A flight diversion, loads of pierogis, delicious craft beers, and education/remembrance of the Holocaust is what my weekend mostly consisted of. I'm talking about Kraków, Poland as my husband and I embarked on another short weekend adventure.
Planning the Trip
This was a trip I couldn't wait to experience and one that couldn't be missed. So when I found round trip tickets from Nuremberg to Krakow for $35, I couldn't pass up this opportunity! Of course, this was with the infamous airline RyanAir which as of lately, I'm not so impressed with. I've been traveling with them since 2014 and have flown on over 37 flights with them but have learned that this airline has gotten worse over the years. Their prices are still very low compared to other budget airlines but sometimes it's not worth paying the cheapest ticket to enjoy the ride. I'll get more in detail soon!
After booking this dirt cheap flight, I searched some AirBnb's and found this one, which I really liked! The apartment was a studio on the top floor and there was no elevator but I didn't mind as the room was functional for me. The typical criteria I look for in an Airbnb in most cities is if it has great reviews, it looks clean, has a bed, shower, wifi and is in a convenient location. Luckily, this apartment was a 2 minute walk to the bus and train station which was super helpful when transporting to the airport and also to Auschwitz. We decided to not rent a car because we found is so easy to either walk, take the bus or the train. Plus, it was way cheaper than to rent or hire a driver.
Traveling can be great, it's my passion, but traveling is not always pretty. Unfortunately, we lost a full day of exploring Krakow due to some weather related issues arriving into the city.
Our flight was very early in the morning, it was scheduled to take off at 0655 at the Nuremberg airport. Right before our departure, the captain mentioned that we might not be able to land into Krakow right away because the fog was so heavy. We took off anyway and circled in the air for 40 minutes just West of Krakow. The captain then made an announcement that we would be diverted to Prague airport and will find out more information from there.
Excuse my language but can I just say how much of a shit show that was? We exited the aircraft and were retained in the transfers section of the Prague airport. We couldn't leave this tiny airport area because we did not have a ticket from or to Prague, only from Nuremberg to Krakow. We just waited for more instructions on what was to happen next. About an hour later, one of the airport workers announced that we would be getting on a bus to Krakow and that the buses should be arriving "soon".
Can you imagine one person organizing over 150 passengers, some who had baggage still left on the plane, from one point of the airport to another point? It was madness. The young gentleman who took over this craziness had organized about 4 coach buses to come pick us up. By the time we left the Prague airport, it was noon. The bus was supposed to take about 5 hours but instead took 9 hours. At about 2pm, I had checked the weather in Kraków and what do you know? Clear and sunny skies! Why we couldn't wait in the Nuremberg airport until the fog cleared up? We will never know. It's known that during this time of the year, fog is inevitable in the morning but usually in the early afternoon, it will clear up.
Of course, we were not reimbursed or compensated for the lost time during our trip since it was a weather related issue. Personally, I think there could've been an alternative plan set in place prior to taking off such as delaying the flight until they got the "go" on landing into Krakow. Yes, that would've pissed off most passengers but seeing how long it took to get to our destination via bus, I would have rather much wanted a delayed flight so that I could hang out in the airport lounge in the meantime and still arrive into Krakow early enough to do some of the activities that I had originally planned.
Thankfully, we still made it to Krakow and were able to spend two full days exploring, learning, remembering, and the best part- eating!
Everywhere that we had eaten in Krakow, did not disappoint! I have had some serious thoughts about just driving to Poland for a weekend just to eat and drink because I enjoyed the savory cuisine so much!
Our first real morning in Krakow we decided to check out Fitagain Coffee & Food. I wanted to start off easy so that my husband could have his coffee and I could have a big breakfast. This place hit the spot! Now, it wasn't "Polish" by any means, in fact, I found this spot to cater more to foreigners and Europeans alike but even so, the food was great! Check out the menu here.
Another spot we ate for breakfast was a "hole in the wall" but more like a hole in the basement because it was in the underground part of the building next to the bus station. We had a long day ahead of us going over to Auschwitz so we wanted to eat something nearby as we waited for our bus to arrive. For the life of me, I can't remember the name of the restaurant and I specifically remember my husband telling me to "follow them on Facebook" because it was on their menu but I can't remember the name.
