Arriving before the sun even rose, I walked out into the main area of the train statin to snow falling. It was incredible! The one thing I had hoped for more than anything was snow while I was here. My own version of a “white Christmas”. I walked the easy 10 minutes to my hostel, Goodbye Lenin Hostel, thanks to the map HostelOne Home gave me and checked in, dropping off my bag. I had heard that Oskar Schindler’s factory was free on Mondays and the receptionist said it would be busy for tickets, so I left early, around 8am to stand in line. By the time I took the tram, got lost and found the place (a very non-descript building in an area of factory buildings), it was only 8:45am, there was no line, and it was snowing. I tried to figure out if I should head back into town to exchange money, if I should grab a bite or what. I ended up exploring the area and gong to a warm cafe. When it was getting close to opening time, I made my way over to stand in a small, but respectable line. The factory itself is no longer there, but instead, part of the building had been turned into an exhibition, where you saw life in Krakow pre, during, and post war. It was very interesting and definitely worth the price 😉
After heading back into town, I exchanged my money for Polish Zlotys and grabbed a bite at Zapineks, a pierogi place. I ordered the mixed plate and that was my first mistake. They were delicious, but the meat was definitely of the pork variety and all the pierogis were covered in bacon and nuts. I couldn’t refuse, so I scraped everything off that I could, but my throat itched from the nuts and my lips felt a bit puffy. Eh, it was worth it. I got back to the hostel and took some allergy meds that seemed to do the trick. I hung out for a while and then started meeting people in common room, when we all decided to go out for dinner. We went to a traditional Polish place and since I was feeling under the weather, I ordered potatoes and soup for a reasonable 12 PLN. It hit the spot and we all just kind of shared and tried each other’s dishes. Thinking about going out, we ended up drinking hot chocolate and tea and saying cards in the common room for the better part of the night.
Today was the day that I was dreading and yet knew that I had to do it. I went to Auschwitz and Birkenau. I got on the 9:30 bus for 28 PLN return and arrived to the center around 11, where I decided to go on the tour for 40 PLN. I almost wished I didn’t. I wanted more time to look around and explore the pain that people had gone through. It was really emotional for me, and I cried more than once. Unfortunately, my experience was a bit tainted thanks to rude class trips laughing, giggling and talking throughout every building. Then, there were people taking pictures of everything as our tour guide hurried us through every building. After a short break to warm up, we took the included bus to Birkenau, which was a huge complex full of destroyed buildings. We did go into some of the barracks and visited the destroyed gas chambers. It didn’t feel real knowing that people could do something like this and yet staring at it, you knew it was true. If anything, visiting this place made me even prouder to be Jewish and know that despite that these people who tried to wipe an entire religion and culture from existence, we are still here and still standing today. After the tour, we waited inside for the next bus at 3:50, but it never showed up, so a whole group of us stood in the cold for about 30 minutes until the next bus arrived. I was so cold and wanted to complain, but kept thinking about where I was. Emotionally and mentally drained, I took a nap on the bus. We arrived late into Krakow, and I met up with my new friend, Rachael, and we decided to grab some dinner at Hamsa, an Israeli restaurant. We ended up getting a feast of hummus, veggies, lamdeh, and falafel along with a ton of pita. I was still hungry and ordered the chicken with rice dish, which was amazing. There ended up being live Israeli music, which was a nice treat. The total for everything was about 84 PLN for the two of us, which is pricey, but still amazing for the amount of food. It was just such a nice counteraction to celebrate the life and people who I had just been witness of their attempted destruction. After dinner, we went for some dessert by having hot chocolate, and I mean, real hot chocolate. The kind that sticks to your spoon. It was amazing and by that time, we were so full and tired, we both went to sleep.