Friday, October 23, 2015
Why is it that time flies by when you wish it would slow down and crawls by slowly when you wish it would hurry up? I can't believe my time abroad has already come to an end. Thanks to Vera, Jarek, and Gosia for such a wonderful time!! I miss you all already!!! Next Camino reunion: St. Louis 2016 ; ) Here is the last of the travel selfies -- right before the security check at the airport:
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Another lazy morning, sleeping in and enjoying a breakfast of salad and tea. I will miss sleeping in when I return home!
Today we only had one item on the agenda: we were going to go to Auschwitz to take a tour of the concentration camp and museum. I wasn't sure that I really wanted this on my agenda -- I can barely make it through a book about the holocaust without crying; I wasn't convinced I really wanted to stand where hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children were tortured, starved, and died, especially on a trip meant to be happy. But as Vera pointed out: when will be the next opportunity to be in Poland and see the museum? So we went.
A few things from today:
1. I didn't take any pictures, and I was sickened by those who did. Why anyone would want to remember the sadness they saw today is beyond me. It seemed irreverent and demeaning and dishonoring to the souls that were lost there. To each their own I suppose, but you won't see any pictures from me.
2. I didn't know that they used the hair from the victims to make fabric. In one room we entered, there was a pile of hair about six feet high, five feet deep, and at least twenty feet long as well as a sample of the fabric. I'm not sure why this was so horrifying (everything was horrifying) -- maybe because it was new information.
3. I cannot decide which was the worst thing I saw today: the room dedicated to the children, their tiny infant clothing on display and their precious, gaunt faces in photos on the walls; the underground gas chamber / crematorium with scratch marks lining the walls; or the urn within one of the barracks containing the ashes of those who perished there as a "symbol" of those who lost their lives -- for the love of God, they were condemned to that awful place while alive; at least let their ashes rest in peace somewhere other than a museum commemorating their execution.
4. In a sickening twist, of those that survived the camps and were liberated, a high percentage died after eating their first meal, for after months of starvation their bodies could not handle the large amount of food they ingested.
5. I don't regret going. As the tour guide said at the end: we learn about history so we don't make the same mistakes again.
The experience was sobering and somber; I don't think I will ever enter Auschwitz again. And I will spend a great deal of time in the future praying for the souls lost there and the people currently experiencing genosides, war, hunger, and fear in their own homes.
After we finished with our tour (in Polish! There were no English tours left today, so Jarek and Gosia translated as we went) we headed back to Jarek's apartment where we ate more home cooked krokiety and beet root soup. Delicious! We visited for a while and watched Friends (Vera has only seen a few episodes, so we are introducing her to the series) and then it was time for Gosia to leave. She has to work tomorrow, so she needed to go back to her apartment. Saying good bye is always so sad, especially when you are separated by an ocean. I told her the next Camino reunion is in St. Louis : )
Yesterday while we were in Market Square, Vera bought a stuffed bunny, and I told her it looked like the Velveteen Rabbit. She had never heard the story!! So tonight before bed, I read her the Velveteen Rabbit. We DID take a picture of that!!!
And now, it is time to sleep. I can't believe how quickly our time in Poland went!!! Also: I don't want you to think that this somber day has taken away from our reunion and adventures -- this really had been a wonderful trip with wonderful friends.
Good night. Buen Camino. ❤️
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Today was another day of adventures in Poland!! (No run ins with law enforcement today ....) We started our day late, sleeping in until well rested. Gosia stayed at Jarek's last night, so when we all woke up, Gosia helped us raid the fridge for breakfast: salad and pie! We also found the tea -- Vera and I searched for tea yesterday morning but came up empty handed; turns out in Poland they keep tea in plastic bags, not in boxes. After we ate breakfast and got ready, we headed out via tram to the city center to explore the Wawel Castle.
I've taken lots of pictures of the outside of the castle, but today we finally got to go inside. (Gosia came with Vera and into the castle, but she has already been inside, so while we bought tickets and explored, she went in search of something warm to drink; we made plans to meet up after.) Everything was so beautiful! We bought tickets to enter the castle (or so we thought) but it turned out we bought tickets to enter the church within the castle grounds -- Wawel Cathedral. Not to worry though; the cathedral was well worth the time and exploration. No pictures were allowed within the cathedral, but I think that made the space even better -- more reverent and holy. Even though the space was filled with tourists, everyone was absorbing the beauty and taking it in rather than taking pictures. It was refreshing. (Although I will admit that I am a little sad that I will not have the pictures to remember the beauty; it all lives in my memories now.)
