Warsaw and Krakow
17.05.2008 - 23.05.2008
We left Berlin after four days and it seemed like we left the warm weather, the killer euro and clean train toilets with it. I'll give it to the Germans, their cities and facilities are clean, organised and rather fancy in that cool European way so it was really obvious as the train hurtled towards Warsaw that we were heading towards an Eastern European country - even the German train conductor jumped off at the border maybe I should have taken this as an omen???Arriving at the Warsaw train station we were greeted by a group of drunken British men who were here as part of a stag night (supposedly this is quite common in Eastern Europe - they have such a bad reputation some places have banned them altogether.) Anyway, this bunch were wearing matching t-shirts with the English flag draped across the front, they also had nicknames printed on the back. I had the unfortunate experience of being wolf whistled by "sweet cheeks" while another of his mates struggled to cross the street with a pint in one hand - this was 2pm. I could see that Warsaw was going to be a tough place especially after Jez and I had to walk around the working girls that had marked their territory on the steps of the railway station.
Thinking that our hostel would be a refuge from the harsh reminders of communism, we arrived at Hostel Tamka and who were shaking up in a room next to us? Another group of British Stag boys, I could tell that this was going to be a long weekend. The place was revolting, words cannot describe the state of the toilets and showers, and needless to say I nearly passed out while trying to have a shower as someone had mistaken it for a toilet - perhaps one of the stag boys? The hostel was fully booked, which didn't help matters, unbeknownst to us a big break dancing comp was on so we were swamped with Russian versions of Ali G - it was scary believe me.
Because our hostel stay was turning into a nightmare we tried to spend as much time out and about so we visited the Uprising Museum which was pretty new and learnt more about the atrocities of the Nazi's and the Red Army after them. While in the Museum it started to rain, and didn't really stop after that. One of the interesting things about Poland is that the Government sponsors milk bars to provide cheap meals. This being exactly what we were after we decided to try it.
We finally found the one recommended to us and it was styled in communist minimalism. In trying to order we ended up with two of the same meal (and worried that there were another two of the other meal we thought we ordered on the way) one coffee, one hot chocolate and a cup of warm milk (we have no idea how we got the milk but it was nice!) Although it's no fault of Warsaw it is really a depressing looking town. It was all but completely destroyed in WWII and then was rebuilt by mad Russians. We were kind of glad to leave and after a lot of difficulty working out which train to catch (timetables had changed) we were on our way to Krakow, hoping that surely it would have to be soooooo much better than Warsaw and it was!
Krakow is a beautiful old city that amazingly survived unscathed from WWII and was also able to maintain its beautiful castles and churches under communism (no mean feat). We spent the first day exploring the old city, even though it was raining most of the time we managed to get around and soak up some local atmosphere with some pub grub. The next day we headed out on the public bus to visit Auschwitz- Birkenau.
It was an hour and a half drive out to the concentration camp and it rained the whole way - as we entered the museum we were invited to watch a 15 min film that was shot by the Red Army as they liberated the camp in 1945. The voice over was done by an English actor and the film was shocking in its matter of fact description of genocide. We saw children who had been victims of Nazi medical experiments, men and women who were being slowly starved to death, victims of torture and abuse. The film concluded with the announcer asking the rhetorical question whether the perpetrators of such crimes had gotten off too lightly? The film suddenly cut, the lights were back on and our tour guide was waiting for us.
The guide took us through the torture rooms, the extermination camps, crematoria and the work shops. We also saw what was left of those who did not make it to see the liberation of the camp -suitcases, shoes, spectacles, kilos upon kilos of women's hair - the sheer enormity of the holocaust came into focus and that of the twisted nature of the Nazis. The Nazis kept all these items and anything else of value that belonged to Holocaust victims – for example gold teeth and artificial limbs were collected and used to aid the war effort, hair was used to make blankets, the SS even used the ashes of holocaust victims as mulch for their gardens. Words cannot describe the horror that was unleashed in this place and as Jez and I walked along the train tracks - the same track that delivered millions of people, mostly Jews to their death, I couldn't shake the heaviness that surrounded this place. As we made our way to the gates which read, " Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work will set you free) I took one last look at Auschwitz and quickly jumped onto our bus and headed home.
The tower in Warsaw called Starlins Finger, strategically placed next to the model of consumerism McDonalds
Castle in Krakow and Emily singing in the rain
Best meal yet at a weird little place called Kuchina U Babci Maliny