Trip Start Jan 01, 2012
Trip End Aug 15, 2014

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Flag of Poland  , Southern Poland,
Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hello You,

With two weeks off work I decided to not only go visit the Greek Islands but to try squeeze Krakow in as well. Travelling from Athens to Krakow was going to be ridiculously expensive so instead I found myself flying back to London for less than 6 hours before heading off to Poland. With the saving I was making it seemed like a great idea in theory but in practice it was a bit of a pain in the ass having to run from Heathrow back to Golders Green to change suitcases and then rush to Stansted.

Several hours later I arrived into Krakow on what was a grey and miserable day pouring down with rain. As I took my transfer into town I gazed at all the buildings whizzing by. I will be honest and say that my first impressions were not the greatest, everything seemed so grey and dull but I guess there isn't a city in the world that looks at its best in bad weather.

I checked into my hostel which was small and full of a mix of lively, loud and slightly crazy people from around the world. With only three days in the city I didn’t have much time to spare so as soon as I was unpacked and had borrowed an umbrella I headed into the main square. As I approached the main square the sun decided to make an appearance and just like that the city and also my impressions were transformed.

The main square was simply beautiful and I was fortunate enough to arrive at a time when a festival celebrating all things Polish was on. The Square was full of market stalls selling  pierogi’s and daintily hand patterned mini cheese’s that were roasted on open fires. There was folk music and loads of locals dressed in traditional costume. The girls looked so youthful and lively with their long hair in flowers and beautiful dresses and the boys so handsome and smart.

I happily spent my afternoon doing nothing but milling through all the different stalls browsing all the local delicacies. I purchased a handmade chess set local to the area, I don’t know how to play the game but it worked as my souvenir and I figured I could always learn. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was the size of the chess board and the fact I had only brought hand luggage with me. But hey I would worry about that later.

I had been determined to have an early night however somehow ended up on a Polish pub crawl with some roomies. I drank beer until the wee hours of the morning and ended the night in some dodgy bar in the Jewish Quarter before having late night street food off some cart. I am not the sort of person that generally does well with strangers but you know what? I actually had a ball and it was so nice just to let my hair down for once.

The following morning I had an early start as I had pre booked a tour out to Auschwitz. I knew about the war, about Auschwitz and its history but all the research I had done beforehand did not and could not prepare me for the reality of being there in person. I thought having been to the concentration in camp in Dachau it would have been similar but the sheer scale of Auschwitz was mind blowing.

We started our visit at Auschwitz 1 and as we toured the area it was odd as the grounds seemed so peaceful and did not hint at the horrors of their past. It wasn’t until I entered the buildings that reality actually hit. It was the rooms of belongings that to got me and really tore my heart. Rooms and rooms full of shoes, shaved hair, jewellery, suitcases and men’s razors left exactly as they were when they were confiscated from the prisoners all those years ago. All the documentaries I watched and history lessons from school just didn’t prepare me for the emotion I felt when faced with a pile of thousands of baby shoes or a room full of false legs cruelly ripped from their owners. Nor did they prepare me for the feeling when standing in the gas chamber and seeing thousands of nails embedded in the concrete walls.

Following the tour we went to Auschwitz 2-Birkenau. I’ve mentioned in previous posts the surreal feeling of standing in person at a sight I had studied at school, the Eifel Tower, The Leaning Tower of Pisa etc but standing at Birkenau in the train station also a place I had studied and seen many photos of was something else. To be standing on the train tracks and to know that 1.3 million Jews disembarked at this very spot and were marched to their deaths was horrendous.

The air felt heavy there and I was taken aback by the memorials that were covered in photos of a lost generation. I was moved by a man clutching a photo of a distant relative and sobbing quietly at the base of one such memorial.

It was a very intense day but I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go in person and pay my respects.

That evening was a relatively quiet one after such a heavy day. The following morning was another early start as I headed out to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines. The mines were completely not what I had been anticipating. They were beautiful caverns covered underground full of unbelievably beautiful chandeliers and statues, it was simply breath taking. My only regret is that the photos I took do not do justice to the beauty of the mines.

From there it was time for me and my giant chess set to head back to the airport and start my journey home. From those first impressions of grey dull buildings my opinion of Krakow had completely changed. It is a city so steeped in history and beauty and was far livelier than I had imagined.

I was pleasantly surprised by Krakow and am glad that I took the time to visit.

Until next time,


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