travel: Krakow, Poland

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Our trip to Krakow came at the perfect time.

Ryan was studying and living in Tübingen, Germany and I was holding down the fort in Edinburgh. As happy as we were that Ryan received a scholarship to do some research in Germany, the time apart (105 days…) was not our favorite.

Krakow, Poland was one of the trips that we planned to break up the 100+ days. It was one of the best ideas we have ever had. Krakow has a bit of a reputation for attracting crowds of soon-to-be-tied-down grooms on stag weekends. But, it deserves better. Krakow is one of the most beautiful European cities we have been to and the perfect place for us to reunite.

Day one. 3am wake up call. Taxi to the airport. Cried happy tears seeing Ryan at the airport. Train to city centre. Walk through the Botanic Gardens. Path lined with 400 year old trees. Lillypads on ponds. Rose garden. Snacks on a park bench. Settled into our Airbnb. Wander to the main square. Hearty Polish food: meat + sauerkraut stew served in a huge bread bowl. Beet and kefir soup with hardboiled egg. Pickled vegetables. Polish beer. Wales v. Iceland Euro football match on. Drinking chilled white wine on the square. Reunited. Best feeling ever.

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Day two. Sleeping in. Walking back to the main square. Breakfast date at Bistro Charlotte Fresh baked pasties. Omelets. Lattes. Wandering with a paper map. Pristine cathedrals. Nuns + Priests out on their walks. Hot weather, had to stop for something cold. Huge vat of iced tea- green tea with mint, lemongrass and chunks of frozen strawberry, kiwi, oranges, lime and fresh preserves at the base. Delicious!

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Lovely old book stores. Reading biographies of Holocaust survivors. Walking up to the castle mount. Views of the Vistula river. Street food vendors, kielbasa sausage. Canadian burger shop Antler Poutine & Burger. Walked. And walked. And walked.  Ice cream from Lody na Starowislnej– scoops of vegan hazelnut and a cup of lavender. Had to beat the heat.

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Walking tour of the Jewish Quarter. Street art. Synagogues. Jewish cemetery. Euro Cup football finals. Dinner at a traditional Polish Inn: Grilled goat cheese wrapped in bacon with a side of pickled beets. Sour oatmeal soup with white sausage + hardboiled egg. Perogi, Polish dumplings stuffed with meat and vegetables. Baked turkey breast and creamed carrots. Charming hidden cafe. Went for their signature drink ‘apple coffee’ – ice, apple juice, + espresso! Owner had the sweetest Golden Retriever. Puppy cuddles.

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Day three. Bus tour picked us up early. Drive to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. Pouring rain. Dark feeling. Reverent. Deeply sorrowful place. Silent. No birds, no sounds. Walking through the gate, ‘Arbeit macht frei‘ in German – ‘Work Means Free’. The slogan is known for appearing on the entrance of this site and other Nazi concentration camps. No one was ever released for working hard. Suitcases with victims names. Piles of shoes. Brushes. Cookery. Women’s hair. Empty beds. Ruins of gas chambers. The execution wall.

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The separation point on the railway track. Our tour guide told us that families stood at the tracks and were told to go to the left or right. To the left, work camp. To the right, showers. 900,000+ people were murdered in the gas chambers here. I stood near the spot where families were separated and was overwhelmed with grief and heartache.

It was important to see. Very heavy-feeling. Obviously, very sad. It feels indescribable unless you are there to experience it.  The memorial here says, ‘Let this forever be a place of torment and suffering. A reminder and a warning to humanity.’  The tour here is a way to better understand post-war Europe. To understand our world. It forces you to deeply confront our idea of humanity and what remains at Auschwitz. To never forget.

On our way out, I overheard a tour guide talking about twin sisters, Eva and Mariam. They were only tiny girls during the war, they were split at Auschwitz for genetic testing, both survived and were reunited after the Allies liberated the camps. I needed to hear that story of hope before getting back on the bus- I felt heavy-hearted this day.

Day four. Woke up early. Still a bit overwhelmed by the tour. We went for a walk, nearly empty sidewalks, quiet. Bought some local apricots and plums from a vendor. Sat in main square. Headed over to Bistro Charlotte… again! Then over to Moja Cafe for breakfast #2. Avocado toast. Ham + egg scramble. Coffees. Park walk. Train station to airport. Waiting at border control. Hugs + kisses. Holding Ryan so tight before we go our separate ways. Such a special weekend with him.

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We rank Krakow high on our list of European cities that we have visited. It has a rich and vibrant history, super friendly people, beautiful buildings, affordable food + drinks, without a ton of tourists. A perfect city for a long weekend escape and it got us through one of the toughest times of this PhD season.  It was an experience and gave me a deeper appreciate for the people of Poland and their resilience, Krakow is a rose growing through concrete.

 

Happy travels!

 

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[*more on Eva + Mariam’s stories here].

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