To much to do...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Do you ever have so much to do that you just can't accomplish anything? I have multiple many page papers that I need to write... and I just can't bring myself to do them. I'm the type of person that can only get things done at the last minute. It's not like I don't have time to get it done. I just don't work well unless I'm under pressure. I'm sure a week from now I will be flipping out and complaining non-stop but I don't think that's going to get my papers done any faster. I've had multiple conversations, went shopping (and actually bought stuff), ran, showered, read the bible (for class)... and now I'm heading over to Alanna's house to decorate Easter eggs. Maybe I will look back on this post a year from now and remind me to get ahead when I get to this point in the semester.

My Least Favorite Place On Earth...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Despite having recently returned from my Holocaust oriented trip, I have found one place on earth that I hate even more than concentration camps... supermarkets. I know that is a terrible thing to say and I'm joking...but I honestly hate grocery stores with a passion and I think I have plenty of good reasons. Every Friday afternoon I have to go to one for Campus Ministry to get juice and cookies for the Sunday Masses. Every Friday the though of quitting my job comes to mind.

1.) I have NEVER gotten a shopping cart that works properly. There is always a wheel that doesn't work so it either is uncontrollable or it makes that terrible clunking or screeching noise. After ditching my first cart in the entrance of the store a manager walked by and laughed at me. I know he intentionally leaves those carts lying around just to get his daily amusement.

2.) There are way too many people there that seem to have no actual reason to be there. They stand in the middle of the isles staring off into space as if they came in to enjoy the scenery.

3.) For those who DO seem to have a purpose they move way to slow and seem to zig zag everywhere.

4.) When you finally get behind some one moving quickly they immediately slam on the breaks to get down an isle that they have already passed and of course you proceed to almost plow them over because you can't control the cart.

5.) There is always someone restocking the shelves that you need to reach.

6.) When you've finally gotten everything you need and you head to the check out there are only 2 out of 13 lanes open and of course EVERYONE else in the store has decided to check out at the same time as you.

7.) You obviously get stuck behind the shrinking elderly lady that has to remove each of her 32 yogurts one at a time to place them on the belt.

8.) When it's finally your turn you see that your bagger is an 85 year old man that can't even stand up straight let alone bag a gallon of juice.

9.) To top it all off, finding and reaching one of those shopping cart racks is like trying to drive backwards on a Nascar track with the traffic of vehicles and other shoppers coming at you.

Ok... so maybe they are not as bad as concentration camps but as long as I can help it (and if I'm not getting paid for it) I will avoid supermarkets as much as possible.

Back State Side

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Well, I'm back. I really wish I wasn't, but I am. The rest of the trip was amazing and I wish it didn't end but I guess we all have to come back to reality at some point. I have taken way too many field notes to go into a lot a detail about the trip, plus we visited so many similar places that they are all sadly begin to blur together. Auschwitz, of course, stands out in my mind. It was very cold, wet, and windy that day. Very fitting weather while walking though one of the most notorious concentration camps in history. KL Auschwitz (the name of the German camp) is not to be confused with the town of Oswieciem, where the camp was located. When we were going though passport control in Warsaw one of the students in our group was actually yelled at by a Polish man working there because she said we would be visiting Auschwitz. It is clearly still a very touchy subject to the Polish people. The camp is split up in multiple parts that were so large we were only able to visit two, Auschwitz I (the show camp) and Auschwitz II or Birkenau.

Auschwitz I had been the military barracks for the Polish army so it appeared that the prisoners were being treated much more fairly than in actuality. This part of a camp was for mainly Polish Political Prisoners and it was now turned into a museum about the Holocaust. There were several rooms that covered the history and there were also other rooms that were much more effective in showing the horrors of the Holocaust. One room was filled entirely of shoes, another of pots and pans, one more of toothbrushes and clothes, and finally one of human hair. The most disturbing part of this room was the smell. You could still smell the hair from the hundreds of thousands of men and women that had been shaved at Auschwitz. After that we visited Auschwitz II which was persevered as a concentration camp. While many of the barracks had either been dismantled by the villagers or torn down because of health threats, there were still dozen of cold wooden barracks left up. We went into the women's section where we could go in and still see the wooden "beds" that were meant to fit 10 people almost on top of each other. Walking around these camps makes the suffering of the Holocaust much more real. It is still just beyond my comprehension, but as I walked alone at one point it all began to sink in. I was drenched, cold, and even though I was there with a group I felt very much alone.

