Backpacking Europe: Krakow, Poland (Episode 36)
From July to mid-August 2018, we'll be backpacking through Central and Eastern Europe! Our first stop: Krakow, Poland! In this episode, we discussed our 3-night stay in Krakow, including:
- The uncomfortable and agitating, then pleasant and enjoyable train ride to Krakow from Prague
- How we saved money on accommodation and stayed at a stranger's home for free
- Exploring a touristy area without the tourists, such as Main Square and Wawel Castle
- Taking a guided tour through Auschwitz, the most well-known concentration camp from WWII
- The most incredible story we heard about victims in Auschwitz
- Our feelings about the tour and our overall experience in Auschwitz
- Exploring Krakow with local Sebastian Dylag and seeing things like giant, man-made mounds, flying our new drone, eating Polish food, and more
Thank you for reading/listening! Be sure to check out our blog post below for much more and Sebastian Dylag's awesome YouTube channel!
Wine: Plavac - Radovic (Croatia)
July 1: Confusing train ride and cheap Polish food
After leaving our apartment in Prague to my brother to sublet, we embarked on our first destination on our backpacking Europe trip. Since train tickets were only around $25 USD each, we figured we'd splurge a bit and take the train instead of the bus. Trains are far better than buses anyway, aren't they?
The ride was about 7 hours from Prague to Krakow at 10:30 AM. We purchased our tickets online, but couldn't find a place to reserve seats when we did. That, naturally, made us a little nervous. We didn't want to be standing on the train for 7 hours straight! But, we couldn't reserve seats, so when we boarded the train, we simply sat in available seats in an open room.
We got comfortable in our seats, working on blogging stuff and so on. After several minutes, the ticket collector told us that we needed to go to a different train car at 1 PM because the one we were on was not going all the way to Krakow. We then figured we'd wait a little while, then change to a different train car.
Fast forward a couple of stops later: two women kicked us out of our seats because they reserved the ones we were sitting in. Clumsily and awkwardly, we fumbled with all of our belongings in a packed train car, feeling all eyes were on us. After walking around the train car, we quickly realized that there were no available seats: exactly what we feared would happen while buying our tickets.
We had no choice: we had to stand in the train aisle.
Thirty minutes later, people got off the train and we noticed two train car rooms had a single seat available in each. So, we split up and sat down in the free seats.
Matt got lucky: he played UNO with two friendly girls from the Netherlands in his room! After about 30 minutes, everyone in my car got off at a stop. Instantly, I invited Matt and his new friends to my empty car, where we played UNO together, shared travel stories, and even got to taste some delectable and traditional Dutch candies!
Luckily, we never got kicked out of ours seats again. Phew!
Our train rolled into Krakow in the early evening. Once we started walking around the train station, we quickly realized how sweet of a station it was! The place was clean and big with a connected bus station and massive mall! How convenient!
Since we hadn't eaten yet that day, we quickly chose a restaurant in the train station with sort of "fast food" Polish food to eat. We ordered a mountain of food: sausage, pork, sauerkraut, and soup. To our surprise, the food was incredible! And not only did it taste heavenly, but it was cheap, too! For two giant platefuls of hearty food, we spent 66 zloty, or $17 USD, altogether. Not too shabby!
After that, we took an Uber (they're so cheap in Krakow!) to our Couchsurfing hosts' place.
"What is Couchsurfing?" you ask? It's this incredible site where you can be put in contact with hosts from around the world. You can stay with or host people for completely free. No catch! You can also attend some awesome events and even make lifelong friends. It's one of our favorite resources!
Anyway, we used Couchsurfing in Krakow for the three nights we were there. It saved us a lot of dough, which was great! That meant we had more money to spend on more important things, like food! Duh!
After talking with our Couchsurfing host for a little while, we left to go into the city center. However, upon walking to the tram station, we decided to turn right around and go back. I was pooped!
July 2: Morning Exploring, Auschwitz, and New Friends
One issue with Couchsurfing: more often than not, the host doesn't give you a key. So, when you leave and return depends on the host's schedule. We faced this issue with our host in Krakow. He had to leave for work at 7:30 AM, but his alarm went off around 5:30 AM...multiple times. Obviously, we woke up with the alarm and couldn't fall back asleep. After getting ready, we actually ended up leaving the apartment the earliest we ever have for exploring: around 7AM!
We'd never explored a place so early in the morning before because, ya know, sleep is good. So, it was an exciting and interesting experience to see the more touristy area of a city being empty and getting ready for the day.
We waltzed around the Main Square and Wawel Castle, both wowing us as we walked!
After a couple of hours walking around, we grabbed some breakfast at a conveniently-located, affordable, and cute spot called Nap Nap Cafe! We highly recommend it!
With our full bellies, we made our way to the bus station to catch our bus for our day trip to Auschwitz.
We booked a guided tour through Auschwitz in advance, which you can do so here. Our tour was at 12PM, but our bus, which we bought the day before at the bus station, was at 10AM, since it takes a little under 2 hours to get there by bus from Krakow. It cost 28 zloty, or $7, one way. You could technically buy the tickets on the bus itself, but be warned: you might have to stand. Actually, you might have to stand even if you buy tickets ahead of time! Be sure to be waiting at the bus around 30 minutes before the bus leaves to try to avoid standing!
Oh, and people are pushy and don't care about lines. Be aware of that ahead of time as well.
Fortunately, we got one of the last two seats available. Thankfully we didn't need to stand!
(15:00) Upon arriving at Auschwitz, we had to put our small backpack in a locker because they don't allow any medium or large bags inside. Immediately after, we went through the gates, got our headset, and joined our tour group.
