My first All Blacks’ test match

I’m actually ashamed to report I’ve never been to an All Blacks’ game.

It’s not that I don’t like rugby, I just don’t love it.

But being on the other side of the world makes you strangely patriotic, so I booked an overnight bus tour with a friend of my best friend (who I instantly bonded with after she miraculously trusted me to candle wax her blocked ear on our first play date) to Cardiff.

Well, at least I thought I did.

Turns out I actually booked myself on the one-day tour with the most motley crew of Kiwis you could ever assemble and throw on a bus, including: the meat-worker from Reporoa, the fresh-faced Mormon-lookalike from Wellington and Jimmy.

Actually Jimmy’s name was John but the computer geek from the North Shore became somewhat of a celebrity on our bus, perhaps because he was wearing the only thing worse than sneans – three quarter cargo pants and sneakers to ‘show off Jimmy’s kauri tree calves’ because referring to himself in the third person – ‘Jimmy is awesome.’

Besides marvelling at Jimmy’s meteoric rise to fame, I spent a large portion of the bus trip lovingly constructing this sign.

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The rest of the trip was spent bonding over a game of ‘toilet jenga’ – basically what happens when you have one toilet for a bus load of beer drinking rugby supporters and it soon filling up to the point you never quite know if you’re going to be the unlucky one covered in piss.

As for me I almost didn’t go at all, having vivid flashbacks of 4th form camp where I never lived down the fact I was the last one seen to be leaving the toilet block before the septic tank exploded.

It never ceases to amaze me how fast you make friends when toilet humour is involved and by the time we got to Cardiff I had a posse of new mates, though I lost half of them to the Welsh lasses with perfectly curled hair, mass makeup and top too tight rugby shirts at the pub, who clearly saw the onslaught of hearty young kiwi males to Cardiff as their one-way ticket out of Wales.

I then lost my sign to the miserable Cardiff weather, with it lasting all of 20 seconds before turning into soggy Weetbix.

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My new Kathmandu puffer jacket on the other hand, kindly donated by the lovely folk at Kathmandu in support of this blog, easily passed its first real test and as an added bonus made it 100 per cent clear that I was a kiwi supporter, as owning a Kathmandu product is a bit like tattooing ‘I’m a kiwi’ on your forehead.

As for the rugby itself… I arrived at Millennium Stadium to discover I was sitting by myself, though in amazing seats eight rows back from the try line and in easy zoomable position for the pre-match sights.

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The company wasn’t so good – with the ultimate wet blanket on my left and a full-bodied Lycra looney on my right, who spent the first half of the game trying unsuccessfully to put his fingers in the finger holes of his black onesie.

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And the other half entertaining the crowd dressed like this.

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I honestly still can’t work out if the guy was genuinely a bit special or just really really drunk – or really really high.

As for my verdict on my first ever AB’s game – the stadium was fantastic, Richie McCaw is a babe but the atmosphere was a bit flat – then again I was sitting next to the ultimate wet blanket.

But on arrival back to the bus I was pleased to be sitting by myself, as the others got stuck next to the token horribly angry shouty drunk girl, who then proceeded to throw verbal abuse at us for the entire journey back to London in the form of – ‘shut the f$*# up’ and ‘get your f*%^ing facts straight.’

After putting up with that for four hours she then turned round and ever so sweetly asked for my email address so we could be become ‘Facebook friends.’

I was so taken aback I couldn’t find the words to say ‘I don’t want to be your cyber friend’ so I did something awful – I purposely gave her the wrong email address.

As a end note… I’m quite aware that this blog post relates to a rugby game that happened a fortnight ago but I have recently come to the brutal realisation that I’m about to run out of money (yes I know, somewhat inevitable when you haven’t had a job for the best part of a year but a brutal realisation none the less) so did the only thing I could – I got a job, actually jobs: one as a bar wench and the other in what is shaping up to be my nightmare before Christmas – locked in a booth for 13 hours a day selling ride tokens at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

Sound of Musicing

I feel sorry for Mozart, Salzburg is his birthplace but it’s more famous because The Sound of Music was filmed here.

