Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Krakow's Old Town Square

After nine months of living in Prague I was finally able to leave and travel. Price and location lead me and my friends to Krakow, Poland. It's a place I've heard a lot about, and even though it was a lot smaller than Prague, it's charm and history didn't disappoint.
Five friends and I took the over night train on Easter weekend. We all managed to pack into a six person sleeper car and sleep for a few hours and arrived in Krakow in the early morning. We dropped our bags and went out into the city for some exploration before our sleep deprivation caught up with us.
We saw the Old Town Square which was full of market stands selling traditional Easter gifts and trinkets. Because Poland doesn't really have any industry or mass produced goods everything for sale was handmade and more authentic than the monotonous stands selling the same things that Prague has.
We took a guided tour around Krakow and saw a lot of the Old Town area which is still surrounded by the old city walls; the Jewish Quarter; the Jewish Ghetto where the Nazis forced the Jews to move; Schindler's factory/ museum and finally the Castle and Cathedral. A lot of things were closed because of Easter, so we were able to see the outside of both and only the Estate Rooms in the Castle.
The Wawel Castle

On Saturday we took a bus to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the nazi concentration camps and which is actually a collection of a lot of separate locations spanning an incredibly sizable area of land.

Work Makes You Free

We took a guided tour of the main area with all of the old soldier's quarters which, during the time were used as various jails, torture rooms, medical experiment labs and execution yard. Now they hold photographs and rooms stuffed full of the belongings and hair of the Jews, Gypsies and others that were sent to Auschwitz. The camp was extremely haunting and emotional, but the beautiful weather, some of the 1.3 million tourists who visit every year, and especially the uncomprehendable amount of atrociousness and terrible things that took place there prevented me from an "authentic" experience or connection to what exactly happened there. Although I appreciate that I was able to see the camps.
We then went to the biggest of the camps, Birkenau, which has the famous gate where the train came through with all of the prisoners. In all the nazis were able to build around 450 of the 600 planned bunk houses that the prisoners were kept in.
In the distance you can see chimney stacks that are the remnants of buildings destroyed when the Nazis tried to destroy evidence of the camps. In the far distance there is the forest where many of the prisoners were taken to be executed and then burned in mass graves. Their ashes were then thrown into the river or put on fields that grew crops for the general public of Germany. An extremely haunting and moving experience.The train tracks and area where prisoners were unloaded and sorted.

On Sunday, Easter, we went to a Catholic mass, even though 3 of my friends are Jewish and the others Protestant. It was in a tiny, ornate church and the service was in English. It was a nice service, but the sunshine, beers and perogies waiting at the markets in the center of town were calling to us. We sat in the square and enjoyed the sunshine and seeing all of the Poles wearing their Sunday best and relaxed.

One of the things that most impressed me about Krakow was the food and how friendly the people were. We ate like royalty for a fraction of what you would pay for such food in the US. One night we had Italian food, and all of the pasta was handmade and amazing. We also had a traditional Polish drink, tatanka, which is made out of a special spiced Polish vodka, apple juice and a lemon. (This was our drink of choice throughout our trip :) )
On Saturday night we went out for traditional Polish food. We started with mushroom, potato and cheese perogies which are sort of like dumplings and were phenomenal. The girls either got veal or fish and I had chanterelle mushrooms in a cream sauce with home made gnocchi.
Sunday night we went out for Georgian food... Something I had no expectations for or had really ever thought about. But it turned out to be the most interesting of our meals. We all had Georgian cheese pies. It's basically slightly fried focaccia with your choice of topping. I got grilled vegetables and cheese. Served on the side were various sauced; garlic, cream, and a sweet and spicy dressing.Georgian cheese pie

After dinner we had ice cream and walked around the square.

Eliza, Krysten, Abby, Farah and Allie

The next day there was a misunderstanding with our train reservation and we ended up taking a commuter train to Katowice, Poland, a pretty depressing place and eery because everything was shut down for Easter Monday. We then took a different train bound for Prague, which a Polish conductor let us on, almost got kicked off in the middle of nowhere by a Czech conductor, and then stood in the hallway of the train for the remainder of the journey which was around 3 or 4 hours.