Time for me to head on leave again, and me and a couple of my friends from home, Lucy and Amy, had decided to visit Krakow in Poland. It was somewhere I’d wanted to visit for a while due to it being a very cheap city break, being rich in culture and very close to Auschwitz, one of the more well known concentration camps. World War II and The Holocaust are something I learned on extensively both in primary school and high school, so to be able to witness and expand my knowledge was something I was very keen to do in Krakow.
I flew with our sister airline, Fly Dubai, for the first time out of Dubai directly into Krakow. Emirates only fly to the capital, Warsaw, and from there its a two hour train to Krakow, so when I found out I could get a cheap standby ticket directly to Krakow I was happy! Landing just before lunch time, I stopped for a coffee in the airport as I had about half an hour to kill before I could check into our air bnb. Accommodation was very cheap, and we paid £40 a night for an entire apartment right by the Old Square. Look how fab this place is though! Really recommend this place for anyone visiting Krakow.
The girls met me just an hour or so later and with time pressing on a little bit for the sun going down, we sat inside in the warmth chatting away and catching up before we headed out into Krakow for some dinner.
My Mum and Dad had visited Krakow just a few weeks prior and given us a recommendation of a place called Starka which they raved about, however when we tried to get a reservation for that evening, they were booked up for the next two weeks! So, we wandered around trying to find somewhere that had availability for us, before we found a place (which I cannot remember the name of sadly).
After dinner, we called for a few drinks in a bar across the street called Absynt. It had been recommended online, however it really felt like we were sat in someones living room. It was quite an odd place, and we couldn’t work out if all the cobwebs and weird things placed around the bar were for halloween the following day, or was just the standard decor… anyway we had a few cocktails in here, and a bar just round the corner before we called it a night. All of us had had a very early start that day.
The next day we had planned to visit the Salt Mine at Wielickza. It’s around a fifteen to twenty minute drive from Krakow, and we took an Uber across there which cost about £6 each way.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the town of Wieliczka in southern Poland, lies within the Kraków metropolitan area. Opened in the 13th century, the mine produced table salt continuously until 2007, as one of the world’s oldest salt mines in operation.
Commercial mining was discontinued in 1996, because of salt prices going down and also mine flooding. The mine is currently one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments, whose attractions include dozens of statues and four chapels carved out of the rock salt by the miners, as well as supplemental carvings made by contemporary artists.
The Wieliczka salt mine reaches a depth of 327 meters and is over 287 kilometres (178 mi) long. The rock salt is naturally grey in various shades, resembling unpolished granite rather than the white or crystalline look that many visitors may expect. In the 13th century, rock salt was discovered in Wieliczka and the first shafts were dug. The construction of the Saltworks Castle in Wieliczka (the central building – “The House within the Saltworks”) – head office of the mine’s board since medieval times till 1945. The Saltworks Castle was built in the late 13th to early 14th century. Wieliczka is now the location of the Kraków Saltworks Museum. Many shafts were dug throughout the time the mine was in operation. Different technology was added such as the Hungarian-type horse treadmill and Saxon treadmills to haul the salt to the top of the surface. During World War II, the shafts were used by the occupying Germans as an ad hoc facility for various war-related industries. The mine features an underground lake; and the new exhibits on the history of salt mining, as well as a 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) touring route (less than 2% of the length of the mine’s passages) that includes historic statues and mythical figures carved out of rock salt in distant past. More recent sculptures have been fashioned by contemporary artists.
The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as “the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland”. In 1978 it was placed on the original UNESCO list of the World Heritage Sites. Even the crystals of the chandeliers are made from rock salt that has been dissolved and reconstituted to achieve a clear, glass-like appearance. It also houses a private rehabilitation and wellness complex.
You’re given an earpiece so that your guide can talk to you as you walk around, it was really handy for not getting lost and staying within your group too. He was incredibly informative and very witty, and as we descended further and further into the mine he told us many facts and the history of the salt mine. I really recommend visiting the Wieliczka salt mine, it was like something I’d never visited before and I found really interesting! It was a great work out too, we all had achey legs from all the steps.
After this, we headed for some lunch before going across to Schindlers Factory. We called at a place close by called Bal, which was cheap and cheerful, but really bloody cold inside. If you plan on visiting in winter, make sure you wear some warm clothing!!
Oskar Schindlers Enamel Factory, or more commonly referred to as Schindler’s Factory is an impressive interactive museum that covers the German occupation of Kraków in WWII. It’s housed in the former enamel factory of Oskar Schindler, the Nazi industrialist who famously saved the lives of members of his Jewish labour force during the Holocaust. Well-organised, innovative exhibits tell the moving story of the city from 1939 to 1945.
