Friday, August 5, 2011

Eastern Europe Part 3: Auschwitz, Prague and Budapest

Annie and I spent our second day in Poland taking a guided tour of Auschwitz, the old concentration camp located just outside of Krakow. Before the war, the buildings at Auschwitz were used as barracks for the Polish army. Auschwitz was the biggest death camp during the war, and over 1.3 million people were deported there during 1940-1945. The majority of the prisoners died in the camp from starvation, dysentery, other physical hardships from working 10 to 12 hours per day, or in the gas chambers. Here are some photos from our visit.
The entrance gate to Aushwitz. 

The double electric fences that prevented prisoners from escaping. 

The barracks where thousands of prisoners lived, most only survived for several months.
Bunks which became so overcrowded that 3 people slept on each bed. 
The standing torture room where 4 people had to crawl through the little doors on their hands and knees , forced to stand for an entire night.
Registration documents for the prisoners. 
A model of the gas chambers and crematorium (they were torn down before the Red Army arrived). 
Eyeglasses - personal belongings were collected from the prisoners after they were sent to the gas chamber. 
Shoes - the better quality goods were sent back to Germany or sold. 
Our tour also included a visit to Birkenau, the other concentration camp built close to Auschwitz. Mostly women lived at Birkenau, and the living conditions there were much worse since the barracks there did not have heating during the winter.

The beds in Birkenau were converted horse stables. 
The barracks at Birkenau. 
The communal toilets - prisoners were only allowed to use them twice a day. 
After Auschwitz and Birkenau, we took an overnight train to Prague. Prague is a beautiful city in the Czech Republic. A word of caution: be very careful of your stuff on overnight trains, especially since you have to share a compartment with complete strangers who may or may not speak the same language. I woke up in the morning when we got to Prague and found that my purse was gone... and nowhere to be found. I started freaking out because I had no passport, money, or ID and thankfully Annie and I were able to find my purse in the toilet of our train car. The thief had just taken the cash out of my two wallets and left everything else there, so I was extremely lucky to still have my passport, camera, phone, ipod, kindle, and credit cards there. I usually travel by myself on overnight trains in Ukraine, and I've never had a problem so I guess that I've just been lucky up until now. The moral of the story is that I will be much more careful about where I keep my purse and my cash when I travel on overnight trains.

Anyways, the rest of our trip to Prague was less eventful and we saw lots of gorgeous old European churches and buildings there. Prague is separated by the Vltava river and the famous St. Charles bridge connects the two banks. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to understand some words in Czech because it is also a Slavic language, though the spelling of their words in latin letters was a little confusing (I think it would have been easier for me to read if it was printed with cyrillic letters instead).

The streets of Prague are so quaint and cute. 
One of the famous St. Edwards churches. 
The astronomical clock. 
Central square. 
Annie and I plopping our Chacos down on the Meridian line. 

On the bridge, with the view of half of Prague behind me. 
A hot dog in a french baguette - best idea ever.
A giant lifeguard chair and penguins. 
Annie and I on the riverbank. 
I love modern art. 
Annie with the modern art memorial to the victims of communism. 
The view of the city from the top of the hill. 
The other St. Edwards church. 
Halfway up to the Prague Castle. 
The changing of the guard at noon by the Prague castle. 
A HUGE gothic church - this is only the side width view of it because we couldn't get the front into 1 photo. 
Traditional Czech pastries!
The view from the Castle. 
Walking down from the Castle. 
After Annie and I Czech'ed out Prague, we took a 6 hour bus down to Budapest, Hungary. The bus was actually one of the nicest buses that I've ever been on, with plush leather seats, a little tray table, in-route coffee/tea and they even showed a few movies with English subtitles. Budapest is also a city separated by a river, one side of the Danube is called Buda and the other side is called Pest. Our first day in Budapest was bright and sunny, and our second day was very rainy so we were glad that we had walked around for like 8 hours and saw most of the sights the first day... we saw the Citadella, the Palace, the Fisherman's Bastion, and a few more places.
The view of Pest from the hill by the Citadella. 
The "White" bridge, reminds me of San Francisco!
Annie and I at the fountain by the Palace.
On the bridge, with the Citadella in the background. 
Annie and I in a tank by the bunker museum. 
Georgy Arthur lived for 98 years from 1818 to 1916... can you imagine seeing so many technological developments!!!
The Basilica. 
Annie at the Fisherman's Bastion. 
Umm... hello?
The view of Buda from the Fisherman's Bastion.
The Palace. 
Hungarian currency is crazy... the exchange rate is 180 Hungarian forents to $1 USD so we got ridiculously large bills from the ATM. 

The Opera House. 
The Synagogue. 
We spent most of the second day buying our next train ticket at the train station and wandering around the House of Terror. The House of Terror is a museum dedicated to the victims of the fascist Hungarian Arrow Cross party and the time that Hungary was under Communist control. Another interesting thing about the museum is that it is located at the actual headquarters of the Arrow Cross Party, so some of the rooms had been preserved. Unfortunately, they didn't allow photos inside so we only took a few outside the musem.

The front of the House of Terror. 
The Arrow Cross party and the Communist party.
A monument to the Iron Curtain. 
A piece of the Berlin Wall. 
And a giant cell phone that we saw along the way. 
Next we are headed down to Slovenia! We will be there for a few days then continue our journey onto Belgrade, Sofia and Bucharest :)


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