Trip Of A Lifetime

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Religion & Death

Our journey from Warsaw to Krakow was a busy one. Firstly we stopped at Jasna Gora for a morning at the church and monastery that house the Black Madonna, a religious icon of great importance to the Catholic world.

While I'm not a religious person, I have to admit that this was an interesting place to visit. (Even though the nun showing us around was barely audible and slightly strange.) I was surprised a the sheer number of people visiting on a Friday morning, although it was one week before Easter and many people come to this place on a pilgramage.

Our tour showed us around various places within the grounds. The painting of the Black Madonna is itself in the Chapel, but there is a replica outside so that people can take photos and really have the chance to look at it. I have to say that it is a very beautiful painting.

The original painting is "dressed", whihch means that they put a sort of facade in front of it so that only the two faces are showing. The "dressing" is usually gold, silver and bejewelled. They change it for special occaisions.

Our group was able to file through a mass and crane our necks awkwardly to have a look a the real painting. Part of me wishes that they hadn't allowed this because the chapel was packed tight with people who were quite obviously involved in their worship and as they were this ugly group of tourists with cameras slung around their necks start ploughing through the middle of them. It just felt rude.

After we'd seen enough, Adie and I broke off from the group in search of lunch before we had to get back on the bus. Unfortunately with it being Friday there was no meat. There were also hundreds of people lined up to buy the chips and vegie burgers that were on offer. The only line moving quickly was the one selling ice-cream... so we had ice-cream for lunch.

From Jasna Gora we drove to Auschwitz. Our first stop was at Birkenau, a site about 3 kilometres away from the main camp. Thi splace has been changed very little from the original while the main camp has been set up to educate people about what happened.

I knew that I would be emotional here, and I was right. I didn't wander around Birkenau, I just stood near the train tracks. It was quite surreal. Unfortunately there were some people who stood in the on the train tracks and smiled big cheesy grins as their friends took photos. Bad taste as far as I'm concerned.

At Auschwitz we had a guided tour that took us into several barracks, some punishment cells and the crematorium. There were many confronting things to see and difficult stories to lear, but I'm glad I went.

It would seem to me that the more aware we are of the atrocities of the past, the better able we are to prevent them from happening again.


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