We rode in on a night train. We arrived around 7am on Tuesday morning in the Krakow train station. We slept on the train overnight from Prague, in a two-bed sleeper cabin. It was very tiny, slightly bigger than a walk-in closet with very skinny bunk beds. At first it was hard to get to sleep and as soon as I did fall asleep the train’s high-pitched metal shrieks would wake me up. Note for next time: wear earplugs.
Once we arrived, we walked from the station to the Greg & Tom Hostel. Of course, when I was sleep and coffee deprived, it started raining on us and in the middle of a cross walk, my bag’s shoulder strap busted and everything fell in the street. Since I was already on edge the floodgates opened and the tears flowed. This was not my shining moment but I got over it and took a tiny nap as soon as we got to the hostel. I knew once I could just get some rest and some coffee I would feel better. I don’t normally cry at such a trivial difficulty like a bag breaking but I happened to be feeling emotional and feelings were piling on top of each other in my head and once I start crying a little, everything else I’ve needed to cry about starts to come out. Even as a grown, and seemingly strong and independent adult, I surprise myself with how fragile I can be.
After I put the emotional morning behind me, I was ready to get into the town of Krakow and see what was up. I left Erick in the hostel to do some work while I went out to exchange some money and see what was in the area. I immediately loved our little block and the proximity to the mall, corner store, train station, and food. I went into a couple shops, took some pictures and returned to the hostel. We planned out the next day which was to be our Auschwitz day. I had to mentally prepare myself for more emotions. There’s not much I can say about my first (and probably last) visit to a concentration camp that hasn’t already been said. As someone who connects to people’s pain so intensely, I’ve had a special place in my heart for the souls who experienced the holocaust. I fully expected to simply cry all day long during our visit but it somehow felt peaceful. We decided to take the 6:30am bus to the camp so we could be the first ones to enter as they opened at 8am. And we were some of the first people there. We decided to do the self-guided individual tour versus having a guide take you along the whole way, which can take hours. We were able to walk through both Auschwitz and Birkenau within just three hours and head back to Krakow. With that kind of heaviness, I’m glad we did it individually. I don’t think I could have taken a full day of it. Thankfully, it was a very clear and beautiful morning with the sun gently rising above the camps’ roofs. I felt like I was on a movie set. It felt surreal. There were some areas where I felt complete darkness and heaviness of what happened there but other areas gave me a peaceful feeling as though the souls were there telling me they were okay now. I decided that morning that I wouldn’t take any pictures or video. It felt like it would be irreverent for me as I didn’t need to personally have any photos of this place for myself. The sights are burned in my memory. What eventually brought me to tears when I saw the collection of baby items that were broken and tattered. Knowing that not only adults had to go through the horrors of that place but tiny babies who had no clue what was going on, had to endure it as well, just broke my heart into a million pieces.
We spent the next couple of days really enjoying the Old Town Square, the cafes to do some work, the cute little Polish restaurants, and interesting food. I especially loved the market square that reminded me of the same type of artisans and vendors from El Mercado in San Antonio, where I grew up in my family’s business. I looked at the little old Polish ladies behind their jewelry counters and saw my grandmother. I saw the young teenager wrapping up an item sold and smiling at her customer and saw myself. This market made me realize just how lucky I was to grow up in such a place as the San Antonio Market Square and just how much I learned from my family’s work ethic. I made sure to give quite a few of these Polish shops my Zloty!
As for the food in Krakow, I really loved trying Perogies for the first time. I like the vegetarian kind versus the chicken. I also loved the shot of vodka that comes with a hot cup of tea! One Polish food I did not enjoy and do not recommend to anyone is the sort of lard-spread they serve with bread before your meal. Just don’t. It tastes like pure fat blended with flavorless chicken meat. Gross.
Also, beware of portion sizes. I was told I ordered a sampler plate of “mini” portions of a few different foods and what I got was the Crazy Plate which is basically five meals on one plate. I didn’t even make a dent in it and felt so guilty for wasting the food.
The people of Krakow were especially nice and didn’t have any trouble speaking English if you needed to or help you sort out money for you. They were patient and kind. We also met some pretty fun people in our hostel. Travelers, young and old, from all over who were either on holiday from school or just quit their job and were finding themselves or recently broken up with a fiance. Lots of cool stories and journeys. A lot of us went out for drinks and dancing one night which happened to be my favorite night, of course. I felt quite underdressed as I didn’t bring any kind of clubbing clothes (I don’t really have those to begin with!) but our whole group was in the same boat so I let it go. I had a great time. Put me on a dance floor and I’m good, anywhere in the world!
I had a lovely time in Krakow. I will definitely return and completely recommend taking a few days to enjoy this city if you’re in this area.