2005-08-17: Tourist march

Today we were up early to enjoy a true Polish breakfast; bread, cheese, ham and tea (and a cake if you want). Gah! No cereal! But the ham was very nice so I loaded up on that. And I discovered the one thing the Polish have over Australians and English - water pressure. You barely turn the tap on and a torrent of water flows out. We then waited around for our bus trip to Auschwitz. The bus did turn up, which was good because we weren't fully sure of what their plans were, especially as they hadn't responded to my confirmation email. The 'bus' was a red people mover that didn't even have seat belts.

The trip to Auschwitz is about an hour. During this time we passed more Polish country side and small towns. There was a road side marked in one town that Edyta would have loved to have stopped at. The road seemed to be dug up from one end to the other, and all the road workers always seemed to be on smoko. We were looking at the buildings trying to guess which ones were old and which ones weren't finished, for some it was hard to tell the difference. The Polish people love their Virgin (the Virgin Mary, not just any old virgin). But to show their love they have man sized crosses at the entrance and exit (or exit and entrance if you come from the other way), they are always clean and decorated in fresh flowers.

Work sets us free

The terror of the fences

Auschwitz was a tourist mecca. The place was crowded with tour buses and cars. Our first sign of the place was a horde of yellow jacketed car park wardens moving cars around. We were joined with other people from our tour. First we saw a brief documentary using footage from the soviet propaganda films (circa 1946/47 ish). Then we were led into one of the most brutal places ever to exist on Earth. We started in the small camp that housed the men. I didn't think it looked all that big to house all the prisoners and I was right, there were two more camps. The first camp was a convenient one as the Polish army had already built it to house their troops. We saw piles of remains of possessions from the Jews as well as the rooms where Polish people were starved or tortured. There were 'standing cells', little cells only a metre by a metre that four people were made to stand in for 12 hours or more at a time. The room had no ventilation and most likely a person or two would die from the exhaustion. We did see the temporary gas chambers that were used until they became inefficient for the task of mass murder.

After the first camp we were taken to the second and larger camp, where the real scale of the death camp became apparent. The gas chambers are gone now, destroyed by the Nazis to hide what they were doing just before the Soviet liberation. The ruins still stand though. We were led through two of the prisons (rebuilt replicas now) to look at the squalid conditions the people were in. Edyta and I've been to Tasmania and seen what the convicts got and it was in most cases a lot better, after all a convict could earn a freedom, anyone sent here was sent here to die (and most did after 6 months of trying to survive in the conditions, except for the Jews who were just killed on arrival).

The fields causing dead

The tours were a little rushed, especially as we didn't get time to wander around the memorial. It was also crowded. Normally they get 600 000 visitors a year, but this year that number has already passed through. The sheer number of people in the buildings made it hot and stuffy, but the lack of respect a mass of tourists shows also made the place feel a bit more like a boring tourist gimmick than what it really was. The groups of Israeli school children moving through did seem to be genuinely affected. It was also a little disturbing to see the local police around, mostly because they look like SS officers in their uniform.

Having done the terrors of Nazi-ism we returned into Krakow to go shopping. On the way back we were nodding off and it was at that time the lack of seat belts came to try to smack us down. Edyta and I watched the other while sleeping to make sure things were okay. However we both dozed off togethor. I awoke to find Edyta sliding off my arm and forward towards the seat. I managed to catch her in time, but I don't think either of us slept again after that. We were dropped back at the square and immediately walked the whole length of the centre marked again. Having bought some Polish items we then walked around the square. The back alleys lead to much more interesting places than are fronting the square itself. During our walks I discovered what looks like a Games Workshop, only there were no signs announcing it as such (not from the outside anyway).

I also had the embarrasing moment of discovering that a toilet I was in had run out of toilet paper (after the fact). The toilet was a shared unisex toilet where the hand basin was always accessable in a small room that led to the toilet. So pants half mast I peeked out to see if the room was clear and grabbed a whole bunch of hand paper towels. The process didn't help by turning around to see that the toilets they use have a bottom not very far from the top and the flush pushes it all forwards and into a drain. Needless to say your own handy work is proudly laid out for display. I think I prefer the traditional water at the bottom a lot more.

Mmmm, lard on bread

Having loaded up on trinkets and then chocolates, and with feet aching from all the walking done since last week, we returned for a nice restful night at the hotel. Edyta had warned me to hide and lock everything in the hotel because some Polish employees might have sticky fingers. It turned out not to be a problem, because our Polish hosts decided to prove we can trust them by not even entering the room; the beds were still un-made and the old towels were lying around.

It is funny watching TV here. For English speaking shows they leave the original audio track but turn down the volume. They then use the one voice over go for all the characters speaking. And he just doesn't seem to emote! Plus they are years behind in Bold and the Beautiful (not that I'd recognize years behind, Edyta tells me these things).

A Games Workshop product store in Poland!

Main square in Krakow

Main market in the middle of the main square