My time in Poland was such a surprisingly wonderful trip. Central location and close proximity to other countries is one huge advantage of choosing the city of Prague to study abroad. Although I considered this factor when deciding where to go, I was ignorant to the many wonderful central and eastern european countries easily accessible to Prague. One of these places was Krakow, Poland. Only 6 hours by train, this short, last minute trip was quite cheap and easy, and I am elated that I had the opportunity to visit.
The Journey: Our train left at 7:45 from the Prague Main train station, and although it was a bit of work to find our platform, we eventually made it on. I went with 3 other girls, Bri, Erin and Raleigh, and fortunately we were able to get a private room in the hostel, Atlantis for only $10 each. Our original plan was to explore Krakow on Friday when we arrived around 2 pm, and head to Auschwitz- the concentration and death camp on Saturday before taking a night bus home to arrive Sunday morning. We did however have a change of plans, when we realized that the tours we were hoping to take to Auschwitz were all full, (we could not find one tour to take us there, and we did not want to just go and walk around without a tour, as it was such an educational important place for its horrific role in the holocaust). So for this reason, we choose to stay another night, and move our night bus to Sunday night instead of Saturday (thankfully a flexible ticket, no extra charge), and thankfully the hostel was cheap so it was no problem to book another night.
The Experience: While walking around Krakow on Friday night we saw the Wawel Royal Castle, which was beautiful and absolutely stunning, the old town- also beautiful, with a very similar vibe to Prague. We ended up eating at a Polish named “Pod Wawelem”, which was really fun with good hearty food! A small tidbit about Poland is its currency- the polish złoty, was about a 4 z to 1 dollar exchange rate, and because of this things were extremely cheap. Surprisingly Poland was even cheaper than Prague (hard to beat), but I guess that shows that the further east you go, how prices change. This factor made our experience even better, because we ate well and had no guilt for spending money. Another aspect that made it rewarding to stay an extra day was the recent change daylight savings time, because it now became dark around 4:30 pm, and didn’t allow much time to explore or enjoy the city if we had stuck to our original plan. On Saturday morning we headed to a fantastic breakfast place that was recommended to us named “Alchima od Kuchni .” (to give an example of the cheap prices, I ordered coffee, a fried egg, and yogurt with granola, and it equalled $5). It was delicious and we topped it off with coffee before setting off to explore. We had no plan, but wandered around the city and paid another visit to the main parts such as the castle and old town. Saturday night, we ate dinner at a vegan burger restaurant which I absolutely loved, and headed to go check out the Jewish quarter. That night we went to bed early, because we were leaving quite early for the Auschwitz tour of the extermination and concentration camp.
Sunday morning rain was in the forecast, so we bundled ourselves up and headed out to get coffee before our tour picked us up back at our hostel. The tour was a company that included transport and tour guide to Auschwitz I (the original camp which has been turned into part museum), and to the, Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp). Overall the day was extremely solemn and impactful, truly making it clear the horrors that took place under the Nazi regime. I have always been very interested in books that discussed the holocaust, such as “The Hiding Place”, or the “Zion Covenant” series, and this trip and tour truly brought the stories and people’s experiences to life. I have learned so much this semester about World War II and it has been very worthwhile to visit the places of history that I have been taught about and once just places in a textbook. Thankfully the rain lightened up as we walked through the camps- which was good, because it was already quite muddy. As disagreeable as the dismal weather was for us however, it reflected the experience. Even being fully prepared and bundled up, I was still cold- and it provided myself with a hint of how completely miserable the life in these camps were. Being forced to live and work in these freezing conditions with less than humane shelters is an idea that I still struggle to wrap my mind around as a reality less than a century ago. In the four and a half years of the Auschwitz camps’ existences, over 1.1 million people died, a fact that remained in the forefront of my thoughts as we toured. There were many differences in the camps, one being Auschwitz II-Birkenau was around 25% bigger than the first camp, and I found it most impactful due to its size and its use of the infamous gas chambers. It was a hard day, but I am grateful that I got the chance to go. The holocaust created by Hitler and the Nazi regime remains one of the darkest part of history and should never be forgotten, and I am sure I never will after witnessing evidence of the many horrors that took place.
Upon our return of the tour, we headed to the Jewish quarter again to go to a restaurant called “Hamsa Hummus & Happiness”, and later visited a pub with live celtic music to pass the time, before we got on our night bus back to Prague. Thankfully the night bus was fairly empty and we each got our own seats, allowing me to sleep a bit. We arrived home to Prague the next morning around 6:00 am and even though the trip was great, it was a nice feeling to arrive back at our own city.
In summarization of our trip to Krakow Poland, I would have to say that I was positively surprised by the beauty of the city. It’s outskirts definitely reflected the history of a communist regime (very similar to driving into St. Petersburg), but I would describe the city center as clean, nice and enjoyable.The low prices and many good food options make it an enjoyable place to visit for a few day (though I think that 3 days two nights, is more than enough time). Overall I am so grateful that I got the chance to experience Poland, especially because it is not a place that I anticipated visiting, and from it I will always have great memories.