It’s a very informative museum, however a little misleading. It doesn’t give much on Oskar Schindler himself, additionally when we were there the museum was so packed out, it made it difficult to read a lot of the information. Get yourself there early to avoid the queues and the crowds, and definitely buy your ticket in advance.
After an afternoon at the museum, we ventured back into the town centre for some dinner. We were heading to a place called Rzeźnia Ribs On Fire that is meant to be the best place in Poland for pork ribs. We all ordered a rack of ribs with chips and coleslaw and it did not disappoint.
Feeling full up and content, we walked around the corner to a bar called Cybermachina which I’d seen as a fun and different place online. It is an old arcade themed bar filled with old school arcade game machines, new ones and a whole host of board and card games. Even the bar was themed like Super Mario and all the cocktails game named.
We had so much fun in here we stayed until we were the last ones in before they closed. Really recommend this place to anyone wanting something a little bit different whilst they have a drink, and to play lots of different games.
The next morning we felt like we hadn’t really seen much of Krakow and wandered across to the Town Square in search of some breakfast.
We found a place called Fitagain Coffee which boasted a great menu and gave all the macros for anyone who is wanting/needing that information for their diet (not me, I enjoy food too much). I opted for the homemade granola which tasted amazing with an orange juice and coffee to power me through my day.
The town is actually very quaint and pretty, and by the time we’d finished breakfast the sun had come out!
Its just so picturesque! We then headed back to our apartment via a walk through the park. I loved the greenery surrounding the Old Town, I miss it so much living in Dubai and the cold weather paired with glorious sunshine was the perfect weather for me. The next stop of our day was the drive out to Auschwitz Birkenhau Concentration Camps.
Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original concentration camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combined concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff an IG Farben factory), and 45 satellite camps.
Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941. Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazis’ Final Solution to the Jewish Question during the Holocaust. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe, where they were killed en masse with the cyanide-based poison Zyklon B, originally developed to be used as a pesticide. An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.1 million died. Around 90 percent of those were Jews; approximately one in six Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romaniand Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.
In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7,000 members of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Some, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed. The Allied Powers did not act on early reports of atrocities at the camp, and their failure to bomb the camp or its railways remains controversial. At least 802 prisoners attempted to escape from Auschwitz, 144 successfully, and on 7 October 1944 two Sonderkommando units, consisting of prisoners assigned to staff the gas chambers, launched a brief, unsuccessful uprising.
As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was sent west on a death march. The prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on 27 January 1945, a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the following decades, survivors such as Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and Elie Wieselwrote memoirs of their experiences in Auschwitz, and the camp became a dominant symbol of the Holocaust. In 1947 Poland founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979 it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The above image of the cart is where up to one hundred people would be packed out into these very carts and transported for days on end, some as long as eleven days, with no food, water, sanitation or even a window. It is inhumane and awful to begin to imagine the suffering that went on inside these carts, and with many of them dying on the way to Birkenhau due to the inhumane conditions.
There are no words to describe the harrowing and chilling feeling you experience as you step foot onto the grounds of the concentration camps where such horrifying torture was endured by so many innocent people. To step inside the gas chambers were thousands were innocently murdered just for who they are, was something I will never forget. And for some people to claim this never happened, to me, is disgusting.
Everyone should visit Auschwitz Birkenhau at some point in their life so they can comprehend the sheer size of the holocaust and the suffering that happened to ensure that something like this NEVER happens again.
My one tip for visiting would be to head across in the morning, after we had wandered around Birkenhau and gone across to Auschwitz the sun was almost set and I don’t feel I got to see what Aushcwitz looked like other than visiting the displays inside each of the buildings.
With it being our last evening in Krakow, we wanted some traditional polish cuisine and we headed back to the Old Town in search of something to eat. We found a place that coaxed us in with cocktails (which they actually didn’t have) but the food was very good so I can’t complain. You gotta have dumplings when in Poland though!
We headed back to the apartment ready for a cosy night in and packing before we left the next morning to go back to the UK.
I had a great time visiting Krakow, it is a great city with lots to see and do, and the people are ever so friendly. I also cannot get over how cheap it is. For those wanting a city break on a budget, Krakow is the perfect destination. Not too far, and it wasn’t too cold either. I’m so glad I got to spend time with my friends in this beautiful city. Thanks for a great trip! Iceland last year, Krakow this year, where to next year girls?!
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