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Entries about poland

Auschwitz and Birkenau

Evil so great, it must never be forgotten

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There is an erie silence as you enter the gates of a place that although the sunshine is there, is cold and dark all the same. We have driven an hour and a half to get to this sacreds ground and now there is a dread that almost makes one want to stay away and not enter...

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We had awoken earlier to the usual morning sunshine entering our hostel room window shortly after 4 a.m. local time and found sleep hard to come by after that. With many of the other hostelers still sleeping in their dorms or private roomes, we made use of the nearly empty WiFi that was able to meet our needs for connectivity. After a couple of Skype messages, emails, and social posts, a shower and shave helped get the tired body awake and ready for our day.

We quickly ate a breakfast of pastries, yogurt, cottage cheese, peaches, and coffee. It is becoming a daily breakfast here in Poland , quick, easy, and a good way to stretch the meal budget for the more adventureous lunch and dinner experiences. We planned a full day for Wednesday, booking a tour with Krakow Tours, run by an Englishman named Phil Clark. The trip includes Auschwitz and Birkenau and the Wieliczka Salt Mine, usually a day trip each if you go with one of the big cattle-car tours, however offered together on a private tour with Krakow Tours.

Promptly at 8:10 a.m., Mark, our driver and tour guide, who is a Brit living and working in Poland now, pulled the Renault Van up to the front door and introduced himself. We had the option of riding up front with him as the middle seat was already occupied by the other two tour takers, a couple from the UK. We chose the front for the view and were soon zipping through the countryside to our destination. We learned tha Mark, a traveling magician at the age of 17, had been to Auschwitz while traveling, and being so facinated by it, returned from the UK on weekends, 17 more times before moving to Poland to work.

A great conversationalist, Mark shared his story and thoughts on Poland, as we neared the largest and most deadly of all the Nazi concentration camps, Mark let us know what buildings to go to and which ones to avoid to have the best experience, with the least crowds. Because Auschwitz is so busy, they require tours to come with a tour guide, unless as Mark would do, enter with us and give us the option to wander on our own once he got us on the inside.

And now the moment had arrived, we passed all the queues to get in and were at the gates that are seen in movies and textbooks worldwide. "Arbeit Macht Frei" or work makes you free. The infamous words that hung over the heads of those entering this killing compound of Adolf Hitler's regime.

...Why does it feel this way, as I turn to Terri she reassures me it is not just myslef that feels this wasy as we enter the compound, but an intensity of evil that just lingers over the grounds that lie before us. Words cannot describe what the eyes see next, but there is no denying this artrocity ever happened.

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The former barracks of these prisoners show the horrors that awaited them when they arrived. Many of these people were expecting to come alomost on a holiday type experience, a chance to better their lives and that of theur families. You see the piles of their best dishes that some brought not expecting to be taken prisoner instead. You see the spoils the Nazi SS took from them, piles of reading glasses, mountains of shoes, an assortment of clothing, and even children's toys. All of this stuns you and leaves you wondering, but the knockout blow hits when you see the tons of human hair, shaved from the victims of Auschwitz that was still to be sold by the Nazis to make textiles and cloth from. Yes, they still have tons of human hair from this event on display for you to see.

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From Auschwitz we make our way to Birkenau, a bigger camp designed specifically for the extermination of people. The tools of the trade our similar, just on a much larger scale. At one point, killing 6000 people per day. The clouds that hung over the camps eventually disappated and the sun came out. Much as it did for some of the survivors of this period in history.

The women are to le left and the men to the right as you enter. The majority of the women's barracks are brick as the houses in the area were torn down and used to build them, the men's were of wood as that is what was left. The pits for the bodies and the incinerators are at the back, eventually they built the railway line straight there. Why keep the infirm, the cripple, and children as they will just be a drain on resources was their thinking. The Nazis even tried to capture the sewer to power the incinerators, however the diet of the prisoners did not feed them well enough to allow their waste to produce methane, so that plan was scrrapped.

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The sights and stories are ones we will never forget.

From here we headed to the salt mine. These mines have been worked for hundreds of years and over 130 km of tunnels had been dug in the salt mines. We toured more than 3 km of them and had a great history of the mines described to us. The chpels built underground were oppulant. When we emerged from the earth, 150 meters deep, it was pouring rain.

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Our guide shuttled us back to the hostel and we said our goodbyes to Mark. Sharing a bond that only those who have shared the concentration camp experience together can. It is a day we will always remember, and a time many can never forget.

Posted by darrenesl 14:12 Archived in Poland Tagged poland europe auschwitz krakow birkenau Comments (0)

3 Days and Counting

Time is near, how's that packing list coming?

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Suddenly we look up and the calendar says its the middle of June. Oh my, where has time gone? As we finish the preparations for our European journey, it is time to make the final reservations on airbnb, check all of our needs, and start pulling the traveling pack together.

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Yes, we have the hybrid Caribee Skymaster 70. The exact pack, filled with 30+ lbs., that we have been walking about two miles a day with to prepare for the upcoming adventure. As we talked about before, the pack offers the best of both worlds with a combination backpack and rolling bag. Sure, we most likely will not be having to carry it on our back for 2 miles, but taking a line from the Boy Scouts, we are going to "be prepared."

Along with the whole travel planning that has been going on since last year, plans for some special happenings on this trip have been in the works as well. Celebrating ten years of marriage, Terri and I have a couples massage booked in the Hungarian baths, a dinner on-top of the tower in Vienna, and a night on a private boat in Croatia. Part of the fun of this adventure has been finding some things to do that would not be on our regular list of activities here at home.