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As a matter of disclosure, I actually only watched the film in preparation for my visit and obligatory Sound of Music tour a few weeks ago, but it holds special importance for my mum as it was the first movie she ever saw at the cinema.

I have to admit it’s actually surprisingly good and Christopher Plummer who plays the Captain surprisingly good looking.

As for my obligatory Sound of Music tour, it consisted of eight girls and one boy, which when our weedy lank of a Austrian tour guide welcomed us made a point of stressing the gender imbalance with – ‘good morning ladies and gentleMAN’ – because really what man in his right mind would willingly sign up for a day of being driven around Sound of Music film locations in a minivan while the CD player blasts out ‘the hills are alive?’

And on that note, may I just point out that they’re not hills – they’re mountains.

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But much in the same way as potato doesn’t fit in this ‘Favourite Things’ song lyric ‘schnitzel with potato noodles and warm apple strudels,’ ‘the mountains hills are alive with the sound of music’ doesn’t have quite the same ring tone.

While I’m on the subject of the mountains… may I also point out that if the Von Trapp family did actually attempt their daring night escape on foot over the mountains (in real life they actually caught a train to Italy) geographically they would have ended up in Germany – not Switzerland.

I digress, back to the tour… Our first stop was Schloss Leopoldskron used to create cinematic magic at the rear of the Von Trapp mansion including the pink lemonade scene, Captain and Maria’s first dance and the children falling into the lake in their play clothes.

20121128-165821.jpgTechnically the gazebo where Leisl has her first kiss with Nazi nark Rolf should be here too, but they moved it to the middle of nowhere because the neighbours got pissed off with people skipping around it singing ’16 going on 17.’

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Disappointingly you can’t actually go inside the gazebo these days either – thanks to a 90-year-old woman falling off one of the benches and breaking her hip while performing her rendition of the hit song.

Again I digress… Our next stop was Mondsee – home of the wedding church.

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Getting here was an ordeal though – an hour long trip in the minivan listening to the movie soundtrack starting with ‘confidence in me,’ which when it finished prompted our tour guide to pronounce – ‘well clearly you don’t have confidence in your singing voices, don’t worry there’s plenty more songs to practise too.’

And oh there was, so so many, too too many.

I personally think the best stop was saved till last – Mirabell Gardens where the children jovially skip around practising their do-rey-mis.

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And I couldn’t hide my delight at getting up close and personal with this unicorn at the garden’s steps, as the mythical creature seems to keep symbolically popping up on my journey.

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Later that night I was convinced I’d found my unicorn of a man in the Austrian guy working behind the reception at my hostel too.

He had me in so much of a daydream I pretty much threw my hot chocolate at him.

It went everywhere – the computer screen, the keyboard, the pens, the paper, the desk, the scissors, his pants.

Together it took us half an hour to clean it up, which on dabbing the last drop of liquid from the desk he remarked – ‘are you always this clumsy?’

One word for you – mortified.

So later that night when I managed to lock myself out of my dorm room wearing only the large holey t-shirt I call my pjs I couldn’t bring myself to go downstairs to get him to open my door, so I sat outside it for an hour until the Australian guy in my dorm room (who was convinced he had a collapsed lung when it was really just a bad chest infection) came back from the hospital – all of which gave the dreadlocked Hungarian busker in our room ample time to steal my favourite/only beanie.

My bad luck continued the next day when I was lured into this place with the promise of rice and vegetables, only to be served up a plate of gluggy rice and flaccid browning cabbage and then charged €10 for it, because according to the metallic purple shirt wearing slime ball of a salesman – ‘€5 VIP price, you read sign wrong, you €10.’

