Quick stop in Krakow... and a brief walk through its German occupation history...


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Europe » Poland » Lesser Poland » Kraków
August 7th 2016
Published: November 13th 2016
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So finally we decided to head out from Elblag for a little bit longer than a day or two... A few weeks, direction south! Actual destinations not exactly precised yet... Yes, we weren’t too organised at all, I think going to Warsaw, then back up north to Elblag and then back south again to Krakow, is more or less summing up our lack of preparation and total disorganisation! At least we were on the road again as I think all three of us were getting slightly too comfortable back at home...

We knew already what train to take as we travelled the same train only a week or so before... Since we were leaving on Sunday though, the connection to Malbork was pretty bad as we would have to wait there for almost two hours... So I had to ask my dad to kindly drop us off in Malbork instead... Once again – bad planning.... I would like to say lesson learnt, but it would seem that we were quite resistant to these lessons lately... Of course my dad didn’t mind dropping us off at Malbork and even waved to us from the platform as we were leaving... Or maybe he just wanted to make sure we did get on board of that train – empty house at last... 😉 The journey went by very fast. We waved to Warsaw as we were passing through it and got to Krakow in no time at all. It’s still quite a bit of a shock to me that the connections in Poland are so good now – even during my studies (which is way back, but not ancient times just yet) a trip to Krakow would seem like a journey to the Moon almost, it would equal to 8 or more hours, most likely standing on the corridor (yes! the trains were pretty much overbooked regularly), squashed on top of the luggage... Now lots of leg space, luggage safely stored away, air con, reserved seats... Not too bad at all!

With two backpacks, two daypacks, a pram and a baby we safely arrived in Krakow and made our way to our accommodation. We dropped our stuff at our cosy apartment at Karmelicka Street (talking about location!) and set off exploring. I have been to Krakow quite a few times already, usually it would be our stopover on the way to the Tatra mountains. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this city though... It always felt so vibrant to me, the real city of culture... even people seemed a bit friendlier? Not to mention that Krakow has centuries of history behind it – it’s actually been Poland’s capital until the end of the 16th century, when sadly it was moved to Warsaw.

We didn’t have much of a plan for that day, just check out the Old town really... We knew we weren’t going to last too long anyway, the journey here was pretty easy, still we were quite tired anyway – entertaining Millie while outdoors doesn’t seem to be a problem at all but to keep her occupied in one place for longer than a few minutes, well... you have to be that extra creative! So on our first day in Krakow we just hanged around the Main Market Square. It is here that probably Millie’s obsession with horses reached another level – so cute, waving her hands, making all sorts of noises and sending kisses. Whenever a horse carriage was approaching we didn’t even need to look for it, Millie’s reactions were telling us all. We walked
The death gate in BirkenauThe death gate in BirkenauThe death gate in Birkenau

Many people who were brought through this gate, were taken straight to gas chambers...
around the nearby streets, had a drink and a bite to eat and called it a day.

We woke up nice and early and were ready for exploring. It was nice to see the Market Square almost empty. We decided to book a trip to Auschwitz for the next day, so we went to the Information Centre first and asked for a few options. We even thought of getting there on our own but were told that even though it was easy to get there, it might have been quite difficult to get inside as we would have to join some group anyway while there and usually the English speaking groups were full which meant probably chaos and a lot of waiting... That didn’t sound too good... We asked for organised tours then, but were only thrown the ridiculous price and told to show up at some hotel in the Old Town without any other info whatsoever. Maybe I was wrong about the people from Krakow being friendlier after all? Thanks for your help, think we would just look somewhere else then. And so we did and found a little ‘tourist office’ or more like a guy with a desk and a few leaflets but he was so friendly and helpful that we ended up booking the trip there for the next day without shopping around – this one even had a pick up from our apartment!

