Auschwitz, the living hell on earth

Auschwitz, the living hell on earth
A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Chapter IV Part II

City: Auschwitz
Country: Poland
Currency: Polish Zloty (€1=3.3zl)
Travel dates: 4 January 2008
Travel buddies: Egon, Rahma, Siddharth, Stella, Meghan, Kim

Caption: Auschwitz II Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp.

When travel is no longer merely just for fun, Jiann Chyuan learned that it could be deadly cruel and inhumane.

Genius readers must have noticed that this is a reversed chapter. After detour to Paris and Brussels for the past three weeks, it is time to leave the lovely sunshine and go back to the freezing snow. However, this time, the coldness of winter is masked by the deadly cruelty and inhumanity, the one that I call living hell on earth.

Auschwitz concentration camp never comes in second position in the Krakow package. The largest Nazi concentration camp during WWII might look just like another walking museum at the beginning. However, it certainly gives visitors a great depth of the Nazi history, and the hardship and inhumane treatments to the prisoners.

Visiting Auschwitz during winter certainly has “enhanced” its “attractiveness”. And if you happened to be as lucky as me, you will get a couldn’t-ask-for-more tour guide. (Tip: This is mandatory!) Armed with in immeasurable study depth of Nazi and first hand experiences with former prisoners in person, my unfortunately-name-forgotten tour guide was definitely a great story teller in the tour.

Caption: Death corridor in Auschwitz I (left) and death gate of Birkenau.

Consists of three camp sites, Auschwitz II, or better known as Birkenau, was the first one I went. Constructed to ease the congestion in the main complex, Birkenau is, defined by me, the best beginning point of the Auschwitz tour.

It was a sunny winter morning. However, the warmth of the sun failed to attenuate the fierceness of the lethally cold wind. It was perishing at the camp side. But this bitterly cold wind was the crucial factor that ultimately determining the charm of Birkenau.

Tumbled through my way to the living quarters of former prisoners, I could hardly hide my clumsy movements under my thick warm winter jacket. Stuffing my body with three shirts underneath the jacket, and double layers pants were pathetic in eliminating the intrusion of the wind into the tiniest pores of the fabric at that day.

Slowly scrutinising the triple-decker beds that were closed aligned in two rows with extremely narrow gap in the wooden plank building, I was hugging my body to the tightest, trying to keep myself from cold. Listening to my tour guide, I was thinking: It might be after all not a bad idea to have two or three people sharing the same single bed during winter time, especially when you have no blanket.

Caption: Living quarters in Auschwitz I (left) and Birkenau.

Walking through the gas chamber, the sanitary facility, step by step, I was brought back to 1940s. It was challenging not to have imaginations while listening to the tour guide. But those imaginations were often vague and maybe incorrectly illustrated. Therefore, after saying goodbye to the death gate in Birkenau, I was droved back to Auschwitz I, where all the imaginations were reinforced with genuine footages and photos.

It was a brilliant construction. The word brilliant is applicable to both the Nazi camp and to the arrangement of the tour. You first got a taste of the despicably life in Birkenau, and then you got back to Auschwitz I to learn how (mainly) innocent Jews were deceived by the German into believing that they had finally reached to a place where (literally) heaven was so closed, but then to only find out it was the ending phase of their lives in no time.

Caption: Gas chamber (left) and one of the streets in Auschwitz I.

It was the industrial booming period of Germany and raw materials were highly sought after. For these Jews, carried with them a simple suit case with their most important valuables, they had no time to enjoy their “heaven” when they first got out of the highly inundated train. Their suit cases were seized; they were separated between genders and age groups; they were brought to showers for sanitisation; they got their clothes changed; and they got their new hair do.

However, all these were done with purpose. Their suit cases were checked for valuables for industrial developments; they were separated so that it would be easier for the Germans to assign them with different laborious chores; they were brought to showers so that the clothes were seized for textile industry; their new hair do was to cut away hair that was later used as raw material in textile industry.

The every “welcoming” procedure was designed for its purpose. However, the Jews had no idea what was ahead for them. Still naively thinking they had finally reaching the safest place, they had no idea their lives were tickling down to the end.