I paid and left gutted and had a bit of a cry, which in hindsight was really silly but all I wanted was a plate of rice and broccoli.

I then stewed on it all afternoon so decided to go back and check out the sign to see how I’d got it so wrong.

Here’s what I found:

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Convinced I was in the right I stormed inside and demanded a refund, which when they refused I decided to get passive aggressive on it – going outside and taking photos of the sign and then loudly telling tourists walking past eyeing up the menu not to eat here.

My refund soon followed.

But as trivial as that incident was, what it made me realise was that after three months of solid backpacking predominantly by myself and in non-English speaking countries I need a break, so I booked a one-way ticket to my home away from home – London.

Vienna – the city of perfection

I almost didn’t come to Vienna.

It’s ‘just a big city’ I was told.

But I should never have doubted my love for Vienna – I am a coffee snob and Vienna is the home of coffee snobbism – with grand old kaffeehauses exuding old world charm with their chandeliers, hat stands, secluded velvet booths, grumpy old waiters in black suits with little bow ties and equally as old and grumpy waitresses in stiff white shirts tucked into their aprons.

They are the type of place you could sit and people watch for hours.

And that I did, considering the Polish flu deprived me of all will to do anything else.

But it turned out to be an expensive pass time, with a coffee and piece of cake, such as this much celebrated piece of Sacher Torte (basically a chocolate cake), the recipe of which pre-dates the founding document of my country by roughly a decade, setting me back a cool €10 ($16 NZ).
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Despite the fact that afternoon tea cost me the same as my night’s accommodation I repeated the exercise the next afternoon, though subbing out the Sacher Torte for a crisp apple strudel and then chasing it down at dinner with schnitzel and noodles potato.

I blame Julie Andrews and her favourite things for the fact I genuinely believed Austrian schnitzel was served with noodles and I was somewhat devastated to learn it was only put in the Sound of Music song because noodle rhymes with strudel – which in hindsight makes a lot of sense.

Noodle disappointment aside, that frisbee-sized piece of schnitzel did not disappoint and put me in a happy meat coma.

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But I was rudely awoken from that meaty haze later that night by possibly the world’s worst snorer in my dorm room.

His snore was so penetrating it infiltrated my earplugs and reverberated around the room and I had to go sit downstairs at reception at 3am after I got into a fit of the giggles when he pretty much stopped breathing for a good ten seconds and then gasped for air like he’d just resurfaced from the depths.

The only sleep I ended up getting was between 8-10am when he went out for breakfast, on which arriving back from he had the audacity to say – ‘you sleep in very late this morning, you must get very drunk last night?’

I felt like telling him the only drunk I was was drunk with fatigue from his awful impediment which will surely ruin any chance of him getting a girlfriend but I didn’t – I was too sleep deprived.

And as time is money as a backpacker and Vienna is an expensive city I dragged my sorry arse out to see the sights.

I was so tired I even momentarily forgot about my church fatigue, ending up on the roof of the Stephansdom Cathedral to get a panoramic view of the city and close-up of their self-cleaning Hungarian ceramic roof tiles and then standing inside for a long period of time marvelling at the light display.

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I also made an exception to my museum fatigue, visiting the former residency of Sigmund Freud – founding father of psychoanalysis and many a immature laughs in high school psychology classes over his theory on children’s psychosexual development stages.

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I then ended my afternoon strolling around the spectacular summer palace grounds of the Austrian Habsburg imperial family.
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As beautiful as it was, the scenery I got most excited about was this little chap – carrot top squirrel.

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You see we just don’t get squirrels at home, so they are as much as a novelty to me as sheep are to Japanese tourists visiting New Zealand.

And of course, my visit to Austria wouldn’t be complete without a night at the Opera – though backpacker styles – which means if you sacrifice an hour of your life to queue outside, for €3 ($5 NZ) you can get a standing seat, so you, like me, can get a view of a chair on the left hand side of the stage and the violinists in the orchestra pit.

