Grab a snack and settle in! Three days in Krakow may not sound like a whole lot to cover in a travel diary, but with so much to see and do in this picture perfect little city, I have a lot to share!
I’ve got quite the backlog of travel posts to get through and fully intended on wrapping up all my content from our last trip to Greece before I moved on to covering any other travel destinations, but I’m feeling so freaking inspired to write about our recent trip. Mostly, I’m inspired by the incredible city of Krakow, so I just could not wait any longer to share this absolute gem of Europe with you. (EDITED TO ADD: It’s actually been a hot minute since I first started this post. This trip was back in July 2019, so the backlog continues…)
If you don’t wish to read some semi-related random streams of consciousness, skip ahead to the pink text that says “Three Days in Krakow”….
“Like most of you, I still live for travel, rather than travel for a living…”
While I do blog about travel, I’m not a bona fide “Travel Blogger” as we know them today. I still travel like a normal person. My vacations abroad aren’t sponsored (don’t I wish!;)). I don’t visit places just to take pretty pictures. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things, I just want it to be clear that my approach to traveling and the way I choose to write about it should hopefully resonate with many of you who are looking for a more practical take. Like most of you, I still live for travel, rather than travel for a living. So I truly want the information I share to be helpful in some way for the average traveler, and an average budget. And I will always keep it real with regards to my true thoughts on any given location.
But as I’ve learned over the years, so much of our own experiences are situational, so always keep that in mind and gather as much info as possible from different sources when planning your own adventures. Things I find to be completely irritating, others may find charming, and vice versa. I know this seems like common sense, but as they say, common sense isn’t always so common. 😉
“there is an intangible element that sort of plagues the cities that we tend to gravitate towards…”
Now before I get started, I have to say that so much of what I thought I knew about my travel preferences was solidified during this vacation. While Michael and I don’t jet set throughout the year, we have been to quite a few places over our 10 years of marriage, including many of the super popular destinations that most Americans flock to on a first or second trip outside of the states (eg. Rome, Paris, London). And while I’m obviously grateful for time spent in the more frequented places, I’ve really grown to appreciate the destinations less traveled….by Americans, at least. This is no slight on the people of our great nation, but there is an intangible element that sort of plagues the cities that we tend to gravitate toward. They become overly crowded, commercialized, and kitsch. Therefore we find less authentic experiences.
Obviously we’re not the only culture of people visiting all of these more popular destinations, but I look at our presence as a litmus test of sorts. Other Europeans visiting another European destination isn’t generally a big ordeal for them. They can hop on a train, or take a $60 flight to visit other parts of Europe, but when millions of Americans are willing to dish out thousands of dollars to leave our continent to visit a particular place abroad each year, you know there’s a high likelihood it’s going to be what I refer to as “Disney Land Level Touristy.”
Thankfully, Krakow was the opposite of Disney Land Level Touristy, which is why it’s now one of my favorite destinations on the planet.
Our itinerary looked like this:
3 nights in Krakow
4 nights in Florence
4 nights in Corfu (Greece)
2 nights in London
If you’re thinking that’s a crazy itinerary and lot of going ‘around one’s ass to get to their elbow,’ so to speak, it actually wasn’t too terrible since we were able to get direct flights from one place to the next. But I’ll admit that I don’t find flying everywhere to be ideal, and we don’t typically do it unless it’s absolutely necessary. It just adds an extra layer of stress because if your flight gets canceled, or you miss it, you’re likely stuck for 24 hours, or you’ll get rebooked on a multi-leg route that’ll eat up an entire vacation day. Either way, you’re probably going to lose a day at your next destination, and that just plain sucks if you’re on a two week or less holiday abroad. If you miss a train, however, there’s usually another one coming in an hour or less, depending on where you’re at and your destination.
Thankfully everything worked out for us logistically, but we definitely had a close call getting from Florence to Corfu, as there was a mass transportation strike (including taxis, buses, and trains) beginning at 9am the day we were departing. Luckily we were at the train station the day prior and happened to see the warnings about the strike, so we were prepared and took the first morning train from Florence to Milan (where our flight was taking off from), so we made it to the airport just before the strike started, but it was close! We had to take a bus from the Milan train station to the Milan airport and we overheard that it was the last bus run of the day, and then they were striking.
