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Entries about poland

Kraków

Last stop in Poland. An amazing adventure.

snow -4 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 3 on kmclean's travel map.

We made it to Kraków in the evening. We checked-in, had some supper, then got some rest to make sure we were ready to explore the city the next day. On our first day in the city we did walking tours of the old city and then the Jewish district, and ended at Schindler’s factory, which has been converted into a museum about the Nazi occupation in Kraków.

We skipped the day trip to Auschwitz this time around and just spent our time in the city. Between having seen so many memorials everywhere in Europe to concentration camps, former torture prisons, and massacred humans, and living in Germany, we just decided it would be too much for right now. We’ve visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial site and also seen the horrors of a later regime in the former Stasi prison in East Berlin. We also saw the house of terror in Budapest where the former Hungarian fascist party headquarters were, as well as the communist party headquarters during the communist times. Seeing the actual place on this earth where actual, innocent people were literally tortured to death turns out to be a lot heavier than I was expecting. Our trip to Dachau was moving, and I think it’s so important and great that these places are now being run as memorial sites, but it can just get to be too much. I can’t imagine the strength of the survivors of this kind of hell that helps them share their stories and revisit the very sites where they spent the most terrible years any human could ever imagine living.

In Freiburg, like many other German cities, they have the golden stones in the sidewalk in front of houses where Jews used to live and were evicted from. There are five of these stones in front of the house next to our building, and we walk over countless others every day on our way to school. On the main university campus there is also a memorial to the old synagogue which was destroyed during the November pogroms in 1938, and there’s a bronze jacket hanging over the bridge we walk across every day commemorating the place where the Jews were rounded up and deported to Gurs. Many of these people faced their final fate at Auschwitz. There just seems something so wrong about walking in front of the house where someone used to live every day as a regular citizen, and then the next day going to visit the actual place where they were systematically murdered.

Anyway, I think these memorial sites are extremely important and I will definitely be back someday to visit the Auschwitz memorial, but knowing we have to go back and live in Germany, this time around the timing and circumstances just aren’t right.

We did take a walking tour of the old town and then of the Jewish districts and former ghetto. Both were really great -- the tour guides in Poland are excellent. The old city is beautiful; they converted the land where the old city wall used to be into a garden that loops around the entire old part. It's really nice.

One of the largest Jewish communities in Europe before the war was in Kraków with over 60,000 members and today there are about 150 left. The community is as alive as ever, but so small compared to before the war. The Jewish district is still really cool and has a lot going on, with tons of bars, pubs, concert halls, and music festivals hosted there. After our tour we went to Schindler’s factory which has been converted into a museum on the occupation of Kraków.

Over our next couple of days in the city we spent some time at museums, cafés, and cafeterias, basically just bumming around and enjoying our little taste of winter for the year. Next up is Berlin, which I can’t wait to see. We were there with the group of Canadians in Freiburg this year in October, but it’s just such a massive city with so much going on we’ve been set on going back ever since.

Posted by kmclean 11:10 Archived in Poland Tagged winter poland krakow Comments (0)

Lublin and Hrubieszów

Some time in Eastern Poland and a visit to my great-grandmother's hometown.

snow -4 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 3 on kmclean's travel map.

We made it to Lublin without too much trouble although on a rather crowded train. Poland has a surprisingly sophisticated train network for having been totally destroyed and then neglected, even if the trains themselves are a little less luxurious than the ones in Western Europe. We had a really short time here so our first evening after we dropped off our bags at the hostel we went out to see the old city and have a bite to eat.

The reason we came out to this eastern city is really to see Hrubieszów. It still amazes me how well every village in Europe is so well connected. You can get quite literally anywhere you could ever want to go, if you’ve got the patience to work with the sometimes limited train/bus schedules. Anyway, we used this convenient bus service to take a day trip out to the town one day, although unfortunately I’m completely ignorant and thought Easter was a set date, or at least always in April, and we ended up in a rural Polish village on Easter Sunday, which this year was in March.

Needless to say, the town was dead, although I’m not really sure if it ever “comes to life”. The reason we went here is because it is my great-grandmother’s hometown. I never knew her, but it was really humbling to be walking where she walked and seeing what she saw, even though the town has completely changed since WWII. She left for Canada with another Polish Jew in the early 20th century, and eventually I ended up in eastern Canada. Nearly half of the residents of the town before the war were Jewish, and now they’re virtually all gone. For me that’s the most revolting part of the whole Holocaust – that it accomplished one of its sick goals. There are virtually no Jews left in Europe. Don’t get me wrong, the extremely small communities that are left are extremely vibrant and active, but in terms of numbers they don’t compare to the pre-war situation. It’s unbelievably depressing to think of the potential that was lost and the lives that were wasted, and even more so to think that some of my relatives would have perished under such awful circumstances, but seeing the Jewish communities thriving today in Europe, Israel, and everywhere else in the world, is probably one of the most inspiring things I can think of. What else could they have possibly lost? A people reduced to living in sub-human conditions under constant starvation and torture, not only forgives their oppressors, but moves on and creates some of the most lively and successful communities we have today.

We saw the Jewish cemetery there, which was decimated by the Nazis upon the deportation of the Jews in 1942. What’s there now is a memorial to the Jews made of the smashed grave stones found after the war. The town, and the whole country, really, has been changed in irreversible, unimaginable ways, but I think the memorials in Eastern Europe really are amazing. They're always thought provoking and have so many levels of meaning.

