J: Well, our time here in Warsaw has come to a end. I honestly feel almost home sick for this city I have enjoyed it and its people so much.
Now to Gdansk ….
not 7 hours ago I decided to look up things on our hostel only to find some … interesting reviews on the place. So if we can not update its because this place doesn’t have WiFi
… nothing will be worse than Kiev though, if we can survive the sloping, cracked ceilings we can survive this.
Bring it on Gdansk, bring it on.
Two History Majors. Five Weeks. Four Countries.... What could possibly go wrong?
J: Well, our time here in Warsaw has come to a end. I honestly feel almost home sick for this city I have enjoyed it and its people so much.
J: Well, needless to say that we have been neglecting this part of the internet for quite sometime. Its not because we are forgetting the blog its just we either:
A. Are exhuasted becuase we tend to have this nack for never taking a bus and therefor end up walking over 20 km in one day or
B. Are still composing our thoughts from what we have seen.
Over the last week I have been able to experience Warsaw and its people enjoying both just as much as I would my own home. Granted I am now used to the heat which otherwise would have made this stay a bit more uncomfortable if I didn’t have the ability to adapt. Sure it is high tourist season but I honestly am not bothered by it.
Yesterday though, on August 1, in 1944, at 5:00 pm the Warsaw Uprising began. A time which invokes great pride as well as sadness to the fallen soldiers that rose up against the Nazi oppressors.
Al and I started the day with a long walk to the military cemetery. Its about 1.5 km away from the large Catholic cemetery so it was a bit of a walk. We bought lanterns to light and leave in the cemetery. As well I bought a bunch of red flowers to leave as well. Once you where in the cemetery the air felt different it wasn’t so much a heavy air its more as a human being you could feel the emotions of the place. There where young people from scouts and others dressed as soldiers from the uprising, I am glad we did the walk there and paid our respects to those who lost their lives.
We then walked past the old Catholic cemetery to the Jewish one. There was something about this place that sad yet extremely beautiful. the leaning gravestones and the plant covered grounds where a stark difference to that of its catholic counterpart just up the road. Having been to both and both of these places are beautiful in their own respects I have to say I am more personally taken with the Jewish cemetery. At one point we were just walking along a dirt path which what looked like was the middle of the forest. It was completely over grown and some tombstones you couldn’t even see anymore.
This seems like a decent size for a entry so there will be more in a few days. We promise more updates though they probably wont be together.
A: What to say? I am still actually finding it hard to truly process what we experienced in the past few days. Like Jenn said we’re sorry for the lack of updates, but we we’ve been trying to see as much as we can before our time in this city has run out.
We’ve visited multiple museums, walked practically everywhere you can walk without becoming to tired to return to where you started, stumbled across dozens of monuments we had no idea were in our path, and discovered the best place where you can drink a beer on a hot day for a rather good price.
I’ll try and recap something but as I said I’m still processing and will no doubt be a little scattered with my thoughts.
The trek to the military cemetery was long and hot, and to be honest — I was afraid we were going in the wrong direction and Jenn was going to kill me when we got there and found out we were in the wrong location. As we got nearer though we saw many people also arriving and milling about so that spurred us on and we were delighted to find out not only had we not gone in the wrong but had arrived at our destination.
The sheer number of people who had come out at the hour we did was amazing. Not even lunch time and there no doubts hundreds visiting, leaving lanterns and flowers — I was pleased that so many people took their time on a holiday to pay their respects to those who the day commemorates. What I did notice though, was that Jenn and I were the some of the only young adults there. The only others were those involved with the proceedings and ceremony as well as reenactors milling about interacting with the visitors.
Our journey home was long and hot since we were traveling in the heat of the day but we as we ducked into the Jewish cemetery (we visited the Catholic the day previous) we could feel the temperature drop as the pathways were soon covered by all the trees and foliage which grows rampant. Even though I have been to several cemeteries like this, there was just something about this place which struck me and I found it oddly beautiful and yet tinted with a hint of sadness — the tombstones crowded alongside each other, the overgrown paths, the crumbling gravestones which no one seems to look after because there probably isn’t anyone around to do so … it just really made me stop and think.
More on our days in Warsaw to come, it’s just we have to run out as our days are now numbered and we’re trying to soak up all we can before you have to leave.
