06 December 2017

Krakow & Auschwitz

Dear readers,

today I will write about one of our 2017 trips - Poland. We got really cheap bus tickets at Polskibus, so we just had to go, meaning, we left a lot of school work behind, but it did not matter back then and I am glad we managed to find those few days off. We visited Krakow for 3 days in May. We were staying at the cheapest hostel ever (B Movie Hostel). I would not recommend it, the bathroom was small and dirty, the rooms (6 beds) were spacious, but there was no quiet hours, as people were just walking in anytime they wanted (and one of them was coughing the whole night) and the tram was driving the whole night, the breakfast was only tee or coffee with cheese on a bread, but honestly, my expectations were a little too high for the money we spent.
So, after a seven hour ride, we arrived in Krakow around noon, checked into the hostel and immediately changed our plans - we wanted to explore the city centre on the first day, but since it was raining, we switched the first and second day and went straight to Wieliczka salt mines. Endless corridors under the ground, the salt mines were just stunning (even though the tour guide was boring). First, we went down a trillions of steps to get to the -64th floor. Then we continued through different rooms and shafts, tasting salty walls and learning more about the miners and their hard work. Basically, what we learned is: everything there is made out of salt (chandeliers, chapels etc.), the salt mines were active from the 13th century until the 2000s and that the 3 hour walking tour gave us a glimpse of only 3% of the whole structure. My love and me decided to visit the museum afterwards, which is included in the ticket, but no one wanted to join the English group, so the tour guide made a presentation only for us (how nice!). At the end, you go into a small elevator, which was used originally by the miners and enjoy the crazy and scary ride back to the surface. On our way back to Krakow (Wieliczka is cca 30 minutes outside the city), we got caught by a ticket inspector on the bus. We had no tickets, because the machine only accepted coins, so we were really close to getting a fine, but since I was talking to the woman in  English, she realised, it would not make sense to punish two (stupid) tourists (as we wouldn't pay the small fine anyway). The weather continued to be cold and rainy and since it was already dark outside, we just took a quick shower and went on a traditional Polish dinner to Marchewka z Groszkiem (literally "Carrots with peas"). What we ate, is still a mystery to us, but it was delicious (you can see it on the pictures). 
On the second day, we woke up pretty early, because we were excited to explore the city centre. We were really lucky, because it was sunny and warm the whole day. The hostel was just around the corner of the Wawel royal castle, where you can get the perfect view of the river Vistula and a part of Krakow. We joined a free walking tour and it was simply delightful! In two hours, the guide showed and told us a lot about the history of Krakow and its secrets. We followed the king's steps from the wall to the main square, listened to rumours about St. Mary's church, found out new things about the former Polish pope, focused on the different tiny pieces the Wawel cathedral's roof was made of, and saw many iconic buildings, like the old university and the theatre. I would recommend it to everyone, it really gives a deeper look on the city. After a beer-and-cider break on the main square, we headed to the Jewish quarter Kazimierz. I would describe it as a hipster neighbourhood, with cute cafes and restaurants. We also found a chimney cake bakery there and just had to buy one (with white chocolate and coconut, yumm! I know it is originally Czech). We finished the day with a walk by the river and some pierogi in the restaurant Gospoda Koko (de-li-cious!).
On the last day, we woke up before dawn to get to the bus to Auschwitz on time, because we booked tickets for exploring the concentration camp individually (guided tours in different languages are available from around 9 to 17, but I heard they go through everything really fast and that is why we chose the other option). Auschwitz was an 1,5 hour bus ride from Krakow. We showed the pre-booked tickets at the entrance and continued inside. There was almost no one there that early, plus the weather was foggy and chilly, so my first impressions of the concentration camp were pretty horrifying. Eventually, we found the gas chamber, stepped inside and just couldn't believe our eyes. I was tearing up a little and I couldn't say a word; you need really strong nerves for that one. In almost each barrack, there was an exhibition on different parts of the World War II and the concentration camps. Pictures of people who died there were hanging on the walls and there was also a lot of material from the war, like gas cans, women hair, notebooks from Nazis, the clothes and gold they collected, glasses, prisoners' outfits, beds, old mattresses etc. I learned so much about the World War II (since high school was such a long time ago, I've forgotten many things already) and you get an insight on what it was like to be there. In the afternoon, we continued to the second part, Auschwitz - Birkenau. This concentration camp was even larger and you face many stories there, for example, about young women being held in a separate barrack for medical experiments. Walking around the small barracks with cluttered bunk beds and with only one long sink, makes you think about how on earth something like this happen; those people were not viewed as human beings anymore. We spent around 7 hours in both concentration camps and went back to Krakow with broken hearts and heavy minds. One important thing that cheered us up, was the cat cafe Kocia Kawiarnia Kociarnia. The kitties were really spoiled there (in a good way), one even came onto my lap for some cuddles. So, the day slowly turned into evening and we headed to a store to buy ourselves some snacks for the bus ride back to Vienna. We couldn't resist and bought some Polish candy next to some sandwiches. The bus was on the station on time and there was a lot of people waiting for it, since it was an overnight drive (which is pretty convenient for travellers). 
To sum up, it was one of our most diverse trips. As travellers, we mostly focus on the nice things, but on this trip we saw the good and the bad side of humanity and this is what made this trip really special. Also, Poland is an inexpensive country, so you can travel there with a small budget (we spent 120€ all together, so 60€ per person). Thank you so much for reading and I hope you will continue visiting my blog!

Love, Julija

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