Sunday, July 31, 2016

European. Traveling.

For the last 13 days, I've been traveling Europe. The first 10 days, I was with a group from OHS. We landed in Ireland and from there went on to Wales, London, and Paris. For someone who has lived overseas three times, it was funny to hear these following statements:

"I miss ice in my drink!" (I never missed ice. In face, I can easily drink a glass of water without ice)
"I miss air conditioning!" (Yeah, me too. But you get used to it. Or maybe I have. Or perhaps I'm just remembering that one sweltering summer in Kandern where we traveled to the Alps to cool off)
"I miss real ketchup!" (I guess the ketchup over here is a bit sweet. To me, it tasted delightful)

The things that were a constant missing need for the students were things I didn't think twice about. Sure, it was hot. Sure, the drinks could be lukewarm. But for me, it made me feel right at home.

I landed in Krakow on Thursday and have been going nonstop since then. My first day in town, I grabbed dinner at a lovely little hole in the wall spot that was filled with locals eating delicious Polish cuisine. I walked around the crowded town square (World Youth Day is also in town) and then headed back to my apartment for an early night.

On Friday, I went to the former Jewish ghetto to tour the Schindler Factory. The display from the inside is something to see. It's a whole exhibition on Jewish life and culture in Krakow pre and post-war. The tour took about 2 hours and when I was finished, it had started to drizzle outside. The streets were a mass of people and walking back towards town, all I could think about was getting coffee and some lunch as it was well after four by then.

I stumbled across this pub just after the Old Town and indulged in a coffee, steak tar tar, and pierogis. For someone who normally enjoys being around people, I have savored these meals that are just me and myself.

Yesterday was probably the most stressful part of this time in Krakow. I wanted to be up bright and early b/c I knew Auschwitz would be super busy due to World Youth Day. It took me an hour to get to the train station b/c of so many people in the streets. By the time I got there, the earliest train I could get was at 10:26, which meant I had a good two hours to spare.  I ended up getting a coffee and taking advantage of free wifi while I waited.

The train journey took exactly two hours. I walked as fast as I could to Auschwitz and was met with a line that was forever long. But since this is the main reason I even came to Krakow in the first place, I got in the back of the line and waited. Standing in front of me, were two people and I heard them speaking English so I asked them how long they had waited. We ended up talking for the rest of the line (a total of an hour and some minutes) and then were put in the same tour group. Simon and Isobel. What gems!

I can't even begin to describe Auschwitz. I had been reading about Auschwitz for as long as I can remember. I've watched documentaries, read personal accounts, and follow their updates on social media. But I was here. I was looking at that famous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign that you always see in the pictures. I've been to Dachau, but there was nothing that could have prepared me for Auschwitz.

I think the most sobering experience was seeing the pots and kettles that people brought with them. Our guide reiterated to us over and over again that these people had no idea they were stepping into death. They simply thought they were being relocated in the East. So they brought everything with them, including their dishes. Something else that was tragic was seeing the faces of these prisoners who died mere weeks or months upon entering Auschwitz. I took a picture of four women, one of which was just 18 when she died. I know that there were younger victims, but seeing her face and putting faces and names in for these prisoners was humbling.

Some of you might know that Auschwitz is broken up in two parts - Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz II which is Birkenau. We took a bus over to the other camp and it made me gasp at the sheer size of it. It was huge. You always hear that it was huge, but until you see it......wow. I tried to put myself in their place. I tried to imagine being taken away from my family. I cringed to think that little children were separated from their mothers without ever being able to tell them goodbye. I can't imagine being hauled off to an unknown place, told you were taking a shower, and then suffocating to death.

It's incomprehensible and one of those sites that you really can't describe unless you go. So. I'll leave it at that.

This morning, I woke up and was beyond exhausted. My feet hurt, my back hurt, everything hurt! This was another reason I was glad to be by myself. There was no rush. In fact, I went out and grabbed a coffee from the grocery across the street, then came back and read and piddled around before going out for lunch (I found salad praise the baby!).

I'm still pretty worn out and since I'm here for yet another week, I've decided to take it easy and not really venture out until later this evening. Not to mention, once I get back to the States, I won't have any time to relax as I start work on the 8th!

This trip has been wonderful. I forgot how much I love traveling alone. It gives you a sense of who you are, it makes you appreciate the small things, and it shows you that you can do more than you think on your own.