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Featured Destination: Krakow

If I'm going to spend several hundred dollars on a plane ticket to Europe, I'm going to squeeze in as many countries as possible in an attempt to get my money's worth. This is why my one week trips always ends up being three weeks. Since I was already in Germany, it was totally rational to just add a few more days on and to to Poland right? I mean, they share a border, so I was practically there. And I had never ventured out into Eastern Europe, so what the heck.

I found a cheap flight from Frankfurt to Krakow through Lufthansa, and away I went. In the weeks leading up to my trip, Poland had both a plane crash landing and a train accident-both on Polish carriers. So I was glad that I picked a German carrier because I didn't want a Polack behind the wheel. And I can say this because I have some Polack in me, and it's quite prominent sometimes.

We landed in Krakow Balice Internatinal Airport, and I think the first thing that pops into everyone's head is "Wow, this is a tiny airport!". One terminal and only a handful of gates. I booked car service directly through our awesome hotel, and we had an English speaking driver waiting for us as soon as we cleared customs. We were finally on our way to downtown Krakow!

We booked into the amazing Ventus Rosa Apartments { http://www.ventusrosa.pl }. Even though we arrived very early in the morning, they had our apartment ready for us as soon as we arrived, so we were able to get a quick nap in before we went out exploring.

The inside of our apartment-complete with a washer / dryer, full kitchen, dishwasher, and more!

The other half of our studio apartment at Ventus Rosa

The outside of Ventus Rosa Apartments
 We decided to head over to Wawel Castle, which was a 5-10 minute cab ride minute ride away from our apartment. Since the Polish conversion rate is in our {American} favor, everything is nice and cheap, which is a welcome change from the rest of EU where we get killed on the exchange.

The gothic style Wawel Castle was built around the year 1333 during the reign of Casimir III The Great, but there is evidence of people inhabiting the hill that the castle is build on as early as 50,000 years ago!  For centuries, it was the home of Polish Kings, but now is the greatest art museum in the country {they currently have a Leonardo DaVinci painting on display!}. Their crown treasury and armoury were pretty cool. 

The view from inside of the castle grounds

A nice photo op spot on a "turret" looking balcony

As I'm sure you can imagine, Pope John Paul II is huge in Poland

It's quite a large structure, with lots to explore including state rooms, royal apartments, different art exhibitions, and crypts! Being a mortician, of course I had to check them out. In addition to being the final resting place of several Polish kings, heros, and presidents, it also contains the sarcophagus of St. Leonard.

There's a cute little outdoor restaurant inside of the castle walls that's a great spot to grab some coffee or a snack and people watch. There's also a good photo opportunity down by the river.

Photo op spot down by the river!
 After the castle, we headed over to Ryneck Glowny, also known as the Main Square. The square dates back to the 13th century, and is the largest medieval square in Europe! This is where you'll find a ton of restaurants, bars, and shops. If you aren't a fan of Polish food, this is also where you'll find a Hard Rock Cafe and what we called the "knock-off Chili's". There are lots of cafes with outdoor dining and little bier gardens, great when there's nice weather out. Depending on the time of year, this is where you can find the festivals. In the middle of the square, there's a long, narrow covered structure called Cloth Hall that houses a sort of flea market. This is a good place to head to if you're looking for some trinkets to send home. You can haggle there with the individual vendors.

Cloth Hall. If you look in the arches, you can see the inside vendor stands.

The following day, we booked onto a tour to Auschwitz. The tour that we booked was through Viator.com. We booked their Auschwitz Birkenau Half Day Trip for US $52. This tour makes stops at select hotels in town, so we took a cab to the nearest one to meet the group.

Auschwitz is located in Oswiecim, about an hour ride from Krakow. The price of the tour included an on-site tour guide {who is employed by Auschwitz, not Viator}. The way that it works is that the group is broken up into smaller groups, and each smaller group of about 15 people or so gets their own guide. It sounds good, but I personally wasn't a fan of it for a few reasons. One was that it created a backlog of the groups. At each highlight, the tour guide will give his speech, and so since we're all essentially together, you end up listening to the same thing over and over from each group in front of you. And some tour guides are better than others- one group had a very friendly, enthusiastic leader, while ours reminded me of a drone. No life in her voice or passion for her job. Before we began, we were given a time to meet back at the bus in case anybody got seperated, so we decided to take the opportunity to strike out on our own. We usually prefer to do things at our own pace, and from talking to others in our group, it sounds like we were able to see more than those who stuck with their groups. A majority of the buildings are open for wandering, and the tours don't visit every single one. All of the exhibits are in English, so it's quite easy to get around and ready everything.

Auschwitz is a very haunting place, and one that will have a profound effect on you. We suspect that we had some family on my father's side of the family from Ukraine who were sent through the camp, though we don't know what their outcomes were. For more information, including the ability to do a prisoner search, visit their website at http://en.auschwitz.org/m/ Rather than give you a rehash of the history, which most of you are already familiar with, I've decided to let the photos speak for themselves.

Arbeit Macht Frei / Work Will Set You Free

Everything was confiscated, from money and jewels to luggage to hair brushes to prosthetic body parts.

The walls in most hallways on the property are lined with prisoner photos, names, and any other information that was known.
This shot is from inside of the crematorium. It's blurry, but I was in such a hurry to get out of there that I didn't stop to check the photo while I was still in there.
After Auschwitz, it's a short five minute ride over to what is known as Auschwitz II, or Auschwitz-Birkenau.  This second camp was constructed to "ease" some of the overcrowding in the first camp. In less than five months, it's estimated that almost 10,000 were executed. There were no tour guides for this camp, as there really isn't much to see or explore. 

After spending the day at the two camps, we decided just to go grab some groceries at a store and head back to the apartment. We had booked this apartment specifically because they had a washer / dryer, and we wanted to get everything washed and repacked for the long journey home. We did a test run with some socks, and the washer worked perfectly. We decided to do a full load with a suitcase full of clothes. Fast forward to a few hours later, I'm trying to frantically Skype home to have my father translate out the settings on the washer so we could figure out how to stop it and get our clothes back. It's a good thing that Ukrainian is very close to Polish!

Something else worth mentioning was that this apartment had what has to be the world's tiniest bath tub. Allow me to demonstrate:

Also worth noting, if you decide to book into Ventus Rosa, is not to panic when you notice the police sub station, complete with an officer welding an AK-47 24/7. As it turns out, he's there as security for the Russian Embassy located on the same block. This had us a bit nervous until we found out why!

Krakow is a beautiful city, and I can't wait to make it back there again, just to spend a few days more in the city. There's so much more to see in the area if you're interested in exploring-check out Viator for a list of attractions and tours that they offer.

That's all for now-Until next time!


  1. Love the photos!

  2. I like the description of your trip. Thank you for sharing this! Your photos are also very interesting :) I love Kraków!

  3. Thank you! I wish that we had more than the two days there-there's so much to do and see! We didn't bother to exchange our Polish money because we're hoping to make it back there soon :)