I headed to Krakow, Poland with a friend for a few days of exploring. Krakow is located in the southern part of Poland near the border of Czech Republic. We took an early morning flight which gave us a whole extra day to explore. One of the biggest thing I love about living overseas, even through there are many, is the public transportation options. I can leave my house and walk or take a bus to the train station and then take a train straight to the airport and then vice versa. After arriving in Krakow, we took the train into city center. There was a mall attached to the train station, what a great idea! From the train station to our hotel was about a 15-minute walk. The best part was our room was ready when we arrive at 10am, that is what I call service! We dropped off our bags and set off the explore. Our hotel was recommended by fellow friends and it was an awesome place, would definitely stay there again if my travels bring me back. I normally don’t comment about the places I stay but this one was great, it’s called Hotel Wielopole and was only a few minutes walk to city center. If you ever travel to Krakow check them out!
Before I start off telling you about my adventures in Krakow, here is some interesting facts. The name is spelling Krakow or Cracow. The history of Krakow dates back to the 4th century. It is one of the oldest cities in Poland was once the capital until it was moved to Warsaw. The legend behind how the city was name is pretty neat, I will tell about it when we explore the Wawel Castle Complex later on in my adventure.
Poland currency is Zlotsky which is about 1 zloty to .27cent US. For example, if something was 300 zlotksy was $82 US.
Krakow’s center is divided into two main sections the Old Town and Kazimierz (former Jewish Quarter) with the Wawel (formal Royal Castle) in between. We explored the Old Town and the Wawel Castle complex.
First, we headed towards the main square. We walked around the Cloth Hall, which is a neo-Gothic structure which has been a market for merchants since the Middle Ages and still is today. It also houses two museums in addition to many different stalls selling many different things.
From there we admired the outside of St. Mary’s Basilica. The must see is the Veit Stoss Altar inside. We got our tickets and our pass to take pictures, many places charged a few dollars to take pictures. We had to wait for our timed entry, so we ate an Obwarzanek, which is the unofficial symbol of Krakow. It is pretty much a bagel with different toppings, I got one with cheese. They are pretty cheap at 1.50 zlotsky which is 42 cent US. In the summer, they make around 200,000 and are best ate within three hours of making. At end of the day the pigeon’s get the left overs.
As we entered the church, I was in awe of how pretty it was. My pictures below don’t do it justice. We soon discovered that the altar opens and waited for the ceremony. I took a video of the opening, but I can't upload videos on here unless I pay, but believe me it was super neat! I was super excited that we timed it just right and were able to see the altar opened and closed. The altar was created in the years of 1477-1489. It is made of wood and is the largest altar of its kind in Europe.
Later that evening, we went back to the square and explored one of Krakow’s main commercial streets and came across the Florianska Gate and Barbican, both part of the city’s defense in the late 15th century. We also walked the Planty which was once the outside of the walled part of the city, now it is a park like green space where you can walk around. Many evenings were spent here explore the side streets that connected to the main square.
The next day we explored the Wawel Castle Complex. On the way, we stopped to admire the Church of Saints Peter & Paul which has the sculptures of the 12 disciples before it. The door was open so we went inside for a look.
From there we walked up the hill to the complex.The complex is made of many parts for you to explore such as the Staterooms and Royal Private Apartments, Wawel Cathedral and its crypt and the Sandomierska Tower. The interior courtyard and cathedral were free so we started there. We journey down to the cave entrance and saw the dragon sculpture which breaths fire.
Legend of the naming of Krakow and the dragon. Wawel Hill is a formation of limestone which is filled with caves and crawl spaces. One of those spaces was home to Smok Wawelski or the Wawel Drgaon. He was nasty and enjoy filling his belly with sheep and maidens. The village was running out of maidens and the King promised his daughter’s hand to any hero who could get rid of the beast. So many came but a poor cobbler named Krak tricked Smok into eating a sheep stuffed with sulfur, hence causing his belly to explode. He married the princess and became king and his built his castle on top of the dragon’s lair. Smok bones hung outside the entrance to the cathedral today.
The next day, we headed to the sites of Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau which were about an hour’s drive from Krakow’s city center. Our hotel handled the booking for us. In the sentences that follow, I will explain a little bit, if for prefer not to read, jump to the next section about the Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour.
The town of Oswiecim was once a quiet backwater community until it become known as Auschwitz under German occupation. Between 1.1-1.5 million people perished here. There was some confusion when booking this tour and we were given an independent tour, which I am glad it worked out this way. I think a guided tour would have been a little too much. We received a guide book and toured the museum on our own. You can walk along a guided path by different buildings and the barbed wire fences. Some building housed exhibits and provided additional information in there form of showing the personal objects collected, photographs and how the rooms looked. From there we boarded a shuttle bus which took us a few minutes down the road to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This second camp was added in 1942 which grew to become the biggest and most savage of all the Nazi death factories with up to 100,000 prisoners held there in 1944. Today, little is left. Many building has been leveled and destroyed, but smoke stacks still stand tall.
The weather was cloudy, windy, and cool which fit the experience. I only took pictures of the main gates. I felt it is a place you truly need to experience in real life and I felt learning from the experience was enough.
