“What do you think about Donald Trump?”
My first day in Krakow, I checked into the Mundo Hostel, which seemed like the perfect blend of a great location, a non-party hostel, and an interesting and friendly group of people staying there.
I struck up a conversation with a guy from Iceland working on his computer in the lobby.
“From the US? What do you think about Donald Trump?”
I quickly found out this is a commonly asked question of Americans. I ended up having a very interesting conversation with the Icelander and had drinks with him and his friends that night.
This is one thing I love about travel. You just never know who you are going to meet, and what perspective they might bring.
The Mundo hostel did not disappoint. Despite the fact they put me in the commie bastard Che Guevara room! (actually it’s the Cuba room with a Che flag, I’m just confused on why people hero worship this guy!)
In the morning I chatted with a couple of girls from the hostel, and we all decided to visit Auschwitz together. Despite the fact that I had no intention of going to a concentration camp, I talked to enough people about the importance of it and decided it would be important to visit.
(I skipped the Killing Fields in Cambodia because I was afraid of not being able to handle any of it, but for some reason, the historical magnitude of Auschwitz, and having read Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning, it felt a bit more of a necessity to take the tour, being in this region of the world.)
The tour was perfect. They do a great job of humanizing it as much as possible. Still, my brain couldn’t process that this was real for a while. I kept thinking “this has to be a hollywood set”. The tour guide did an amazing job of making it real.
No matter how much you can know about it going in, I don’t think you can replicate the feeling of what it’s like to see it in person.
I did not take many pictures, instead I absorbed it.
Seeing the photos on the wall of the inmates, most of whom were murdered by the Nazis, was chilling.
It’s even hard to put the thing into words.
I got choked up a few times. I probably could have cried my eyes out if I sat down and really pondered it of a bit. I believe I cried a bit on the bus ride home. I’m choked up even writing this post.
The death camps were the other part. For some reason this really rocked me. Even though I know the whole story, I felt waves of anger in addition to sadness as we walked around and learned about how efficient this killing machine was, and just how many people were involved- from politicians to guards to paper pushing bureaucrats. This all happened in broad daylight with so many complicit parties.
It’s really unfathomable no matter how one looks at the atrocity. It’s not that a handful of crazy people took over. It goes much deeper than that, for that many people to normalize this situation…volumes have been written on this but it is still hard to believe and sickening that it happened.
The next day was much lighter. My same travel mates and I took a train to the famous Salt Mines. I’m not going to say it was the most awesome thing in the world, but it was pretty interesting.
I think my expectations were a little high, and while the scope of the mines is pretty impressive, as the tour is all way underground….I just kept thinking “This is not anywhere as beautiful as the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico!”
Lame to compare, I know, but it’s hard not to, as they are both underground wonders of the world!
Krakow itself is a nice, manageable city, with an old town square and a Jewish Quarters. There is a good feeling in this place, it’s not too uptight, it’s clean, modern and OMG is it CHEAP!
A good sized Kebab in the Old Town cost me about $2.25. Back in San Diego at The Kebab Shop I pay $8.99 for the same thing. The Joys of Location Independence!
After a stormy day and evening that I mostly spent in the hostel (and local tea shop), I took a train to Czestochowa (Chest-tow-hoe-vah) to visit my friend Maciek. On the train I quickly read about the city. Basically, it’s all about the cathedral in the center, and every year there’s a “pilgrimage” there.
Couple days of experiencing a new town with a friend I hadn’t met. Great time, great conversation!
And I squeezed in a workout at a gym. But not without another story! I paid my 20 zloty’s (~$4) and the attended pointed in the direction of the locker rooms. I turned the corner and saw the one door. The word looked like it meant Women. There was not little symbol, however. I got a little nervous. Is this the women’s? Men’s? Combined?
I didn’t want to ask!
I thought maybe it was like Slovakia where everyone changes in the same place.
So I opened the door and…
I walked right into the women’s changing area. No wall separating the outside for privacy. And yes a woman just happened to be facing me, changing her clothes, and oddly looked up and didn’t look surprised or shocked! I kind of jumped and said “Sorry!” and turned around…and these 3 bodybuilder guys were yelling at me in Polish, pointing at the Mens locker rooms.
I somehow missed the other door earlier. I got my workout in and was happy that I wasn’t arrested or at least tossed out for being ignorant!