19 Nov 2018

Kraków, Poland (June 2018)

The look Ryan gave me when I said I’d already been to Auschwitz so wasn’t that keen on going again was akin to him watching me kick a puppy. A tiny one. A tiny, fluffy one with a lazy eye and a limp.

We were going to Auschwitz for Ryan’s birthday.

There's more to Kraków than day trips to Auschwitz (weird phrase). It’s a very popular place for stag dos (Kraków, not Auschwitz [I’m gonna stop saying ‘Auschwitz’ now]) because it’s so damn bloody cheap. Seriously. So cheap. Disgustingly cheap. Bafflingly cheap. And the alcohol is so dangerously strong AND STILL CHEAP.

We flew to Poland with Ryanair from Stansted on Friday morning, and got the train from the airport to Kraków Główny for 9 zloty (£1.86). It was only a short walk to our hotel, Hotel Alexander II which was behind the train line. It wasn’t that loud at night. But then we live on a main road in London, so. We sleep through anything. Hotel Alexander II is nice, but pretty basic. And the pillows are awful. But the breakfast was decent and we all know that’s all I care about in a European city break hotel.

Kraków is a small enough city to wander around without using trams. After testing out the hotel room toilet, we walked to Rynek Główny, the main square and home to all the stag dos. It’s full of bars and restaurants and tourist traps, but STILL CHEAP. We took a table outside and I ordered a 'Dragon' cocktail. A dragon. Cocktail. Adragoncocktail. When Ryan’s beer showed up but I still didn’t have my cocktail after 20 minutes, we asked where it was. “It takes a while to make this cocktail…” was the answer. What were they putting in it, petrol and cyanide? They might as well have because when I took the first sip, my whole stomach lining eroded. The Polish go hard.

To soothe my stomach, we investigated one of the many kiosks that litter the city which sell what we affectionally called ‘twisty bagels’ for about 30p. We ended up eating so many during our whole trip to fill hunger holes.

We took a recommendation from our hotel for dinner and went to Restauracja Galicyjska on Friday night. It was incredible. We’d absolutely peaked by our first night. Three courses, free cider when we walked in, the house white, and free shots of cinnamon and apple vodka before we left. All for the price of a Prezzo meal with a voucher.

Poland loves parkrun. Bloody loves it, they’re everywhere. So obviously, OBVIOUSLY, we had to do Kraków parkrun for our first international parkrun. It felt a bit bizarre but it was just like doing parkrun in the UK. Free, cake, 5k, volunteers, encouragement, 9am. It properly cemented the fact that the parkrun community is worldwide and accessible, no matter who you are.

Wawel Castle is by the Wisła River, and we legged it there after showering to walk around the free bits before the storm hit. And hit it did, it was incredible. The sky was black against the bright orange of the castle, and it just all seemed so apt, especially as there are dragon legends of Wawel Castle.

 This looks like a 'this is what your new community will look like' artist impression photo... 
but it's not


The Jewish Quarter is, understandably, a huge and important part of Kraków. We had a proper wander around before popping into Klubokawiarnia Pozytywka, where the waitress asked what kind of cocktail I like and she whipped something up on the spot. And it was perfect. I then found her on Instagram for a stalk.

Another three course meal and vodka-based cocktails (Polish Kiss) was on the cards for Saturday night, this time at Kawaleria. £19.10 each it cost. NINETEEN POUNDS TEN PENCE.

After much research into the best way to visit Auschwitz, we figured it was easiest to go through a tour company on the Sunday. Auschwitz isn’t the simplest place to get to on public transport, and you need to book way in advance for a timed slot. With escape2poland, we got picked up on a coach, watched a film about Auschwitz on the journey there, took the tour of both Auschwitz and Birkenau with our coach group, before being dropped back off in Krakow afterwards. It was definitely worth spending the extra money.

I went to Auschwitz for the day when I was 17. And by ‘for the day’ I mean we flew out there with the Holocaust Educational Trust in the morning, went straight to Auschwitz for the day, then flew back to London in the evening. Ya. FOR THE DAY. I wrote about it at the time - eight years ago now. As it was so long ago, it still felt like a new experience going at 24. I remembered bits of it, and experienced others as if for the first time.

There's no real way to describe Auschwitz. How can you? It’s Auschwitz. No wanky white poignancy will ever be good enough.

It seemed only right to go for dinner in the Jewish Quarter after visiting Auschwitz, so we went to Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz and sat outside listening to live music. Then we went back to the main square to meet up with Charlotte, Georgia, and Pam! Charlotte and Georgia are my oldest friends, and they flew out to join us for a few days with their uni friend, Pam, who’s Polish. We’d always said since we were kids that we wanted to go on holiday together, and never imagined Kraków would be the place.

Monday was Ryan’s 29th birthday and the five of us went to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, about half hour from Kraków. We’d planned to get the train but apparently not only the UK has engineering work, so we had to get the bus, which was fine.

 Everything is salt!

The actual salt mines were really, really cool. And by cool I mostly mean cold because it is cold down there. You tour the mines as a group, and they have a bloody shop and restaurant and cinema and wedding reception rooms down there at the end of the tour. It’s, like, really far down. Really far. So far down and full of salt that it slows down the ageing process. It’s one of the most healthy places to be. WEIRD.

Bit weird but necessary 

For Ryan’s birthday meal, I’d planned for the two of us to go to a posh rooftop restaurant with views over the river. I’d booked it… or so I thought. Turns out my booking didn’t go through and we had to sit inside and I had a massive strop about it. Obviously. But it was still a nice meal, and we met up with our pals on a boat bar afterwards to soften the first-world problem blow.

On Tuesday morning, our last day, we legged it to Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory after breakfast to join the queue. They sell all their tickets on the day, you can’t prebook, and they usually sell out by 10am. We JUST about got in, so very glad we researched that before going. It was very much worth it.

We went on a long and winding walk along the river back to Wawel Castle to fight the school trips to see the fire-breathing dragon, then filled time by diving into the tourist traps to eat ice cream and pizza, and drain the last of the vodka, before getting the train back to the airport for our super late flight home.

Kraków was great. If I’m being painfully honest, I wasn’t in the best headspace during this trip so I didn’t feel super relaxed and happy and… myself. Which is a shame. I’d love to go back and do it again. I’d actually like to travel Poland, as there are so many great cities and it’d be relatively cheap to do by train. One day…

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