Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What's Krakin' in Krakow

Krakow was a great getaway for a long weekend, and 3.5 days was just perfect to squeeze it all in without feeling rushed. I got to town early Thursday afternoon, while Jonathan was still in his work conference. I quickly set out to explore my surroundings and fell instantly in love. The architecture. The weather. The parks. The street performers. The food. The shopping. It was like a little Polish Paris.
And unlike Salzburg, both of our hotels (we switched after his conference was over) were ideally situated and an easy walk to the main attractions.  Our second place was an ‘aparthotel’, a little studio with a small kitchen located right in the main city square. It was perfect and super affordable. A comparable property in Edinburgh would have probably cost us at least 150 pounds a night, whereas in Krakow it was only about 60. It’s so nice to travel to a place where the dollar is strong for a change.
After checking into our new hotel on Friday, we started checking out all the must-see sights around the city: The Main Square (the largest in Europe)...
The Jewish Quarter...
Schindler’s Factory Museum...
and the Jewish Ghetto...
We had sushi for dinner and then grabbed drinks at a cozy café before heading to bed.
Saturday was a bit more organized. We hired a driver to take us to Auschwitz, Birkenau, and the Salt Mines. It took about 11 hours to see all three, but I still think that’s the way to go. Also, I think it’s best to see the concentration camps first and then lighten the mood with the mines. Trust me, you’ll need a pick me up.
The camps are profound, and heavy, and emotional, and dredge up a lot of soul searching questions about the atrocities that humans are capable of. It was important to me to face the horror and pay my respects to the millions…yes, millions…who died under the Third Reich.
I remained composed for about 3 hours before I collapsed outside the gas chambers and wept.
I’ll write more on this experience in a separate post, but I will say that I would recommend going to Auschwitz before 10 AM and exploring the place on your own. Buy a guidebook and beat the crowds. If you go past 10, you must pay for a group or private tour and you cannot view the museum on your own. Our group tour consisted of about 40 people, and we left at the same time as 6 other groups of 40 which meant a lot of bottlenecking and standing in long lines to see the blocks. It left us both frustrated and impatient, which took away from the experience.
We explored Birkenau by ourselves at our own pace, and I feel like we were better able to make a connection and reflect on the lost lives without a crowd of people around us.
After viewing the 2 death camps, I was exhausted and ready to forgo the salt mines. Jon encouraged me to push through, and once I had 3 slices of cheese pizza in my belly, I was ready to go underground. Here we joined a group as well, though this time there were only about 15 of us.
licking the salt walls
Jon and I are both geeks when it comes to geology, so the Salt Mines were really interesting. By far, the highlight was this stunning cathedral carved entirely out of salt.
Even the Chandeliers are made with salt crystals, and the floor is one giant slab of salt rock. It was a total wow moment and was worth the 2 hour fluff tour surrounding it.
After such a long day, we didn’t stray too far from our hotel for dinner, but due to our room’s stellar location, we didn’t have to. Our room came with a complementary bottle of wine, so after dinner we popped that baby open and watched BBC news for the duration of the evening.
Sunday was our last day in Krakow, and we spent it checking out Wawel castle, souvenir shopping, and stuffing our faces with pierogis and gelato.

 Towards the afternoon, Jonathan started feeling really crummy (maybe because he licked the salt mine wall?) so we loaded up on Polish over-the counter-medicines and camped out at the airport until our flight home.

Going to Krakow was a bit of a push in our travel heavy Fall schedule, but I’m so glad we did it. We are both pretty worn out, as evidenced by Jonathan’s current bed rest, but we’ve got to push through the next 3 weeks for our whirlwind tour of the American south. Yep, 4 nights in our own bed before we turn around and do it all over again. But you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Also, I must say a quick thanks to my friend Jillian who offered to keep our dogs for us while we were gone. I was actually considering not going to Krakow because I felt so guilty for putting them in the kennel for most of September and October. Well, she swooped in to save the day and loved them like her own, even taking Bailey for a hike to Bennachie.

Once again I was reminded of how blessed we’ve been since moving to Aberdeen to have such considerate friends who are so willing to help out in a pinch. Thanks Jillian. I can’t wait to return the favor and have Angus over for a sleepover!


  1. Great post once again... This is another big TO DO lister for me.. For the sites you have shown as well as the fact that I am Polish. My Grandfather came over as a very young man (18). All alone in search of a better life for himself and his future family.. I have such pride in him, my heritage and I MISS HIM TERRIBLY.

  2. Yay for Krakow, I hope we get to visit one day. I love Perogis!

  3. I have a similar picture of myself licking the wall in the salt mines! I didn't get sick though, but I did spend a significant amount of thought trying to determine what part of the wall was likely to have the least traffic...

  4. Hmmm...Krakow wouldn't be on my list, but you make it sound appealing. I have a lot of respect for your visits to the death camps. Such a terrible time in our history and I can imagine how sobering it would be to see.