We’ve been back in China for a few days now, and the new term is underway, but I still wanted to write about our last day of holidays. It was, after all, one of our best days in Spain!
I scheduled one day in Madrid for the end of our trip for shopping, but as it turned out, we didn’t have much shopping to do, so we went sight seeing instead.
My favourite way to see a city is on foot. You see so much more than you would if you were driving around. There are so many little things to notice when you’re up close and personal with a city.
Dave and I considered a few places for our final day. There are so many art galleries, museums and Historical buildings to explore in Madrid, but we really wanted to be outside, enjoying the sun!
Suzhou is either polluted or rainy in winter, so we wanted to take advantage of the sun and clean air as much as we could before leaving Europe.
We also walked our way through dinner, stopping at several of our favorite Tapas Bars.
By the end of the day, we had taken nearly 30,000 steps, but had seen so much more of the city. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the way we spent Valentine’s Day! It was truely a Dave and Marie sort of way to celebrate!
I’m back in Suzhou now. The pollution has been bad enough the last few days that my eyes are itchy and watering. At least the rain stopped…
I’ll be back soon with some more in depth posts about our travels. I’ll be writing about:
– Madrid City and all its sights
– Segovia, Avila & Toledo: City Walls, Castles & Cathedrals!
With budget airlines charging so much for luggage, Dave and I opted to pack light and save all of our shopping for the way home (international flights get better luggage allowances).
To make that happen, I scheduled a “bonus day” in Madrid after Poland, which worked out really well because we LOVED Madrid! It also meant we got to divide our flights home to make our travel days easier.
On this trip, we had the following flights:
– Shanghai to Paris (12 hours)
– Paris to Madrid (2 hours)
– Madrid to Barcelona (1 hour)
– Barcelona to Warsaw (3 hours)
– Warsaw to Lisbon (4 hours)
– Lisbon to Madrid (1 hour)
– Madrid to Paris (2 hours)
– Paris to Shanghai (12 hours)
That’s 37 hours of flying. When you add in layovers, we easily spent 2 full days of our holiday in airports. I Actually much prefer taking the train when possible, but flights save so much time that it’s often a no-brainer.
Still, flight days are useful… I often spend the time catching up with my journal, or writing up post cards. I also read. This year I reread The Diary of a Young Girl, while we were on our way to Poland. I feel like it was a good way to set the mood for some of the things we saw there.
All of this is to say that flights and travel days are a necessary part of traveling the world.
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.
For our last day in Poland, we knew we wanted to do a day trip, but we were torn between two very appealing options.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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!!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just outside of Krakow, one of the darkest pieces of our history remains standing, as a reminder of the past.
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.
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.
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.
I understand that the Nazis did everything they could to dehumanize their victims.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!!!
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.
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
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.
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!
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!!!
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!
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!
A foodie is someone who had a particular interest in food, specifically in trying a variety of cuisines. I am a foodie.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
It isn’t often we get that good of a meal while we’re on the road!
Today was our first day in Krakow! I’ll be back soon with more on that!