Poland: A sip of Krakow and a dose of Oswiecim
Our first order of business in Poland involved a swift change of clothes in the airport restrooms. From there I assumed my role as Keeper of the Map, train timetable wizard, hostel booker, and general OCD planner. You'd have to ask Laura and Kylie if it got annoying ;)
I asked the information desk how to get to Auschwitz and she pointed behind me to a giant sign saying "Directions to Auschwitz." Oh. Poland 1 Taylor 0.
We found an ATM and money-ed up for the country. I took out 250 zloty, the equivalent of 82 USD, and rejoiced at the prices of Poland.
The language barrier was immediately a struggle, but after some issue we found the correct bus to take us to the city center where we would catch a second bus to Oswiecim, where the concentration camp was located.
On our journey to the camp, I couldn't help but think of the others who had come before me on trains to the very same place. But they didn't come armed with maps and money. In fact, they didn't choose to come at all.
Their choice was taken and the camp was forced upon them. It was a beautiful day, and it seemed almost irreverent for the sun to shine on such a dark place. I was awe-struck to see the gates of hell itself. And wonder how such vile deeds occurred only 75 years ago.
The Holocaust isn't ancient history. It's not so far removed from humanity today as we sometimes want to think.
I've read a lot of books about the Holocaust. I love to read about people who experienced it. The ones who survived and those who were exterminated as pests, sans any sort of dignity, far before their time. Anne Frank was at Auschwitz for a short time before being transferred to Bergen-Belsen where she died along with her sister and mother. Corrie ten Boom survived Auschwitz, but watched her sister Betsie die only a few short weeks from liberation. Corrie went on to share her story in "The Hiding Place," as did Elie Wiesel, author of "Night."
I am honored to have visited the place of their nightmares. I am honored to have walked among a mass grave that I hope will never be silent. Our tour guide said millions come to the camp every year and I hope it never stops.
It's a story that should never be quiet.
A story that can be told without words. Rows of wooden barracks, piles of discarded luggage, echoing gas chambers, and an entire room of shoes, human hair, and eyeglasses tell the greatest tragedy of the world because words don't do the victims justice.
It was a sobering way to begin our backpacking trip, but I think it was absolutely necessary. I knew I was leaving the comfort zone of Dundee, but I needed to reminded that during the course of my trip, no matter how tired, hungry, or sore I became, it was all trivial.
From the camp we bargained with a cab driver for a ride to the Oswiecim train station. Easily one of the most sketchy stations of the trip. I don't believe the town has really bounced back since the World War II, and I can't really blame it.
The only tourist area was the camp itself. We found a restaurant across from the station called Skorpion and tried our hand at trying to read Polish. We all settled on a splurge, since everything in Poland was so cheap. I knew I wouldn't always be eating for so little money in the days to come, so I ordered a steak.
It wasn't the most delicious meal of my life and it was odd that we were literally the only people in the restaurant for the entire duration of our stay, but I ate anyway and enjoyed the free wifi.
Our overnight train to Prague didn't leave until 11:30 PM, and it was beginning to get dark in Oswiecim, so we moved our party to the station, determind to make the six hours of waiting time fly by.
No such luck. For one thing, the bathroom was locked. Shoutout to Kylie for holding it for 6 hours when she really gottagogottagorightnow.
I lay down on a bench to listen to music and hopefully catch a nap and was immediately accosted by the night guard who instructed me "no sleep." Okay then!
Laura and I played cards: endless rounds of speed and then even succumbed to a mindless game of war while Kylie read against the wall.
I asked to switch with her a little bit later, since laying down wasn't an option, and almost immediately regretted my request.
I heard a noise beneath the grate to my right and glanced over in mild interest.
I stifled a scream when I saw a tail and distinct rodent-like shape among the debris at the bottom. He/she/it merrily scurried below, making all kinds of scuffling noises that were enough to induce my gag reflex.
Needless to say, we moved our set up clear across the station.
Finally, FINALLY, our train arrived. Kylie and I were in one compartment with a polish couple and Laura was in the next door one with some other girls.
The polish couple didn't look too pleased to see us because before we arrived they were able to sprawl out across the seats and sleep, but since Kylie and I had spots in there they had to sit up. Needless to say, no one really got very good sleep that night.
But when the sun rose and my stomach growled for the zillionth time, the train wheels were rolling into Prague and A Very Lucky Girl had an entirely new currency system to learn.