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Hayley Travels

Eastern Europe

POLAND | Tuesday, 13 September 2016 | Views [395]

Howdy y'all! Well, it's been awhile since I last posted. Yikes! As my trip comes to a close soon I am changing cities more frequently and giving myself less time to write, so, sorry about that! I landed in Dublin last night and that marks the beginning of the end of my time in Europe. Only sixteen days until I fly back to the States! Time has flown and that makes this post my second to last blog. Sadness! Anyway, here's what I've been up to since Barcelona!


WARSAW

All honesty, you could skip Warsaw and be a-okay-coolio beans. I only went to Warsaw because when I was looking for flights from Barcelona to either Kraków or Budapest I found that the cheapest flights would take me through Warsaw and that it would just be cheaper to fly directly to Warsaw and stay a couple of days there rather than fly to either Kraków or Budapest.

Because so much of it was destroyed during the Second World War, a lot of the history pre-WWII was also destroyed. I mostly stayed right by my hostel since I was close to a couple of main streets and shopping districts. The buildings are quite beautiful and the food is very cheap. 1 USD = (about) 4 zloty, just to keep in mind. I did see this street exhibition about the Warsaw Uprising, which was quite fascinating. Besides that I did not do much. It did not help matters that it poured one of the days I was there.


KRAKÓW

My time in Kraków was the polar opposite of my time in Warsaw. I freaking love Kraków, so much so that I extended my stay there by two nights. I stayed right in the city center by the main market in town (no literally, the street address to my hostel was Main Market Square). The market was ah-may-zing. I bought so many souvenirs and gifts there because so much of the art, jewelry, and clothes was hand made and crazy cheap. Plus there were food stands with stupid cheap food. I got a sausage and plate of seasoned potatoes for about $5 and it was insanely filling. I ate at the market for lunch and dinner every day.

I also explored the different areas around my hostel because the architecture is gorgeous and there are really cheap shops (I went into a boutique and bought a dress for a play I'm going to in London that cost 12€). There were several parks nearby where I would stop and people watch or read.

The main thing I did while in Kraków was go on a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The largest concentration camp complex of the Holocaust is located about an hour and a half away from Kraków and while it is free to get in, I highly recommend spending the money on a tour. Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau was one of the most incredible and horrible things I've ever done. I've studied the Holocaust and read first hand accounts of this camp and none of that prepared me for actually visiting. I left feeling a little bit like throwing up and a lot like crying.

The tour started in Auschwitz I which is fairly well preserved. It did not look anything like I expected a concentration camp to look like. There were many decent size brick buildings with courtyards and well kept lawns. If it weren't for the occasional gallows and barbed wire fences, you wouldn't guess it was part of the concentration complex that resulted in the deaths of the most people during the Holocaust. Many of the buildings have exhibits inside that you can view. You can see pictures of many of the people who arrived and see how long they survived. You can see all of the pots and pans that the Nazis confiscated from those deported there. The most jarring display, to me, was the hair. The Nazis would cut off long hair, especially from women, and sometimes use it to make clothes/textiles but there is a huge room in one of the buildings that contains several tons of hair that actually belonged to people who were in Auschwitz I (no recreations or replicas here). It was truly horrifying. Also in Auschwitz I you can walk through an old gas chamber and crematorium. It was sickening.

If I thought Auschwitz I was nauseating, it had nothing on Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Auschwitz I was more of a work camp while Auschwitz II-Birkenau was almost purely a death camp. There were four crematoria on the grounds of this part of the complex. When the Nazis found out the Soviets were closing in on the camp and would be liberating it soon, they destroyed the crematoria, leaving Auschwitz II-Birkenau to look much more like you'd expect a concentration camp to look like: squat buildings, high fences, sprawling fields, shielded from the outside world by trees. You could see the remains of one of the crematoria and walk through one of the barracks that people slept in. You could also see the railroad tracks that went through the camp, walk along the path those deported there would have to walk, and view the cattle car the people would be transported in. It was disgusting to say the least.

