Sunday, June 18, 2017

Logistical Problems

This has always been a hard day of the trip no matter how many changes I make how it’s done. It’s complicated logistically, and it hits hard emotionally.

This year’s logistical problems started when we arrived in Lublin; up until then, everything had gone smoothly.  I had a lot of problems finding a hotel with available rooms, and I eventually found one about a 15-minute walk from the pedestrian mall.  Last night, I mapped it out and figured out which trams we could take from the central train station, including which bus stop it leaves from, the times of departure, and the number of stops to our hotel.  I figured I had everything covered.  I was wrong.

The bus comes to the right station at the right time and we all get on.  Looking at the chart on the bus, it appears that the bus is going in the opposite direction, so I order everyone in the group off the bus and we trudge across the street to find the bus going in the opposite direction.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell which time table is for Sunday and which is for holidays. Even worse, our stop isn’t listed on the schedule, but it is on a type written addendum posted to the sign.  Eventually I give up and say “we’re walking” (it’s only a 23-minute walk to the hotel).

Meanwhile, one student wants to know where the nearest bathroom is (we were in the middle of nowhere, with no business or shops or even houses around).  I told her that it was behind that tree.  I don’t think she appreciated that.  I suppose bad karma might explain why one of my wheels on my roll aboard suitcase split in half shortly thereafter.

After 10 minutes, we reach a bus stop whose name I recognized.  I looked on the chart and I realized that every bus that stopped there should stop close to our hotel, so we waited for a bus.  It dropped us off a block from our hotel. 

I noticed that there was a group of guys all dressed in Swedish soccer colors ahead of us to check in.  We soon discovered that Sweden played Portugal today in Lublin for the Under 21 UEFA tournament.  A lightbulb went off:  perhaps this is why I couldn’t find vacant hotel rooms?  Sure enough, Sweden is sticking around to play Poland here in Lublin tomorrow night. 

Everywhere we went in Lublin, we saw groups of Swedish fans dressed in yellow with blue accents.  People walked by singing Abba songs or leading chants.  I saw several very drunk fans staggering down the street tonight.

As it was late and hot, I figured I would buy the students lunch so we could get to our afternoon destination early.  That backfired spectacularly.  I picked a café with lots of shaded and enough empty tables to accommodate 11 people.  I told the students that I would cover the food but that they were responsible for their own drinks.  And then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Our food didn’t come until nearly an hour after we sat down.  It’s not that it was bad, it just took forever.

As a result, we didn’t reach Majdanek until nearly a quarter of 4 pm.  The main museum and barracks closes at 5 pm, so that meant we had to rush much faster than I would like.

I think the biggest shock of visiting Majdanek is how close it is to the city.  We took a bus, got off at a regular stop on a normal street, and you look across and see the concentration camp.  People live in apartment buildings that come up right to the fence (and they lived just a close, though not as densely, 70 years ago).  You can hear church bells, radios, and even a political rally being held nearby.  And prisoners in the camp could see and hear the town just as well.

Although Majdanek was a relatively small camp with a relatively small death toll (about 80,000 people murdered hear, 75% Jewish), because it was liberated by the Soviets in July 1944 (the first camp to be liberated), some of its structures survived intact (such as the gas chambers and the ovens), while others, such as the barracks, were partially or fully reconstructed. One can still see where the concrete in the gas chamber turned blue due to exposure to cyanide. 

Nearby is a one-story mound of human ash and bone exposed to the air.  I explained how, in my opinion, this is so disrespectful to the people murdered here.  They were brutally murdered, and their bodies desecrated through cremation.  Now there bones (and you can see individual bones in the pile) lie unburied on display and exposed to the air and the elements.

The camp closes at 6 pm, and the last thing I wanted was to be locked in to Majdanek (it’s very easy to get out over the symbolic fence, but I still preferred to leave through the open main gate), so we had to hurry to make it out in time. 

Back at the hotel, we formally checked into our rooms, and I headed up to the pedestrian mall for dinner.  
 I went back to Vanilla Café, where I knew I had a good meal last time.  I went very light with a mushroom soup followed by a crispy duck salad over lettuce, rocket (arugala), warm pear, and melon, topped with a raspberry vinaigrette.  It was very good.

I decided not to get dessert in the restaurant, but head over to Bosko, a Polish ice cream store with two 20+-minute lines out front.  

I was curious what made it so popular.  Among the unusual flavors they offered were:

Peanut halvah
Poppy seed
Kinder surprise
Kangus (sort of like Golden Grahams)
Stracciatella (chocolate chip)
Vege Oreo
Mascarpone with fruit

I got a single scoop of chocolate.  It was very good, but I’m not sure it really was worth that wait.

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