After Barcelona, we got on a plane to Venice, the final stop on our tour of Europe.
From Madrid, we made our way to the train station and hopped aboard the high-speed train to Barcelona, our next destination.
Night trains are convenient in that you kinda just wake up in your destination, but not super great in that it’s still a horrendously uncomfortable way to sleep.1
But hey, it got us to Spain, so who am I to complain?
Leaving Budapest, we went to the airport instead of the train station and, following a good deal of waiting,1 hopped aboard a plane for Portugal. We landed in Lisbon, figured out a bit of how the public transit network works, and then headed to our hotel to sleep off the jet-lag. I’m calling that ‘day zero.’
The semester in Austria is done! But why go home right away – if I stay a bit longer, the price is “changing my tickets home and whatever I spend traveling around Europe,” which is a significantly better deal than “buying a ticket to Europe, whatever I spend traveling around Europe, and buying at ticket home from Europe.”
My mom didn’t really have the first option there, but she’s been wanting to go to Europe for quite a while, and “well, my son is already there” turned out to be the motivation she needed to plan out the whole route we’d be taking and hop on a plane.1
Thus begins the Whirlwind Tour of Europe.2 First stop: Budapest.
So my time here in Austria is coming to an end.1 As a bit of a last hurrah with the folks I’ve been here studying abroad with, a couple of us went over to Votivkirche, the big fancy church you see above that we saw every Tuesday and Thursday on our commute to and from the University of Vienna campus where we were taking German.
It’s been a while since my last post, but the weather has been getting colder and colder, and my focus has been more and more on writing the various final papers for my classes. Which is, y’know, not the most exciting thing for people to read about.
But we’re still going for the occasional tour: this week, we spent some time in the Upper Belvedere, one of the many palaces the city has to offer.
Our tour this week was a bit spookier than most, even the one in the graveyard1 – we went down into the Imperial Vault. Which is not, as I initially thought, where they used to store their crown jewels and whatnot – that’s the treasury. No, it’s where they store their dead relatives. Because, y’know, normal graveyards are too passé.
We had a bit of a bonus tour this weekend; on Saturday, we met up at the Institute, piled into a van, and headed out towards Melk. On the way, though, we took a bit of a pit-stop at the 1970s Museum.
Our tour this week took us to the Wien Museum, current host of the “Sex in Wien” exhibit.
Okay, no, that wasn’t the exhibit we went to see, but I’m having fun imagining the looks on the faces of the program coordinators back home going “we’re paying for them to see what?”
You’ve already read what we did on the afternoon of our final day in Poland; now it’s time to hear about what we did that morning. And yes, that is out of order, which I normally don’t do, but I wanted to save the best for last.1 This being me, “the best” is defined as “a cool underground thing.” More specifically, a salt mine – the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
I promised myself I’d have something happier to follow up my last post, and I also promised you, dear reader, that I’d eventually talk about the big fancy church in the Krakow town square.
Today, it is time to deliver on those promises.
I’m actually getting slightly out of order, because what I’m writing about here happened after the events of my next post, but the next one is also very long, so I’m taking a bit of a break from the long posts to have something short and sweet.
One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic.
The human mind is a miraculous thing, but it’s also a flawed thing. We weigh emotions far more highly than we do logic, which is how something like the quote above1 comes into being. To the human mind, a single death is a tragedy – a life snuffed out, an intelligent being gone from the world. A million deaths, though? We can’t comprehend that in the same way; instead of a million tragedies, a million lives gone unlived, untold billions of hopes and dreams obliterated, it’s just… a number.
In the years 1940-1945, the Nazis deported at least 1,300,000 people to Auschwitz:
23,000 Roma (Gypsies),
15,000 Soviet prisoners of war,
25,000 prisoners from other ethnic groups.
1,100,000 of these people died in Auschwitz. Approximately 90% of the victims were Jews.
On Monday afternoon, we arrived at Oświęcim, a town of about 40,000 people about an hour away from Krakow. As towns go, it’s fairly normal – the most notable thing I can remember seeing was a mall that was utilizing a KFC as an anchor store.
And then you hit the edge of town, and find out why the name seems ever so slightly familiar: three quarters of a century ago, the Nazi government of Germany decided they needed somewhere to put their prisoners. Having recently conquered Poland, they decided they wouldn’t waste any of their precious homeland on prisoners, and allocated some land in their new largesse. With a characteristic disdain for everyone they were in control of, they wrote off the Polish language – and all the Polish names for places – and renamed the town.
Day Two of our time in Krakow began with a walk back into the center of town to meet in the shadow the church I wrote about previously. A few people went in, as we had a bit of time to kill, but I’m still using that as a teaser for an upcoming post – I didn’t actually go inside the church until our last day in Poland.
Instead, we headed across town towards the Collegium Maius, the heart of the ancient Jagellonian University.