Day 23: Zakopane; ZakoPAIN!

Krakow is an amazing city, so we decided to spend most of our time in Poland there. We’d also read about plenty of little day trips you can take from Krakow, so we knew we wouldn’t have difficulty filling the time.

History, architecture, food….Krakow has it all!!

For our last day in Poland, we knew we wanted to do a day trip, but we were torn between two very appealing options.

Zalipie is about an hour and a half from Krakow. The town is full of beautifully painted houses. The artwork is all done by women in traditional Polish fashion.
Zakopane is a a resort village about 2 hours from Krakow. It’s known for winter sports and hot springs

We loved the idea of spending our last day in Poland relaxing a bit, so after a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided to drive the 2 hours to Zakopane, where there are several thermal spas to enjoy.

Termi Bukowina has several saunas, different temperature baths and waterslides too.

When we set out in the morning, it had already started snowing, but being from Winnipeg, that didn’t exactly phase us. It DID worry a lot of other drivers though, and the result was a whole lot of slow moving traffic. Our two hour drive became a 3 hour drive.

It was a beautiful 3 hour drive!

When we finally arrived, we realized the town was a terrible place to try and drive in the snow. The roads are quite narrow and confusing, and there was NOWHERE to park. Finding a restaurant away from the congested city center proved to be difficult as well.

I was busy trying to help Dave navigate down the main streets, so I didn’t get pictures of the traffic, but it was bumper to bumper all the way through the town. Everyone was just crawling along

We finally found some lunch, and then head to Termy Bukowina. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out so well… On top of the place being an absolute zoo, they don’t rent towels and expected guests to buy towels in the gift shop for $15 Canadian each, instead.

Picture about 100 kids running around this place along with a whole lot of annoyed looking adults

We tried one other (smaller) hot spring, but that one was just as packed. So…. We ate some cake and drank some coffee and then drove the 2 hours back to Krakow (traffic wasn’t bad on the way back!).

I did get to see the wood cottages though! Unfortunately, the mountains surrounding Zakopane were hidden in the falling snow so we didn’t get to see that either

So that’s how we spent our last day in Poland …

On the bright side, I did manage to mail our postcards while we were there, so if you get a postcard from Poland from us, we drove 5 hours to get those to ya!!!!

I’m just going to have to come back to Poland some day to see Zalipie!

Day 22: History

Like most Canadians my age, I studied World War 2 in highschool. I learned how the war started, and about the Holocaust. We watched Schindler’s List, and discussed Canada’s role in defeating the Nazis. From a distant, removed place, I understood The Second World War.

Standing in a gas chamber is far less removed

Of course, being in Warsaw and Krakow has given me a whole new understanding of what actually happened in Poland. Visiting Auschwitz is one of the ways that we learned about Poland’s history, but our education didn’t end there.

At Auschwitz, I saw how the Nazis dehumanized the Jews in order to justify killing them… But there’s so much more to understand.

When I learned that Oscar Schindler’s factory had been turned into a museum, I knew it had to be part of our itinerary in Poland. There, we learned about what it was like living in Krakow from 1939 to 1945.

We also learned more about Oscar Schindler and his list

The museum does an excellent job of helping people understand how it felt to be in Krakow during WW2. There were various points in the museum where you could listen to people’s stories with headphones. There were lots of really neat displays as well, often having audio, to help visitors connect with what they were seeing.

While you walked through the section about the Nazi invasion in 1939, audio played with the sounds of air raid alarms and bullets. The display in this picture was about political prisoners who were arrested for disagreeing with the Nazi regime. You could hear whispering inside the “prison”. It was eerie.

The museum focused heavily on the history of the Krakow Ghetto, and I found it very informative. Honestly, I always just thought of the ghettos as “holding cells” before Jews were shipped to concentration camps, but they were more than that.

They were one of the first steps in the Nazi’s plan to dehumanize the Jewish population.

The ghetto was originally set up as a zone where all Jewish residents in Warsaw HAD to go. The Nazis claimed that Jews carried diseases and to protect the Nazi and Polish residents of Krakow, they needed to be quarantined.

The famous movie director, Roman Polanski, was a resident of the Krakow Ghetto

Jews weren’t allowed leaving the area without permission. During Passover, while Jews were celebrating, the Nazis erected a wall around the ghetto, closing the people in.

