To Poland

It’s not the most popular tourist destination in Central Europe, but since yc recommended it after her one-month Europe trip, I decided to visit Poland, especially the Nazi concentration camp where 1.5 million Jews or more were exterminated. It is most probably my last year in the UK, so I’m not letting any opportunities to travel slip away.

I guess not many Asians (or Malaysians) go to Poland, especially in such a big group – there were 12 of us. We were held back at the immigration for around half an hour. The other queues were long gone and it was just us hovering around after the officers asked us questions. They did not seem very convinced and took a long time before finally proceeding with typing in the apartment address for each of us and stamping our passports. Pity the Caucasian guy waiting forever in the same bus as us to Krakow. He was nice enough to give a smile and say it’s alright though pheew.

A church in the Old Market Square.

Dinner place for the night near Wawel Castle.

We arrived at Krakow in the evening, settling down in our apartments and realizing there is no hot water. But we figured our tummies were more important and set out for dinner. The Michelin-recommended restaurants which we were aiming for around the Market Square were all fully-booked so we ended up in a restaurant further away called Pod Wavelem. Good choice it was – it has the biggest portion of food ever.

Giant sauerkraut burgers?

Preparing for the feast. Check out Marcus’ expression.

Fooooood at last.

Thank goodness the boiler was working when we returned that night. (:

The next day was fully-scheduled with the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Both were a distance away from Krakow city centre so long bus rides were inevitable. The concentration camps, unlike usual tourist attractions, exude a solemn aura. Jews from as far as Oslo, Paris and Crete were brought to the concentration camps, mainly Birkenau. Upon reaching, doctors personally inspect each of them and decide if he/she is fit enough to work for them like a slave. If not, they are sent to the gas chamber to be killed. Anyone who show signs of reluctance or simply anything that displeases the sadist camp officers will be shot to death instantly.

Inside the Auschwitz concentration camp witih 20 barracks.

Crumpled glasses, shattered vision and dreams. Personal belongings of the victims are sickeningly ‘robbed’ and taken economical advantage of. Even hair was collected and woven into socks.

Corridor of gloom and despair in the Block 11 – ‘Block of Death’.

Birkenau camp is just a 5 mins bus ride away from Auschwitz but it is very much bigger. Most of the Jews were deported here, some already dead during the long journey in a cramped train. Only an extremely small number of them succeeded in escaping the camp over the years.

Fenced up like a prison but living conditions are far worse.

The salt mines, around 10km away from Krakow city centre, was built underground in the 13th century underneath the town of Wieliczka and has attracted famous people including Chopin, Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton to name a few. Tourists like us get to walk along 3.5km of the passages but the whole passage system reaches over 300km in length. Unfortunately, a camera pass of 10 zloties is needed to take photos in the main tourist route which I didn’t get. :( St. Kinga’s Chapel was definitely the highlight of the tour towards the end. It is a magnificent masterpiece boasting statues and pictures like ‘The Last Supper’ in 3D, so finely carved from rock salt. Even the chandeliers above are not excluded.

We had made a 9pm dinner reservation at Wesele the day before so we get our table straightaway when we arrived. The servings were significantly smaller than the previous night’s, unsurprisingly since it has to do with Michelin. X) Was quite silly how I forgot the main-course-would-not-come-until-you-finish-your-appetizer system and only got my pork chop at almost 11pm.

Nom nom nom.

Last day was our Zakopane day trip up the Tatra Mountains which runs along the border between Poland and Slovakia. The bus ride took 2 hours plus but the views were rewarding as you could see the mountains looming afar in the south. However, we quickly became a bunch of lost sheep in the town where perhaps 5% of the people speak English. There was no tourist office at the bus station and strangers shook their heads and apologetically mumbled Polish to me when I asked for direction guidance. In the end, a few of us conversed with a bookshop owner in 50% basic English, 50% body language. She replied in Polish but with plenty of actions as well so we could at least understand where to go. Bless her for her kindness and patience! (By the way, we found out the tourist office was closed. -__-)

Turkey breast. The sauce and purple cabbage were yummy!

We had late lunch at the first restaurant we came across, feeling a bit desperate; Drank the hot Polish soup again cause it’s so good, ordered a bit too much food to share but we happily gobbled everything down somehow, even most of the sauerkraut and pickled cabbage. After lunch, the guys just had to catch the ending of the match between MU and Liverpool at a bar. The girls (plus Justyn) trotted off to the streets for a stroll.

Noticed there are a lot of horse carriages in Poland.

Slightly before 5, we finally made our way to the funicular train up the mountain – just when the toboggan run closes. *sad face* The mountain terrain views from the grassy slope were picturesque though, so much that by the time we hurried to the chair lift station 2km away, it has just closed as well. *double sad face* Thus we leisurely walked back along the ridge back to the funicular station, taking in sceneries from both sides and eating a conical bread-like snack coated with sugar.

I really like this photo! :) :) Why you all so cute.

Typical roof of Polish houses.

Beautiful sunlight on Papal Trail.

Macro working well. (: 

It was rather chilly when we reached Krakow at night and everyone was a little weary from the travelling. The result? Mc Donald’s and KFC hot wings for a merry late dinner back in the apartment. Oh yuums. We had too much pork and sauerkraut for the past two days anyway.

A park in Zakopane at night time with a full moon.

The fourth day was nothing but an early bus trip to airport and a flight back to Manchester. I have to say that God is good really, for keeping us safe without any mishaps and also not missing any flights or buses since we aren’t the most punctual people – almost missed the bus back to Krakow from Zakopane.

If you’re a big eater or you’re interested in WWII history and want to learn more about the terror millions of people went through during the Holocaust, then Poland would be an ideal destination. There is, of course, more to that in Poland. We had limited time so there are places we left out. If possible, I had love to explore more of Krakow old town and also the Kazimierz district which used to be the Jewish ghettos, visit Schindler’s Factory, go on a walk in the Koscieliska Valley, trek around the Morskie Oko lake…and try the local Polish apple pie! But still, it was a great trip to soak in relaxation before uni gears up in action. Thanks for the company friends! :D