Much love ‘till then,
A & J
J: Sorry for the slow updates, Al and I have been slowly getting used to the drastic climatic change from Krakow to that of Warsaw. Though I have to give it to the people of Warsaw setting up fire hoses and letting people pass by play in them is the best for of beating the heat. (people of all ages do this it and it is by far the most refreshing thing)
Unlike us west coasters who, prefer to sip on a iced Starbucks confection it seems that most eastern Europeans young and old run in droves to ice cream stands. I have never seen so many ice cream cones in my life. Though they can say the same for how many coffee shops there are in Vancouver, B.C.
Within the next few days there will be a post with some actual substance to it but for now you get a post about Polish ice cream and running through sprinklers.
A: In concurrence to the above post, a heat wave has hit and it is currently too hot to function. We are Vancouverites — born and raised. We don’t like anything above 20 degrees Celsius and must have a coffee shop on every corner in order to have access to cold drink practically 24/7. High maintenance? Yes we are.
Slowly and surely we are adjusting to the heat and humidity — the sprinklers do actually help… as does frolicking in fountains like 5 year olds…
J: So, the constant updating thing seemed to go down the toilet once we arrived in Poland. Though before I go on a ” this is how much I love Poland” rant, I would like to talk about the train trip that never ended.
If by any chance you are traveling from Kiev to Krakow I highly suggest you bring two meals with you on the train. What both Al and I made the mistake of doing is thinking we could get by with just snacks but what we thought was a 16-hour train ride turned into a 20-hour odyssey. The train station was confusing and thanks to someone who knew /some/ English, we were able to find our train and then our compartment. The Ukrainian border was nothing short of terrifying, though we survived and we are now in our fantastically communist-themed hostel in Krakow, Poland.
I would highly recommend to anyone looking to travel to Eastern Europe to come here to Krakow. Al had always nattered on about how much she loved this city and I see why now. With its old and original architecture, the city is a gem. Nothing is to expensive thanks to the conversion rate and almost everyone I encountered can speak simple english.
Our second full day here we took a trip out side of the city to Oświęcim. There we did the tour of Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau. Having mulled over my visit to the most well known sites of mass murder during the Second World War, I truly don’t think I have digested everything yet. Though what I can say, is that I didn’t think the trip would be that taxing; after arriving home, I didn’t want to eat or really move from our hostel room.
Though the things I think that will stand out in my mind the most about the trip to Auschwitz is seeing a line of girls with the Israeli flag on there backs singing as they walked down the train tracks towards the crematoriums. Then only 15 minutes later there was a Christian group singing hymns as they approached the monument set up at the end of the tracks.
On that same note today we visited the Museum of Occupation, which is set up in the factory formerly belonging to Oskar Schindler. I simply loved the museum — it was interactive and you could actually touch things; at certain parts I could say it almost gave a “4D” experience.
Also I don’t think I have ever been afraid of pigeons before I came here … I really dislike the feathery little things. Except for this old pigeon Al and I found a few days back I named him Wade. He is the only pigeon I will ever like.
A: As much as being in Ukraine was a new experience I have to say I’m so happy to be back here in Krakow. I have had much more time to myself than before and I’m so glad I was able to do a lot of which I have had the chance to before. Even though a fair number of things we did, I had experienced before — perhaps more so than others as I did my research here a little over a year ago, but now I was travelling on my own terms and I have to say I absolutely love it.
Let’s start at the beginning though. Our last days in Kiev were quite a blur and although there was a few instances where we found ourselves quite lost in translation because my accent is quite different than that of the natives, we managed to muddle through and soon found ourselves boarding a night train which would take us to our second destination: Krakow.
That train trip. Never. again. I love train travel, really I do, but I never want to spend 20 hours in a compartment again. The beds were comfortable enough, but we didn’t pack enough food — plenty of water though. But the border crossing. When you’re being interrogated by a member of the Ukrainian militia who makes you feel like you’ve done something wrong and then needs your passport to get it stamped as your compartment is sniffed by a German Shepherd — let’s just say, next time, I’m taking the plane.