Walking through this section of the museum made me feel claustrophobic… I have a feeling that was done on purpose

Everything the Nazis did was step by step. When they arrived in Poland, they began spreading propoganda about how happy the Polish were to have them running the country. They claimed that Adolf Hitler was well loved by the people.

Shops were ordered to display pictures of Hitler.
The Nazi flag was hung all over the city to remind people who was in charge.

Then, they moved Jews into specific areas of the city. Next, they put up walls and forbid Jews to leave. Suddenly, they were in prison. Eventually supplies started running out and then the hunger started and guards became more abusive. Finally, the ghetto was liquidated and all of its inhabitants were sent to death camps nearby.

Many people were killed during the evacuation of the ghettos. The Gestapo had guns to deal with anyone who was making things difficult for them

Of course, anyone who didn’t obey with these simple rules was at risk of being thrown into prison. Anyone who tried to resist the Nazi regime was simply killed. There was a section of pictures taken during this time. Most of them were pictures of people had been killed during the weekly public hangings. In many of them, you can see executed prisoners in the background, with smiling SS soldiers in the foreground.

News articles were also displayed all around the museum. This giant contraption is a historical way to view archived newspaper clippings

Ultimately, by the time the gassing began at Auschwitz, many of the people who were willing to fight the Nazis had already been killed. Most of the people who survived the early years were terrified. Of course, there were a few brave people who fought the regime by saving Jews, or even joining the underground resistence and assassinating top Nazi leaders.

Oscar Schindler saved 1200 Jews by hiring them in his factory. There, they were given adequate food and safer working conditions. If they had been left in the camps, they would have endured starvation, beatings from the SS guards and probably death.

I highly recommend this museum. It was a great way to learn more about Krakow’s history. I know I left with a much better understanding of how things escalated during the war. I also left with a better understanding of how people fought the Nazis from within Krakow.

Schindler’s desk. This is where he worked out the details of saving 1200 Jews.

Dave and I walked down to where the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow was set up, and saw the remaining bits of wall. They were left up as a reminder of the past, and in an effort to prevent these things from happening again in the future.

Our time in Europe is coming to an end. I’ll be back soon with a post about our final day in Poland.

Day 21: Darkness

Our world has seen a lot of darkness. In Poland, we’re reminded of a particularly horrific time in history: World War 2 and The Holocaust.

Although Warsaw is an old city, the buildings are all relatively new. That’s because the majority of the city was destroyed during the second world war

Just outside of Krakow, one of the darkest pieces of our history remains standing, as a reminder of the past.

The entrance to Auschwitz. The sign means “Work Sets You Free”

As much as I dreaded my visit to Auschwitz, I knew I had to go. One of my main goals of traveling is to better understand the world, and you cannot understand Poland, or even Europe, without understanding what happened here from 1939-1945.

Canisters of Zyclon B; used to exterminate millions of innocent people

Today was hard. We saw things that will probably haunt my dreams for some time. We saw children’s shoes, human hair, gas chambers and crematoriums. We saw the faces of so many people that were murdered by racists who hated them simply because they were the wrong religion.

Dave standing in front of a display of children’s shoes. The children who wore these shoes were gassed and burned. This is only a fraction of the shoes that walked into Auschwitz.

But still…. It was important that I go. I can’t say that I now understand the Nazi’s quest to exterminate all Jews from Europe. I also can’t say I can even begin to grasp just how many people died in concentration camps. But there is one thing that I do better understand after visiting Auschwitz.

The Wall where countless people were shot to death in the early days of the camp. This was done before they had found more effective means of killing prisoners.

I understand that the Nazis did everything they could to dehumanize their victims.

They fenced their prisoners in…like cattle.

They took away their prisoners’ identities. They shaved their heads. They took away all their belongings. They separated families and isolated people. Then, they removed every trace of their prisoners’ existence when they were no longer useful to the Nazi plan.

The crematorium in Auschwitz Camp 1. This one could cremate about 350 bodies a day. In Auschwitz Birkenau (Camp2), they had 4 crematoriums to deal with more than 1 million murders that happened there.

