Finally, we’ve arrived at the final post of my trip to Poland this past April vacation. After having made my way from the center of the country (Warsaw) to the very north (Gdansk), I finally made my way down south to the multicultural, lively city of Krakow!
My adventure to Krakow was pretty uneventful, albeit super long. Basically, I took a six-and-a-half hour train from Gdansk, which pretty much meant that I was going from the very north to the south of Poland. When I’d booked my flights and hostels before the holidays started, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I would be backtracking to Warsaw in the process, but then again, flights to Warsaw were cheaper in comparison with those to Gdansk, so it was fine. In the end, it turned out to be a very long train journey that pretty much took the whole day (11h00 to 17h30). I pretty much just sat in my compartment, ate lunch, listened to music, and nodded on-and-off as the train zipped across the country.
I was relieved to finally get off the train when it pulled into Krakow in the late afternoon. My hostel was about a 10-minute walk from the station, and again I got a bit lost trying to find it (eventually, I did). Made it to my hostel where I checked in and got settled into my bunk. Although I was tired from the long day of traveling, I ended up hanging out with the hostel-goers that day in the kitchen commons, eating the complementary dinner that the hostel offered for us (wow!) and talking about nothing in particular while having tons of *cheap* Polish beer.
We ended up going out that night to a couple of bars where I was treated to a beer-vodka shot (very strange…and very strong!) before we headed to a local club that played Top-40 remixes to dance along to. Mind you, I don’t normally dance, but with the club atmosphere (and a few drinks in my system), I decided to let myself go and enjoy it with some nice company. Around 1h00, I went back to the hostel with some of the hostel-goers and crawled into bed around 2h00. I wasn’t too concerned about turning it late that night (well, by my standards), just because I would only be exploring the city proper that day, which I took to be a more-casual, relaxed kind of travel.
After having the hostel’s complementary breakfast the following morning, I headed out to explore Krakow for the day. My hostel was close to the historic center, just across the street from the Barbican fortress: all I had to do was cross the street, walk past the Barbican, and soon enough, I was in the main square (Rynek Glowny), which was large and spacious…and of course, touristy. With St. Mary’s Basilica looming one side and the Cloth Hall on the other, it was definitely the center hub for all things happening!
From there, I decided to head towards the Wawel Castle, located on a small hill and once the residency of Polish kings back in the 14th century. While one was free to wander the castle grounds without paying, it was necessary to pay to enter the cathedral, along with the other attractions such as the “Lost Wawel” (an archaeological look into the city’s oldest church) and the “Dragon’s Den.” I only opted to visit the cathedral, however, since to visit all of them requires paying separately (about 7 zloty each, which isn’t that much at less than 2 euros, but still, it adds up). I really only had interest in the cathedral, and it turned out to be really big and lovely. From what I’ve learned from visiting Poland, the Polish are extremely religious and they take their churches/cathedrals/basilicas seriously, with the amount of lavish gold and silver on the naves and the religious statues which rival that of Spain’s, even Italy’s. It was very impressive, to say the least.
Inside the cathedral, I opted to climb the bell tower to the top for the city views. Although the views were obstructed by the safety bars at the top, nevertheless they were quite pretty with the red rooftops and old-fashioned, central European flair. Not bad, as part of the ticket!
I descended the bell tower, wandered a bit more around the cathedral, then exited it along with the Wawel Castle around noon. I decided to head back towards the main square for lunch; I’d seen a couple of “milk bars” on the way, and I wanted to try them, since I was in Poland and everything.
Now, milk bars (“bar mleczny”) are a traditional Polish establishment which dates back to the late 19th century. Essentially, it’s a cafeteria-style restaurant which serves typical Polish cuisine at an inexpensive price. Usually, it attracts the poor, students, and the elderly over, for a hot, simple meal to get them through the day. They’ve become sort of a tourist destination recently, especially those like me who are budget-traveling. After all, what better place to get authentic and delicious Polish food for cheap than at a milk bar?
Any case, I popped into one of the milk bars, and ended up ordering a feast of beetroot soup, pierogis, stuffed cabbage rolls, and beef tripe stew. In total, it ended up being about 7 euros, which was really reasonable. It was so much food…while all of the dishes were delicious, the one that really stood out for me was the cabbage rolls, which were heartily stuffed with meat inside of the cabbage leaves: in a sense, I got my daily dose of meat and vegetables from one, incredible dish! I wished that I’d gone back later and had gotten more cabbage rolls, but alas, that’ll have to be for another time!
