27th May 2012 - 2nd Jun 2012
We arrived in Poland 5 days ago after a long night of travel. We left for Cairo airport at 11:30 PM on the 26th enjoying our last views of the city as well as our last terrifying drive on the uncontrollable roads of Egypt. After a stern lecture from our shuttle coordinator about the processes in the airport we were dropped in the airport and left to our own devices. We managed to get through security fine without incident. I’m guessing the shuttle driver scared us into not doing anything too stupid. The only incident of traveler ignorance was when we were walking to our plane. The man who checked our boarding passes waved a group of women through the gate saying “yala yala” (let’s go, hurry up). Seeing as this was one of the few Arabic words we knew we thought in our exhaustion it would be funny to just shout “yalayalayalayalayalayalayalayalayalayala” all the way down to the plane. In our over tiredness we didn’t take much notice of the woman in front of us speeding up and apologizing. We thought she was apologizing because her bag flipped over because she was going so fast. Every time she looked behind at us we just smiled and kept on shouting “yalayalayala”. It wasn’t until we sat in our seats on the plane that we realized that we had just scared the bejesus out of a poor woman.
We had a 6 hour stopover in Istanbul (the homeland) so we took the opportunity to people watch and catch some cat naps. The only downside was the fact that they didn’t have any apple tea in the entire airport. Trust me, we checked everywhere.
Our flight into Poland, as we had discovered earlier that day when we got to Cairo airport, was delayed by an hour, but we managed to get into Warsaw airport at about 2:00 pm, and through security by 2:30, where we met Radek at the arrivals gate, waiting with his camera. Of course he was the tallest one there so he wasn’t hard to find. Radek took us to a little hotel in the university by his house so that we could take a nap and freshen up a bit. Walking from his car to the door I managed to snap the handle off of my suitcase. That was fun.
After our quick nap Radek picked us up at the hotel again and we went back to his house to meet his mother Anna, sister Ola and Niece Justina. Ola made us an AMAZING lunch of schnitzel, and tons of different cakes and donuts and we got over our stomach bug from Egypt pretty quickly. After lunch Radek took us on a walking tour of Warsaw. We saw an incredible park (I believe called King’s park- Radek will correct me), that housed its very own castle. In the park there are beautiful ponds and ducks and fish, but the coolest was the peacocks that just wander around. Megan was so excited that she knocked over a garbage can. After the park we walked to the old town of Poland which was rebuilt after it was bombed during WWII. All of the buildings are beautiful, but they are clearly designed to look old. We walked to this fountain that did a very cool spray display (like a miniature venetian fountain from Vegas) with lights. After our tour of Warsaw we went to Radek’s Tanta Anita and Onkel Greg’s place for a late dinner. It was very much like being at Oma’s house for dinner. There was delicious bread, cheese, cold cuts, we got a present before we left, and I never ate enough.
We went back to the hotel and got a good sleep, and got picked up by Radek again the next morning. We visited the castle that housed the royal family when the capital of Poland was moved from Krakow to Warsaw. It is a very beautiful castle, but we didn’t have enough time to visit it all. We visited the area where Megan’s Oma grew up, where her farm used to be, and the river she saw when she was a child. It must have been a very cool experience for Megan, and I bet her Oma will appreciate the pictures.
From there Radek had arranged a small tour of the University of Warsaw’s veterinary science’s program (he thought of everything). We were shown by the director of students the area where the foreign student’s dean is and we got to look in on an Ant eater from the zoo getting an X-ray. It was pretty cool.
From the university we went to the hotel and grabbed our suitcases and went back to Radek’s home where we packed our duffle bags with enough clothes (which were clean thanks to Anna) for three days and all four of us drove to Krakow (about a 5 hour drive). We arrived at our beautiful little apartment in a little mountain town just outside of Krakow before sundown, ate dinner and then took a quick walk before heading to bed.
The next day we got up, ate a breakfast of bread meat and cheese (I like Poland), and headed to explore Krakow. In Krakow we visited the town square, where there was a market from medieval times, and saw a trumpeter who plays every day at noon in honor of a trumpeter that was shot by a member of the Mongolian army (he stops at the exact moment that the trumpeter was shot). The trumpeter plays out of the tower of a Catholic church so we went inside the church itself and looked around. From there we went to the old castle of Krakow. It is quite a large castle with a beautiful view of the river (Savoy?). We stood again at a wall which according to yogis and gurus worldwide provides you with energy (I can’t say I felt it but, it was worth a shot) and were able to see Leonardo DaVinci’s Lady With an Ermine. Lots of people can say they’ve seen Mona Lisa, but Lady with an Ermine? Radek even snuck a picture which was a big no no. We corner the market on that one.
After the castle we went underneath to see the Dragon’s den, the location of a very famous fairy tale of Krakow. Supposedly a dragon lived in that Den, but I didn’t see one. It was a really cool cave none-the-less and there was a sculpture of a Dragon that Breathed fire outside, so that was pretty cool. After lunch we went to a Salt mine, the oldest and still working factory of Poland. We took a tour deep into the earth and learned how they used to mine salt (actualy we listened to a man talk in Polish and Radek translated).
By the end of our day we were pretty worn out so we wnet back to the apartment and went to bed pretty quick after dinner and showers.
