On April 14th, I travelled to Kraków to stay there for 4 nights with my good friend from home, Emily. My flight was at 6:45am, and due to the metro stopping at 2am, I decided to travel to the airport the night before and sleep there. This would be much less hassle than riding 3 night buses and also would save me money. It was an uncomfortable night but I managed to get quite a bit of sleep. Not to mention being konked out for most of the flight, so I was feeling refreshed when I landed at my destination.
After a 90 minute wait for Emily, we got a taxi to our hostel, Kajzer hostel, which was in such a good location. We rested a bit before we did anything as we both had long journeys behind us.
The first place we headed was ‘Morskie Oko’ a lovely little restaurant just off Kraków’s Old Town. Emily’s Mum recommended we visit here as she has been to Kraków many times before. I am so glad we came here, we fell in love immediately. A big meal and a beer was just what I needed. We walked back to the hostel for an early night so we could get up at 6:30 for our trip to Auschwitz and the Wielickza Salt Mines.
Auschwitz I / Auschwitz II Birkenau
The tour guide picked us up from our hostel at 7:20, we were still so tired so we slept on the journey to Auschwitz. It took about an hour, and it was raining, but luckily it stopped and the sun soon began shining. We spent about 3 hours at Auschwitz and my first impressions I am still not sure of. It’s definitely not what I thought to be honest. I think this was because there were so many people and it was a strange atmosphere. I found a lot of people taking selfies infront of the gates and buildings. This, after reading a recent article about this exactly, I found very odd.
In Auschwitz we were able to look in several barracks which were now converted partly into museums with so much information and some very touching items on display. One room I walked in, with no idea what to expect, I was created by a glass cabinet about 12mx3m just filled with hair of the Auschwitz Victims. This hit very hard and was my first ‘oh my gosh’ moment. I literally could not believe my eyes. I was convinced it was just fake to show the amount, but nope, it was all real. Truly Shocking. Along with these, we saw the shoes, suitcases, glasses and also clothes of the hundreds of thousands prisoners. The tour finished with a walk around one of the gas chambers and the crematorium. Very, very surreal. The gas chamber was much smaller than I thought it would be.
Once we were finished with our Auschwitz tour, we took the 5 minute bus ride to the second part of the tour, Auschwitz-Birkeneau. I felt this would be very different to the tour of the previous camp as I have seen many photos and pieces of footage from here so I knew what to expect. We pulled up to the huge gateway opening that I had seen so much. Walking over the train tracks thousands of people arrived obliviously.
Our tour guide took us round the different bunkers, pointing out the many that had just remains left. This being after the Nazis tried to destroy evidence of the thousands of crimes. With just chimneys left standing.
We were shown the bunkers where the prisoners had to sleep, go to the toilet, (only being allowed twice a day), work and suffer.
Wielickza Salt Mines
After the tour, we headed back to Kraków to grab some lunch before we were picked up again to be driven the half an hour journey to the Wielickza Salt Mines. After looking into this, I was really excited, and it was really convenient being able to do two of the main things on the same day!When we arrived into the Salt Mines, we had to walk down 56 flights of stairs. Luckily, there was a lift to get back to the top. We were first given a few facts about the Salt Mines, these including that it was several hundred years old, the oldest chamber dates back to 1640 and the oldest part of the mine dating back to 1280. It is Poland’s oldest business venture. Throughout the whole mine is a total of 240km of corridors and over 2000 chambers! In our tour, with a maximum of 135m underground, we passed through 20 chambers and 3 chapels, being about 3km.This took about 3 hours. The part that stood out for me the most (and probably everyone else also) was ‘The Chapel of St. Kinga’. This was the chapel that I had seen images of when researching into the tour and I with every corridor we walked through, I was just waiting to be greeted with this HUGE chapel. It took about an hour and a half to get there and it was beautiful! ALL MADE OF SALT. So crazy! We were told that they even hold weddings there! The tour guide said we could take any salt on the way round to keep as a souvenir so this I did, after licking the walls, which she also encouraged. At the end of the tour, we had to get a lift. A tiny metal double decker cage that fitted 9 people and it shot up so fast. It was quite frightening! But it was good to be back on ground level! We then headed back to Kraków again and went to one of my favourite places for dinner, Hard Rock Cafe.
The next couple of days were spent exploring the city with a few more trips to Hard Rock Cafe, Morskie Oko, and we also went to the recommended ‘Wedel’ which is a chocolate lounge. I had the most amazing chocolate sponge dessert! deeeelicioussss!
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Krakow
On our last day, we visited The Museum of Contemporary Art, as this is something both Emily and I are interested in. However, I was slightly disappointed by the lack of work on display. I felt like there was such a waste of space in this gallery and not enough work. However, what we did see was crazy, some really random pieces of work. One being a talking crow on a tree, with the work next to it being a toilet with a pair of tights coming out of it. Think of that what you will. The piece of work I didn’t like at all was a canvas which just had hair stuck to it. This was hair that was taken from the collection of the prisoner’s hair from Auschwitz. I found this piece of work quite distasteful. Along with some other Auschwitz based work, where an artist had created ‘Aushwitz memorabilia’.
The work that stood out the most for me was ‘In-Between’ by Stanisław Dróżdż. The work was originally shown in a space at the Foksal Gallery. Currently, it exists in the form of sketched projects which differ, one from another, only very slightly in measurements. Although the word „between does not appear anywhere as such, we are conscious of it all the time. The artist asks how far the identity of an object can be tampered with so that the object will still remain recognisable. The artist uses the space of the pavilion to create a physical experience which would reflect the „in-between of the title. That which matters can often be found not so much „in, as „in-between.
Other highlights of the trip
Eating the Polish traditional delicacy of Zapiekanka and then the cheese bagels which are sold from hundreds of vendors all over the city.
Wawel Royal Castle