About a month and a half ago, I set out for Eastern and Central Europe with one of my roommates and our friend. Don't worry, you'll hear all about the trip! But first stop: Krakow.
The only Polish city that wasn't leveled during World War II, Krakow may be small but it is sure full of charm. We had a hard time getting to Krakow--our 7:00 p.m. flight was delayed until 11:00 p.m., there was too much fog to land in Krakow (so we landed in Katowice), we had to take a bus to the Krakow airport, and didn't arrive at our hostel until 4:30 a.m.--but the lack of sleep that night didn't take away from my first day. It was such a pleasure to walk around Main Market Square and see the pre-war buildings, abundant flower market, and enjoy a cup of coffee and a bublik, or traditional bread ring.
|Clockwise, from top left: St. Mary's Church in Main Market Square; traditional Polish musicians; Bell Tower in Main Market Square; view of Krakow from the top of the bell tower at Wawel Cathedral.|
Wawel Castle and Cathedral should be a priority on your Krakow to-do list. While there isn't as much to see inside of the castle, buy a ticket for the Wawel Cathedral. No photos were allowed, but photos wouldn't even do it justice. The cathedral and its crypt are home to the remains of many of Poland's monarchs, and you must walk up the bell tower. You'll see the largest bell in Poland, but I think the panoramic view of Krakow is the main attraction.
|Clockwise, from top left: Wawel Castle; Wawel Castle; Vistula River at sunset; on the Vistula River with Wawel Castle in the backdrop.|
On a more serious note, I think it's important that everyone who visits Krakow goes to Auschwitz-Birkenau. As a Jew, I've been learning about the Holocaust and Auschwitz-Birkenau since elementary school, so it was an incredible experience to see the death camp firsthand. As much as I cry when reading about the Holocaust, I didn't shed a tear here; the sadness was much more profound. The only time I nearly lost it was in the confiscated objects room, where the victims' suitcases, including their home goods and clothes, were on display. I saw a tea strainer, and could only picture my dad, the tea aficionado, as the person who packed it. This could have been us 70 years ago.
Walking through the gas chambers and crematoriums was also very difficult to process. It was so hard to believe that my people walked on that same path, and that this was the very path I've always learned about. While I wouldn't classify this day trip as "fun," I had an extremely meaningful experience, and I hope everyone visits and finds their own experience there.
|Clockwise, from top left: Auschwitz entrance (Arbeit Macht Frei: "Work Makes You Free"); guard tower at Auschwitz; main gate and railroad tracks at Birkenau; execution wall at Auschwitz.|
On a lighter note, I would have enjoyed doing a day trip to the salt mines, but we didn't have the time. But of our two days in Krakow, we only stayed in Krakow for one day, and that was enough.
Have any of you been to Poland before?