Saturday, 24 May 2014

Spring Break: Poland and Prague

I made it to Croatia and back and now I’m finally going to be home for more than 4 days! The last week and a half have been so insanely hectic, running around doing everything. So I’m going to try to catch up with the blog and spring break and that trip before going into the rest of my life since I’ve been home! So to pick up from where I left off… Poland and Prague is what this next post is about!

April 21: Sometimes in life you have flights that leave at 6:30am, and sometimes in life those flights are $9.22. This is literally my only factor not contributing to my massive self-loathing that took place this day for doing this to myself: I woke up at 2:50am (aka basically didn’t sleep) to get a taxi at 3:10 to get to the bus station to get the 3:30 bus to the airport to get to the airport at 4:45 to have enough time for my 6:30 flight. It was horrible. However, as I said: sometimes in life you get flights for $9.22. So I got into Warsaw a little before 8:30am, and had a nice bus ride into the city (Poland is really pretty and really green and has lots of trees, but a different green than a country like Ireland) and showed up to my hostel, where they told me basically everything was closed since it was Easter Monday. So I occupied myself by accidentally walking in/interrupting a service in the Church of the Holy Cross (where Chopin’s heart is buried), going to the Royal Palace, walking across the river to see a street that the Pianist was filmed on, saw the Warsaw Uprising Monument, began to understand the Poles’ love for Pope John Paul II since there was stuff about him everywhere, got kebabs that were cheap as shit, and then crashed. As Chandler Bing would say, “I’ve had a very long hard day.”

April 22: So I was super excited that it wasn’t Easter Monday and things would be open! But it was actually a Tuesday so actually all the museums were closed. By all the museums, I mean literally everything I wanted to see in Warsaw was closed. Warsaw Uprising Museum, Jewish History Museum, Pawiak Prison Museum, and the Jewish Cemetery… so I basically picked up my stuff and got my bus to Wrocław, after a minor panic where I almost missed the bus but had already dropped my backpack off and had a vision of the bus driving to Wrocław with my backpack but without me… But I had a pleasant 6 hour bus ride, got free food (Polski Bus, I love you), and watched this weirdass movie that the girl in front of me was watching in the window reflection. Showed up in Wrocław and found the hostel and went to sleep.

April 23: I had the day to myself before my friend Adam’s flight got in that evening, so I set off exploring. They have all these cute gnome statues in Wrocław, so finding those in random places was always fun! The market/square/old town in Wrocław is really quaint and pretty, saw the City Hall and the Panorama Racławicka, which is this huge circular painting that unfortunately a group of 40 schoolchildren also wanted to see. I walked around, got sunburned, and Adam and I started our soon-to-be routine of kebabs for dinner washed down with 4 złoty beer. For everyone who doesn’t know the conversion rate: beer was about $1.33. So cheap, so good. Poland is a grand country.

April 24: Hit up St. Elizabeth’s Church and climbed the tower for amazing views of Wrocław in the morning, including seeing the tallest building in Poland! We got our bus tickets for the next day to Krakow all figured out, and then we walked a long ass way to see this cool house/metal sculpture thing that was super lame. However, we rewarded ourselves with 3 złoty ice cream ($1!!!) and then got kebabs from the same AMAZING place as the night before. Seriously, that guy is my boy!!! I miss my boy in Wrocław just writing this. And then, of course, beer.

April 25: Adam and I caught our 8:00am bus and we did not speak since neither of us do mornings. But we got free food again! Seriously! I love Polski Bus! We made it to Krakow mildly more awake and dropped our shit in our hostel, which was super convenient since it was right on the market. Saw St. Mary’s Basilica with Europe’s most impressive Gothic altarpiece (life-size figures!), both of which were absolutely beautiful. There’s a bugler that plays every hour on the hour from the tower of St. Mary’s, which was fun for the first few hours and not fun once I was trying to go to sleep. Saw Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral, both of which really made me wish that I knew more about Polish history! And since it would be rude to break tradition: kebabs (obviously they had nothing on my boy in Wrocław) and cheap beer in a sketchy alley. The best.

April 26: I imparted my greatest traveling wisdom to Adam, and showed him how to steal free breakfast from the hostel via sandwich bags for free lunch as well. We spent the day doing a lot of the Jewish-related stuff around Krakow, starting with the Schindler’s Factory Museum. It was one of the things I was most looking forward to in Krakow, so finally getting to go was awesome! It was really more a museum on Jewish life in Krakow during Nazi occupation than about Oskar Schindler, but it was still really emotional and moving. They take you through the beginning, before German occupation, and then through WWII. One of the last rooms is about the Red Army and a huge picture of Stalin. Depressing. One of the only rooms of the factory left was Schindler’s office, with pots and pans that his workers made and all the names of the people he saved. It was a lot to handle. Then Adam and I set off to Pałszow, the Jewish concentration camp in Krakow. It’s not a tourist site or anything, but we walked past where it would have been and at least saw a tower. Then we walked to the (closed) Jewish New Cemetery and stopped for ice cream (amazing) before going to the Galicia Jewish museum, which was an exhibition of contemporary pictures of places of Jewish heritage today. We finished off the day by walking to see the last remaining part of Krakow’s ghetto wall, which was located right in a kid’s playground park—I think that was one of the hardest things for me to see. To sum up the day with my infamous quote: “genocide is depressing.

