three parts (what a story teller I am, right?)  They were some of the best 11 days of my entire life, it’s an experience that I will always cherish and remember, and it doesn’t matter how much money got dropped on the trip, it doesn’t matter how many hours we spent traveling whether it was by metro, bus, taxi, airplane or train, it doesn’t matter how many steps we took over that time, it doesn’t matter how many drinks we had, all that matters is that we lived. And we lived like kings. I had no stress, everything went smoothly, and it wasn’t vacation, it was far from that, and far from relaxing. It was eye-opening, it was revealing, it was a moving experience that only other travelers can understand. The trip now is in the past and a permanent scar in my mind as a time where nothing else mattered but living to the fullest.

Write more later,

Graham

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3 thoughts on “Krakow

  1. I am glad you enjoyed krakow you’re description of the concentration camp brought me right back to the gate and as I recall I had sunny skies and warm weather until entering as it turned dark and gray. I will not go back but I’ll never forget

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  2. Hey Graham, I went to Saschenhausen, outside of Berlin, with a German friend of mine. It was early January and the piercing cold and the reaction of my friend to her first concentration camp (my second) made the visit much more overwhelming. Still, I’d visit every single one just as a horrific reminder of what went on there (I’ve also been interested in the Holocaust and the PR tactics since I was a kid. Weird, I know, but after reading the Diary of anne Frank at age9, I used to play the secret annnex with my best friend).

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