I know, I’ve said it before but I can never resist a good seat sale! Back in November, for Cyber Monday, Ryanair had a massive blowout sale for travel in March. I bought plane tickets for both Krakow, Poland and Barcelona, Spain; however, with being unemployed (in February) and looking for work, I couldn’t afford to do both. As I only spent approximately £20 each on both plane tickets, it wasn’t a huge deal. Usually tickets to Krakow are quite expensive though, and doing Auschwitz was on my bucket list while I’m here, so I decided to go there first and save Barcelona for the warmer weather!
I had originally planned on going alone; but last minute, my friend Maddie decided to join me! Too be honest, I was little bit nervous going on my own as I had never solo travelled before (besides moving to London); especially to a place where I knew none of the language. However, those fears were silly as many people spoke English and were happy enough to help (except for the customs guy who got mad at Maddie for not having her passport out quick enough haha).
We arrived in Krakow around 9pm on Wednesday and as both our phones were dying, we took an (overpriced) taxi to our hostel. We stayed at Let’s Rock Hostel; it was really central, the staff was amazing and it was super cheap! It was PLN299.80 (approx. £10/night each) for the two of us in a 4 bedroom dorm with breakfast included. We checked in and settled in for the night as we were getting up early the next day to go to Auschwitz.
It is free to visit Auschwitz if you don’t want a guide; however, thinking it’d be easiest to not have to think of transportation, we booked a tour online before coming to Krakow. All was good, until the tour bus never showed up (glad we didn’t pay before hand). Thinking what to do, we decided to make our own way there. We walked to the bus station – we realised that the city of Krakow is actually quite small; it only took us about twenty minutes – and purchased our tickets to Oświęcim. As we had no spots booked for the site, on the ride there, we booked our tickets. The whole ordeal actually ended up being a lot cheaper and easier than I expected. The bus dropped us off right at Auschwitz I (the main camp). The trip was a sobering experience; you learn about the Holocaust in high school, but seeing the horrors in real life was quite different. We spent probably a good 3-4 hours each at both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, where you could still see the remainders of the gas chambers. What really got to me was seeing the thousands of shoes piled up high behind glass in one of the rooms at Auschwitz I.
Exhausted after the emotions of the day, we arrived back to our hostel around dinner time. One of the staff members had recommended a place called Koko for pierogis (as Maddie had never even heard of them before!!). We decided to go there for supper and we couldn’t believe how cheap it was! For about the equivalent of £5, we stuffed ourselves with roast chicken and potatoes, a plate each of pierogis and a beer; you could barely even buy the latter for £5 in London! After dinner, we went back to the hostel to figure what our evening plans were. We ended up meeting a few guys from Central America and some girls from the States and we decided to stay and have a few drinks at the hostel with them.
You never know who you’ll end up sharing a room with when you stay at a hostel, and I have to say, the guy who stayed in our room the second night was the weirdest that I’ve ever encountered. He came barging into the room around 4:00am and plopped straight onto his bed. Thinking he was drunk, we thought nothing of it and ignored him. During the night though, he fell out of his bed and onto the floor where he stayed until morning. In the morning, we noticed that he would switch between lying down and sitting straight up (fast asleep the entire time). Too make things worse, he had an alarm on his (two) phones that kept going off at intervals and he wouldn’t even wake up! After pressing snooze on his phones a million times, and annoyed that he was interrupting our sleep, we yelled and shook him until he finally woke up startled (like he didn’t think we were there) and then he threw his phone to try and turn his alarm off!
On our second day in Krakow, we went to visit the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine. We took the Tourist Route and descended 135 metres under the earth, where our tour guide told the history and folklore surrounding the 900 year-old mine. My favorite part of the tour was seeing the chapel that was built by and for the miners to practice their faith while underground. Everything in it was carved from salt, from the “crystals” on the chandeliers to the depiction on the wall of “The Last Supper”. The tour was really quite interesting and our guide was hilarious, but after three hours of walking we were exhausted! We got back to town and on our way to our hostel, we stopped for lunch at a cute little Polish restaurant called Polakowski that we had passed by the night before. As we basically got no sleep the previous night – from old mate – after lunch, we went back to the hostel for a nap before going out for the pub crawl.
For dinner we had.. you guessed it.. more pierogis! This time from Pierogi 24h. They weren’t the best looking dumplings, but they were tasty and cheap. I decided to opt for the sweet ones, which included a mixture of plum, apple, cottage cheese and I believe strawberry fillings.
After our late dinner, we met up with our pub crawl group, Krawl through Krakow which we had found online before coming over. The crawl gave us an hour of free drinks at a bar and then provided free entry and a shot at three more bars/clubs. It was a fantastic night! We met some new friends from England and I even won a t-shirt. 😉
The next day was our final day in Krakow. We slept in as long as we could, checked out of our hostel and walked up to Wawel Castle, albeit hungover. We didn’t do a tour of the castle, but we walked around the grounds, enjoying the sunshine. When we were tired of walking, we sat for a bit, but then I got yelled at for sitting on the grass. We had our last meal of pierogis at a place called Milkbar Tomasza, where apparently everyone from the pub crawl had the same idea because we saw them all there. We walked around the square one more time, before heading to the train station to get to the airport.
Besides a few hiccups along the way, I had a great time in Krakow! It wasn’t a huge culture shock, but Poland does have it’s differences to Canada and the UK. I loved spending the time getting immersed in culture (especially the food) and I hope to be back again one day!