So, you’re finally going to visit Aushcwitz. Given the response I got from people when I said I was going, this has either been on your bucket list for forever, or you think this is a horrible idea and you’re being dragged by a loved one/feel like you have to go because you’re in the area. Who wants to spent time walking around a concentration camp after all? Me apparently! I fall heavily in to the former category and have wanted to visit Auschwitz forever. I love history and have studied this area heavily.

Entry to the camps is free, however you can pay to have a guided tour. From my understanding, in the peak months you have to join a guided tour. Our hotel had organised for us to have a whole day tour with Discover Cracow in which we were picked up from our hotel in Kraków, taken to Auschwitz for the morning (where the internal tour guides take over this section of your tour), returned to Kraków for lunch and then headed to Wieliczka Salt Mine for the afternoon. It was a long day but seriously worth it.

Auschwitz is split into three camps: Auschwitz-I, Auschwitz-II-Birkenau and Auschwitz-III-Monowitz. Auschwitz-I is where your tour will begin where the buildings are set up in museum-style with each one highlighting a certain area of life in the camps.

The most disturbing “exhibitions” in my opinion were the ones showing the victim’s belongings. Piles of abandoned suitcases, piles of human hair, piles of discarded shoes, piles of Jewish prayer mats, piles of tangled glasses. Once the Nazis knew that the Soviets were on their way, the Nazis tried to destroy as much evidence as physically possible. It’s hard to imagine that the piles of belongings on show are only a fraction of the total that were once there.

Another element that I found quite disturbing were a corridor lined with photos of victims, in an almost “mug-shot” like fashion. Rows and rows of victims. All in their striped uniforms, tattooed with a serial number, their names forgotten.

After you’ve been guided around the first camp, it’s time to jump on a bus and head to Auschwitz-II-Birkenau. The scale of this camp is absolutely insane. Rows upon rows of barracks which allow you to comprehend just how many people were held here.

This is where you will find the infamous train tracks, a very eery sight.

We were informed that there is very little left of the 3rd and final camp and therefore it’s not open to visitors.

On the whole, I found the guided tour of the camp quite rushed. We were in a large group and were marched through the camp, seeing all of the sights but very quickly. An elderly couple on our tour struggled to keep up and I thought this was quite unfair. While you could tell the tour guide was very passionate about the subject, you could also tell she was restricted with time and had to get you around the camp as quickly as possible.

Because of this, I felt like I didn’t quite grasp quite the horrors that have happened at the camps. More time to wander at your own pace, reading plaques, soaking in the information would have been good. As many of the buildings are now empty, I found it quite hard to visualise what things would have been like, especially when moving at such a fast pace.

But perhaps that’s also due to the complete atrocities that happened here, it’s almost hard to imagine that anyone could be capable of such devastation.

While concentration camps aren’t the happiest of places to visit and you’ll walk away feeling a bit depressed (some people I know have been utterly disturbed after their visit). I think it’s important that people continue to visit sights like this. Facing the reality of these sights is important, it helps us to recognise the cruelty within the human race. And after all, studying the past makes for a better future.

Have you ever visited Auschwitz or another “dark history” location? How did you feel afterwards?

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.
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Another city break done, another list of top things to do list! Kraków is a great city to visit for a few days, but do also read my recent post about whether it lives up to the hype – you can read that here.

1) Spend Some Time in the Old Town

Old Town Kraków is gorgeous. From the Church of the Virgin Mary to the Cloth Hall, the architecture is amazing. However, my favourite thing about the city centre are all of the food stalls. The Polish will tell you that the food in the Old Town is overpriced, but compared to London prices, it’s dirt cheap! The soups, breads and crepes make for a great quick meal!

2) Church of the Virgin Mary

If you’ve seen a photo of Kraków, it’s probably of the Old Town Centre, specifically of the Church of the Virgin Mary. This is an incredible building that dominates the Old Town Square (however it does cost a small amount to visit the inside/climb the tower and the tower is only open in certain months). Every hour, there is a bugle call, make sure you look up to the window on the left tower to see the man playing the bugle – he will give a little wave after his performance!

3) Wawel Castle 

Wawel Castle is a gorgeous castle (from the outside especially). The inside isn’t anything spectacular. There are a few exhibitions inside, I’m more of a fan of ornate castles that have kept their original interiors! However, the outside of the building and the gardens are really worth the visit!

4) Jewish District (Kazimierz)

Once you’ve explored the main city centre of Kraków, make sure you head down to the Jewish district to explore some more! There’s plenty of history and culture to be seen here. A free walking tour is available of the area.

5) Planty Park

Planty park is a thin park which runs the entire way round the city centre – it did used to be the city moat after all! We visited in March, so many of the trees and greenery were bare and you probably wouldn’t want to spend too much time standing in the cold – but the area has great reviews in the Summer months!

6) Cloth Hall

Cloth Hall is the central long building in the Old Town city centre, it’s filled with more market stalls and there’s also an underground museum that you can visit! An interesting fact about Kraków is that most of the buildings have a floor or two underground due to the fact that the city kept becoming so downtrodden and dirty that instead of clearing up the area, they simply laid more and more concrete onto the floor multiple times.

7) The Ghetto Hero’s Square

This is a very poignant installation in the “ghetto” of Kraków. 70 empty chairs are stood in the square commemorating the Jews that lost their lives during the war in Kraków.

