Monday, May 14, 2012

Krakow, OMG the Food

Monday, Auschwitz

I can't, I just can't.

Even though none of my direct family was lost during the Holocaust, and even though it was done with long before I was born, and even though I am by no stretch of the imagination an observant Jew, it's always been very personal to me.

It's inconceivable that a stranger should hate me, me, for no other reason than who my parents or grandparents or great-grandparents - all total strangers too - were.

And seriously would want me dead.
I just can't wrap my mind around that.

I was a little agitated, a little short of breath on the bus ride.

The statistics, the straw mattresses, the calculus of it all kept me on the verge of tears.

The pile of hair from forty thousand women, blondes, brunettes, and only a small fraction of the murdered millions, only a fraction of the nameless dead weighed two thousand pounds and filled a large room better than waist-deep.

Hair from murdered women.

It's just too much.

The case with the lovingly handmade baby items: a very fine Gansey cardigan, an Icelandic style pullover, a lovely lace cardigan, all in about a three-month size or smaller, from dead babies. Babies.

We just didn't need to see Birchenau too. It was enough horror.

Kopet Koskiousko was interesting and not upsetting.

There are no guard rails, and it's high.

Even though I have never in my life stumbled and fallen and had my life saved by guard rails, I was more than a touch nervous, but not enough to stop me.

The view was excellent, even though except for the river, we were able pick out absolutely no landmarks.

More excellent food, this time Georgian and I definitely have some recipe searching to do.

Tomorrow night we take an overnight train to Prague.

Sunday, First Day in Poland

Oh and by the way, thumbs up to Lufthansa. Comfortable seats, excellent and substantial snacks, free alcohol of which I did not avail myself.

I sat next to an ex-Marine who trains bodyguards for a living. They could make a movie out of this guy's life. I felt rather dull by comparison.

Krakow is crazy cheap by American standards, batshit crazy cheap compared to Geneva. Our rather long bus ride from the airport cost just over a dollar, an "expensive" multi-zone ticket with gorgeous rural scenery, and we ate like emperors for not much at all.

I really didn't think I'd like Polish food, being essentially meat and potatoes. Give me an eating trip through Asia and I'm all over that, but meat and potatoes? Pass.

Or so I thought.

The food is really good. Potato pancakes smothered in a mushroom and (what tested like) bacon sauce - no going wrong there! A pear-infused, slightly warm beverage that came with the kids' "Lanch Plan". The mashed potatoes were delicious, and of course beets abound.

The "Polish appetizer" they brought us at dinner was delicious until a after we asked what it was, and then, a little less so.


With onions and herbs to be sure, but lard nonetheless.

We found (or they found us; the guy with the chef hat - two ladles, two pots, one milk, one dark - of melted chocolate at the entrance was the best salesman ever) a place that makes their own chocolate and has a coffee shop upstairs where they sell cups of melted chocolate, among other delights. I mean, seriously.

Is there any way that a normal human is supposed to be able to resist this stuff? At least we're not here for too long; on the other hand, I bet I could do some serious damage to my body weight in the allotted time.

It's fascinating seeing the contrasts between old pre-War buildings and statues and those remaining from the Communist era: statues of noble workers and the like.

Old Town is guarded by a castle with a moat! It's quite touristy inside, but the restaurants are plentiful, the buildings are pretty, there's free wifi all over the place (sadly not at our hotel; they have Ethernet cables which are less useful with an iPad), people are friendly.
It feels like a big deal to me to be here in Poland, behind the erstwhile Iron Curtain. When I was my kids' age, travelling around Europe on a South African passport, the Soviet Union ruled this part of the globe and I wasn't welcome, yet the area holds so much personal history. Let me rephrase that. It's history that is not necessarily of my direct ancestors, but it was such a part of the Nazi reach which I do feel very personally.

The Nazis would have killed me, the Comunists would not have welcomed me, yet here I am, and today I think I'm not entirely unwelcome. It's both odd and satisfying.

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