Our first European trip together

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August 13th 2017
Published: October 12th 2020
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Two short getaway breaks in the UK together and one mini caravan holiday in Norfolk with Fiona's two children and my Mum and Stepdad, Fiona and I were eager to travel to a country we both hadn't been to before. There were many European cities on the list but we narrowed it down to Krakow. I had seen many travel articles with stunning pictures of Krakow and some friends recently visiting it had put it high on my bucket-list.

Our trip didn't start off too well as our plane was showing delays of 20 mins so I assumed we had a bit more time before we needed to board the plane. Turns out we didn't as I was about to pop into a shop before we headed towards the boarding gate and just looked at the departures screen to see that our gate was closing. In a sudden panic, we quickly rushed towards our gate. I was able to run ahead hoping I could let the airline staff know that my partner was not too far away. Anyway turns out they had decided to ensure everyone was checked-in ready to board plane when it arrived and we still had to wait a while before we could board.

After a pleasant flight, we arrived safely in Krakow and got a taxi to where we were staying for the next four nights. Our apartment wasn't in the main building where the reception desk is but we're only a block away and the area seems safe and not too far from the city centre.

On settled in our apartment, we take a nice stroll into the Market Square with the Cloth Hall being our first point of interest. Parts of this building date back to the 13th century and obviously gets its name from selling textiles and fabrics but also merchant stalls would sell wax, spices, leather, silk as well as salt from the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine. You can walk right through the centre of the hall with stalls on either side selling a variety of souvenirs. On the outer side of the hall are multiple cafes with plenty of outdoor seating. We visit the Gallery of Polish Art which is housed inside the Cloth Hall. The gallery was created in the 19th-century when the hall was remodelled entirely. There is a balcony that offers amazing views of the Market Square and St. Mary's Basilica. Afterwards, we stop off at one of the cafes at hall and have a light lunch and receive a complimentary Wisniak (A sweet Cherry liqueur that seems to be popular here)

After a spot of late lunch, we visit the Town Hall Tower, dating back to the 14th-century. There isn't a huge amount to see inside but the workout is good from all the steps we climb to reach the bell at the top. We then head over to St Mary's Basilica, or the church of the Assumption of the Virgin, was the main parish church of Krakow's burghers. It has a gothic appearance and dates back to the 15-century. Although not a massively religious person, I have always enjoyed visiting churches and this particular church has given me great wonder. The pictures I take do not show this churches true beauty as it has an incredible alter and most beautiful ceiling. I find it hard to stopping looking up as I am dazzled by the blue glistening ceiling.

Next day

Next day we are picked up by a mini bus and taken to Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is not too far from Krakow. The mine opened in the 13th-century and has continuously produced salt until 2007, this makes it the only mine in the world to continuously operate since the Middles Ages. Mine is lying on nine levels and reaches depths of around 327 metres. The steps down feel like they're never ending, although good to be going down vs. going up. When we get to around 1,000 feet below we are amazed by this beautiful underground church known as "underground cathedral" with beautiful chandeliers and a real gothic look. Our whole time exploring the salt mines we make sure to take deep breaths to breath in the salt air in the hopes that it will help with a healthier respiratory system. The lift back up was an experience, it was so small and very old-fashioned looking. It could fit about 6 of us including a lady operating it and we panicked when she said "room for one more" as it already felt tight but we did manage to get someone else on and luckily it took less than a minute to get to the top as I felt really claustrophobic.

After the salt mine excursion, we get dropped off in the centre of Krakow and head towards the old quarter. We locate the Collegium Maius but decide to revisit due to it being rather busy with people queuing to get in. We head back to Market Square and enjoying browsing shops and market stalls, always with an eye on souvenirs to take back home. We head in a northern direction and find the St. Florian's Gate, which was once the main gate into the city and dates back to around the 13th-century. Adjacent to St. Florian's Gate is the Barbican; known as the showpiece of the city's medieval defence. It was built in the 15th-century and was once connected to St. Florian's Gate. A fine piece of gothic architecture.

Fiona wants to visit this cat café she had discovered about online. The cat café is called Kocia Kawiarnia Kociarnia and is a little way out from the centre but after a bit of walking and the help of Google Maps we locate it. This café is a must for all cat lovers and you can tell they're well looked after. We order Catpurrccinos as it seems obligatory since we're in a cat café.

