Royal Krakow – Krakow Day 4

After a morning spent relaxing in our hotel room, charging up our electronics, and packing away the last few bits, we checked out of the hotel. Our luggage was stored behind the reception and we jumped into a taxi headed to Zamek Wawel.

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The castle stands on the top of Wawel Hill, with a winding path of stone steps leading to the entrance. Don’t make the same mistake as we did. When you reach the top, you’ll spot a small ticket office on the right, probably with a massive queue. Walk straight past. Head to the left and across the courtyard, and you’ll see a massive building in front of you. This is the Visitor Centre. Buy your tickets here, as there is much more information available, generally shorter queues (as everyone falls into the first trap), and maps available to help you find your way.

Tickets to each exhibition have to be purchased separately, and there are a range of prices from 21 PLN to 3 PLN. Choose carefully. Your tickets will be stamped with a specific entrance time and so it’s important you don’t miss your slot. Most exhibits will let you in 5 – 10 minutes early but you can’t be late! There are also limited numbers of tickets available each day, so go in the morning if you can.

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We all visited the Crown Treasury and Armoury, which seems to be the most popular. Then I left my companions at a nice restaurant and toured the State Rooms and Lost Wawel. The latter was my favourite – a chance to travel underground and visit the ruins of the castle, along with salvaged relics and old mosaic tiles.

The Dragon’s Den only costs 3 PLN (50p) per person and is definitely worth it if just for the sight of a fire-breathing dragon. After descending a very long spiral staircase, you enter a dark and gloomy cave. This is perfect for kids to spend a few moments pretending they’ve entered the dragon’s lair. Once you emerge, you’ll come face to face with the dragon himself. Every five minutes or so he’ll let out a fiery breath. Stick around and time your photo perfectly.

Or hop on a boat and enjoy a ride along the Wisla River for 20 PLN each (£3.50). This is a chance to snap some shots of Wawel Hill from a distance, or just relax from all that walking.

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Our aim was to kill time until our flights, and it worked. The Castle was a last-minute choice but definitely book it into your intinerary. There’s also the Wawel Cathedral right next door. You can purchase tickets for its museum or simply admire the architecture.

We wandered back into town where we discovered a gorgeous cafe, “The Cupcake Corner”, on Ulica Grodzka off the Main Market Square. Cupcakes, ice cream, smoothies – you name it. Select up to two ice cream flavours and they’ll make you a delicious milkshake. Worth a visit for the decor alone.

And our time in Poland has come to an end. We’ve seen the sights, tasted the food, and bought the t-shirt. I’ve always embraced my Polish heritage and returning to the country reminds me what I love about it so much.

I’m glad I’ve been able to share my love with all of you.

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Krakow City Tour – Krakow Day 3

Today’s tour began at 9:20 am, and after a slight delay, we were off on an electric buggy around Krakow. At 195 PLN for 3 people, the price works out to around £11.50 per person. I highly recommend this tour as it provides a detailed look into Krakow’s history, including the Jewish ghetto, as well as the many churches and Wawel castle.

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The drive was comfortable and relaxing. At every sight, the guide would stop and play an audio recording (available in 26 different languages) with all the historical information. We were also able to snap photos of the picturesque buildings and, if we wanted, the guide would wait for us while we went inside some of the churches.

The tour continued into Kazimierz, a historical district which used to be its own independent city. This where the ghetto was created. Along with a memorial garden, there are three synagogues leading off the main square which can also be explored on foot. On the corner is the pharmacy which became the communication hub in the ghetto. Ran by people who lived outside the walls, it was the Jews’ only contact with the rest of the world.

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Our guide dropped us off outside Schindler’s Factory, arranging a meeting place for an
hour’s time. It was a slight rush to view all the museum exhibitions, which detail the life of the Jews in Krakow in years 1939 – 45, including main events such as Schindler’s List and the Warsaw Uprising. There are plenty of interactive exhibits with documents, photos, and recordings from witnesses, as the trail leads you through Krakow’s past.

Tickets cost 21 PLN, about £4, but it was also possible to buy a double ticket for the Art Museum next door, or a 7-day ticket for the ‘Memory Trail’ which included the Pharmacy Museum, as mentioned earlier, the Art Museum, and Schindler’s Factory. If we were staying longer in Poland, we definitely would have gone for the last option.

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Once the tour was over, the guide dropped us off in the Main Market Square. We enjoyed a quiet lunch, browsed through some crafts shops, and spent a relaxing afternoon in Krakow. For dinner, we returned to Pierogowy Raj, the restaurant from the first day, as it is the best value for money. We can’t find another place that even match their prices.

