With 76 pupils on an overseas trip, our visit to Poland was always going to be epic and it started with an epic delay at Stansted Airport! Despite the extra 12 hours that we had to inspect the departure lounge, not one of the participants whinged or moaned, we remained upbeat and hopeful we would arrive in Kraków before the end of the day. Once we arrived, the difficulties of the previous day melted away as we were met with a picture-perfect scene that looked like it was straight from a Christmas card.
The first visit was a tour of the old Jewish quarter of the city, taking in synagogues and then the Schindler’s List factory to hear about how life for the local Jewish population changed under Nazi occupation. We then took in the wider history of the city by visiting the salt mines, a product that made the area wealthy for hundreds of years. A mine visit doesn’t sound very appealing, but these mines are something else. Housed in the miles of tunnels are chapels, concert halls, statues depicting the history of Kraków and a stunning underground cathedral. To end the day, we took in a traditional Klezmer music concert.
The next day we made the snowy drive to Auschwitz and Birkenau. The deep snow underfoot underlined how gruelling the conditions in the camp could have been. We toured the exhibitions housing the legacy of those who lost their lives at Auschwitz through the rooms of shoes, hair and suitcases that were stripped from the victims on their arrival. Viewing these items is hard as the eyes of mothers and their children who are about to meet their fate look back out at you, frozen in a desperate moment. The weather aptly reflected the atmosphere as the temperature plummeted to -11, making the walk around Birkenau very poignant.
After some time to reflect on the coach back to the main square we were treated to the beautiful lights of the Christmas market. The market square is worth a visit in its own right with the magnificent St Mary’s Church, the stunning Christmas tree and the varied stalls offering Christmas-themed treats. To lighten the mood, the evening entertainment was a traditional folklore show with lots of dancing and audience participation.
Our final day was a visit to the medieval parts of the city, taking in the city ramparts and a huge castle that legend suggests housed a dragon many years ago and a final opportunity to buy souvenirs.
We were pleased that the flight back was only slightly delayed as the plane was de-iced on the runway but we were all very pleased to touchdown. After such a packed itinerary and so much to reflect on, this is not a trip that will be forgotten.
The staff did an awesome job dealing with the delays, sickness and making sure everyone was safe and in the right place at the right time. Mrs Sunde is really grateful to Mr Carr, Mr Frost, Mr Hammersley, Dr Hiscocks, Mrs Kitchen, Mrs Palmer, Mr Shuttleworth and Mr Zane for their positivity, good humour and patience throughout this trip and the pupils who represented the school with aplomb.