More than one million of the eleven million killed in the Holocaust were murdered in the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex. It's disturbing, sobering, and absolutely awful. No amount of reading, pictures, or studying will prepare you for it. But if you visit Kraków (and you absolutely should), do not miss visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau.


BUDAPEST

Budapest is a beautiful city. I didn't actually do much while I was there but there was plenty of options. I stayed in a hostel not far from the Opera house which is absolutely gorgeous. I spent the majority of my time just wandering around the neighborhoods near my hostel. That and eating yummy, cheap food. I did go walk near Castle Hill one day but did not walk through the actual district. I wish I would have done a little more but at the time I had been traveling for three months and had not really given myself time to relax and rejuvenate, which I badly needed.

Crazy story time: my bus left Budapest before seven in the morning. I had to get up before five am because I had to take two metros to get to the bus station. The bus station I was going to is connected to a metro station, but there's this weird area of no man's land in between the two. Because it was only 5:45 am, the metro had only been running for about an hour, there were no security guards like there normally are, and there were several homeless people sleeping along the edges. As I'm passing this area, two of the homeless guys started fighting. Then one of them, who was shirtless for some reason, turned back and all I could think was "he's going to grab a knife." Sure enough, he turns back around with a switchblade in his hand. At this point I hurry part them so as not to get caught in the middle of the fight. I get to the bus station still unable to believe I really just saw that. I knew my family would be awake because it was not quite eleven at night in Lincoln so I texted the group message I have with my parents and sister to tell them I was at the bus station and also what I had just witnessed. Well, apparently the wifi cut out before they responded. I thought I had made it clear that I was safe, but apparently that was not the case. Seven (yes SEVEN) hours later when I had wifi again, I had worried messages from my parental units. Sorry Mom and Dad! Needless to say, I will never be able to think of Budapest without thinking of this incident.

 

BRATISLAVA

The reason I was taking such an early bus was because of Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia). I had heard from many people that I didn't need to spend much time in Bratislava, so I decided to take the early us, get there in the morning, and then leave the next day. So I got to Bratislava around 9:30 in the morning, dropped my bags off at the hostel's luggage room, and went exploring. I spent some time wandering around city center and Old Town as well as reading in a park. I basically saw anything I wanted to see and left the next day at noon.

 

VIENNA

Vienna is a very beautiful city, but is more expensive than many of the nearby major cities, so I stuck with my game plan of wandering around the areas near my hostel to save money. I stayed by one of the main train stations and near that is one of the city's main shopping districts so I just walked around there for the two days I was in Vienna. I did try to find Schönbrunn Palace because it was like a mile from where I was staying but I walked for awhile and never found it so I turned back.


PRAGUE

Prague is amazing! It's gorgeous and so cheap! My hostel was a little ways from city center but about a ten or so minute walk to the river. I spent quite a bit of time walking along the river and near my hostel. I also met some really amazing people and we spent one day walking to Prague Castle and into Old Town. We walked 22,000 steps that day! Old Town is so cool and it houses the astronomical clock. My hostel had a small bar in the basement with cheap drinks and that led to several nights spent meeting people, playing cards, or just talking over a beer or cider. Overall I had a wonderful, fun filled time.


MUNICH

I really enjoyed Munich. I stayed about fifteen minutes from Marienplatz, the main area in town. There are tons of shops, restaurants, cafes, and markets in the area and I had so much fun exploring the whole district. The food in Munich was fantastic. My favorite? Beer-battered apples with cinnamon and sugar. I may or may not have had them three times. I also had quite possibly the most German meal imaginable: two different types of sausage, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes with onions, fried bacon, brown bread, and mustard. The only thing that could have made it more German would have been beer, but I had that for lunch and while it is extremely common to have beer with lunch in Europe, especially Germany, it still seemed a little too early in the day for that.


Now it's down to the final four cities of my trip: Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London. So far my time in Europe has been absolutely incredible and I have high hopes for the last bit of my trip!

 

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