If you are in Krakow and plan on taking the bus from the main bus station, just outside is a sign that says something like "Traditional Polish Breakfast Here" and that was our sign to eat breakfast there! There was no one in the cafe other than my husband and I. We were welcomed immediately by the waiter who was very kind and was running a one man show! He took our orders (I ordered a lot), served our drinks and I believe he was also the one making out breakfasts! He was very kind, the food was great, hearty, the menu was also in English, plus, we were able to pay by card. I would totally go back again if I could just remember the name of the place!
For our lunches, it seemed as though we ate so much for breakfast that just a quick snack held us down until the evening. Our first full night, we ate at a charming but rustic restaurant called Morskie Oko which offered traditional live music and dancing so I had to stop by this place to have dinner. I would highly suggest making reservations during the weekend. We did not make a reservation but were lucky enough to have gotten in small table immediately on a busy Saturday evening. As I was stuffing my face with the best pierogis in town, countless couples and groups asked if there were any seating available to which there were none for the evening without a reservation. The food, the atmosphere and the hospitality made me wanting to come back for more. If you're in Krakow for the weekend, please do yourself a favor and book your supper at this resturant and check out the live music.
Another spot that I thought was quite decent was Stare Mury, just outside of the city walls. There is outdoor seating, even during the winter which is neat. We sat indoors but wished we had sat outside as the decor inside was quite dated. Although I must say it was quite nice to enjoy a candlelit dinner inside on a cold evening. The food was quite good there but the pierogis were definitely better at Morskie Oko.
Lastly, and this is not actually a food recommendation but more of a drinks recommendation, is Ursa Maior in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow. It's definitely a hole-in-the-wall micro brewery pub for those who have had a full days worth of exploring and just want to chillll and have a few beers. The selection of beers is small but worth trying out. You can order a small or large size but if you already know what you like, just stick with the large. The small size is good for sampling. The decor was neat because it was mostly up cycled products that they used from the brewery itself but also, their music playlist was definitely one you'll want to hear! This was one of my favorite stops in Krakow, my husband and I really enjoyed Ursa Maior.
Things to do
I'd like to share the itinerary I had in place originally but since we had a little bump in our road, my plan had to be revised.
Unfortunately, we were not able to do the salt mine or the Lost Souls Alley (I was really excited for it, too) since we missed out on the first full day. Also, instead of the Walkative walking tour with vodka, we did the Holocaust Traces of Krakow from Walkative which I think was a better choice anyway! It was a free walking tour and you can stay or leave as soon as you want. If you stay throughout the tour, it is suggested to tip the tour guide if you enjoyed the tour. I will usually tip about 15-20 Euro a person depending on how well I enjoyed the tour.
The Rynek Underground was a bit underwhelming and unorganized in my opinion. I really wanted to go through the exhibit in order so I can understand the information displayed but each time I walked over to the next portion of my unguided tour, a group of 10 plus tourists with their tour guides would ask for me to step aside! It was a bit frustrating because before we went into the underground, I had asked to pay for an audioguide and the woman said there was no purpose of the audioguide because we could read everything. Which was true but when there are tour groups pushing you over, it's not easy to read along in order. If I could do it again, I'd do it with a tour guide but I am not sure if there was an English option as all of the tours were in Polish. This is something to think about when considering a visit to Rynek Underground. I was more than excited to check this out but it didn't meet my expectations due to the lack of organization, most likely upon myself for not having a guide.
Reflection on Auschwitz-Birkenau
I don't want to close out on this blog post without sharing some thoughts about Auschwitz and our experience. First, let me tell you about the Holocaust Traces of Krakow walking tour. I did think it was a good tour and I am glad that I joined in on it to educate myself more but also to hear the perspectives of those from Poland. The tour guide was very thorough and he was passionate about educating others on this topic.
We started the tour in Kazimierz and walked across the bridge over the Vistula river. When we were walking towards the Jewish ghetto, we stopped at a catholic church called Eglise Saint-Joseph. There was a map there where he showed us where there was once a concentration camp nearby Krakow that is now no longer there but is a grave site nowadays.