We also visited Terezin which was more of a "transit" camp where the prisoners would be held until the were shipped off to other places to either be put to work or put to death. This was a show camp/ghetto. The Red Cross came here and were easily fooled by the nice porcelain sinks that were not even hooked up to water. We visited several museums and monuments that have all kind of merge together.

The city of Prague was very nice, however way to touristy for my liking. There were warnings about pick-pocketing at our restaurant table IN our hotel. There was a constant fear of having something stolen and there were way too many people in the city. We went out to lunch one day and were charged 1400 Kronas more than we owed (almost $80). The worst part is that our tour guide warned us about this and we tried really hard to avoid the tourist traps, but it clearly didn't work. I'm still trying to block that meal out of my memory. Other than that Prague was great. It was a beautiful city. We took a tour of the the city at night and got a birds eye view from the top of a tower which was a fun trip.

After Prague we drove to Berlin which was nice but the area we were staying in was a little too high class for me. We were on the Kurf├╝rstendamm or the "Kudamm" which was the mile long shopping district of West Berlin. The only store I actually went into was a Chocolate shop and while I'm usually not a big chocolate person I did enjoy my purchase here! We visited a museum in Berlin that I personally thought was amazing. It was very interaction where you could figure out how to write your name in Hebrew and play games to see what your status would have been as a medieval Jew. There was, of course, a much more serious aspect of this museum. In the basement were three intersecting hallways title "Axis of Exile," "Axis of Continuity," and "Axis of Death." At the end of the hallways were very intense exhibits. There was the Garden of Exile which was very similar to the Memorial in Berlin. It was simply tall stone pillars however here everything was slanted. Your eyes felt that you were standing up straight and were in line with everything around you, however your body felt very confused. I literally began feeling sick after a few minutes here. At the end of another hall was the "Holocaust Tower." It was a large concrete tower. There was only a small slit that let in light and air however it was not heated so it was very cold and dark. You could hear noises from outside but because it echoed off the walls the sounds of cars sounded like screams to me. The third hallway had other hallways of off it that were wide and open. It was called the exhibit of the "void" which I just assumed was referring to the open hallways, but as we continued to walk I began to hear loud clinking noises, as if many people were working with hammers. When we finally arrived at the exhibit it turning out to be a hallway of metal faces, "fallen leaves". The artist who created it wanted people to walk on his art. As you walked the metal faced moved and hit one another making this loud noise. As terrify as that noise was it was even more scary to hear the silence when everyone stopped moving.

On our last day in Berlin we went to the Berlin Zoo which was probably the best zoo I've ever been to. All the animals were adorable and I'm pretty sure everyone enjoyed it. I have a video of a dancing polar bear, too. It may be Knut but I'm not sure because they all really looked the same. After that a few of us went to an Erotic Sex Museum which was extremely different from the Zoo but definitely just as interesting. Check it out if you're ever in Berlin! That night we went to a really cool bar where the entire floor was sand. It was very fun. Quite possibly too much fun if you asked me the next day while waiting in the airport.
We finally got back here around 12:30 a.m. Monday morning and luckily Wheaton is on spring break and my teachers for the LC canceled classes for the day. I should have been able to sleep in but unfortunately jet lag had me up at 5 in the morning and then 7 the next day. Finally today I was able to wake up to my alarm. Now I only have 3 days of classes left before Easter Break! I've had a week with one day of classes, a week off, and two weeks with three days of classes. Unfortunately, this is just covering up the extreme amounts of work that I know I have to get done in a very short amount of time. For today, however, I'm just going to enjoy the fact that I don't have classes tomorrow and St. Patty's Day is this weekend. After then then I'll get back to reality.