For our evening, we wanted to try food at a popular restaurant and discover Miod Malina, a traditional Polish restaurant. It is also a recommended DK choice. This restaurant occupies barrel-vaulted rooms that are decorated in shades of red and had a posh feel about the place. The word Miod Malina translates to honey raspberry so explains the shades of red within the restaurant. We find eating out in Poland super cheap. We both eat 3 courses of good quality food and have a bottle of rosé and it equates to around 30.00 GBP. Back home, we'd be lucky to get all that for one person and definitely not as good quality.

Next day

Today we both wake up with mixed feelings as we have an excursion booked to take us to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. In one sense it seems good to be spending another day in Poland but on the other hand it feels absolutely terrible to think what had happened there. On the minibus to the camp, Fiona is struggling to keep it together as we watch a video and learn of horror stories that happened at the concentration camp.

We first arrive at Auschwitz I, the main concentration camp. We are greeted by a tour guide and once we get through security, we are allowed to walk towards the concentration camp. I can see the camp from a distance and at first it looks like any normal army base, but as I get closer, you can see the famous gate called Arbeit Macht Frei, which translate from German to English as "Work sets you free". An eerie and unpleasant thought to think people were kept behind this gate in such an inhumane way. We carry on walking past rows and rows of prison blocks, I just can't comprehend how human beings were kept in this way for basically not fitting a racial ideology of some dictator. The Auschwitz Concentration Camp is a huge complex with of 40 concentration and extermination camps and was the largest Nazi camp in the years of 1940 to 1945.

Within the prison blocks, we learn history about the camp and discovered the Nazi's deported at least 1,300,000 people to Auschwitz. Being a descendent of Roma travellers through my grandmother, I am saddened to learn that 23,000 Roma Gypsies were brought here and out of that 1,300,000 population around 1,100,000 of these people died here and approximately around ninety percentage of these victims were Jews with the majority of them murdered in gas chambers. Also, within the prison blocks, we see artefacts, which I feel... well it makes me feel too sick to talk about on here but lets just say lots of belongings that belonged to the people murdered here in huge quantities that it really puts it into perspective the volume murdered here.

Outside of the prison blocks is a wall that connects them, there is a memorial with flowers in the centre with some grey stone blocks between the memorial and the brick wall; apparently here Nazi officers would bring out prisoners and randomly kill them by firing at gun towards them.

We carry on walking around the camp, along the barb wired fencing, until we come along to a gas chamber. I don't need to say what happened here but going inside one knowing what did happen was rather eerie and sickening.

We get back in the minibus and a very short journey we're at Birkenau Concentration Camp. Here, a railway line was used to bring long trains of cattle cars hauled with human beings from all over Europe for execution. So sad to know families would arrive here together and then be separated by gender, age or for experimenting, and not getting to say goodbye to each other.

Within Birkenau are many camps where people would sleep until their execution date, the huts are long and made from brick and wood. Inside the huts, are bricks that divide into sections and within each section are wooden frames for people to sleep on. In these sections are three frames for sleeping on with the bottom frame being on the floor; this was people's sleeping conditions. I just can't comprehend how people must have felt living in these conditions, not knowing what was going to happen to them next.

My feelings of visiting these concentration camps are very mixed; in one way, I am glad to have visited and feel I understand better what happened here; on the other hand, I feel sick and saddened to know what happened to so many innocent people. I tell Fiona that I don't want to ever visit a concentration camp again. I'm glad to have done it but I don't feel the need to see another one.

We get back to our apartment before evening time so decide to freshen up and go out into Krakow. We walk a different way into the centre than usual by walking along the Vistula River; it is a nice pleasant walk and you can see Wawel Royal Castle from different angles; perfect for a nice photo shot.

We enjoy great traditional Polish food and end up in Hard Rock Cafe for cocktails, followed by a walk around the main square to embrace the lively atmosphere as well get photos of the popular landmarks when lit up. I like seeing cities between day and night contrast.

Next day

Our last full day day in Krakow and we visit Wawel Royal Castle. The castle used to be the home and fortress of many Polish kings when Krakow used to be the capital of Poland. The castle is situated on Wawel Hill, which was inhabited by the Vistulan people in ancient times and from around the 14th-century onwards the cathedral and royal residence was built.