When you entered the church, the first thing you noticed was the huge alter containing the intricately detailed sarcophagus of St. Stanislaus. Fresh flowers adorned the ground around the relics, and the giant pillars of the alter reached up to the forever high ceilings (which, by the way, were absolutely amazing; if you read this blog enough you know my obsession with ceilings.) behind this alter was the main alter. We then proceeded to the sacristy which lead to the side chapels as well as the tombs of the royal family members. I am always in awe at the beauty of the side chapels -- so much detail and emotion in such a small space. It saddens me that not each space gets used for its original purpose of prayer but rather is overrun with people not offering any worship at all; but still to stand in awe at the majesty of the depictions is perhaps a form of prayer, so I suppose this is better than if the spaces had no people in them at all. One side chapel was set up just for prayer and adoration, the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament displayed in intricately carved gold sitting in the main alter surrounded by fresh flowers and images of Mary with Jesus. I settled in here and prayed a rosary, such a peaceful place for reflection and prayer. Vera joined me for a bit but then continued on. When I finished, I went to join her and we continued our self guided tour.
Funny story: so when I had finished my prayer, I went to exit the side chapel (there were gates monitored by workers to ensure that people were being quiet, respectful, and not taking photos). Well when I finished, the worker was on break, so he closed the gate ... trapping me inside. Now, I'm all about spending time with the Blessed Sacramenr, but being locked in a chapel with no idea how to get out -- yikes! Thankfully another worker saw me trying to escape the chapel and helped me out. At that point, I wasn't sure where Vera had gone, so I followed the signs and found myself climbing up some very narrow, very creepy, very dark stairs through some very tiny spaces until I arrived (alone) in the bell tower. We are all very lucky I didn't have a heart attack -- my creepy meeter was reading over its limit! To be fair, the view from the top of the tower was amazing, and the huge cathedral bell was really beautiful ... but it was too frightening! I continued back down another tiny, dark, scary staircase and found myself back in the cathedral -- and found Vera!! She hadn't gone up to the bell tower but instead had been wandering inside the main cathedral. So I climbed it again! This time with Vera, immediately making it less frightening. We did sneak a few pictures in the tower -- I felt like we weren't taking pictures of the holy items within the church, so we were upholding the spirit of the ban on photos.
After the bell tower, we finished viewing all the different chapels and vaults containing the tombs and sarcophaguses of the royal family, then left. It took us almost two hours to see everything. What an amazing site! With our self guided tour over, we went in search of Gosia -- not a single wrong turn in our Google navigation walking to find her!! haha She was sitting inside Camera Cafe, so we joined her and ordered hot chocolate before venturing back out.
Next we headed to the Jewish part of the city where we had a meal of pierogi -- Polish dumplings. They were delicious!! I had two kinds: one filled with meat, the other filled with potato and white cheese. Stuffed, we went back out into the city, across the walking bridge. This bridge is Kraków's "lock bridge" (my term, not an official term) where dating couples or newlyweds place a lock, symbolizing the eternity of their relationship. Call me sappy, but I love this tradition and I love seeing the hundreds of locks adorning the bridges.
After the bridge and a bit more walking, we went to Pijalnia (this time in the Jewish part of town; last time we went to the one near Market Square) and sampled the vodka -- also delicious! Jarek joined us here after he got off work. Then we headed to the chocolate shop to grab some truffles to bring home, and then we took the team back to Jarek's apartment where we watched Friends and tried not to fall asleep -- well, Vera and I at least: all of this exploring is wearing us out!
Here are some pictures from today:
And now it is time for sleep -- my eyes are so tired, and Vera is already asleep next to me. Another successful day exploring Kraków. More adventures to come tomorrow!!
Monday, October 19, 2015
Today was quite a day -- we saw some breathtaking sites, navigated the bus system, learned some important bus riding lessons, tried new foods and drinks, and ended with a walk down memory lane.
Vera and I slept in (per our usual -- I could get used to this) and after getting ready ventured out to the bus station. Jarek and Gosia had to work today, so we planned to go to the Salt Mine and St. Mary's Basilica and the chocolate shop in Matket Square. We had detailed bus instructions and Jarek's wifi hotspot, so we were set. Or so we thought ...
