Poland: A Beautiful Country With a Harsh Past

Poland had forever been one of those places that I’ve learned about in school. I had studied the nazi takeover and the concentration camps since I was in middle school. We even went on a class field trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. When I made the decision to come to Spain I started to look at what countries I would be interested in visiting. Although everything I had studied in school pointed to a deteriorated country I still had the urge to see it for myself.

My roommate Kyra and I decided to spend 3 nights in Poland. Our original plan had changed a few times (thanks Ryanair for an earlier flight!) We ended up settling on spending the first day in Krakow, second day touring the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and finishing our trip in Warsaw.

Krakow:

Probably one of the most impressive European cities I have seen thus far. What I didn’t expect was the incredible amount of influence of American and British brands. I think there was a Costa Coffee/KFC or McDonalds on just about every block! We only had about an hour in Warsaw before catching our train to Krakow so we did get to try the polish McDonalds. Now Im convinced it’s better just about EVERYWHERE but the US.

One we arrived in Krakow we checked into our adorable hostel and were lucky enough to have our own room! Something you really appreciate as a twenty-something  traveler. We asked the receptionist for some dinner recommendations and she sent us to a local polish eatery called Polakowski. Now currently the Zloty is 3.34 to the USD so our dinner costed around 50 zloty. Little did we know this was ONLY $12 total for the two of us in USD for an incredible meal. After we wandered around the Rynek Glowny square we stumbled upon a small bar called “Ukracpra Pub”. Some stairs headed into an underground bar with a big sign that said “KARAOKE” It seemed to be filled with half locals and half traveling brits. Confident singers would step up and could sing in either Polish or English. We had a few drinks ranging from beer to various cocktails, all which maybe costed us $14 for 6 drinks….. I love Poland prices. After getting our nice buzz we decided to head back for a long day ahead.

Our second night in Krakow (after returning from Auschwitz) we went a very popular polish restaurant to get our fix of perogis and apple pie. Mind you all the food you see was a total of $28 (for the two of us so $16 a person) 10/10 WOULD GO HERE AGAIN, everyone go try it it’s called Czarna Kaczka or “The Black Duck”. GO GO GO

Auschwitz-Birkenau:

In September of 1939 Nazi-Germany invaded Poland in the midst of WW2. Over 6 million Polish people perished during the occupation, many who were Jewish. During this occupation millions of Jews from all over Europe were being sent into ghettos, unable to communicate with the outside world. The Nazi’s shortly realized that they could no longer hold the Jews in ghettos due to their inability to “hold their own keep”. This is when “The Final Solution” was then talked about to put an end to all European Jews. Auschwitz Concentration Camp was the largest camp holding over 1.5 million men, women and children. Some of the most famous writers to come from the holocaust were trapped behind the doors of Auschwitz. Anne Frank, Primo Levi and Ellie Wiesel were just a few that I studied extensively in school. Absolutely no amount of studying or reading about the holocaust prepares you when you walk under the infamous sign that reads “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” which translates to “work sets you free.” A significant portion of Birkenau II had been destroyed due to nazi cover up but much of Auschwitz 1 remained. It’s hard to write down exactly what emotions I felt while walking through the camps. The part that got to me the most was how cold it was inside the blocks. How scary it must have been at night without a single light outside. How we were able to walk in and walk out with no problem, but that wasn’t the case for so many people who didn’t deserve to be victim to such a terribly inhumane action. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around how so many people could inflict pain simply by listening and following the ideals of one awful human being.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 

-Ellie Wiesel 

Warsaw: 

We booked ourselves on a train back to Warsaw to arrive around 1:30 pm giving us plenty of time to explore the city before our early morning flight. On the train reservation we made there was a note that said our tickets did not come with guaranteed seats. Little did we know that there was no cafe car on the train so these “seats” were basically in the corridor between the reserved seats and the exit of the train. It made for an interesting 3 hour ride. Once finally exiting the train we were right in the middle of a very modern looking Warsaw. It was filled with skyscrapers, malls and boujie restaurants. We had about a 45 minute walk from there to our hostel but a viscous craving for sushi stopped us about midway. We went to this sushi restaurant found on Trip Advisor and although it was a bit pricer than other Polish food it certainly satisfied our craving. After, we continued through Warsaw Old Town which is still filled with Christmas decor and markets. Once arriving to our hostel we needed a quick nap before heading back on the town. We wandered through Warsaw Old Town which is astronomically different than the city center. We stopped to try some mulled wine and I even got a paczki which I found out later is commonly served on Fat Thursday. To continue with our fantastic eats in Poland we ate dinner at a commonly known Polish restaurant called Zapiecek. We both tried traditional kielbasa with onions and sauerkraut. Determined to stay out considering it was only 8 pm we were in search for a local pub. What we found though, was Warsaw Old Town is not the area known for its nightlife. A few beers later and knowledge of an early morning flight had us in bed earlier than I’d like to admit.

Poland was like nothing I had ever expected. It was such an unfamiliar territory to me and something that was always portrayed so poorly that I almost got on that plane with a touch of fear. Little did I know that the book I chose to read on the flight would convey my emotions perfectly…

“That was the irony of travel. The bigger the distance between you and the familiar grew, the smaller and safer and friendlier the world felt.” 
-Kim Dinan 

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