Sunday, May 28, 2006

Krakow, Auschwitz, and the Pope

We went to Krakow and Auschwitz this weekend. We left Thursday night and came back Saturday. We had to cut the trip short, unfortunately, but I really enjoyed Krakow. I didn't exactly know what to expect, but it's a beautiful city. We had no idea, however, that the Pope would be there. When we saw the sign at the hostel (my first--and LAST--stay in a hostel, I think), I made it my mission to see the Pope. I'll get to that in a minute.

On Friday morning, we went out to Auschwitz to see the concentration camp. It was an incredible experience. I learned a lot about the Holocaust in school and from visiting the Holocaust museum in D.C., but actually being at a concentration camp--Auschwitz, in particular--was unbelievable. The Holocaust is so tangible for Europeans, especially Eastern Europeans. But in America, apart from the few Holocaust survivors that are left, our only real exposure to it is from textbooks. I couldn't believe I was actually seeing the barracks, the death wall, the "Work makes you free" gate, and the crematorium. This is where nearly 1.5 million people were killed. I was appalled by it before, but it took seeing it with my own eyes to really understand how devastating it was. Before, I could ignore the especially unpleasant parts, but when it's all right there in front of you, you can't get away from it. I definitely recommend everyone who gets a chance to see a concentration camp to do it. It's difficult to see and think about, but it's an experience that will make the Holocaust more real than anything else, and that's what needs to be done to make sure we never forget it.

Now on to Krakow. I'd made a pact with myself not to stay at any hostels. They just don't appeal to me at all. I prefer having my own room and not being forced into contact with people I don't want to know. I think it's safe to say that a majority of hostellers don't fit into the category of people I want to be around. Besides, I'm an introvert, and hostels don't care about introverts. Anyway, I couldn't find an available hotel room that wasn't incredibly expensive. I didn't know why because I didn't know the Pope was coming. But I found this nice hostel in Rick Steves' book called Mama's Hostel. He said it was quaint and friendly, so I decided to give it a try. We made a preliminary reservation, but when we got there, we found out they had to give our room to someone else because it was only a preliminary reservation. The only place we could find was at Nathan's Hostel, which is for people who like to party. <--Not me. We didn't really have a choice, though, so we figured we could put up with it for one night. The thing is, because the Pope was in town, there was a ban on alcohol from 6 pm Thursday to 6 pm Sunday, and the only places that could serve it were hotels and hostels, and you couldn't leave if you'd had a drink. So, everyone in the hostel plus others from the town were getting drunk all night in the hostel. Including my travel buddy. Not a good experience. I think I was the only sober person there. Let me just say here and now that I refuse to deal with drunk people ever again. That was enough to last a lifetime for me. I honestly just don't like being around drunk people. I'll steal your keys from you or whatever, but I don't want anything to do with you until you're sober (and that's only if I like you enough). That's all.

Back to Krakow. We went out in the afternoon to see the city. Like I said, it's a gorgeous city, right behind Prague in terms of the tourism rebirths that these Central/Eastern European cities are having. We had dinner then decided to wait for the Pope to drive through the city in his Pope-mobile. I've never seen security like I saw in Krakow. It was unbelievable, but you can see for yourself in my pictures. He was supposed to drive through the square at 7:35 but didn't actually show up until 9:20. I guess you can show up whenever you want if you're the Pope. Anyway, it was exciting. Something I wasn't expecting, but an experience that not many people can say they've had.

Here are some pictures from the weekend. We're back in Prague now. I might take a day-trip out somewhere tomorrow or Tuesday before classes start back on Wednesday, but, because I decided to take two classes instead of one, I haven't seen as much of the city as I would have liked, so I want to make sure I take some time to do that in the next two days, as well.


John Dark said...

Man, that sounds so cool. Apart from the drunk hostel experience. I bet you didn't sleep at all. And you go to see the pope! I wondered about it when they mentioned he took a trip to Germany on the news. I've been looking up tickets to Italy. I can't find any for very cheap. But i'm going to try to replace my passport tomorrow and then look for tickets again. You'll have to let me know the dates of when I should come and where I should fly to. Miss ya! Don't get drunk!

Whitney said...

I think I've finally caught up on my sleep!

Get over here if you can (around June 16-26). We'll have fun!