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Spring Break: Cold Krakow and Artsy Amsterdam

Spring Break: Cold Krakow and Artsy Amsterdam

As spring break comes to an end here at the JFRC, I just want to reflect on the places I visited, and talk a bit about the things I learned along the way. I spent two days in Krakow, Poland, and two days in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Afterwards I came back to Rome and have been enjoying the quiet of campus while also getting out to explore more of the Roman city center.

I flew to Krakow with my friend Victoria. Originally, I had planned to visit London and maybe Ireland over break, two places I have always wanted to see. Alas, London is not cheap, and I want to spend more than a couple of days there when I do finally get to see it. Victoria wanted very much to see her family’s roots in Poland and was planning to travel there alone. I thought, “It’s not on my list, but I could go to Poland too!” I’m so glad that I did. The first day, Victoria and I walked around the frigid streets of Krakow, shopping for gifts in an outdoor market and enjoying some delicious pierogi and mushroom soup. Unfortunately, early on the second day, Victoria lost her wallet. After filing a report with the police, and retracing our steps, twice, we came up with no wallet. In the process of searching, we did see a lot of the city, maybe more than we would have had the wallet not been lost.

On day two, we took a guided tour of Auschwitz. The camp was an hour and a half drive from where we were staying in Krakow. It truly was an experience like no other. Nothing has ever brought my life into perspective as powerfully as that 4 hour tour of the expansive camp. We both cried several times and sometimes it took a concentrated effort for me to keep myself composed. The tour was good, at least, as good as a tour of such a place could ever be. Our guide, Domenica, was sincere and patient as she took us through each hall of the museum and every area of the camp.

Of course, I had already known of the atrocities that took place here between 1940 and 1945, but to stand in the spaces where they took place was another story. Touching the wood of the bunks, walking across the uneven stone paths, connecting to this place made me hyper aware of all the blessings I normally take for granted. I missed home more in those moments than ever before. The museum portion features glass walls that hold huge piles of belongings that were stolen from those forced into the camp. Children’s shoes, cookware hastily packed from Jewish kitchen shelves, prosthetic legs taken from those that would never again need them, tons of human hair. All of it saved to remind visitors how real this camp was, and still is.

Although it is not an easy tour to take, I cannot recommend it enough. Before the tour, I expected I would only feel one way: sad. But I felt more than that. I felt dismay, anger, grief, but also strength, perseverance, even happiness. It was a lot of emotion all at once to say the least. Even though the temperature was in the 20s that day, Auschwitz was the coldest place I have ever been.  

From there, Victoria and I flew to Amsterdam to meet with our friends who would be getting in soon after we did. Amsterdam is bursting with its own unique personality. It reminds me of some Chicago neighborhoods like Wicker Park, of Hansel and Gretel-esque stories, and of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory all at once. Everyone rides a bike, electric cars are common, and yes, the coffee culture certainly is, different, than ours. The city is intersected by countless rivers and canals. One such river separated our hostel from the bustling city center of Amsterdam. This is where all of the city’s museums, galleries, and shopping was. To go to the “real Amsterdam” as our cab driver called it, we would walk a minute or two from our hostel, and hop on the 24 hour ferry that takes you across the river every few minutes. Bikes, motorcycles, pedestrians, and cars would drive up onto the ferry just in time to float across on their way to work every day. Amsterdam was the first city that I can see myself living in, for a few years at least.

While Poland had cheap, hearty meals, Amsterdam was full of not-so-cheap, sweet treats. For breakfast I had delicious Dutch apple and cheese pancakes. Throughout the day it was never hard to find ice cream and pastries everywhere. After the bone-chilling Polish streets, Amsterdam’s upper 40s felt balmy. The most notable event was the Anne Frank museum. Tickets were only nine euro, but they have to be purchased in advance. The tour takes you through every room of the building that housed the Frank family, as well as the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer. We were given whisper boxes that guided us through the house with English audio explanations of what we were seeing. I learned how smart and imaginative Anne was. I gained a better understanding of what life was like for those in hiding during the NAzi occupation of the Netherlands.

Overall, the four day trip was great. It was shorter than other spring breaks at the JFRC but it was packed full of events, some challenging, some just fun. Now that the weather is warming up in Rome, I’m looking forward to exploring the city more and getting better at public transportation here. Yesterday, I went with one of our SLAs Ola to a few places around Palatine Hill. We saw the beautiful cemetery where poet John Keats and William Shelley are buried. We peered through the famous Aventine keyhole and got a cheap dinner at Freni e Frizioni. They had specialty cocktails inspired by famous movies and shows. Naturally, I got the Better Call Saul.



The view from a bridge in Amsterdam


Bikes, Ferry, and Amsterdam Centraal Train Station


The bookshelf used to conceal Ann Frank and the others in hiding.


Views from my early flight to Amsterdam from Poland.


Just a few desserts in Amsterdam


The Non Catholic Cemetery where Keats and Shelley (and many cats) can be found.














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