School trips part 2
That dreaded volcanic ash. An annoyance for thousands of travelers across Europe and the world. Also, a ticket to two free weeks off college with £100 to spend on clothes and free meals three times a day.
This was my initial reaction to returning from Krakow, Poland, after two weeks, when the planned trip was three nights. We were stranded in a youth hostel, the Secret Garden, for the majority of this trip, until being transferred to a hotel near the Rynek Glowny, and I can honestly say despite the homesickness and rain, I enjoyed this trip.
The first stop organized for my group was a visit to both the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II: Birkenau camps. A truly, truly haunting experience, which I still feel to this day, but a necessary one. I firmly believe everyone should visit Auschwitz at some time in their lives. Our tour guide was incredible, and heightened the experience with his emotional commentary. His name was Lucas, and he waited until the end of the tour to tell us that his Grandfather was killed at Auschwitz. His family had also worked there for generations. His story was very touching. I’m sure you can imagine the horrific sights we saw, and I will not tell of anything inside of the complex as photographs are not permitted inside and I think it is best that you see them for yourselves. One thing I will recollect is the sight of a large room filled to the ceiling with human hair, removed from the living and the dead by the Nazis for use in pillows, blankets and clothing. There was a similar room full of shoes. Some were smaller than the palm of my hand.
To continue, there were other aspects of Krakow which I believe shouldn’t be missed. The market in the main square was quirky and had some nice wares, although some usual tourist tat was mixed in as well. The castle in the town was also an impressive sight, and I spend one afternoon climbing up the bell tower with a friend to take in impressive city views. Sadly, the week we arrived was also a national week of mourning, following the death of the Polish president and many important political figures in a plane crash. The city was accordingly decorated with beautiful tributes and candles and we paid our respects in the town on the eve of his funeral.
The following week we visited a salt mine, where J.R.R. Tolkein is thought to have gained inspiration for his ‘Lord of the Rings’ epic. Although I have a fear of being underground there is no doubt the salt sculptures were beautiful and the tour very informative. The tour guide, Sebastian, was once again very compelling and heightened the experience. My experience of the Polish people was that they are generally very helpful and friendly.
Other visits included a Jewish museum, local bowling alley and many local bars. There is an active night life in Krakow and drinks are cheap. Food is also cheap, and I recommend taking in some traditional Polish food: it was delicious.