The Plaszow concentration camp (now a memorial site) meant a great deal for our tour guide to mention on this tour. He mentioned that once the Soviets were approaching the city, the Nazis completely dismantled the camp site and hid all of the evidence of this site. This memorial site is often overlooked because most people want to go to Auschwitz when visiting Krakow and other surrounding Polish cities. He seemed slightly offended when speaking of Auschwitz and even compared the two. He said someone had once asked him to do a private tour at Auschwitz and then he scoffed while saying how Auschwitz was considered "dark tourism", or at least that's why most tourists go to visit. At that point, I felt bad that I already had booked a tour the following day at Auschwitz.
We continued onto the tour learning more about the Holocaust in this area of Krakow. All the while I couldn't stop thinking about whether going to Auschwitz was the right thing to do after what our tour guide had said. After the tour was over, I had asked my husband if he felt the same way and surely enough, I wasn't the only one who felt like changing my mind about going to Auschwitz.
The next day, we woke up early for breakfast and headed to the bus station to make our way over to the Auschwitz concentration camp. We booked our tour for Auschwitz-Birkenau in advanced through the official website and saved the tickets on my phone.
The bus ride was less than $4 each way and we were in a coach bus so it was comfortable. We did not buy these tickets in advance, nor were we able to purchase them at the ticket office. Instead, we were told to pay for the ticket on the bus which was odd because there were definitely people who had printed tickets from online. You can find the departure times for the bus here but from my understanding, I wasn't able to purchase the tickets online, at least not through my phone. Either way, it was quite simple to pay the bus driver as you're boarding the bus. Be sure to arrive at least 10 minutes prior because the bus does get packed and some people even were standing up the entire hour and 25 minutes.
Once we arrived to the Auschwitz camp, we couldn't believe how busy the grounds were. So many people, just scattered all over, I was quite surprised. The line to get into the museum was very long but I found someone who worked there and mentioned that we already purchased tickets so we went into a much shorter line which was to get through security. After security we picked up our audioguide/headphones for the tour so that the guide can speak low while allowing the group to hear her through the headphones.
Our tour started at 1320 and it lasted for just about 3.5 hours. Not nearly enough time to cover the amount of history that is embedded in these camps. I can't begin to tell you the array of emotions felt from the moment the tour started. I'll spare you the details because this tour is something you must experience first hand. I can't tell you my experience while I was in Auschwitz and expect you to understand. It's easy to say that I went to Auschwitz and Birkenau (which is called Auschwitz II) but it's not so simple to explain what I felt.
Of course, we have all learned about the Holocaust (well, I sure hope) so a lot of the information on the tour was not new but it was still something to be reminded of. But then there were parts of the tour that I hadn't learned about and it just struct me over and over again the pain and anguish that must've been felt for years at this camp. What was more surreal was physically standing in the buildings and rooms where the prisoners slept in who suffered day in and day out. Walking in silence through the gas chamber gave me a somber feeling. Seeing these sights in person is much different than reading from a book.
This was not my first experience at a concentration camp. Nearby my home, I went to the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp (Konzentrationslager) back in September and almost lost it while I was there. It was at that camp, which is now a memorial, that I truly experienced a true loss of words and for the 3 hours my best friend and I were there, we didn't say a word to each other until the end. My mouth was so dry and all I felt was a huge knot in my throat the entire time. I did not realize how many concentration camps and sub camps there were in Europe, it seemed outrageous to me.
After experiencing Flossenbürg and then booking a tour with Auschwitz, I didn't know if I could handle it well. But the two experiences were much different as Flossenbürg, there were maybe 2 other people at the exhibit whereas there were thousands of people at Auschwitz. At times it was hard to collect my feelings because there were so many people around me.
Overall, I'm grateful I was able to reach Auschwitz and take time to remember the prisoners and some of their stories that come with the camp. As I mentioned, this tour left me feeling somber and may not be appropriate for everyone. Be sure to read the guidelines before your tour if you decide to go.