15 things in 5 days in Krakow

Krakow is definitely a must on your list of places to visit in Europe! What a charming city full of complicated, sad and recent history that captivates almost anyone. I spent 5 days running around this wonderful place with my mother, discovering different things, so here is a list of 15 things you have to do in 5 days in Krakow:

  1. Main Square – We were so lucky to be located right by the square, which is the central point of the entire city. From here you can pretty much go anywhere in the surrounding area so it is a good location to be close by, even just as reference point so you don’t get lost.
  2. Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral – There is so much more to do in this old town area other than just visit the castle and cathedral. With about 9 different tours available, we were only able to do 3 of these and I would highly recommend going there early so you have a choice of tours.
  3. Auschwitz – Such a horrible but fascinating and informative visit. I would advise you book this in advance, even before you land in Krakow. Most hotels will arrange if for you and it will take up the whole day. When you return in the evening make sure you do something fun as well so you don’t feel too sad and overwhelmed by it.
  4. Schindler’s Factory – If you are located near the city centre, I would advise you to get a taxi to the factory and then walk back. Through your walk I would also visit the last fragment of the Ghetto Wall and the walk will take you straight to the city. In terms of booking your ticket, if you go first thing in the morning you will get your ticket quite easily and you can do a combined ticket for other museums in the city and nearby too.
  5. The Jewish Ghetto – When you return from the factory you will go across the ghetto where you will still see ruins of buildings that were victims of the atrocities committed there during WWII.
  6. The Ghetto Wall – You should definitely stop by the last fragment of the Ghetto Wall. It gives you some perspective as to the impossibility of trying to escape the designated area they were given.
  7. The Gestapo Houses – Again another horrible but phenomenal experience. I found it deeply moving to see the cells and all the markings of things that people wrote in the walls. If you read my previous post about the cells (click here) you will be able to see one of the markings. Again really easy to find, it is just North East of the Ring Gardens.
  8. St Mary’s Basilica – Just beautiful and located in the main square, you can’t really go wrong! Just make sure you don’t visit during mass time, as you won’t be allowed to take any photos.
  9. Krakow Cloth Hall – An amazing building but also incredible place for souvenir shopping.
  10. Wieliczka Salt Mine – Again I would advise you to book your tickets for this early, as like Auschwitz it is the most popular place to visit. You can also get disabled tours and these usually run at 8 AM which is fine as the mines will be practically empty and it is great to get around. The tours are led in several languages.
  11. Old Synagogue – If you haven’t ever seen a Synagogue before this is the perfct one to visit. It is located just outside the Jewish Ghetto and you will see several of these around but start with this one for a traditional building.
  12. Saint Peter and Paul Church – It is on the way to the Wawel Castle from the Main Square and it is just a stunning building to go spend some time in or even see for a concert.

  13. Church of St Francis of Assisi – This building is located in the intersection between the Main Square and the road that leads you to the Saint Peter and Paul Church. Its brick exterior should not fool you, the interior is very beautiful. If you doubt my words, go visit.

  14. Planty Park – These are the ring gardens I keep talking about. The Planty Park surrounds the whole centre of town and you can pretty much get anywhere simply by walking it. It was a favourite place of mine in my five day visit, as we got lost looking for alternative routes, admiring the trees and nature and enjoying the fresh breeze and scent that wafted into the city from this huge park.
  15. High Synagogue – Again this one is located near the Jewish Ghetto, and it is in reconstruction at the moment, but it is a beautiful and very peaceful building to visit. You will be asked to keep your modesty, so girls with bear legs will be given a scarf to wrap around their waist.

So here you are: 15 things for you to do in 5 days in Krakow! I hope you book a visit there soon and enjoy it.

Walking in Krakow

For all you people who believe there is more to life than an underground/subway, you are right! There are so many places that can be discovered by foot and truly appreciated after you have lost yourself in a really quirky and romantic cobbled street to get there. The sights you miss when you simply rush from tourist spot to tourist spot in a subway is deeply saddening, so my mother and I decided to save the pennies and work our leg muscles, and walking Krakow was a treat!

