26th – 28th July
We took the train from Prague to Ostrava (on the border with Poland), then another train on to Katowice in Poland, then a third ancient, rickety and empty train to Krakow itself.
We stayed in Deco Hostel which was fairly far from the city centre, but near transport links. It was only £10.06 per person per night for a four bed room.
It was a large, richly decorated room with four single beds. There were no lockers but obviously the room was ours. The toilets and showers were next door. There was no air con, but it wasn’t that hot for most of our time in Krakow. The view was down onto the garden that guests could use, but we didn’t get round to visiting. There was also a lounge area and a kitchen which was fully functional (although we couldn’t work out how to use the oven).
We arrived late on our slow, empty train, only to be mobbed by hoards of teenagers struggling to get onto the train. The whole station was full, the streets were full, they all wore the same backpacks.
We fought our way through the crowds and made out way to the hostel. We checked in and found our lovely room. A quick internet search told us that it was the World Youth Day and the pope was visiting Krakow.
We had breakfast at the hostel, which was cheap and tasty, then headed out to catch the bus to Wieliczka Salt Mine. It is a fairly long bus ride and the bus was very full of Catholic teenagers – however the upside of world youth day was that public transport was free. We arrived at the salt mine and got into the world’s hottest queue.
At the front, we bought tickets, grabbed some drinks and waited for our tours to start – Hayley and Emily had the 2pm tour, Becky and I had the 2:30 tour. Hayley and EMily soon headed off and Becky and I chatted until it was time to go in.
Once inside, we were given a radio device with headphones so our guide could speak to us. We were led through a huge wooden door and down steps that went on forever (sixty-four metres down). We were led through at a brisk pace by our dead-pan guide – there were models of the mine workings and statues made from salt as well as a stunning room with salt crystal chandeliers and intricate carvings on the walls.
Afterwards we went on the museum tour which also in the mine – this part of the tour was very cold as it was so deep down. We marched around it quickly, stopping to look at salt crystals, mining equipment and artifacts. Finally we came to the lift to the surface. It was a two story metal box with manually opening doors and no lights which we crammed nine of us into on one level with a German tour group above us. Good job i am no longer afraid of lifts!
After the ascent, we were released and went to find Emily and Hayley to take the bus back to Krakow. We got food and cooked it in the hostel kitchen – we thought the oven wasn’t working, but it turned out that we hadn’t turned it on properly and had just spent half an hour shining a light onto the pizzas.
On the third day, we visited Schindler’s Factory in the south of the city. We got a little bit lost finding it, but I’m so glad we got there. This has to be one of the best designed museums I have ever been to. You could spend a full day there. There were things to read, videos to watch, things to touch and collect and listen to. The museum tells the whole story of the Jews in Krakow in WW2 – so much worth the visit – just go there!
We then continued our WW2 theme and headed to the site of Plazow (another concentration camp). A large memorial statue stands on the hill commemorating the victims of all nationalities. It was raining while we were there, which added to the sombre atmosphere. Knowing so many people had suffered and died on the ground where we stood was chilling. It is always good to learn about the atrocities of the past, so they won’t be repeated.
We headed back into Krakow to have dinner and found a place in the market square called Virtuoso which served delicious Italian food and a nice local beer. After we had eaten we wandered around the busy square and took a few photos of some of the landmarks, like the Cloth Hall and St Mary’s Basilica, before heading back to the hostel to get our bags and go to the station to catch our train to Budapest. With World Youth Day, we felt we hadn’t seen Krakow properly – one to return to when it is not overrun with teenagers!
Tips for Krakow:
– Go for at least three full days.
– Don’t go when there are millions of Catholic teenagers there.
– Wieliczka Salt Mine is well worth a visit, but don’t bother with the museum tour.
– Go to Schindler’s Factory and do a full day – MUST SEE.