Thursday, 2 April 2015

My Krakow Adventure

So it seems me and my James have started a little tradition of buying each other weekend breaks for each others Birthdays, not a bad idea because we both get to enjoy our gifts. It was my time to plan the trip for James 21st birthday and with all of Europe at my fingers I knew I had to find somewhere special. This time we headed more inland than we did in Dubrovnik (you can see my adventures from that trip here and here) and headed to Krakok, Poland. I didn't know what to expect from Poland, all I knew was based on WWII but I had many friends who had told me it was a beautiful city, rich in history and cheap in price. I ended up booking our break in Krakow to overlap with that of our 1st anniversary after having been together a year, thought it was a nice way to celebrate.

We crammed so much into our five days from vodka tasting to seeing all the sights the city had to offer to horse drawn carriage rides and sampling traditional food and of course visiting Auschwitz. After doing all my research about the city and planning our little weekend away I was so excited to explore Krakow and see what this European hotspot for weekend breaks is all about.

We arrived in Krakow in the afternoon, we checked out our traditional hotel room just out of the main square  and then had a little walk around the city itself.  We noticed how beautiful and relaxed the city seemed, the square was bustling with people and noise yet it somehow remained to peaceful and beautiful.  After a little initial explore we headed back to the  hotel to freshen up a little before dinner. We decided now would be a great time to explore a little of the city by night. We walked to the square and realised just how beautiful Krakow old town square was, we saw the old church and the market buildings all uplight and it was really something.

We stumbled across a little restaurant called Pizzeria Virtuoso which looked out onto the square. We decided to try it since we were both a little sleepy and it looked really yummy from the food we could see inside. We started off with a glass of wine, a glass of beer for James and a bruschetta to share while we pondered the menu. Being pretty hungry James opted for a massive stone-baked pizza (which supposedly was to feed four opps) topped with all kinds of fresh meats but I just had to steal a slice or two. I had the handmade spinach and goronzola ravioli with a four cheese sauce mmmm. Fair to say it was a very yummy meal and then the bill came.... all that came to around the equivalent of £15 and it was then we started to realise just how cheap Poland is, no complaints here though.

The next morning we had a little sleep in then deiced to have a casual stroll throughout Krakow, explore the city a little and make our way down to the other end of the city. The weather our entire holiday was beautiful, I expect it to be very cold in Poland which in the night it was but during the day it was like what you'd expect in May back here in England. Just lovely sunshine and warmth and this made exploring Krakow even more enjoyable. We explored the main square by day and realised it was just as beautiful in the sunlight, we wandered down to Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter and saw the beautiful old buildings and streets. 

We then crossed over the river into the area which used to be the Jewish Ghetto during occupied Poland in WWII. I've always been very interested in the war and this holiday filled me with so much information and history about the horrid crimes against humanity that happen during this time. We went to Schindler's Factory, the real factory which the film is based upon, also where it was filmed. We explored the now museum and learnt of how Oskar Schindler saved the lives of more than a thousand jews during the holocaust by employing them in his factory. The museum told  stories of the people who had worked at the factory, who their lives had changed being moved in to the ghetto and living under Nazi order but by working for Schindler they managed to survive. Fair to say after I came home I re-watched the film and cried my eyes out, not that I haven't before but I think since being there it felt more real and knowing more background about the situation in Poland at the time made everything that more difficult to watch. One quote really stayed with me from the factory, it was a quote from Schindler himself... 'Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.' This museum though so harrowing did restore my faith in humanity, it ensured to me even in dark times there will always be good people like Schindler, willing to risk their own lives to save the of other innocent people. 

Literally Schindler's list of employee names.

We then grabbed one of the many electric taxis (essentially a golf cart) back across the river to the main square. We did a took in the sunshine and the market which was full of beautiful dried flowers and bread sellers, literally carb heaven. We then decided to venture inside the St. Mary's Basilica, the main church in the square of Krakow. We realised you could view the church from the back if you walked in through the main doors however to view the alter close up you had to purchase a ticket, though it was only about £2 and it was so worth it. The church on a whole was ridiculously gorgeous, full of intricate detailing and paintwork but the altar depicting Mary's life was something else. It was completely carved of gold, it was pretty insane. I'm so gutted I didn't get any decent photos, you were actually allowed to take them, but luckily I snapped two just so I was able to remember how incredibly stunning it was.