With lots of people and companies harassing you to take their guided tourist train tour, to join their groups and do their thing, it is pleasant to step back from all of that and just do what you think is right. Discover the places you want, get to know a city in your terms and to find the hidden treasures only you will come across in your own path.

Walking the city centre

Krakow’s Main Square hosts a variety of interest. If you walk around the whole square, hidden behind the cafes and all those esplanades you will find some plaques identifying the houses, who they belonged to and their historical importance.

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At the very centre of the Main Square you will be able to see the Cloth Hall. It used to be a building where people would come to trade all sorts of goods, but now it is open every day and showcases the most stunning handicrafts from Poland for you to buy. Great for souvenir shopping.

You will also find in the city centre St Mary’s Basilica. This iconic building is the cover of most postcards of Krakow and though it may seem like a simple brick construction from the exterior, the inside tells a very different story.

You will get a chance to spot some horse and carriages which you can take a lovely tour of the city in. I personally did not take one, but found them all very charming and the horses very sweet. It is a miracle that they keep the city so clean and not smelling of manure with so many horses around.

Make sure you have one of your meals in the Main Square, with so many restaurants available you can enjoy some real treats.

Further afield

Still a short walk away, you can follow a road directly to the Wawel. Here you can enjoy the castle, the cathedral, the Dragon’s cave and so much more. No more than a 10 minute walk from the Main Square it is definitely worth a visit and has so much to offer.

On your way to Wawel, make sure you take a quick peak at the St Peter and Paul Church. Such a beautiful building and it is worth spending a few minutes being mesmerised by its interior. Simple, beautiful and yet haunting. I definitely recommend it.

The Ring Gardens! Surrounding the entire centre of town, a ring garden which is worth walking around to see the city from a different perspective, enjoy the greenery and fresh air as well.

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Krakow is a very easy city to see by foot, so unless you are venturing out to the concentration camps and the salt mine, save your money, save the environment and put your best walking trainers on! I think everyone should feel encouraged to enjoy their cities by walking and discovering some really lovely hidden gems.

 

Schindler’s Factory and Gestapo Cells

Krakow is such a fascinating place, it is filled with iconic buildings that are sadly coated in so much misery and painful history, but make for an incredible city to visit. The culture that oozes out of every building, as if words were not enough to tell stories, you relive everything as soon as you enter a building. Schindler’s Factory and the Gestapo Houses did just that, invite you in to overwhelm you with the reality of the happenings in these places.

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The names of all the people that Oskar Schindler saved.

First of all, let me commend Schindler’s Factory for its mesmerising use of installations to create a path through the factory and make the museum as immersive as possible. Second of all, it is THE Schindler Factory, the enamel factory that without intending to saved so many lives. I find Oskar Schindler’s story really interesting, because he was just a German business man who bought a factory to make some money, and due to his moral compass and disagreeing with everything that was happening, saved countless lives. He did not agree with the politics and simply did what he could to help, from offering better quality meals, opening his own ‘camp’ behind the factory for his workers to live in and dismissing his workers before the Gestapo found themselves in the factory to call those names for extermination. He was in every way a hero and the museum not only gives you a huge insight to his life, the work at the factory and everything that was done there for the Jews and the Polish, but also pays reference and contextualises the entire setting by rebuilding the Jewish ghetto inside amongst so many other things.

You will find video accounts, diary entries, quotes from survivors and quotes from people who have since passed, it is so incredibly immersive and it consumes you to be inside. It is chilling and in my opinion made me relive the entire history of Krakow and WWII almost more than the tour around Auschwitz. With Auschwitz you are almost alienated from the situation because you have a tour guide who is speaking to you at all times, you have to be in and out of a barrack within a certain amount of time, and yes, even though seeing it is awful and realising the conditions that people lived in is  truly horrific, at the factory you walk alone. You take it all in on your own, you watch the video and audio accounts and feel as if you are being spoken to, you walk the entire space feeling like you’ve basically been in a time lapse and relived Krakow during WWII. It is so well built and almost intimidating in how upfront it is about the horrors that took place in the beautiful city and its surroundings during the time. Schindler’s factory is one of my top picks for you to visit in terms of museums, truly one of my favourites and I have been to quite a few!