Real life footages, artefacts and walks through the numerous chambers truly brought the cruelty back to life. Entering different rooms, seeing thousands of suit cases, hundreds of thousands of tooth brushes, millions of spectacles, and the uncountable amount of human hair through perfectly waxed glass, I really couldn’t help myself but desperately gasping for a room which stops this huge imposition of raw presentation.

Caption: Extermination and execution yard in Auschwitz I.

However, there was no space to waste and no time to spare, during the Nazi period and also in the Auschwitz tour. The blunt presentation trailing one after another in the camp was clearly accentuating the message that the cruelty of German was intolerable.

Walking through the last corridor in the whole tour, there was photos of the former prisoners hanging on the wall. Not all of course, but the literally thousands of photos were sufficient to drown you with intense sadness and stern stigma. All the smiling faces explicitly shows the innocence of these people. Were they really thinking they were finally safe from the violation?

What was more disheartening was that the arrival date and the departure date (to the genuine heaven) of these prisoners were recorded with the photos. Looked at the first one, three months of survival. The second one, 47 days. The third one, 29 days. I couldn’t look any further. I was mentally collapsed in the camp.

Auschwitz concentration camp, could the presentation get anything better? Or should I ask, could the inhumane treatments get anything worse?

Indoor pictures are lacking because it wasn't allowed to snap photos indoor.
Recommended reading include entry in Wikipedia.

Brussels, Home of European Union

Brussels, home of European Union
A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Chapter VI

City: Brussels
Country: Belgium
Currency: Euro (€)
Travel dates: 3 May 2008
Travel buddies: Egon, Rahma

Caption: Jumping in Grote Markt, with Dutch like building background.

After so many different destinations, Jiann Chyuan has finally gone to a place where he should be thankful of.

If it wasn’t because of this place, if it wasn’t because of this organisation, if it wasn’t because of the scholarship it gives out, I wouldn’t stay in Europe, I wouldn’t travel around, I would probably just sit in an office, staring into a computer and working my fingers through various engineering programmes.

Brussels, the birthplace and centre of European Union was my stop after Paris. Brussels in a sunny day was so pretty. However, it wasn’t all that easy for me to find a comfortable position to fit myself in. It was all about whether you would like to be French, or Dutch.

Caption: Chocolates and how people look happy in front of them.

Brussels to me is a very confusing capital. Thinking that this is the hub of EU, it must have its own charms to be crowned the “home” of EU. Of course, you may argue that the location of the country is a major factor. However, situated between the Netherlands and France, the capital itself loses its unique characters. Its official languages are French or Dutch. Its people, similarly to the official languages, look French or Dutch. Even walking on a street gave me the feeling of walking on a dry canal in Holland. Where is the something Belgian?

Despite all the confusion, I was clear and determined to attain my main goal in Brussels. Leaving Brussels South Station, I was holding only a brochure with a coupon saying “10% discount” and “free trying” of the finest chocolate store in Brussels. Of course, everybody claims that he is the best. So to save the trouble of finding the “real” finest chocolate shop, I just went to this shop located next to the popular landmark of Brussels, the city hall.

There were indeed a lot of chocolate shops along the street. In fact, there was too many and many of them are too big until I was stunned to find out that the “finest” chocolate store in Brussels was so tiny and with only one staff; the chocolate maker himself. Well, don’t judge a store with its size. For chocolate sake, it was giving free trying, but only one!

Caption: Belgian Waffles with Australian Ice-cream, and Brussels garden view.

Guess that was the strategy, once you walk into a chocolate store, and pick up your one and only free trying sample, the next appropriate thing to do is just to buy some. As a chocolate super fan, of course I bought not only little. It was a staggering 40 euros in just ten minutes. Well, not exactly a lot. But it was still a notable amount to a poor student like me.

Quickly ran out from the store to avoid pocket burning, the only welcoming hand outside was even more chocolate stores! I fought hard against the temptation of beautiful chocolate stores to only find out after half an hour that it was pathetic as I finally surrendered and wet my feet again in another chocolate sea. Digging into my already thinning wallet, forked out another colourful note, I walked out the store with another bag of chocolate.

Caption: Town Hall in the Grote Markt and Atomium.

