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Little Talks. A Story of Krakow, Poland.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect from Poland.  We have only really been learning about the negative events that have occurred there. I was excited to form my own opinion.

Our class loaded the bus and drove about two hours to the Wieliczka Salt Mine just outside of Krakow.  We descended the 54 flights of stairs to one of three levels we would eventually explore.  Our tour was around two hours and we still only saw 1% of the mine.  The mine opened in the 13th century making it one of the oldest salt mines in operation.  I didn't know that the term "salary" came from being paid in salt at that time.  Our guide encouraged us to lick the walls to taste the salt.  We was unsure at first, but before we knew it we were all sampling the walls at different times during the tour.  We also had the chance to sample concentrated brine which tasted like very salty water. The different chambers in the mine were beautiful.  Some had live animations demonstrating how the mine operated.  There was even a chapel in the mine with sculptures made of salt and a salt chandelier.  Our guide pointed out there was a mistake in one of the sculptures that was carved into wall, proving that not all of the architects were professionals (a horse was carved with both his right hooves in the air).  It was like a small city in the mine.  I had no idea it was this huge and I felt like I was in an art museum for most of the tour.   
After we surfaced (we got to take an elevator back up, don't worry), we made it the rest of the way to Krakow.  Our hostel was in a great area and we dispersed to find dinner in the area.  We stumbled upon an authentic Polish restaurant and I had meatball soup with quail eggs and meat and cheese pierogis (I know dad, I am proud of me too).
After dinner, we met with some of the rest of the group at an outside bar with lounge chairs.  There was great apple and pear cider on tap.  Half ordered apple and half ordered pear, then we switched to decide what was the favorite ( I think apple came out on top).  We were being our typical "loud American" selves, but this time I didn't care quite as much.  The neighborhood we were in was very young and had trendy vibes to it.  I felt perfectly at home being twenty years old here as opposed to previous trips where we are quite a bit younger than the average crowd.  It was a haven for young people and we were thriving having fun and lots of laughs.  Our little talks like this are the ones that mean the most.  We don't talk about overly serious topics, but we bond closer together. The air got chilly quickly as the sun set so we called it a night.

We stayed at a place called Momo Town Hostel and it also had the young, trendy theme.



The next morning we visited Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory.  The museum was so well done.  It was the right mix of seriousness and interactiveness to accommodate all ages.  It was organized by year and you could get you "passport" stamped before each year/exhibit.  The years were dark.  I tried to read as many of the captions as I could, but you could be in there for days and still not get through.  That is a common theme of a lot of places we visit.  They had testimonials from survivors of the Holocaust who were Schindler's employees and seeing their interviews was probably my favorite part.  A lot of their stories conveyed that their life was spared our to sheer luck.  It was a great experience for our group to put a lot of things into perspective.  

After the factory, Martin and Doug ushered us the the main square in Krakow.  We have seen so many city centers and I love seeing all of the differences and similarities between them.  Faviola asked me which city center has been my favorite on the trip and I couldn't choose just one.  They are all so unique and embody their own city.  I like that about all of them.  Saint Mary's Basilica and the Krakow Cloth Hall were prominent features in the centre.  Saint Mary's looks ordinary on the outside but absolutely miraculous on the inside.  I have no words for all of the colors and features on the inside. The Cloth Hall is a long hallway with vendors lining both sides.  It was filled with handmade crafts and amber jewelry (I bought my new favorite ring there). 
We also made our way to Wawel Castle and Cathedral.  The Cathedral is hosts  Saint Lenord's Crypt and other Polish King's burial sites. Pope John Paul II offered his first mass as acting Pope here as well.  

Without a doubt my favorite part of the trip was dinner after the castle.  We went back to our neighborhood and headed to the food trucks! The group that was already there specifically told us to order the number 6 baked potato with garlic sauce.  I didn't even know what I was ordering, but I trusted my friends and I was so glad I did.  It was a gigantic baked potato smothered in cheese, sour cream, chicken, and vegetables.  I never wanted this potato to end it was so amazing.  I was so full by the end.  But then, I saw it.  Faviola ordered a chimney cake that had Nutella coating the inside, ice-cream, brownies, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce on top. I would regret it forever if I didn't order one.  I did the responsible thing and bought one even though I was too full to move.  If I could go back and do it again, I would in a heartbeat.  They were a literal chocolate mess, but very worth it.  We were sticky and covered in Nutella.  Just as we were cleaning up the aftermath of dessert, a couple asked us what we were eating.  We gave them our recommendations and we told them it was a 10/10.  They spoke English and did't have an accent.  We started talking to them and found out he was from Kansas and she was from Canada.  They are both study abroad students in Germany and they were also on a weekend trip.  It blows my mind how many fellow study abroad students we have met on our travels!  We traded travel stories and our favorite places in the world we have seen.  They had been such interesting places and I loved hearing about their adventures.  We talked to them for a long while and unfortunately we had to say goodnight because we had to leave for our tour of Auschwitz at 6:00 am the next morning.  

I want to preface by saying our day at Auschwitz and Auschwitz- Birkenau was very heavy.  I don't think anything I type can do justice to what happened there.  It was an emotional experience that I tried to fight the entire time I was there.  We heard the numbers our guide told us, but she repeated them so we would understand.  Even then, I still don't think I will ever fully comprehend what we saw.  Some of the buildings have been restored so they look brand new and that took away some of the gravity of it.  Other buildings were just in complete ruins so the complete effect still wasn't there. I didn't know how to feel for a lot of the tour.  We had to hire our tour guide through a 3rd party vendor and she was great, don't get me wrong, but it all felt like a business. It wasn't what I was expecting at all.  We went into buildings where people slept and one of the exhibits was a mountain of hair that had been shaved off of women and girls' heads. That really sunk in because some of it was still in braids.  The intentions were to sell the hair for other uses like fertilizer.  There was very little talking on the tour and after because we were all still processing. 

Back to Krakow! After our tour, we had an hour for lunch before we headed back to Olomouc and we had more great street food.  I will miss this city a lot because I felt at home.  The young feel was so fun and all the food we ate was amazing.  I wasn't expecting a lot from Poland but it has broken into my top 5 favorite places we have visited.  I can't imagine myself ever living in a Vienna or a Prague, but I could imagine myself in Poland. This trip had ups and downs, but that is what also made it so memorable. The little talks and small details are what make the adventures so special.  

pk 




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