After weeks of deliberating we disconnected ourselves from the BusAbout loop and decided to fly solo for a while. Eastern Europe was high priority on the list of things to see and places to go. Setting our sights on Krakow in Poland was where our epic adventure began.
It is said a must do experience in Europe is to catch a night train throughout Eastern Europe. After a solid days travel on train to Vienna we couldn't wait to grab a few beers and jump aboard the night train to Krakow for a relaxing ride ahead. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Our relaxing ride soon turned into being abruptly woken at 3am and told we were in the wrong carriage and that we had a total of 50 seconds to grab all our belongs and run to the next platform to catch another train. Now being told anything in German is scary enough, let alone someone yelling at you in German while your still half asleep. I don't even know what country we were in at the time, I didn't really know anything at that point including the fact that we had no idea if this new train we were jumping on was even going to the right destination. To scared to go back to sleep in fear of waking up in Russia it felt like the longest four hours of my life. Once finally safely arriving into Krakow the fun continued. Poland's currency is zloty as it was 7am no currency exchangers were open, so we had no money. Also, check in at our hostel was 2pm so we had no where to go but the streets. Finding a nice bench in the Market Square we laid underneath the bright blue morning sky and drifted off to sleep in hope that when we woke up all our troubles would be gone and we could finally enjoy the beautiful city we had just arrived in. I like to call that 24 hours of my life a character building workshop, a lesson I don't need to retake anytime soon.
Back in top form we were ready to take on anything and everything Poland had to throw at us. If you speak to the Polish they will often refer to Krakow as there 'true' capital city. I can see why there all bragging about it, its truly spectacular. The rows of tall pastel houses took me back to the city of Prague. While its clean safe nature reminded me of the lovely Vienna. The best part of it all was that everything in the city was a third of the cost of any others we had been before. It was a travellers paradise, I was completely spellbound.
The Market Square down in old town is the largest Medieval square in Europe. Spanning 200m by 200m it is filled with bustling life, with many stalls of fresh flowers, traditional foods and great little nicknacks. Although being in old town prices are set at tourist prices. Stepping back a few streets we found a fantastic New Zealand Burger house Moa and had a great little taste of Mexico in another street behind that. But to find some local cuisine all we had to do was head across the main street and into the Jewish Quarter. Cheap and delicious you will find the best traditional Polish cuisine of goulash and dumplings. When going traditional don't forget to knock back the vodka shots, there cheaper then water or maybe thats just because to the polish vodka is there water.
Part of the lure to Poland was to further our study into World War II and The Holocaust. A few hours out from the city is The Auschwitz Concentration camp and Birkenau extermination camp. After learning so much in Germany it seemed that almost every story of a victims ended in Auschwitz. It was the camp to have the highest death toll in history. The only survivors that came from this camp were a few prisoners that had been forced to work in amongst the camp and of course those who survived after liberation. Although for 90% of Auschwitz prisoners the only way out was through the chimney's of the crematoria. Our guide was a brilliant man who was so knowledgable and has met a large number of Auschwitz survivors. He told us there stories just as they first hand had told them to him, it was truly mind blowing. The things that I was faced with that day were beyond confronting and something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. It was spine chilling to the point where my body just felt numb, as we walked our way down 'The Road To Heaven' in the foot steps of the million victims who walked to there death every hair stood on end. To stand in the exact spot where so many innocent lives were lost is beyond anything that words could explain. It is an experience like no other. What bothers me the most every time I further my study into this horrendous time in history is the fact that after all this no one has really learnt from there mistakes. There are still mass murders, still wars, still acts of racism and social outcasting. Not to the extent it once was but it is still very present in todays society. Which is why I think it is so important to venture out and experience a concentration camp first hand.
"The One Who Does Not Remember History Is Bound To Live Through It Again"- George Santayana
I am so blessed to have experienced such an amazing culture and dive into some astonishing history. I love the Polish and Krakow is an amazing city to sink your teeth into. Truly a destination in our grand adventure that will always have a special place in my heart and shadow me for the rest of my life.
The Wanderers Daughter xx