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Krakow

Written on: Thursday May 24th, 2007

A journal entry from: Rouen Exchange

The morning we were to head to Krakow, we got a new bus driver.  The minute I saw him almost crash his grocery cart of beer as he came to the bus, I knew we were in trouble.  We were scheduled to arrive at Auschwitz concentration camp at 2:30.  We were in no way even close to this.  Joe, the bus driver, was just crazy.  I can?t even count the number of times we had to pull into the oncoming traffic lane to avoid rear ending the car in front of our bus.  Not only was Joe a fan of tailgating but he also liked to pass other vehicles while we were going around uphill curves.  After many a detour (the Czech country side was beautiful though) we were in the Auschwitz neighborhood at 5pm.  Our tour guide decided it would be best to come back tomorrow so that we could fully experience it without being rushed.  So, we continued on to Krakow, arriving at 8pm.  That made for a long, 12 hour bus day and left us all wiped out.  

The next morning we left for Auschwitz.  What an experience.  I?ll share some of what I learned (you can imagine what a nerd I must have looked like taking notes on my vacation).  At its most deadly point, 20,000 people a day were being gassed in one of 4 chambers on the Auschwitz II camp.  In total, it is estimated that 1.1-1.5 million people were killed at this camp.  That is of the total 5.5-6 million people that were killed during this time.  Before this, I never realized how badly the Polish people fared.  Almost half of the victims were of Polish decent.  As far as what happened to the victims after their death, their ashes were used for fertilizer and their belongings were used by the Germans.  At the camp, there were two warehouses named Canada I and Canada II to hold all of the victims goods until they could be shipped back to Germany.  The warehouses were named after Canada because at this point, Canada was seen as a very prosperous country. 

In total, the tour took about 3 hours (9:30-12:30) where we were able to see the barracks, prisoner cells, a gas chamber as well as other stuff that I am likely forgetting.

We drove back to Krakow and arrived at 2pm.  The salt mines were one of the original reasons that I wanted to come to Krakow so Janice (a geology student) and I were going to try and fit in a quick walk around the town and a trip out the salt mines in.  Unfortunately, to visit the salt mines (one of UNESCO?s first heritage sites) it was required to take guided tour and we missed the first one and the next one would have caused us to miss dinner so we didn?t make it to the mines.  We shopped for amber jewelry at the cloth market (oldest mall in the world, 700 years) in the main square ? the largest in Europe, measuring 200m by 200m ? and then met back at the bus to go to the hotel and get ready for our dinner out.  I was very excited to try Polish perogies as I heard they were amazing from other friends who had already been.  At the restaurant, I didn?t even need to look at the menu to decide what I wanted?until I ordered and he said they didn?t have them that night.  As an alternative, I decided to order the beer soup with a side of vegetables.  Bad choice.  The veggies were fine but the beer soup tasted (and likely was) beer warmed up with a meat broth added to it.

That night we hit up Krakow night life.  This city is very cool in that a large majority of its bars and clubs are undergrounds.  We started off at a couple bars and then went to a dance club.  Although the underground aspect is cool, it definitely gets unbearably hot dancing in cave. 

So after spending about 3 actual touring hours in Krakow, I?m not sure of my feelings for this city.  It was the one I was the most looking forward to and my experience definitely didn?t live up to expectations but I?m not ready to black list it yet since I didn?t really do it justice.