“Michael and I were already planning on visiting Corfu Greece before we convinced Alissa and John to spend two solid weeks with us…in close quarters…in a foreign land…with zero escape from us…”
We decided to do this particular intra-Europe flight route because we were traveling with my friend Alissa over at Graefic Design and her hubby, John, and basically we each picked a destination that we wanted to visit, but none of them were in terribly close proximity. Michael and I were already planning on visiting Corfu Greece before we convinced Alissa and John to spend two solid weeks with us…in close quarters…in a foreign land…with zero escape from us.;) So when we started our planning, John mentioned he really wanted to visit Poland since he has Polish ancestry, and Alissa had always wanted to visit Italy and has some Italian ancestry. Michael and I figured we’re always down for a visit to Italy, and we’ve wanted to visit Krakow for several years, so I loved the idea of visiting all of these destinations and went to work figuring out logistics to create a viable itinerary. We thankfully found flights that worked and got everything booked relatively easily.
Of course that all went entirely too well, so a couple months before our trip we ended up having a bit of a flight snafu, as our morning flight from Corfu to Zurich got changed to an afternoon flight, which meant we would miss our connection to the states by several hours and have to stay overnight in Zurich. They were unable to rebook us on any other flight out of Corfu that day, but thankfully we got a full refund (on non-refundable tickets) since they couldn’t accommodate us. We took this opportunity to re-book a whole new (cheaper!) open jaw flight and added the couple night stay in London, as we realized getting off of Corfu island and back to the states within the same calendar day was going to be risky, as flights to and from Corfu seem to change pretty regularly.
The cool thing about an itinerary like this is even though we were only gone for two weeks, it literally felt like a month….in a good way. Outside of our time in London, we spent a sufficient amount of time in each location to where we were able to get settled, rather than feel like we were constantly on the go. I think the fact that each place we visited was vastly different also contributed to time playing tricks on us. By the time we got to Greece, our running joke was “Hey guys….remember that time we went to Poland….like a year ago??”
But First, Get Your Sleep On
Seeing as Krakow was our first stop on this two week adventure, it meant that we were arriving there on a very, very long flight from the U.S. Michael always makes fun of me for this, but I literally make it my mission to sleep on the plane. I do ‘all the things’ to try my best to make that cramped little space as comfy as possible so that I’m not completely useless once I arrive at our destination.
This typically entails staying up basically the whole night before our flight finishing packing and cleaning up the house, then I carry on ear plugs, an eye mask, an extra sweater (because it always seems to be freezing on those long international flights) and most importantly, a neck pillow (this is the most recent neck pillow I used and I love it). I also have to double up on these compression socks that I purchased a few years ago at Walmart, because without them my lower legs and feet always swell so badly on flights, and then none of my shoes will fit for several days. So by the time I’m heading to the airport, I’m usually so deliriously tired from lack of sleep and knocking out my last minute to-do list, that I’m actually looking forward to getting on the plane just so I can finally pass out. Usually I’m zonked out before we even take off on our first flight out of Charleston. Even after that initial nap on the first flight, I have zero issues falling asleep on the long flight across the Atlantic, partly because I also try to avoid getting sucked into watching the in-flight movies (except while I’m awake for meal service).
“Benadryl, a glass of wine (or two;)), whatever works…”
I really can’t stress enough how important it is to do whatever you need to do to rest as much as possible on the long flight from the states so you’re mostly adjusted to the local time zone once you’ve arrived. Benadryl, a glass of wine (or two;)), whatever works, and then make sure you have a good neck pillow that wraps around your whole neck so you can basically sleep sitting straight up, rather than head bobbing and/or getting a horrible neck ache. The lights will be dimmed for most of the international flight, so nobody can see how ridiculous you look. And who really cares anyway?¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Now onto our time in Krakow….
Whenever we travel with friends, I try to find a good balance between free time and visiting tourist attractions when putting together an itinerary, which can be a bit challenging. Some might even wonder why bother planning an itinerary at all….just go with the flow once you get there, right?
The approach depends on the goal of the trip. You have to ask yourself (and your travel buddies, of course) whether you care about seeing any historical sights? Museums? Famous artwork? If so, it really is helpful to put pen to paper, (or fingers to a keyboard) and figure out where the most important items on your ‘wishlist’ make the most sense in your schedule, or whether you even have enough time for all of it. A lot of places might be closed on certain days, book up quickly, or require reservations ahead of time (such as Auschwitz and the Schindler’s Factory Museum).
