Postcard of the Week: Kraków, Poland
One of my very dear friends, Jess, is an incredibly thoughtful and kind person, and she’s always sending me postcards from these fantastic city breaks she takes – mostly to places I’ve never been to. She’s behind this Postcard of the Week from Kraków, in Poland, and she was also the kind donor of the Postcard of the Week from Vienna! I asked Jess if she could write down some of her memories of Kraków, seeing as I don’t have any first-hand experience or tips to impart!
“We took the train from Warsaw to Kraków which takes about 3 hours (if my memory is correct!) and is quite cheap. We travelled the first weekend of December so it was very, very cold but so beautiful – as we were going through the Polish countryside, some places outside our window were blanket white forests and all the trees/houses/everything were covered in powdery white snow – luckily the trains all had central heating! The trains were quite fun as well, as they were old-fashioned cabins so it did feel like being on the train to Hogwarts after Christmas.
We stayed in a hostel near the old city centre and it was really cheap – about £10 a night and pretty nice too! The first thing we did was to walk around the christmas market, which was very quaint and not too busy. They had so much fun Eastern European food which I loved such as pierogi, Hungarian Lángos and mulled vodka! (Which is actually a lot more delicious than it sounds – fresh homemade raspberry juice which is heated with spices then a shot of vodka is added in). We had quite a lot of those walking around, as well as mulled wine to keep us warm – it really does work! Although we ended up really dehydrated, as we basically drank alcohol for three days straight and no water!
As Poland is now getting a lot of English tourists because it’s cheap and the alcohol is also cheap, I think there’s a risk that it could become like certain parts of Spain in a few years where everything is tourism-focused, but I think it just depends on the tourist who goes there and how they experience the city – we could have gone out clubbing and having cheap shots, etc. but we opted not to.
That night we also took a horse-drawn carriage around the market and up to Wawel Royal Castle (it’s shut at night) and then walked back through the market. Kraków’s old town is quite small and easy to walk around, I imagine it’s a lot like other Eastern European city centres such as Prague and Budapest. We did wonder what people would do in the summer, as the winter markets can keep you occupied, but apparently they have a lot of outdoor classical music concerts in the summer. Chopin was Polish and is a pretty big deal over there, so they have a lot of recitals of his music.
As we were only in Kraków for a couple of days before flying home from Warsaw, we dedicated one day to going to Auschwitz and arranged a tour through a company at the train station. They offer tours all over the city centre and in hostels, so it’s easy to compare prices when you get there and decide which one suits you best. We opted to go there on a Sunday as we knew everything else would be quiet and wanted to dedicate a sombre day to it.
The camp is quite far out the city centre so we were glad we didn’t try to venture there ourselves, and having a pre-arranged tour guide at the museum was useful, although slightly rushed. We didn’t really have enough time to look at all the artefacts and weren’t as emotionally affected as we thought we would be, as it was quite busy and felt like we were being herded like cattle at times from place to place. I think the thing that most sticks with me was just how bleak and desolate the area was – it was so quiet as if no wildlife such as birds had returned to inhabit it yet. The camp grounds expand over a large area but the amount of people who were housed there is unimaginable. Also – the cold – it was the beginning of winter so it was only about 0 or -1 degrees but it felt so different to English cold weather, we were absolutely frozen in multiple layers and I can’t understand how people were working in -40 degrees wearing nightshirts. It was really important to us to go there though, and I am glad we did, as even though we knew a lot of the history prior to arrival, you can’t comprehend it until you see it for yourself. Especially the rooms filled with shoes, suitcases and human hair.We finished that evening with a really nice dinner in a traditional taverna and discussed what we thought about the day, which was quite a comforting adjustment to going back to our normal lives!
We planned to go down into the Salt Mines the next day (and annoyingly had pre-paid for this with our tour) but had to catch a train back to Warsaw for our flight so we missed this, but I know other people who have gone down and it’s apparently amazing – it’s still a working mine but the workers have made amazing carvings out of the salt, including a church they build underground! Instead of going down the mines, we went around the town centre again and went properly into Wawel Castle which was really beautiful and had great views over the city.
I would definitely like to go back to Warsaw and Kraków in the summer as the cities really transform and become completely different places to explore.”