Krakow was another wonderful city with plenty of attractions such as the old medieval city, Jewish Quarter and Auschwitz. One can easily spend days just in the Old Town exploring the many spectacular churches, museums, art galleries etc.
We spent a day visiting the main churches around Old Town before ending with a quick walk around Wawel Hill. Another day was dedicated for exploring the Jewish Quarter at Kazimierz. The main highlight for me was the day we took a bus tour out to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau, located 1hr away from city centre.
The sombre mood began on the bus ride out, as we were shown a video on the history and horrors of the holocaust. The constant rain throughout the day added further gloom to the whole experience as we visited the buildings which escaped the destruction of the Nazis during the final days. Our guide was good, giving his explanation in a serious tone and emphasizing the horrors the victims endured during between 1940-45.
Some of the memorable sections included:-
(a) mountains of personal belongings of the victims, which included human hair (Nazis used it to make fabric), shoes, luggages etc
(b) being inside the gas chamber & adjoining crematorium
(c) re-creation of sleeping platforms for the prisoners and finding it hard to envisage how so many people can be cramped into a small space
(d) vastness of Birkenau, the largest concentration camps
My only disappointment for the day was the lack of time, especially for Birkenau, which took place after visiting Auschwitz first. Plus the hordes of tourists everywhere make it impossible to fully appreciate the exhibits since i had to keep up with my group & guide. Do recommend people who go on the bus tour to stay back and explore the grounds of Birkenau longer, since there is public transportation back to Krakow.
Krakow was one of the few places where we managed to sample plenty of the local food. Armed with a list of dishes to try from my Polish friends here in London, we were delighted to find many simple but delicious food. This included:-
– zurek (hearty sour soup that can include hard-boiled eggs, sausages and potatoes). my personal favorite after a cold day.
– pierogi (dumplings which can be filled with meat or turned into a sweet fruits or cheese)
– bigos (traditional cabbage stew)
– borscht (beetroot soup)
– golabki (mixture of rice & minced beef wrapped inside a cabbage leave)
– kotlet schabawy (breaded pork chops – similar to schnitzel)
Accommodation – Atlantis Hostel http://www.atlantishostel.pl (Quiet & clean hostel within walking distance to Old Town, Wawel Hill & Jewish Quarter)