So our wild and crazy two week Central/Eastern European vacation has come to an end, sadly. I’m honestly a little shocked at how much we saw and did in two weeks time and how appreciative I am to have been able to do this trip with Bryan and to have felt as good as I did on the trip despite being 26-28 weeks pregnant. So on to what we really did and saw on this trip, starting with our first stop: Poland.
We left on Mother’s Day, after getting a filling dim sum brunch with Polly and Ryuhei before our 9 hour flight to London. We flew Norwegian Airlines to London Gatwick airport with a delay of 1.5 hours. After a long flight that was supposedly “overnight”, we landed in London at 9 am with our connecting flight to Krakow leaving at 9:30 am. Panic mode sets in and we realize, upon deboarding, that our next flight is located in the other terminal. Across the airport we go, sprinting the entire way and getting to our gate at just about 9:30 am. However, relief sets in when we see that passengers are still waiting to board and the gentleman at the gate politely lets us still board the plane. Hallelujah! This was really our first and only near miss of the trip. Our spirits and mood are light at this point but there was no time to stop and get drinks or food during our layover. The next 2.5 hour flight to Krakow was not the most comfortable.
We arrive in Krakow around 2 pm their time, roughly 5 am Seattle time, with very little sleep on the planes. We walk roughly 15 minutes through the quaint boulevard pathways of the old Krakow moat to our first Airbnb of the trip, a super cute apartment, very close to the main square, with everything we needed for our stay. Check in was a breeze and after sitting and resting for a bit we managed to get up the energy to walk and explore. We walked through Old Town, getting a coffee at a cafe and then the biggest bowl of borscht ($2) from a self-serve eatery to eat in the sun. We made our way to the river and walked along the river just west of the city to our booked Eataway dinner experience with Marta, Eataway’s founder, at her house with what ended up being about 10 other Americans (all retired and all travelling together on a tour).
This Eataway experience was fun and very inspirational to me…I would love to do this in Seattle. Marta first got us started with a round of Krakow’s very own vodka shots and a strawberry compote drink for me before starting to show us how she makes her pierogi dough. She had Bryan help her roll out the dough and then we sat to eat our first course. We started with a nice twist on potato salad with some mackeral in it and then some more borscht soup with salted cucumber. We then started to assemble pierogis with meat filling and with a cottage cheese filling. We made a bunch of pierogis before Marta cooked them and then got to sample our own creations. The beef pierogis were boiled while the cheese pierogis were pan fried, both topped with bacon and onions and sour cream. Both were exceptional. We then got to try bigos, which I loved, which is a sauerkraut, venison and sausage stew-like dish. And we finished the night with Polish cheesecake with strawberries that was light and delicious. Bryan and I headed home to crash after such a long day.
We woke up Tuesday feeling a bit more refreshed and were set on making our first free walking tour of the trip which was to begin at 10 am. We found some breakfast at a cute restaurant where we got some coffees and a selection of Krakow’s bagels with various toppings. These large bagels (resembling Turkish bagels to me) were literally sold all over town. These were great and fueled us for our few-hours walk. We had a great native tour guide who delved into Krakow’s history and showed us important buildings in Old Town before finishing at the Wawel Castle. This was the most impressive castle to me on the trip. We wrapped up this tour, paid a visit to the Castle’s cathedral before making our way on foot to the Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz, for another tour.
We were both very interested in the Jewish tour but this ended up being a disappointment. We were surprised to find that literally no Jewish people really reside there anymore. In a huge way, this was a bit depressing. That, and the fact that it was really starting to rain, we decided to skirt out a little early and headed to get some more soup (at the same place as the day before) for a snack before heading back to the apartment for a nap. Tuesday night we had reservations at one of the most popular restaurants in Krakow, one of the oldest cellar restaurants providing live folk music on some nights. We had the funniest little two-top table next to a functional waterwheel and koi pond. The music was pleasant throughout the night and we shared the two person meat platter that was so large we had to take some home with us (which ended up being a great late night snack the next night). It was a fun night out and we picked up a couple paczki’s (something I hadn’t even seen since leaving Michigan) for dessert later on, when our stomachs could fit them.
Our last full day in Krakow started….late. Neither of us set an alarm and naturally both woke up after noon! Apparently we needed it! We had planned on going to the salt mines, a short bus ride from Krakow, and still could have despite the late awakening, but after walking around Old Town for some time and selecting a restaurant, we each were brought out the most massive two-course lunch that after the previous night’s huge dinner, literally put us over the edge. It was still insanely cheap, and delicious, but made us both pretty slow and lazy for the rest of the afternoon. We decided we could just use a long walk instead to burn some of it off and digest and headed back towards the river after visiting the gorgeous St. Mary’s Cathedral in Old Town.
We walked south along the river, eventually hitting the Chain Bridge and the other side of the Jewish Quarter that we skipped on the previous day’s free tour. We stopped at a little bar across the bridge for Bryan to get a beer and to rest our legs. We weren’t there long when an American women stopped us because she saw Arcteryx jackets and heard English and struck up a long and interesting conversation with us. She had been teaching Chemistry at an International school for the past two years but was shortly packing up and heading to South Korea to another teaching position. It was interesting to get her take on Krakow and Poland from actually living there, after moving from the mountains in Colorado. It definitely provided insight to some things we wouldn’t have gotten from just our own three days spent in the city. After talking with her we headed back towards our apartment, getting an ice cream cone (that was delicious) on the way. We took some more naps and had intentions of going for a dessert crawl in lieu of dinner after such a big lunch but struck out with things already closed for the night. We had a late night to bed and were leaving early the next morning for Auschwitz en-route to Prague.
We woke early Wednesday morning to quickly pack our things and walk to the bus station in Krakow. We got there with time to spare for the 8:05 am bus to Oswiecim (home to Auschwitz) and got some delicious cappuccinos and pastries to eat on the way. The bus to Auschwitz was about 1.5 hours and we arrived in essentially a downpour. We checked our luggage into their luggage hold for our visit and went through a security line to enter. We were entering without tour guides, so our visit was free but the tickets had to be booked weeks prior as they only allow a certain number of visitors into the site each day.
It continued to rain throughout our visit and we spent about 2.5 hours reading and absorbing every sign throughout the concentration camp. I was shocked at how much we could see and how we could enter essentially every building, including the main extermination building. It was a somber visit but one that I would highly recommend to anyone. We had a deadline to catch our train to Katowice to make our train to Prague and when we realized how much time we had spent at Auschwitz 1, we realized that we unfortunately didn’t have enough time to ride to Auschwitz 2 (or Birkenau) to see the rest. This was a huge bummer but in all honesty the weather had really picked up and I was soaked and chilled and not really enjoying the whole experience. This is something I would like to go back to see…whenever that might be.
With this decision we had plenty of time to make the train to Katowice, which was about a 50 minute ride, then had time to get something to eat before hopping on the next transport to Prague. About five hours later, the rain had stopped, we had crossed into Czech Republic, and the terrain was pretty beautiful. The train ride was also pretty comfortable. We arrived into the Prague train station just after 7:30 pm with directions to our next Airbnb and the beginning of our second city.