That evening we decided we wanted to try some traditional Polish food so we went to a restaurant called Pod Walemem which was just on the outskirts of Planty Park down from the main square. This place was so awesome. It was totally traditional in both food and the setting of the restaurant itself which made it so awesome. We sat in the outside conservatory area which was bustling full of people getting merry on steins of beer and their homemade vodkas while eating huge platters of meat. James opted for a stein of Polish beer while I went for a lemon vodka which certainly put hair on my chest, we nibbled on some sauerkraut while deciding exactly what we fancied. James opted for the salmon carpaccio with red peppers, capers and lemon to start which was so tasty, followed by a massive chicken shish kebab 'on fire' with the standard sides. I have traditional Polish Pierogi, a dumpling filled with white cheese and potatoes which were so good, literally I could eat my bodyweight in these. Then I had the officers platter which I think was equivalent to my body weight. It was a platter of meats everything from steak to bacon to sausage with a side of rice, farmer style potatoes, red and white pickled cabbage. We then washed it all down with a complimentary shot of their homemade cherry vodka which literally tasted like pure alcohol, but clearly I enjoyed. Fair to say there was soooo much food but oh days, it was so yummy and worth the few lbs on my waistline. 

The next day was so heart breaking for me, it was the day we went to Auschwitz. Our tour came and picked us up from our hotel, made the very early morning a little easier and then we drove about an hour out of Krakow to the site. Pulling up my heart already felt heavy knowing the crimes against humanity that took place there but even preparing myself mentally I wasn't ready for it. Auschwitz is split into three parts: Auschwitz, Birkenau and Monowitz, however upon the tour you are unable to visit Monowitz as it was completely destroyed prior to the liberation of the camps. Auchwitz is the original camp which used to be the Poland army barracks. Once Poland was occupied it was transformed in the first part of the camp, using the old buildings and meaning the size of the camp was smaller than I expected. This first part was more of a museum, you walk through the famous gate you see in photos and into the old buildings seeing photos and documents, models and then you come to what it was of the hardest rooms... the room of belongings. When the camp was liberated most of the possessions of people, mainly Jews arriving at Birkenau were sorted and shipped back out to Germany or burnt, however when the Nazi's abandoned the camp before liberation some of the possessions were not destroyed in time meaning theres rooms just full of shoes, suitcases and even women's hair which was sold on to factory to make clothes. This room put my heart in my stomach.  We then went inside the first gas camber, the only one left standing which was the most horrendous place and from the outside you could see the house which inspired 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' where the camp commandant lived with his family.

We then headed over to Birkenau, which was the second camp and has been pretty much left as it was after the liberation. Pulling up to it didn't feel real as it's the image you see in films, the watch tower over looking the train tracks. Birkenau was about three times in size of the first camp, if not bigger. It's what you expect from images and films you've seen. You could see the old housing sheds for as far as the eye could see, it made it clear just how many people were once here especially when half the people who came here never even made it inside the barracks. We walked up the train tracks and saw where the Jews were sorted, we then walked down the long road towards where the old gas chambers stood. This part of the day was so harrowing to me, knowing how many people had walked down this path towards their death, it was so sad but I didn't feel able to cry. Our guide told us how while in the gas chambers many people were heard singing songs of prayer until they fell silent and this just made me feel like I should cry? I wasn't worthy of tears in that moment. We viewed the destroyed chambers and the barracks not fit for life which held hundreds and thousands of people. We then took solace in the memorial between the chambers and remember those innocent people who lost their lives here. I feel my trip to Auschwitz forever changed me and my outlook on the world, I hope everyone has chance to visit this place and learn the true crimes that took place here in order to learn and never let anything happen like this again.

I know ending this post on Auschwitz was a bit of a downer and not really what my blog is all about being fashion, beauty and foodie based, but it really was such a monumental part of my trip and of history. I felt it was wrong to miss it out of this post. I don't think as people we should be blind to history, we should learn from the mistakes of others and be better because of it. That being said I swear the second half of this blog will be more lighthearted filled with sightseeing, shopping, the most amazing church over 135m underground made of salt, and vodka tasting ooo.

Have you ever been to Poland? Would you like to go? Where was the best city break you've been on?
Let me know in the comments below. 

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