Everything in Auschwitz was industrialized. The way prisoners were fed, killed, cleaned, murdered and burned was all done in such a way that there was no humanity in it. The prisoners who were strong enough to work wasted away with starvation so that they were hardly even recognizable as people.

There was no such thing as privacy in the camps. This is where prisoners used the toilet.

In some ways, Auschwitz was easier for me to handle than The Killing Fields of Cambodia. In Cambodia, you had to be careful not to step on the bones of victims. The Nazis aim was to erase all traces of their crimes through cremation.

If they hadn’t been such diligent with their paperwork, there would be no record of these people’s deaths at all. There are rows and rows of these inmate intake pictures from the early days of the camp. Each has a name, a country of origin, a birth date and a death date. Some also include occupation.

Now, Auschwitz has gone from a death camp to a museum, where people go to learn from the past. Of course, a big part of that is done by giving the victims back their identities. All throughout our 4 hours at the camps, we were reminded again and again of the very thing that the Nazis worked hard to make people forget: These prisoners were human beings. Not vermin to be eliminated with pesticides. Not criminals with no right to life. PEOPLE, with families, plans and dreams.

This display shows hundreds of photos of victims before the war began. They are seen with their friends and family, celebrating holidays and enjoying life. They all had hopes and plans for their future.

Auschwitz serves as a reminder of the danger there is in dehumanizing people based on their race, religion or culture. Nazis weren’t a generation of people who were simply born “bad”. They simply lived in a time where they were manipulated into believing that Jews were not equally human and therefore did not have an equal right to life.

Although many Nazis fled and never saw justice for their crimes, the camp commandant Rudolf Hoss was hanged right in Auschwitz, in 1947. The platform where his sentence was carried out is still there now.

As the Holocaust becomes a more distant part of our past, the importance of Auschwitz increases. At the entrance of the camp, we are reminded:

You are reminded why you are there within your first few minutes at Camp 1

A few more pictures from today:

A demolished crematorium in Camp 2. The Nazis destroyed it shortly before the liberation of Auschwitz, to try and hide their crimes
3 photos taken secretly while the camp was still operational. The first was of women being chased into the gas chambers. The second and third were of Nazi’s burning bodies near a fence. You can see that same fence behind the pictures. It was an eerie display
Guard towers are found all around the camp
A sanitizer for when lice became too big of a problem. Prisoners were forced to wait, naked and freezing, while their uniforms were cleaned. They also had to take disinfecting showers.
The room where prisoners waited for their sanitized clothes to be returned to them. They often waited hours
One of the gas chambers. I couldn’t bring myself to stay in there any longer than I had to. My photo is slightly blurry because I didn’t stop to take it. I just kept walking into the next room, which brought new horrors…
Another shot of the crematorium in Camp 1
Prosthetic limbs left behind by people who were gassed upon arrival. People with handicaps were not able to work, and therefore were not worthy of life
This is a tangled mass of glasses left behind by victims who no longer needed them
Ashes of victims
One of the many blocks in Camp 1

Day 20: Cooking Classes

Dave and I share a love of perogies, so naturally, they were one of the first things we ate when we arrived in Poland.

Unlike in Canada, the Polish fill their perogies with a variety of things. They have potato and cottage cheese, like in Manitoba, but they also have mushroom & cabbage, lentil and even other meats. They are simply delicious!!!

A classmate preparing cheese and potato perogies. We also made cabbage and mushroom (my favourites!!)

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Dave and I really enjoy taking classes when we travel. In Indonesia last year, we learn how to make jewelry out of both coconut shells and silver. This year, we learned how to make perogies.

Dave, flattening the dough for perfect, delicate perogies

We booked an “experience” through Air BNB, with a local lady named Marta. There were several other people offering classes through the site, but Marta’s was most appealing because she uses fresh and home grown ingredients. She’s also very clearly passionate about food

Marta is an excellent teacher!

It turns out Air BNB is just a very small part of what Marta does. Her passion for cooking and eating local food led her to create a website called Eataway, which hooks tourists up with local people who want to make a bit of money by feeding tourists authentic food.

Our class made some pretty amateur perogies, but as the day continued we got better. In the last row, the second from last one is mine. I’m quite proud of it!

It’s become a very popular website, and I encourage anyone who travels to check the site. They are set up all over the world, so if you’re on the road, and want to try some local food, check them out here!

