Poland surprised us. It had never topped the “must-see” country list or been a place that I yelped in excitement over. But when we laid out our route for our three-week backpacking adventure over Eastern Europe, we knew we couldn’t let Poland fall by the wayside. It would provide the perfect launching point for the trip.
We started in Warsaw, strolling through the Old Town along the Royal Route and through the Praga District, before heading to the remnants of the Jewish Ghetto Wall. Although the bright yellows and oranges of multistory homes and buildings bring a sense of light and sunshine to the city, the underlying sense of upheaval and despair from years past still pervades the walls.
After a few days in Warsaw, we took a train to Krakow. On one side of the river, classic European cathedrals and architecture line the narrow cobbled streets, creating an ambience of peacefulness and ease. Across the river, where the Jewish Ghetto was once located, buildings are clearly newer and more basic, as Soviet styled architecture prevails. Bits of history dot this side of town, with the famous chair sculpture symbolizing the many people who were seen carrying their belongings, including chairs, to their new designated homes in the ghetto. The sculpture is located in the square overlooking the home of what was once the Eagle Pharmacy, where false documents were made to help people escape. We also toured Schindler’s Factory, where I added another book to my collection: the original Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally.
During one of our days in Krakow, we visited the grounds of Auschwitz and Birkenau, the concentration camps that brewed more horror than humanity should ever see. With the Nazi invasion and ultimate extermination, only 8,000 of Krakow’s previous 60,000 Jews survived, many of whom died in those camps. My thoughts on the genocide and massive exterminations worldwide will be in a different post, as the amount of reflection and absolute disgust at humanity’s evilness doesn’t belong in this excerpt.
The whole point of this rant is that Poland is a beautiful country, with delightful people, historical significance, and tasty street food. I always recommend it to friends heading to Eastern Europe, as it is integral to understanding the full spectrum of history in Europe, especially that of the last century.