We had three full days in Krakow, and with good planning, one can accomplish a lot in three days; but the most important thing we all wanted to do during our time there was visit Auschwitz, which also meant that we would be away from the city for basically a full day. That obviously left us with two days to see and do everything we needed to within Krakow. Thankfully we didn’t have too long of a list of must-sees, so it seemed doable. However, that was also assuming we’d be able to knock some items off our to-do list on the first day. But not everyone is as narcoleptic as I am when it comes to sleeping soundly in unconventional spaces (time in the military definitely prepares you for this haha;)), so when we got to Krakow everyone sort of hit a wall after being awake for basically 24 hours straight. It stinks when this happens bc you don’t fully enjoy your first day since you feel like garbage, nor do you accomplish much. It also didn’t help that our luggage got held up during a short layover in Amsterdam, so we had to waste a bit of time at the airport filling out paperwork so they could deliver our luggage that evening, but I digress…
Three Days in Krakow
Where we stayed
We really lucked out with this airbnb across the street from Planty Park, which is a beautiful green space that borders the Historic Old Town. The park was put in place of the medieval walls surrounding Krakow, when they were torn down, so when you’re searching for a place to stay it’s easy to see where the more central locations are. On a first visit to Krakow, I definitely recommend staying either anywhere inside the Planty Park ring, or right outside of it, like we did. Our airbnb was pretty small, which is typical for a lot of European apartments, but it was updated, had two bathrooms, an elevator (which is extremely helpful for carrying up heavy luggage) and the beds were super comfy. We hardly ever spend time at our hotels or apartment rentals when traveling, so we aren’t looking for frills bc we never have time to take advantage of them. We always focus on getting the best location, with basic needs, within our budget, and this apartment checked all those boxes. The hosts were also very responsive through the Airbnb chat feature leading up to our trip (though, I rarely have a need to communicate much), and they have a separate property management team who handles the check-ins. Checking out was easy too, as they have a mailbox to leave the key in on the ground floor of the building.
Reliable Transportation Around Krakow
Our airbnb host had arranged transportation for us from the airport, which worked out perfectly, as I already had a text from the driver as soon as we landed. We later learned that the transportation service they use actually provides several tours and they have a whole crew of drivers. We ended up using them to get to and from Auschwitz, and to get to the airport on our final day. They are incredibly reliable, have nice air conditioned vehicles, and are reasonably priced. Evidently it’s accepted to park on the sidewalk in Krakow, as our driver literally dropped us right at the door of our Airbnb….like he pulled right up on the sidewalk;) Here is the link to their tripadvisor page….highly, highly recommend them.
During the approximately 20 minute drive from the airport to our airbnb, I was already impressed with Poland. It’s a very green country, with beautiful rolling foothills, adorable quintessentially Polish homes, and it seemed exceptionally clean. Our driver was very friendly, as was the man at the airport who helped us with out lost luggage, which always bodes well for first impressions.
“There’s no shame in enjoying the more touristy joints, where you know your presence and money is welcome…”
We didn’t have any luggage to deal with (seeing as ours was still sitting in Amsterdam haha), so once we checked into out airbnb around noon, we were eager to get out on foot and see the Old Town. The famous old town square was probably a two minute (or less) walk from our flat just through Planty Park. We basically parked our butts at one of the touristy restaurants lining the square, ordered some beer and pierogies, and got our grub on;)
While it’s touristy right in the square, it’s incredibly picturesque and a great atmosphere for downing a beer or two. I mean, the traditional beer tastes the same here as it does in the more ‘off the beaten path’ type places, so there’s no shame in enjoying the more touristy joints, where you know your presence and money are welcome. There’s some great people watching here too!
While we were having a great time throwing back a couple beers at the cafe along the square, this is when that ‘wall’ I mentioned earlier made its presence known and it became clear that we needed to get moving before anyone in our crew face-planted into their pierogies from dozing off at the table.
Unfortunately our Rick Steves travel guides were stuck in our luggage flying the friendly skies without us at that moment, so we didn’t have a great resource to reference. Honestly, I felt kinda lost without the guides because they’ve proven to be such an invaluable resource over the years. We had a shared Google doc with our loose itinerary, but since this was our first time traveling together, I didn’t want to overwhelm our travel buddies with too much on the first day, so I left the schedule kinda open. Plus I wasn’t sure how everyone would feel when we landed. Answer: like crap. Everyone felt like crap.
It would’ve been a miserable experience trying to squeeze in a museum or a visit to St. Mary’s Cathedral with everyone in such a sleep deprived/jet-lagged state, so we opted to stroll through the cute streets of the Old Town toward the outskirts to an adorable beer garden. We’d found one on Trip Advisor that seemed to check all our boxes, so off we went to Mleczarnia.
It was exactly the type of scene we were hoping for with a very laid back atmosphere….but maybe a little too laid back and relaxed, so we didn’t get the miracle pick-me-up we were desperately in search of.;)
As a crew of 30 and 40 somethings, it was definitely a different experience seeing groups of 18 year olds hanging out smoking and legally drinking in public, but we got used to it pretty quickly.