Rose Marmalade was “injected” into our donuts

The class was so much fun! There were 8 of us there with Marta. She taught us how to make both Perogies and Pączki (Polish donuts). She also made us the best cheesecake I’ve ever had in my life!!!

She also poured salted caramel all over it. It was delightfully light and fresh tasting!

It really pays off taking classes on holiday. You meet great people, learn about culture and local life AND you support small businesses (instead of big tourist traps). I recommend Eataway to anyone travelling foodies!

Our Pączki
Making the Pączki
Beet root soup is delicious! And it has dumplings in it!!

One last glimpse into our day of fun. Apparently, to properly make Pączki, a bit of violence is involved. Watch as our classmate Tobias, “punches” the dough into submission!

Day 19: Food

A foodie is someone who had a particular interest in food, specifically in trying a variety of cuisines. I am a foodie.

Those of you who have been following along with our trip know that we’ve enjoyed some VERY good food over the past few weeks!

Sometimes, Dave and I plan out restaurants when we’re traveling. We knew months ahead of time that we would be eating at Nuria in Madrid.

They are the top rated Ethiopian restaurant in Madrid. Ethiopian is easily one of my top 3 cuisines.

Usually this planning goes well. Other times, we search for a while, looking at menu after menu for something interesting, but when we find it, it disappoints us.

We found a Georgian restaurant in Warsaw our second night there. It was pretty awful. The Georgian dumplings were full of soup, just like in Suzhou & Shanghai, but the dough was so thick it was basically flavourless

Still, I can say that in our 19 days of traveling, we’ve only had 1 or maybe 2 disappointing meals. Those are pretty good stats!

Our McDonald’s meal in Toulouse was also disappointing…

On our way to Krakow yesterday afternoon, we had our biggest surprise yet. We figured we’d be settling for a diner or fast food, but we were pretty hungry and ready to settle for anything. We rolled into Kielce, and drove to the only restaurant we saw listed.

Go ahead and try to pronounce it. We’re getting better… But still find Polish to be quite intimidating.

We were surprised by a few things. First, the place looked pretty high end, but the prices were significantly lower than we’d seen in Warsaw. Secondly, this was not a diner stop. It was an incredible restaurant experience… And we just happened to stumble upon it, simply because it was a quick drive off the main highway.

The city is actually much bigger than I expected. It didn’t seem very big, but we also didn’t go very far into town.

The food was unreal. I had mushroom stuffed ravioli on a bed of pumpkin and coconut milk. Dave had beef cheek with polish gnocchi and beets. The whole meal was fabulous.

A delicious meal!!
Nice restaurant with some pretty cool decor (Random slides in the middle of the room)
In the room right next to us, there was furniture made of cardboard. I thought that was pretty nifty!

It isn’t often we get that good of a meal while we’re on the road!

There were some interesting statues outside of the restaurant too.

Today was our first day in Krakow! I’ll be back soon with more on that!

Day 18: Music!

If you know me at all, you know how important music is to me. When I learned that everyone in the world doesn’t constantly have a song in their head… And that this was just a “Marie” thing…. I was completed flabbergasted. What do you mean everyone else isn’t always thinking of music!?

Living in China allows me to perform. It’s become a very important part of my life

Throughout my life, many different artists have influenced me, awed me and most importantly, gotten me through difficult times. I’ve always counted on music as a source of comfort and positivity.

When Chester Bennington of Linkin Park committed suicide last year, I was filled with such a profound sadness that it was hard to explain. It wasn’t just that one of my favourite musicians was gone forever…it was that his writing and vocals had gotten me through my difficult years as a teenager.

One of the bands that has been with me through it all has been Blue October. When I was a teenager, they were moody, emotional and full of angst. Now, they write about life with their families and how great life can be if you make the right choices. I connect with these guys. A lot.

Justin was sporting a whole lot of eyeliner back in the early 2000s
He’s toned it down since then. One of many similarities between he and I

When Dave told me that Blue October was playing in Europe while we were going to be there, I shrugged it off, thinking the dates wouldn’t work or it would be to expensive. But I forgot one thing: I married the most amazing human being on the planet. He isn’t much of a Blue October fan himself, but he made it happen.