Normally, we don't do tours, but it seemed that this was most certainly the place to do it. It was about $27 for the two of us. Although, if you don't want to, you don't have to do a tour. However, we highly recommend doing the tour.
During our tour, we visited two parts of the camp out of three (the third was destroyed after World War II): Aushwitz I and Auschwitz II- Birkenau. We saw tons of "artifacts," if you will, like thousands of glasses, 80,000 shoes, and two tons of human hair-- all of which were stolen from victims in the concentration camps.
We walked around, learning various tidbits about the camp, like how 1,100,000 people were murdered there during World War II. We were guided through barracks, a gas chamber, and other buildings. Everything we learned, saw, and experienced was far different than just learning about it in school and reading about it in history books.
One story in particular stood out to us. During a roll call, the S.S. noticed that someone had escaped the camp. In order to punish this person and to deter anyone else from escaping in the future, the officers selected 10 random people to force into a "starvation room," which was a tiny room with no windows where victims were starved to death.
One out of those ten people was a man, who begged and pleaded not to be taken because he had a family. Suddenly, a monk stepped forward, offering to take that man's place in the starvation room. The officers took him instead because what did they care about who went, right?
Then, the monk and the nine other selected men were forced into the starvation room where they all perished days later of starvation.
However, the man who the monk replaced went on to survive the camp and the war. Not only that, but as did his family.
One of the most moving stories I've ever heard, to be honest. I couldn't contain my tears after that one.
The tour was around 3.5 hours, which seems like a long time, but it didn't feel so long while we were there. It was an eye-opening, depressing, and sombre experience, to say the least. Walking where those who were selected from the train cars for immediate death by gas was an indescribable experience. It's something I can't fully describe. You'll just have to go and experience it for yourself to understand.
Afterwards, we bought our tickets on the bus this time (again, it was pandemonium) to go back to Krakow. Upon returning, we ate some more delectable and cheap Polish food in the train station, then met up with a fellow YouTuber named Sebastian!
Once we met up, we walked through the Main Square for the second time that day, which was interesting since we had only seen it early in the morning! It was far livelier this time with far more tourists and booths selling all sorts of colorful tchotchkes with music pouring from various instruments every few feet. We walked along a park called Polwsie Zwierzynieckie where we then flew our drone for the first time.
Flying our DJI Spark drone for the first time was a wild experience, but it was advantageous for us to fly it with Sebastian, who’d been flying and using his drone for a while.
The DJI Spark so far has been incredible. It’s so easy for fly, easy to use, it’s compact, and captured incredible videos and pictures! We highly recommend it to anyone looking to buy a drone!
Then, we went into this hip corner of the city right next to the same park with about 15 food trucks and an area to sit with friends, eat, and chill!
Afterwards, we returned back to our Couchsurfing host's place because obviously, we were beat! Being that we were completely exhausted and didn’t want to wake up at 5:30AM again, we asked if we could take the keys and return them to him later so that we could sleep in. Fortunately, he said yes! Almost immediately after, we got ready to go to sleep and knocked out!
July 3: "Mounds" of Exploration!
(25:00) We slept until 9 AM or so, then grabbed a kebab salad near where we were staying— and it was scrumptious!
After that, we met up with our new friend, Sebastian, and his girlfriend again! He took us in a car so that he could show us the city much more easily. How great is that?! A local taking us around by car!
First stop: Krakus Mound & Kraków-Płaszów Concentration Camp
Second stop: Independence Mound
The mounds were both man-made for what we believe to be radio-transmissions. Naturally, both of these were occupied by the Germans during the war.
The concentration camp, or what remained of it, astounded us because we had no idea there was one almost in the middle of Krakow!
Third stop: Dinner at Gospoda na Woli
There, we ate some traditional Polish food and some grilled meat! Yum! The food was a little pricier than it usually is in Krakow, but it was worth it because it was delicious.
Fourth stop: Zakrzówek Lake
This lake was a surprising gem in Krakow! It was an awesome place to just relax with your friends, walk around, and even swim!
Fifth stop: Jewish Quarter
This area was just great to walk around and admire the cultural differences. We also went to this little street food market, where Matt and I ate chicken on a stick with pickles and Sebastian and his girlfriend ate gelato. Happy tummies (and wallets!) all around!
Sixth stop: Love Bridge
Although we’re aware that there are an abundance of bridges with locks symbolizing love everywhere in Europe, this one in particular was unique. On the wires of this bridge, there were acrobatic statues for decorations! On top of that, the bridge was brightly lit with purple and pink colors. Precious!
Seventh stop: St. Joseph's Church
What a cool discovery this was! This church honestly made us feel as if we were in Disney or some place like that because the church was so magical!
Eighth destination: The Ghetto Heroes Square
Next to the tram stop we needed to go to conveniently enough was The Ghetto Heroes Square.
We asked our new friends about what this was dedicated to, but they weren't 100% sure. Upon some research, I discovered that the 33 chairs in this square are dedicated to those who inhabited the Jewish Ghetto during WWII. The entrance to this square was where the ghetto's boundary began.
All throughout Krakow, there were reminders everywhere of the atrocities committed there during World War II. It’s apparent that the people are still recovering from it and that they will never, ever forget.
We hopped on the tram to Sebastian’s car, where he then drove us to our accommodation. Seriously, how great is this guy!? We said our goodbyes, then prepared all of our belongings for our trip the following day and promptly passed out!
Overall, we had an incredible experience in Krakow! Everything we got to witness, gawk at, admire, walk through, and even eat was great. We now have memories for a lifetime, both pleasant and sombre.
Next destination: Vienna and Salzburg in Austria!
Would you ever visit Krakow or any of the places we visited?
Wine: Plavac - Radovic (Croatia)