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A few days in Krakow, Poland

St Mary’s Basilica and the Main Square

I feel like Krakow has something to suit everyone. In our case, it was the history. Compared to Wroclaw, Krakow was bustling and more touristy. We caught the train from Wroclaw to Krakow (1 missed train and a 3hr delay later)- we arrived in the evening and luckily we had booked a place to stay within walking distance to the train station. The hotel was outside of the walled old town but only about 10 mins walk away.

The Main Square is the biggest Medieval plaza in Europe and boy is it big. Decked out with restaurants/cafes on all sides and at the time we went, an outdoor market as well as the usual indoor market. It’s so big that the New Years Eve celebrations were done from here. You can easily spend half the day just in this Square. The St Mary’s Basilica which towers over the Main Square houses a fabulous gold covered alter. You can enter for free however you won’t get very close to the alter. Every hour, a trumpet call plays from one of the towers of the Basilica and abruptly finishes. Legends has it that this is said to be in memory of the trumpeter who use to play to warn the town of that Krakow was about to be attacked. The abrupt ending signifies the moment an arrow is said to have killed the trumpeter. If you’re spending as much time in the Square as we did, you will surely hear it.

As always, a free walking tour was the first planned activity to catch the bearings of the city. This tour took us around the Old Town and Kazimierz. We saw much street art along the way and alot more outdoor eateries and cafes/restaurants.

Right in the middle of the square, is Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) which was once upon a time a market. Today, it is still a market selling knick knacks. Above this market is a lesser known museum but filled with Polish Art. It’s a small museum but houses some of the greatest works from Polish artists.

On the far end of the Old Town is the Wawel Royal Castle overlooking the Vistula river. Here, one of the main attractions is the Wawel Cathedral which is the burial place of Polish monarchs. It’s such a lovely site to just walk around as you can see the sunset, there is the path along the river below and you are just being surrounded by such grand buildings.

Auschwitz

One of the darkest but well known site in Krakow is Auschwitz Birkenau. Again, being quite a popular site- book in advance and go early. We booked with the hotel in advance to being in Poland and got picked up from the hotel. The trip from Krakow takes about 1.5 hrs. I was surprised- this site is located in what seems the middle of suburbs whereas I thought it wouldn’t be surrounded by anything.

The first thing that I noticed upon arriving at the Birkenau site is how big it is. I had never imagined the site to be so vast. It is huge and I’m left with a horrid taste in my mouth and a feeling of disgust that such horrible crimes were even imaginable let alone be carried out to millions. With our guide, we were shown around with tales of the atrocities that have occurred here. The mood of the site was a solemn one and eerie. I did see some tourists taking selfies (why?!) which I thought was disrepectful and I know somewhat of a problem at the site. Alot of the buildings at the site are showing signs of age so many of the interiors cannot be viewed. I don’t even think this is necessary to imagine some of the things that had occurred here.

The next half of the day was at Auschwitz where there are permanent exhibitions of all the collected items from prisoners are on display. Compared to Birkenau, Auschwitz is more of a museum and memorial site. There is a lot of information inside and we were actually quite rushed being on the tour. It would’ve been nice to spend more time in the exhibit and read all the information available.
I would suggest to bring lunch and snacks for the whole day as there were not many places to get food nearby to these sites and there is alot of walking due to the size of both places.

On a seperate day, we took a day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. This salt mine is no longer active in supplying salt. We had again booked with a company that our hotel and well in advance. We got hotel pick up so didn’t have to navigate our way via bus to get there. The lines at the salt mine were insane! I think the staff were so use to the increasing numbers- the mine was actually really well run and the guides fantastic. You will need to pay for a special pass if you want to take any pictures and we didn’t so sadly, there are no pictures to share of this. The chambers inside were huge!

This salt mine was first started in the 13th century I was so impressed with all the sculptures, chapels and rooms. You can even get married in there! The church is even open for mass although I’m not sure when as there seems to be a constant flow of visitors everyday. Inside, our guided group tour was wedged between other groups and I think this is what it’s like all day- just group after group.

For the art fans, Krakow is one of the 6 places in world that houses a Leonardo Da Vinci painting. The Lady with an Ermine can be found within the walls of the Old Town. The Czartoryski Museum is THE oldest museum in Poland dating back to 1801 and originated as a private collection from Princess Izabela Czartoryski. This museum is another site where you will need to book in advance as every other visitor also has this on their list.

Krakow has been one of my favourite cities that I have visited and I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface. There are many more WWII tours and places of interest that you can go to although time was not on our side. Alternatively, it is the perfect place to people watch in the Old Town or relax by the river watching the sunset.

Let me know what you like about Krakow and what other things/places that you would recommend here.

First taste of Poland: Wroclaw

A handful of the 300 hundred (ish) dwarves around the city

I wasn’t sure what to expect in my first town in Poland. We took the bus from Berlin and arrived by evening (5hr bus ride). You know when you’ve seen so many images of a place you know what is awaiting. This was not like that. First off, the name of the city is not pronounced at all like it’s written (vrots-wahf). Second of all, how are the universities in Europe so ornate and beautiful!?

Beautiful market square

We just stayed in walking distance to the Market Square and the main train station and it was easy to keep walking around. We couldn’t wait to sample the local cuisine and eagerly tried the delicious polish donut- pączki, zurek soup served in a big bread roll, stuffed cabbage and more pierogis during our few days in Wrocław. It was soon decided that we love polish cuisine and couldn’t wait to continue our travels to the other Polish towns on our itinerary.

The market square rivals some of the best that I have seen. Architecturally pleasing and vibrant colours. It was here that we discovered our first pierogi’s and spiced winter tea.
We also went to visit the the oldest part of the town- Ostrów Tumski- which is a short walk from the Market Square and via an island.

View from the Mathematical Tower at Wrocław University
University of Wrocław doors

With a ticket, you are able to visit parts of the university such as the Mathematical Tower and Aula Leopoldinum which is a baroque hall. And of course, admire their doors! We did a free old town walking tour and a WWII walking tour during our time in Wrocław which was great to get to see the main sites accompanied with explanations.

We also spent part of an afternoon at the Muzeum Pana Tadeusza which is located in the Market Square. It is a great museum on the Pan Tadeusza Poem written by Adam Mickiewicz, which is one of the key literary cultural masterpieces in Poland. There is also part of the museum which focuses on the key events around WWII and post-war period.

Stare Jatki- previously a meat market

If you have time, you might want to bookmark this map to find all the gnomes around the city. They are everywhere! These are not a gardener’s tongue in cheek but a tribute to an underground movement ‘Orange Alternative’ that use to protest (by painting gnomes) in response to the country’s communist rule.

Wrocław town hall

It’s not on the usual list of towns to visit in Poland (such as Krakow or Warsaw) but it’s such a quaint town (or at least the central part anyway) filled with so much charm.

Have you been to Wroclaw and what did you think?