Wódka in Kraków

It’s getting late in Kraków as our tour guide warns, “in 1997 capital punishment was outlawed in Kraków altering 30 men’s criminal sentences from death row to 25-year terms. And this, my friends, is the year they will be released. So if you find yourself talking to an older Kraków gentlemen, please be sure to ask, ‘So… what have you been up to for the past 25 years?’” My train arrived just 24 hours ago… I’ve tasted pierogies and schnitzel over Polish wine, sampled Polish vodka until the bar closed, and now I find myself entrenched in stories of serial killers and ghosts haunting the streets of Kraków. This town knows how to make a good first impression…

Our time in Kraków flew by and for all the right reasons. It is worth mentioning we were quite ambitious on fitting in the sights during our short time. When I asked Tania what it was like traveling with us she appropriately replied, “just be sure to pack a light snack as they tend to skip meals.” So just be aware as you read our itinerary that it might leave less time for strolling and afternoon relaxing than you may like…

A must stop for anyone in Kraków is the 14th century Wawel Castle.  Besides the unbearably slow line for tickets, the castle and its inside museums make for an excellent afternoon.  Each exhibit has a fee and they limit the amount of visitors at certain hours. So just prepare for a wait from buying your tickets and being granted entry into certain exhibits. I recommend paying the small fee for the Dragon’s Den and Sandomierska Tower, which offers great views of the surrounding city.

View inside castle from Sandomeriska Tower
View outside castle from Sandomierska Tower

From Wawel Castle you can stroll through old town (5 minute walk) or the Jewish Quarter (15 minute walk) Kazimierz.  We opted for the Jewish Quarter in hopes of visiting Oskar Schindler’s factory, featured in Schindler’s List.  We were thrown a slight curveball as we arrived at 6:35 PM to find a sign saying ‘last entry 6:30 PM’.  Maybe it was the language barrier or perhaps they are a stickler for rules, but that 5-minute gap prevented us entry.  Lo and behold things happen for a reason as on the way back to our Airbnb we came across what Kate has dubbed the world’s best ice cream (Lody).

Raspberry and nut ice cream brings Kate joy
Coffee and Blueberry from Lody

With our stomachs satisfied, we made our way to the 8 o’clock ‘haunted’ tour of Old Town.  This would be my third free walking tour of this Euro trip and it was hands down the best.  By now you should know I’m a big FREE walking tour proponent.   As the night was winding down, we stumbled across the final minutes of what looked to be a wine fair near the main town square.   We made friends with a fellow from Missouri, and spent the remaining hours sharing wine and whatever fair food we could find.  We had planned to be out for just a short while but who can say no to free wine pours?

Late nite potatoes, sausage and Slovak wine.  Mmmmm

Our final day in Kraków was certainly the busiest.  It started with a 6:30 AM ride to Oświęcim, Poland to make our 8:00 AM reserved entry into the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.  You can reach Auschwitz by train, cab or private car.  It cost us about $110 USD to hire a car for the whole day which is much more expensive than a train. Considering your wallet has enjoyed cheap food and entertainment in Eastern Europe up to this point, spend a little extra and hire the car. Another point in visiting Auschwitz is to book your tickets far in advance… Like 3-4 months in advance.  They only allow visits without a guide up until 10AM (free entry). After that time you have to purchase a guided tour ($35-45 USD).  I am sure the guides provide information we missed out on but given all the reading material and the large scale of the memorial and museum we had no problem spending 6 hours out there.  Plus we could take in the museum at our own pace. I cannot quite describe what it is like to visit a place where over 1.1 million innocent human beings were murdered.   I’ll save what I learned and what I now think for another time so just please take my advice and make a visit to Auschwitz a priority.

Auschwitz I
Train tracks at Auschwitz II-Birkenau

In hopes of visiting Oscar Schindler’s museum that afternoon we opted for lunch and drinks in the Jewish District. One cuisine that’s unique to this part of Kraków is the Zapienkanki.

Zapiekanki toppings are endless

There are various stalls in the main town square of this district so grab a quick sample, or if you’d like more of a sit-down patio experience I’d recommend Alchemia. Fortunately, we made it to the museum in time for tickets but unfortunately I think I was pretty much burnt out by then. You can only do so much reading in museums on a given day and I think I was approaching my limit. The content in the Schindler museum is very interesting but it overlaps with much of the WWII history covered in previous museums. There is one exhibit dedicated to Oskar Schindler but it was smaller than I had hoped. This slight disappointment was certainly forgotten as we grabbed Lody’s on our walk back to the Airbnb.

After a quick nap, we decided to spend our final evening in Kraków within the Old Town district. I’d suggest getting there just before sun down to take pictures in front of the St. Mary’s Basilica (Kosciol Mariacki) and the Main Market Square.

Main Market Square – Kraków
Group photo in front of St. Mary’s Basilica

There are countless good restaurants in the area so just stroll around after pictures and see what looks good. You can also take the museum entrance by Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) to access a second-story patio for elevated views of the main square. Even with a fast approaching 6:00 AM flight, I found myself capping the night off with more Polish vodka. If you get a chance to visit Kraków and experience the food, spirits, and friendly people as we did, you’ll understand why sleep was not a priority.

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