My first glimpse of Krakow was at 5AM, walking through the Old Town Square to get to our hostel. I am not usually good at following the classic travel advice of getting up early to see the world’s most famous sites totally empty of other tourists, but when you arrive on a city on an overnight bus you don’t really have a choice.
I decided I was going to be in charge of navigation for once, and after about 5 minutes I gave up and handed the phone to Alex to get us to the hostel. Seriously, I don’t know how I travel alone – I barely navigated on this trip, and every time I tried I failed. But anyway, we wandered through the square, in awe of the mist-clad beauty of Krakow’s churches and towers, but we were exhausted. So we rocked up at our hostel at 5AM, obviously unable to check in.
And then, proceeded to curl up on a bean bag chair for hours and nap/watch Outlander. Yay for seeing Poland!
After a few hours of relaxing, we decided on a free walking tour of the city, so I did some research and we picked one focused on World War 2. It wasn’t the greatest walking tour I’ve ever been on, maybe because it was way too cold to be outside for three hours straight, but I did learn quite a bit about the German occupation of the city so that was good.
After the walking tour it was time for pierogies!!! I absolutely adore pierogies and eat them at home all the time, and I didn’t realize that a lot of countries (ie. Australia) don’t really have them or know what they are. We ate pierogies every single day we were in town, including as the very last thing we did before heading to the bus station. SO. GOOD. If you don’t know, they’re basically little dumplings with potato and cheese filling, but we tried some fancier varieties in Krakow: spinach and feta, mushroom and cabbage, etc.
Honestly, most of what we did in Krakow was eat. Usually for the first 2-3 days of travelling long-haul I’m super nauseous and can’t eat (no idea why) so by the time we got to Krakow I had recovered my appetite and was back to eating every 2-3 hours. One highlight was trying a local recommendation, zapiekanka. A girl that worked at our hostel in Prague was actually Polish, so she directed us to Plac Nowy, in the Jewish quarter, where there are tons of stalls selling these giant baguette-type pizzas for under $5. On our way there, I saw a skating rink, and obviously dragged Alex there.
I may be Canadian but I am a horrible skater – luckily I only fell once!! It felt very un-touristy, since we were just in some random square, and it was really fun but surprisingly tiring. We were SUPER ready for zapiekanka when we were done, and it was worth the wait. These were sooo good, but pigeons kept trying to attack us, and I’m terrified of birds, so I kept embarrassing myself by screaming.
The only other real touristy thing we did in Poland was go to Auschwitz. I had been to a concentration camp before, in Munich, but Auschwitz is significantly more famous, larger, and much more depressing. We booked a guided tour, because it felt like one of those places that you should, and were pretty glad we did. I didn’t take any photos, because I was too busy crying. I also don’t really know how to write about the experience, but it was extremely poignant.
If you’re in Krakow and looking to do Auschwitz independently it’s really easy, you can just take the train from the main station directly to Oświęcim and then walk or take the bus to the actual site of the concentration camp. If you need a restaurant nearby we went to Restauracja A la carte and liked it a lot – we were the only diners for a while so we had lovely chats with the staff, ate a bunch of pierogies, and watched the world go by.
And that’s pretty much it for Krakow. If I visited in the summer I’m sure I’d spend a lot more time outdoors and doing things, but this trip was a pretty good balance of relaxing at our hostel and braving the cold. Side note, our hostel wasn’t great – probably wouldn’t recommend the Heynow Hostel if you’re looking for any sort of socializing experience. However, the location was incredible since it was so close to the main square. The one downside of being so close to the square is that you hear a bugle call every hour on the hour, from Saint Mary’s Church. Before I knew what it was, I thought I was just having weird dreams or was perhaps feverish, and then it just started to be annoying!! It kind of reminded me of the call to prayer in Morocco, except a lot less cool.
Poland – I’ll be back to explore more than just one city!