Stomach full, I made my way out and spent the afternoon at the Jewish quarter, a famous historic part of Krakow which, evidently, is home to a notable Jewish population, along with synagogues and whatnot. Also heard that it’s a lively place to be at night, with bars and clubs happening, but considering that it was a bit far from where I was staying, I didn’t venture out that far late at night. Frankly, I didn’t see much in the Jewish Quarter, except of course for the synagogues and a few Jew-themed street art, so I didn’t spend too long there. Perhaps my experience would’ve been better if I’d taken a guided walking tour, but then again, it didn’t happen. Nevertheless, the Jewish Quarter was peaceful when I went in the daytime, so it was a pleasant stroll through before returning to the main square of the city.
I made my way back to Rynek Glowny, where I popped into the Collegium Maius, the oldest university building in Krakow and famous for its gorgeous courtyard, which I wanted to check out (and did). After that, I decided to return to my hostel, having completed what I wanted to see in Krakow that day. Was quite tired, so I just kicked back in my bunk, had a few beers with the hostel-goers that evening, and turned in early for the night, as I would be waking up early for the following two days for day trips to Auschwitz and Zakopane.
Funny enough, when I returned from Auschwitz, I headed straight to Rynek Glowny, where there was a vodka bar that I was interested in; I’d heard good reviews about it, so I wanted to try it out. Turned out to be a great experience, as I sampled several flavors out of the 100-plus on the menu (my favorites being lemon chili and blackberry). In total, I consumed nine shots of vodka in one sitting, which is a lot, but rest assured, I wasn’t stupidly drunk after that, fortunately having eaten something before going for drinks. It was ridiculously cheap, too, being about 48-50 zloty (12 euros) for nine shots. While I didn’t get crazy drunk or anything, I was definitely feeling it as I made my way back to my hostel, once again getting beers with the hostel-goers before turning in for the night and sleeping like a baby.
I spent my last full day visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is a popular tourist destination as a half-day trip from Krakow. Of course, it’s a salt mine and actually one of the biggest and longest-lasting one in the world (having been in operation for perhaps seven hundred years until it ceased operation just recently in the early 21st century). I decided to book a tour with my hostel, paying about 25 euros for the shuttle that picked me up from the hostel, the tickets to get in, and overall the experience in there. It turned out to be an okay experience: while I think the concept was cool, of having the statues and staircases made almost entirely out of salt, I don’t think it was completely worth the 25 euros for the visit- if anything, I was left a bit unimpressed at the end, although I have to admit that the chapel was pretty damn nice (as well as the underground, fluorescent-blue lake). Any case, I did it, and it was accomplished.
The tour only lasted half a day, so I returned to the city center for lunch before taking the tram a bit outside of the city once more, this time heading southwest towards Lake Zakrzówek, which my hostel receptionist recommended me to check out. The lake was located in the middle of a large, natural park, and after getting a bit lost and scaling up a massive hill, I found it in all of its beauty. Sadly, it was overcast that day, which made the views a bit subdued, but nevertheless, it was still gorgeous. I’ll have to return when the weather’s sunny, though, because I can imagine that it’s even more beautiful then!
Got a bit lost in the park trying to find the exit, but eventually I found my way out and back to the tram stop, where I took it back to the city center. Returned to my hostel where I rested until heading out again close to 21h00 to Rynek Glowny for a pub crawl with one of the companies. Considering that it was my last night in Poland and that I’d never done a pub crawl before, I wanted to try it out. The crowd was massive, but by chance I happened to run into another teaching assistant like me whom I actually knew from before, as we’d met up before for travel. We stuck together for the rest of the night, as we took part in “Power Hour” at the first bar, consuming as many drinks as possible for a set price before continuing to two more bars for more drinks and then a club to dance the night away.
The pub crawl proved to be fun- granted, we did get drunk, but the teaching assistant more so than myself: by the end of the night, he was stumbling around and I had to help him a bit before we parted ways around 2h00. I headed back to my hostel where I turned in around 3h00. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wake up early the next day, since it was Easter and things wouldn’t be opened in town. Had an Easter breakfast with the hostel-goers, checked out at 10h00, and at noon, I headed to the train station to take it to the airport, where I caught my flight back to France around 14h30. Arrived back around 16h30, where I took the shuttle to Paris city center, then the train back to my town in Normandy, arriving back at my flat in the early evening.
…and that’s about it! My trip to Poland has got to be one of my favorite travels of this year (well, considering that I hadn’t done as much traveling as the previous year, but still…). Not only did I get to see a new country in Europe, but also I got to experience it in more depth, at least sticking to one country this time and exploring as many cities as I could within it. From the city to the wilderness, I saw it all. Food was amazing, the beers were cheap, and I actually went under-budget for this trip…because of how inexpensive it was! Poland was amazing, and I’m so glad that I chose to do it this time in April, when the weather was temperate and so forth. I can’t recommend Poland enough, and I would actually like to return someday, perhaps on a Central European tour, if the opportunity arises!
Thanks for reading this (long) post! I’m promising more travel posts to come, and until then, take care! 🙂
— The Finicky Cynic
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