Day 7, 8
The drive to Krakow from Berlin would be our longest drive at 600km and over 6 hours. Just after setting off there were road works and we got stuck bumper to tail for just short of 1 hour. The rest of the drive through Germany was fine. The fog that had been lingeringly all through Germany, lifted as we got to the Polish border, but the roads became real bad, bumpy as anything, and it lasted for ages too. It was a long day and after a bit of trouble finding the AirBnB host. We were delighted at our modern apartment, located in the Jewish Quarter, and only a short walk to the centre of town. And a margin at only £90 for the two nights. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/13749920
By the time we marvelled at our apartment for the next 2 nights it was getting late and we were a bit tired after the long drive, so we just took a stroll across a footbridge to a Georgian restaurant named Khinkalnya which our BnB host had recommended. We ate some traditional food of dumplings, minced flatbread and a garlic chicken dish.
The reason we came to Poland, and indeed it was one of the reasons for the entire Europe trip was to visit Auschwitz, the concentration camp from world war 2.
We booked online a week before for a self-guided tour, the tour was to be free, and we purchased a guide book which was helpful but actually there was informative reading boards in both English and Polish. We are glad we didn't take the option of a guided tour as it looked rushed and crowded. We booked for 8am, not realising that was when the museum opened. We were the first people through the gates and the persistent fog had returned, giving the place an even more eerie feel, which helped set the picture for us.
We found it all very harrowing but wanted to see and hear more about it. We ventured inside a gas chamber and words cannot describe how one feels when inside such a place where such horrific atrocities took place. The things we seen in the museum just left us sober and silenced, such as the chopped off human hair, the reading glasses piled high and the abandoned suitcases- those of which the victims thought they would need at their new life they were embarking on.
There was a free shuttle bus running to the other part of the concentration camp- Birkenau. The busses didn't start running until 11am though and as we had powered through we were early, so we decided to take the car the short distance away.
Where Aushwitz was still built up seemed to be where the prisoners worked and lived, Birkenau much larger in size, was almost down to rubble, the wooden structures had disintegrated and near the end of the war, the Nazi's didn't want to be found out so they destroyed the gas chambers, they also incinerated the bodies and disposed of the human ashes in the lake, a few years ago, a study revealed that the ash is still lingering in the air around Birkenau.
We took the time to stand on the spot where the trains would arrive and the unsuspecting prisoners would disembark. Those fit and able would be led one way, the sick, frail and children would be led straight to the gas chambers, they were told to leave their clothes and belongings at the side of the 'showers' and to remember where they left them so they could collect later. There was no later, the showers were in fact the gas chambers. It was said that the horrific screams were so loud that the guards would even rev motorbikes outside to drown out the screams. And to think this was only a few decades ago!...
It was another hour to drive back to the apartment. We went out to visit Shindler's Factory which is now a museum on Poland with only a little bit of Shindler's Factory remaining. At 21z each, around £4.10 it was an interesting museum but we are a little cynical sometimes and we felt we had already seen most of the information elsewhere already. The Factory was located only a one minute walk from where our apartment was and once we aquatinted ourselves we realised we could see the factory from our balcony.
On the way to dinner at night and to visit the centre of town we walked through the old Jewish Ghetto, the buildings still war torn and shabby from outside but having a peek inside looked fine looked fine.
The walk took around 30 minutes but was pleasant and we had lots of views to admire along the way . We came to the Main Square, Rynek Główny which was bustling with a Christmas Market, we tried out some of the local delicacies for dinner, tasty sausage and garlic flatbread, then enjoyed a beer in a near by bar for the great value of £1.10. We finished the night off by stopping in a chocolate shop and then having a rose marmalade donut, then caught the tram all the way back to our apartment. The tram was cheap and you could buy tickets at the tram stop or once on the tram.