The Western East

Krakow Travel Blog

 › entry 7 of 10 › view all entries
Another day another city!  If not exactly true, thats certainly how it feels. 

Before launching into a whole blog about Krakow, I though I'd to just a few things about different thoughts that have occured to me over the past few days.

First of all is, once again, the language issue.  When we went up to Warwel Castle the other day we met a Polish couple (on their honeymood) and were chatting away to them.  The lady was an English teacher and I felt so ignorant that she, like everyone else on the continent, is able to speak my home language and yet, I couldnt even say one word in her's.  Normally I would try to at least learn some basic terms but because of the velocity of travels, I've not been able to.  I made her teach me some words so I can now at least say please and thank you which makes me feel better and makes the locals chuckle when I go on in English then add please and thank you to the end!  My token Polish.  What it has done is reignite my flare for languages and plans for a language course in France next summer are already taking shape....but don't tell me Mum!

I mentioned this in my first blog but the more time I'm away the more true it becomes.  Travel changes you.  The new experiences and different learning really allows us to understand more - not just about the world but about ourselves.  However corny and cringeworthy that may sound (and I agree, it does!), it's true.  For me I feel that I've grown up a lot since being here.  Cooking my own meals (well, at least 'supervising' Sam), washing my own clothes (something I've never done before), making my own bed (yes, ok, not done that really before either!) and generally being completely self-reliant and responsible has certainly made me feel more prepared for September.  Some people critisise travellers who go off to 'find themselves.'  For me, I was pretty happy with the one I'd found but travelling gives you the time to think and learn about yourself - the aspirations you have, the hopes, the fears for life.  This is crucial now as I'm at a pivotal point in life.  All the opportunities are laid out, all I've got to do in chose which ones to take!  Easier said.

So, Krakow.  What a beautiful place.  Our hostel is right on the main square, which when all lit up at night looks amazing.  We have a great view from our bedroom window and I can just sit there for ages just looking over at the whole square.  Pretty cool to be honest.  The hostel is clean and tidy and the staff are really friendly and relaxed.  It all seems a little more relaxed and laid back here which is a welcomed change.  We decided to take the day train instead of the night train here as originally planned.  The main reason was that when we took the overnight train to Prague we were so tired we just crashed out all day and then lost a day of exploring.  With only 2 days in Krakow we couldnt afford for that happen.  Also, we had heard a lot of rumours (including in the Lonely Planet guide) of a number of robberies including people being gassed before.  I've been to a fair few places where I've felt uneasy and with different threats and alerts so this wouldn't have really stopped me, but it made more sense to go in the day anyway.  While on the subject of security its funny really, no fellow backpacker would ever want to steal your stuff as they'd then have to carry it!  And with 70 litre bags on our bag no one wants added weight!

We did all the usual tourist sights such as Warwel Castle, the Cathedral and the Jewish Town but this time we did so without a tour guide.  As good as the tours we have done have been, we've kind of gone into information overload!  They are a great way to orientate yourself with the city and to see the city in a nutshell.  But after a while you feel a bit like sheep being hearded from one photo opportunity to another and you stop paying attention.  So we decided to explore on our own! With a current edition of Lonely Planet, a good map, and someone who can read a map (!) you can have a great city adventure!  You get to feel the city a lot more and its much more personal.  You can really get under the skin of the city and feel this vibe going on.  Don't think we'll be doing so much of the wandering around once we hit Russia - but for now I think we're fine!

The street performers seem to come out from the woodwork as dusk setlles on the main square.  They are literally everywhere.  There seems to be a complete artistic freedom - something that you find in London.  We sat and watched 5 guys about my age who just clapped a rhythm and started break dancing.  They weren't trying to earn a living (although they did come collecting!) they were just happy to have an audience and to do what they love doing.  There seems to be a flexibility and diversity here that just isnt found in London.  Maybe that is something to do with the price of alcohol here!  You know a place is good when a pint of beer is cheaper than coke and water!

The Westernisation again is something that I just can't get my head around.  My original perception of Eastern Europe has been completely misguided.  It is full of international chains and capitalism has been not just embraced but also clung onto for dear life.  The cold, dark 'Eastern bloc' is not so different - if at all different - from the traditional west.  It is has done well to shake off those old coldwebs and it shining.  It would be impossible to decide where West Europe ends and East europe begins.  I will let you consider whether or not rapid multiculturalism and huge capitalist expansion is all a good thing.

Krakow is just 40 miles from Oswiecim, better known by its German name.  Auschwitz.  There are few words that can describe such a place but horrific seems one of a few suitable choices.  To say that it was a 'good day' would be wrong, but it was a valuable experience that everyone should have.  The gravity and scale of torture, humiliation and destruction is overwhelming and in places was hard to stomach.  The sophisification and size of the camp was sickening made worse by the organisation and 'well-thought out' planning that  had gone into the annihilation of an entire race.  What made me so angry was people taking photos and videos.  Just why? What person wants pictures, videos, reminders of a place where 2 million people were systemmatically murdered?  Another worrying part of it was that the camp originated as a camp for political prisoners.  Two words: Guantanimo bay?  There is ultimately no comparison, but this camp was not always a death factory for Jews.  One phrase I read sticks firmly in my head,

'Those who do not remember the past, are doomed to repeat it again.'

Scary huh.

Onto Warsaw next and then back to Berlin for our flight to Russia.  Where has the time gone!  Hope all is well at home.

Alex x

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photo by: EmyG