I was a bit nervous to be traveling to Krakow. It would be the first country that nobody in our group could speak the native language in, and I expected fewer people to speak English. I thought I would need to resort to using many hand motions and pointing to try to communicate with the residents. I was also nervous because I did not know what to expect from the city. I had a general idea of the type of setting I was getting into when going to London, Bayeux, and Paris, but I had no idea what Krakow would be like.
To my surprise, soon after arriving in Krakow, I realized that I was going to like the city. Professor Steigerwald and Professor Davidson took us on a short walking tour to help orient us, and then we were on our own for dinner. Most of us went to a small, traditional Polish restaurant for dinner. I had pierogi, and they were delicious! Afterwards, we walked down the street to look in some of the small shops and get ice cream.
I really enjoyed walking around the streets and square in Krakow. The stone streets were beautiful, and we could walk down the middle of them, rarely having to move for cars. Some of my favorite times in Krakow were walking around. The square had so many street vendors and there was a small market in the center, filled with authentic, hand made Polish souvenirs and items. The detail in the various items for sale was amazing. There was an entire booth of hand painted religious icons. Just looking at them was amazing. I personally liked the hand carved chess sets. Even though I am not very good, I enjoy playing chess. There were sets of all different sizes and made from all different woods. I ended up purchasing one made partially out of cherry.
The square was also a good place to sit and observe the action or grab a bite to eat. There were frequently horse drawn carriages to watch and street performers to listen to. It offered a variety of eating options. Whether I wanted to grab a quick bite to eat from a food stand or sit down at a fancy restaurant, I could find it in or near the square. I particularly enjoyed the doner kebabs. These were great if I needed a quick meal or wanted to eat on the go.
As I explored the square, I realized that the calmness and pleasantness of Krakow was a bit bizarre. Here was this beautiful city with good food and a nice square, and not to far away was one of the most notorious sites for genocide in the world. It just did not seem right that this pleasant city was so close to Auschwitz. I continued thinking about this while I was in Krakow, and while I was still partially uneasy about it, another part of me was okay with it. It is extremely important to remember the past and to honor those who were killed at Auschwitz,
but it is also important to not become bogged down in the past and not look forward to the future. The Polish people need to remember their past and recognize the atrocities they faced, but they also must move forward as a country. To not move forward is to give the Nazis the final word. Krakovians did not give the Nazis the final word though, and because of this, I think it is okay for Krakow to be a pleasant city to live in or visit, as long as while you are there, you also take the time to honor the thousands of Jews and other Poles who were killed by the Nazis.
Visiting Krakow was extremely interesting. I enjoyed experiencing their culture and learning about how they dealt with their painful history. The people of Krakow, especially the Jews, have been through tremendous horrors, but they do not let that define their city. They remember, but they also move forward.