I went to Poland last week! It was so cheap—I couldn’t believe it! The first time I bought something, I thought, “Are you sure it is only that much? I will give you more money…”
But…..then I went to Sweden! And they said, “Give me your arm, a foot, and a leg for this water. And I went, “Hehhhh???!!!!!!”
I was once again re-introduced to the prices of Scandinavia.
Everything was really fun, though. I traveled with 4 other friends… Amber (Oregon), Zalika (Indiana)–first photo below, L to R–, Trina & her friend Michelle (both from Chicago)–second photo, L to R.
I sort of did a lot of the planning for this trip….hostels, directions, tickets, etc.. Everything went really well. All were impressed with my hostel selections…close to the stations & points of interest, etc., and I just got us where we needed to be…and on time! So, I’m happy with that!
One of the very first things we did when getting to Krakow was go to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp & Auschwitz II-Birkenau…the Death Camp. Now, just to clarify this for everyone: a concentration camp was used to put prisoners to work. A death camp was solely used to kill prisoners. This doesn’t mean that the prisoners at the concentration camps didn’t die. Many did. In fact, a surprising thing I found out was that many died before they even arrived to the camps. Transportation (by train) between their homes and the camps were so long, crowded, disease invested….nothing was good. Many were so weak by the time they arrived at the camps that the guards would send them to the gas chambers right when they arrived since they were hardly alive.
Above, you can see the famous entrance to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp…”Arbeit macht fret”…”Labor makes you free.” Fun fact about this sign: this isn’t the original. The original sign was actually stolen some years ago. I believe they found it again, but it was too damaged to put it up again.
This photo above is the area where the guards had musicians play music while the prisoners were marching to and from work. The prisoners would stand in rows of 5 & march to the music. This would make it easier for the guards to count the prisoners as they walked by. Below is an actual photo of this in 1941, although, you can’t see the prisoners marching…
One of the things I found very interesting was the ‘selection process’. (By the way, I will be going back and forth between events/info from Auschwitz and Birkenau). Once prisoners were off the train, they would immediately go through a selection process where a guard/doctor would look at a prisoner’s physical and mental state & decide if they should go to the bunks or if they should go to the ‘showers’….aka…the gas chambers.
This photo shows the guard pointing this elderly man to the “showers”. The cane he was holding was a sheer sign that he was to be sent to the gas chambers. (I stood in that exact spot. I saw this photo earlier while touring Auschwitz…and then took the bus to Birkenau where this photo was taken. It was a weird feeling, for sure.) Now, the prisoners didn’t understand that it was gas chambers they were walking towards. The guards made them believe they were getting special treatment…nice showers, clothes….and if I remember correctly, the area outside the gas chamber was even beautifully decorated with flowers to convince the prisoners even more. Below you can see (first) the gas chamber at Auschwitz and then the demolished gas chamber (1 of 4, I believe) at Birkenau.
A word about photos: today, there are a number of photos that are clear & easy to see of the concentration camp. However, prisoners were forbidden to take photos of anything going on in the camps. It was interesting when I would see a photo displayed at the camps that were quite blurry and it was hard to pick out what I was seeing. (Sorry, I don’t have a photo of one.) But these were photos taken by prisoners at their own risk. The photos were so eery, and looking at them just made you feel nervous for the prisoner who took it.
The rest of the photos will just give you a taste of what it was like….
cans which contained Cyclone B (used in the gas chambers)
piles of prisones’ shoes….
toilets….. (Imagine dying of malnutrition, rat bites, dehydration, etc., causing you many different illnesses…..now add that to everyone else surrounding you…all needing the toilets. It’s so awful, but it is truly what they went through.) Oh…they had to clean their own toilets, too.
their bunks (often times 5 or 6 prisoners would sleep on one bunk)…
After the tour was done, we walked back to the main entrance. I was thinking about so many things…but mostly about how tired I was…physically & emotionally. I then looked down to the ground and saw what I was walking on.
Some of you might look at this ground and think it isn’t too bad. I can assure you that it was slightly difficult to walk on even with tennis shoes on. Then I began to think about the prisoners. Many were given shoes, but the quality was awful. Many walked barefoot….in the freezing ice and snow.
Although it was a very sad experience, I am really glad I went. I learned a lot about it, and it put things into a new perspective. I really encourage you to visit the camps someday if you are able. It is a really sad, yet important, part of the world’s history.
To something much less sad…
The Salt Mines!
This was a very fun and interesting tour! The salt mine has over 2,000 chambers, and if I remember correctly, it is over 700 years old. Some parts are still used for mining, but very little. It is mostly a tourist attraction.
It was a looooonnngggg way down….
I even tasted the salt to make sure this wasn’t all a bunch of lies…
They had numerous chapels throughout the mine that the miners built themselves…
Here is the largest chapel built by 3 miners… (You had to pay money to take photos in the chamber. So, thank you Amber for this nice shot!) It was HUGE! About 11-12 weddings take place here each year…
The coolest chamber was this….
…a concert/dining hall. Concerts are performed here each year. Maybe someday I can go back with my cello!
The last day we were in Krakow, we toured the city, ate food, shopped…all the normal touristy things. :)
Then, we were off to Stockholm, Sweden!
To be honest, we were all exhausted once we arrived in Stockholm. Actually, let me rephrase that. We were exhausted BEFORE we arrived in Stockholm. So, we weren’t quite as busy the next few days.
We made it to an aquarium…which was lame. It was cool to see fish…(I like fish)… but it was not as exciting as we had hoped for.
Mostly, we just enjoyed walking around the city & taking in the sights & happenings. We shopped a bit….and of course had to stop at the H&M clothing store. My favorite AND it originated in Sweden.
The weather was pretty nice while we were there….except it rained one day. Thankfully, that was the day of the symphony concert we attended!
The concert house has a market right outside it’s front doors. Pretty cool! Unfortunately, the original conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, (and the main reason I was going to Stockholm)…became ill the week of the concert. I was quite upset as that was something I was looking forward to for a long time. I have been considering studying conducting, and he is top notch. It would have been great to see him conduct live, but perhaps another concert I will see him.
However, Andrés Orozco-Estrada took Dudamel’s place, and he did an absolutely astounding job! I was so impressed, and the Gotenburg Symphony sounded incredible. I took my two friends, Trina & Zalika, along…. first one they’d ever attended. The best part was seeing my friends’ experience. They loved it so much, and I was so happy for them!
Trina-“I thought it was going to end on that big high note…but then he had those low basses come in & I threw-up happiness.”
Zalika- “Why am I feeling this way?!?!”—After hearing Beethoven’s Egmont Overture
It was a wonderful way to end the trip, and I am so happy my friends enjoyed it!