Samantha Keen: The Journey So Far...

Europe! Well, well, well, what can I say?

Our stay in Venice got off to a long and tiresome start by lugging our bags through Venetian streets for an hour in 25 degree heat on little or no sleep for the past 31 hours. Let’s just say we were all happy to make it through the seemingly never ending maze to our accommodation…

Other than the bumpy start, Venice turned out to be an absolute city of dreams. The 100s of tiny alley ways upon even tinier alley ways, the countless bridges, the fruit stalls, the souvenir sellers, the singing gondoliers, the gelato and the free wi-fi at most café’s were everything I’d been lead to believe about this city. Given that we only had a day and a half in this brick maze, we tried to make the most of it. Conveniently, our body clocks let us wake up nice and early (I’m talking wide awake by 4am) so we were able to be up and about exploring first thing. The highlight for me was exploring the Palazzo Ducale, a building I’d learned about in Art History classes some years ago. The building itself is clearly an architectural feat and placing it in its context as the powerhouse of Venice added to its impression.

One of the things that first struck me in Venice was the terrible walkability of the city for anyone with any sort of mobility issue. The alley ways can be narrow, there are very few ramps on bridges, the footpaths are often uneven and very few buildings have elevator access.  It was quite fitting then that the charity that ran our free walking tour was created to raise money to help those with mobility problems get around Venice. They do this by providing a special water taxi service and plot routes that have ramps and wide streets.

Our time in Venice ended with a 3:00am wake up call, another 30 minute stretch through the streets then a water taxi to the airport ready for our flight to Krakow! Our home for the next 15 nights. Arriving in Krakow compared to being in Venice was like being transported to a whole other world! For starters, it was so GREEN! Trees and grass and fields and bushes! I didn’t realise how much I missed green until we got here. Unfortunately for me my first day in Krakow was spent curled up in a painful ball on my bed with what I suspect was food poisoning. Not exactly what I had in mind! We had a few days to kill before our conference started so we organised a walking tour of the Old Town and general exploration.

The first day of conference was in fact spent doing something quite different. We visited Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp. Located about a 45 minute bus ride from Krakow centre in the small town of Oswiecim, it has over 2 million visitors a year. I really didn’t know what to expect going to Auschwitz but I did know that it was a place I had felt the need to go to since I was a small child. The root of this feeling stemmed from reading a book called ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ in year 7. This story started a flame within me that burned bright and hard with sadness, curiosity and the unyielding need to pay respects. The experience itself was surreal. Although we had an experienced guide admirably sharing the stories of Auschwitz, the information I was hearing was so unimaginable that I still couldn’t quite process it even though I was standing on the very ground about which she was talking. Throughout my time there, I felt that the only appropriate response was for me to give back as much of my energy to the space, to remind the souls that there are people actively remembering them and sending our deepest heartfelt apologies for all that had happened. As I looked into the eyes of some of the photographed prisoners, I found myself talking to them, acknowledging them and telling them that we live in a world now that remembers them. It truly was a harrowing and deeply moving experience.

Now we’ve had some time to reflect and some more time experiencing the conference itself, it will be interesting to see how we move forward with the negotiations of nominated sites for the World Heritage List. Now to figure out exactly how the UN actually works….

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.

Posted on July 7, 2017 and filed under World Heritage 2017.