Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I wonder if we can swim laps in the Mikveh?

We took the overnight train from Prague to Krakow. Finding our train, was a bit like the madness of New York's Penn station, except that everything was in Czech. Hence the added fun of trying to figure it all out once the actual track showed up on the revolving train schedule board. Just to add to the excitement, Krakow was not listed on the schedule for the time of our train, so a quick run to the ticket booth was required to be sure we were going to infact wake up in Krakow!


We did manage to find the track and board the train, just to find that in fact we were on the right train, but the wrong car. Off we went again with all of our luggage to the end of the train (about 100 cars away, or so it seemed). We were all in a communal shvitz, by the time we climbed aboard, and situated ourselves in our overnight cabins side by each. A few minutes later the train departed.

The night train cabins were exactly like the one Marc, Aaron and I took in Egypt from Luxor to Cairo, so we knew the ins and outs of converting the beds into seating and visa-versa. The train left the station at 9:17 pm so we got ourselves ready for the night. We had used up all of our last Czech Kroner on "provisions" for the journey, so we were set!

The train arrived in Krakow an hour late (8:00 am). We had all slept like babies – which of course is a misnomer as babies notoriously don't sleep – and that was our fate, at least for some of us. Devora and I, after some cosmetic help, managed to look human. The guys had snored through the night and were in perfect shape.

Ah, Krakow in the rain ... A bit gloomy at 8:00 am, but for Devora and I, it seemed somehow like home. For her – because she comes from good Polish stock and for me – because it looked so much like Israel. Not the gloominess or the rain, but the people and the shops and the sesame bagel stands.

New day, a new country, new currency and a new language. Certainly keeps you sharp!

Devora and I were tasked with getting tickets for the tram. A bit of experience with this in Prague made it much easier, and Devora figured it out in no time. We had converted some currency in Prague so we were good there. The only problem was that no matter what country I am in, the ticket machines don't seem to like my coins! After several tries, we managed to get it done and we were on our way to the Eden hotel in the heart of the preserved Jewish Quarter of Krakow called Kazimierz. There are no Jews living in the Jewish Quarter, but there are many buildings that survived the war and a Jewish Cemetery. The buildings have been converted into restaurants and hotels.

The Eden Hotel is a jewel down a narrow lane in the Quarter. There have been complaints about the mattresses from three of the four of us, but other than that, I am in love with the place! There is beautiful art on all of the walls, including posters of Jewish events that have taken place in the area. Winding stairways take you deeper into the subterranean rooms – spa – salt grotto – and of course the mikveh! Some of you reading will not know what this is. Here is a nice description I found on the internet: Ritual immersion in a mikveh - a gathering of living water (mayyim hayyim) - marks a change in status. People immerse at Mayyim Hayyim to celebrate moments of joy, to heal after times of sorrow or illness, or to commemorate transitions and changes.

So we are in a real Jewish hotel (mezuza on each door), with it's own mikvah, in a sadly, once thriving, now non-existant, Jewish community. After a very emotional day at Auschwitz/Berkanou, the mikveh, if we use it, will (all joking aside) not be for laps, but for healing from the sorrow that is embedded in this place.

It is important to be here, but extremely difficult. A large number of Marc's family took the incredibly long and inhuman train journey from Salonika Greece to Auschwitz, where their lives came to an unthinkable end. It is somehow comforting being in the Jewish Quarter, where we hear Klezmer music coming from the restaurants in the square. A reminder of the joyful sounds of the community that was once a large part of the tapestry of Polish life.

It has been raining (a lot) and gloomy. All my packing decisions were sadly wrong and I have been living in one outfit for days ... Devora and I have let the boys go out on their own for a few hours and we are sitting comfortably in a cafe/laundramat. Devora on her ipad, me on my mac, listening to great music and thinking about how great it is to be together. And how incredibly lucky we are to be able to share this experience.

Tomorrow, the night train to Budapest!

BTW we are in perogie and blinz heaven!!!!

(post title credit goes to Doug!)

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