Travel Journal Entry #21: From Ostrava to Krakow

Europe Travel Journal TWENTYONE

There are always plenty of surprises when you travel. Most of the surprises are usually bad apples but when our feet touched the ground at Ostrava we were up for a treat. Truthfully I did not have high expectations for Ostrava as the main reason we decided to visit the city was our lousy butt muscles. The train travel time would have been roughly seven hours if we had taken direct connection from Prague to Krakow, Poland. The fine city of Ostrava met us in the middle.

Ostrava watch tower has a quite a fountain. Willy on the loose!

The hotel we picked was the best we’ve had so far – the owners wanted to pick us up from the train station so we had zero hassle with luggage. Hence we were able to get our classic people holding a sign with our names on it – moment on our trip. Ten minute car trip and we received keys to our hotel room. For our surprise the room was actually a whole apartment with separate bedroom, living room and a open kitchen space.  Would have been awesome to spend a longer time with this kind of apartment setup but we only stayed two nights here. So we decided to make the most of it!

Ostrava did not have many wonderful sights to visit so we ended up visiting the local watch tower and stroll around the city. The entrance fee was minimal and the height was reached via elevator. The views were pretty sweet but unfortunately the safety fence ruined the Kodak moment. Other option was to steer your camera lens through the safety net and risk dropping your phone. Mission accomplished!

Down below the majestic circle of casual traffic.

Our host dropped us back to railway station and we were off to our final destination of the Europe trip, Krakow. It felt sort of sentimental to hop off from the last train and understand that your not boarding a train anymore. The only thing left is to experience this city and all that it offers – then fly back to homeland. I was kind of scared of how long it would take to adjust back to the normal day-to-day life. I wanted to hide that thought to the back of my head for now.

I can only say that Krakow was a delight and there were so many things to see and explore. As we knew that our flight out of Krakow to Helsinki would be a really early one (7 AM or something), we decided to visit the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau on first day in town and explore the city on the last one.

I am sure most of you have watched the documentaries and read about the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau but you only get a glimpse to the torture, destruction and slaughter of innocents. When you actually land your feet on the ground and walk through that gate with the innocent looking railroad tracks..

Your steps get a bit more heavier with every step.

You read the informative boards, stories of survivors, events that occurred and the actions that were lashed upon innocent souls. Just the first one you read after walking through the gate gives you a solid punch in the gut:

Immediately after getting off the train, the Jews were ordered to line up into two columns, one of women and children and the other of men. Each column was subjected to “selections” by SS doctors and medical orderlies, there and then on the ramp: the strong and the healthy were separated from the old, the sick, and children. People selected as fit for work were sent to the camp. The others, usually 70 to 75 percent of a transport, were sent to be murdered in the gas chambers.

Of course nowadays the place is only a shadow of the horror it used to be.

I believe it’s best just to look at the pictures and let them do the talking.

The memorial plate in front of Auschwitz-Birkenau
Road to the “living” quarters.
Imagine having one minute to do your business next to hundred others. Sit a bit too long on the toilet and you will be beaten, possibly to death.
Endless rows of uncomfortable bunk beds. When the mornings came, there were literally dead among the woken.
Lone chimneys standing inside a two meter high razor spike fence. Every single chimney was once lit in order to survive.
The road you only walked once. The prisoners were lied to be taken for a refreshing shower but it was Zyklon B, cyanide gas. One minute in the chamber was enough to kill an adult.
Some of the prisoners fought back and were able to burn the original gas chamber factory.

“On October 7, 1944, members of the Sonderkommando – the special detachment of Jewish prisoners who were forced to empty the gas chambers after a mass gassing and undertake the burning of the corpses – organized the only armed revolt that ever took place at Auschwitz. They succeeded in destroying Gas Chambers and Crematorium IV. More than 450 heroic prisoners who took part in the revolt were murdered by the SS, either during the revolt itself or subsequently for the purpose of retaliation.”

The only thing we can do now is to remember the victims and make sure it never happens again.
The (rail) road ends here.

It was a long, hard day and made me really grateful for the things we take for granted. Freedom of speech, freedom of own choices and actions. Freedom to live life as we see fit. The next morning was the last day of our long trip and we spent it wondering around the city center of Krakow.  Last few remaining sightseeing moments flew by and the remaining time was spent hunting down some souvenirs for the folks at home.

Our hotel was next to the Grunwald Monument. The battle of Grunwald between Poland and Lithuania is considered to be one of the greatest battles ever to take place in medieval Europe.
The market plaza had a lot to offer for tourists and various museums, shops and churches were only few steps away.
The river Veiksel flows gently through Krakow. Picture taken from the Wawel Castle wall.

There we have it.

The journey through Europe was finished the next day with a flight via Amsterdam to Helsinki.  So many thoughts, stories and memories. Great laughs. Truthfully there is plenty to tell about and perhaps I will share some of these memories later in my website.

As all of you might now, I am finishing this travel diary almost three months late as I have been extremely with life in general –  going back to work and actually passing a entrance exam for another study program. In 2018 I am going to expand into a whole new territory in the work department.

All I can say for now is the fact that my traveling days are not finished.

Catch you on the flipside!

– George