In classic New Years Eve fashion I found myself in yet another new place. My past five New Years Eve celebrations have popped off in classic all-night party fashion, all in different parts of the world. The latest of the five celebrations rang in the year 2012 in a country that, until this past summer, I never really saw myself visiting. It ended up being a great decision with all the fun and interesting travel experiences included.
Krakow, Poland is pretty interesting old city. At one time it was the capital of Poland but it is now better known in as their beautiful old medieval city; a place you want to go if you’re into the history and want to see the sights. Little did I know before taking the old town tour, it is also pretty well known throughout Europe for its particularly rowdy soccer fans as the city includes two rivalry teams. So rowdy I’m told, that Poland decided to exclude Krakow from hosting any Euro 2012 matches. The clean, pristine old town with the Wowel castle at its head looking out over the Visla River is surrounded by a band of parks. Crossing that band will take you out of the medieval city and onto streets lined with 18th century buildings including some traces communist architecture popping its head out from time to time. Certainly walking the old town is a pleasurable experience with its churches, large square, and small intimate store fronts, but even outside of the old town roaming can be a pleasurable experience.
|Welcome to the Goodbye Lenin!|
The New Years Eve celebration was in itself a pretty great time. The first face I saw when entering the hostel was that of my brother Nate. Just before entering I figured that he had probably showed up and left the hostel already, getting out on the town to see what the next few nights have in store, but to my surprise I caught him just before going out to pick up some beers so I had him pick up a couple for me. The Goodbye Lenin Hostel rocked from the people working there to its convenient location next to the Jewish quarter. Peace Corps Ukraine represented about half of the guests at the hostel. That is a slight exaggeration but there was a very large group of volunteers from Ukraine present for the NYE celebration. I was lucky to have had the chance to meet, hangout, and have extended chats with many of them. Once again I’ve realized that the really great times that you have when traveling happen when you’re around like-minded people, open to new experiences. You’re all just having a good time.
A trip to Krakow isn’t complete without getting out of the city for one of those days and checking out Auschwitz. A good part of the 2nd of January was spent bussing it to the camp and roaming around the grounds with a tour guide. There’s an informative museum at Auschwitz I with some pretty intense displays and the sheer size of Auschwitz II was imposing. Images from Schindler List flashed through my head.
The following day was Nate’s last day in the Krack. We spent the day seeing more of the city including the National Museum where we pretended to be WWII soldiers and an English book store where I finally acquired some reading material for the trip (I had left my apartment to travel alone to Krakow without a book!). I had decided to stay in Krakow until the 5th instead of heading right back to Warsaw. After seeing Nate off at the bus station on the 3rd I had a couple more days of roaming around on my own seeing more of Krakow and then a bit of Warsaw.
It poured those last couple of days dampening the mood that was already dampened when Nate and the rest of the PCU volunteers left to go back to their sites. Every time this happens; the first couple of days following a nice long get-together you feel more alone than you’ve ever felt. Even though it rained, I took the chance to put a good sized dent in the rather large book I had just purchased (The Shock Doctrine-Naomi Klein, you should read it if you haven’t already) while enjoying coffees or food in small cafés. I also took the time to go through the museum of Nazi Occupation in Krakow which was located in Schindler’s factory. While walking through that museum I realized that in the 2.5 years I’ve been in Europe I have only been to a few museums. The 5th was a long day of walking around the amazingly rebuilt old town of Warsaw to conclude my Polish NYE adventure.
|UNESCO Site, the Old Town Square in Warsaw rebuilt after being destroyed by the Nazis at the end of WWII|
After three NYE celebrations, in three different European countries I’ve realized that they’ve all followed a pattern. Each time I have seen new places, met new people, hung out with good friends, enjoyed the travel, but all centered around a big, all-night party. On our tour through the old town I actually chatted with some people who recognized me from the hostel in Budapest for last year’s NYE celebration. Not bad, the only question is, where to ring in the year 2013?