Dzien Dobry!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Stalin Style Building
Greetings from Krakow, Poland! After a long day of flying with a three hour layover in Heathrow, we made it to Warsaw! We had been up for 33 hours so I was exhausted and had the best sleep of my life. It is a very nice city but after the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, Hitler decided that he wanted the entire city leveled so nothing survived the war. Everything is new and there are so many communistic style apartments. You can almost see the difference in the buildings built just after the war in this style and the buildings that have been built since 1989 after the fall of the communist party. The only way you would ever be able to tell that such historic events took place there is by the 50 foot remains of the brick wall that surrounded the Ghetto. Unfortunately, you have to have someone who knows exactly where it is because it is through a winding alleyway. The Old Town Square, however, was completely rebuilt based on paintings of the area from before the war. We took a nice walking tour of Warsaw where we saw where many important buildings once stood and where many great events took place. We also visited the only Jewish cemetery that remains there. I cannot describe the creepiness of that place. It was amazing.

Wall of the Warsaw Ghetto

Part of town rebuilt from paintings
We spend the night in the Hotel Novotel and got up nice and early in the morning to drive to Lublin. We walked around there for a while and ate in a Jewish restaurant which was interesting. I told them I was a vegetarian and they gave me fish. Oh, well. We also only stayed there for one night and got up early to visit the Majdanek Concentration Camp. A lot of it was gone but there was still the cleansing station, a group of barracks, the crematorium, and the gas chambers. It was scary to walk through the places where the people were shaved, washed, and many of them killed. You could still see the blue-green stains on the wall that were from the chemical reaction of cyklon b gas. One of the barracks was filled entirely with the prisoner's shoes. Another barrack still had the seemingly endless rows of bunks, built three high. Walking along the barbed wire fence led to a memorial that was made up of a huge basin of human ashes. The crematorium still had the huge ovens. There was also a bathtub that the Germans would use to bathe in while the burning bodies of the prisoners heated their water. Disgusting.

Stains from the cyclon b gas

After Majdanek we had a five hour bus ride to Krakow where I am writing from now! Yesterday after we arrived we had five minutes to change and then we had to go Shabbat Services. We went to the only functioning synagogue in Krakow. Before the war there were 120. The service was very different from the reform one I attended in Sharon. Everyone went at their own pace and the women had to sit in a separate room with a neck high wall with a curtain at the top. After that we wandered around the city until we found a bar. We had a drink there and then found an "Irish" pub. The bartenders did not speak English, they were playing Jamaican music, and we were hit on by a man from Norway.

Today we had a walking tour around Krakow. It was rainy and extremely windy all day. We visited what used to be the heart of Jewish Krakow. Now it is mostly old synagogues converted into restaurants or stores. There were four synagogues in a 100 foot radius. It's amazing to imagine what that would have been like before the war.

Our tour guide grew up in Krakow so he felt that he needed to show us a good bar where we took a drink break at 11 a.m. I'm a big fan of Janucz. We ended the tour in the Old Town which is the oldest medieval square in the world. It was a lot of fun. We had the afternoon to ourselves so we found a restaurant, did some shopping, and visited and old castle. It was so miserable out that (after 8 hours of walking in the rain) we headed back to the hotel. Luckily, we remembered how to get back from the previous night of bar hopping. We were on our own for dinner and I was planning to meet up with some people to find somewhere to eat but I ended up sleeping from 6 to 9. Now I'm here!

Tomorrow we are visiting Auschwitz. That is going to be sad although a group of kids from D.C. told us that Majdanek was worse because Auschwitz is very touristy. I'll see for myself. I think we're spending one more night in Krakow and then we will be heading to Prague which I'm a extremely excited about!

Until then!