EUROTRIP- First Stop Krakow, Poland

Tori and I had quite the adventure getting to Krakow. Our original plan consisted of taking the overnight train from L’viv to Krakow, but a few days before we left I was reading the fine print and I discovered that this train only runs on odd dates, but the night we were leaving Ukraine happened to be an even date. Kapietz. (A very popular Ukrainian slang word, similar to “crap.”) Luckily, my friend Natalia explained a cheaper route for getting to Poland. First we took the bus to the border. Then we got off and walked through the border check. (At this point, we were instructed to speak English loudly and look like tourists, and it worked! We got through ahead of everyone else!) Then we took a bus into the nearest town, Przemysl, where we bought train tickets to Krakow. 

We even had some free time to explore; this is the beautiful Przemyśl Cathedral.

We left L’viv at 9, and our train to Krakow left at 1 and arrived around 6. For this route (bus, walking across border, bus, train) we ended up paying around $30, whereas the overnight train would’ve been $50-60. Tori is excellent at budgeting, and always up for an adventure when it means saving money (even if it means walking across a border). Our first evening in Krakow, however, was a huge blow to our budget as well as to my travel confidence. First we get ripped off at an exchange place, and I mean really ripped off. If you see an “Interchange” sign, avoid changing money there at all costs! We saw other Interchange exchanges in our travels, and they all have misleading rates posted, and then take you to the cleaners once they have your money. Then we went to the train station to buy our tickets to Vienna, and the tickets costed $100 each, when my Internet research had told me to expect $65. Our first night in Krakow was rough on the budget and on my emotions… but luckily, after a Skype date with my Mom and a reality check, I got my head back in the game ; )

And I’m glad I didn’t let the money stress get to me, because Krakow was amazing. Its only 8 hours away from Ukraine, but its like traveling to a different world. Now I understand why Peace Corps Volunteers love border-hopping to Poland for a weekend here or there. The food was amazing, everyone spoke English, and there was always something fun happening. Tori and I stayed at the Mosquito Hostel, and I highly recommend it. Every night they had a different theme; one night Polish Vodka shots, another night Sangria, always followed by going out on the town. Tori and I made friends with some Canadian guys, and we had a wonderful time hanging out with them : )

Yummy Mexican food in Krakow!

Tori enjoying Polish folk music.

We also had a lot of touristy things to do in Krakow, in a short amount of time. We went on a walking city tour with probably the best tour guide I’ve ever had. We learned so much about Polish history on our tour, and she made it so entertaining! Here are some of my best pictures of Krakow.

This is Wawel Cathedral, where the ancient kings of Poland were crowned.

A closeup of Wawel Cathedral.

The Church of the Virgin Mary, in the central square of Krakow.

Sunset in the Old Town Square.

A panoramic shot of the Old Town in Krakow, with the Church of the Virgin Mary (center) and the Cloth Hall (on the right). Click to see the full-sized version.

Poland’s recent history is quite tragic, especially for its Jewish population. Krakow used to be a thriving center for European Jews, but after the Nazi occupation of Poland, most of them were forced into the Krakow Ghetto and then into concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Plaszow. The story of Krakow’s Jews was immortalized in the film Schindler’s List, in which Oscar Schindler recruits (and saves) Jews from the concentration camps by taking them to work in his factory. Tori and I watched this movie while we were home in Sokyriany, knowing we wanted to go to Auschwitz while we were in Poland. I would strongly recommend this movie; you might cry, but they’ll be good tears.

So one of our adventures was locating Schindler’s Factory, and it took a lot of walking and being lost before we stumbled upon it. It looks a bit different than in the movie, but at least we found it 🙂

“Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.”

Photos of Schindler’s Jews, whose lives he saved, in the windows of the factory.

Seeing Schindler’s Factory was the easy part of learning about what happened to the Jews in World War II. The hard part was the day we spent at Auschwitz, touring the concentration camp and hearing how so many people were tortured and murdered at the hands of the Nazis. Touring Auschwitz isn’t easy, but I do think its necessary, especially for trying to understand how the world could spin so out of control that something like this could happen. I found this quote so moving; “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” We should visit Auschwitz and remember the holocaust that occurred there so we never let something like that happen again.

The entrance to Auschwitz; this is actually a replica of the famous sign, “work sets you free,” because the original was stolen and is now kept safely in a museum.

Auschwitz.

A map showing how many roads in the 3rd Reich led to Auschwitz and extermination.

Its amazing how mountains and mountains of shoes can drive home an idea of how many millions of people were murdered like no statistic can.

The crematoria at Auschwitz.

Auschwitz-Birkenau… a strangely peaceful place today.

Auschwitz-Birkenau; the train tracks ended here, and it was the end of the line for so many people.

Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazies murdered about one and a half million men, woman, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.

I think you get an idea of how moving our stop at Auschwitz was, so I won’t say anymore. But in order to end this blog post on a lighter note, I’ll share photos from our last touristy-site in Polandthe Wieliczka Salt Mine! Our Dad saw this famous salt mine on a travel show on T.V. and encouraged us to add it to our itinerary, and I’m glad he did. It was a really cool place, one that has been very well-adapted to being a place of tourism. The Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the oldest in the world, but now as a tourist site it is full of salt statues, salt monuments, salt scenes depicting the history of mining, and even huge chapels and underground cathedrals carved out of salt! 

Waiting for our turn to descend into the depths of the mine, hoping we dressed warm enough for the cold deep underground!

A scene showing how the mine worked in the olden days; they even had horses deep underground to help with the mining, who were stabled inside the mine and never saw the light of day 😦

The Chapel of Saint Kinga, one of the coolest places in the mine. I loved the chandeliers! The pictures don’t really do it justice.

A picture of us for our Dad, in the Chapel of Saint Kinga.

Our tour guide offered taste tests, so we could verify the quality of salt produced here 😉 

A salt statute of King Casimir the Great, a famous Polish king from the Middle Ages who made Krakow a haven for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe.

So there you have it. Tori and I had two and half days in Krakow and we made the most of it! Next stop: Vienna, Austria.

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