We also have several cathedrals on the list. For anyone going to Europe and wanting to let the imagination soar ahead of time, I highly recommend reading Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.
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The book shares some of the design elements used to build these magnificent structures, with a thrilling storyline that will capture the mind of the reader.
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Many more thrilling items fill our agenda, as well as plenty of time to explore areas and get to know the locals as well. How's that packing coming you ask? Well the bags are full and we are under our 44lbs. limit. Have we forgot anything, hopefully not, thanks to the travellerspoint.com packing list. Yes, it is extensive, but it is good.

We have been months in the planning stages and now the trip is upon us, we look forward to sharing our journey with you over the next couple of weeks. Keep watching here for our story and pictures and we will try to update it regularly. Please leave us your feedback and comments, we want to hear from you!

Signing off until we hop on board that plane,

~Terri and Darren

Posted by darrenesl 18:47 Archived in USA Tagged boats budapest prague vienna eastern austria warsaw poland fun air hungary croatia europe czech travels split republic krakow airlines darrenesl Comments (0)

Taking the Plunge

There comes a time when it gets real, that time has now arrived.


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There is a knot in the stomach, palms are sweaty, it is hard to concentrate and wonderment surrounds. That is the experience that surrounds the moment of no return, that moment when dreams become reality, when there can be no turning back. That is the moment when you actually purchase your airline tickets for the journey.

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Deciding to fly into Warsaw, Poland may have been the easiest part of the decision. What proved to be much more difficult was determining when and where to buy the tickets for our trip. You may wonder why Poland was an easy decision? When we first started discussing a trip to Eastern Europe (Yes, I know it is actually Central Europe, but as an 80's youth, when communism and the cold-war still existed, it was Eastern Europe to millions of Americans, myself included), we looked at tickets to Hungry, Croatia, Czech Republic, and some of the larger Western European countries. The average RT flight from Los Angeles (LAX), California, to the destination cities that I looked at were $1,500USD for airfare in June 2014. However, as we continued looking at the map we decided to check Poland for flights, sure enough $987USD.

Once we discovered the difference in prices, the decision was made. We will fly into Poland and travel via train from there. The whole process seems easy enough, where does the previously mentioned angst come from you ask? Let me tell you, curses on that little "roaming gnome," I mean really does anybody know what he does for Travelocity? Or Hotwire, Kayak, WebJet, Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, these companies quickly became a thorn in my side.

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All of the companies have handy fare alerts that will tell you when the prices are going up or down, and it is as bad as watching the stock market rise and fall hourly. Really, how often can the airfare rise and fall during a single day? And Orbitz, well, they have all these great fares, but a "this fare is no longer available comes up on all of their lowest flights," what's that all about?

Information abounds about where to get you tickets and when to buy them. We researched and continued to watch the numbers rise, rise some more, and fall a bit. Again, they fluctuate, day-in and day-out. Eventually, you have to take that step and we did. Finding a $1000USD fare among the prices of several others that had now risen to $1100+, it was time to jump.

Yes, I hit that purchase now button and won't be looking back. We will be traveling on Lufthansa from LAX to WAW. That's right it is now official Eastern Europe 2014 is no longer a dream but a reality for Terri and I!

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The stress of choosing a flight is gone, now it is time to plan some activities!

Posted by darrenesl 14:03 Archived in USA Tagged travel vacation eastern austria poland holiday air hungary croatia europe czech republic planning airlines fare Comments (1)

The Planning Stages

Research, Research, Research -- What is important to you?

The research for our trip has begun, as well as the first reservations on where to stay and how we are going to travel. We always begin with a bang and try to have our trips paid off before we go with only the daily activities needing to be paid for upon arrival. The internet has become a travelers best friend and I love the hours of research that become part of my travels.

Living in San Diego, we have decided to fly Los Angeles to Warsaw, Poland as the air travel will be under $1000USD per person as opposed to $1200-1400USD flying into Hungary or Croatia. As a result of the addition of Poland to our trip, we have decided on 21days for this excursion. Look to our last post to see more and also below.

1. Warsaw - 2 days
2. Krakow - 3 - days
3. Budapest - 2- days
4. Zagreb - 2 days
5. Split/Dubrovnik - 4 days
6. Vienna - 3 days
7. Prague - 3 days
8. Warsaw - 2 days

You can follow along with the planning and trip, and many holidays leading up to this event on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/MrDarrenesl/ where I will post videos of what is going on and the thought process leading up to the trip. For now, as always, we look forward to your thoughts and ideas on how to make this trip a success!

Posted by darrenesl 15:36 Archived in USA Tagged travel vacation eastern austria poland holiday hungary croatia europe czech republic planning Comments (0)

Keeping It Simple

Transportation and Accommodations that make sense.


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When it comes to booking accommodations there are a few factors we always like to consider when making our choices. To make it easier I utilize a couple of online tools, first off the industry standard, Trip Advisor, the other online reservation system I use for information is hotels.com. By doing the research, we try to find accommodations that suit our needs the best. One other important place I check is bedbugregistry.com to make sure that the rooms are going to be free of critters.

However I am now planning an Central European (Eastern Europe as most Americans would call it) excursion for my wife and I next year. Having lived in Japan and traveled Asia and Europe, I am ready. My wife luckily for me is ready to try the rails and hostels out. We will keep you posted as of now our itinerary is looking like:
1. Warsaw
2. Krakow
3. Budapest
4. Zagreb
5. Split/Dubrovnik
6. Vienna
7. Prague
8. Warsaw

We'll provide more details as we continue planning in the meantime, feel free to comment or share places of interest. Looking forward to hearing from all.

Posted by darrenesl 15:29 Archived in USA Tagged vacation eastern austria poland hungary croatia europe czech republic Comments (0)

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