Cześć! Visiting Poland has been on my bucket list for years. With World War II having its ripe beginnings in the heart of Poland, I knew that as a human being, I had to visit this place to only start to understand what humans could be capable of.
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it – George Santanya
I flew from London to Kraków with an easy 2 hour flight. Airport transfer to the city centre/Old Town is easy with the Kraków train, which is situated basically in the airport itself, and only costs 9 złoty (NZD 3.50). You can buy tickets on the train itself as they have a ticket machine inside, so immensely hassle-free. The train-ride itself is only 20 minutes, but if you really want to save the moola, you could take the bus for a slightly longer journey, which is even cheaper!
I arrived in the evening, and took that opportunity to take a few blurry night shots, and wander around town. If you’re a beer connoisseur, you can get half a litre of beer for 4 złoty (NZD 1.50) which is so bloody cheap compared to New Zealand! Night life is apparently pretty happening around town but I genuinely wouldn’t know as I didn’t actively participate! A bit of student town with thousands of exchange students, and tons of tourists as well. Food is cheap and soooo yum – you can get a meal for about 10-12 złoty, and do some fine dining for about 40 złoty (virtually impossible in New Zealand!). Lots of people speak English, and people are so friendly!
Polish foods you have to try – pierogi (boiled dumplings with onions sprinkled on top) filled with assortments of savories or sweets. So delicious! Egg and sausage soup in bread is another classic, and Polish cheesecakes have a different texture to the American ones we are used to.
I got up early the next day to start eating and exploring. The summer heat in Kraków made me melt into a puddle of Asian on the floor. Sweltering heat, and not enough of a breeze to cool down! I’d recommend tons of sunscreen, a decent hat and sunglasses (i.e. don’t be me…) I started by joining the Walkative Tours in Old Town (I’ve linked it for your perusal!). I couldn’t speak more highly of these tours. For one, they’re completely free (cue jaw drop), and for two, the tour guides are so knowledgable, patient and friendly. That, combined with my insatiable hunger for knowledge and my love for walking, the Walktive Tours were easily one of the best decisions I made in Kraków. You can pick from a variety of tours – Old Town, Jewish Kraków, Macabre Kraków, Street Art, World War II, and a few paid tours, such as Schindler’s Factory Tour. I did the first three and Schindler’s Factory tour and regretted nothing! It is a given that the tours are completely on foot, so if you’re not someone who can walk and stand for 2-3 hours, this tour will be painful for you, sorry! As an aside, we do tip the tour guides at the end of the tour, but they do emphasize that it is entirely up to you if you want to tip, and there is no obligation to at all.
Schindler’s Factory tickets sell out in advance (24 złoty for entry), so if you definitely want to see it, buy it in advance online, or follow the Walkative tour (58 złoty for students, 64 złoty for adults) and they can get you a ticket even when they’ve run out, and you get a guide throughout the museum too. The museum itself doesn’t actually have that much about Oskar Schindler, mainly because not much is known about this man (or at least, not enough for an entire museum). The part that comprises of the museum is actually what used to be his old office block, not the factory itself as the factory itself is now the Museum of Contemporary Art (i.e. completely unrelated). That being said, I still think it’s worthwhile going through to learn about the Nazi occupation in Kraków and Poland, and the timeline of how and when Jewish Poles were affected.
I also visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the largest sites of mass extermination and concentration camp. I used the Lajkonik bus, which costs about 17 złoty return, and you catch it from the main bus station in centre city, and 1.5 hours later, it drops you off at the doorstep of Auschwitz.
The whole experience was extremely harrowing, and I think that given the opportunity, everyone should go through it to even just slightly grasp what horrors we can be capable of. I booked this tour months in advance as I pretty much specifically went to Kraków for this, but I think you would still be able to get tickets last minute if need be. I bought a 3-hour pass with an English tour guide, but there are options for a 6-hour pass, and also in various other languages, such as Polish, Spanish, German etc. Walking through Auschwitz was a constant sinking feeling; I felt like my heart was being torn apart. We walked through exhibits of piles of human hair that were brutally cut/shaven from Jewish prisoners and sold in mass to other countries for textiles. We choked back tears at the piles and piles of children’s shoes and clothing, as they were mass exterminated since they could not be used for labour. We saw piles of prostheses – wooden legs, crutches – of past men and women who were murdered because they could not be useful for slave labour. We stumbled through the gas chambers and crematoriums that killed thousands of Jews in minutes.
After that journey, I couldn’t actually function afterwards. To think of the millions of people who have never been able to pass on their legacy, to have never lived to see their children or grandchildren, was just soul-shattering. We can only hope that we learn from this, and never make these mistakes again. A sombre ending to this blogpost, but the most deserving of this space. ‘Til next time.