We started out very confident: made it to the correct bus platform, bought our tickets, got on the right bus -- solid work. But then we made a slight mistake and got off at the wrong stop. We needed to get off at Weiliczka Cmentarz but we got off at Zawiła Cmentarz -- we were really focused on the cmentarz part. Oops. Realizing our mistake we waited the twenty minutes for the next bust to come and got on it, headed in the right direction. If that would have been the end of our bus adventure, all would be well. But alas ... there is more. The bus keeps going and we are watching our stops (there are quite a few before the one we actually need) when the ticket checker comes through to check our tickets. Not a problem (or so we think). We pull out our tickets and give them to the man who starts speaking to us forcefully in Polish. When we tell him we don't understand, he says "There is a problem with your ticket." It turns out our tickets were only good for one hour, and though we had only two stops to go, we were eight minutes over the allotted hour. Whoops. So did we have to buy another ticket? No. No, that would have been too simple. Instead, they confiscated our passports and declared that we were being ticketed and would need to pay a fine. Ugh. At first the situation was a little scary -- I like to keep my passport in my possession. But after we got our passports back and saw that even though the fine sounded scary (125 złoty) it really wasn't (exchanges to about $30), we were more irritated than anything. We are tourists making a conscious effort to follow the rules. It wasn't like we didn't buy tickets at all!! And thus we made a commotion at Jarek's work by sending the following message:
So .... this happened today:
He says he literally laughed out loud. haha We are laughing about it now, too. (The tickets are no big deal -- kind of like being fined on the metro link.) And now we have our Polish felon souvenirs ... and know a little more than we ever wanted to know about the Polish bus system. All over EIGHT MINUTES. Oh well.
After our little bus adventure, we arrived at the Weiliczka Dalt Mine. We walked over fifty flights of stairs down into the mine -- 135 meters at our deepest cavern. Not only are the mines the site of Poland's salt production, it is also the site of some amazing sculptures!! Here are a few:
The views down there were just breathtaking! We ate lunch in the underground cafe and then headed up and out into the sunshine.
Next we braved the bus again (careful to buy a one way ticket rather than a timed ticket) and went to the city center where we walked around the castle, checked out a fire breathing dragon, and then went to St. Mary's Basilica. I could spend all day exploring the beautiful isles of the church and still find new details when I looked again. The church was so peaceful and holy. I prayed for a while, lit some candles, and then left.
After the church Vera and I went to get chocolate. If I am a conaseur of croquetas, Vera is a conaseur of chocolate. haha We went to a shop Jarek recommended, and it didn't disappoint. We both had hot chocolate and truffles. Yum. Yum. Yum. Then we went to a long row of shops filled with souvenirs and trinkets. Lots to see! When we finished there Jarek found us. First, we went to Piljania for lemon vodka and malte (vodka with milk); chupitos for everyone! Both were very good. Next we went to get food -- sausage from a van. Two men make the sausage themselves and then set up their van every night, selling only the sausage; they used to be taxi drivers but saw a need for late night eating options: thus, their new business was born and has an excellent reputation in Kraków. Vera and I approve, too -- the sausage was delicious!!
Gosia met up with us as we were eating; then we all took the tram back to Jarek's apartment where we watched The Way (a movie about the Camino, if you've never seen it). Such a fitting end to an adventurous day: flooding our minds with memories from our pilgrim days. But we are still pilgrims, yes? Always on a Camino. I couldn't help but be a little teary eyed when the pilgrims in the movie reached Santiago. I remember the day we reached Santiago like it was yesterday <3. Here are some more pictures from today:
Sunday, October 18, 2015
I can't believe my time in the Netherlands went by so quickly!! Already it is time to head to Poland to see Jarek and Gosia. There isn't too terribly much to share from today -- mostly a day of travel. BUT today was very special because it was the day that our tiny Camino family was reunited. I don't have words to express how wonderful these people are or how much happiness they bring to my heart; I mean, they literally pulled me over mountains and stood by my side every step of the way, and for that they will always hold a special place in my heart and in my life.
After a morning of trains and metros and an afternoon of airports, we arrived in Katowice where Jarek and Gosia picked us up and brought us back to Jarek's home in Kraków. There we ate dinner -- the Polish version of croquetas!! Here they are called krokiety. Who knew that I would become a coneseur of croquetas?! And as a special bonus, these were homemade by Jarek and Gosia's mom. They were AMAZING. And I think there is a (very small) possibility that I will be able to make them at home. Very, very small. But I will try. And we had beet root soup -- someone from the US help me out: do we have that in the states? I've never had it ... maybe up in Chicago with all the Polish restaurants? I'm not sure, but I really liked it. Today is Jarek's birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!) so we also enjoyed homemade desert from his mom -- did I mention she's a pastry chef? She's a pastry chef. And the desert was delicious.
After we were stuffed with amazing food, we took Gosia back to her apartment and then went for a night time walking tour of Market Square in Kraków -- more on that tomorrow when we explore it more thoroughly. There is something so serene about a city at night, when the traffic is absent and the noise has died down ... and the buildings all lit up make for pretty sites. I can't wait to go back tomorrow and see more!!
Here are a few pictures from today:
After our walking tour we returned to Jarek's home and enjoyed some sangria before heading to sleep -- traveling is exhausting!! (Also: I know I'm missing a reunion picture. In my excitement at actually being reunited I forgot to take a picture!! I'll take some tomorrow.)