I hope everyone has had a very merry Christmas, and is enjoying the New Year! Before Christmas, I spent some time filming with Tim, for my first full episode on Grey Seals which I should begin editing for very soon. An update on film progress can be found here: And so it begins...
|Seal pup at sunset|
I then went on a bit of a road trip to South Wales, where I joined Sam for a walk around Cardiff and had a mini adventure in search of waterfalls on the Brecon Beacons. A beautiful place for a walk in the pouring rain.
|Waterfall hunting in the Beacons|
I have just returned from a trip to Poland. A place where my Dad has long wanted to go. He decided to book it spontaneously asking if I wanted to join him. I knew Auschwitz would be on the agenda, a place where I had mixed feelings about wanting to visit or not, and I had no idea what Krakow would be like as a city. In this blog I thought I would try something a bit different and include a few extracts from the diary I keep on the adventures I go on. I have put them in italics to differentiate them from the main text. Let me know what you think! Part two will follow shortly.
|View from the window|
And now we sit, in a busy coffee house, windows still decorated with snowflakes from Christmas. Waves of Polish conversation merge into a messy and unfamiliar sound. We overlook the market square. Horse drawn carriages line-up underneath the Basilica; majestic as it stands tall, high above the square. The cylindrical towered pinnacles of the roof are intricately designed and topped with spheres. A faint smog-like mist lingers, softening the detail of the furthest buildings.
|St Mary's Basilica|
My first impressions of Poland were filled with disappointment. The outskirts of the city on the drive in from the airport were highly industrialised. Large pipelines run alongside and over the top of the roads, rusted and scarred with graffiti. The taxi driver informed us of their purpose - to deliver hot water as central heating to the buildings around.
Giant square blocks of concrete buildings stand tall and alone. Spread sparsely across the barren and heavily littered grasslands. The ghostly shapes of corvids, rooks and solitary crows, epitomised the urban landscape, as they sifted through litter and squabbled over scraps.
After a tram ride into the city centre, and some terribly embarrassing attempts to learn how to simply say 'thank you' in Polish, we walked up to Wawel Cathedral. We have pronounced it to at least five people, all of whom politely corrected us with a smile on their face. 'Dziekuje'. The Cathedral is surrounded by impressive castle-like walls that were reduced to ruin. Reparation work began in the early 20th Century, and now it is a cross-stitch of modern brickwork, old timber frames and large stone walls.
|One of the towers outside of the Cathedral|
The sheer size and majesty of the buildings took us aback slightly, as the buildings were unexpectedly stunning. I had never released just how much influence Christianity had on Poland. Krakow has beautiful churches on their cobbled streets, elegantly mixing the new and old buildings. The architecture and effort that went into these buildings is phenomenal.
Inside Wawel Cathedral. An elderly woman rocked in one of the pews alone. Clutching a chain of beads and a cross in her clenched hands, muttering words of prayer to herself. Stunning stain glass windows, finely carved gold-leaf decor, marble tombs and a bronze statue of an ancient Cypriat. The statues hands, one outstretched, were smooth and bright as they have been worn by groping religious folk that touch the hands and feet for prayer. Getting into the religious spirit, we made a donation and lit a candle on the bench for our family. Sparing them all a thought. After doing so, a child clumsily knocked into the rack of candles, extinguishing a few of the flames and the prayers they stood for. An innocent act of prayer sabotage.
Back on the streets we bought some bread from one of many stalls that the locals seem to thrive on. The bread was simply a large bagel. We then come across a stall selling what looked like pastry at first glance, but turned out to be decorative smoked/fried cheese. The flavour was nice and smokey, but the cheese a bit ropey and left our throats dry and furry, and in need of a good drink.
|The world passes him by|
A homeless man, hunkered down on a bench .Wrapped up warm, he slowly fell asleep forwards, jolting awake before he would fall to the ground. A nun waited patiently in a queue for a kebab. As sunlight faded and darkness set in, the lights on the old market square reflected and glimmered on the surface of the wet cobbled pavings, casting long shadows and scattering colour throughout.
|Horse drawn carriage in the square|
We tried some potatoe, beef and cabbage dumplings. Much nicer than the bread and cheese of earlier. The extreme popularity of Baltic amber was evident in the quaintly bustling market. Beautiful amber trinkets and jewellery. Shockingly, amongst the handcrafted goods, clothes and ornaments, fur hats and deerskin rugs were sold. The hats were made of red and 'silver' foxes. Their tails clipped to the skinned animals head and body that has been stitched and wrapped to fit onto peoples heads.
|Red fox hat|
The market smelled wonderful. As cooked meats, fried vegetables, sweet roasted nuts and homemade dumplings and bread wafted into the cooling air. The market fell silent as a trumpet played from the top of the cathedral on the hour. The melody echoed as it cut out halfway through the tune, in honour of a famous 13th Century trumpeter.
|St Mary's Basilica|
|Buying dumplings on the market|
We sit on the tram back out of the city. The wheels rattle like a box of screws. The sound of steel creaking fills the carriage, as the tram meanders through the streets. Every person we have met so far has been extremely helpful, going above and beyond to help direct, translate and guide us around this intriguing City.
6.1.14 Auschwitz / Oswiecim
|Birkenau, the largest of the camps at Auschwitz, taken from the top of the tower|
|Jackdaws welcome visitors to the site|
|"The work will set you free"|
I do not know where to start with the concentration and death camps. 1.1 million people died at Auschwitz, made up of several camps. To see and witness the places where the stories of torture, slavery and slaughter took place was incredible. The horrific stories were endless and overwhelming. The remains left are distressing to see, and yet it is still ridiculously difficult, I would say impossible, to imagine what they went through and how it must have felt. I do not feel like it was a life-altering experience. But, there were a few things that really stood out for me. There are lots of stories I could share, but I will only share the few that had the most impact on me. I would definitely recommend visiting, and taking your own thoughts and feelings from the experience.
|Some of the electric barbed wire surrounding the camps|
The sight of the room full of hair really wrenched at my stomach. The Germans used the hair from the shaven heads of the Jews to make jumpers and knitwear for general use. Their hair harvested from them like wool from sheep, before they went into the chambers to be gassed with cyclone pellets. Nearly two tonnes of hair was recovered when the site was reclaimed at the end of WWII. Real hair, from real people that were killed here. Other rooms are full of their belongings. Separated into piles to be reused and recycled. Piles of shoes. Piles of cases. Piles of spectacles. Piles of clothes. The Jews were told to remember where they put their stuff before they entered the showers where they were gassed. Further lulling them into believing they had arrived at a working camp. Sickening.
|The reconstructed first gas chamber at Auschwitz I|
They never saw any of their stuff ever again. Strong men were kept as slaves. Often, their first job after being separated from the rest of their family was to carry the dead bodies of the 2,000 just killed to be incinerated. This would often include their sons, daughters, wives, and parents. They would have had to burn their own family.
|The 'scratch' marks in the wall of the gas chamber|
Some of the corridors were full of pictures of the prisoners and people that were kept and killed at Auschwitz. On and on the photographs go. Portraits of the deceased. Their face, with their age, date of death, and livelihood. Teachers, labourers, plumbers, priests, doctors, farmers. All prisoners. All killed in the camp.
|Wooden watchtower at Birkenau|
|Chimney remains of buildings destroyed by Germans when they realised they lost the war, in an attempt to hide the evidence.|
|Sunset over Birkenau|
Part II in the next couple of days. Thank ya'll for reading...