Atleast I could hear them though and whatever they were singing about sounded beautiful.

But in reality once we set the electronic translator in front of us to english, we discovered the script was as badly written as Fifty Shades of Grey, for instance:

‘This city is very good for parties.’

‘My love for you is like the eternal heartbeat of the universe.’

I must be uncultured because my Australian friend and I didn’t even make it to intermission, fleeing 1.20 in for the sanctuary of the currywurst and beer stand across the road.

I don’t think opera’s for me – currywurst and beer on the other hand…

Flu in the Czech Republic

I’ve got the flu.

I knew those days of walking around Poland in the snow in canvas shoes would bite me in the arse and oh they have.

And turns out living in a dorm room with seven other people when you have the flu is about as pleasant as being in a party hostel in Madrid when you have food poisoning.

I’m proud of myself though, as even though I feel like death and are in serious need of a hug, I did manage (with the help of a lot of Coldrex) to actually go do stuff.

The first of which was dinner with the New York Wall Street broker I called a ‘walking tourist trap’ from my time in Budapest.

Turns out nothing had changed, he’d just returned from Scandinavia where he’d taken a ‘what if’ girl from previous travels out for dinner, picking up the bill for €250 before learning she was now somewhat taken.

Though his trip wasn’t entirely wasted, with him recalling with vivid admiration the best meal of his trip – oxtail – before asking in a typically loud inquiring American voice, ‘I don’t know what oxtail is? Is it like the meat around the rectum or something?’

My travel buddy the next day was the polar opposite, a guy Melbourne Hipster from Morocco aptly nicknamed ‘the German Sheldon’ (from the Big Bang Theory) when we met him at our swap arse-inducing hostel in Marrakech.

German Sheldon was in Prague for a banking seminar and together we found ourselves among the literally thousands of tourists on Prague’s most recognisable and photographed landmark – the Charles Bridge – photographed here from one of Prague’s less known and never photographed bridges.

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Given the screeds of tourists I was very relieved to make it to the other side alive, without being pick-pocketed and to the John Lennon Peace Wall.

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And, a word on German Sheldon – turns out Melbourne Hipster’s nickname for him is remarkably accurate, with him later that day mathematically plotting the best time to buy beer and tram tickets to avoid queuing at the ice hockey.

Yep, ice hockey, possibly the most un-touristy thing you can do in Prague, judging by the dregs of society outside accusing each other of being a ‘kurva’ (Czech for slut) and their pre-celebratory cars backfiring blue smoke in support of their beloved Bratislava.

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And even though it was my first ever ice hockey game, what I found most intriguing was that despite it being a home game for Prague, the Bratislavan fans outnumbered them 3-1, to the point even the guy in charge of the music started playing their chant – ‘Bratislava, Bratislava, hey hey hey…slavaaaaaaaaa.’

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My next day in Prague was less exciting – bed ridden with flu.

Even showering was too much to contemplate, especially considering it was one of those automatic 20 second timer showers, where the first three seconds are wasted on the shower warming up and reaching optimum velocity and the last three on the water dying out – leaving you exactly 14 seconds to wash yourself before hitting the button again.

So I spent the day holed up in my dorm room with a shiny pointy shoe wearing Texan, who when I asked what he did for a living simply replied – ‘oil.’

And despite the fact he was only in Europe for 13 days, he managed to spent the vast majority of his first two days lying on his bunk bed on his laptop.

According to him he hates travel. He hates not knowing the language. He hates not knowing the currency. He hates not knowing the food. He hates being lost. And, I’m pretty sure he hates me, after I managed to get us just that in the metro system.

In fairness, he had just dragged me round for an hour trying to find this ‘mystical’ outside food market he raved about and could apparently re-find, though when we got to the place he thought it was on the map the first thing he said was – ‘I have no idea where we are, you know where we’re going right?’

