Day One

My day began at 3:30am British time. For a normal holiday, my excitement may have overridden my tiredness; however, this morning I woke up feeling more apprehensive than anything else. My dad kindly drove me to London Stansted and ensured I was checked in before leaving me. This was my first challenge of the day - I have never flown alone before, and often get incredibly nervous during take-off and landing. However, I am pleased to say my anxieties soon lessened and I almost began to enjoy the flight...

Flying in, I looked down at the Polish landscape. Forests and greenery everywhere, dotted with the occasional red-roofed building, the Tatra mountains making a fantastic backdrop in the morning sun.
We arrived in Krakow Airport around 9:20 local time (an hour ahead of British time). At 4:00am, London had been wet and the temperature struggled to reach 11 degrees Celsius. By 10:10, the board at the airport stated it was 21 degrees. At 11:20, when I found myself walking through Krakow and happened to glance at another clock, it was 28 degrees. I had arrived in a raincoat and boots - such is British 'summer'!

I found my way to the free airport shuttle bus that would take me to Krakow Balice train station. The wait for the driver was about 20 minutes; disappointingly, the journey itself took all of two. From there I caught a train to Krakow Glowny, the main train station, acquiring a free map on the train.
The heat and my luggage made a long walk less than appealing, but I managed to find my way to Krakow's main market square. It was more beautiful than I remembered it; indeed, the whole city has a charm about it from its history and its old, pastel-coloured buildings. I took a wander through the Cloth Hall, adorned with crests from different towns around Krakow on the walls, where merchants were selling religious icons, dolls, souvenirs and, of course, plenty of amber jewellery.
Finding some shade, I took a look around the busy square. Every other person had an ice cream in their hand. Horses and carts were available to hire for a short journey around the city centre, the horses trussed up with plumes of feathers and bells. Small carts offering city tours to places such as Schindler's factory and the former ghetto whizzed round. At midday, a small window at the top of St. Mary's Basilica opened and a trumpeter played a tune. The place was very much alive, the sunshine bringing an even more pleasant atmosphere.
Very different, I thought, to what awaits in Oswiecim.
I then took a stroll down to Krakow Castle but decided against walking up to it, as it is situated on a hill and my luggage would not allow for that!

Eventually I made my way to the bus station, located next to Krakow Glowny. I bought a ticket for the next bus to Oswiecim. I imagined it like the rather nice coaches I had seen advertised on the Auschwitz website, but alas, it was a minibus seating probably no more than 15, with no air conditioning and no luggage storage, so I was forced to give up my leg room to my baggage and brave the heat! What's more, the driver permitted people to stand for the entire journey, sucking even more air out of the bus.

At around 16:00 we arrived at Auschwitz I. I was able to cut across through a pedestrian pathway into the car park. To my left, as I peered through the trees, I could see bricks from the barracks and a few chimneys from the camp kitchen. Remarkably, all nerves I had previously had were gone. This would become somewhat useful later...
My hotel is on the opposite side of the road to the car park. Any closer and I would be in the camp itself, I thought.

My hotel in reference to Auschwitz I.

I stayed in my room until dinner time and made my way to the downstairs restaurant. Every table had only one person on it; I didn't know where to sit, until a girl heard that I was part of the Academy and invited me to sit with her. Karianne, a Norwegian with a Scottish accent (believe it or not!) clearly shares my passion for history and Holocaust education, and we soon got chatting.
After dinner, Karianne suggested a short evening walk around the area, before heading to bed (I am very conscious of how long I have been awake as I write this, despite an hour's nap I had earlier). We had no set destination but followed a disused railway line before heading in the direction of Auschwitz itself. The car park still open, we walked in and up to the security gates, looking at the camp kitchen and museum reception. We then walked along the perimeter of the camp until we reached the only gas chamber and crematorium in Auschwitz I. Having recently read descriptions of incidents that took place here in Filip Muller's book, 'Auschwitz Inferno', it was as though I could see them in front of my eyes.
Walking back the way we had come, the same route I had taken in getting the hotel, panic struck - the gate was locked! Turning around to go back, we saw that that gate had also been locked behind us! As luck would have it, a security guard in a car who had pulled up beside the gate understood our gestures to open it and we eventually found our way back to the hotel, after almost getting lost in a housing estate that is also fenced off. With a promise to meet up for breakfast in the morning, we went our separate ways for the night.

I am pleased to say that many of my nerves about the trip have gone. I am no longer alone, and am around people with a high level of English. I do indeed feel, so far, that the reading and preparation I undertook before I came has already helped me feel more calm and ready for this course - but this will become clearer tomorrow.