Travel from Warsaw, to Częstochowa, to Auschwitz, to Birkenau & arrival in Kraków
Monday, August 23, 2010 - Monday morning started very early...too early for my tastes but it's the price to pay to see all these great things. I had packed everything the night before and just left the things out I needed in order to get ready in the morning. Our bags were outside our door by 6:15am and we boarded the bus at 7:30am. It was a beautiful and sunny day...I would guess it was in the mid 80s by noon. It took a little while to get out of the city and traffic of Warsaw but most of the traffic was definately coming into the city. We rode for 2 hours and made a potty break. Everything I've seen in Poland so far as terrain as been concerned has been completely flat...no mountains and barely any hills even. That was the entire drive today too...all flat...but I saw my first stork...I thought they were mythical and just existed to deliver the babies to our families! These storks live in Africa in the winter and migrate to Poland in the summer (not sure of what other European countries they may go to as well). I slept half of the trip in the morning which was good because we did alot of walking the rest of the day.
We arrived in Częstochowa about 10:30 or 11am. We were heading up to the Jasna Góra Monastery which is where the famous "Black Madonna" has it's shrine. The Polish name is Matka Boska Częstochowska which is fun to say but is quite a mouthful for foreigners. So during the war the Nazis gave it a nickname of the Black Madonna which is how it became known around the world to Roman Catholics. We met Halina's favorite guide, Fr. Simone (i think that was the spelling), and he was quick, to the point and funny! He cracked jokes the entire tour. The painting of the Black Madonna is on an altar and there was a mass being said at the time of our tour. We were taken down the aisle on the outside and around and kept walking. If it weren't for the priest leading us I would have felt absolutely disrespectful. But it didn't stop me from trying to take pictures of course...when am I ever going to see this again? The pictures aren't great since it was so dark in there and I barely paused to take the picture so I was probably shakey. The monastery was beautiful and I really enjoyed seeing it. There were ALOT of people there visiting and hoping to see the painting. And it was a Monday...I can't imagine what it is like there on weekends. After we exited I got a Coke on the way back to the bus...praise God. There was a boxed lunch waiting for us on the bus which was large and a bottle of water (no gas thankfully) and orange juice. I started eating the sandwich which was in awesome bread and half way through I told my Mom I'm pretty sure I'm eating mushrooms. It was a patte like spread in the sandwich and you can't tell the exact ingrediants but I was pretty sure...and sure enough Halina announced they were mushroom sandwiches. I said to my Mom that she should mark this day down in history because it will never happen again. I was so hungry I ate a mushroom sandwich.
I napped for another hour after lunch or maybe more because by the time I woke up we were very close to Auschwitz. There is no fee to enter Auschwitz because the site is run and maintained by the Polish government and they do not want to profit from people coming to visit the site. People can get guides and also headsets which Grand Circle did both. Since Auschwitz does not allow very large groups we were split up into 2 groups and each of us had 1 guide or another to follow. We also had our headsets on so the tour guide didn't have to shout and disrupt all the other visitors...and there were alot. After we started the tour and we walked around the camp it is still surreal to me what occurred at this place and the many others like it in Europe. Peoples heads were shaved because the Nazis were selling the hair for textiles. They had a display of the massive amounts of hair they had warehoused that hadn't been sold before the camp was liberated. There was a pile of eye glass frames the Nazis had taken...thousands and thousands...the suitcases which had the family name on them...the displays of shoes...of brushes and combs. It was overwhelming and very emotional. I almost feel like I want to forget what I saw because it is so haunting and upsetting but on the otherhand I know how important it was to see this and people must never forget. Two stories I heard that weren't documented in my pictures...our guide told us about an older German man who came to visit Auschwitz with a group. He knew his Dad had been a soldier in the German army but was told he fought on the front lines. This man recognized his father in a picture they have on display and the picture showed his father was an SS officer and was one of the men who was helping decide who was healthy enough to work and who wasn't and went straight to their death. The man came back a month after that initial visit and brough more photos of his father...and DNA and the museum was able to verify the man in the photograph and the SS officer was really his father. The man was devastated we were told. The second story was of a letter they found or were given by a family member of Rudolph Hess. Hess's wife and children were living 1 building outside the barbed wire fences and very close to the crematory. This letter was written by Hess's wife to another family member...she was describing as where they were living as "paradise". I can't even think more about this comment and how disturbing it is. This was a long tour lasting over 2 hours and at this point we weren't finished. The bus took us down the street to Birkenau and our guides met us there and finished up the last 30 minutes of the tour at this site. I was exhausted both mentally and physically...Mom stayed on the bus for the Birkenau portion of the tour...there was alot of walking at Auschwitz I and no sitting....and it got rather warm in most of the buildings we were in with no air moving.
I took a little nap as we proceeded to head to the city of Krakow. We arrived a little after 6pm I believe. Dinner and welcome drinks were being served in the hotel at 7:15. Good dinner and company and then we were treated to a traditional Polish folk group. They consisted of a bass player, accordian, clarinet, 2 male dancers, 2 female dancers and 1 old gentlemen who sang. We couldn't understand the words but Mom guessed a little and said the songs were funny. They were fun to watch and then they pulled people from their seats and went up to dance with them. We all had a great time! And before the group sang their final song, Halina asked the group to sing Happy Birthday to me. OMG so the folk group and everyone in our group sang Happy Birthday to me and then the folk group sang what the Polish people sing on their birthdays!!! Oh MY GOODNESS! Then to finish off the night, Helina took whoever was interested in a walk over to the Market square which isn't far at all from our hotel. Krakow is a beautiful town and the buildings are gorgeous! I can't wait for the daytime to photograph everything! Tomorrow is my actual birthday and it's already been a birthday I'll never forget!
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