Travel Tips Part 10: Krakow, Poland.
You’re yet to realise this at the moment, but your trip to Krakow is going to turn into somewhat of a fuck up. Your overnight train from Prague leaves at 9.30 which gives you the day to explore more of this beautiful city. After dinner, you confidently walk up to the station and have a confusing conversation with the woman behind the international ticket desk – your Eurail pass isn’t valid for Poland so you have to buy a separate ticket, which turns out to be cheaper than you expected. You get on your train with utmost confusion as you can’t find your seat, because apparently you’d booked a sleeping cabin. You don’t panic until the ticket officer takes your Eurail pass away from you: you can’t understand what the problem is. After unsettling into the world’s most uncomfortable bed, you chat with the officer who tells you that you in fact don’t have a valid ticket for the train – the woman had only sold you a sleeping reservation. Of course.
You buy a valid ticket then grumpily try to go to sleep. You get chatting to the bloke in your sleeping cabin; turns out he’s a Russian figure skater – bit gay – and he’s very excited to meet an Australian and practise his English with you. It’s getting late so you turn off the lights and attempt to sleep on the flat rock of your bed. You sleep for a good 10 minutes when the train stops: you are now on the border of dodgy Eastern Europe. The speaker on the platform says something undistinguishable in Czech (or Polish) and you notice a couple of people getting on or off the train. Where in the fuck are you? And why has the train just completely stopped? At this, you’re unable to sleep: the train has stopped dead now for half an hour and you have no idea why or where you are. You take a walk around the train and notice everyone else is asleep, so there shouldn’t be any need to panic. After an hour you start to feel more and more uneasy, so you call up Greg in a mild panic waking him up at 7am his time. He assures you that it’s normal for trains to just randomly stop sometimes – but for 2 hours? Finally at 3am the train starts again, and you manage to fall asleep without getting robbed or raped or any other grim situation that was passing through your neurotic mind.
When you finally get to the station – after 3 hours sleep – the Krakow station is undergoing construction work, so you need Google maps just to figure out how to get out of there. Along the way, you meet a pair of Mexican girls who are in the same situation as you but without accommodation for the night. You eventually find your hostel and are told to sit down and relax by the lovely dude working there. You are also told that you’d booked a room for the night before accidently; you never showed up so they charged you anyway. Strike two, Poland. This doesn’t bother you that much seeing as they offer you breakfast and a place to leave your bags while they get your bed ready. After breakfast, you buy your day ticket to Auschwitz – the main reason for coming to Krakow in the first place.
On the bus to Auschwitz, the TV plays a highly depressing documentary on the liberation of Auschwitz, so you’re left feeling ill before you even get there – then again – what did you really expect? When you get to the camp you’re introduced to your guide for the day, a small, blonde woman who solemnly tells you story after story about the horrors that occurred in a history not so long ago. You’re taken to various rooms filled with human hair, shoes, toothbrushes and children’s clothes. It’s difficult to imagine that such horrors ever occurred – how could a nation be so blind so let over 9 million people be so easily thrown away? The heaviness of the day doesn’t hit you until you get to the second camp: Auschwitz 2. The camp is certainly confronting to say the least; you are at once overwhelmed by the enormity and structure of the death camps and the famous train tracks leading to the extermination base leaves you feeling sick. The tour takes you through to where the prisoners were held in starvation and isolation rooms, their sleeping quarters, and their bathrooms. You walk around the camp with a continuous lump in your throat, which threatens to break at every corner of this surreal hell. The holocaust is a vital part of western education, so all the stories being told aren’t new, but learning about the war and watching movies gives you an easy distance away from the reality of what happened: actually being there doesn’t. You are forced to confront the fact that such atrocities occurred: innocent people were treated as sub-humans, tortured and were eventually murdered, all under the plight of a persuasive madman.
When you get back into town you find yourself surprisingly hungry; so you and a fellow vegetarian head off in search for something decent to eat. You’re both completely useless with maps, so after getting lost only once you find an exceedingly cheap vegetarian restaurant. You order an organic smoothie, a soup, and a main dish of enchiladas and a hefty serving of salad – all costing you around $6. When you get back to your hostel you’re completely exhausted and you’re even ready for bed despite it being only 6pm. You chill out in the common room for a bit when the hostel staff come round with vodka shots. Despite the fact that you’re completely drained, and are in desperate need for some decent sleep, you have yourself a couple – it’d be rude not to.
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You stumble back into your room at 5am the next morning and wake up again at 8 with a blistering hangover. After nauseously picking at your breakfast and delicately sipping your tea for an hour, you have about 5 cigarettes then go into town and join a group for the free walking tour of Krakow. You don’t recall anything of what the guide is telling you, all you can think about is eating greasy food and sleeping forever. After a hearty meal of carbohydrates you do just that, and at 10pm you begin your 65 EUR journey back to Prague, on yet another overnight train.
You sleep for 10 hours straight.