Poland - 2007
I decided to utilize the long weekend at Easter
time to visit the town of Krakow. The reasons for this were
the rumours of the extraordinary beauty of the city,
interesting sights and history in the surrounding area and
the just the fact of getting bored with the Finnish winter.
And on top of that the free flights (paid with frequent
flyer miles) made this trip a really cheap one.
Check out the photo gallery.
I spent four nights which is pretty much enough to see the
most interesting sights and enjoy the laidback atmosphere of
the old town. The old town was impressive but calling it
"the most beautiful city in Europe" is not quite justified.
I would say that Prague, Vilnius and Riga are equally
attractive. The highlights of this trip were the visits to
Auschwitz and Wieliczka salt mines. Auschwitz is definitely
one of the most memorable sights ever - just seeing the
sheer size of Birkenau camp gives you shivers.
In general Krakow is a nice city for a couple of days
getaway. Obviously it was not high season yet so it can be
much more packed in the summertime.
08.04.2007 Helsinki - Krakow
quick and convenient flight this time - it takes only 1,5
hours from Helsinki to Krakow. It was already dark when I
arrived so there was not much to be seen. And because it was
Easter Sunday practically all the shops, bars and
restaurants were closed.
I take the train from airport (about 15
minutes to the city center) and easily locate my hotel near
the central railway station. As the flights were basically
free I decided to book a decent 3-star hotel (Hotel Polonia).
Pretty comfortable place even though the room is small.
did not sleep well for some reason but I anyway decide to
start exploring the city early in the morning. The
complimentary breakfast buffet is very good indeed and keeps
you going for a long time. The hotel is located on the
outskirts of the old town so as first thing I head to the
most obvious location of a medieval town - the central
market square. There seems to be a lot of activities going
on - everything from singing and dancing to local food and
souvenirs is available.
The old town area is quite big and
basically intact in a sense that there are no ugly buildings
from the late 20th century. The buildings could be in a
better condition - but on the other hand the rundown houses
are part of the overall atmosphere... After some pointless
wandering I find Wawel - the ancient seat of Polish kings
which is in practice a big complex of castles and churches
on a hill. The place is pretty impressive and reminds me of
the similar complex in Prague. Only part of the castle is
open for the public today - surprisingly the admission is
free! Inside there is the usual share of old old furniture
and artwork - not quite my cup of tea so I leave quickly.
What is more interesting is the gothic church with several
catacombs in the basement. The artwork inside is really
fascinating and I spend quite a long time admiring the
carefully sculpted statues and paintings.
After several kilometers of walking I
return to the central marketplace. I visit the most famous
church in town - St Mary's church which is even more
impressive than the one in Wawel. Unbelievable amount of
gold and the height of the main hall are a sight for sore
eyes. Interestingly there are two areas - one for prayers
and one for tourists (who must pay for the admission).
After a lot of walking I'm getting tired
and hungry. I somehow end up in a Georgian restaurant where
the names of dishes in the menu are rather cryptic. I get
some kind of pie stuffed with meat on my plate - pretty good
and heavy stuff. Being pretty exhausted I return to the
hotel and spend the rest of the evening reading a book.
were two alternative activities for this day - either to
visit Wieliczka salt mines or Auschwitz. As the weather was
looking somewhat rainy I decided to leave Auscwitz for
tomorrow and go to the salt mines. The place was locates
some 10 kilometres outside the city center so the easiest
way to get there was to book a half-day trip from a nearby
travel agency. After a half an hour bus ride we arrived in
the mine area. It did not actually look like a mine - there
was just a parking lot and an old brick building. Maybe the
still operational parts of the mine were further away?
Anyway the tour started with 50-meter
descent using wooden stairs (which felt pretty much endless).
The tour was basically a maze of old mine corridors and
chambers with installations or artwork made from salt stone.
There was only small part of the mine open for the public -
it was said that there are about 300 km of corridors in the
It was quite unbelievable what was made
from salt stone: there were numerous sculptures and a couple
of chapels. The highlight of the tour was the enormous
chapel some 100 metres under the ground level - people have
weddings there nowadays! There were also some underground
ponds and a river - quite a place. The only thing that was
bugging me was the number of artificial installations - I
would like to have seen more of the mine in its original
We returned to downtown later in the
afternoon. I took a nap in the hotel and then did some
further exploring in the downtown area. I also visited a
nearby shopping center which a huge complex filled with
familiar chains like H&M and numerous designer stores. I did
not feel like shopping though (no surprise!). As I was about
to head for Auschwitz tomorrow I soon returned to hotel and
went to bed early.
11.04.2007 Krakow - Auschwitz
main activity for this day would be the visit to Auschwitz.
I thought about booking a tour from a travel agency but
actually there were direct buses from the nearby bus station
so using a travel agency did not add any value. So I took an
early morning bus and after about 1,5 hours I arrived in
Auschwitz 1 gate (I did not realize that there were actually
two camps - the bigger Birkenau camp was some 3 kilometres
from Auschwitz 1).
There was no admission fee to visit the
area but you had to pay for guide services. I thought that
taking a guided tour would be a good idea so I joined a
group. This proved to be a good alternative as the guide
spoke proper English and had lots of interesting stories
about the history of the area.
We spent first a couple of hours in the
Auschwitz 1 area and visited several buildings. The old
brick houses did not look that scary but there were lots of
exhibitions inside that were pretty much horrible - for
example the house filled with unbelievable amount of objects
taken from prisoners (including a room full of human hair).
There was not much of Nazi memorabilia to be seen - only
some signs in German. Lots of (electrified) barbed wire
everywhere. This part of the tour ended in the original gas
chamber and the crematory - seeing those big ovens was quite
The second part of the tour was
Auschwitz 2 a.k.a Birkenau. There was a short bus ride to
the area and as soon as you entered from the main gate you
realized the huge size of the area. Auscwitz 1 was quite
small but seeing the endless number of burned houses made
you quickly understad the scope of this place also known as
There was not that much to be seen as
majority of the buildings were either burned or destroyed as
nazis tried to hide their crimes when they were fleeing.
There houses where prisoners were kept were actually horse
stables - the most shocking part was to see the crude wooden
beds where at least three people shared one bed. The main
gas chambers were in Birkenau - they were more or less
completely destroyed so there was not much more than a big
pile of old bricks there.
After the guided tour ended I spent
quite a lot of time just walking around in the area. It was
quite an eerie feeling to walk there in the beautiful
sunshine and enjoy the spring weather in a place where a
million people have been killed some 50 years ago... Later
in the afternoon I returned to Auscwitz 1 and catched a bus
back to Krakow.
I tried to find a place that serves
traditional local food and after some walking found one. I
had a full menu of local sausages, beatroot soup and pork
meat with some local beer. Quite a heavy dish and I could
barely walk to hotel as I was so full. Quite a day - even
though Auschwitz is one of the most shocking places I have
ever visited it was also one of the most interesting ones.
Definitely recommend for everybody interested in history.
12.04.2007 Krakow - Helsinki
Time to go home (and back to work in the afternoon). I had
my laptop with me so the first activity in the morning was
to visit a local Internet cafe and replicate my email. After
that I rushed to the airport and started to process some
work related stuff. Krakow airport is one of the smallest in
major European cities and the services are more than limited
- just a tiny taxfree store and one cafe. So do your
The flight was in time and uneventful so
after 1,5 hours it was the time to take a taxi to the office
after a quick visit to home. Anyway the trip was a good
break for the hectic winter season and spring is basically
in the air already...