First Stop in Europe – Krakow

When Robin and I decided to take a (surprise) trip home, we thought that since we were coming all this way from New Zealand, we might as well do a little bit of a Europe trip as well! So we have 5 weeks to visit 10 cities….a few days in each place to get our feet wet and see the biggest landmarks at each place.

Our first stop was at Krakow, Poland. We had 4 nights in a wonderful hostel, Submarine Hostel. We were within walking distance of everything-it was perfect.

 

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We had left Oslo, Norway with excitement for our upcoming trip, but also with heavy hearts as we had to say bye to the last of our friends and families.

We arrived in Krakow and immediately starting exploring the city. As soon as we walked out of the train station, I knew I was going to like it here-great first impression! We walked out mid afternoon to a big stage set up in the middle of the square with blaring music and some guys on stage having a chin up competition. Poland.

We had said before the trip that each new city we came to, we had to try some traditional dishes of their country. So we talked to our lovely Hostel host and she told us about the best places to eat traditional food in Krakow. I had pierogis and Robin had chicken cotlet with pierogis as well. We each had a meal, I had a cider and Robin two pints of beer, and it came to 49zt. We thought that was such a great price! That’s like $15CAN, or 100kr.

The next evening we went to the second place she suggested. We ordered the main meal which comes with soup and salad as well. Robin got Zurek, a traditional Polish soup. We got so much food all at once and it all tasted so delicious. We paid 30zt for it. $10CAN, 60kr. Pretty damn good!

The food was good in Poland, there were so many pastries that were calling my name, but I didn’t end up trying any….I’m saving myself for donut Nutella ice cream cones in Prague.
We did actually do more than just eat here….we went on two tours. One to Auschwitz/Birkenau and the second to the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Both amazing, informative but a little upsetting days. Robin has actually done these before- 12 years ago on a school trip. But we decided to come back so I could see and experience everything as well.

We started the first day with driving the hour and a half to Auschwitz. We went through security and started our two hour tour of the camp.

 

It was unbelievable. We walked through many of the camps and buildings, saw the living conditions, old belongings and even the hair of the prisoners. A long narrow room, filled with the hair of an estimated 40,000 people, out of at least 1.5 million, probably more. I won’t soon forget that.


We had a really great guide to walk us through and explain everything. Robin says that the tour was very similar to the one he went on 12 years ago.
There were so many people there, lots of parents bringing their children which we thought was great. It’s important for people to see this and learn first hand about the history.

After we left Auschwitz, we drove the 5km to Birkenau, or Camp II. Our guide had told us that Birkenau was much bigger than Auschwitz, but it’s not until you get there and see with your own eyes how absolutely massive it is.

And it was all built by the prisoners who were at Auschwitz. Seven villages stood there, and were all destroyed to make room for the camp. All the materials from the villages, reused to build. A long, wide railway line where train cars of prisoners arrived day after day, and of course the gas chambers and crematoriums.

Many times I caught myself thinking about that time, like I normally do when we visit any historical places….but most times we’ve visited places with history from hundreds or thousands of years back. This is 70. 70 years ago.

Robin said that the tour to Birkenau was a bit different from when he went. It was shorter this time, only one hour, and we did not have the chance to go and look around, to the memorial for example, but next time we will do that.

The next day was the salt mine. This tour was very cool, very informative as well. This day was around 33 degrees in Krakow, so it was nice to be down 100 metres below the ground for a few hours.

(We didn’t know we could take pictures inside, Robin wasn’t allowed to last time, so we only have phone pictures of the mine). The average temperature of the mines is 14-16 degrees, and we went down as far as 133 metres below the surface. We were on level 2.5, and there are 9 levels. We took 400 stairs down to the first level and started our tour there. We got to see stalagmites, stalactites and cauliflower salt, all along the walls and ceilings. We got to taste water flowing down in the mine, the saltiest water I’ve ever tasted!

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We saw three out of the 26 underground salt chapels, one of them being the biggest “salty cathedral” in the world. Everything is carved out of the salt stone, and this largest cathedral took three men 70 years to build. A lifetime.

We saw the lifts and the engineering behind mining, we saw two salty lakes with what looked like the bluest water I’ve ever seen. Three hours down inside the mine, and we saw less than 1% of the whole Wieliczka Salt Mines. It was fascinating.

Next time for both of these tours, we’d like to come back and go without a guide. Not because we didn’t like being with the guides, we really enjoyed it and learned so much, but now that we have gone with the guides, we can come back and spend more time exploring the places we didn’t go with the group. As we were walking we could see that there were hallways and doors and buildings that we would have loved to explore ourselves. And also at Auschwitz, there are many signs and plaques up with loads of information to read on your own.

So all in all, these tours were great and very much worth your money. Every single person should come here to learn and witness just how bad it was.

We spent our last evening in Krakow walking around and exploring the last few castles that we had yet to see. We had a delicious burrito, a couple craft beers at the bar with the biggest selection of craft beers on tap in Krakow, wrote and sent our postcards home to ourselves and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Krakow, Poland.

We woke up in our hostel this morning at 4:45am and caught a bus at 6:00am, and we are now on our way to destination number 2: Prague, Czech Republic. We are so excited to explore the next city, eager to learn and indulge.

Tata for now!

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Sarah

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