05.04.2010 0 °C
As I get more and more behind with these travel blogs, like a naughty school child, I've began avoiding them all together. In an attempt to help me catch up Sam is helping me out a bit! Now for someone who has only ever written "Happy Bday, Love Sam" in cards and has probably not even sent me more then 3 text messages in our 6 years together, getting him to write stuff is pretty exciting! So ... Poland ...
Sam's Blog ...
We rocked into Poland's Katowice airport at around 1.30 in the morning on the budget carrier 'Wizz Air'. When we got off the plane it was around 5 below with quite a bit of snow around. Krakow (and our hostel) was about 2 hours from the airport and we got straight onto a Wizz air transit van. The driver spoke really basic English but was really friendly and helpful. We arrived at the Krakow's main bus/train station at 3.30 in the morning, not knowing what to expect. Seems as though all the "hoods" ([Charlotte] "Hoods" in Sam's lingo for people who are up to no good, hahaha - hoods as in he thinks they all wear Hoodies) had tucked in for the night as it was well below freezing. It wasn't a drama finding the hostel and they had our room sorted with the heater cranked. We later came to discover out this particular hostel was probably one of the best hostels we've stayed in so far.
The next day we had a bit of a sleep in due to our late arrival, and headed to the hostel breakfast around 10am. The bread was fresh and there was a large assortment of exotic spreads and meats. After our third cuppa we rugged up and headed out. It was around midday and outside was like ice wind but we went and checked out Krakow's old castles and the Jewish quarter. It was only a small city but you could easily spend a week or two there.
We wanted to go do a "Crazy" communist tour of the old communist built suburb but missed out, due to the fact we'd had a late start, then realised we could only get to Prague on a night train (which meant we lost half a day). They drive you around in a restored Communist car and you get off the beaten track with a crazy local (according to an American guy I spoke to in the hostel who had been). We had an afternoon feed at a "Milk Bar" ([Charlotte] Bar Mleczny or Milk Bars (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_mleczny) in English are former communist cafeterias, selling Polish staples for next to nothing due to continued state subsidies) which was just great.
They spoke absolutely no English at all but were genuine people who serve hearty fair. Both meals cost us under 4 dollars and when we got out of the heated cafe the weather turned so we headed back to the hostel, stopping only to get a couple of honey vodkas for our friends back home. However I cracked the first one as soon as we got in the door. I cant usually drink spirits on their own but honey vodka goes down well, but it is still quite firey. I spent the rest of the day next to the heater with my bottle in hand watching the snow settle fall. Later the hostel owner cooked us all a free feed of Polish sausage casserole, it was awesome winter food and we sat around the table with the other guests. We were really enjoying ourselves now.
The next morning after some toast and a coffee trio we got ready to get the bus to Auschwitz. We'd decided to save ourselves the trouble and just book a basic tour. It took about an hour and a half to get there, during which they showed a video of when the Red Army liberated the main camps. It was actually the first video footage taken of the camp liberation and didn't hold anything back. We went to Auschwitz I first with a guide to escort us who was really knowledgeable and did a great job. He took us through the main buildings and talked us through the displays. I was quite shocked at the size and mechanics of the operation. Auschwitz I now houses all the museum displays and also has an original execution wall where relatives still leaves flowers for their loved ones. They then showed us the one remaining gas chamber (auschwitz I had four of them by 1945 but the Nazis destroyed three of them) which I found really disturbing. It isn't much more than a room with two holes in the roof. The crematorium is in the same building.
Next we went to Auschwitz II (Birkenau) which was mostly destroyed by the Nazi's because of the numbers of people they killed there daily, but you can still see the iconic guard tower, fencing and railway lines. It was on a quiet snowy plain and the wind was ripping right through us. We think it would have been around 5 below and everyone in the tour group was feeling it, but of course no one complained. We couldn't even imagine how people survived the elements, let alone everything else. Our guide took us through some preserved wooden buildings that were used as sleeping quarters, which you wouldn't even keep cattle in. The tour ended with a few minutes to look out over the giant camp before heading back to Krakow, and our overnight train to Prague.