Interrailing brings with it alot of brief but brilliant visits to some of the world’s most amazing sites and we wanted to ensure we made the most of our time in each of the European beauties. First stop, Poland and then onto the German cities of Hamburg and Berlin
Stop 1: Krakow, Poland
My ancestral home (okay, maybe just in spirit), the 9th largest country in Europe and the birthplace to some of the world’s loveliest beers; Poland was our first interrailing stop. With news of the Manchester Bombings hitting us on our first full morning and a trip to the world famous Auschwitz, we spend our Polish moments enjoying a different type of start to out trip; one filled with contemplation, thought, reflection and of course the odd beer or two.
We flew with Ryanair, our cheapest option as we left it a little late to book our inward trip. Tickets cost us €125 (About half the cost of an Interrail ticket!!) but we needed to get there one way or another! Once we arrived at John Paul II Airport, we took the train to Krakow Glowny which was the station closest to our Air BnB. Actually figuring out the train system was a little confusing as none of the train attendants seemed very willing (or perhaps able) to understand our plea for directions but with a little pointing and a Google search we managed the trip unscathed! The train from the airport cost us about 9 zl (Polish Zloty – about €2) and took us about 30 minutes.
We stayed in a city AirBnB about a 10/15 minute walk from Krakow city center and about the same from Krakow Glowny. For about €30 per person for three nights, we had the luxury of a large apartment in a quiet and relatively safe area that we were able to use as our Polish base. Our apartment couse have happily slept another 2/3 people and came with the added bonus of a fully functional kitchen (though we did end up frying our pizzas the first night when we had oven problems). Overall this was an ideal place to stay and really comfortable.
The Food and Drink
Because we had a kitchen to use, we mostly prepared our own meals during the first stop on our interrail adventure. As mentioned before, we enjoyed fried frozen pizzas for our first Polish dinner, Pasta another night and snacked the evening away the third night. My favourite food find in Krakow was of course ice-cream based and the nicest of the entire interrailing adventure was to be found in Lody Z Lodziarni where a scoop of ferrero raffaello and another of white chocolate gelato definitely changed my life (and I ate my body weight in ice-cream in Italy; none matched this).
Polish alcohol is renowned around the world and it was here I (a non-drinker never mind a non-beer lover) found I actually do enjoy fruity beer. We had a really nice night in Huki Muki where the drinks were cheap, the atmosphere was cozy and the Vodka was a lot stronger then this gal is used to. Apparently they do a great burger too but this veggie didn’t try this piece of meat!
The to-do List
Pay Remembrance at Auschwitz (and Don’t Miss Birkenau)
One of the reasons we wanted to visit Krakow was so that we’d have a chance to visit Auschwitz. Before I left, I had a range of varying reactions to this but most thought I was a little mad to want to visit this part of the world’s darkest history but without a doubt it was probably the most meaningful visit I have ever taken. Jarring, somber and full of remembrance, thunder growled overhead as we walked the paths that were once frequented with innocent prisoners and their vicious captors; a strange and almost outer-worldy ambiance ensued. As we followed our attentive guide from stop to stop my mind kept racing over a mantra commonly associated with Remembrance Day – “Least We Forget”. I was particularly struck by Birkenau which is kept exactly the same as it looked (And felt) on the day of it’s liberation in 1945. While Auschwitz itself was the site of so many atrocities and today stands as a reminder to the lose and cruelty that once ensued in this quite Polish area, Birkenau really hit home the realities of hate and oppression by it’s sheer untouched nature. At first, I was a little sickened by the throngs and masses of visitors walking inside these famous confines (I couldn’t even bring myself to touch my camera never mind take photos) but as I stood at the ruins of what once was a murder machine, it clicked inside my head; we must never forget the hate and suffering that happened here and the brilliant people who work at these camps today and the reason that so many millions are invited to visit is to learn from the atrocities of the past; hate must never be allowed win.
We took the bus from Dworzec Autobusowy (in Krakow Glowny) to Oświęcim where we were left at the compound’s gates. This cost us about 26zl (to and from) and it took us a little over an hour to get there (on a crowded bus). Use this article to learn more about getting there and unless you’re flush with cash, stay away from the tour touts who are much more expensive. It is free to enter on our own but only at certain hours and this books up very fast. I’d certainly recommend you book a guided tour in advance online here as they book up so quickly (we had a two hour wait for an English speaking tour). This costs about 35zl but it is 100% worth having a guide. You cannot bring backpacks or larger handbags into the site so I’d recommend leaving them at home or in the specified bag drop room.
Another big NB which I shouldn’t have to say but do is to have respect. In certain areas silence is reserved and this means NO TALKING or stupid picture taking. This is the site of millions of unnecessary deaths at the hands of evil and not your instagram photoshoot (this goes out to you loud couple on our tour)
Day 3 greated us with familiar rain but we didn’t let it dampen our spirits. Setting off with a picture of a map and little orienteering skills between us we quickly found ourselves int eh beautiful ground of Wawel castle admiring the beautiful architecture and gold plating. I adore the court yard (very #archgoals). We didn’t harper a tour inside as we were trying to be as pocket friendly as possible.
The Jewish Quarter
If you like quirky street art and hipster cafes, this area s great for a quick visit but we didn’t stay long as we couldn’t quite figure out where we were going as we navigated the confusing small streets. I particularly loved this store front.
Church of Saint Claire
A random find as we escaped the gray skies, this little church is a beautiful, quiet spot among the masses of tour groups and school tours. A definite stop for a little spiritual break (even for the heathens like me)
Main Square, Old Town
This is where all the action is at. Stroll the tourist markets (inside the big building in the center), get inside the head of a Greek God (literally) or grab a bite to eat in an overly expensive tourist trap (though my favorite ice-cream place is just off here if you are just willing to explore)
Things to Note
- Polish people don’t do small talk; ever
- Paprika crisps make the world go around…. especially the Polish variety
- Trains in Poland require reservation – look for English speaking reservation agents
- There’s a bus and train station in Krakow Glowny (and a supermarket and an entire shopping center); an ideal base