We decided to leave all the main attractions, Cloth Hall, St Mary’s Basilica, Wawel Castle and all that for the last day, for now we headed to Kazimierz – a historical district of Krakow right next to the Old Town, a part of which had been inhabited by Jewish people for centuries... that is until the World War II when in 1941 they were forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. Many of them later on died in the concentration camps... So the recent history of Kazimierz was very grim and the neighbourhood was left in ruins for many, many years. Finally in the 1980s the neighbourhood started coming back to life when Jewish culture was reintroduced. Even more and more renovations were done after the neighbourhood and its story made it to Hollywood and Steven Spielberg put it on the screen in ‘Schindler’s list’. Now the neighbourhood with its many restaurants and bars is attracting more and more people and has become one of the tourist attractions.

So we walked around through the tourist path, passing by some old and slightly rundown buildings, visited one of the synagogues and got to Szeroka Street where you can still see some of the original shop fronts proudly representing their owners’ names, then we stopped at one of the restaurants for a small bite to eat and off we went to the Schindler’s factory. We were lucky as it was free entrance that day. To be honest I was expecting to see there only the story of Oskar Schindler and his employees but instead we had a chance to read about the entire German occupation of Krakow and see many interesting photographs, documents and letters from that period (for example letters from 8-year-old Roman Polanski). At the end you do come across a wall with all the names of over 1,100 people saved by Oskar Schindler. It just amazes me that there are people who have so much courage and are willing to risk their own life to help others, while others have all the power and ability to do exactly the same and yet they turn their backs on the people in need... Anyway... Lots of interesting materials and interactive information – museum was definitely worth a visit.

After that we stopped at some funky restaurant to have another small bite to eat, with restaurant’s motto: ‘Make hummus not war’ it seemed only appropriate to eat there after the visit to the museum... And to celebrate Grant’s birthday! Later on we treated ourselves to a nice dinner in the Main Market Square – happy birthday Grant again! – and had a nice stroll through the streets of the Old Town.

The following morning we were picked up from our apartment, surprise, surprise! by the same guy we booked the tour with! That’s what I call multitasking! All the other passengers were on board already, so we were off to Auschwitz & Birkenau soon after. The driver looked like the oasis of calm and yet on the road he was a total lunatic! We got closer (than I would like to) to some cars a couple of times, he was obviously in a hurry to get us there... Thankfully we got there in one piece, had 10 minutes for ourselves – just enough time to feed Millie so she wouldn’t get grumpy and soon after joined the group... and guess what? Our ticket master/driver was now a translator as well!

Off with the tour then... You would think that this is the place you need to see only once as obviously it’s not a tourist attraction as such... It’s a death factory after all... And yet it wasn’t my first visit to Auschwitz, I actually have been to this place quite a few times already – with school, then with my parents, then with my ex and now once again with Grant and Millie... I did come here at different stages of my life though and even though the story behind the place was exactly the same each time, I was receiving it differently – this time I was looking at it from a mother’s perspective and let me tell you... It was the hardest visit to this museum yet... It’s hard to believe that people are able to just take away somebody else’s life but what’s even more difficult to comprehend is how they can keep other people captive in absolutely inhumane conditions... what gives them the right to use other people as guinea-pigs? How can anyone be able to harm an innocent child? Gazillion questions were flying through my head... On the other hand, once again I was amazed about people’s strength and courage, that even in these circumstances people were able to help each other, let alone have such a strong will to live, to be able to survive it all... There were few of these stories and yet some people did survive... Out of 1,3mln people who were transported to Auschwitz, approximately 200,000 survived...

One thing has changed since I have been there last time – the main sign ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (Work shall make you free) on the main entrance to the camp is not an original one anymore... I remember a few years back hearing a story about it being stolen from the museum, there was only one question that came then and comes to my head now – Why? The sign eventually was retrieved but was moved to the state museum. Once again some things are just impossible to understand... That day when we safely got back to Krakow, we had a quiet dinner in the Main Market Square again, actually the same tiny restaurant and we called it a day early... A lot to take in...