I also really recommend visiting the Gestapo Cells. It is in the total opposite side of the city, North West of the central gardens, and although it is small, very much like the factory it makes use of its space to share the histories with visitors in as much detail as possible. Ulica Pomorska, where the cells are situated, is very easy to find, although the cells are extremely inconspicuous. Hidden behind a building, you walk through a path which features a wall with photos of almost everyone who was imprisoned here. You start by visiting a small museum which includes a lot of first person accounts of what happened there, from quotes, videos, audio recordings and items that belonged to individuals. Once you are finished reading all the histories you are guided to a secluded part of the building, a cellar almost. The cells.

I only have the photo below of the cells, of a quote carved onto the walls by one of the prisoners translated into English. Very much like Auschwitz it was all too real, too palpable. The space was so small, the markings on the walls that shouted desperation, the blood stains and the awful things that happened here. Days without food, or water or electricity, people were left alone to drive themselves insane, then above are a set of pipes that sometimes released gases such as tear gas, choking gas, smoke… anything that would make the prisoners suffer even more than they already were was present. Prisoners of war, Jewish people and Polish were all subject to this ill treatment, sometimes even if they did nothing to provoke it.

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These are two sites I definitely recommend if you are at all interested in history or simply want to pay respect to those who lived and suffered through WWII in this area. It is touching, horrible, makes your skin crawl and feel sick with desperation for those who had to endure this, but these places are an ode to the incredible survivors that these people are. I have a lot of love for Poland and the pain it had to go through but it is a truly majestic place and beautiful country, and I cannot wait to explore more of it in the future. I hope you will take the time to explore it too.

Happy reading, writing and travelling.

Click here for more information or to book your tickets to the Oskar Schindler Factory.

Click here for a tripadvisor page on Ulica Pomorska – Gestapo Cells.

Some personal accounts at Schindler’s factory of what happened at that time:

 

The Wieliczka Salt Mine

So when I planned my trip to Krakow I had a few things that I knew I wanted to see and visit, such as Auschwitz, Schindler’s factory, Wawel Castle amongst others. Everywhere I researched for things to see and discover in the illustrious city, the Wieliczka Salt Mine was listed. No one explained why, no real details were included in this, it was always just stated as a must. I was convinced this was going to be a tour about how miners extract salt from rock, which is of course very interesting, all the ancient techniques and past labours are always fascinating, but it didn’t seem to be enough for everyone to make such a huge fuss about it.

I have to confess, I didn’t even look at the website, which is a real shame, as my last weeks leading up to the trip were so busy with work that my usual preparation was not the same. Merely two months before I had been in Budapest, so I didn’t even have enough time to fully recover from the high of the previous trip! At first I was a bit apprehensive to visit, as I was travelling with my mother who is not very physically fit after an unfortunate heart attack. However, a few emails back and forth and I finally booked us two tickets for a disabled tour, which actually was the best thing ever.

Firstly, our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and most of all patient, as we paced ourselves slowly but surely through the less demanding paths of the mine. We were drawn in and mesmerised by stories of a Hungarian Princess who brought salt to Poland by dropping her engagement ring in a salt mine in Hungary, tales of the site’s many miners, the scent of salt lingering in the air its flavour touching our lips.

We were invited to lick the walls – I know that sounds weird! – and experience the white salt melting in our tongues and the pure flavour and kick of the darker salt rock. We were taken through a winding mine up and down and already the experience was better than I had expected, as we learnt so much more than just the process of mining salt rock. Finally we discovered the rooms, these caves where water deposits eroded the rock salt and formed a pool. We were awestruck by a particular room called the Chopin Room, where the entrance was so dramatic, the music stormed through the space and hit each of us with such overwhelming force. We were so moved. I can’t really explain it, it was just beautiful.

We knew we were here to see something special.

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The salt on the wall!

