Poland has been great to me. I had mixed feelings to begin with. When I got on the train to the centre of Warsaw, I sat in front of a really strange couple. It looked like the woman wore the trousers in that relationship. He fell asleep on a couple of occasions and she started plucking hairs off his face with her fingers, then as soon as she got bored, she would start elbowing him. When he finally woke up, he started picking his nose and she was not happy at all so started slapping his arms and telling him to stop. He reacted back and they fought for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, she kept giving me this look that reminded me of Kathy Bates in Misery.
While witnessing this classical example of a toxic relationship, I was dealing with e-mails from my umbrella company talking about some changes taking place this week. As per usual, I came here on a very tight budget and thinking about money just triggered this slight panic attack. Plus it was raining like hell and my phone was dying. I hadn’t bought an adaptor for my charger so was beginning to think I would never find my hostel.
I got off at Gdańska and walked all the way to the centre. It took me quite a while. The first place I went to was Manekin. However, I was told that there was no table for me at that time. Apparently I could not book a table for the next day either and the lack of alternative solution left me thinking I just was not welcome. So off I went to check into my hotel.
People looked at me funny. I wasn’t too sure why. At one point I wondered whether it was because I was wearing a dress that showed my knees… But surely not. Anyway, I thought I’d be patient and not get frustrated that early on. I found my hostel at last! As soon as I saw it, the first thing that came to my mind when I looked at the bars on the windows was: “Damn! This place reminds me of that bloody awful Chinese nursery my mum put me in when my normal one closed for the holiday and she had to go to work… F**k my life”. I put my stuff down and went for some food.
I ate at a bar Mleczny. It was so weird. It was like walking into a 40’s movie. Nobody spoke English obviously and parts of it had a real church feeling to it. I ate like a pig as I hadn’t eaten since leaving Bethnal Green. I felt like it would be a sin (to them) for me to leave two pierogis on the plate but honestly couldn’t eat anything else. So I went for a walk and the city just felt so depressing. Still, I did not for one minute think I shouldn’t have come. I simply had to adjust from existing in a constant state of buzz. Here, people take themselves a little more seriously and in all fairness they have the right to. Their country has been through some really tough times, as will be mentioned again further down.
By the time I made it to bed, all I was thinking was that “tomorrow” would be better. Also, I noticed I was the only girl in the shared room of 6. The rest were quite fit guys, which to an extent reduced the vulnerability I had been buiding up throughout the day – I felt somewhat protected. A girl from couchsurfing, Kasia, invited me to go for a wander around the city in the morning and as we are both runners, we decided to do a running tour of Warsaw. So I tried to rest nice and early.
After the cheapest and most delicious breakfast served at Tatamka hostel, I sat waiting for Kasia. She just appeared out of nowhere, almost running already and she was wonderfully pleasant from the start, bright as sunshine! We went to Łakienki park, where I saw the Laocoön statue mentioned in my previous post. I also took a bunch of amazing photos including one of this peacock, which we had to illegally jump a fence for:
In the afternoon, we did a free walking tour around the Jewish ghetto (or what used to be it anyway). I learnt a lot more than I knew before and felt so proud of myself for finally taking a genuine interest for any kind of history. I guess I used to think it was pointless to hear about what other people *say* happened because you will never know the full true story, but I find this topic particularly fascinating. I also thought it would link nicely to the tour of Auschwitz I booked for a couple of days later.
That night I had amazing Polish food at Zapiecek, after which I stopped by at the Fryderyka Chopina Muzeum to listen to some good tracks and relax and then went to my hotel quite early. I fell asleep for a few hours, then woke up to the worst e-mail telling me I had failed my exam. I cried and then texted a few friends who cheered me up and helped me find the right words to say to my dad so as to not disappoint him. I felt relieved and thought I might get some sleep. In the morning, I woke up to a super nice e-mail from him and after that I was ready to embrace my next adventure.
On my way to Krakow I found some peculiar people. The worst ones were a couple (again) who were making out in the toilet (gross right?) when I opened the door. I said sorry and waited outside, only to stand there for about 10 minutes hoping that they would finish their business respectfully fast. But no… So I just went to another one. The journey was long. I arrived and it was raining like hell again. So the first place I went to was the shopping centre. I bought a really delicious fish sandwich and swallowed it nearly whole!