But Brussels has more to offer than chocolate alone. Belgian waffles, wait, did I just said Belgian? Oh, finally there was actually something Belgian. Okay, Belgian waffles are yet another attraction of Brussels. However, my very tantalising walnut waffle with whipped cream was bought from an Australian ice-cream shop. Not sure whether it was still something Belgian, but it was undoubtedly tasty.

Perhaps you are wondering why the only limelight stealing agent so far in Brussels is food and not tourist attractions. The answer is pretty straightforward; there isn’t a lot of attraction in Brussels. Perhaps the only three most recognisable items are the century old maneken pis and the newly created masterpiece, atomium, and the city hall square.

Caption: Maneken Pis and the crowd to prove his popularity.

But honestly, they aren’t really that attractive and worth visiting, except that you might only share the questions as millions of tourists on why the maneken pis is so small. Okay, I know exactly what you are thinking about. Was his pee really sufficient to save the whole Brussels from fire? I don’t know. But at least he is peeing twenty-four seven now. And darn it that he actually has more clothes than I do!

So that is it, all about Brussels. A moment, maybe going to a pub and have a few glasses of Belgian beer is another typical thing to do in here. But again, as the centre of EU, Brussels is indeed a capital meant for business. However, it is still worth the walking to climb up to a higher spot in Brussels to grab the whole city view, especially when the weather is fine.

Paris, sinfully scrumptious

Paris, sinfully scrumptious

A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Chapter V Part II

Paris, sinfully scrumptious

City: Paris
Country: France
Currency: Euro (€)
Travel dates: 29 Apr 2008 – 2 May 2008
Accommodation: Perfect Hotel
Travel buddies: Rahma, Saravanan

Caption: Baguette with fillings.

Jiann Chyuan discovered how French cuisine could be literally sinfully delicious and why someone really needs to spare some cash to fulfil the desire of his taste bud.

There are certain subjects which one could easily relates to when it comes to France, La Tour Eiffel is of course one of them. The other very important thing, which is also a cliché, is the French food. But, to pinpoint some instantly recognisable French food, it gets very interesting.

Most people opine unless you spend a fortune in a fine French restaurant ordering some beautifully decorated plates, serving cuisine in a portion which requires you to wander around the plate for a minute or two, before you finally spot the main dish, you are not having French food.

Caption: Some pastries from Paul. I only remember the middle one, flan nature (custard tart).

The concept is nothing else but wrong. High life French dining is indeed demanding a gold stock in the garage. However, blindly unaware that French food doesn’t necessary mean painting food with gold, it actually has crept in many lives and played an important role in their daily diet.

If baguette or French stick, or “hard bread” according to my friend, is not something familiar to you, I am sure croissant and its wonderfully mesmerising layering texture has already won your heart. And most importantly, these very typical French food are cheap and are easily available in every patisserie.

Caption: Queuing to buy crêpe (left) and queuing to buy pastries.

Did I tell you also that they make very popular appearance in hotel breakfast menu? Unfortunately, I wasn’t given a choice but was stuck to baguette for my every breakfast in Paris. It was nice but I wish I had more varieties. Maybe this is just not they way Parisians think since counting number of the people carrying a baguette in their hand is almost the most interesting game to play in the morning.

Being a student, it is imaginable that hunting for superfine French cuisine in classy restaurants is impossible. And I am grateful that my rationality was not taken away by the uncontrollable desire every time when I passed by patisseries with their tantalising display of cakes, pastries and desserts, which infallibly demand a lengthy stop-and-stare.

However, I did spend a considerable amount of cash in food during my stay in Paris, justified by the fact that this is the only city so far in my travel list which I was eating out throughout. It was fun to just indulge in every single food which deserves thumbs up. But it was not always non-regrettable.

Take a look back, I wouldn’t really call my decision of paying some seven euros on three pieces of plain crêpe with a lame amount of (maybe) supreme quality chocolate sauce, which still left me in hunger afterwards, in a restaurant closed to Eiffel Tower a wise expenditure, since I was only required five euros for a jumbo size ham cheese mushroom crêpe in another restaurant near Notre Dame.

Caption: Crème Brûlée (left) and Rue de St. Michel at night.

Exactly! Though both locations never failed in gluing the feet of swamps of tourists, the difference in price could be significant. The tip is, choose the location of dining carefully and you could end up with much more enjoyment.