We only stayed at Mleczarnia for one round and then decided around 3:30ish that it was probably best to get back to the apartment so everyone could get a much needed power nap before we headed out for our Polish Vodka Tour that was scheduled for 6pm. Plus we were hoping to get an update on our luggage and weren’t quite sure how that whole situation was going to unfold. We really wanted to avoid having to wait at the apartment for some ridiculous window of time for it (our building required a key to enter, so there was no way to drop it off if we weren’t there). I didn’t think I needed a nap, but after freshening up my hair and makeup a bit and making several unsuccessful phone calls to the lost luggage peeps, I unintentionally passed out on the sofa for an amazing 15-20 minute power nap before it was time to head out to our vodka tour. We left without any word on where our luggage was, or how we’d get it back and decided we’d just hop on the train or grab a cab to the airport after our vodka tour to try to snag it if we didn’t hear anything. The goal was to not let it ruin our day or plans.
“Not doing a vodka tasting in Poland would be the equivalent of not doing a wine tour in Tuscany. Both are just plain wrong…”
I was thrilled to finally be in Krakow, but I’m a very goal oriented person, and up until this point I was feeling like our first day was somewhat of a bust. But then….then we started our Polish Vodka Tour, and all was right with the world. I’m not a vodka drinker. In fact, it made me cringe to think of sampling seven different vodkas. But I felt like not doing a vodka tasting in Poland would be the equivalent of not doing a wine tour in Tuscany. Both are just plain wrong.
I mean…I don’t want to oversell it, but I’m just gonna go ahead and say that booking this tour was the Best. Decision. Everrrrr. It was the exact sort of pick-me-up we needed after a day that was sort of plagued with jet-lag, exhaustion, and bad luck in the luggage department. Our tour guide, Angelika, was adorable, and knowledgeable, and witty, and entertaining, and did a wonderful job of facilitating some ice-breaking convos among our group (though everyone was pretty outgoing, so we didn’t need much help in the friend-making department;)). She taught us so much about the Polish Vodka culture, which was honestly fascinating to me. We truly lucked out with a really fun group, which included a couple younger girls from Sweden, so naturally I used the opportunity to force my misperceived Swedish street cred on them (my maiden name is very, very classically Swedish, and my paternal Great Grandparents were from Sweden). There was also a fun group of guys who were from Australia, and another couple who were from England. Five bars, several shots, and many laughs later, we were all basically best friends, which is pretty much how these things generally go, and the reason why we always try to squeeze in these sort of tours whenever possible. I still have contact with quite a few people I’ve met on wine and beer tours abroad over the years. In fact, last year Michael and I met another couple on a beer tour in Edinburgh who had recently moved abroad from Charleston. They were the only other couple on the tour. I mean, what are the odds?? We hung out the rest of the night together and even went on a spooky ghost tour on a whim, and we still keep up with each other. How cool is that?
Now back to Krakow and our amazing Vodka tour…
I lost count along the way, but I’m pretty certain we sampled much more than the advertised seven vodka samples. The good news is we were also fed a good bit of traditional Polish bites along the way, otherwise we would’ve been a hot mess. So long story long, if you’re coming to Krakow, this Vodka tour is a must.
But what about our luggage, you ask?
Almost forgot….while we were on our vodka tour Michael thankfully got a phone call while he was in the bathroom from someone who was trying to drop off our luggage, but of course they couldn’t get in the building. He likely would’ve missed the call had he not been taking a leak, so it worked out perfectly. The bar we were at was really close to the apartment, so he grabbed John from the table to help him handle the luggage, and they snuck out and back and barely missed a beat. I still can’t believe they just show up unannounced like that and expect people to be there waiting for their stuff while on vacation. We told the guy at the airport to have someone call first to make sure we were there to let them in, and they assured us that they would, but they definitely didn’t. I’m just glad it all worked out and we had our stuff back. Whew! Crisis averted!
Funny Side Note: We were all a bit nervous about the condition our luggage was going to be in because as we were being shuttled around the tarmac during our layover in Amsterdam, we saw several ‘luggage casualties’ from pieces falling off the truck/trailer things while zipping around from plane to plane. Like, literally suitcases busted open and clothing and personal items scattered everywhere. Our shuttle bus ran right over one of the piles of personal items that had fallen out of busted open luggage. I imagine the buses have to stay in the marked lanes to not interfere with the jet traffic (hence why plowed right over it), and as we were running it over I immediately recognized the distinctive cover of a Rick Steves travel guide and Michael and I looked at each other like “Oh shit!” because our Rick Steves books were in his luggage, so we figured it’d just be our luck that his stuff was strewn about the tarmac. As you now know, it wasn’t, but I certainly don’t feel great about what I saw out there and will most definitely be using a luggage strap from now on!