The next day we headed to the outskirt of Krakow about a 30 minute drive to explore the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Once again, our hotel handed the booking for us. In my travels, I have explored a few different mines, but this one was by far the biggest and coolest one! It is a very popular tourist spot with 1.4 million people visiting each year. You have the option of taking the tourist tour or the miner’s tour. We opted for the tourist tour which took us to many different parts of the mine. There is nine different levels, but we only tour the first three. Our tour started with 380 wooden stairs to the first level. The tunnels are re-enforced by timber logs. We visited different chambers and chapels. After the tour, we had the options to visit the Underground museum to learn more about the mine, but we opted to leave and relax outside while we waiting for our ride back to the hotel.
After a wonderful few days in Krakow, we headed out of town Saturday morning. We took an early afternoon flight which had us back home before dinner.
All information came from the Krakow In Your Pocket guide June-July 2017
An Italian Dream
Mario and I headed to Italy with a local travel company. We left early Saturday with a day full of driving. We headed towards Italy by passing through Switzerland. We passed Lake Como on the way and saw some of the beautiful lakes Switzerland has to offer.
We spent the night in Prada, which is about 30 mins west of Venice. We had time after checking in, so we explored the city center, which was about a 20 minute walk from the hotel.
We left Sunday morning heading towards Venice. I was eager to return to Venice and see more of what this city has to offer. Our first stop was a quick tour of how Murano glass is made and the opportunity to buy some glassware. and then some free time before our gondola ride.
A quick side note: Murano is one of the islands in the lagoon which is famous for glass making. Sadly, our time in Venice didn’t permit to visit any of the islands. The two other islands are Burano and Torcello. Burano is known for the colorful canal houses and lace while Torcello was the first settled area which is now is overgrown canals and green field with only a few building of the past.
Next, we enjoyed more of Venice by taking a gondola ride through the canals of Venice. Seeing the city by gondola is must! Our gondola held 6 people so we shared it with our fellow travelers. While on the ride we travel thought the Grand Canal which houses the Rialto Bridge. Last time I was in Venice, it was being worked on, so it was nice to see it done.
We walked to the Rialto Bridge and just wonder around, which is the best way to explore Venice. While searching on Pinterest one day of things to see in Venice I came across a bookstore called Acqua Alta Bookstore and it looked interesting, so I wanted to find it. It was tucked down a side alleyway. It was very unique with lots of charm.
We met our follow travelers and took a boat back to the bus. On the island of Venice cars aren't allowed, so we had to take the boat. The bus had to pay drive over the bridge and then had to pay again to a park. Many of these cities we traveled to charged the bus to drive in and out of the city. It is crazy expensive. Our tour guide said it cost about 1,300 euro to go in and out of the cities we visited for the bus and that didn't include parking. After leaving Venice we headed towards Rome, where we would be spending the next 3 nights. It had been 11 years since I was in Rome and was eager to return.
The next day we had the opportunity to explore the Vatican City, which is the smallest country, which fits into the capital city of Italy, Rome. Since we went on a Monday it was super busy because it is closed on Sunday. During our tour, we saw some of the gardens, walked through the museum to get to the Sistine Chapel and ended at the Basilica of St. Peter.
After visiting Vatican City, we had a small lunch before starting our walking tour of Italy. On this day it will in the low 90’s making a very hot day, but we found shade when we could. On the walking tour we saw many of Rome’s sites such as the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Pantheon and ended at the Piazza Navona which central point in the Fountain of the Four Rivers.
The rest of our group decided to do a Roman style dinner with an opera singer which I had done years prior, so we opted for a few more hours in Rome. Our first stop was to explore St. Angelo which is a massive fortress. We were able to see the aspects of the castle history was we explored it. The view from the top gave a wonderful view of Rome. After, we walked to the Spanish Steps which has the Fontana della Baraccia at the base.
On Tuesday morning we left Rome and headed towards Pompeii and Sorrento. Ever since I was little I wanted to explore the ruins of Pompeii, and I was finally seeing it! Despite the hot, sunny weather we toured the ruins which are located near the base of Mt. Vesuvius. In the year 79AD, Mt. Vesuvius erupted quickly covering the city in ash. After our tour we had a quick lunch of pizza of course..when in Italy right! From there we traveled to the city of Sorrento which on the Amalfi coast. As we drove in we saw the coast which were lined with houses. We had some time, so we walk down to the beach and enjoyed the view from our park bench in the shade. We grab a quick bite at a cafe in the heart of town, then started our trip back to Rome.
The next morning, we left Rome and headed towards Florence. Florence is home of the Renaissance and home to the statue of David. Upon arriving we took a city tour which pointed out many famous sites. With it being summer all the lines for the attractions were long, so I was unable to go explore them. On our tour we saw the Galleria Dell Academia, which houses the original statue of David, the Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio Bridge, and the Duomo or dome of the cathedral. After the tour we had some time to explore on our own. On the way out of town we stopped for a panoramic view of Florence with had another statue of David.
We traveled to our restaurant for our Florence Gala, which was our 4-course dinner with unlimited wine. We started off with Blumond which was peached flavor blue champagne. First course was antipasto plates, Second course was pasta (ravioli with truffle sauce and rigatoni with sausage). Three Course was Prime Rib with potatoes. Finally dessert which was cake and strawberry pannacotta. I tried the different wines but enjoyed Volatre the most so I got two bottle for the house.. After a long day we arrived at our hotel which was nestled into the hillside overlooking Florence.
On Thursday morning, we left Florence and started our commute back to Germany. On the way we stopped at Pisa. We were given time to explore and eat a quick lunch. From there we headed home, arriving home in the evening.
A teacher who loves traveling the world.