On Friday 10th February, the day had finally come for the Poland trip that had gripped the excitement of the 9 students from Rainford Sixth Form that were lucky to get involved. These were Alex Beckwith, Josh Bottell, Tara Butler, Annabelle Darlington Melissa Fisher, Kieran Ford, Ross Harrington, Calum Riley and John Romano. We had been looking forward to the trip for a while and we were to share the experience with a selection of Year 10 and 11 students, staffed by Mrs Turton, Miss Trivedi, Mrs Quinn, Mr Halliwell and Mr Pendlebury.
Having to get to school at 4:00AM was a sacrifice that everyone had to make, and saw some of the notorious happier people of the college feeling a bit worse for wear! This sour feeling was quickly rectified by Josh Bottell who capitalised on a free Starbucks on the coach to the airport, meaning his morning wasn’t as long as the rest! After a smooth 2 ½ hour flight to John Paul II International Airport we were taken to our accommodation for the weekend, the Hotel Alexander which was deep in the urban scene of Krakow. After unpacking and checking out our accommodation, we were introduced to Alana, our Australian tour guide for the weekend, as she was to ensure every day of our trip was to be a “G’day”! We explored our surroundings as Alana took us to the main square of the Old Town we were staying in, capped off by the beautiful Cloth Hall as its centrepiece. This was before we headed back to the hotel before being taken to our first activity of the trip, visiting Oscar Schindler’s factory museum. In this tour of the museum the we were told the story of how Jews came under Nazi rule, and how life was for this group both before and after their “capture” after a largely interesting and engaging tour, we were taken back to the hotel, before exploring the old town independently and eventually getting some well-deserved sleep!
Day 2 of the trip was one that personally I was looking forward to the most, and one of the catalysts for going on this trip. This was a tour around the most famous Jewish concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. On the coach journey, there was a sense of uncertainty, and to a degree, trepidation as both students and teachers were unclear of what to expect from the day. Once we arrived at Auschwitz 1, we had a guided tour around the actual grounds and accommodation that the prisoners would have had under Nazi control. The museum element of the tour was engaging, as we were given a backstory of how this took place to give us some context. However, the tour turned a lot more surreal when we saw the actual hair and belongings of people who were executed here as well as their sleeping arrangements, and looking around a gas chamber that would have been used during the war. This then lead to a trip to Auschwitz 2 in Birkenau, an open deserted space that again showed us the route the Jews would come down to face their impending death, we also looked at sleeping arrangements of the prisoners and remains of a gas chamber.
After this surreal experience, it was a good idea to lift the spirits of the group in a trip to a local bowling alley. This was a fun experience as we found out the true bowling ability of each other, with John Romano and Ross Harrington impressing.
Day 3 of the trip was just as interesting an action packed as Day 2, as we took a trip to the Galicia Jewish Museum, looking at how the Jews came under Nazi occupation, this was then followed by a talk from an actual holocaust survivor, in which the group hung on her every word as she described her experiences during this period, this culminated in Josh reading a poem wrote by the survivor’s father. After this experience, we then walked back to the old town in order to have some relaxation time back at the hotel, as often these experiences were very emotional and needed an element of countering enjoyment. For our night time entertainment, we were treated to a 3 course meal at the Ariel Restaurant which was about a half an hour walk from the hotel. This was good for the group to have one final bonding session on the last night of the trip and to reflect on the weekend they had had.
On the final day of the trip, we were treated to one of the most enjoyable activities of the trip, as we visited the salt mines, in which unsurprisingly were all made of salt! The group were given a guided tour around the mines, with the opportunity to even lick the walls if we so desired, an offer in which some took up with more enthusiasm than others! We also visited a church area that was again entirely made up of salt, which was a beautifully created piece of art, before the practical uses of the church were considered. This rounded off a terrific trip that was very well organised from the teachers involved, the landmarks that we saw were planned to perfection, and helped us to make the weekend as educational as it was fun.