Wednesday, 8 September 2004

A v Poland (Katowice) 8.9.2004

Words by Mark Raven
Pictures by Liz O'Brien

Poland v England, 8 September 2004 World Cup 2006 Qualifier

So following on from Austria 5pm we caught the train back to Vienna West Station, made our way over to the South station to catch our overnight train to Krakow.
We got the right platform, but got confused by the train. Coach 1 was closed, coaches 2 & 3 went to Prague, Coach 4 to Moscow, Coaches 5 & 6 to Katowice and Warsaw, but luckily coach 7 was ours and the sleeper to Krakow. There had been many warnings about overnight trains between Austria and Poland and our carriage looked like it belong in Wacky Racers! Once inside, well what can I say. Our couchette had been converted to 2 beds only, had a sink, plus complimentary croissants and bottles of water. There were about a dozen England fans on the train, and it was a very peaceful night.

Tuesday and we arrived at 5.58am into Krakow. We visited the cashpoint then took a taxi to our Hotel to drop off our bags before venturing out for the day. When we arrived they had no record of the reservation. We showed them our voucher and were told to come back after breakfast! So we had breakfast and went to the booking centre. Luckily the voucher booked through was backed by Orbis (local Hotel chain) and Gullivers travels.
They said come back at midday once checkout time had passed and they would see what they could do. So we went off to the main square, got our bearings, had a wander round and went back to the hotel. A room (in the supposed fully booked hotel) had miraculously become free, so we were able to freshen up. During the day we strolled round the main square, it's a great place to visit and one I would certainly recommend to others. In the evening we had a meal of beetroot soup with pasta in it followed by Chicken in a garlic sauce , well it was chicken Kiev and the whole thing costs us about £5.

Wednesday was match day. This was my third trip to Poland and the other three have all been rather nasty violent affairs. A lad had organised 2 coaches from Krakow to Chorzow (suburb of Katowice) so we had booked that before leaving England. The coach didn't leave until 4pm (Katowice about 1 ½ hours away), so in the morning we wandered up to the Wawel region of Krakow. Krakow survived being bombed during the war, so is very historic.
The Palace had an amazing court yard, and the dragons den was a fascinating place, all within the Wawel palace, but in the cliff side. We went back to the main square and had a look round St Mary's Church. On the hour every hour the bells chime and then a trumpeter plays a tune that stops half way, it's a tribute to the original trumpeter who was killed when sounded a warning a few hundreds years previous. The midday bell and trumpet is played on the national radio station every day.
The coach left at about 4.30pm and we arrived into the stadium area about 6pm. First of all we got directed away from the ground and the driver started to park up with the Polish coaches miles from the ground. Bryan who had sorted the coaches had a chat to him and we were soon on the road again and this time we were allowed to the England entrance and our coaches was driven inside the police cordon and we were safely in the ground.

The Big flag passes overhead!!!!

I thought we played well and the 4,000+ England fans made plenty of noise, but not as much as the enthusiastic Poles. They were a couple of dodgy moments when seats and coins started to be thrown about but the Police dealt with it very well and calmly, so different to previous matches!

The usual display of flares as the Polish team come out....

The Players celebrate the 2-1 win.

Not the most modern scoreboard I have seen at a football ground!!

After the game we were kept in for about an hour 20 minutes and we were back into our Hotel bar in Krakow at 1am.

Thursday and we had booked a trip to Auschwitz. We left at 9.30 and arrived just after 11am. Well I am not sure what to say about the place. There were a fair few England fans about and it was good to see everyone being 100% respectful. You start by entering the gates with the infamous "arbeit macht frei" words above the gate, meaning "work makes you free".

You then move on to various accommodation blocks that have been set up as a tribute.
The place that got to me was the room of 150kg of women's hair that was cut off once they had been gassed, the next had 44,000 pairs of shoes, the next 20,000 suitcases with names and where they lived written on them, the next baby clothes. Makes you feel strange, difficult to explain. Quite a few on our trip found it difficult to cope, but there are people on hand to talk to. After that it was on the punishment block. They had starvation cells, suffocation cells, standing 4 in a bricked up cell 90 x 90, many died standing/squashed up. Once cell contains a shrine to a religious man who took the place of another prison to die of suffocation. The man who he replaced survived the Holocaust and lived to be 94 and died just a few years ago.

Outside of this was the death wall, where prisoners were stripped naked and shot in the back of the head. There were a few flowers left in tribute, pride of place was the St George's carnations left by Mark P and others (excellent and tasteful gesture)

Other Jewish prisoners had to move the bodies before they were then shot. The last bit we saw was the only remaining gas chamber. We stood in a spot where they estimate 77,000 were gassed and the "ovens" where they were cremated. Next to this gas chamber was the gallows where camp commander Hoss was hanged once the Soviets had liberated the camp.

Most of the atrocities took place in Birkenau our next visit. Birkenau became the main death camp. They gassed on average 5,000 people a day (took 20 minutes to kill 1,500 people). They exterminated 400,000 Hungarian Jews in 1944 in just 2 months. It was still hard to believe that the Jews had to pay for the train to the camps, still believing they were going to a better place! 900,000 they believe were gassed without even being registered.

They still do not know how many died in the camp, they estimate between 1.5m and 2m. It was very humbling, but I am glad we went. When we got back to Krakow we went on a Horse and Carriage ride to treat ourselves (and to try and lighten our mood a little) and then late on went for a superb meal . I had a starter of cheese soup (filled with vegetables and came on its own heater!!), followed by bigos (meet and cabbage in a cottage loaf!) Add to this a few drinks and the bill came to 80 zlotys, about £7.50 per head.

........Liz in the "posh" restaurant looking very posh.......and then to bring the tone down I started on the cheese soup.......

Friday and we had to be up and out the hotel by 6.15am to catch a cab to the airport and our 7.50am Lot air flight from Krakow to Gatwick. We got back to Durrington just after midday.

So roll on Azerbijan in less than a month!

Mark R

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