The next day we headed out after waking up fairly late to book our planned trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After finding the hotel staff unwilling to do it for us (they only go through a certain, more expensive company) we headed into the Old Town and booked it through a tourist information centre, where the helpful girl also suggested good Polish places to eat traditional food (the hotel staff had also been less than helpful with this question too). After having a beer and some lunch in Market Square, we headed to a Square north of the city gate and awaited our bus.
After waiting in the cold and rain (which was even worse outside of the Old Town walls as the area was more open) our coach arrived and we headed off, in the poring rain to the concentration camps.
An hour and 10 minutes later we arrived, after watching a somewhat propaganda-ish Soviet film on the liberation of Auschwitz. We got our headgear and guide and went into a wet, muddy and cold Auschwitz (althrough horrid at the time, we would later both agree it added to the realism. It's easier to believe what happened there on a day like this than if it was bright, hot and sunny). There's not much of the outside that pictures won't tell, but it was inside the buildings, converted into exibitions, that you got more of a idea of the scale of what happened here. Rooms full to the celling of human hair, bags and suitcases, glasses, shoes, childrens toys, etc etc and one corridor with portraits of prisoners and the time they entered the camp followed by the time they died.
Most of them under 3 months, some as low as 2 weeks. These were the forced labours, mostly Soviet POWs, as the weak Jews (ie: pregant women, old people, young children, etc) were immediatly gased and as such the Nazi authorites didn't bother to register them, which makes it more difficult to come to an exact figure of how many died in the Holocaust.
Once we'd finished this part of the tour, which ended on seeing the gas cambers and the noose used to hang the camp's commander after he was captured (the irony being that he'd used it for public hangings of people who tried to escape or cause problems) we headed off to Birkenau, about 3km away. It was there we saw the famous gate and railway line as seen in Schindler's List which the Nazi's sarcastically nicknamed "The Gate to Heaven" and several living conditions the prisoners had to endure (and in most cases couldn't).
However it was the size of it that struck me the most. So unbelieveably vast. You couldn't see from one end to the other (okay, it was bad weather and vision was poor but I doubt it'd be any easier on a clear day). Auschwitz is said to have exterminated around 100'000 people. Birkenau has a rate of about 25x that. We didn't spend long, maybe half an hour as most of the exibition was at Auschwitz and Birkenau was too vast to really go round looking at everything so we headed home, after the tourguide nearly left 6 Spanish tourist behind, his reasoning being "I said we we're leaving in 10 minutes!" Nice.
We returned to the hotel, freshened up and went out to one of the recommened places to eat. From the outside it didn't look like much, but inside it was decked out much like a manor house, with one of the waitresses playing the piano.
Finishing my wild boar and the rest of dinner about 2 hours later, we headed out to the bars and drunk an awul lot, especially Polish vodka, which pretty much leads me to the end of this sections, as I don't really remember much after about 11pm in the Irish bar and some guy from Yorkshire insisting that me and my friend were "definatly Polish. You've got that cold look" and then not knwoing what to do once they found out we are from Somerset. Well, bar making the obviously clever you-drink-cider joke that being from Somerset we've never heard before ever. Right.