If I am being completely honest with y’all on here I have been really struggling with how to tackle this last summer into posts. I am going to tell a story, but I want you to understand that certain parts of our journey will be omitted just because they seem so empty when laced together, they seemed so out-of-place because their impact initiated wheels to spin. Although summer is coming to a close those wheels are still spinning and soon the words will be strung together but until then I suppose we should let the storytelling begin.
The scene is set, early July just as a cold front begins to release the city my mom and I are on our way south. Eating a juicy rainbow of produce for breakfast and the checklist repeats a thousand times in my head. Did I have all reservations? Tickets? Contacts, check. Shoes… who needs ’em? I have my phone, right?? It was time to go, lets hope all the cards fall into place and we aren’t playing 52 card pick up instead.
The sun was still hanging high in the evening sky illumination Kraków in its golden rays. Kraków is one of Poland’s largest and oldest cities nearly unscathed from WWII, which is an incredible feat. Legend has it that the mayor of the town met with the Germans as soon as the city was invaded because the city was completely defenceless. The mayor then gave himself up as hostage to save the city from being shot to pieces. As a result, the city stands broadly with a dark beauty. A city that was once the capital of the General Government has seen its fair share of evil. Cobblestone streets weave through coloured facades with pointed roofs and an occasional Jesus hanging upon a wall.
Mom and I dropped our luggage off in our tiny hotel room adorned with a pigeon masterpiece before rushing to the centre in shorts for the first time since we arrived. Marvelling at the canopy of tress and seemingly endless parks we couldn’t help but notice the amount of nuns and friars rubbing elbows with us on our way to the castle. The Wawel Royal Castle is stunning, walking up to it the sheer size of it is incredible. Ivy crept its way up the walls framing doors that knights once walked through. Craning our necks we stared in awe at the tower, my eyes as wide as the entirety of Kraków lay spilled out in front me. Layers upon layers of land, flowers painting the world a colourful hue. The evening began to slip through our fingers and we had to let go of the fairytale castle to fill our bellies with bubbly. Perched up above throngs of people we watched a Shakespearean play in Polish unfold in front of our eyes as we feasted on Kiełbasa and beer.
Our heads fell upon the pillows shortly after the sun left the skyline. We rose early as could be to arrive to a randomly assigned location and piled into a nondescript white van with perhaps the surliest driver in all of Poland. An hour through winding roads at the back of a muted van we were discarded at Auschwitz with my stomach nearly coming up my throat. There we spent three hours absorbing information and wrapping our heads around the atrocities that took place here. Walking alongside the ghosts of Auschwitz and Birkenau left my heart heavy, my soul imprinted and my mind forever affected.
Standing in front of Auschwitz Mom and I received a scolding from our petulant mumbling driver because we couldn’t find our van among a sea of identical white vans. Heaven forbid. It was now time for the Salt Mines and neither one of us knew exactly what to expect. All I knew was that there were 800 steps and it was constantly 14-16C degrees (57-60F). Laughing with our new-found friends we slowly cascaded through salted surroundings. Literally, you could lick the walls because they were made of salt. There are 2041 chambers but only a tiny fraction of them are open to the public some of them were sculptures of Copernicus, others have sparkling salted chandeliers illuminating chapels. The salt mine was excavated in the 13th century and continues to produce salt to this day. One particular chamber was sprawling, with 3 superfluous chandeliers sparkling among the biblical stories mounted upon the walls. I was positively fascinated and speechless standing 64m (209 ft) underground staring up at stalagmites, glittering lights and monuments nodding to Poland’s history.
The best part of the salt mines wasn’t until we were corralled into an elevator for 4, but put your bags up cause bitches we are about to fit ten people in this cage. I could feel my four neighbours bodies convulsing filling the tiny space with thundering laughter as we shot up and out of the mine. After our 10 hour day Mom and I settled into a restaurant with some Aperol spritzes in our hands as we snacked on hummus and falafel reflecting on all the happenings of the past 48 hours. We tucked our memories into our luggage and zipped them up to carry them with us as we Czech out more of Europe.