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  • Writer's pictureCaylie Poola

WEEKENDER GUIDE: Krakow, Poland

Long time no see.


A few weeks ago I arrived back home from my semester abroad.


My last few weeks in Florence flew by. My main priority was to make sure I made the most of the remaining weeks in Italy, which unfortunately pushed back the creation of my *beloved* weekender guides. But I promise you - they will keep coming until there are no more weekends left.

Seriously.

So, let's go back a few weeks where I took a flight to Krakow, Poland, and embarked on one of the most life changing, humbling and educational weekend of my life.



 

Poland may not be on the top of anyones list of must-see countries while studying abroad. But it was always on mine. Studying abroad is unlike any other type of travel because it allows you to visit countries for 1-2 days at a time in flights that are just a few hours. I knew with this type of flexibility I had to visit Poland, where more specifically, I would visit Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps. In the midst of so much tragedy, history and sadness, I also fell in love with the city of Krakow, and everything it has to offer.


This weekender guide may be different than my others, and truthfully, I debated completely skipping it. But when I thought about it again, I realized that not writing about it would be ignoring a weekend in my semester that changed my outlook on life. I am so extremely grateful that I was able to visit this country and I urge anyone studying abroad to reserve a weekend for doing the same.


Before I get this weekender guide *really* started - I need to add the important fact that Poland was the most affordable country I visited during my semester abroad. There are several reasons why Poland is one of the more affordable destinations to visit in Europe, if you are interested in the history (I urge you to look it up). However, for me, it was refreshing to eat out, shop around, take Ubers, public transportation and stay in an Airbnb that was all significantly less expensive than what I had been used to each weekend before.


If you are traveling on a budget - this is your sign to go to Poland.



 

Where I Stayed


In Poland I was traveling with just one friend. As one may assume, a trip to Poland (to do what we did) isn't exactly everyones idea of a fun weekender trip. I was so lucky that my friend Kasey was equally as determined as I to make this trip happen, and because of that we did it together! Our Airbnb was truly amazing and probably the most trendy, comfortable and easy-to-access apartment of the semester. It was also only $80 for the entire weekend. ($40 each!) Unreal.


Unfortunately, I cannot find the listing on Airbnb at this time. So, here is a link to a similar one in a great location at a great price! https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/plus/8170916?source_impression_id=p3_1641350120_VHNvIL%2BrMVnx9PFm&guests=1&adults=1



Our Poland Airbnb


Where I Ate


Poland had 10/10 food. Let me start with that.

I didn't realize how delicious Pierogis are, but now I literally crave them all the time.

It isn't hard to find Pierogis while in Krakow, but here are a few of the places we tried and loved!


Pierogi MR Vincent: Amazing Pierogis, great vibes, they had so many flavors (sweet and savory) We just had to wait outside for a table for 10-15 minutes!


Pierogarnia Krakowiacy: We were SO excited to try this place. It was adorable and from what we saw, a popular chain in the area/pierogi hotspot. Unfortunately, after sitting down, we realized it was cash only and had run out of our polish currency. So... it is definitely on the top of my list for the next time I get to visit Poland.


Dobra Paczkarnia: This place was on almost every street in Krakow. What looked a lot like donuts to me, are actually a popular Polish treat called "Pączki" and they taste a lot like donuts, but better. Dobra Paczkarnia was clearly one of the most popular places, with lines and multiple store fronts. I regretted only having one during my visit. (Thank you to my Polish friend Madison for recommending that I try this delicious treat while in Poland)


("Pączki: Pączki have a long tradition in Polish cuisine and are most often translated to English as doughnuts. These popular pastries are prepared with leavened dough that is deep-fried until golden and crispy on the outside, while soft, light, and airy on the inside.") AKA deliciousness.



Poland is a place for foodies. Who would have thought.


What I Did


We visited Poland with one major intention, and that was to visit and pay our respects to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. We hoped that with any time we had left, we could explore the city of Krakow and get a taste of Polish culture. The "old town" of Krakow is absolutely stunning, full of so much history and charm. We didn't know how we would feel after visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, and because of that, allowed ourselves time to do nothing. It was extremely refreshing to walk around with no strict timeline or sights to see, and just enjoy the city. We had early nights watching corny Netflix Christmas movies, sleeping in, enjoying our airbnb & most importantly, each others company.


Booking our Tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau


We booked our tour about one month in advance, and are so glad we did. We felt it was important we booked our tour directly through Auschwitz-Birkenau official website rather than a third party. The tour was the most expensive aspect of our weekend, but well worth it. It ended up being about $125 per person, but was almost an entire day filled with such important, while heartbreaking history.