It was really great to be able to make it out to Hrubieszów, and I’m glad everything worked out despite the fact that we probably chose the worst possible day of the year to go. We went back to Lublin after a few hours in the town and managed to find I think the only restaurant that was open to get some supper. Nothing like a proper easter feast we’d get at home, but close enough.

Next we’re going to Kraków, which is our last stop in Poland. It’ll be most of the day tomorrow getting there, but I’ve got lots of reading to keep me busy!

Posted by kmclean 03:53 Archived in Poland Tagged winter poland lublin jews Comments (3)

Warsaw

One of the few cities that has always been Polish.

semi-overcast -5 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 3 on kmclean's travel map.

We made it here with no troubles and even managed to get some rest on the train. The Polish couchette wagon was a little less luxurious than the German one and a little louder, but nothing terrible. Sheets and pillows aren’t included and the couchettes are a little slanted so you tend to roll into the wall no matter how you lay, but luckily we’ve become masters at sleeping with eyemasks and earplugs in a sack with a makeshift pillow.
As a side note, those are the best things you can travel with. Eyemask, earplugs, and a spare pillowcase you can stuff with clothes to make a pillow. I’ve had many extra hours of sleep thanks to those.

Luckily the hostel in Warsaw let us check in early, so we hopped right into bed and took a nap before rolling out to catch the morning walking tour. One nice thing about travelling east, or seemingly anywhere other than Switzerland and Germany, is that things are a lot less official. If the beds are empty there’s never a problem checking in early or late. You would never be refused an empty bed in Poland just because “it’s not check-in time yet”. Anyway, there are good things that can come of all that order, too.

The walking tour in Warsaw was great. It’s a really interesting city, with such a devastating history, but I feel like that’s just the general feeling in Poland. It’s been through so much over the years but still refuses to quit. If you ever start to lose faith in humanity, travel to Poland or Bosnia and see for yourself how resilient and strong people can be. It’s always sad hearing about the sick ways of war and oppression, but it can be quite inspiring to meet people who have accomplished amazing things even in the face of others who have quite literally made it their life’s goal to see that that never happens.

On our second day in the city we went to the Warsaw Uprising museum. It’s relatively new in the city, and extremely well done. It’s massive so it’s kind of one of those all-day museums, but definitely worth it. Another great museum was the Marie Curie house. I actually didn’t know she was Polish, but it turns out she only made her life in France because of the brutal treatment of women in Poland and everywhere else in Europe at the time. The house where she was born has been converted into a small museum about her life, and they even have a few pieces of her actual equipment.

Any trip to Poland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Warsaw; people say it’s not the best city in the country, but it definitely shouldn’t be missed. The history is rich and the city has been beautifully rebuilt; it really does look like a proper European capital. We had a great time in and around the old city seeing the memorials and monuments, and there are at least a couple of museums here worth checking out. It seems like it would be a great city to just hang around in, but a couple of days seemed to be enough to take in the main sites. Next up on our tour of Poland is Lublin. It’s a couple of hours away by train, so we’ll be heading out tomorrow.

Posted by kmclean 03:45 Archived in Poland Tagged winter warsaw poland Comments (0)

Wrocław

A really great small city with a long and diverse history.

semi-overcast -4 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 3 on kmclean's travel map.

We took right off the night mom and Dad left on an overnight train for Poland. This is the third and unfortunately last leg of our semester break adventure. The train was definitely better than the overnight busses we’ve had to take, but you don’t exactly get a restful sleep either. Our first stop after a short layover in Berlin was Wrocław, formerly known as Breslau. It was a really interesting city, and with such a long and really fascinating history. It’s been part, at one time or another, of almost every major European dynasty – from the Czechs and the Luxembourg dynasty way back when to the Third Reich. In between it passed through the hands of Habsburgs, the Prussians, Napoleon, the Russians, and even the Poles once or twice, on top of being part of both the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich.

Poland is located in a terribly unfortunate location, right between Germany and Russia, and at the time the Prussians and Russians had massive and developed armies, they also had the militant Swedish army to the North and the Habsburgs to the South with the Ottomans beneath them. A lot of powerful empires have tried to claim the land that we now call Poland over the years, but luckily their language and culture has survived it all and today there is one amazing country to visit with an unbelievable history.

As for the city itself, I really liked Wrocław. It’s a relatively small city by European standards, although one of the bigger ones in Poland. I like the cities you can get around on foot, though. We spent some time just seeing the sites – the old town, market square, cathedral and bridge(s). At the risk of sounding jaded, these are always the main things to see. Almost any village and every city in Europe has them, but it never gets old. Wrocław also has a really great museum about the city’s history, which we had the time to check out. We were happy to spend the day inside a warm museum anyway.

The weather is a lot colder than we were expecting. I figured at the end of March it would be spring, and naively associated “spring” with warm temperatures. It’s been about -5 degrees or so for our stay, but they have the same icy wind here as back home which makes feel a lot colder. It’s nothing we’re not used to, but after having spent the last six weeks travelling through places like Turkey and Spain, it just takes a little readjusting.

We’re heading to Warsaw next on another overnight train. It’s definitely not an ideal way to travel – a few too many restless nights can really take their toll, defeating the whole purpose of travelling overnight which is to save time. This trip we don’t have a ton of time though, and we’re really trying to cram in as many cities as we can to get a feel for Poland, so onto another “City Night Line” it is. I can’t wait to see Warsaw.

Posted by kmclean 03:43 Archived in Poland Tagged winter poland wroclaw Comments (0)

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