“…two beer towers and a few dozen pierogies later”
It was probably around 11pm by the time we left our vodka tour crew, and we were primed for a few more adult beverages and ready for second dinner at this point. THANK GOODNESS we found CK Browar, which is a traditional beer hall/mini brewery, and conveniently located just a block away from our flat. They serve Polish and Austro-Hungarian food until around 1am, as well as five liter beer towers….what more could we want? Needless to say, we closed this place down two beer towers and a few dozen pierogies later;)
Our second day is one that even as I type this sentence, I’m not exactly sure how to cover it. This is the day we visited the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps (aka Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II). I feel like if I discuss our profound experience in great detail, some might view this as a form of exploitation, and that would absolutely break my heart. So as of now, I think I’ll just say that anyone who wants to attempt to gain a better understanding of the almost unfathomable plight of the Jewish people and other oppressed groups living under Nazi rule, and the horrific torture and brutal executions over a million of these individuals suffered, should absolutely visit Auschwitz-Birkenau if given the opportunity.
They’ve done a good job at controlling access to these sights, so in our experience at least, it was not overly crowded or hectic. The mood was quiet and incredibly somber, as it should be. I only mention this because while we were in Munich a few years ago we visited the Dachau concentration camp, and (unlike Auschwitz-Birkenau) Dachau did not require reservations, so I recall feeling that it was a bit disorganized and overrun with visitors. The only reason I felt this was an issue is because many of the visitors acted a bit disrespectfully in my opinion, which was extremely disappointing and distracting.
I should clarify that Auschwitz-Birkenau does have limited availability for walk-in visitors each day they’re open, but if you’re planning a visit, the only way to guarantee that you’ll gain access is to book ahead here at their official website. You will have to book one of their guided tours, so your reservation will be for a specific time; but if you prefer, you can leave your tour group and respectfully wander around at your own pace. We figured that’s what we would do, but we ended up staying with our small tour group the whole time.
“So it’s definitely important to book tickets as soon as possible because spots fill up fast…”
I did a ton of research ahead of time into the wisest way to experience Auschwitz-Birkenau, and I was overwhelmed with all the suggestions I saw online. Some of which seemed a bit over complicated. One of the suggestions I saw over and over were recommendations for different Krakow tour operators, so you’d join a big tour group in Krakow, and they’d handle your ticketing, and transportation to and from the camps. These tours all seemed to come at a high price, and I didn’t like the idea of potentially being stuck with the same group of people for the whole day, or not having control of our timeline.
With such a sensitive subject matter at the forefront, I really wanted to be able to focus on that and appropriately process what I was seeing and learning, rather than potentially being distracted by someone’s bratty kid, or an adult acting disrespectfully and not having the option to escape them. Everyone else in our crew agreed, so we decided to just purchase tickets from the website for one of their english speaking tours, and figured we’d work out the transportation later.
We were traveling during high season, so we booked as soon as we saw that the calendar was open for reservations for our dates (approximately three months in advance), and there were only two english speaking time slots that had availability for four people on the date that we preferred. So it’s definitely important to book tickets as soon as possible because spots fill up fast.
About a month before our trip I had reached out to our AirBnb host to see what they recommended regarding transportation, which is when I learned about this transportation service they regularly use that I’ve already mentioned earlier. The total cost we were quoted for four people was 560 PLN which is about $140, which provided us with a driver for the entire experience. After doing some research on other transportation options, we decide that the convenience factor of having our own driver was worth the cost since we could avoid wasting time figuring out the public transportation system, having to leave way too early to account for any public transport mishaps, or potentially having a delay in getting back to Krakow because of waiting for a train, taxi, or bus. On a per person basis, I believe this worked out to be about the same cost as many of the large group tours leaving from the Krakow Old Town.
Knowing we had a vodka tour the night before (plus jet lag), we knew we’d need as much sleep as possible, and the crew running this transportation service definitely know exactly what time people need to be picked up in order to just barely make their pre-booked tour time. I don’t know if all their drivers do this, but ours actually escorted us right into the camp (he seemed to know the staff at the admission gate who let all of us right through), he helped us get our headsets for the guided tour, and made sure we found our English speaking guide before the tour set off. This was super helpful. We obviously could have figured it out on our own, but this saved us from any momentary confusion or frustration, or potentially missing out on the start of the tour.