Where We Booked Our Tour: https://visit.auschwitz.org/?lang=en


Auschwitz is located about 1 hour away from Krakow. Because of this, we utilized the public transportation system in Krakow to buy bus tickets that would take us there and back. We were able to arrive at the bus station (without getting lost) and make our bus on time, (luckily). It was an interesting experience, and very disorganized. The language barrier in Poland was far more noticeable than anywhere I have ever been. While we booked our tickets ahead, (and I would urge anyone to do the same), we quickly saw most people that are not tourists simply wait in line and hope there is a seat or standing room left for them. On what was over an hour long bus ride people stood in the cramped aisle, getting off at their stop on the way while more people loaded on. I was shocked that people were allowed to stand on a journey that was over an hour long, but at the end of the day we made it there in one piece!


Kasey, my extremely organized and put-together friend (shoutout to her), went through the hassle of booking our bus tickets, which was through a website without an English translation. We heard other English tourists complain about the website at the bus station and many had no tickets to get back to Krakow after their tour of the camps, because of the difficulty and language barrier the website had. Kasey is amazing and secured our tickets, but I cannot say I would have been able to do it without her. (I wouldn't have)


My Advice: Book your Auschwitz visit as an optional bus included ticket. This will coordinate your bus to and from Krakow, which is the major city *with* an airport closest to Auschwitz (and a great city to visit). If we had done this, while it may have cost a little more, at times we may have felt a little more comfortable and at ease with the traveling aspect of our day trip. Also--pack snacks. Aside from the concession stand inside there is basically nothing around this place. It is in the middle of nowhere. We had probably 2 granola bars each during our visit, during the allotted snack break they give you halfway through your tour.


Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau was an experience unlike anything I have ever done or seen before. Our tour guide, a sweet polish lady, no older than 30, spoke to us and a group of other English speaking tourists (who all happened to be college aged) with sensitivity, grace, kindness and a true passion for the subject. I wondered what made her want to be a tour guide of this horrible place, or why anyone would want to walk through here more than one time in their whole life. I could not understand. Finally, as I spoke with her, she revealed that just like many of the other tour guides, growing up 10 minutes away from the camps, it was always a part of her life. Her relatives had been apart of the resistance, an ally to those who were discriminated and tortured here. She felt it was her calling to leave her office job and do this. Education and knowledge is power. I was speechless and inspired at her unwavering confidence and optimism while at a location that felt so full of hate.


While Visiting: I took minimal pictures, (I will insert one below). I felt it was only appropriate to wear dull colors, and overall be as respectful as possible. I'd say doing that was not necessary and just what I felt comfortable with. I remember our tour guide wearing a lot of pink honestly. And truly, with the right mindset and compassion-it never mattered what I was wearing or how many pictures I took. There are parts of the tour that are more difficult than others. Some that brought tears to my eyes. There are even some parts of the tour where it is completely off limits to take any photos at all, and this is something I like to think everyone respects. The second you walk through the gates which say "Work Will Set You Free", it is impossible to think about anything else.





General Advice for Poland


Currency: Poland has a different currency than the of the EU/UK. It is called the Polish złoty. Before our flight, we made sure to get some of this currency to have on us, which was helpful. However, we should have gotten more. This is because unlike our other trips, the places we visited in Krakow actually preferred cash over credit, or only took cash. We had issues at currency exchanges while in Krakow, so we could have saved ourselves from some hassle if we had just brought more with us initially.


Culture: I was absolutely fascinated with Poland. It was the #1 country I visited that felt the most disconnected to English pop-culture, style, music, language, I mean essentially everything felt different. It is truly a luxury to those who speak English as their first language that a lot of the world can speak English, however in Poland, majority of the people we met could not. It was a great reminder to the fact that even though on many of our trips we can get around using English quite easily, we are still visitors to these places and must do our best to learn basic phrases, mannerisms and norms to respect the culture and people while there. To our surprise, even young people at coffee shops and restaurants could not understand us very well. It was exciting and challenging but did not change our opinions as to how great of a city Krakow is. Something that really caught my attention was how even the music in stores & cafes was Polish. It felt like most people wouldn't even know who Justin Bieber is (Lol).


Luggage Lockers: After our flight landed, we still had hours left until our Airbnb check-in. This is a problem you'll probably encounter a few times while studying abroad. We found a reliable luggage locker destination right in the center of Krakow and took an Uber right there. We were able to pay for about 4 hours to store our things and got it later when we were ready! We also did this the day we left while we explored some of the city before our flight. It felt very safe and because of this I would recommend it to anyone needing a place to keep their bags while traveling. Luggage lockers exist in many cities, so even if Poland isn't your next destination searching "luggage lockers near me" on Safari, may really save you in a time crunch.


I feel so much gratitude that I was able to do this. Travel here. Do it with someone as great as my friend Kasey. Seeing Auschwitz-Birkenau in person put so much of what I have learned about in school or in movies/documentaries to life in a way that taught me so much. It is truly impossible to explain what it is like to visit this place, so if you ever have the chance, I urge you to go on your own.


See You Next Time, XO.



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