June 11th, 12th, 13th 2010
Pianos everywhere. That’s how I would describe Krakow. Seriously, there are random pianos lying in various parts of the town, I don’t know what they symbolize and neither do the locals apparently (at least the young fellow I asked). They’re just…there.
Krakow town square is flooded with people, both tourists and locals. There is a beautiful church located there, a statue monument which kids climb on to for fun, lots of cafes where people sit outside and lounge, plenty of random pretzel stands selling baked goods, and the odd piano here and there. Pidgeons are everywhere, unafraid of humans, hoping to compete with quick sparrows for scraps of bread. It is a wonderful place to people-watch.
Outside of it, it’s like any other town. Trams, buses, locals walking here and there, shops of all kinds…in its own way, it felt comfortable and hospitable.
I didn’t do much within the city the first day. The overnight train was delayed by two hours on top of the already long journey so taking a nap in the hostel was a great idea. Walked around the town square just to get a feel of the place.
Second day, Auschwitz/Birkenau. Everyone knows this place, one of the biggest Jew extermination camps during WW2. Honestly, touring the place didn’t make me sad but it did make me aware of the suffering so many must have gone through. The tight spaces filled with thousands of people trying to survive the brutal conditions, where cleaning up shit is considered one of the best jobs in the camp (apparently the guards don’t want to get near them so they’re usually left alone). It is hard to believe how many people were gassed and then cremated here. Their ashes were used for various things, including building roads. I could have been walking on the ashes of dead Jews…
But something did touch me. We entered an exhibit filled with hairs of women, shoes of people, things they owned (from combs to toothbrushes to pots/pans to sentimental items), and their luggages. People who were about to be gassed were told they were going to the showers. The Nazis would shave their heads, tell them to strip naked, lead them to “showers”, shut the door, use Cyclone-B poison. I cannot imagine being a Jew in those times, the fear of not knowing what my fate was going to be. The hair would then be used by the Nazis to make carpets, clothes etc. for the Germans. The fat from their bodies (WTF?) were used to make soap. Basically the Nazis didn’t waste anything. It was mortifying.
Enough about that. I did enjoy the Wieliczka Salt Mines. To be there is to behold art so awesome you have to be there to see it for yourself. Everything in that salt mine was carved by miners and into the salt around them. There were statues, wall arts, cathedrals, chandeliers all made out of different salts. Please look at the pictures to see what I’m talking about.
One of my favorite times about Krakow was when I met two Singaporean girls who were at both tours with me. It’s always nice to meet people from the same region and they were friendly. After the tours, they invited me to go eat with some Malaysians they met at their hostel. I got to meet the whole lot and it was fun having dinner with them. A shout out to Camie, Jolene, Ying Pang, Melissa, and Qing Xi. Ate some Polish food but I forgot to take a picture of it.
I also met several Malaysians-turned-Singaporeans at my hostel. I watched several World Cup games with a bunch of hostel mates. It was a good time just to hang out like that.
On my last day, my train to Budapest was to leave at 10 pm. I had a whole day to burn so I decided to walk to the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz. What a good decision that turned out to be. I showed up just in time for a massive food fair! I had almost gotten lunch before too but decided to hold off. Because of this, I got to fill myself up with perogis, sausage, and egg. The locals packed this place, all trying to shop for breads, cheeses, I don’t remember what else. I was a happy camper that afternoon.
I had 60 zloty (about US$20) left that evening so I decided to blow it all on a massive Polish dinner. I had a 4-soup course, another lot of perogis, and a bacon rouladde dish. I was so stuffed. It was a good end to my day.