8) St Florian’s Gate & The Barbican

St Florian’s Gate and The Barbican are gothic towers dating back to the 14th century which adjoined the fortified city walls. Hard to imagine what the city was like completely surrounded by high walls!

9) Visit the many many Churches!

If I told you all of the churches to visit in Kraków, this would be a very long blog post. However, if you stumble around the city, you can’t miss them! There are hundreds. Take a look at the TripAdvisor top things to do in Kraków to see just how much the Polish love their churches/cathedrals!

10) Take a Daytrip to Auschwitz

This was the real reason that we came to Kraków, we really wanted to see Auschwitz and finally tick it off of our bucket lists. This was an incredible experience and one I’m really grateful for. A full blog post will be up soon!

11) Take a Daytrip to Wieliczka Salt Mines

As part of the same day trip to Auschwitz with Discover Cracow, we also visited Wieliczka Salt Mines. The sheer size and scale of these mines are incredible. This is definitely worth a visit, especially for the Chapel of St Kinga – a huge room 101m below ground. The entire room is made from salt – the walls, ceiling, floor, statues, wall carvings and even the chandeliers! Also, you can give the walls a lick anywhere in the mines – it’s salty!

12) Church On The Rock

As mentioned above, Kraków has many churches to choose from. My favourite is the “Church on the Rock”. A beautiful white building with lovely grounds – perfect for a great instagram shoot! Unfortunately the doors were locked and we couldn’t get in at the time of visiting.

13) Oskar Schindler’s Factory

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to visit the factory on my trip to Kraków but I would absolutely love to. I still need to see the film “Schindler’s List” the whole way through first! There are plenty of scenes which were shot on the streets of Kraków, so if you’re a fan of the film, you really need to visit!

14) Take a Free Walking Tour

Now I absolutely love a free walking tour, they are a great way to get your bearings in a new city, learn a bit more about the culture and work out what you want to do throughout the rest of your trip. Kraków has the best range of free walking tours I have ever seen in a city! Generally most cities have one free walking tour and the rest are paid for, but not Kraków! See a full list of the tours here.

15) Take a Free Food Tour! 

In a similar light to the above, there is also a FREE walking tour!! Yes, free! You will have to pay for food as you go through the city, however each location only charges 1 – 2 PLN per portion and you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to. Stand out items for me were gorgeous breads, out of this world dumplings and an array of Polish sweets.

16) Enjoy Cheap Food Throughout the City!

Poland is known for having some of the cheapest foods in Europe. While all of the Polish people would recommend you to stay away from the Old Town as prices here are much higher than that of places slightly outside of the touristy areas, I found that even in the Old Town Centre, food prices were VERY good – especially when you’re used to London prices. Our favourite restaurant in the Old Town was La Grande Mamma (pictured above)! Yes, I  know this is Italian, not Polish but the food was gorgeous (as were the restaurant interiors!).

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.
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So I recently got back from a long weekend in Kraków with 3 friends (one of which you may recognise as being on my trip to Prague last year!) and I thought I’d share my thoughts with you all!

Firstly, I’d like to make a small disclaimer that this is my personal opinion and everyone’s travel experiences vary due to a manner of variables – e.g the people you meet, the weather, the places you go, the accommodation you have, any mistakes made on the trip etc. The reason I’m including this disclaimer is that I read a similar post (here) on Nomadic Matt’s blog and was saddened that people felt the need to post semi-abusive comments telling Matt that he was wrong/uncultured/an absolute idiot. Surely the reason we all travel and write travel blogs to share our experiences and views, good or bad?

Anyway, on with the post! There’s a lot of hype surrounding Krakow at the moment. Solo travellers I’ve met have raved about it, many people I know at home have been there for weekend breaks and everyone loves it. So as you can imagine, I was excited to finally be going to the holy grail that is Kraków!

Firstly, let’s start with the good. Kraków is an undeniably pretty city. It’s hard not to appreciate the beautiful colourful central/Eastern-European style buildings, plenty of beautiful churches/cathedrals, a huge castle and beautiful old town.

Let’s also not forget the rich culture and historical side of the city. To add to this, day trips to both Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz are easily do-able (my two favourite activities of the entire trip!).

But I still don’t think I entirely clicked with the city. There are some cities that I fall in love with immediately and can’t stop thinking about months after my return – Budapest and Ljubljana I’m looking at you! Kraków didn’t have this same affect on me.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time and I’m glad I’ve finally ticked both Kraków and Auschwitz off of my bucket list but it doesn’t top my list of European cities (and boy I’ve seen a lot of them!).

I’m wandering whether this is because there is SO much hype. When everyone tells you that you’re going to love a place and how great it is, are you almost setting yourself up for disappointment? I’ve definitely found that some of my greatest trips have been to small towns/cities that don’t have much of a tourist reputation. When you don’t have any expectations, is it easier to be impressed?

Otherwise, I lost a close family member suddenly a few days before flying to Poland, I was feeling stressed at work and have a professional exam looming, so was I in the right mood for it?

In summary, if someone asked me to return to Kraków, I would (apart from the fact I’m currently working full time and have vowed to not use my very limited leave time from work to re-visit the same places when there’s so much more of the world to see!). And I’d love to go with someone who has a real passion for the city, I want to see what they see.

I’d love to hear about your experiences in Kraków. Was I just in a bad place at the time and couldn’t engage with my surroundings properly or have other people felt the same way? Alternatively, I’d love to hear if you’ve ever thought somewhere was slightly too over-hyped?

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.
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