One of the reasons why cheap eat area is around Notre Dame, especially in Rue de St. Michel is a smart choice, is because of the competition. There are hundreds of restaurants waving hungrily to your wallet with their dazzling array of menus offering popular French cuisines at affordable prices. It is in this place where you can effortlessly dine in stress-less at as little as 20 euros. However, the catch is it could be a huge headache deciding which restaurant to go and to hunt for a table.

And don’t forget to check out set meals including starter, main course and dessert, which restaurants have to offer because they are normally the best deals. I went to this restaurant which it offered set meal for 25 euros, and what I’ve got were the must-have-famous-but-makes-me-pledge-guilty-afterwards foie gras with toasted bread, not-entirely-cooked-with-blood-streaming-out duck breast meat in black pepper sauce, which was heavenly delicious, and the never-get-bored-and-all-time-classic crème brûlée.

Caption: Duck breast meat in black pepper sauce (left) and salmon with rice.

I am certain there are a lot of question marks in your mind now. Crème brûlée was the only dessert which I tasted twice in Paris, simply because it was absolutely tasty. Compared to my first crème brûlée in Malaysia, it is simply no competition. However, it wasn’t the highlight of my adventure with French food. The limelight simply has to be on escargot and foie gras.

Ask me how it tastes like to eat escargots, or snails, I would say amazing. I never have thought I would say this. But I suffered zero hesitation to put it into my mouth when I was in the restaurant, because it smelled so pleasant and of course, looked so attractive. It was actually quite chewy as well.

What about foie gras? It is unforgettable! It was simply the best food I had in Paris. I am always not the fan of internal organs. But foie gras would be the only exception. It just didn’t taste like typical liver. It was actually sweet. And the way it melted on your tongue before streaming down your throat was simply mesmerising.

Caption: Foie Gras (left) and escargots.

However, foie gras is unfortunately also one of the best food to torture someone mentally if cruel treatment to animal is something not tolerable. If you haven’t known, ducks are forced fed for twelve days in the production of foie gras. I prefer not to talk so much about it here as you can find it easily in Wikipedia. I am feeling lucky because I’ve got to taste it before getting to know the process, which might ultimately bar me from eating foie gras again in the future.

Paris, not solely dominated by Eiffel Tower, but also of its largely manipulative French food. It is indeed the greatest pleasure to be in Paris, to start falling in love with the environment, to drench yourself in the world of food, and to dream everything possible. Where is a better place than Paris to dream?

P.S.: For documentary of the production of foie gras, please watch:

Paris, ville de l'amour

Paris, ville de l’amour
A Youth Backpacker in Europe
Chapter V Part I

City: Paris
Country: France
Currency: Euro (€)
Travel dates: 29 Apr 2008 – 2 May 2008
Accommodation: Perfect Hotel
Travel buddies: Rahma, Saravanan

Caption: Arc de Triomphe

Paris, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Musée de Louvre, etc, Jiann Chyuan discovered everything touristy is a must for every virgin visit to the world’s most fascinating city, if not the city of love.

Caption: Typical metro entrance (left) and a must have Paris souvenir, they are really cheap!

There wasn’t any update last week because I was in Paris! Kin Fook asked me the other day whether I would give my winter trip a pause for my recent Paris trip. I spurned the suggestion right away. However, I reconsidered after that. And voila!

Paris is my most favourite city in the world. It actually already was before my visit, and it officially is after that. It is simply a metropolis, in the world where even if you are not paying a visit personally, you will never get away from the fascination of its charm. Why do you think it is one of the most shot cities in films in this planet after all? Not to mention how many appearances Eiffel Tower has actually made in movies.

I swear to you, even if Paris were to be a super dull city with only Eiffel Tower, I would be extremely enthusiastic to just stare at it and appreciate its beauty for the whole day without doing anything else. In fact, my 171 photos about Eiffel Tower alone in 4 days are more than sufficient to justify this statement.

Caption: Gare de Lyon (left) and Moulin Rouge

Including myself, there are so many people in this world that are actually crazy about Paris, one of the many reasons is of course not the notorious weather, but the Eiffel Tower. In movies, photos, magazines, posters, postcards, her appearance is simply dominant in anything Paris related. And to be truly honest with you, to just imagine myself getting closer to Eiffel Tower before the actual trip worth my insomnia for a few nights. To actually be in it, it kills!

