Thursday, 18 August 2016
After an early flight from Edinburgh, we arrived into Kraków city centre in the early afternoon, we checked into our pre-booked hostel, which was amazing -
Of all the hostels I have
stayed in over the last
couple of years, I have never stayed in a better located one; right on the main square (first photograph taken from the hostel window).
A condition of my brother being able to travel was that he could find somewhere to do a couple of hours of music practise per day, since he has his final music degree recital at the end of the month. We managed to find an obscure recording studio which let him rent a room for a couple of hours a day, which meant I had some time to explore the city by myself. On the first day, I just wandered around the main square and through the park areas before rejoining my brother for dinner. Since the
The next day, being much more rested and lacking our heavy bags, we were able to walk unburdened around the city. After some confusion in the morning, I ended up setting off later than I would have preferred to see the castle, which meant I was walking up the steep hill in the midday sun and heat. It was lovely at the top though, there was a breeze moving through the courtyards and main area.
After the castle I set off to meet my brother again, and we walked over to the other side
of the river to go to the
Schindler museum and modern
art gallery. I always love walking around galleries, and the MOCAK building was beautiful. Their permanent collection is lovely, but they also had this amazing 'Medicine in Art' exhibition which had a mixture of photography, fine art and film. Gruesome in parts but really interesting. After looking around for a while we got an iced coffee in the cafe and sat in the museum garden before joining the queue for the Schindler Factory Museum. The old enamel factory now houses a museum dedicated the history of Kraków under Nazi occupation. It was huge, and I completely lost my sense of space going through each room, the amount of
overwhelming but Kraków was the centre to so many atrocities throughout the period that nothing could, or should have been overlooked in the museum.
We got the tram back to the centre and went to this little traditional Polish restaurant called 'Koko's'. Which was on one of the side streets off the main square, before going back to the hostel in the evening. We ended up talking to people from our dorm room and going on a bar crawl with them.
We got up early the next day because we had booked a tour of the 'Auschwitz-Birkenau' concentration camp. A coach took us to Auschwitz 1, where
we followed a guide around.
Each person wore a headset to hear what the guide was saying. I had previously studied German history, but nothing really prepares you for seeing the site itself. The horrifically precise orchestration of the camp was terrifying. How much thought and planning went into this place, and the true meaning behind each statistic we were told, was unthinkable. After this first site, a coach took us to Birkenau, or 'Auschwitz 2'. The first thing you become aware of is the scale, what can only be described as huts or cabins are far as the eye can see, which held unimaginable numbers of people. After we learnt about the atrocities which occurred in the first site, to be then
told that the conditions in
the second site were on the whole even worse was horrendous. It was absolutely horrible visiting, but I feel it is something, which everybody who can, should do at some point in their lives, as it is so important to remember what happened there.
We had dinner in the same restaurant as the night before when the coach dropped us back off in the centre, then spent the rest of the evening meeting people in the hostel.
I spent about half an hour the next morning re-organising everything; checking over travel plans and working out what was left to see from what I had found
before going away. My brother
came back earlier than expected, since the studio was closed for some reason, so we headed out following a trail of places / things I wanted to look at.
We started on the main square and had a look inside the St. Mary's Basilica, which was beautiful, but I always feel a little uncomfortable looking around places of worship, particularly ones which are still in use. Especially in terms of dressing, because although I wouldn't ever wish to offend anyone because of what I wear, I fundamentally disagree that my attire should be the focus of disrespect. But nonetheless I could appreciate it on a
architectural level. We then
walked through the park area to the collection of university buildings, some of which were built in the 14th century, before visiting a couple of more churches on our way to Kazimierz - the historical Jewish quarter of the city, situated in the old town.
Kazimierz is such a cool area of the city, it reminded me of the northern quarter in Manchester because there was lots of independent shops and cafes and street art all over the buildings. We walked around for a while and made our way to a cafe which I had found before coming to Poland. Before coming away I did a lot of research about the city to make sure I
wouldn't come away having
missed any of the major sights. As well as land marks, I researched a few places to eat and go out, so we wouldn't end up stumbling into the first cafe we came across. The one I found in this area was a cool cafe / bar called 'Les Couleurs Cafe' which had this warm Parisian vibe and is apparently popular with Erasmus students in the city. We got a warm drink in there since the weather still hadn't picked up from the day before - that is one thing which struck me about Poland; how changeable the weather could be, going from sunny and high 30°C the first day to constant rain and 13°C a couple of days later.
After we'd finished our
drinks we walked to the
Jewish cemetery before heading towards the botanical gardens. Although it was long walk, and we were cutting time a bit fine, I had to see the gardens since, as I've mentioned before, I absolutely adore city gardens. My brother wasn't feeling very well at this point so he waited outside while I ran around the beautiful greenhouses and planted areas. They were so quiet and peaceful, I didn't want to leave.
Then it was back to the hostel, out for dinner to this cute little Italian trattoria we had spotted the evening before and then we spent the evening in the hostel, where the reception
were hosting a sangria party
for everyone staying. We talked to lots of different people throughout the evening before rejoining the friends we had made the evening before and going out with them.
Kraków was beautiful, I loved the city and the people and I can't wait to go back and see more of Poland.