Krakow, Poland was one of the first trips I took after arriving on station in Italy. It was also just a weekend trip, but that one weekend held stark opposites in the two days that I was there. Drunken escapade one night, only to visit Auschwitz the next morning.
I suppose the trip started like any good trip should start: a long, uncomfortable road trip with the constant wondering of when you will arrive. It was my friend Nick, his wife, her friend and I. But we had booked this trip with a local woman called Nikki Travel that does group trips for military members in the area. We met up with all of the other people going on the trip at the local Spaghetti House restaurant (one of my favorites) and loaded up on a bus. I remember Schindler’s List was played on the bus TV, I guess to prepare us for what was to come.
But before the heavy stuff the next day, we partied.
I don’t know why I was surprised, but Krakow is a beautiful city. I guess it was so surprising because out of all the cities in Europe that get attention, Krakow isn’t one of them (or any city in Poland to be honest). The people are friendly, the women are beautiful and the memories that I made there, in the one night that I was there, makes it one of my favorite Tales from Europe that I had.
We broke off from the main Nikki Travel group pretty early. One of the earliest things we did was eat at Hard Rock Cafe (I know). I remember being struck by how beautiful the girl behind the gift shop counter was. I like to think that I would’ve gathered up the courage to talk to her under different circumstances, but who am I kidding. The night of drinking did start here, though.
We wondered around the city for a bit before heading back to the hotel to drop off any souvenirs in our room. After that we headed back out. Now, this was one of my earliest trips that I took in Europe, so my memory is a little fuzzy about that night (also…alcohol). I remember that Nick’s wife eventually went back to the hotel as the night went on, we lost her friend and me and Nick went to a club where drunken me loved to dance. I’m sure we stuck out like sore thumbs as Americans in this Polish club, but it was a lot of fun. Also, somehow I had acquired Nick’s wife’s friend’s hat. (That was a lot of apostrophes). *See drunken photo below:
So as you can see, I was obviously feeling pretty good about myself. To my defense, I had gotten to dance with a Polish girl and being in a new country, my confidence was pretty high. I had a blast that night.
Now, I will skim past the rest of the night only because we did what most men do after a drunken night out on the town: we went to a strip club. But I will skip that. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel. I think it was 5am at this point. When we woke up, me still half-drunk, we found that the friend had made it back to the hotel in some miraculous fit of that phenomenon when drunken you has better direction than sober you.
We all loaded onto the bus to Auschwitz. And let me tell you, if we weren’t sober already, we soon would be. To stand on the grounds that, to most, is only something from the movies is a humbling experience. The things that happened there…well, they don’t need to be said by me.
“Work Sets You Free”. In hindsight, that has a certain malicious undertone obviously. Because, indeed, they weren’t set free. It was the exact opposite.
We got to walk up and down the streets of Auschwitz, see their “living” quarters, and all of their belongings. There was a whole glass case of pots and pans because, apparently, they had been told that they would be able to cook for themselves. That was not the case.
I love this picture that I took, as weird as that sounds. To me, it just seems to capture a moment in time. This is what the people of Auschwitz saw everyday. A sign. A sign with a skull and crossbones telling them to halt. Huge concrete walls enclosing them in. I’m just trying to envision myself being there, which is a hard feat to do. What lies behind that door? Is it death? Is it freedom? If it is freedom, it is so close. Right on the other side.
After the main complex of Auschwitz we went to anther part. The name is slipping my mind, but this is where the prisoners were brought in first. Calling them prisoners doesn’t even sound right. Like they had committed a crime. By this time in the trip, the wild and rowdy group from the night before had become silent. Only whispers and the snapping of photos could be heard. I remember it was cold and rainy that day. Just a taste of what the prisoners had to endure, and we had coats.
I decided to start this series of blog posts off with Krakow because this trip had such and interesting dynamic to it. One night we experienced the beauty of Krakow, drunkenly stumbling through the city, being a tourist. And the next, was spent remembering how much the country of Poland had been through. To be able to even visit this country and drunkenly stumble through the streets is a blessing, I think. So, I hope you enjoyed this first delve into my time as an American in Europe. There will be more to come in the coming days and weeks as I have a lot of fun times to tell. Thanks for reading!