I wasn’t staying in any arrondisement (district) near Eiffel Tower. Instead I was staying in Montmartre, the sister city of Amsterdam Red Light District, and also the arrondisement where the world renowned Moulin Rouge is actually located. However, all the sex shops and cabarets which prevailingly dominate the whole area didn’t seem to interest me that much. I understood clearly what was my heart was after in this trip.

Caption: My most favourite painting (left) in the Musée de Louvre.

Before the actual trip, I did try to imagine what would be my reaction when I finally get to see Eiffel Tower, for the first time, with my own eyes. But all the visualisations I had didn’t help in stopping me from panting heavily the first moment I had eye contacts with her, from Basillique Sacre-Coeur, arguably the highest natural point in Paris, and where the heart of Jesus is kept, I suppose.

It was the first day of my trip and I wasn’t really sure which direction should I focus in hunting down Eiffel Tower. Therefore, I was totally stunned when walking out from Basillique Sacre-Coeur after a few illegally snaps, while trying to grasp as much as possible the grey cloudy wet Paris, in a totally unexpected encounter with her.

I remember how my heart was beating so hard, as if it were going to break my rips and pop out from my chest, as if the blood in my heart was pumped with unnecessary energy and that I risk suffering stroke and pass out on the spot. I couldn’t really recall, but I think I did scream, in front of the swamps of tourists bombarding the basilica.

Caption: Basilique Sacre-Coeur (left) and Notre Dame.

However, I didn’t care about the embarrassment at all, because it worth! Yes, I am indeed fanatic about Eiffel Tower. She is really beautiful, with or without lights on. I would really suggest you to walk the staircase when you are visiting, not only because you get the chance to savour one of the most magnificent structures in the world with your foot steps, but also saves you from the painstaking waiting in the queue. It is cheaper as well!

Eiffel Tower aside, there are really a lot of attractions in Paris eyeing your money, but I am doubtful with the famous Musée de Louvre, and its obscenely well-blended pyramid. However, paying nine euro and get admitted into the world’s most famous museum, and trying to compete with literally millions of tourists, fighting for air to breathe, and space to appreciate paintings, and the chance of not being pushed away while you are struggling in front of Mona Lisa, is definitely not the best idea in enjoying greatest artworks.

Caption: Eiffel Tower in day and night time.

Well, it is actually not a good suggestion not to visit. Just to think about how you are going to answer when people ask you whether you have seen Mona Lisa in Paris. Musée de Louvre worth you days, but if you are just like me, easily bored after a few paintings or sculptures, one and half hour is all you need. It was exactly the time I took to pass through numerous corridors and aisles full with paintings before reaching Mona Lisa, and to get out again. Friction force with other tourists is one serious consideration in navigation.

Want more of Paris? Avenue des Champs Élysées which is less posh in my opinion compared to other shopping districts in this shopping paradise; Arc de Triomphe which is yet another most recognisable icon in Paris, and which took me half an hour wandering in the underground before finally realising the location of the first underground entrance which was right in front of my eyes due to confusing road signs; one of the world’s most well known cathedral, Notre Dame, which is also another hot spot for tourists, are a few to bookmark.

Caption: Place de la Concorde (left) and River of Seine from Eiffel Tower.

However, I was not particularly excited about all these, those taking a boat trip along Seine River treated me to all the most instantly recognised famous attractions, I was in Paris for some treats of movies. As the most mentioned city in films, Paris is really an exciting place for trailing movies footprints. For instances, Place de la Concorde as in The Devil Wears Prada, Gare de Lyon as in Mr. Bean’s Holidays, and Musée de Louvre as in DaVinci Code.

Yes, I am not the type of person that is actually literate in artworks, but to just stroll around blocks of identical Parisian buildings while trying hard not to step on dog shit, and to search for taste of movies are simply fascinating to me. What more can I say? Paris is simply a place for every type of person.

I love Paris. I am definitely going back to this city, where I fell in love with.

Caption: Are there really that many of art literate people in this world. At the right is Mona Lisa.