Poland: Krakow and Auschwitz

Commencing the next point of my zigzag through Europe, I took an overnight train from L’Viv in Ukraine to Krakow, Poland. This was a silly idea. Firstly, it was ridiculously expensive, compared to other options which I didn’t research properly due to time constraints. Secondly, because of the departure time, customs check and change of time zone meant I got about 3 hours sleep before being tapped on the foot for the third time by the conductor who shouted at me, “Get up tourist, train leave now!”

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After narrowly escaping a fine for holding the train up, I made my way through to the main square of Krakow, which my hostel was extremely near to. The square is huge and rather touristic, but still very entertaining and cultural.

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After taking a day time nap (no mean feat in a party hostel), I went on the first walking tour of my life. I’m not usually a tour type of person but I thought I’d give it a go, and I was glad I did.

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Our guide, Bartek, told us a lot about the history of Poland and Krakow. I’d recommend hitting up these guys for a walking tour if you’re here, the company is called Good Krakow Tours, the ones with the green umbrellas.

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Bartek even invited me out for a beer afterwards which was rad. These guys make some excellent craft beer.

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Poland has been on my hit-list for a while, and that’s because I’ve always wanted to visit Auschwitz. When I was younger I did a lot of reading about WWII and I’ve always wanted to see for myself the extent of what the Nazis did. This, along with the killing fields of Cambodia easily rank as the most sadistic, moving stuff I’ve ever seen.

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Most people take a tour when they visit Auschwitz, but I wanted to go through at my own pace so I took an early morning bus out there and got in before the groups. During this time of the year, all admission between 10am and 3pm requires you to be part of a guided tour, so you need to be there before then.

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There are two main parts to this camp, Auschwitz 1, and Auschwitz 2 Birkenau. There’s a 3rd facility as well, Monowitz, another sub-camp which I didn’t visit.

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These are the cans of Zyklon B, the poison used to gas prisoners in the chambers. In Auschwitz 1 there are loads of items to see and lots of stuff to read. I’m not going to get too involved as this isn’t really the place and I spent more time reading and taking it in than snapping photos.

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There are tributes all over Aushwitz 1 to the different countries that Jews were sent from. The room in the photo above pertains to the Jews sent here from The Netherlands. This is one of the parts that really hit home for me. The black on those walls are made up of the names of the prisoners from The Netherlands alone, written in tiny font.

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Above: A gas chamber facility at Auschwitz 1.

After visiting Auschwitz 1, there’s a free bus which takes you to Birkenau. This camp is considerably bigger; huge, in fact. There are dozens of barracks which you can walk through and check out the living conditions of those held here.

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These are the tracks for the trains that came in bearing loads of fresh prisoners. Standing there in the spot where people jumped off a carriage to be sorted, split from their families and sent away to almost certain death is not an experience I’ll forget in a hurry.

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The day after visiting a place like Auschwitz is different, well, for me at least. Walking through the parks of Krakow and taking in the sights and drinking coffee, you can’t help but be thankful for the life you have.

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I had plans to visit the salt mine here, but I spied a sticker on a lamp post advertising a nearby record shop which I subsequently spent an extended period of time and cash in. These guys had a whole lot of bangin’ hard house which I dropped off at the post  office to add to the collection. What budget…

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Bicycles are quite popular here as it’s quite flat. When I walked past the one below, I thought I was back in Amsterdam for a moment.

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Euro 2016 is on at the moment, and I got the chance to sit amongst Polish supporters while Poland faced Germany and drew at 0-0. They were stoked with the result against the World Cup winners!

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This one wasn’t a huge post, but I was only in Krakow for a couple of days and was mainly there to see Auschwitz. The place is rich with history and has many side streets to explore, so I definitely plan on coming back one day. Thanks for reading!

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