The guided tour begins at Auschwitz I, and then you take a short bus ride to Birkenau/Auschwitz II and finish the tour there, so our driver quickly showed us where he’d pick us up whenever we were ready, which was also very helpful. So to sum it up, I truly feel this service was worth every penny, and divided by four people it really is reasonable in my opinion. Especially for such a priceless and profound experience
After we finished our visit, our driver scooped us up where he said to meet him, and off we went for a quiet and reflective drive back to Krakow. The truly eerie reality that I pondered as we made our way through the countryside is that this region is legit one of the most beautiful places on the planet, yet this land has been the scene of some of the most horrific crimes against humanity. It’s positively chilling to think about.
Once we got back to Krakow, we didn’t even go up to the apartment to change or anything, as we were ready to sit down with a beer and sort of decompress and unpack our thoughts after an emotionally heavy day. A few of us hopped on yelp and TripAdvisor for a bit of guidance on the cuisine scene and after a few overwhelming moments with so many amazing restaurants to choose from, we settled on this restaurant called Morela located on a quiet, picturesque street for dinner and drinks. I think we were all pretty happy with our meals, but we closed out after we finished, as it was maybe a little too quiet for us and we were ready to get back in vacay mode, which I’m sure sounds insensitive, but that’s the truth of the matter since our time in this charming city was so limited.
We ended up at the House of Beer, which was a great find. This place doesn’t necessarily look it from the outside, but it’s HUGE. And unfortunately you’ll have to rely on pics from other customers, as between all four of our camera rolls I cannot find a single photo from our time there. Basically whatever type of vibe you’re looking for, the House of Beer has it. It has multiple levels, and several different rooms to sample the hundreds of beers they have available. They also have liquor drinks (hellooooo Polish vodka), and we may or may not, but definitely did have a shot or two while there.
“…it’s basically my holy grail.”
This part of the night is where things get a bit foggy, unsurprisingly. It really makes no difference, but either we left the House of Beer and went straight to a place called Mr. Pancake, or we went back to CK Browar for a beer tower, and then Mr. Pancake, and then back to CK Browar (CK Browar was on the way home, okay? Don’t judge;)).
The only thing that matters here is that I talk about the most important recommendation we got from our vodka tour host, Angelika, and I cannot thank her enough for it. Mr. Pancake did not disappoint! I mean, ordering was definitely a challenge due to the punk teens working there insisting there were only Polish menus available (false), but after some google translate action we got things squared away and I enjoyed the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life. Seriously. And I’ve had a lot of pancakes in my years, so that’s saying something! (Note: award for the best waffles still goes to Milors Cafe on Milos Island, Greece). They serve alcohol at Mr. Pancake too, so it’s basically my holy grail.
Our second day in Krakow was definitely filled with a vast range of emotions, all of which I’m thankful to have experienced.
“It’s not really a big deal, but I DETEST making mistakes when people are relying on me.”
Our third and final day in Krakow was definitely my favorite. It didn’t go exactly as I had planned, but it still worked out just fine.
This was the day we planned to visit the Schindler’s Factory Museum (if you’ve seen the movie Schindler’s list, this was Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory where those events took place). This is another historical place of interest where you basically have to book tickets (here) in advance, as they only allow a limited number of people to tour each day, and you have to schedule a specific time. This is also where things somehow went wrong, and I have no idea how. It’s not really a big deal, but I DETEST making mistakes when people are relying on me. Even small ones, so this really drove me bonkers. So what hahappened was….when I went to reserve tickets about a month before our trip, there were only three time slots with four tickets available on the date we needed. I had sent out one of my typical annoying trip planning texts to our crew to see when they preferred to go (morning or afternoon), and we all agreed to do the tour first thing in the morning, so we’d have the rest of the day to finish sightseeing around Krakow without being on a strict timeline. I immediately booked the morning tour…or so I thought. I honestly feel like there was a website glitch bc it would have been so hard to pick the wrong date. But long story long, I somehow booked a 4pm tour, which we didn’t realize until like 3am before we went to bed the previous “night.” I know it sounds like a small thing, but I thought it was going to kinda ruin the day since we’d have to keep a close eye on the time, and couldn’t indulge too much before our admission time, but thankfully everyone else was pretty chill about the change in plans.
