Dzień dobry (“djen-dob-ri” Good morning)
From Vienna I took a long detour to visit the UNESCO city of Kraków. I’ve always been interested in WWII and the holocaust and I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit Auschwitz.
My detour began with a 9 1/2 hour uncomfortable, sleepless, overnight train ride. When they say “direct train” they don’t actually mean continuos journey. The train must’ve stopped 20 times throughout the night, picking up and dropping off passengers, and even very loudly separating cars at one point that were going to a different direction. So I arrived at Kraków at 7 in the morning tired and cold. I withdrew some zlotys, bought myself a cup of coffee, and proceeded to figuring out their transportation system to get to my hostel. Here’s one of the challenging parts of visiting multiple countries in a short amount of time: you’re constantly re-learning and re-adjusting to a new place. I only have 2 days in Poland and didn’t want to waste time resting. So what do you do when you’re in a new city tired and without a solid plan? You join a free walking tour!
I tend to dislike “tours” but this one wasn’t too bad. Kraków was teeming with tourists and apparently every school in the country decided to take a field trip here at the same time as me. So I was just another group walking around. My free walking tour guide was a young history major who grew up in Kraków. He was quite entertaining and knew a lot about his city. (These free tours are ubiquitous in every major city: you give a tip as a payment but only if you liked the tour). For about three hours he took us around Kraków complete with history and personal stories.
Kraków’s main square is one of the most beautiful squares I’ve visited. Kraków remained intact during the war and you could almost feel history radiating from the buildings. The square was lively with pop-up vendors selling anywhere from pottery, beer, and all kinds of food. It easily became my 2nd favorite square in the world. (#1 is the main square in Cusco: hard to beat those mountain vistas!)
I dedicated a full day to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau camps. They’re about a 1 1/2 hour bus ride from Krakow. It seems futile or even disrespectful to describe these camps in words. I don’t even think I can. Even these pictures don’t do justice.