On our last day in Krakow the skies have opened and it was pouring rain... Unfortunately we weren’t exactly prepared for that... Not even an umbrella... We had the raincoats yes, but that would’ve been about it and in that rain they wouldn’t exactly be of too much help. So our first priority was to buy something that would at least slightly protect us from the rain. We put Millie in the pram, waited through the worst rain and when it was drizzling only, we set off to look for some umbrellas. I was stressing of course as even though we covered Millie with a blanket, the rain was falling under such a weird angle that she was still getting some drops... And the looks we were getting from the people around – as if we were the worst parents in the whole world! Yes we did see it was raining and we did see our baby didn’t have a proper cover on the pram, but we were just about to fix that... First stop on the way was some bigger chemist shop, thought that maybe they’d have some ponchos we could wrap around the pram, no luck... but we were told there was a lady selling them next door... we got a poncho and even an umbrella, still... it didn’t work! The wind was too strong, the poncho was flying in all directions and Millie wasn’t too happy suddenly not being able to see what was in front of her... she wasn’t happy at all! Again got a few looks and that was it, I’ve had it! We had to buy something better than that and needed to get out of the rain, fast! Took Millie up in my arms, got the umbrella and off we went to... the shopping centre at the central station, if we were going to get a cover for the pram anywhere, it would have to be there! And so it was, thankfully! Since we were there, why not a little shopping? Waterproof jacket and a couple of clothes for Millie... that would do for now... We did spend a bit of time in the shopping centre though, it was nice and warm and most importantly it wasn’t raining... a coffee here, a snack there, a feed for Millie, changing Millie... Eventually we’ve had enough, then a quick stroll around the Main Market Square again and off to the apartment, it wasn’t fun walking in the rain... The castle and all the other sites we missed visiting for the past few days would have to wait until another visit...



In the evening we ventured out of the apartment once again to meet my friend from work from Dublin for some drinks. Funny thing, I didn’t even know she was back in Krakow... What a nice surprise and lovely evening as well! Couple of beers, talking about the old days and old friends, we’ve had quite a few pints of Guinness back in Dublin and now we were having a beer in Krakow – obviously not Guinness as outside of Ireland it’s simply not a Guinness anymore... So nice! Perfect way to finish our short stay in Krakow. There was more ahead of us... Next stop: Zakopane!


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14th November 2016

Bad Neighbours
Always thought that Poland had the worst neighbours at the worst point in history, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, couldn't think of anyone worse in history. So important that places like Auschwitz are preserved so future generations can understand what happened and hopefully will never happen again. As for Millie's horse obsession, perhaps that may have been a great way to see Poland, on horse back - save money and keep her happy at the same time, providing you were not in a hurry. Site seeing in the rain is something we would only do if we were desperate, not much joy in that. Looking forward to Zakopane, just need to find it on Google maps
16th November 2016

Bad Neighbours
Yes, it's hard to tell which one of them did more damage to the country... Think Millie is fine with observing the horses from far for now and so am I actually. :)
16th November 2016
At the Main Market Square in Krakow

Historical Krakow!
How wonderful that you had time to get a feel for that beautiful city the first day. I'm rather glad that the capital was moved to Warsaw because then Krakow was frozen in its 16c beauty, didn't undergo modernization and wasn't such a target for the Germans and Russians in WWII. Good for you for saturating yourselves in Krakow's tragic WWII history--some of our modern leaders need to do this, so they can feel the horrors of war. And the rain and missed sites--well, how great to have an excuse to return to this city--maybe in the magical snow next time!
16th November 2016
At the Main Market Square in Krakow

Historical Krakow!
You have a good point there, to be honest never really thought about it from that perspective, but it is true - the capital was moved to Warsaw and thanks to that Krakow remained pretty much undamaged. Yes we have a good excuse to go back there for sure! Thanks for reading and commenting Tara.
16th November 2016

Getting to comfortable
IT does sound like you've been enjoying your visit and got comfortable but now you are on the road again. Don't worry about the looks people give you MIllie knows you are wonderful parents and running around crazy to protect her. All is good.
16th November 2016

Getting to comfortable
Grant says exactly the same about other people's looks and yet it's still hard to be judged like that... Thanks for the kind words. Really appreciate it!

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