We then walked towards the biggest cave of all, which we discovered is the largest underground church in the world, a Unesco world Heritage site, one of the first to join the list. It was entirely carved out by three sibling miners, who did it in their spare time and were then commissioned to finish it when their boss found the church. The wall carvings, altar and stone chairs are all carved from the original cave, the detail is incredible and it is absolutely a sight to behold. The Pope has even visited and had a statue made for him. He returns to Krakow this year.

I feel that in my writings I haven’t done this place proper justice, it was just so unexpected and so overwhelmingly stunning that I feel all the words in the world won’t do. The photos itself are difficult to be amazed at, as it is quite dark (underground!) and what you see in naked eye isn’t quite captured through the lens as well. I truly feel this place made my entire trip that much more special and I would encourage everyone to visit it. Tickets are inexpensive and can be found online, I would advise to book it early as it does get very busy and like I said we were lucky because we had to take a special tour anyway so it was a lot quieter, but there were tonnes of groups in several different languages going around.

Auschwitz

It has taken me a while to think about how to write about an experience as harrowing, as disturbing as Auschwitz. It was our 3rd day in Krakow, we had seen some beautiful things, tasted some amazing food and enjoyed some glorious weather, when we decided we were prepared for the camps.

Auschwitz is actually divided into three camps, one of which was bombed by the Americans and no trace of it remains. The original site remains and the second site is Auschwitz Birkenau, an extension of the camps.

The first camp was built on refurbished military grounds, in which they changed the interiors to barely usable facilities that would house Polish, Hungarian Jews, enemies of state and many others. From scattered straw on the grounds, to toilets that would barely hold the entire camp, it is a disturbing sight to imagine all those lives, all those people there.

We were shown things such as people’s hair, which was supposed to be sold for wigs but was kept and has over the years lost its colour; people’s belongings, such as pans, hair brushes, shoes, suitcases, things they believed they needed as they were told they would be going to work and somewhere else to live. They were lied to.

They showed us torture cells, cells that were 1 metre by 1 metre wide, with a door that came no higher than my knees and 4 people were forced to crawl into it and stand there together. With an area as small as that they had no place to sit, no light of day, no air. They were called the standing cells. They showed us rooms where they first tested the gas later used in gas chambers.

In Birkenau, the conditions were even worse, with the camp separating families, men from women, and even racial division, it felt a desolate barren place, where housing was made for barn animals and not for people.

Both sights were horrifying. Walking in I had mentally prepared for it to be awful, but never for the photos, the evidence, the markings on walls, the scent of desperation lingering on the walls, the faces of so many that walked through those doors and suffered those horrors. I wasn’t prepared to have such a vivid imagination, to see it all play out in my head. I feel I have no right to claim the suffering that was felt here, I have no connection to this history. I do, however, feel like many others a sense of longing for the lost lives. I wanted to come to Auschwitz to pay my respects for the horrible things that happened here in the past, the things these peoples endured because of the madness and ideas of a xenophobe and dictator. This puritan that only spoilt the world.

I took only two photos of Auschwitz, the two you see featured here. Both from the original camp, below you will see the kitchen barracks and above the entrance to the camp, which feature the infamous gates that read ‘work makes you free!’. A lie, a lie that was told to so many who thought that they could indeed buy their freedom, one day. A truly sickening sentence for a despicable place and man that deceived so many people and convinced many more that what he was doing and propelling was the correct thing to do. What I saw will forever be etched into my mind, no photos are necessary as the memory will live vividly in me and the odour still follows me to certain places.

I can’t, my dear readers, describe to you in any more detail the horrible sight that I feel the whole world should come and see. It is truly a place to behold and take in, one aspect at the time, for that is the only way you will survive such a treacherous place, and even though you cannot understand fully the horrors that were here committed, the idea of it alone makes mt blood boil, nails curl and skin crawl. The pits of my stomach cry in agony for the pain that was inflicted in Auschwitz, but nothing could have, ironically, been more enlightening. A reminder of the madness that was committed during WWII that should serve as an example for the rest of the world, should they forget. I sincerely hope they do not forget and mistakes as such can never be performed again.

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