In hindsight I would have preferred a night of talking to myself and I was dangerously close to telling him perhaps in future he just Google image the places he wants to see instead of actually going in the flesh.

But I credit his departure the next morning for buoying me to go see what all the fuss was about Prague, despite suffering from menopausal-style hot flushes and being a phlegmy mess.

My favourite sights were – the astronomical clock, complete with hourly parade of apostles and bell ringing skeleton.

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The old town and in particular this one man orchestra.

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The Dancing House, which I actually think should be called the Hugging House instead.
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The changing of the guard at Prague Castle – I will never tire of these things.

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And the panoramic vista from Prague Castle.

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As for my last two days in the Czech Republic, they were spent in the tiny river encircling town of Cesky Krumlov.

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It was deadly quiet and about the only human interaction I had in those 48 hours was spent fishing with the prepubescent son and friends of my hostel owner.

Well, that was until their mum left to run errands, coinciding with them running away from me.

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They are 12 and they don’t speak much English so I can’t really blame them.

And in many ways solitary confinement was exactly what I needed, lack of other backpackers meant I got a eight person dorm room all to myself, I finally watched ‘In Bruges’ which would have been helpful to watch before I was actually in Bruges and the Sound of Music to prepare for my next destination – Austria.

Time to go gnome

I think the fact I’ve travelled to a Polish city primarily because there’s 212 little bronze gnomes to trip up over is a sign it’s perhaps time I go home.

The city is called Wroclaw, though not pronounced phonetically like ‘Rock Law,’ but I find saying ‘Fox Glove’ – as in one of my favourite Wellington bars – quickly, avoiding eye contact and with a severe mumble does the trick.

As for why there’s gnomes everywhere – according to the back of my tourist map it stems from a 1980’s anti-communist protest where some locals dressed up as gnomes and ran around the city.

I don’t like doing things by halves, so my plan was to buy a gnome map and go in search of all 212 of the little guys.

Problem is I can’t read a map and the sideways rain destroyed my umbrella – so I gave up after about 30.

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Luckily Wroclaw does have more going for it than just gnomes, including possibly my favourite piece of street art in Europe so far – depicting a group of pedestrians getting swallowed up by the pavement…

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Only to reappear on the other side of the road.

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The architecture in the old town square is also some of the cutest I’ve seen in Europe.

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As for my hostel, it was more like staying at a new apartment – complete with toasty machine.

Though the joys of hostel life mean you have no control over who you share a room with, in my case two obese American guys who loved listening to Sean Paul’s ‘got to love ya’ at breakfast and one who had a knack of turning every conversation into a political tirade of – ‘f*!# the Government, f*#% the system.’

Considering my previous occupation it was a conversation I did well to avoid.

Luckily there were some cool travel buddies to balance them out, including a fellow solo female backpacker I first met on my battery farm hen night-train from Budapest to Krakow and then again on a walking tour of the city.

We finally hung out properly, bonding over a broccoli casserole at a Polish restaurant for a fellow dorm buddies’ birthday.

Given I spent my birthday this year eating cream cake that tasted like shaving foam while sitting on a Vietnamese night train bed which bore some previous traveller’s pubic hair, I made it my mission to make sure Steve from Brisbane had a better run of it – ordering him a surprise obligatory piece of cake with candle.

Luckily shortly before the cake arrived I remembered to ask his name, otherwise the Happy Birthday dear ….. (random guy from my hostel I’ve just met but feel sorry for because you’re alone on your birthday) would have been quite awkward.

My second night was also spent in the company of Steve from Brisbane, walking around a graveyard rubbernecking All Saints’ Day – a Polish public holiday where locals’ pay homage to their loved ones by covering their graves with flowers and lanterns.

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It was a beautiful sight and one tradition I think we should adopt in New Zealand.

I left Wroclaw extremely early the next morning satisfied I’d seen my fair share of gnomes but still looking for my pot of gold, given my current one is fast drying up.