It’s sad to be ending our last full day in Poland. While our flight is late tomorrow evening, we’ll be checking out at noon and the day will be spent hopping from coffee shop to coffee shop, with some scoops of ice cream in between.

Holocaust Memorial – Krakow Day 2

Having booked a tour with excitingKrakow.com, we were picked up promptly from outside our hotel at 07.50. The driver spoke excellent English, although this was rendered unnecessary since I speak Polish. I think he was glad of a break and a chance to chat in his native tongue.

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The tour cost 257 PLN for 3 people, and included coach hire there and back, entry costs for Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau, and a full guided tour of each camp. At roughly 85 PLN per person, this comes to £15 each which makes the whole experience excellent value for money.

The journey from Krakow to Auschwitz is an hour and a half, and so despite an early start there was plenty of opportunity to catch up on sleep.

Our first stop was Auschwitz I. Complete with refurbished barracks, framed documents,
and glass exhibits, the first camp is a museum to educate and remind people of the horrors of the Holocaust.

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Just as our tour was coming to a close, our group and many others were caught in a thunderstorm, complete with torrential downpour and hailstones. Soaked to the skin, we made our way back to the minibus. It was a short ten minute trip to Auschwitz II – Birkenau.

Although Auschwitz itself is divided into over 40 sub camps, Birkenau is the one most people think of when they see pictures or read about the Holocaust. It was the centre for execution and extermination. Unlike the first camp, Birkenau is a place for wandering around, exploring ruins, and reflecting on the deaths of over 1.1 million people.

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Our guide took us to main areas of the camp, showing us the living quarters, washrooms, and eventually what remains of the four crematoriums on site. We ended the tour at the Memorial, with a chance to leave flowers or light candles in prayer.

Overall the experience is one not to be missed. Learning about the Holocaust is one thing, but travelling to the place where it all happened, where millions died, helps to put everything into perspective. I’m a firm believer in education. It was George Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

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It is our responsibility to learn from our mistakes and ensure that it never happens again. We cannot replace what has been lost. We can only fight for a safer world, free from discrimination and persecution.

I will leave you with this plaque, placed at the foot of the Auschwitz Memorial:

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“Forever let this place be a cry of despair

and a warning to humanity,

where the Nazis murdered

about one and a half million

men, women, and children,

mainly Jews,

from various countries of Europe.”

Auschwitz-Birkenau

1940 – 1945

Pierogi Paradise – Krakow Day 1

After an hour delay at Gatwick Airport and a send off of torrential rain, our plane took off. We landed in Poland, the land of pierogi, at 13:30.

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We’re staying at the Yarden Aparthotel, about a ten minute walk from the centre. It’s a lovely place and the rooms are small but cosy. There were friendly staff to greet us after a short queue to check in, and the porter showed us where breakfast would be served in the morning. Then unpacking commenced.

It did not take long to be reacquainted with the beauty of Krakow. Being the only one of my party to have previously visited, I enjoyed showing them the sights and leading them down to the Main Market Square. Here we were roped into riding in a horse and carriage for 100 PLN (around £17).

The trip lasted half an hour and took us on a quick tour around the city, so if you’re up for some photo opportunities from the comfort of the carriage, go for it. If not, then just snap some pics of the beautifully dressed horses.

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Obligatory souvenir shopping took place, after changing our money at a Kantor on Ulica Sławkowska, one of the roads leading off the Square. This is the Kantor with the most favourable exchange rates for GBP, and can be found opposite the restaurant Fabryka Pizzy.

Once several postcards, a tourist guidebook, and a shot glass had been purchased to add to my collection, food became the main priority.

When in Poland, although there are many traditional Polish dishes, pierogi is a must have. Similar but still completely different to English dumplings, they come in a wide variety of flavours – as in 50+ flavour combinations. The most common are ruskie, which are filled with cheese, potato and onions. There are also plenty of meat types for the non-Vegetarians amongst us.

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See, if you eat these delicacies in England, which I do quite regularly in fact, one meal can cost you £12 per person at a good quality Polish restaurant. In the land itself, however, you’re looking more at £12 for three people eating full portions, with extra toppings such as sour cream, butter, and onions, plus desserts and drinks. This above meal was eaten in Pierogowy Raj, a restaurant found again on Ulica Sławkowska at the top end away from the square. The quality and the value of proper Polish pierogi is simply unbeatable.

The only downside to eating out in Poland (is there really a downside?) is to watch out for tax. Roughly 23% is added to all the food on the bill, plus around 8% for drinks, so you can see the price rise up from what is advertised on the menu. At the end of the day, though, you can find yourself eating all kinds of amazing dishes for a tenner for the whole family. Who can argue with that?

That brings me to the end of our adventures so far. Stay tuned for more updates as we leave bright and early tomorrow for our tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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