He also got me Meet & Greet tickets so that I could meet the band, get an autograph and get a picture with them!

Now this is where our travels enters this post ….

Reminder: We’re in Warsaw, Poland!

The concert was better than I could have imagined. The band was incredible; that was no surprise…. But their Polish fans were amazing!!! It was like being at a concert with 500 people who “get” my love for this relatively unknown band!!!

I had expected a younger crowd (the concert was held at a university campus). All ages were there.

They sang along with every song. They jumped and danced and screamed with me. I was so worried that the concert would be too small and they’d end up canceling that stop… But Warsaw was an awesome crowd! Justin Furstenfeld mentioned several times that he was blown away by the passion and excitement in our tiny audience.

I love this shot of Matt (bassist) and Will (electric guitar), but I loved it even more when I realized I’d accidently included the arm of a superfan in the shot. The rose he has tattooed on his forearm is Blue October artwork!!

I managed to make it through the night without full out bursting into tears, but it was tough. Blue October has been like a friend to me through thick and thin. “I hope you’re Happy” has cheered me up after many bad days. “Sway” perfectly incapsulates what it feels to be so in love with someone that you just can’t wait for all the moments you get to spend with them. “I want it” is about always wanting better…. Wanting more.

Such a great show!!!

I love Warsaw and it will always stand out in my mind as a city that has great taste in music, incredible passion and an epic music scene!

A few more shots from the concert explained:

Blue October is so much more than just Justin Furstendeld. Their bassist Matt is a super nice guy and is CRAZY talented. Will, their guitarist, loves perogies and wasn’t shy about asking where to get the best stuff
Justin “throwing fireworks” into the crowd. This was during the song “Dance in Time”. The song is about staying in sync with your spouse. Learning to dance together.
A cool shot I like of Justin being sassy
He suffers from bi polar disorder and anxiety. This picture was taken during one of his throwback songs from an earlier album. It was fun to see him like he was 15 years ago
Another band shot. In addition to incredible lyrics, Blue October also has an INCREDIBLE sound. A lot of that is owed to Ryan Dalhoussay, the band violinist/violist/keyboardist/backup vocalist/guitarist. His diversity as musician adds so much to the band’s sound!!
The opening act. They were a local Polish band and pretty good! I wish I could have understood some of their stuff!!!

Day 17: For the Love of Coffee

Living in China can be tough for a coffee lover. Our best option as far as price and size goes is, sadly, Starbucks. Most coffee shops in China make watered down, tiny cups of something that resembles coffee but doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Luckin Coffee was suppose to revolutionize coffee in China… But their prices are higher than Starbucks and their coffee is weak. They also ONLY do delivery, so you don’t have the option of bringing your own reusable mug, which I dislike greatly.

In Europe, however, we’ve been spoiled for choice. We’ve had to change the way we drink coffee, of course. In Canada, I’d order myself a 20oz Large Double Double at McDonald’s twice a day. If they had a bigger size, I would probably order it!

Can you make that a double double?

In Europe, they don’t do drip coffee. They mostly do espresso, cappuccinos and cafe con leche. And their cups are small. But delicious.

I didn’t take pictures of EVERY cup of coffee I’ve had, but I did take one of my first cup in Madrid. T’was excellent

Price is also a factor in China. Starbucks is double the price in China as it is in Canada, but it’s STILL better value than any of the local chains! You can get a Venti (20oz) drip coffee for $5 Canadian at Starbucks, but anywhere else, you pay $7 for 12oz. It’s crazy.

To get my favourite specialty drink at Starbucks, I pay more than $8 Canadian!

In Europe, we’ve been enjoying our €1.50 coffees a couple of times a day and we’ve been loving it. Today we found a coffee shop in Warsaw that specialized in coffee from all around the world. For about $3.50, I enjoyed a perfect cup of Guatamalan coffee in a cozy atmosphere.

Seen here: Cozy atmosphere

I’m done rambling about coffee now.

Correction: FOR now….

For those of you who don’t know why we’re in Poland, my favourite band, Blue October, is playing here in Warsaw tomorrow night!!!! We added Poland to our spring festival itinerary, just so I could meet the band and see them perform live!

I’m guessing tomorrow’s post might be about that….