Had it not been for my interest in visiting Auschwitz, Kraków would not have been a city high on my list of places to see. After spending a few days exploring the city, I can now say it should have been. In fact, I feel the need to go back because there are parts of the city I didn’t spend much time in because my trip was only four days.
Getting from the airport to my hostel was simple by bus, and I chose a place within walking distance of the Old Town area and the Main Market Square. I arrived around 5pm, so I spent the final daylight hours on my first day walking the city. I splurged for dinner and bought my first taste of pierogi’s.
It was in that moment I realized how insanely cheap Kraków is.
My pierogi’s cost 10 Polish złoty, which is the equivalent of about $2. I spent the 10 złoty I was gifted from Arlene, a woman I met in Luxembourg last month. She had just visited Poland, and when I told her I was going the following month she gifted me the 10 złoty. Thanks for the meal Arlene!
I headed back to my hostel for an early night because I had the Auschwitz tour the following morning at 5am. I had every intention of sleeping, but a combination of the pierogi’s (holla food sensitivities!), no AC in the hostel (Poland is humid!), a room right next to the LOUD tram running all night, and the guy on the bunk next to mine with the worst case of bruxism I’ve ever heard – I slept MAYBE two hours.
Seriously, I thought he was going to wake up with no teeth.
Needless to say I felt like hell the next day, and after that I cancelled the remaining two nights in the hostel and booked an apartment. I’m getting too old to sleep in a dorm with other people, because I never sleep well when I do. Day two started at 4am thanks to not being able to sleep, so I walked around before my tour to Auschwitz. I returned to the city around 1 pm after the tour, and once I arrived back in the city I did more exploring by foot.
I found my way to Wawel Royal Castle, and spent some time wandering the grounds. It’s free to walk the grounds and to enter the cathedral, which was enough for me to see. Buried in the tombs of the cathedral are some of Poland’s most important people (not that I know any of them), but I didn’t need to know that to want to go inside. I’m all about seeing the inside of a European cathedral.
Cathedral aside, the grounds of this castle were stunning. Likely some of the most beautiful I’ve seen, and the cathedral exterior is the most eclectic cathedral I’ve seen.
Unfortunately the time I decided to visit Wawel was the time everyone else decided to visit. Including a TON of school kids. I walked into the cathedral and had to walk right back out because the crowd was giving me anxiety. That plus I had coffee and ate a brownie before…two things I typically avoid. Whoops. I still felt like I saw enough though.
To balance my sugar and caffeine splurge, I grabbed dinner at a traditional Polish restaurant…where I ordered a chicken salad. What can I say, I had to stop splurging. I ended up offering to share my table with two other travelers, who happened to be German. We chatted about Germany and they were lovely dinner friends.
As I started to head back to my apartment I walked past Church of St Peter and Paul. Out front was a sign advertising a classical concert…in ten minutes. It was perfect timing, and I bought a ticket (cost me about $15, again so cheap.) I didn’t go to a classical concert on my last trip (trying to go in as many new countries as possible), and I was excited to see one in Poland. The venue was beautiful and the music was mesmerizing.
When I exited the concert it was dark, but I didn’t feel at all unsafe. Typically I don’t like to be out at night alone, but this city was still very much alive. I slowly walked back to my apartment through the city park soaking in the hustle and bustle of those around me.
It was my favorite evening of the trip.
My third day I booked a tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which turned out to be WAY cooler than I expected. I booked the tour because I didn’t know what else to do for the day, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The mine also has a health resort, good for those with respiratory problems. The air is the cleanest air I will ever have breathed due to the salt killing the bacteria.
When I first started to climb down the stairs into the mine, I felt a bit of panic and claustrophobia, but once I was down below the surface of the earth I felt ok. There are still old routes within the mine that miners used to take, however the mine is no longer used for mining. It is still considered active though because the evaporation of water that leaves salt above ground is collected and sold.
I regret not buying any salt, instead I bought salted chocolate for my mom, and ate half of it. Scheisse.
There is an active church within the mine where people can come to get married, and there are carvings in the walls portraying the life of Jesus. It was such a unique room within the mine. Our tour guide told us that because of the bacteria killing properties in salt, we could lick the walls (or floor.) No one took him up on it, but I did after we left the church.
I figured licking Jesus would be a bit inappropriate.
The salt mine tour was only about three hours, bringing me back to Kraków in the early afternoon. I headed to the Old Town area to get some food. The outdoor market in the Old Town is like a giant year round farmers market, and I loved it. I bought my pierogi’s from here on my first day, and on that first visit I saw a place cooking chicken and veggies.
This was the most expensive meal I had in Kraków, costing me a total of around $12. I was shocked by how “expensive it was” after spending so little the previous meals I had eaten. Then I realized how ridiculous I was for thinking $12 was expensive. The boiled potatoes, veggies, and chicken were amazing and worth every penny.
I stood at an outdoor table under an umbrella in the rain with people around me speaking languages I couldn’t decipher. It was a meal I shan’t soon forget. After I ate I wandered some more, and bought a ticket to climb the towers of St. Mary’s Basilica for a better view of the city. While waiting to enter the tower I saw a guy that sat behind me at the concert the night before.
He recognized me and stopped to say hello. He was from Brazil, but living in Ireland. We exchanged a few words, and he continued on.
My fourth and final day in Kraków I checked out of my apartment and walked over to Oskar Schindler’s Factory. The museum opens at 10 am, and I was in line by 10:30. I spent a little over an hour walking through the museum and by the time I came back out the tickets for the day were sold out. Needless to say I made it just in time.
While I was waiting in line to enter I met a lovely couple from Belgium. They were on a road trip and planned to stay in Poland until they ran out of Polish złoty. They hadn’t booked their place to stay yet for the night, and everything about what they were doing made me smile. One day I hope to live a life like that with my husband. The woman tried to marry her son off to me, but then we got separated within the museum. Drat.
This museum was not what I expected, it was very cool, but I was hoping for a more authentic feel of the factory. The museum is built in the factory where Oskar Schindler worked and saved the lives of over 1000 Jewish people, but there was so much done to the building for the museum that it didn’t have the factory feel to it.
Either way, I’m glad I came.
My last stop before heading back to the airport was a very quick walk through the Jewish Quarter, which I regrettably didn’t spend more time in. Should I be lucky enough to visit Kraków again I will spend more time in the Jewish Quarter. I will also eat hummus, lot’s of hummus.
My trip to Poland was just what I’d hoped for, and there was very little stress on this trip (aside from poor choices regarding food, but that was to be expected.) Poland is beautiful, and the park that ran between the city was something I continue to miss in Germany. A park with benches and tall trees and a path.
I feel completely comfortable traveling alone to other countries now which is such a great feeling. I am confident when navigating public transportation regardless of language barriers, and I daydream of the day when I will travel for longer periods of time without having to return to a home base, or to a job.
Until then, I will check off new cities as often as I can.
Q: Where is somewhere you visited that pleasantly surprised you?