Thursday, May 12, 2011

Krakow, Poland & Berlin, Germany (Part 3 of 3)

Krakow, Poland

By the time we arrived in Krakow, Poland (on yet another night train) we were pretty tired. It was actually quite cold. That morning at 7:30am, it was (1 ºC = 34 ºF). We considered buying some gloves, but luckily the rest of the trip in Krakow, the temperature stayed above freezing. Very sunny and nice, but windy and cold. We ended up staying in a private room hostel. Private room, but public shower and toilets...hmmm not the biggest fan, but it was only two nights so it wasn't too bad. We got to "party" with a group of Swedish college art students, so my awesome idea was to draw pictures of each other.  My favorite was the drawing where I ended up looking like Cartman from "South Park".

On a much more serious note, we went to visit the WWII concentration camp Auschwitz, which is a little over an hour bus ride from Krakow, Poland. I didn't know what to expect, but it is pretty much incomprehensible seeing these things in real life.

It's one thing to watch a video, or old film footage, or read a book, but when you walk into a room and see 40,000 pairs of shoes (yes 80,000 shoes) or two tons of human hair that was cut off of women, your mind just doesn't work correctly to take it in. This isn't a recreation, these are the real buildings, barracks, fences, railroad tracks, gas chambers and crematoriums from the NAZI's in WWII.

The second larger part of the Auschwitz camp in Berkenau was destroyed quite a bit by the NAZI's to cover it up at the end of the war, but almost all of Auschwitz is still completely in tact. I think the impact is something that hits you much later after you leave. It is one thing to read stories, hear an interview or watch a documentary film, but after you actually walk inside a gas chamber where 1000's of people would die each day, it changes your perspective forever. It is not an easy place to visit, I haven't heard of one person visiting, that regretted going and wasn't moved my the experience.

Berlin, Germany

We took our final night train from Krakow to Berlin. A word about trains (both night and day travel) they suck. We both had to literally jump off the moving train in Prague (because no one told us to get off, so I opened the door and we both had to jump off or miss the stop). We almost had to share a night cabin room with three very sweaty, smelly guys in Budapest, luckily Charlene talked to the train steward and we got a private room (imagine a sauna...that's what it was like with those guys, horrific). Then in one trip we had a Canadian guy who snored so loud that I couldn't block it out even with my ear plugs, tinnitus and train noise....HORRIBLE. I guess one good thing is you can save a night in a hotel, but really sleeping well on a moving train that literally starts and stops every 30 minutes (much like a bus) is almost impossible. Plus it is almost cheaper now to just fly.

Oh yes, Berlin. I had been to Berlin ten years ago, and back then it reminded me of a Communist New York. Now it appears they are building up everywhere and there is quite a big art scene. We took a few tours of "East" and "West" Berlin, and it was fun, but really there's not too much to do. It is so big and spread out (much like Los Angeles) that it isn't very convenient to just "hop around" even when you use the subway.

We did the typical Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie sightseeing. Here's my "artistic" shot through a hole in the Berlin wall, with Charlene in West Berlin and me in East Berlin:

After almost three weeks of travel and not shaving, we took a train to the Berlin Airport and flew back to Paris...the noisy, dirty streets of Paris never felt or smelled so good!

I'd highly, highly recommend to anyone to check out Eastern Europe. Very easy convenient travel, amazing food and drinks at very cheap prices, a lot of things to see and just an overall great time.

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