Hey all, it's Corry now and as you can see we're trying to smash out the last few of these blogs before we get home. After an incredibly uneventful time in Vienna we bussed it over to Prague for a little bit more sight-seeing and a lot more partying. We hopped on to the metro without paying as we didn't have any local currency yet and we hadn't seen a single guard checking tickets all through Europe, well apparently the guards in effing Prague do. I tried to talk my way out of it claiming we didn't have any money and spoke really fast in hopes it would be more confusing for them than it was worth, but no luck. It was only $40 so not the biggest deal. We arrived at our hostel "The Mad House" which was really cool with colourful artwork everywhere, a beer stocked fridge and good people. For a couple of dollars we had our first home cooked meal in I don't even know how long, which was basically shepherd's pie but with a bit more to it.
I awoke the next morning after what can only be described as an epic sleep-in to find Matt absent as he'd gone on the morning walking tour. I took myself off on the walking tour and was accompanied by a few friends we'd made the night before at dinner. The tour started in Old Town Square most famous for it's astronomical clock, which has some animated statues that put on a little show every hour, not much really, a window opens and they pass by but hey, it's good for a six hundred year old clock. Next we went to the Charles Bridge, which is a historic bridge that took nearly fifty years to build and contains thousands of eggs inside it because eggs hold a cake together so naturally they would hold a bridge together! Yeah, logic! I'm skipping a couple of the stops we made because they were churches and opera houses and stuff you get on literally every single other walking tour throughout all of Europe, but next up was the John Lennon Freedom Wall. A curious name as John Lennon had never been to Prague, but basically John Lennon was a bit of a hero during the communist regime because his songs were about freedoms the people didn't have, so people would listen to it and play it even though it was illegal. After his death someone painted his face on this wall (there was nothing special about this wall, it was just a wall) and people started drawing Beatles lyrics and yellow submarines and all the rest. Every day it would be white-washed and every night it would be graffiti'd again, even with cameras and guards the people still found a way, imagine all the people! After communism was done away with the government made it the only legal place for graffiti and it's stayed that way ever since. We all signed it and got photo's and listened to a busker playing Beatles and moved on. From there we went up to Prague Castle which is the largest ancient castle in the world in terms of area covered. There was a great view of the city and we saw the changing of the guard at the gate entrance. They were rubbish guards though, everyone was just walking straight in! We went inside this enormous church they have and walked around the place learning the history of the families and presidents and government that have been in power.
The end of the Charles Bridge, some of you might remember Jon Voight faking his death here in Mission Impossible
A poetic phrase does not justify someone leaving their son something literally every single human being on earth gets anyway
Once we'd gotten our tourist duties out of the way we went on a bar crawl with some people with the hostel and had a pretty big night. Unfortunately though smoking indoors is allowed and the bars tend to favour underground, barely ventilated spaces which isn't very comfortable. Sunday morning we again got on a bus bound for Krakow in Poland. Our expectations of Poland weren't that high but actually really loved it! The city was great and we were staying right in the centre near the enormous and creatively titles Main Square. It dwarfed the St Mark's Square in Venice and had an indoor market in the middle of it with huge churches, statues and restaurants all around the place. Once again sleep got the best of me and Matt did a walking tour of the Jewish sector in the morning which he tells me was very good and took to a synagogue and Kazimierz, an area where many Jews were forced to live during WWII before the holocaust, as well as some placed where Schindler's List was filmed. I got up and we did the afternoon walking tour of the city which took us to all the churches, the remaining wall of the old town and the university. After that we went to dinner with a couple of friends from the tour and we had perogi's which is a traditional Polish food kind of like a dumpling filled with potato, bacon and whatever else you want in there, fried and topped with cooked onion. Yes, it does taste as amazing as it sounds.
The following day was one of the most grim of our lives. We went to Auschwitz. It took about forty five minutes to get out there and the 3 hour tour cost $13 or something. First we walked through Auschwitz 1 which took us through the sleeping quarters for the Jews and around the campgrounds to start. Inside the buildings they had information and statistics about the camp as well as some pretty haunting exhibits. In one room was a massive space behind some glass with all the briefcases and luggage they'd taken off people before sending them to the showers, in another was all the pots and pans and things they'd confiscated but the worst was definitely one with seven tonnes of real human hair which they shaved off the Jews after they'd been gassed to be used for fabrics and textiles and that sort of thing. We also went through the solitary confinement cells where people would regularly suffocate to death, and the office of Josef Mengele who would perform all kinds of really horrific experiments on kids, particularly twins. From there we went to the execution wall (although not original) and through the last remaining gas chamber in the camp after the Nazi's destroyed the others before the liberation to try to cover up what they'd done. We went through the area where they would hang up their clothes as they were told they would be getting them back after their "shower" and into the room where they would be gassed when they thought they were being cleaned after arriving to the camp. The final room had the massive ovens they would cremate the bodies in. After a short break we boarded a shuttle bus which took us to Auschwitz-Birkenau which is the largest site of the camp. There we saw the platform where the train arrived including an original carriage which has been kept there and we went to the memorial which honours all the victims of the holocaust. We saw the sleeping areas which were just wooden boards with hay on them, meant for three people but would regularly sleep eight or more and also the toilets which were just holes that led to a communal trough. To add to the awfulness of the place there was a light rain and grey skies which made it look even more depressing. It was an important visit that I'm glad we did but I'll be happy to never do it again.
