Krakow - Auschwitz-Birkenau

Trip Start Nov 22, 2013
Trip End Dec 24, 2013

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Flag of Poland  , Lesser Poland Voivodeship,
Monday, December 16, 2013

The main reason for visiting Poland initially was to see Auschwitz, so Oliver has been looking forward to today for a long time (in the non-macabre way). We walked to the bus station and caught the local bus to Oscwiecim, which we expected would be a village with the Auschwitz site on it's outskirts - how wrong we were. After a 90 minute bus trip with various detours to pick up and drop off the locals, we arrived in a very large town (almost a city), with the Auschwitz site in a suburb (the more famous visual sight of the train line through the main gate is at Birkenau, 3km from Auschwitz - more about that later)

We joined the next English language tour (which was handy, as my Spanish is non-existent) and spent the next two hours walking the site - which is the second surprise, the sheer size of the site and the number of buildings, all three story, with a basement. Apart from the guide's voice, the tour was conducted in almost complete silence - surprise number three - I think everyone was over-awed by the enormity of the information and visuals - piles of human hair, glasses, shoes and suitcases, photos, punishment rooms, gas chambers... you get the picture. At times challenging, and definitely not your average museum tour.

After 2 hours at Auschwitz we transferred by mini-bus to Birkenau, which was a death camp - this is where the trains brought the people (mostly innocent civilians) into the camp and straight to the gas chambers under the guise of having a shower. As our guide pointed out, we spent longer walking around the site today that they spent there - after the "selection" process, most did not survive more than 45 minutes at the camp.

The bus trip back to Krakow was slightly more direct than the morning journey, so we had some time at a local market when we got back (mostly to visit the bakery!), then got in touch with Squid (Pam Green, former PNSS Assistant Group Leader), who also happened to be in Krakow today, so we met her and Adam in the Old Town and had a stand-up Xmas Market tea - black pudding, Polish sausage, mushroom, pork hock, veggies... and a mulled wine.

We heard the trumpeter play his thing from the church tower, as he does every hour of the day (but we had somehow managed to miss on our last 2 visits to the square), had a waffle for dessert and a stroll back to our digs via the 24 hour shop for another flavour of shandy - orange this time (oh, and milk and cornflakes)
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