Kraków, Poland

Situated on the Vistula river, Krakow is one of the oldest cities in Poland. It is rich in history and is a gem of a city to visit in Eastern Europe. I spent three days here in the beginning of August 2014 and had an amazing time walking around the city, meeting new friends and visiting the major tourist attractions that Krakow has to offer.

APP FOR KRAKOW HERE! 


Main Square
Scattered around the circumference of the main square in Krakow are great restaurants and shops, and the center of the square contains historic churches and sculptures as well as the main square trading market. My hostel, “Let’s Rock Hostel” was located right in the main square, making walking to the center super easy for bar crawls and going out to eat.

Staropolska is a great restaurant located in the main square. It is a Polish and Italian restaurant combined as one, and the Polish friends I made on a haunted house tour were servers here and took me for a full Polish-food experience. I had the highlander cheese appetizer, a mixed dumpling dish and for dessert, polish apple pie. Everything I ate was incredible, the apple pie is very unique, no crust, soft apples sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with fresh whipped cream and chocolate drizzle.
The Polish friends I made were extremely kind and hospitable. Before arriving in Krakow, I had heard mixed reviews of Poles, a lot of people asserted that they were cold and unfriendly, but I found them to be caring and hospitable, always making sure that I, as a “guest” of their country, was comfortable and having a good time. It was really an amazing experience.

Wieliczcka Salt Mine

The salt mine tour is a very touristy, but enjoyable thing to do for an afternoon in Krakow. Ideally explore the mine on a day with less favorable weather, as the entire three hour walking tour is all inside in the depths of the mine. It is a considerable amount of walking, so keep that in mind if you are touring with older or less fit people. The cost of the tour was 100 zloty, or about $33 USD, which included the three hour guided tour and transport to the mine from the main square. The mine features long walks through salt caves, salt lakes and different statues and figurines, all made from salt. I will confess that I did in fact lick the walls, which visitors are encouraged to do on the tour. The mine is HUGE, after our 3 hour tour, our guide informed us that all the parts we had seen was only 1% of the total area of the mine. We descended 90 meters down, but the whole mine reaches a depth of over 300 meters. There are even shops and restaurants within the mine.


Auschwitz
I wrote a reflection on my Auschwitz trip here describing the experience, but here are the details of the actual tour component of Auschwitz. I went on an organized tour through my hostel, and these are very easy to come by from the main square in Krakow. The tour bus picked up the group near our hostel and started the hour drive to the concentration camp. The tour lasted about two hours in Auschwitz I and two hours in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The whole experience cost 100 zloty, or about $33 USD and was completely worth every penny. The tours are offered in dozens of different languages and all the tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and professional. It was a heavy emotional tour, but overall I am very glad that I put myself through it for the learning and reflective experience that it provided.


Free Walking Tour

The main square of Krakow is filled with different tour guides holding signs for free walking tours, so for my last day of sight-seeing, I joined a group for a two hour walk about the city. I highly recommend free walking tours, as they are, well, free, and also typically have great guides because they work for tips. We walked all over and my guide was extremely knowledgeable about the city, as she was a Krakow native and clearly took a lot of pride in her hometown. It was a great way to see and learn the sights, and the tour ended at Wawel Castle, a great ending point a bit outside the main square.


Wawel Castle

 
Wawel Dragon Cave
 

Krakow is a must-see for anyone exploring the farther east portion of Europe. It is a beautiful city, much less soviet-bloc style than Warsaw or other large cities in Poland. I really loved my time here and I would definitely go back someday. It is a great city to spend a short amount of time in, as it is so walkable and as long as your lodging is well located, everything can be reached and seen within a short distance.

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#74 Auschwitz Visit

Today I visited Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland with a group tour organized by my hostel. It was a very emotional and uncomfortable tour, but visiting Auschwitz is one thing I’ve always wanted to do, as I have learned about the Holocaust and the concentration camp in so many classes and other means throughout my life. It was an indescribable experience. I did not take many pictures out of respect, and no image can really capture the sentiment of being present there, a place where so many innocent people were senselessly slaughtered.

Despite the fact that I have very mixed emotions about Auschwitz being a tourist destination, it is comforting to see so many people from all countries who care enough to travel to Krakow and view such a tragic and powerful structure.
The tour was a lot of walking and learning the gruesome details of what life was like during the war in the camps. It is important that as citizens of the world, we understand the atrocities of our past to prevent the same horrors from happening again in the future.
My tour guide was a Polish woman who spoke very good English and gave an incredible, raw and honest tour. At the end she said:
“This is the end of the tour, I thank you for being respectful and listening. Auschwitz is maintained with the hope that people of today will learn from the past, but based on the way things are going, they have learned nothing.”
Powerful, depressing way to end such a tour, but her words then rang more strongly to me than at any other point in the tour. She’s right, there’s no sense in sugarcoating it with PC terms and euphemisms. We haven’t learned. Senseless hatred, murder, racism, torture, war and all other types of suffering still exist in our world today. Even mass genocide still occurs as our world leaders turn a blind eye and do nothing. It makes me wonder, why do we hate? Why is that something that we have seen in so many manifestations in our history? Against Jews, blacks, Stalin in Russia, Mao in China, Franco in Spain and Pinochet in Chile, among many more. Some for political reasons, others for religious and social reasons, but the core of the persecution is all the same. Hatred against others because they are “different” whether it been in beliefs or appearance.
Despite the lessons of the past, we are still failing in the present. Thus the question is: can we change the future? 

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