I had 2 or 3 hours to kill before my friend was due to arrive and let me in to her place so I went to Rakowicki cemetery and walked around carrying my massive rucksack again. I saw some amazing gravestones. Took a million pictures, which you can find on my Instagram: @barbiepeartree. I found a beautiful spot to read, on a bench under a tree. It was really poetic until it started raining so much that my book, under a tree, under my umbrella, was getting wet, so I thought: “Whatevs then”, walked around and realized my hips were a bit screwed. I just had to go and sit down at a BP petrol station, while having a processed coffee drink. My phone was pretty much dead. I had enough time to message my friend and get a few life saving tips for finding her not so obvious address. I took the wrong turning twice but finally found her, possibly thanks to her somewhat familar car, which I had seen in my hometown in Portugal back in October when she was roadtripping Europe.
Finally, I felt like I was at home. The flat was really lovely and comfortable and I made friends with the dog, who has been so nice to me. Basia and I had a long catch up, which mostly consisted of talking about boys of course. I went to bed and tried to get enough rest before my trip to Auschwitz. I woke up still aching from the run around Warsaw. The tour guide picked me up from outside about 20 minutes early, which surprised me, and the private minibus was super comfortable. Off we went to see this place…
At first, it feels like you’re entering a film set… Museums and museum linked features were built in and around Auschwitz I. It feels bizarre but not as upsetting as you go in expecting it to be. However, I think they show you the more bearable things first. Towards the end, as I saw hundreds of portraits of real Poles, who were amongst the most intelligent in the country, I began to feel the tears come out. We were also shown the tons of hair, shoes and other personal belongings that were left behind as well as the underground chambers where they were tortured.
Some things in this place had a photograhic value. I’m passionate about documenting things this way but I was not capable of publishing more than the 7 photos and even those were hard to show. I couldn’t really get over how horrible it was to walk into a gas chamber. However, the worst was yet to come: Auschwitz II – Birkenau is monstrous. It is just an enormous field that very much feels like the middle of nowhere – at the time surrounded by German factories, to add to the horror. This train line is truly never ending:
There is so much more space here yet it feels like for that same reason, there was just no possibility you would escape it. There were hundreds of barracks, which the Jews were forced to build themselves, in awful weather conditions and with no food to give them the strength. They were building with bricks and wood taken from the demolition of the houses in the village that once existed in that space. Here, I was told that women with no strength to climb, due to being so sick, simply slept on the lower level of these sleeping shelves, where they were even colder and imminently exposed to visiting cat sized rats who bit their ears and noses. It was likely they would also have been exposed to faeces and urine since the toilet was a single bucket that was not really enough for the ratio of 8 women per shelf:
So this was what shocked me the most. You really have to go see it yourself. I know of all these people who seem to think that the holocaust is some sort of joke you can make fun of, but quite frankly, if you even have an opinion that supports such disgusting ideas, you need to get some therapy, mate.
Moving on, I came back to beautiful Krakow and had a nice walk around the city centre. It is probably the most gorgeous thing I have ever seen. It’s almost like a mashup of all my favourite European cities. I headed home slowly to come and meet Basia and start getting ready for a BBQ. We had a really nice gathering. Most of the guests were goldsmiths who work with her and a couple more couchsurfers. We had the best time ever. I learned a lot about Polish history, culture and current politic affairs. We ended up drinking a little too much wine and dancing in the kitchen. I was proud to be able to teach some lindy and shag moves to the guests, successfully!
Woke up with a banging headache but we had arranged to attended a eataway.com event. I wasn’t sure what to expect of it. It was really far away and I wasn’t convinced that we’d find it but we did! In the middle of nowhere we found this absolutely gorgeous house owned by a couple who is running this business. We arrived to see a long table full of amazing food around which sat beautiful people. I was very mesmerized. I was given this goregous beetroot soup to begin with:
After that we just ate and ate and ate. And we also played a number of sporty games as they had a special bit of garden dedicated to all that. I played badminton for the first time in many years. Absolutely loved every minute. The house itself was decorated beautifully and there were pretty and well brought up children and pets around, which made everything feel super comforting and perfect. It really was the kind of life anyone would love to have. This was very much the reward at the end of the road for me, after having such deep and slightly darker experiences. We felt very well looked after, as we even got fed straight to our mouths:
We struggled to leave and as we were driving back, we were saying how difficult it was going to be to want to eat food again. I guess that maybe it wasn’t so much about the food itself but the way in which we ate that made it so meaningful. And so with this wonderful experience I end this entry. Poland has been wonderful, I am so glad I did not choose to stay and work instead. Travel is something never to regret. And even though I had sad experiences here, these felt real and they felt unusual, which is the change that makes me want to call it a real holiday.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading.