On of the most sobering experiences I have had in my life was seeing my last name at Auschwitz. I knew my family was from Poland during World War Two, and I knew that I had family in the concentration camps, but I never fully comprehended what this meant. Seeing the last name “Dudek,” under a picture of a Polish woman, forced the reality of the holocaust to set in. Seeing Auschwitz was an experience that I cannot describe with words, but I will carry the feeling with me forever.
My absolute favorite city we have visited thus far is Krakow, Poland. From the moment we got off the coach and I saw the city, I immediately understood why Krakow is considered the cultural capital of Poland! I loved being able to walk down the street and find random street art graffitied on the walls or stumbling into markets every few blocks. Also, the locals were extremely friendly and helpful. At every shop, I was greeted with a friendly smile. My favorite experience was when I bought hand-made Polish pottery to ship home, and when the owner saw my last name, he said, “Oh! I didn’t know you were Polish yourself!” This experience, like many others, made me feel very welcomed. Also, it was very noticeable that Krakow has a lot of colleges in the town. The locals were very close to college aged, and the city had a very “young people” vibe. The age and cultural feel of Krakow spoke to the “rebuilding” character of Poland since after World War Two. Everything in Krakow looked old, but the people and vibes of the city were young and new. Poland is an old country, but they have been rebuilding and re-growing since after the end of The War.
One specific thing I noticed about Krakow was that about 25% of locals I met in the mall and in shops did not speak English. I tried asking a worker a question in the Oskar Schindler museum, and she did not speak English. Neither did the cashier in a pierogi place I visited. This was interesting and surprising, because everyone I spoke to in other countries spoke English. I am not sure why this is. I plan on asking my Polish Grandfather when I get home to see if he has an explanation. It was tricky, but I loved trying out my minimal Polish language skills I learned from my grandfather those three days! Another note I made during our stay was the abundance of Catholicism in Krakow. I know Poland has always been a Catholic country, but I loved being able to see all the old Catholic churches and memorials throughout the town. On our free day in Krakow, I was able to visit St. Mary’s Basilica, St. Andrews, and the Wawel Cathedral. These three churches were all so beautiful, and I felt very connected to my faith while visiting them.