Krakow – Poland
A belated post about my time in Krakow.
Travelling from Lviv to Krakow was my first time using Blablacar. I was a bit skeptical about it but the ride couldn’t have gone smoother and was much cheaper than taking the train. I will definitely use the website again, although it really is luck of the draw whether you get a good reliable ride or not.
This was a great hostel, perfectly located on the main square. The beds were comfortable, staff were friendly and helpful and the hostel was large and clean with plenty of showers and a well equipped kitchen.
It wasn’t particularly busy during my stay there so in the summer I’m sure it’s a different atmosphere but it served me well and would recommend it as a place to stay in Krakow.
Krakow Old Town
The old town is very pleasant and architecturally stunning. There were Christmas markets everywhere, an ice rink and horse drawn carriages. It’s the most Christmasy I’ve felt so far, although I’m still a scrooge!
Close to the main square is Wawel castle, sitting proudly atop the hill. I braved the wind and walked up there and had a surprisingly cheap cappuccino. It’s another example of Krakow’s visuality and luckily it survived the war, like most of Krakow’s old town did.
I had been wanting to visit Auschwitz for a long time and since the hostel was running a tour so I decided signed up for the next day.
It took around an hour to get to the site of Auschwitz 1, a former Polish Army barracks. As we walked through the famous gates, our guide began to talk passionately about the treatment of prisoners and the conditions they lived in.
It was very busy, there were many groups being shown around so we had to move fairly quickly around the site.
We were taken through several buildings and which walked through the history of the camp and it’s position now as both a museum an memorial.
During the tour of Auschwitz 1 we were taken past several class cabinets which housed displays of clothes, suitcases, glasses and other items that were taken from prisoners upon their arrival. Anything the Germans thought they could sell was taken from the prisoners.
We then made the short journey to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. At first it felt very surreal to be walking around the grounds. Somehow it didn’t seem real, as if I was walking around the film set of The Great Escape.
Those feelings soon subsided as our guide talked us through the horrors of what occurred there.
We were walking the same route from the railway, that some 70 years earlier, the prisoners had done. Only they were walking to a horrible death in the gas chambers.
Most of the chambers are now ruins but the one at Auschwitz 1 is still standing. We went inside and saw the furnaces where the bodies were burned after they were gassed.
I had been wanting to visit Auschwitz for a long time and I’m glad that I did. It was both an educational and sombre experience. I think everyone should go there and see what humanity is truly capable of.
On my last day in Krakow I caught a train to the nearby Wieliczka Saltmine. It was also available as a tour with the hostel but I decided to go it alone. The train took around 30 mins and the mine was a 5 minute walk from the station. It was well sign posted so there’s no chance of getting lost.
I purchased my ticket and sat on the benches. Once enough people were gathered there, we proceeded into the mine as a group. The tour started off with a bit of exercise, we descended 300 steps that seemed to go on for ever!
There are 2 routes people can go on; the Tourist Route or the Miner’s Route. I opted for the former. The other route requires going off the beaten track and I didn’t have the footwear for that.
It was a very interesting place to explore. The mine itself is huge and the tour only covers a small portion of it. We passed by large halls, chapels and lakes all of which had been mined by man over the years.
The largest hall was quite impressive and featured carvings in the walls and a floor that appeared to be tiled but was in fact carved from salt rock.
We descended to a depth of 130 metres before finishing the tour and walking around the various souvenir shops and restaurants. The tour lasted for about 2 hours, after which I had a coffee before getting the lift back to the surface. Thankfully I didn’t have to walk back up those 300 stairs!
It was then time to head back to Krakow, pick up my bags from left luggage and head to the airport. I enjoyed my time in Krakow and had a great time travelling around the Balkans and Eastern Europe but my 2015 adventure was about to come to an end.
It was now time to go back to reality and head home to England for Christmas with family and friends.