April 27: First of all, this was the day Pope John Paul II was canonized! One of the most fascinating parts of my trip to Poland was their love and pride of their boy JP2. Every city had a street named after him, every place had a statue, and everyone was going crazy about the canonization. Wrocław was building a huge stage, and Krakow had “Pope Fest” in the Mały Rynek. But anyway, to continue with the “genocide is depressing” theme, we did our tour to Auschwitz this day. I don’t really know what all to say about it, besides that I’m glad I went, I’m glad I experienced it, and I’ll be prepared if I decide I want to do it again. I feel like since Auschwitz is so famous, there’s not a whole lot to say. I really did think seeing the hair would be the worst part, but actually I think seeing the shoes was worse. There was just so many of them. Our tour guide explained the rooms and buildings we went into, I have a hard time remembering all of them. Then we went to Auschwitz Birkenau, which is where they had the railcar stop and the crematoriums/gas chambers. It was just depressing. The next day was March of the Living, which I had never heard of but it’s when Jewish people experience Auschwitz/Israel in a single trip and they march in the camp. One of the original barracks was open, so we saw where people slept. It was just really hard to be there, and understand what all happened. But we finished up our tour and went back to Krakow, where we bought Pope merch, I did real laundry for the first time all break, and, of course: kebabs and more 4 złoty beer.

April 28: My last day in Poland! We checked out and headed to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, which were absolutely AMAZING! So so so cool! First you walk down like 350 stairs and I felt exactly like I was in Gringotts. The only thing that could have made it better was if they had had carts to ride in, then I would actually have been in Gringotts. On our tourist route you only get to see 1% of the mines, which is just crazy. Huge caverns with wide open spaces, huge lakes, statues made out of salt, and a stunning cathedral carved out of the salt. Incredible. And of course, it wouldn’t be Poland without a couple statues of JP2. Once we were back in Krakow, we decided to make it a double ice cream day before, of course, kebabs and beer. Literally the best combination on the face of the planet. I got my stuff all sorted out, and I got my night train to Prague a little after 10:00pm! I’d never taken a night train before and I was a little nervous, but I shared a compartment with a nice Japanese guy so it turned out just fine even though I didn’t sleep much.

April 29:  So I rolled up to Prague sleep deprived and struggling, and proceeded to wander around for over an hour trying to find my hostel in my exhausted and by that point very sweaty state. #unamused Prague was beautiful though, I could have spent so much more time there! I wish I had had more than 3 days. Once I did finally get to my hostel, I dropped my bag, brushed my teeth and set off! I was meeting up with three of my flatmates in Prague, Sarah, John, and Kaia, so I was super excited to see them! I saw the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock Tower, and Charles Bridge with the beautiful gothic sculptures. Saw the John Lennon Wall, and then met Sarah and John! It was SO good to see them again!! We hit up the Museum of Communism, which was fun and quirky, but kind of sad though (that whole repression of individualism thing). I took a nap in my hostel bed, which I have to say was the most comfortable hostel bed I’ve ever slept in, and then we had a nice Czech dinner (with beer) and hung out chatting and seeing Kaia before I crashed.

April 30: Kaia and I went to Prague Castle, which is actually a huge complex of different buildings—I saw Old Palace, St. George’s Basilica, Golden Lane, and St. Vitus Cathedral. I lost Kaia around Golden Lane and was unable to find her again, so I saw the gardens and the cathedral before meeting Sarah and John in the Jewish Quarter. We saw several synagogues (one with the names of the 80,000 Jews murdered during the Holocaust written on the walls) and the cemetery. Most importantly, it was Sarah’s 21st birthday!!! We weren’t up for a crazy night, but we had a delicious dinner at this Thai place and celebrated with ice cream.

May 1: I had a quick trip to the post office to mail a package to my best friend Sigrid, and then we headed to the train station for our day trip to Kutna Hora. It was a really cute and pretty town, they had this gorgeous cathedral (St. Barbara’s Cathedral) which I didn’t know about, which was a lovely surprise! Stunning wall paintings. Then we walked through the town to the Ossuary, which was this tiny chapel building decorated with bones. It was SO awesome. Over 40,000 bones were used, there were huge bone pyramids and a bone chandelier! We got our train back to Prague where we stopped at McDonalds. For everyone going to Prague, PLEASE TAKE NOTE! Go to McDonalds and order a fried cheese sandwich! It’s a really common Czech food and they have it at McDonalds! It’s not on the menu, but it is AMAZING. I said bye to Sarah, John and Kaia, and then headed for the airport!

Okay, I legit have to be done with this post since I’m tired and I actually need to be reading for my essay. But obviously I’ve been procrastinating that and writing this instead! Hopefully I’ll finish the rest of my spring break blogs soon and finally catch up, I just have no idea when. I can’t believe how much there is to do in such little time! 

Wrocław with the best kebabs in the world on the left hand side
St. Mary's Basilica, Krakow
Oskar Schindler's office
Remains of the ghetto wall in Krakow
Wieliczka Salt Mines
Happy 21st Birthday Sarah!
Chandelier in the Ossuary in Kutna Hora

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