And on that note… if anyone wants to employ a washed up journo and PR hack who hasn’t had a real job in bang on a year, I’m listening…

A Polish winter

There’s a reason people don’t backpack Europe in winter – it’s too bloody cold.

Poland was where I learnt that lesson, being here on the first official day of winter, which coincidentally coincided with the first day of snow.

Winter was an inevitability I chose to ignore backpacking, so I had to make an emergency mall visit for socks, gloves and gumboots – the latter of which I soon discovered are not as flexible as my Converse Chucks for running up my communist-themed hostel’s concrete slab stairs.

They do fulfil their purpose of keeping my feet warm and dry though and I’ve been intentionally walking through ice sludgies ever since, given my first two days here were spent on walking tours in canvas shoes.

I ended up losing all feeling in my feet and inherited little white marks on both my big toes, though I did come away with an encyclopaedic knowledge of where all the Schindler’s List scenes were filmed (it would have been helpful if I’d actually seen the movie beforehand) and utter love for the 11th century Church of St. Wojciech, nestled in the corner of the old town Market Square – the largest medieval town square in Europe, measuring 200m by 200m.

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As for the Jewish quarter, it was this particular piece of graffiti street art near the World War Two Jewish ghetto that got me the most.

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But truth is on both walking tours I ended up being so mind-numbingly cold all I could think about was soup.

Luckily Poland does a pretty mean beetroot soup with dumplings and sour barley soup with sausage and hard boiled eggs, which goes to prove to a former boss that soup is indeed a meal.

I also have those walking tours to thank for my newfound friends – and the first Safas of my trip – a brother, sister and friend combo from J’Burg, travelling Europe after a season slaving on luxury yachts in the French Riviera.

Before them I wasn’t having a good run of people in Poland, particularly the locals, like the two guys who smacked into me walking down the street without apologising, the woman who kept arse ramming me in the line at the bus station, the train staff who were hysterically laughing at me at 6am in the morning for some reason I have yet to determine, and the old mute at my hostel who staunchly stood in the doorway to my room with arms folded, clearly unimpressed I had yet to move rooms by 10am and it was now 10.02.

Back to the Safas… we bonded over mulled wine and polish baguettes half the size of our bodies and I’ve grown to love their accents and colloquialisms – with all food being ‘delish’ and weather conditions ‘chilly.’

For a short time there we also inherited two American backpackers, who I will forever remember for trying to convince me to couch surf Russia, which I was put off altogether after receiving a good 50 ‘come stay at my house’ invites from Turkish, Greek and Italian men within an hour of signing up for the website.

The Americans’ said they felt perfectly safe couch surfing, in the same breath as recalling the time their Russian host proclaimed – ‘now we go party’ – before driving them to what turned out to be a sex party at a cottage deep in the forest.

I think I’ll just stick to paying for hostels, though the one in Krakow they should have paid me for staying at – with the omnipresent smell of warm wet dog, mattresses so sunken I got two dead arms from basically sleeping on the wooden base and skody shower cubicles reminiscent of the vagrant halfway house I lived in Auckland during those dreaded internship days of ‘earning one’s stripes.’

But there were some cool travellers there, including the ex-Apple designer I spent a night drinking liquid chocolate with while we both waited for the entire contents of our packs to be washed and the London wanderer I later found out was financing his travels from the compensation he rightly won after having the shit kicked out of him by some youths who thought he was a ‘paki.’

I misappropriated some of that money the next day though, convincing him to come on a tour of the 13th century to 2007 operational salt mines.

I was envisioning stalactites and stalagmites of glistening white salt, lickable walls and almighty mounds of the white stuff, instead I got – cave churches.

I blame this somewhat cryptic sign.

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We turned right for the tourist tour of the hollowed out cave churches, when we should have turned left for the hard hat donning industrial tour.

