Thursday May 9
I skipped class on Thursday (including our very university-like workbook practice in business and listening to a presentation in film) and took a flight to Poland. I had a layover in Barcelona and my first trip with Ryanair. It was likely cheaper while paying extra for picking a seat, having luggage (even carry-on), etc, but annoying to have to add on each little thing.
The part that I was least happy about was that we got on the plane (the kind where you take a bus out because it costs less for them than having a jet bridge) and they closed the doors and then came over the intercom and said that because of French air traffic control strikes we couldn’t leave for another 3 hours…
Ryanair helpfully sent me an email- because your flight is delayed this much you may switch for no cost… as if I could get off…
Anyway I took a nice nap as the lady next to me ranted in Spanish and they managed to leave a little bit earlier than 3 hours.
I took a taxi to the Airbnb in the Jewish Quarter, got a burger from just down the street, and went to bed.
Friday May 10
In the morning, I was making myself tea with sugar which happened to be the most disgusting thing because the sugar was actually salt…
There was also an ant crawling on my bed and one on my phone when I woke up, but this was taken care of by the owner with some heavy duty ant spray.
For breakfast, I got a GF bagel and sourdough and sat in the park. The bagel was amazing, one of the best I’ve ever had but the sourdough was hard and much too sour.
As I was walking, through the old town and all over the city, I stopped at “Botanical Cafe” for a hopefully salt-free tea. The inside was covered with plants and trees and soft light filtering through them. And the tea was much better than my attempt.
Finally, I got a polish sausage at a small market, which was amazing, before going to the meeting point for my tour to Auschwitz.
On the way over we saw a documentary about the camps which was hard to watch. It was especially stomach-turning with the car-induced nausea of the jerky driving. We went to Auschwitz 1 first, the smaller, original camp. It had been army barracks so was relatively nicer than Auschwitz 2-Birkenau, which was constructed from scratch by prisoners.
Birkenau was horribly large, with hundreds of barracks. It was also the site of most of what we associate with the camps– gas chambers, wooden buildings, train tracks entering, double-electric fences, and guard tours. Birke means birch in German and the camp was named for the birch trees surrounding it.
Auschwitz 3, which we didn’t see, was build next to the coal plant. Initially prisoners walked over 4 miles each way to work every day, but then didn’t have energy to work so the third camp was built.
The whole visit was appalling and heart-wrenching. It’s one thing to read about the incidents and watch movies (even documentaries) but another to start to see the scale, from the number of bunks to the number of people per small bunk, to the number of barracks. (It would take hours to walk the whole perimeter of Birkenau, which is why there were watch towers and high view-points, along with double-electric fences and moats just before.
One of the most disheartening things was to see how some tourists acted. For one, taking selfies in front of the camps. There was also a group of older women who complained the entire time– “I’m dying because of this air conditioning.” or “I can’t survive another hour in the car.” Although the weather wasn’t great– pouring rain for part of it, mud as a result, some cold wind– it wasn’t -30 degrees, like it could get in the winter, we had coats and shoes, and it was only for a little bit.
An unexpected surprise was that I met two girls also studying abroad from Colorado. It was nice to have people to talk to throughout the tour and to process with (and to roll our eyes at the complaining with). Afterwards, we went to get Indian food together, which was surprisingly good since I don’t tend to associate Poland with India…
Saturday May 11
I woke up naturally, before walking through the Jewish district. I stopped at Cafe Chedar for hard-boiled eggs and mint tea (called Jewish or Moroccan style with mint and sugar, super good). I managed to write a fair amount, which was great, especially after having a good amount of time alone to think. Someone brought their beagle into the cafe, which was weird, especially since the dog barked almost continuously.
For lunch, I went to a Mexican restaurant (Poco Loco) for corn tortilla tacos. Just outside was another market with hand-made items. I got a crocheted teddy bear zipper pull to go with the bike one I got from Amsterdam and an Africa-shaped one from Morocco.
Mehra arrived from Amsterdam that afternoon. We walked close to the meeting place for a walking tour of the city. She had perogies for lunch and I, having already eaten, had dessert consisting of strawberries and cream. We were talking but happened to look at the clock exactly at 4, when the tour was supposed to leave. Luckily, we made it before they did and joined the fairly large group.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best tour. The guide talked in monotone, and too much. The good things, though, were that it was a “free tour” (you pay what you want to) so we didn’t lose a ton of money, we got to see a lot of the city, and we learned a couple cool things. For one, the pope John Paul II, from Poland (and the first Pope not from the Vatican), used to open his window to talk to people in the courtyard/pray/etc at night and the window now has a picture of him and is called the Papal window. Also, in order to save part of the city wall, the argument that worked wasn’t that it would conserve the history for future generations but rather that the wall would prevent gusts of wind from raising the skirts of women, causing a scandal.
In the park we saw this adorable dog who sat, tongue out and mouth in a smile, and ran around and chased his tail (and we may have watched that when the tour got boring…). Better yet, a few minutes later a baby walked by with the same expression.
For dinner, we had sushi before going to an outdoor cafe for GF flourless chocolate cake. We looked in three grocery stores for chocolate ice cream. The best we found was Tiramisu so Mehra mixed hot cocoa powder into hers (ew). I did not.
Sunday May 12
We went to other side of river for breakfast (scrambled eggs and tea) before going to Schindler’s factory which really was more a museum about daily life during the war. It was cool but we had heard about a lot of the events the day before and didn’t have a ton of time. It probably also would’ve been better as part of a guided tour in order to hear anecdotes or other information that you don’t typically hear in history books.
We got back and I took an Uber to the airport. For lunch I got a salmon salad at the airport (it was that or a sandwich) but it made everything smell like fish… At least I could have a Coke because European coke is made with real sugar.
On the way to the plane, in the bus because there was no jet-bridge, there was a chubby baby next to me. He made faces at me and shrieked with delight when I made faces back. I watched Monty Python and a Spanish movie on the plane to Brussels and slept between Brussels and Malaga.
Finally, I took a 2-hour bus ride to Granada, which happened to be with a girl from my abroad program before getting back home at midnight.
Pictures. Hover over for description.