Monday, 30 June 2014


One of the best things about my job now, is actually having the time and (almost) the money to be able to do the things I've always wanted to do! Back in March, my housemate and I both had a week off at the same time, and wanted to go somewhere we'd never been before!

We narrowed it down to Europe to reduce the flight costs, and spent a few evenings trawling through all the obscure places we could go to (Transylvania anyone) then comparing the flight prices. One place that kept cropping up was Poland - I'd wanted to visit Auschwitz ever since high school (it's the history geek in me), and the prices were coming out ok so we bit the bullet and booked it! 

We went for around 4 days, arriving early on the Tuesday and leaving at lunch time on Friday, giving us around 3 days to explore! The main reason we'd decided on Krakow was for Auschwitz, so I spent the next couple of weeks researching the rest of the city to find the best places to go. We found a hostel (Atlantis Hostel - highly recommended) based on its awesome reviews on HostelWorld (we weren't disappointed) and were ready to go! 

When you land in Krakow, it's very easy to find your way to the city centre, and lots of people speak English. We'd got directions from our hostel beforehand, but even if we hadn't I'm sure we would have been fine. There is a bus outside the airport directly to the city centre, then there are trams to take you where you need to go.

We stayed in Kazimierz (the Jewish Quarter), although Krakow is small and it was still walking distance to the Old Town. On the first day, we went straight to the hostel around lunch time, then went for a walk around Kazimierz, loaded with a map that the hostel had provided. We also booked our trip to Auschwitz (around £20 with transfers to and from the hostel, entrance fee and a guide - a good price that you'll find in most hostels) for the following day. 

Kazmierz is really pretty, and full of history! We walked for around an hour, just exploring, and ended up at the river. There are free walking tours around this area, and although we joined in for around 5 minutes, we decided to do the rest on our own. We then headed over the river, towards Schindler's Factory, just to see what was over there. When we arrived, we decided to actually head in and have a look around, as the entrance fee was pretty cheap and there was still enough time. I'd definitely recommend it; it takes you through Poland's journey from invasion by the Nazis to the consequent 'liberation' by the Soviets, right through World War Two. For someone who's studied this aspect of history a lot, it was still interesting, and definitely worth a visit! 

Food in Poland isn't the greatest (I'm not a big meat fan), so we stuck to what we knew (pizza anyone), then headed back to the hostel for the night. 

The next day, we headed over to Auschwitz bright and early, so to make the most out of the day. I've described how Auschwitz made me feel here (summary: harrowing!) but I'd definitely recommend it, and it was well worth the visit. We were picked up from the hostel, and taken with around 8 other tourists to Auschwitz One. Here, we were handed over to an English speaking guide, who gave us all a headset that she spoke into, allowing the atmosphere to stay quiet and solemn, rather than people shouting over everyone else.

Auschwitz One is where Auschwitz first started, before it became the hub of the Holocaust. It looks just like you envisage it, and how it's portrayed in all the films, complete with the gates - Arbeit Macht Frei (Work makes you free). The blocks each have different exhibits in them, and the guide takes you on a journey around Auschwitz; both the journey of Poland in World War Two, and the journey of all the victims of the Holocaust. 

The first part of the tour takes around 2-3 hours, walking around, reading the exhibits and taking everything in. Some you just can't (such as the possessions of the victims that literally fill some of the rooms), and it's often a relief to get back out into daylight before moving onto the next exhibit. In a way, that's something that I'm glad about - it wasn't supposed to be a fun day out, but I wasn't sure how it was supposed to make me feel. (More about that here). 

We then moved onto Birkenau (the second part of the camp, when Auschwitz became the focal point of the Holocaust) which is full of wide open spaces, with plenty of time to collect your thoughts. 

We headed back to the hostel mid-afternoon, completely wiped out and ready for a quick dinner before we headed to bed. Some people in our hostel went straight out drinking after visiting Auschwitz; each to their own, but I honestly don't think I could have done that. It felt a little wrong to me to be taking pictures, and I definitely felt I needed time to think about the day before doing anything else.

The next day was our last full day in Poland, and we'd done everything we definitely wanted to do, so we took the opportunity to explore the Old Town. We started with the castle, which offers amazing views over the whole of Krakow and sat in the sun, soaking up the sights, before moving onto the Town Square, around which there are lots of bars and restaurants. We spent a lot of time here, people watching and talking to lots of people (one Polish guy asked me to tell David Cameron to stay in the EU. I'll pass that one on next time I'm in Downing Street ;)) and basically just having a nice relaxing day!

I'd say three days is definitely enough to stay here; the only thing we missed out on is the Salt Mines (Danielle is a bit claustrophobic, so we thought it might not be the best idea), but we could easily have done that on the Thursday. I loved Krakow, but there's not a huge amount to do once you've done the main attractions (not a great word to describe Auschwitz, but it's so difficult to describe).

It's a fantastic place to go for a cheap trip away! Not including flights, I spent £80 which covered accommodation, food, Auschwitz and Schindler's Factory, as well as transport within the city, which I thought was amazing! Full of history, culture, amazing people and dirt cheap - what more could you want?! 

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