I honestly nearly cried, particularly when I learnt the tour was three hours long, double what I thought, though I’ll admit being 135 metres underground in a cave cathedral, with chandeliers carved out of salt, was pretty special.

But taking photos of one of the original 1978-listed UNESCO World Heritage sites comes with an added price tag – hence this cheap backpacker, flash-less, covert photography.

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After surviving the tour we opted for a big night out in Krakow, given it was my last night with the Safas.

It started out badly – instant 100 zloty ($40 NZ) fines for drinking in public.

The night later redeemed itself, stumbling across a nightclub hosting a Halloween party which was a lot like walking into a teenage ‘because the parents are away’ house party, with the DJ playing the backlist of the Rhythm Volume 21 through 24.

At one point I even found myself ‘battling’ a really fat English guy on the dance floor, despite his size he did have some sweet moves.

But all too soon the night was over and I was back at my hostel trying unsuccessfully to eat my feeling on the fact I had once again lost my travel buddies, with the hostel locking up the kitchen as if backpackers are children with Prader-Willi syndrome.

So I went to bed on an empty stomach and felt a bit hollow the next day too, I will miss the Safas – particularly brother Safa who over the past four days went out of his way to ensure I felt included, always enquired about the state of my frozen feet, and always made sure I got home to my dodgy side-alley hostel.

But like most of the travellers I meet, they always seem to be going in the opposite direction to me and to places I’ve already been, leaving me back where I began – with me, myself and iPad.

Observations on Auschwitz

I was going to write one blog post about my time in Krakow but it seemed unfair and somewhat insensitive to lump together all the fun I had in the city, with the bleak and brutally cold day I visited Auschwitz.

So I’ll split them in two.

I also don’t intend to re-litigate that grim period of history in any real detail, given it’s one of the world’s most notorious experiments in genocide, which most people at least seem to have a brief synopsis of.

But here’s my observations from my visit to Auschwitz (concentration camp and administrative centre) and Birkenau (nearby extermination camp).

The two camps are rightly so now a major tourist attraction for Poland and each year the number of tourists who pass through their gates equate to the conservative estimate of the number of people murdered here during World War Two – 1.1-1.6 million.

That said, I wasn’t altogether surprised when our tour bus pulled up alongside row upon row of others.

And, as much as I despise organised tours, it is the best way to see the place, as even if you arrive solo you are made to join a tour group and wear one of those dreaded headset walkie talkies where even if you can’t see your guide, you can still hear them.

But what I will remember most about that day is the snow, which began falling as we arrived.

It goes down as the first time in my life that snow has not been magical for me.

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And, it almost felt wrong to be pleased to be going inside the cell blocks where people were tortured and subjected to medical experiments to seek reprieve from the freezing conditions, but it was mighty sobering to be passing through room upon room of peoples’ belongings – shoe polish, pots and pans, cutlery, clothes and carefully labelled suitcases – which really makes you wonder if they had any idea of what awaited them.

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Then there was the room filled with human hair, which serves as a very graphic illustration of just how brutally efficient the Nazi regime was at utilising everything from their victims – in this case treating hair from a human as if it was wool from a sheep.

The Birkenau extermination camp just down the road stuck me for the same reason, with the railway tracks ending right outside the gas chambers to make the annihilation of Jews under the Final Solution as efficient and effective as possible.

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Though what I will remember most about Birkenau is being the coldest I’ve ever been in my life – severely underprepared for the sideways snow in my lack of layers and canvas shoes.

But I felt bad for even mentioning how freezing I was, given those was the conditions hundreds of thousands of people were forced to endure.

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In many ways I left Auschwitz and Birkenau feeling like I did in Cambodia and Bosnia, and as naive as it sounds, I will never understand how one human-being can be so brutal to another and why despite the fact we clearly take the time to remember our history, we don’t seem to be learning from it.

And most of all, I came away incredibly grateful to be from a country way down there in the South Pacific Ocean with a distinct lack of land borders.