You can walk around Wawel Hill but to see parts of the castle use need to have a pre-paid ticket. The queue for purchasing tickets is long and standing out in the full sun we're finding ourselves getting hot and bothered. You need to book a time slot for each section you want to see of the castle and, given how busy it was, we decide to visit the State Rooms (requires timeslot) and Dragon's Den (which didn't require a timeslot). We have time to kill before we can visit the State Rooms so we go to the Krakow Cathedral first. This cathedral architecture is unique and picturesque and blends in nicely with the castle. The cathedral has a lovely gothic internal structure with many different chapels.

Next, we visit the castle courtyard and you can access this without requiring a ticket. The architecture here is beautiful with a Renaissance-style and was built in the 16th-century. From the courtyard, you can access the different rooms, providing you have a ticket, so we enter for the State Rooms as it is now our allocated timeslot. Unfortunately photos cannot be taken inside, so I am unable to share any with the blog. The State Rooms consists of three floors to visit. The king's bedroom, study in the "Hen's Claw" wing, Birds Hall and Hall of Deputies are the highlights of our visit here.

We notice Dragon heads within the architecture around the castle and so associate the connection here with the Dragon's Den. Before we enter Dragon's Den, we learn of a famous Dragon that once was supposedly defeated under the rule of Krakus, by his three sons. His lair was in the cave of the foot of Wawel Hill on the bank of the Vistula River. The lair is open only during the summer months and from the castle has some 135 spiral steps down into the den. Once we exit the den from the bank side of the river, there is a Dragon statue breathing out real fire; pretty cool, eh?

With not much time left in Krakow, we decide to go back to Collegium Maius as last time we visited it was extremely busy. When we arrive, we learn that we just missed the last English tour and the only tour left is in Italian before they close for the day. The lady serving us at the ticket office says "come back tomorrow" but unfortunately we have to leave in the morning. Given our Italian is rubbish, we decide to opt out. Instead, we go back to the square to browse souvenir stores.

Our last supper in Krakow is absolutely delicious with having traditional Polish food; starter consists of a large bread roll and is filled inside with mushroom soup and main course is a beef-type stew. One of the things I've really enjoyed about this trip is the Polish food. I would definitely come back, even if it is just for the food.

Additional photos below
Photos: 57, Displayed: 32


12th October 2020

Thanks for the preview of a short visit to Krakow...
Linda has ancestors from Krakow and the surrounding area, so it is high on our priority list once Europe opens to Americans. We plan to visit Poland in 2022. It's also good to see that you are posting trips from 2017. With Covid shutting travel down, this is a good time to get caught up on past trips!
12th October 2020

Amazing that Linda has ancestors from Krakow and surrounding areas. I really hope you get to visit Krakow and Poland and meet any distant relations. Yes, I'm focused now so will definitely get caught up with the blogs. I hope you're both keeping safe and well
14th October 2020
Krakow Cathedral

Krakow Cathedral
What an extraordinary building Alan...a bit of this a bit of that. I have posted it in out Cathedrals, grand churches, mosques & places of worship thread in the Photography Forum. Check it out.
14th October 2020
Krakow Cathedral

Hey Dave, good to hear from you. This building's architecture was designed I believe to blend in with the castle and perhaps that is what makes it extraordinary. Thanks for sharing on the forum :)
24th October 2020

I'm eager for the world to open to Americans but until then we will follow your European travels. Krakow is one of those towns on the list. Many people say great things about it. It sounds like you found some quality local food. It seems to offer art, history and more. Thanks for taking us along.
27th October 2020

I'm surprised it is tricky for Americans to get into Poland; Is it that there is no direct flight, or more around the immigration piece with needing a visa? Krakow is the perfect tourist location as it offers a variety of things to see/do. I'd happily go back just for the food :)
15th April 2021

Ah, what a lovely part of Poland, and so much to see and do! The Wieliczka Salt Mine is certainly a highlight and very unique. I felt similar about visiting Auschwitz - it is important to know about what happened there, but it is certainly a sobering experience. Glad you enjoyed your time in Poland, and enjoyed the food too 😊
16th April 2021

Auschwitz most certainly a sobering experience and I pray this event will never happen again. I feel like I need to visit Poland again just for the food and it is super cheap too :D

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