Hello everyone! I am sorry my blogging has become less frequent; I have come down with this thing called the “travel bug”. The past few weekends I have been traveling around Europe eating delicious foods, meeting new friends, and finding out how to overcome language barriers. After reading my emails, my friends and family have questioned, “Are you really studying over there?” Yes and no. I’ll admit that I am not sitting in the library everyday with my nose stuffed in a book but I am learning something new daily and the best lessons do not always come from sitting in a classroom.
We traveled with ISA to Marianske Lazne and Karlovy Vary, which are spa towns in the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic. Definition: A spa town is situated around a mineral spring. Many people live and visit spa towns to drink the mineral water. Marianske Lazne is surrounded my beautiful forests and the entire town takes on a magical appeal with the Roman baths, flourishing gardens, and healing springs. Usually those who live in the spa towns will purchase a mug and keep it at a reception desk so they can come and drink the water daily. The water, however, does not taste as magical as one would think. The mineral water tastes really salty and carbonated. After tasting the water, we were able to relax in the Roman baths. We spent our second night at the spa town, Karlovy Vary. Karlovy Vary was not as “quaint” but it still offered beautiful architecture and was equally charming. Every year the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) takes place in Karlovy Vary and thousands of tourists and tens of celebrities come. The James Bond movie “Casino Royale” was filmed at the Grandhotel Pupp in this famous spa town. I am leaning toward an early retirement so I can spend my days relaxing in the Roman baths and eating vanilla spa wafers. You know where to find me…
Now let’s travel east to Poland. Krakow, Poland surprised me from the fashion to friendliness. The truth is, most of my stereotypes of any city in Europe have been completely backwards. I imagined Krakow as a dreary and unfriendly city but I found the atmosphere to be the complete opposite. The locals were genuinely helpful and good-hearted people. We took an overnight train from Prague to Krakow and arrived at 7:30am with no clue where to go. Of course we were too excited that we forgot to write down the address of our hostel. We continued to wander and finally stopped at a café to get directions. We eventually found the ‘Pink Panther Hostel’ and dropped off our bags and set out on our day.
Although we were warned otherwise, we decided to visit Auschwitz on our first day rather than our last because it is such an emotional experience. I cannot say I was excited to visit Auschwitz but I was curious to see this horrible place that has been described in our history books for over 60 years. What I found after beginning on the tour was the remains of a bone-chilling torture camp sucked free of any justice or hope. It was heart wrenching when I walked down the same path that millions of innocent men, women, and children marched down to their unfortunate fate. Despair, hatred and loneliness are all feelings that the history books don’t offer but physically being at Auschwitz makes those emotions come alive. It was an experience that I will never forget and I will always remember the millions of innocent lives lost during World War II.
Although we were emotionally exhausted it did not take long for us to cheer each other up. Come nightfall, the market square was filled with musicians playing jazz music, the fountains were lit up and decorated horse drawn carriages lined the streets. The excitement of discovering a new city never gets old. The next few days we toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It included historic statues made from salt and salt crystal chandeliers. It was unreal how something like that can be made underground. We toured Schindler’s Factory Museum; an amazing museum with videos, quotes, and items from the Jewish families living in the ghettos. We visited the Jewish Quarter and then took pictures at the Krakow Castle. Overall, I packed in as much as I could in three days and I wish I could have stayed longer. Krakow is a charming city with an edge, which makes it so appealing.
What I learned this trip:
- look up directions before you arrive
- get the sleeper cabin when traveling by train to avoid being restless for over ten hours
- Polish food and fashion are equally amazing
- and last but not least- learning about the history and culture of other nations is vitally important
My advice to you: take every opportunity to travel, to learn, and to meet new people because there is nothing more valuable than the adventures we take and the friends we make along the way.