So we woke up bright and early on our final day (hangovers don’t exist on vacay, thank goodness!), ate a quick breakfast at a little coffee shop, and then set off on the self-guided walking tour in Rick Steves’ Krakow book. Michael and I have really come to love these nice overviews that Rick provides. We typically like to do them on arrival day so we can get the lay of the land and a little history lesson, but since our travel books were stuck in our lost luggage that day, we obviously couldn’t. Although even if we’d had the book handy, I don’t know if everyone else would’ve been too receptive to it since they were all so jet lagged.
One of the first stops on our walking tour was actually a vodka shop that we had visited on our Vodka tour the first night there. It was probably 10am when we came upon it, but we didn’t think there was anything wrong with sampling some coffee flavored vodkas.¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Here are some of the other points of interest on our walking tour:
- The Barbican, which was built in the late 1400s, and the old City Walls
- Planty Park
- The Old Market
- St. Mary’s Church (a church has stood in this spot for 800 years)
- Staropolskie Trunki (“Old Polish Drinks”)
- Main Market Square
- Jagiellonian University (second oldest university in Central Europe: Founded in 1364)
- St. Francis Basilica (Pope John Paul’s home church while he was Archbishop)
We really had a great time walking around that day. We took our time and made pit stops when any of us were hungry for some gelato, or thirsty for a beer. We passed by this wine bar on one of the main pedestrian roads and decided it was time to sit down for some charcuterie and a couple bottles of wine. The weather was gorgeous, so we sat outside and did some great people watching. Definitely recommend this place.
We left the wine bar good and giddy, and continued on our walking tour, which eventually ended at Wawel Castle. This was around the time that Alissa established our “fun facts” game, which we continued throughout the rest of our trip. The rules of “Fun Facts” go something like this:
Whoever is currently playing pretend tour guide (aka reading to the rest of the group from Rick Steves’ book) says the word “Fun Fact” before any little historical tidbit of their choosing, which lets the rest of us know that we need to remember that “fun fact” bc there will be a quiz later….at the bar. Whoever guesses the right answer during this very unofficial, impromptu, disorganized “quiz” has to do a shot, which probably seems ‘bass ackwards’ as I like to say (aka ass backwards), bc you would think that we simply wouldn’t try to guess anything correctly and spare ourselves, but in doing so you would be underestimating all of our overwhelming desires to win at everything….even to our own detriment.
Anyhoooo…Wawel Castle grounds were beautiful and full of interesting history. We definitely needed the mini hike up the hill to reach it after all that wine and cheese we had shortly before we got there. I really loved that there were several people who seemed to be there to just enjoy a picnic, or lay on the perfectly manicured green grass and soak in the warm sunshine. I’d say we probably spent about 1-1.5 hours here, which felt like enough at this point in our day. There’s a lot to see, but we stuck to the highlights that were discussed in our Rick Steves guide. My favorites were the Wawel Cathedral, which his book describes as Poland’s equivalent of England’s Westminster Abbey, and the Florentine style courtyard. It doesn’t take long to realize that essentially nothing in Krakow was left untainted by the occupying German SS forces, including this castle. It’s such a gorgeous place, but it was used as headquarters for the Nazi governor of occupied Poland, Hans Frank.
I know I’ve mentioned it before, but the thing I love most about Rick’s travel guides (we’re on a first name basis in my mind;)) vs. all the others, is that he actually gives you an opinion. For instance he’ll tell you what’s most worthwhile to see in a given place, or what you should skip if you’re short on time. Or he might suggest that a particular sight is most suited for people who are specifically interested in X, Y, or Z, and others may think it’s boring. I find this info to be invaluable, even if I end up disagreeing with his assessment, which is pretty rare. Other travel guides just seem to objectively list things to do, but they provide no other guidance or context, so you’re left having to sift through several other sources to figure out what you should/shouldn’t try to squeeze into your itinerary, which can be a daunting task.
After we descended back down from the castle grounds, we hopped in a taxi to head to the outskirts before our afternoon tour time at the Schindler’s Museum. During our vodka tour on our first night, the lovely English couple that was on the tour with us recommended a great spot to grab a bite near the museum called Orzo. It was basically right next to the museum, and we had a good hour to kill before our tour time, so we took full advantage and stuffed our faces for the third time that day. I had the Gnocchi Verdure there, and it was so. dang. good.
We weren’t exactly sure what to expect at the Schindler’s Museum, but it was another very moving, disturbing, and educational experience. Essentially what they’ve done is turn the old factory into a permanent exhibition featuring vast historical artifacts, and displays of all sorts demonstrating what life was like in Krakow during the German occupation. There are several incredibly devastating images, so one definitely needs to be prepared for that, but there are many inspiring stories too.
