Concentration Camps to the Tatra Mountains

Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Poland  ,
Sunday, September 4, 2005

I kicked Krakow off with by far the darkest of my visits yet - a trip to Auschwitz, the biggest death camp of the Nazi's in WWII. For a start it's just absolutely massive (covering over 175 hectares) combining 300 prison barracks, gas chambers (large enough to exterminate 2000 people at one time) and crematoria. Enough of the buildings remain to get a real handle on what went on, consequently for much of the day my eyes were filled with tears. Large displays, now as in large displays I mean massive displays, were incased with glass for viewing. The displays included human hair (like 3-4 Tonnes of it) and the cloth that was made out of it, childrens clothing, suitcases, tooth brushes, shoes etc and many other belongings of the victims. Not only the numerous photo's of the mothers walking their baby's and toddlers unknowingly into the gas chambers were really hard to handle; but I also really really struggled with the photo's of the men. It was pretty gut wrenching to see the sad eyes of so many physically destroyed and psychologically broken men in the photo's. I am pleased that I went, I think it was important to see and an important part of my trip but really traumatic.

The remainder of my time in Krakow was spent wandering the old town and the Jewish quarter, most of the time I was happy to just meander without purpose. I have made a mental note that Krakow would definitely be a great place to come and just get trashed for a weekend, numerous bars and a large tourist component in the population has labelled it as the new Prague of Eastern Europe. So, all in all it is a very nice place to visit, but yes it's touristic and lots of people come here to party. I've met quiet afew interesting people here in Krakow, spent abit of time hanging out with a gang in the hostel (mainly Ozzies). I don't know where all of these supposed travelling Kiwi's are because I really haven't met any Kiwi's on my travels.... maybe they are all in Combi vans or something, where ever they are they haven't been where I have.

I nipped down to Zakopane for a night (located on the Slovakian boarder). Zakopane is basically a ski resort, but doubles as a trekking destination during the summer months. The journey here was really beautiful through the fields, bush and mountains. Zakopane itself is really lovely. It's totally humming with Polish tourists, but there aren't too many foreigners.

My plan for Zakopane was to spend a night, catch a cable car up into the mountains (about 20 minute ride) and walk back to Zakopane (4 hour trek) before catching the train back to Krakow for my night train to Prague, but it didn't really work out that way.

I boldly got up early this morning and as it turned out the lovely licks of sunshine on the window sill were, as it turns out, for ascetic value only. The moment I stepped foot outside the cold bit straight into my bones. It reminded me of living in Dunedin where I lived in continual optimism that the sun wouldn't lie to me.... I was always let down.

Anyway, first of all I set off on a 4km walk to the cable car, in the wrong direction! When I finally made it to the cable care there was approximately a 3 hour wait to get onto the cable car. I couldn't believe it, every Polish tourist was out enjoying the very nice, clear (cold) weather. I waited for 1.5 hours, got really bored and determined that by the time I got to the top of the mountains it would be too late for me to walk back to Zakopane in time for my train anyway. Somewhat disappointed, I wandered back to Zakopane via afew little lakes and creeks which were, as it turns out, all very pleasant.

Zakopane is interesting - you can buy Gerkins straight from the brine out of huge barrels on the street, along with freshly roasted nuts and all sorts of other yummies. It's certainly been worth the visit, just a shame that I never got to do any walking. Never mind, I am sure I'll be able to con some peoples in the UK to keep me company for the odd tramping trip! I'm sure these won't be the last cold mountains I will come across.

Tonight I am off to Prague on the night train, something that I am quietly nervous about as it's apparently not meant to be the safest journey in the world, afew backpackers have arrive relieved of their valuables (was warned first hand). I'm as prepared as ever before though and have even put my pack in its metal pack safe (the first time I have used it) and plan to chain my pack to something and will hope for the best. I am kind of excited about using the pack safe really... a heavy little beast that I've been hauling around for my entire trip and using it will make me feel as though it was worth the purchase.
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