I’m Shelby Lewandoski, I’m Polish, and this past weekend I got to go to Poland. It was so great! CEA, the program that I’m studying with took us to Krakow, Poland for the weekend. It was full of activities, culture, and sights, as many trips are, but….this one was extra cool because this place is my dad’s side of my heritage. The architecture was very old looking, almost dirty or falling apart, (it wasn’t ugly) and the Polish music was everywhere which was so fun, and the pierogi, (Polish potato pasta sort of like gnocchi) those were so goooood! Krakow is such a fun city, and I really enjoyed it, but it was extra special to me because Poland was a place that a part of my family came from. After 21 years, I finally heard the correct pronunciation of my last name, as well as seeing it on multiple sporting jerseys. So here’s what we did:
On Thursday, after practically missing the bus and an 11 hour bus ride we finally got to Poland and checked into our hotel. We went out to dinner at this Italian restaurant that was wonderful. We then went to bed and started our trip Friday morning. Because it was CEA advised, we were on “their” schedule, but it was very well organized. Friday morning we had a city tour of Krakow where we saw the Old Town Square, the castle, the river, heard stories and such about the town. Then we had a break for lunch where we got these amazing salads. Afterwards we met again with the guide where she showed us the Jewish ghetto where the Jews were forced to live during WWII. It was so hard to be in a place like that when you know what happened there, …but it got worse after that. That night we had a group dinner and just went back to the hotel.
On Saturday, we had a free morning, and so we walked over the river to the giant hot air balloon that we wanted to go up in. While walking there, I (typical) tripped on a cobble stone and my beloved Jack Rogers took a turn for the worst. The balloon was “closed.” We then bopped into a few shops and got on the bus to go to Auschwitz. I thought that I was prepared to see and hear what I did, but I was not. Growing up with so many Jewish friends; bar and bat mitzvah’s, shabbat dinners, keeping and eating kosher, lighting of the menorah, etc. the Jewish culture has always had a fairly large presence in my life. You hear about this tragedy in books, movies, history classes, my Jewish friends, but being there, seeing it for real. It just does not even seem real that something like that could happen and because of one person, one person who influenced and orchestrated it all. Where does that sort of hatred come from? The beds they slept on were wood with no mattresses, some even on foundation-less muddy floors, with 10 people in one bunk. The hair that was shaved and made into fabric to “cover up” the lives that were lost. The shoes tied into pairs, oh so many shoes, large and baby small. It was the most gut wrenching thing to ever have to see. Words cannot express my despair to know what it must have been like to be there when the camp was active. It broke my heart to truly hear how my next door neighbor (and my other friends) had family that they would never meet, generations that would never be created, sisters, brothers, friends who would never make it to certain ages, the list goes on and on. My heart is in pieces and I am still trying to process and reflect.
That night we went to a Polish restaurant for dinner and got pierogies, like I said, they were amazing. Our waiter was so cute and he liked us so much we are now Facebook friends with Konrad. After that we went to this bar called Movida that was supposed to have the “best cocktails in town”. We tried these Raspberry truffles that had mint, raspberries, and small bits of dark chocolate in them. A guy then walked in with a jersey with my last name on it and when does that ever happen when you have a last name like Lewandoski?! Needless to say, it was a fun night. We then got back on the bus Sunday afternoon and made our way back to Prague. Only four more weeks left!!