The next day we woke up early and went to vist Auschewitz.(*If you would rather not read about the disturbing things we saw in Auschewitz skip to the next paragraph*) The museum presents it’s information very well, making it slightly easier for generatins, such as ours, to grasp that the holocaust DID happen, and we can’t just bury our heads in the sand and forget it. It slaps you in the face with the reality of the atrocities. We saw many things that hurt deep to the core, but some of the worst were a picture of children after the selection process (where the strong are picked out of the crowd of people fresh off of the train and the rest are sent to the gas chambers) walking unknowingly to their death that would occur less than half an hour later. There was a room full of shoes piled to the roof. Every shoe had an owner. There was also rooms filled with pots and pans, toothbrushes, face brushes, combs, clothes and suitcases all belonging to people who expeccted to be starting a new life. The worst for us though was a room filled to the roof with Women’s hair. They had collected that much hair in the few weeks before liberation with the intention to make textiles out of it. A lot of the hair was still collected into braids or ponytails and it was crudely cut off. We also walked through a gas chamber, in complete silence. The feeling within the gas chamber is one of complete despair and it’s hard to imagine the feeling in that room as you are dying a slow and painful death drowning from the inside. It took up to 20 minutes for the cyclon B to kill once it was dropped from the specialized holes in the roof. All they wanted was the shower they were promised. We also saw jail cells in which prisoners were held before sentancing. Sometimes they were sentanced to death or to a torture in which they were hung by their wrists until the tendons in their shoulders snapped or they were forced to stand in a small area (maybe 2 feet by 2 feet) with three other prisoners. They can’t sit for the entire night, and if they survive until the next morning they are forced to work all day. From Auschwitz we continued our tour at Birkenau, a 4 minute drive away. We saw the railway station that prisoners were unloaded at, and we walked the same distance that they walked if they were destined for the gas chambers. It took less than 10 minutes to walk to their death. There was a series of memorials written in every language still in use today “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children mainly Jews from various parts of Europe.” There were some tears shed at this museum, thinking about the horrors that took place in the very spot we stood.
After Auschwitz we headed back to our apartment, stopping in the little town where John Paul II grew up and went to church. It was very special for Radek and Anna to see the place where the pope grew up. It was really cool to see the picture that John Paul saw every day from his window.
After we got back to our apartment we went to the local park to feed the pony we saw the other day some bread and a carrot. He was really excited for the treats. We sat by the river for a bit, and then started to walk back to the apartment, but when the horse saw us he recognized us and gave us a neigh. It was nice to be recognized by an animal again. On our way back to the apartment by the little creek outside the door we decided to hunt for some snails, but instead we saw a snake. We’re pretty sure it was just a harmless garden snake, but we were lucky Megan didn’t pick it up like she wanted to.
The next day we drove to Slovakia. Just because we can. We added another country to our list. We drove through the mountains that border Poland and Slovakia and saw the beautiful mountain houses of Poland. It looked a bit like sound of music. We spent about half an hour in Slovakia, and made a Slovakian dog friend. He was in desperate need of some love so we pet him for a bit. In our search for a bathroom after petting our new friend Megan managed to walk into a Slovakian family’s home. I’m sure that will be an interesting story they tell their friends.
After Slovakia we drove back to Warsaw. Poor Radek must have been exhausted from all the driving. When we got back to Warsaw, after skyping with our families for a bit, we watched the Pianist in preparation for everything we would see the next day. It was fun to watch Radek point out all of the scenes he and his friends were in (they were extras on the movie). We have one picture from our first day in Warsaw with a background of an alleyway/street sort of thing. That alleyway/street showed up in the movie 3 times, and was the background for the start-up menu. We felt pretty special when we saw that.
The next day (yesterday) Radek took us on another tour of Warsaw where we saw the place where the Warsaw ghetto wall once stood, the last entrance into the ghetto, and the last bit of the wall. We also saw the memorial of the bridge that connected the small ghetto to the large ghetto, and the square where people were rounded up before they were put on trains to concentration camps (in the movie the Pianist it was where the Spielman family enjoyed their last caramel). We saw a lot of the places where Spielman hid during the war, and the places he was chased out of. Radek was very knowledgeable. It was very cool. We also saw the museum of the Polish uprising, a beautiful new museum detailing the 62 day uprising of the Polish people, and profiling the many brave people that fought against the German army. We also visited the Polish cemetery and the Jewish cemetery, and saw how different they are from Canadian cemeteries. For lunch we ate at a Jewish restaurant called Tel Aviv with delicious food. June the first is “kinder day” so Radek wanted to take us out for a nice lunch.
After picking up our train tickets for that evening we headed back to Radek and Anna’s apartment for dinner. We ate fish and then we had a huge assortment of cakes for dessert. It was amazing. It was pretty hard to say goodbye to Anna and Ola, and I know we will miss them both very much. Who is going to feed us delicious meals now? I guess it’s only 10 days until we get back to our own mom’s cooking.
We took the overnight train to Krakow, a long experience, especially since we have been so busy the past few days. We managed to catch about half an hour of sleep, interrupted by a crazy man that kept shouting things in Polish. We were very lucky Radek came with us on our train ride. Without a translator I don’t know what we would have done. Radek was amazing; he somehow managed to be our tour guide, body guard, driver, entertainment coordinator, babysitter, private paparazzi etc. all at the same time. We could tell he was tired by the end. He is very good at multitasking.
We got to the airport by bus, and now we are waiting in Krakow airport for our flight to Paris. We will miss Radek and his family very much but we are also SOOOO excited to see Tara, and to enjoy Paris and London with her as well as Lucy. It’s going to be a good time!
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