This year I decided to tick something off the list and go on holiday alone. Holidaying alone is one of the best things I have ever done and I plan on doing it again in the very near future!
More on that later but I wanted to tell you all about this trip first. Poland or more specifically Krakow has been on my list of places to visit. Rich in history and with a lively nightlife it seemed to have everything I could want.
I decided to do one week in Krakow as there was so much I wanted to see. I paid around £300 for one week including flights (excluding all the baggage add on's etc) and stayed in a basic but warm and dry apartment. Food and drink as well as entry to local attractions is very affordable in Krakow.
Part One - Things to Do in Krakow
Polish Folk Dancing Jama Michalika
I booked this dinner and folk dancing show with cracowconcerts.com It was a great first night activity, a two course dinner was included so I didn't have to think about where to eat. The food was very tasty and the show lasts a couple of hours.
The dancing was really fun to watch although if you are not an audience participation person this is encouraged here!
This event was very busy so make sure you pre-book if you want to see it.
The Town Hall Tower Main Square
This was an off the cuff thing I decided to do whilst walking past, the stairs up the bell tower and a little steep but the views were lovely and it was interesting to learn about how Krakow had to adjust it's time to fall in line with the rest of Europe!
I booked my tour with Discover Crakow. It is possible to travel to Auschwitz alone but I was so glad I went with a group and our tour guide was fantastic. On the bus they showed a film during the journey which taught me something new about the liberation of the camp.
Some people who were liberated from the camp were asked to, once physically strong enough, go back to the camp to "reenact" the liberation, the films were not widely used but it really gave a sense of how little was understood at the time about what people had been through, it seems like a grotesque request now.
You can take photos in most of Auschwitz but I decided that I was unlikely to capture anything new and didn't like the idea of taking photos of the displays of the victims belongings and such. It was one of the most sobering things I have ever seen and at the same time it's hard to comprehend standing on the grounds where these atrocities took place.
However I did capture one moment that I will share. At Auschwitz-Birkenau our tour guide was describing to us the way in which people were transported, in big wooden train carriages and the awful conditions within them. There was a large group of people wearing or carrying Israeli flags and our guide explained that they conduct ceremonies there regularly. At that moment one young girl broke away from the large group and walked across the ramp (where people were divided into groups of people who were sent to work and those sent to their death) and she very quietly left her flag in the lock of the carriage door before rejoining her group. It was a very poignant moment and something I don't think I will ever forget.
Art in Auschwitz
Whilst I was in Krakow there was an art exhibition called Face to Face: Art in Auschwitz, I went to see it the day after my tour and I am so pleased I did as it only had one week left to run. The exhibition told the story of how various works of art produced at the camp came to be in existence.
Some pieces were works which victims were forced to produce to order by the guards but access to the materials meant that other works were produced. Some of the artwork are harrowing depictions of life in the camp whilst others are heartbreakingly imagined.
I bought the book that accompanied the exhibition because I wanted to remember every single picture there. If the camp tour was an education in how people were dehumanised then this art exhibition spoke to how people tried to maintain a sense of self in the face certain death, it's hard to describe just how powerful that is.
I happened across this place and went to see the collection of religious art work from 12th - 18th Centuries. The huge paintings blew my mind, it's hard to imagine they are that old and the variations of how the styles changed was really interesting.
Because I went mid week had the whole place to myself which was a real treat!
I am sure everyone is familiar with the story of the Schindler Factory but this museum is more that just that one story. This place takes you almost literally on a walk through Krakow in the days leading up to and during the Nazi occupation. It has so much testimony from people who lived during these times.
It can be a little overwhelming in it's displays, this section of the museum actually gave me chills as you have to weave in and out of these flags to reach the next section and I realised I had only ever seen a Nazi flag in a case in a museum, not hanging up in front of me. Much less did I want to brush past it. However this is the really clever thing about the way this museum is laid out and the reaction it can provoke.
There is a whole section here about the ghetto which again is designed to make you feel you are walking amongst the streets of Krakow learning about the peoples experiences. In one section large perspex sheets with images of people on the street hang own and you have to walk through them, as they sway they give the impression that you are walking through a crowd. It's so incredibly well done.
One of the last things in the museum is the beautiful but intimidating "Room of Choices" with tall pillars littered with testimonies, each of the pillars is in a different language and as they turn you can read the words of peoples regrets.
One that stayed with me was a young man who had collected some clothes for prisoners but had missed the collection and he was chastising himself, the torment of people who felt they could say nothing was very powerful and as these pillars turn revealing more glimpses into the lives of these individuals.
The actual Ghetto wall is remarkably close to the Schindler Museum and I would recommend going to this first as the museum has replica pieces but to see the actual wall itself existing amongst the modern backdrop is something that has to be seen. The museum gives much more detail on how it was built and gives testimony from those who witnessed the building of the Ghetto but do go and see the it first.
When I first started researching Krakow the salt mines came up a lot but I wasn't actually going to go, however a friend who visited Krakow in the 80's said if there was only one thing to recommend that would be it so I took their advice.
I went with Discover Crakow again, I'd really recommend them as a tour operator as I enjoyed the relaxed day trips with them and it removed any stress from travelling from place to place.
The salt mines requires a long walk down lots of stairs but it is worth it, underneath the ground lies the most beautiful sculptures, chapels and the history of the people who worked there (and the animals, there was a horse called Barbie)
It's an interesting industry and crazy to think that everything is made of salt!
Luckily you get a lift back up to the top!
Other than WW2 history I had read about the Ethnographic Museum and that it is often overlooked by tourists but this place is fantastic!
It shows lots of aspects of Polish folk traditions including textiles organised by regional influence.
There is a section of artwork and textile production, as well as a section on what a folk Christmas looked like.
This place is very interactive and geared towards children, I found the displays really inspiring.
I would absolutely recommend a trip to Krakow, there is plenty to do, I will be writing some more on Krakow and the various musical things I went to, oh and all about the food!
Until next time