Sunday, 28 September 2014

Holiday to Kraków, Poland

Its almost October and my trip to Poland feels like ages ago now. For many people I think they would consider Poland a really odd holiday destination, but it was actually really good. I would say its as hot as Italy (in the summer) - as interesting as New York - but really cheap!
We stayed in the centre of Kraków, not the capital of Poland but considered to be an important economic area. It also was very busy with tourists and sightseeing tours, mostly Germans, a few Americans here and there amongst other Europeans.
One of the main reasons we came here was to visit the site of Auschwitz, a nazi concentration camp of ww2. Kraków is a really good place to go if you are interested in ww2 and history, and they seemed to be having their remembrance festivals in the centre of the town for ww1 too.
Everything in Kraków centres around the main square, along with many many tourists and gangs of pigeons.
 
Despite the grey towns, it was actually very hot. According to one of our tour guides, it was a mild summer for Poland, but even so it was easily as hot as the Mediterranean...
In the centre they had market stalls for tourists - focusing on little European souvenirs of dolls, craft and folk goods. I was particularly fond of the dolls and toys!
 
Alongside the shops, there were lots of museums, galleries and historical/religious buildings you could pay a small fee to go in and look around. Due to Poland's Catholic past (and present) many of the religious buildings were very extravagant and beautiful. Every morning in this building, you'd hear a trumpet player every hour on the hour.
Even the regular buildings were very pretty....one thing I've noticed about Europe this summer is how pretty the architecture is compared to back home.
 
As I mentioned, the main focus of our trip was to visit Auschwitz. Because things are Poland are so cheap, we organized a minibus tour to take us there with a second trip later in the day to the UNESCO Salt Mines too. It was a super long, busy day, but very much worth it.
If you ever payed attention in History class, you'd recognise these buildings as the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and the gates below.
It was an extremely dark place, but very interesting and something I have always wanted to see for myself. We got to visit Berkanau concentration camp too, which had the railway tracks still in tact. This is where the Jews from all over Europe, as far as Norway and Greece sometimes, would be deported by train. Many would not even survive the journey.
After Auschwitz, we took the minibus to the UNESCO Salt Mines about half an hours drive. It was entirely underground (as you could imagine) and very big. It took us a very long time to walk round.
A mythical king carved in the salt, and below, a functioning Catholic chapel carved into the salt too.
Every evening we were extremely tired, but we had traditional Polish cuisine every night which by the way is delicious! The restaurants tend to be beautifully decorated, with flowers and painted walls, and they tend to be quite dark with table lamps - they made me think of little fairy caves :)
The food itself was very healthy too, but very tasty - think vegetable broths, duck and chicken with fruit compote and vegetable hotpot. My favourite.
On our trips around town looking for restaurants, I came across this awesome cafe with a craft shop attached. It was called Kot Polski, and specialized in cute handmade toys and cats!
On another day during the trip we went to the Old Jewish Quarter of the town. There are only 200 Jews left in Kraków, but there were lots of restaurants, museums and old temples to visit.
 
My Israeli Salad from an awesome Jewish restaurant - Hummus and Happiness :)
There was also a market there selling old ww2 items, as well as fruit and vegetables for a good price. We got hold of some ultra rare wild strawberries! Never ever seen these for sale anywhere, they tend to be really tiny and cute, and you can usually only find them growing in meadows.
 
On another trip, we booked a CrazyGuide's Communist Tour around the communist areas of Kraków, Nowa Huta. This tour had even been on Michael Palin's New European programme, so it was bound to be good - and it was :) We were picked up from our hotel by a tour guide called Jakub in a communist Trabant car!
It was rather cute :) We were driven to their museum, which is an apartment set up in the old communist tower block of flats, and is done up exactly how it would have been back under communist rule.
So many cool things...this was my favourite - a toilet roll collection - apparently toilet roll was very hard to get hold of under communist rule and was regarded as a luxury!
After this, we were taken to a communist restaurant bar, which was very dated and had a little statue of Stalin on display.
We were then taken to an old tank left on the estate, which kids would climb all over and pose with.
Including me :)
On our last day, we walked over the bridge to go to the Schindler's Factory Museum (from the film and the true story). We went over a bridge containing hundreds and hundreds of love locks, where couples would put their initials and lock the lock to the bridge and throw away the key for eternal love or something ;)
Oh hey is that me with a Nazi flag??
This was taken at Schlinder's Factory, which took you through the building describing how the Nazis took over throughout the war. It was extremely interesting, and a very well laid out museum, definitely worth a visit.
After the museum, we went for a little walk in the rural part of the area, which was a little scary but we were trying to find a supposed ww2 film set.
Which we eventually found!
As one of the last museum tours we went on, the main building in the square at Kraków had been excavated only a few years before to uncover huge historical finds of the old city and then turned into an underground museum.
It was full of beautiful finds, my favourite being this carved doll.
And I was very fond of these little guys too!
Really good trip, and I totally recommend if you are looking for an inexpensive, interesting holiday abroad. I just have to go back to university next month, and now have to wait til next year for any more trips!
 

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