Luc and I have always wanted to visit Poland, I can even remember talking about it in high school. Luc is 100% Polish! It was such a neat experience to be where his ancestors once were. We stayed in Kraków, a city that originated in the 7th century and is one of the earliest capitols of Poland. This city is full of history, from the evidence of inhabitants during palaeolithic times to the various invasions during medieval times to the Nazi occupation and establishment of the Jewish Ghetto during WWII.
What was the first thing we did upon arriving in Poland? Went to the old town for some pierogi, of course! We had many varieties of pierogi during our trip with many different filling combinations. Ruskie is the classic filling, just potato and cottage cheese. We also tried mushroom, mushroom and cabbage, spinach and feta and chicken, and pork. We had some pel'meni too! We knew what it was thanks to many late night trips to Paul's Pel'meni in Madison, WI. YUM!
Next we strolled around the famous market square in the centre of Kraków, the largest existing medieval square in Europe. It's full of horse drawn carriages, street performers, food, and tourists! We spent a lot of time in the main square during our trip. The square was uniquely busy while we were there because we went over Easter weekend! Easter in Poland is like Christmas everywhere else. There was a big Easter market filled with hand painted eggs, traditional food, traditional clothing, jewellery, and unique locally made gifts. In addition to the Easter market there is the cloth hall, which is an old covered market that has been in the centre of the square since 1300. This is where I found one of my favourite souvenirs, a Matryoshka Doll.
We eventually made our way back to our AirBnB for a good night of sleep before our next big day, the biggest day of the trip. Before I move on, let me mention how INSANELY CHEAP our AirBnB was! We stayed for 5 nights for under $200, and it was a really nice place in a great location. Everything in Poland is cheap for tourists, but of course it doesn't feel as cheap for the citizens. Our tour guide told us that minimum wage in Poland is equivalent to $1.75. Lucky for us, we think in terms of dollars and pounds and managed to make Poland both our longest AND cheapest trip so far.
We woke up early and headed to a little cafe for carbs and caffeine to prepare for our big day. We went to Auschwitz-Birkenau for the first half of the day and the Wieliczka Salt Mine for the second half. We decided to take advantage of the dollar/pound-zloty exchange rate and hired a private driver for the day. He picked us up at 8:30am and drove us to our first stop, Auschwitz. I didn't take any pictures there for obvious reasons. It was a harrowing and surreal experience to say the least. Because I struggle to find words to describe what it was like to be at Auschwitz (and honestly words can't describe the experience), here's a link to a blog post that goes a little more in depth about what the Auschwitz-Birkenau tourist experience entails. Anyone and everyone should visit if they have the chance.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
After an emotionally and physically exhausting morning, we got back in the van with our private driver and headed to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. We arrived a little over an hour before our tour began, but lucky for us our tour guide knew the perfect place to have a snack while we wait. I had mushroom soup in a bread bowl and some tea.
We still had some time to spare after eating, so we strolled around Wieliczka a bit.
It was finally time to go in the Wieliczka Salt Mine! Click on the link to learn more about the history of the mine. The mine is HUGE and has beautiful salt carvings throughout, there are even entire cathedrals carved from salt inside the mine. The mine is made entirely of salt, you can feel it on your fingers after touching the walls and can taste it too! (gross, I know)
We headed back to our AirBnB and finally arrived at about 8pm. Needless to say we were EXHAUSTED but also STARVING! Though we really didn't feel like walking anymore... we made our way in to the old market square to find something to eat. We found a restaurant that specialized in our favourite polish food...PIEROGI!
Since we also happened to walk through the Easter market on our way back, I got a waffle for dessert :D Since we walked around 25,000 steps that day I think the waffle was well deserved!
We couldn't leave Kraków without visiting Wawel Castle. Click on the link to learn about Wawel's history!
In the afternoon we went to the Polish Aviation Museum. This was something that Luc really wanted to do, he has recently developed an obsession with airplanes. Though I don't get too excited about planes themselves, it was fun to see Luc in his element! Plus it was a beautiful day and most of the museum is outdoors.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around Kazimierz. We saw many old synagogues, hipster cafes, and some street art. The Jewish population of Kraków was almost entirely wiped out during WWII, leaving most of the synagogues empty. These synagogues are now home to bookstores selling books about the Holocaust and Hebrew literature. This confused us at first, we would follow signs to a synagogue and end up in a bookstore! Eventually we looked around and realised that the synagogue was the bookstore.
In the evening we went to a restaurant in the Jewish Quarter for dinner called Warsztat. I had a traditional pork chop with potatoes and roasted beets. Luc had spaghetti!
After dinner we went to this really cool pub called Pub Propaganda, decorated with propaganda from the cold war. They played great music.
We spent this day wandering around the old town, exploring old churches, feeding pigeons in the square, drinking coffee, shopping at the Easter market, and people watching. It was nice to have a day with no definite plans where we could just go with the flow!
In the afternoon we took an uber to see Krakus mound, a prehistoric mound thought to be the burial place of King Krakus. It has also been theorised to be of Celtic origin. The top of the mound offered a great view of Kraków.
We woke up (somewhat) early on Easter Sunday to attend Mass at St. Mary's Basilica. I am not Catholic and had never attended a Mass before, and the entire Mass was in Polish! Luckily I had Luc with me, who grew up attending Catholic Mass and knew when to kneel, when to stand, when to sit. The Basilica is a beautiful gothic church in the main square of Kraków, built in the 14th century. There was a constant flow of people walking in and out of the church, like an Easter pilgrimage. Many people brought their Easter baskets to be blessed by a priest. There was a large organ and a choir singing in Latin. It was truly a magical experience, even though I had no idea what the priest was saying.
The rest of the day was cold and rainy. After mass we went to one of the restaurants in the main square and sat outside under the heaters, luckily the restaurant also provided blankets for outdoor customers! We had some coffee and watched the horse drawn carriages go by for awhile.
We walked back to our AirBnB, took a nap, and later walked down the street to a restaurant for dinner. I finally tried beetroot soup (popular in Poland) and it was surprisingly DELICIOUS! It was a little sour and a little sweet with dumplings on top. We also shared a big plate of pierogi, and I had traditional pork chop. Luc had steak frites and chicken soup, which he said tasted just like the recipe his grandma used to make. Comparing food to grandma's recipe is a VERY high compliment coming from Luc!
We went home, packed, and went to bed! Early flight the next morning, but we were back in Bristol before noon! I'm still so amazed by how easy it is to travel from country to country in Europe.
Next up, Amsterdam and the Cotswolds :)
Thanks for reading!