My mum turned 60 yesterday - Happy Birthday Mamma - and we spent a long weekend celebrating in the Polish city of Kraków (Krak-hoof as the locals told us it was pronounced). The city filled with dumplings, beer, pretty buildings and snow has so much more to offer than you think.
Auschwitz & Birkenau
These are a must see. I felt bad for saying I wanted to go and learn more about what happened here, I felt like I was prying into the memories of those who lost their lives there but after seeing it in person I am glad (if glad is the right word to use) that we managed to see it. Auschwitz and Auschwitz II–Birkenau from the start looked harrowing, a dark and gloomy place that you knew straight away was somewhere you would not have wanted to be. As we walked round and learnt about the history, conditions, executions and events that took place there I couldn't help but feel sad and upset, in particular in the gas chamber and the children's camp. I would highly recommend booking a trip to Auschwitz & Birkenau if you can, you won't regret it.
Kraków Main Square
Being a five minute walk from our Parkside Apartments there was no doubt we would be visiting one of the best attractions of the city - the main square. As we visited at a time when the Pole's are still celebrating Christmas (we found out that it's right up until February 2nd) it was filled with a beautiful light up tree and twinkling fairy lights throughout. The best bit about the main square is without a doubt - the pubs! The streets are filled with lively pubs, bars and restaurants and we spent some of the day (and most of the nights) in them. With beer working out around £1-£2 a pint we were pretty happy to sit with a drink in hand and watch the snow fall outside the window. Being in a group we were a little limited to some of the smaller places but we spent time in Bulldog Bar, Beer Gallery - Luxury and Caffe Zaćmienie to name a few.
Touring the city
We saw a lot of the city by car, electric car that is. There are lots of city tours to go on, we had a lovely little tour guide on ours - he even cracked a few jokes along the way. We visited the old town and it’s beautiful architecture, the Wawel Castle - former seat of Polish kings, Kazimierz - the oldest Jewish quarter in Poland, the Nazi Ghetto - where Polish jews were segregated until there was a place in the concentration camps, Oscar Schindler’s factory and much more. This tour was the easiest (and if you sit where the heater is the warmest) way to take in all the beautiful sights Krakow has to offer.
The Great Orchestra of Christmas
We were lucky enough to be in Kraków when the Great Orchestra of Christmas charity day was taking place, held on 15th January 2017. We started to wonder what was happening when we saw many people sporting a little red heart sticker and it was on our city tour that we discovered that every year the charity raises money to purchase medical equipment for children and seniors in need. Since it began in 1993, the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity has raised hundreds of millions of pounds for the Polish health system. As part of this we saw lots of fundraising, dancing in the square, bands and a lot more red heart stickers.
Traditional polish food
As part of our trip we made sure that we spent an evening in a traditional Polish restaurant eating as the Polish would. We ate at Kuchnia Staropolska U Babci Maliny, a little quirky side street restaurant with an antique shop feel inside. With both Polish and other variants on the menu there were plenty of options to choose from. The waiter recommended us the White Barszcz Zurek or 'soup in bread' to you and me to start. When it arrived we were presented with literally a huge chunk of sourdough bread filled with a creamy sausage and vegetable soup. It was delicious, if I knew we didn't have a main to follow I could've eaten the whole bread it came in. The restaurant also served Pierogi (traditional mixed dumplings), when they came they were also served on bread - I don't think 'no carbs before Marbs' would work in Kraków. We also experienced more of the delicious Polish cuisine as part of our day trip out - we went to Karczma Zagroda where we were served three courses of pure heaven. To start a chunky vegetable soup, for main a cheese stuffed chicken roulade with sides of groats (a bit like cous cous), sweet and sour red cabbage and sauerkraut and for dessert a slab of apple pie with meringue top and cream. To say I was stuffed is an understatement.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
When it first got mentioned that one of our trips would be to a salt mine I genuinely thought it would be a little trip where we learnt about salt - boy was I wrong! This place was one of the most amazing and fascinating places I have ever seen. Who'd have thought what looked like a little mine from the outside would hold four chapels, dozens of statues and a lift that would give the Tower of Terror a run for it's money. Shown round by our own individual guide we descended 327 metres where we saw Princess Kinga, one of the largest chapels in the world and The Last Supper all carved purely from rock salt. The Wieliczka Salt Mine certainly made me realise that salt is so much more than just what you put on your fish and chips on a Friday night.
Kraków is much larger than I imagined and we only scratched the surface of what this city has to offer. With us already thinking we will return in the summer I'm sure this won't be the last blog post you see from me regarding this beautiful and must-visit city.