Eventually we arrived in Krakow, cramped, tired and hungry but more or less in one piece. We then discovered our hostel was a lot closer than we had originally thought and soon we had arrived at our next “home:” the Good Bye Lenin Hostel. As Jenn has termed the place, it is fantastically communist. Red. Red everywhere with pictures of Leon Trotsky in sunglasses and a bust of Lenin himself in a spotted tie around his neck with an old army helmet on his head. Not to mention the friendly staff, clean and comfortable rooms, and with a great location— I would definitely recommend this place to any one wanting to stay in Krakow.
Being here again is just fantastic. I have a much better grasp on the language than I did before and that alone makes me happy I have been able to to keep my Polish up without being submerged in the language 24/7.
The visit to Auschwitz was again, quite an experience. I had been before and therefore knew what to expect, but not matter what there are some things I cannot seem to prepare myself for. There were several times on the tour where I simply tuned out our guide and had to distance myself from the situation. I don’t think it will ever change and because of my research and studies I have no doubt I’ll return. The tour itself was a lot shorter than the one I had been on before, no doubt because of the first being for my research — I still find myself surprised , shocked and almost disgusted by the sheer amount of people going to visit, many just going to say the they had been. It’s become very much like a morbid, twisted and horrifying form of a theme park. Call me blatant, uncooth, or disrespectful — but to be asked to take a picture of someone in front of the barracks and crematoria where millions of people suffered and died makes me feel sick. The stairs in the buildings you are filed through are worn down and warped — not from the use during the time of the camp’s occupation, but from the millions of people who visit the camp every year. We were told 1.6 million people visited the camp in the last year alone and more are expected this year by the numbers they currently have on record. While I might sound hypocritical — I too went and joined the thousands of others who were there unable to stay away from delving into the depths of one of the darkest eras of recent history, but the way it’s presented; the numbers allowed to be filed through at such a pace where you’re unable to take the time and absorb what it exactly is that you seeing and the feeling the impact it should have. I don’t know exatcly what a solution should be — and I don;t think I have the ability to assume I know what’s best — maybe allowing less people per year, maybe registering tour groups at only a certain number of people per day… What I do know though is while this era of history is uimportant to learn about, I feel they way it’s presented at sites which hold so much weight to how cruel the human race can be has to allow for reflection and not just offer something for those looking for a day trip to do. I’m sorry for the rant, I just happen to feel very strongly about this and just something about this visit ticked mt right off. There might be more to come as I continue to process everything, but for now I just need the time to cool off and do my own reflection.
On that note, returning the Museum of Occupation, I was pleased to see people of all ages taking the time to learn about history. There were younger children, teenagers and adults of all ages, with the way the museum makes history a interactive, all-encompassing experience with something for everyone — it keeps people’s attention to what they are learning about. While they may not remember everything, there is enough information presented which might catch someone’s interest. Again, it was my second time visiting — but this time I was glad to see it had not changed a bit and perhaps enjoyed the walk through more this time than last.
On a much lighter note, I simply love being here in Krakow. The noise of the trams, the walk through the park towards Stare Miasto, the pigeons (which Jenn hates :P), the architecture, the food, the people in general… I can’t say it enough, I love this city.
I feel as if I am becoming a bit long winded, but as a history major who’s area of concentration falls within the theme of this blog post and who spent the better part of last summer working on what ended up being one of the longest and most detailed papers I wrote during my degree, I feel this was unavoidable.
Sorry for the hiatus and perhaps boring you with what is perhaps my own way of coming to terms with everything we have seen and done; there will be much more to come as we continue our crazy journey. Our next stop: Warsaw.
Much love, A & J. <3
J: The past two days have flown by, I wish I wasn’t this tired so I could come up with some brilliant conclusion about the things that I have seen in the past two days. Coming to Ukraine with this idea that I would be tossed around like a punching bag by the busy serious-faced people that reside with in the Ukrainian borders; I was pleasantly surprised to find that most are helpful as well as will to accommodate poor handbook Ukrainian. As well, I am beginning to pick up the Cyrillic alphabet and if I were to try at home it would only end in tears and frustration. it only proves the point that once you are submerged in the language it is almost hard not to learn something.
Our first day we spent close to the river, visiting the beautiful golden domes of the Lavra monastery, which are almost a thousand years old the first bricks being laid in 1,100. we also ended up going into the caves which hold some of the bodies of monks, these caves hold large religious meaning and as someone who does not practice that sect of Christianity it was interesting to watch others practice. Also, we might have snuck in for free accidentally…
We also saw the moment to the victims of the famines of Ukraine which was well done, though if you enter it from where the architect intend it would have a better effect — but I saw it from the side but was still impressed regardless.
