Thursday, 14 May 2015

Cracking Krakow

My sister and I took a little adventure to Poland by flying direct with RyanAir from London Stansted to Krakow. We took a cheap taxi from the airport into the city center but later discovered there was in fact a train station opposite our hotel, which went to the airport. On our return we managed to buy a ticket back to the airport for a train, which didn't exist due to the language barrier!!!! Taxi's are reasonable here though so if the train times don't work out for you a taxi is still a good alternative!

Our hotel of choice for our stay was the lovely Andel. This is a good, modern 4* hotel, which is within walking distance to the town center. Breakfast here is OK, it's not the best I have ever had but it certainly isn't the worst I have ever experienced. Our room (226) had a lovely en suite bathroom with different lighting options, which was novel. We had a big soaking tub and also a separate rain shower, which was a nice treat on a sisters weekend away. The hotel also has a gym, although, disappointingly we were not allowed to shower here before our flight home.

For our first day we decided to take a wander around the town center and main market square. We also took a little visit into the Church of the Virgin Mary, Wawel Cathedral and the Wawel Royal Castle. We stopped for lunch and a cocktail in the sunshine on the main square and were overwhelmed by how reasonable the prices were! After a quick shower it was time for our first tour. We were collected promptly at about 4pm for our evening tour of Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is a short drive from the city. This was such an incredible trip! The salt mines were amazing and the tour was informative and interesting. Our favorite part was definitely Saint Kinga's Chapel, which we both agreed would be an incredible place for a wedding. Be warned you will have to walk down 380 steps to enter the mine, which can make you a little dizzy and it's a rickety lift back up but it's well worth it for the experience.

After a good night sleep it was time for tour number two. We were collected on time from our hotel and we piled into a little minibus for the drive to Auschwitz. In the car we watched a short documentary about the camp and it's liberation to prepare us for what we would experience. You start the trip at Auschwitz itself and are in small groups. You actually wear headphones to listen to your individual guide to preserve the peacefulness and also ensure tours don't conflict. After your visit to Auschwitz it's back in the minibus to reach Birkenau. It's really hard to describe our time here as it's something I don't think you can understand until you have been here. The sheer scale of the operation was overwhelming. Obviously this is not a fun, exciting holiday activity but I do believe it's a very important lesson and a journey one should take if they find themselves in Krakow.

That evening it was back to the main market square for some more dinner and cocktails. You can dine Al Fresco during the summer months and watch the street entertainment. Our favorite was the fire dancers and eaters. Be warned, a vodka and cranberry in Poland is a double shot of cranberry flavored vodka!!!! The food and drinks here are so reasonably priced and they have everything from take out to upmarket dining. All cuisines are also represented. The night life here is amazing and so would be great for a stag or hen party.

On our last morning we took a private Schindler's List walking tour, which lasted around 3.5 hours. We learnt and saw so much on this trip from the Jewish Cemetery and Synagogues to the Old Jewish Quarter. We also saw remnants of the ghetto walls and finally the Schindler Factory. The tour was informative and interesting and very factual. Our guide was great and gave us plenty of chances to ask questions. Her English was also amazing. I would definitely recommend a tour like this to bring the city to life and explain everything you would normally wander past without understanding.

We had no plans for our final afternoon and the weather had turned sour so we nipped into the tourist office to see what we could do. They recommended the communism tour of the area Nowa Huta, which is a short drive away. We were collected in a little old school communist van and driven around the area for 2.5 hours with short stops along the way. We learnt about the socialist movement here and it was amazing to see everything in real life. The area is pretty much the same as when it was built and it was a real eye opener to see socialism in the flesh.

I would thoroughly recommend a little weekend away to Krakow, history buffs will be in their element but also those that appreciate culture, good food and a pretty town. Equally night life enthusiasts will be kept busy and satisfied. This trip is great with a group of friends or a loved one and it would be easy to mix culture and pleasure here. Finally and most importantly the city is cheap compared to London so you can have a great time without breaking the bank.