More often than not a trip to Auschwitz wouldn’t feature too highly on the agenda for a twenty-something girl looking to celebrate her birthday…but it did for my lovely friend Sian. I think it was more so a case of wanting to go away for a long weekend with friends and finding somewhere interesting in Europe that no one had been to before. So with this in mind, Kraków made the cut. Messages passed back and forth on the day of departure…what on earth do we pack? Bizarrely even though we were old hat at catching flights and travelling no one could quite work out what to pack and how to fit it in hand luggage! Once packing had been (almost) resolved and hurdles such as currency and the perils of Easybus overcome the weekend could start proper. This meant a glass of bubbles in a not so glamorous Weatherspoons at Stansted airport.
A speedy exit through the astonishingly small arrivals area at Krakow airport and we bundled into the waiting taxi. The apartment we had decided to rent was just off the main square. (Click here to book through tripadvisor). This is the Kraków equivalent of having an apartment in Trafalgar Square or overlooking the Louvre if you were in Paris. The flat was everything you would look for on a city break: spacious yet cosy, fantastic location, great water pressure (with six long haired girls this is always a deal breaker) and best of all…cheap! Having quickly popped out to stock up on the most Waitrose-esque food we could find in the corner shop we tucked into a much needed dinner and unwound from our travels.
Having travelled from the airport in the dark, the following day’s sunshine gave us the opportunity to actually see what Poland looked like (we still didn’t really know!). We wanted to spend the day doing the more further afield trips so we set off early with Peter our driver and headed to Auschwitz. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance and we would recommend getting there early to beat the crowds. Auschwitz was a harrowing but worthwhile trip. Apparently it is possible to go by public transport but get a driver for the day if you can as it’s much speedier and you may even be lucky enough to get Peter- a lovely man who fell victim to a lot of flirting and admiration.
As you can imagine it’s quite difficult to blog about Auschwitz as a recommendation because everyone experiences it in their own way, different parts would be poignant to me as would be to you. Likewise, it didn’t really seem fit to be snapping away instead of taking everything in. Birkenau is the second part of Auschwitz and is just 3km away. It’s well worth a visit too. There is less to read but you get to appreciate the sheer scale of the camps and edge a little closer to being able to comprehend the whole thing.
Some of our well-travelled friends had also recommended the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Seeing as this too was out of town and we had the lovely Peter to hand we decided to head there after Auschwitz. Filled with promise and great expectations we booked ourselves onto a tour on arrival (part thanks to Peter’s excellent persuasion skills with the staff) and followed our tour guide (a Teresa May doppelgänger) down 110m into what felt like the belly of the Earth, and a very salty one at that.
For about an hour the tour was interesting. Teresa May cracked jokes and quipped that we were brave for “risking your lives down the mine my dears. You like it? No I don’t think so”. Tunnels and caves then made way to the underground salt chapel. The chapel was by far the highlight of the trip with chandeliers consisting of 2500 salt crystal beads, hand-carved Da Vinci copies and classical music. But whilst this would have acted as the perfect crescendo to our underground experience it instead was just the half way mark. It was downhill quite literally from there.
It got the point when even Teresa’s jokes couldn’t salvage our attention having already seen rock salt shafts for an hour and several disappointing “animations” which largely consisted of a few flash bulbs and the odd ripple of water. Getting tired, hungry and with diminishing attention spans the final stage of the tour really did rub salt in the wound. A woman with an expression so stern that it would have challenged miss Trunchbull in a pokerface contest herded us into the lift (which funnily enough was about as spacious as the chokie) and rammed the doors into us and sent us hurtling up to ground level in a claustrophobic tizz. It had been a long day, and let’s just say we were glad to be out.
Peter drove us back to our apartment where hot showers, food and alcohol were top of the agenda. We took a look at the Square in its post-dusk glory and then headed to a restaurant called Destino which was just a few doors down on the street SW Java. It looked like the sort of place we would choose in London. Wooden tables and thought through interiors it was contemporary with just the right amount of charm. The cocktails were fantastic but the steak was even better. If you go it is most definitely the thing to order without exceptions. In an attempt to embrace we finished off supper with some vodka shots and desserts (they’re generally irresistible in the nicest polish restaurants). The bill came to around £20 each despite the copious consumption of alcohol. It scored ten out of ten.
Having had a taste of Polish vodka we were ready for more. We headed across the street to Pijalnia. Serving vodka in an abundance of flavours 24 hours a day it was packed full and by the look of some of the wobbly kneed punters propped up at the bar we guessed the all day service had been taken full advantage of. Knocking back a few shots at the bar it was the closest I got to feeling polish on the whole trip. As we grew more tipsy so did the urge to pull some questionable shapes and dance like we were extras in a Basshunter video. It’s a little hazy as to the order in which we stumbled into each bar but we racked up visits to Noise, Relak and Diva. We popped our heads round the corner of a jazz bar (the Jazz bars are often recommended) but with everyone sat in silence it didn’t seem the best setting for a vodka-filled gaggle of girls looking for more shots and a dance floor. If you are on best behaviour then it might be worth considering, otherwise give it a miss.
With cramping calves, heavy eyelids and just two hours before sunrise our beds were even more inviting and comfortable than the night before. It was time to get some much-needed sleep ready for another busy day. Stay tuned for the next instalment of our Polish travels.