The Motherland statue as well and the museum to the great patriotic war (to us Canadians, known as WWII) was fantastic. I have never been to a museum like that, even though almost everything was in Russian I was still able to make out things printed in German with my limited knowledge.
Today was long though, I will summarize today because Alex needs room to type here. We did a lot of walking … this coming from someone who walks a fair amount, as well as the finding of my family’s town here in Ukraine is now .. unstable with radioactivity due to the meltdown in Chernobyl. I found Illintsi in a data base at the Chernobyl museum that we visited (I highly recommend it, the images as well as the lay out were haunting, powerful and educational) and saw two other churches and the golden gates of Kiev. As well we conned con men.
Also I have over 200 pictures already …. over half of which are of gold domes.
A: Okay where to start. It’s been a couple of busy, hot days — but honestly I think we did as much as humanly possible in the time we had to spend in Kyiv. The museums here are fantastic and if the musuems in Canada were anything like the ones over here, I would bet more people would be interested in going and learning more about history. As well as the prices — on average it’s about a dollar for each of us to get in. Again, if they didn’t charge an arm and a leg in Canada, there would be so many more people willing to take the time to go.
At the museum to the Great Patriotic War I was really surprised to be able to make out what a lot of the Russian descriptions were saying. Apparently my ability to translate was a lot better than I was expecting it to be. Spoken… I like to think I have a good grasp on things … until they pretend to not know what I am saying as they think I am a Russian tourist. I wanted a Coca Cola and the woman selling it said she didn’t understand. Coca Cola is a universal word. It worked before — she was just being difficult.
Today was quite the adventure as we walked probably five times what we walked yesterday. The Chernobyl museum was a little difficult to find but eventually we made it after a bit of deliberation over several maps. For a smaller museum, it certainly was created to be a powerful learning experience. The artifacts as well as the photos form the liquidators and from the residents affected by the tragedy left us with a lot of contemplation to do. It was definitely one of those learning experiences you have to step away from and contemplate before you reach a decision about how it affected you.
After we felt quite comfortable with our knowledge of the city and so we tour a couple detours from what we planned on and saw a couple more cathedrals. It is just so beautiful here I can’t really comprehend how much of a hidden treasure it is. The streets we walked down reminded the both of us of Paris or any other western European city, but with no tourists. At times we were the only ones on the street….
As the con men, well I knew what they were saying more than they realized and we ended up walking away and they lost out on taking complete advantage of “two helpless tourists.” But let me say this, I am taking no more pictures of any more doves.
J: After two days of straight traveling … never again. I understand it takes time to get to a place but the four plane rides we had to take to get to Kiev have not convinced me that I like airplanes. Sure I can now get onto the flying machine without losing most of my dignity… but I still hate them.
Having been cooped up in a small space with forty or so other people I switched seats with Al on the last flight to look at the ground below. I am certain at some point I was looking at Belarus; also, as we came into Kiev I see what people mean by the ” massive tracks of land” coment about the space in Ukraine.
Also some how Al and I managed to find the communist themed resturant across from our hostel, cheap, food and our waiter had the patience to play a game of ordering charades with us.
Later today we will be seeing the Motherland statue along with the monastery that is almost a thousand years old. And also, soviet tanks. Need I say more?
A: I’m sure it will eventually hit me that we are here, in Kiev, but as of right now it seems almost surreal after all that time traveling. So far, the people we have met have been nice, putting up with my poor Russian and our lack of knowlegde about what we are doing.
But what are we doing? Well, as Jenn stated were doing the museum thing today and honestly what comes next I don’t really even care — I just want to take in all I can before we have to leave in a couple of days.
We managed to get some help in changing our money and finally have our trains tickets from Kiev to Krakow — which I was the most frightened about to be honest. But were all set here in our hostel which is like living in a flashback to the Soviet Union and with the restaurant across the street it really doesn’t help much ~ ;P
We should probably leave it here as we’re just about to leave to go out but I’m sure our next update will bring you much more information — if we don’t bore you with all out history-nerd spaz outs which might, no, probably will happen. C;