I love that they only allow visitors by appointment, so it’s not overcrowded and you don’t ever feel rushed, or that someone is breathing down your neck waiting for you to finish reading at any given display. After about twenty minutes, all four of us ended up separated. You just kind of get in the zone looking at photos, or reading stories and lose track of everyone around you. If you’ve ever been to the 9/11 museum in NYC, the Schindler’s museum concept is similar to the last section of the 9/11 museum where there are a lot of personal stories and artifacts relating to the World Trade Center attacks that have been donated and carefully curated by the museum. I definitely recommend a visit to the Schindler’s Factory Museum for many reasons, but it’s worth paying a visit if for no other reason than to better understand some of the lesser known devastating effects of WWII.
After we all filed out of the museum several minutes apart, we were ready to decompress once again and talk about some of the things we had just seen and read about. Once again, Rick Steves’ book came in super clutch with this great wine bar recommendation just down the street from the Schindler’s Factory Museum, so we popped there for a couple glasses of wine.
Once we were through sort of unpacking everything we learned at the Schindler’s museum, we caught a cab back to the old town square so we could hit up the open air market. We had passed through it every evening and saw some incredible food being prepared, so we thought about grabbing dinner there and enjoying the live music.
After doing a good bit of exploring all the incredible smells, and taking in all the interesting handcrafted items on offer, we ended up only getting a couple rounds of beer, as all the tables set up in the town square were taken, and we didn’t want to have to eat our dinner standing up.
At this point we all agreed that we wanted to go back to our tried and true CK Browar for a beer tower and some stick to your ribs kinda food. Shocking, I know. We also had to reconcile our “fun facts” scores.;) You’re probably thinking we have a drinking problem, but honestly Michael and I hardly drink at all when we’re not on vacay. Thankfully, when you’re doing so much walking and sightseeing, you don’t really become intoxicated.
Realizing it was our last night in Krakow, I started to get a bit antsy and wanted a change of scenery, and also wanted to head back to Mr. Pancake for a repeat of the previous night’s pancake bliss.
We decided to head somewhere new (before heading back to Mr. Pancake, of course), and ended up at a cool little place overlooking Planty Park called Cafe Bunkier. After indulging in a beer tower and heavy foods (including about a gazillion perogies) at CK Browar, we decided to continue making bad decisions with a couple bottles of wine, and everyone else ordered dessert, but I strongly held out for Mr. Pancake. It’s unheard of for me to have even the slightest bit of willpower against sweets, so even as I type this I’m impressed with myself that I didn’t partake in any dessert at Cafe Bunkier.
Sadly, this backfired, as when we later arrived at Mr. Pancake we learned their kitchen was closed. NOOOOOOOOOO!!!! I still want to cry just thinking about how utterly devastated I was when one of their bratty little teen employees smugly broke this news to me. We still stayed for a couple drinks, but it wasn’t the same without a decadent stack of pancakes in front of me.
Thankfully on our walk back we came across a friendly local who was walking his adorable rescue puppy named Stephan, who he referred to as “his son,” so that definitely helped soften the Mr. Pancake blow.
We tried heading back to CK Browars, but they only let us stay for one drink (womp womp), so we decided to do what most people would do…..hit up the 24 hour convenience store for some adult bevs, toilet paper (our airbnbs always fail us here), and some mystery Polish snacks to bring back to our flat. Never mind that we needed to be out the door by 7am to head to the airport. =\
Thankfully we’re all adults, so we sprang out of bed the next morning bright and early, and safely made it to the airport without a hitch (kudos to the transport service I mentioned earlier who were ready to pick us up right outside our door, as expected).
Without a doubt it would have been nice to have one more day to make up for the first day that we really didn’t see much. But honestly, we accomplished everything on our wish list, so if we’d had one more day, it probably wouldn’t have been a very productive one. Not that that’s a bad thing to just chillax for a day, but that’s precisely why we included a stop in Greece in this trip. To relax after a whole mess of sightseeing;).
Why Krakow should be at the top of your Bucket List
If you’re not already sold just by reading about our experience, please know that we all truly loved Krakow. Between the friendly people, the food (MY GOD THE PIEROGIES!!), the beautiful architecture, profound history, and the incredible cleanliness, what’s not to love?? The hospitality industry is on point in Krakow. It was the perfect level of touristy during high season (July). It’s a very budget-friendly destination. We always felt so safe walking the streets. Even in the wee hours of the night we felt completely comfortable acting like idiots doing our walking challenge (if you’ve seen all my Krakow IG stories, you KNOW).
Bottom line: Krakow definitely gets two snaps up in a circle from me.
In Living Color reference anyone?
Next stop: Florence, Italy