Both sides of this hall all the way to the end was filled with shoes
It might not look like much now, but tens of thousands of people were killed in this room
Birkenau. I could post lots more photos but I'll have to show those interested when we get home.
After a good night at the pub with some Texan boys, New Zealand girls and a local couple it was time for us to move on to Berlin. The train was expensive and slow from Krakow to Berlin, so we didn't take it. Instead we did something we told each other we would do before we even started the trip, we hitch-hiked. We weren't too sure what to expect but alas we hit the highway headed west with signs on the side of the road, we found a good spot just ahead of a petrol station so people had a place to pull in if they wanted to give us a lift. It took about forty minutes or so before a couple of girls saw my attractiveness and gave us a lift to Wroclaw, another Polish city almost halfway to Berlin. It was in a tiny little Fiat and were pretty cramped in the back seat with our bags on our laps but hey, it was free so no complaints. She dropped us at a petrol station on the highway and that was the true test, it took a bit more than an hour for someone to offer us a lift. We'd been standing in the rain for a portion of that and our hopes weren't the highest but a couple of guys were on their way to Berlin and we got a ride in this sweet new Peugeot. The guy was absolutely flogging it along some parts of this highway, the fastest he got to was 220 km/h and it was amazing, thanks to him we actually ended up beating the train and got to Berlin for absolutely nothing!
Do you all remember my friends Claudia and Ulrike who came to London with us? Well we stayed at Ulli's house which is very kind of her and her family (I know you're reading this Ulli, so thank you again) out in the suburbs. It was nice to be back in a house again with something resembling normalcy which we've been sorely missing lately. Her parents were very welcoming and fed us, looked after us and when we put on our washing, we came home to find it dried and even folded as well, so we're very grateful. They took us around Berlin our first day there and showed us the TV tower, the shopping area (typical) and a good place to get a beer. We also went up to an observation deck to see the whole city. It's a strange city, it's very spread out and doesn't have a skyline but there's still plenty to see. The second day both the girls had work so we took ourselves on a walking tour. We started at the Brandenburg Gate and made our way to the Holocaust Memorial which was this really great tribute with rows and rows of blocks. The architect never gave a meaning behind it and left it to the imagination of the people, one popular theory is that it represents all the train carriages, another is that it's a 3D graph of all the murders. From there we went to a place where Hitler's bunker once was, it's now just an anonymous apartment building and a car park. The guide said the German's don't want anything in memory of Hitler, and the only tribute he gets is when the tenants of the apartments bring their dogs down for their morning dump. We also saw a remaining part of the Berlin wall and the former airforce headquarters of the Third Reich, the guide joked it is now still a building used to invoke terror into people, it's the federal tax office. From there we saw Checkpoint Charlie and the guide painted a picture for us with US tanks on one side of the street and Soviet tanks on the other side having a stand off, if one person had fired World War III would have begun. After that we headed into the older section with churches etc. but (un)fortunately there was a massive downpour and after a few minutes of hiding in the lobby of an opera house Matt and I used it as an excuse to leave. That night we had dinner at a local Mexican restaurant with the girls and met some of their friends who were really friendly and mostly spoke very good English.
Our tour guide at the Holocaust Memorial
Checkpoint Charlie. We're standing on the Soviet side with an American soldier staring that way, on the other side is a Soviet soldier staring the other way.
The following day we went back in to town with the girls and a friend of their Chiara (who will also be reading this, hi Chiara). We went to the Holocaust Museum which is underneath the memorial. It had some information written about the holocaust and and some stories of specific families with some personal items and letters, as well as a room which has people reading the name and then short biography in German and English of as many victims as they could find information on. Each persons recording lasts 45-60 seconds and they say it takes over six years to get through everyone in this way. We then took a few trains out to the east side gallery which is a long section of the Berlin Wall which runs along the river and has been professionally spray painted with all kinds of artwork. Some of the artwork was very impressive and reminded me of the Freedom Wall in Prague. After that we went home and had a little rest before the girls took us out to a huge nightclub made out of an old train station. It was also Matt's birthday at midnight so you can imagine how our spirits were.... they were consumed, rum mostly. Let's just say we had a fantastic night and leave it at that.
Matt, Chiara, Ulrike, Claudia and me and the East Side Gallery
After taking Sunday to just relax we headed out to an Italian restaurant and met Ulli's Grandma and her husband. Barbara (Grandma) actually lives in Craigie (yes, that Craigie) and was the only reason Ulli and Claudia came to Perth instead of somewhere else. Every now and again she goes back to Berlin for a month or so to visit family and her husband who doesn't speak a word of German so he was very happy to have some Australians to talk to. On Monday after an extremely sad farewell at the airport Matt and I boarded our Amsterdam bound plane. This stretch of Europe was probably my favourite so far. Prague was incredible and after seriously underestimating Poland, Matt and I have vowed to go back. We met so many great people in Berlin who we still keep in contact with and will for a very long time. We can't thank the girls and their families enough for all they did for us while we were there and we hope it isn't long before you come back to Perth so we can repay some of the favours. Well, that's it for me, we're only one blog away from being caught up with the present and two away from the end of the trip. This one turned into a bit of an essay but as I said we're trying to catch up. We're in Florence at the moment only eight days away from boarding the plane home and seriously looking forward to it.