Poland – Warsaw and Krakow

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Poland has always been on our to-do list, but we’ve never yet ventured there in the van, and due to Eastern European aspect being unknown, we’ve been a little bit wary. So for a change, we opted for a week away flying to Warsaw, then down to Krakow and flying home.

We forgot how much we hate flying and all the f***ing around at the airports. Such a waste of time and a chore. That said, the cheapo wizz-air flights were absolutely fine. Yes, they were cheap and they try and upsell everything, but play by their rules and it was actually no hassle – including decent flight times.

Normally our flights are to some part of Asia, where the airports are disorganised chaos and full of touts, so a pleasant surprise getting out of Warsaw airport unmolested to the bus station and getting a bus into town. Tickets bought on the bus from a ticket machine with English option – and 4.40zl (<£1) for 90 minutes max journey, but in actually got into the city in 30m. Easy. Our apartment was absolutely fine and organised with email of door codes – and was as described. Booking.com did its job nicely – and now we’re genius level we got extra discounts.

Dumping bags and venturing out, we quickly found a decent craft beer pub. After a few beers and pizza, had some more beers, and, well, far too many beers. Quite tender the next day…. Met some interesting other travellers in the pub and enjoyed hearing the locals views of Morocco and elsewhere – really a rather good night.

With a sore head, the next day we ventured around Warsaw, just exploring and bumbling as we do, along the river, watching a very busy 10k race, and up to the old town. Warsaw comes across as a nice city, very clean, feels safe, not too busy and quite harmless. The old town is beautiful to explore, and the new town is reasonably interesting. Plenty of random eateries to try local dishes and outside of the tourist areas very reasonably priced.

On our second day, we were a bit more cultured and visited the Warsaw (up)rising museum which was huge and maze-like and gave great insight to what Poland and Warsaw went through during the war, which was pretty awful. Hard to believe what atrocities took place by the Germans and Russians with the Poles stuck in the middle being shat on from everyone. Of course, it needs to be remembered that Warsaw was pretty much flattened in WW2 during the uprising, even the old town. So pretty much everything you see is a reconstruction and isn’t actually old.

Beyond the history, there are a large number of parks which are huge, fairly quiet, and very pretty – full of sweet red squirrels by the look of it. Makes the city feel quite open and regal. Well worth the walk and exploration.

After more exploring our time was up and we bought train tickets to Krakow for the second half of the week. The main train station only appeared to have a ticket counter, so we ordered tickets and gave a time when we knew there was a train and paid, a little taken back by the price of 150zl (£30) each. Only later, did we find a few electronic ticket machines one level down towards the platforms, where (in English) you can self-buy tickets, and the times/prices come up. There was a slower train a few minutes later which is 1hr longer for 68zl (£14). Bugger. But on the main concourse we found no details, machines, or prices, and the person selling tickets wasn’t great at English. Has to be said, the expensive train is quick and comfortable, but for £30 we’d have taken the slower one!! So look for the machines on the platform entry level.

Arriving at Krakow was trivial, finding the right exit from the station wasn’t – but eventually we got out and wandered to our apartment. For some reason we got upgraded to a full loft apartment that was huge for no extra cost. Great 😊

Walking into the centre, Krakow shows is differences with Warsaw. Many more tourists, busier narrower streets, and interesting wandering wherever you go. Unlike Warsaw, Krakow was mainly untouched during the war so its as genuine as you can get. Lots of trams, cycle ways, and walking streets – all interesting and safe, and quite a few wow comments the first time you see something. We’ve seen numerous city squares of all sizes, but Krakow wins hands down in terms of scale and pretty effect. I believe it’s the largest in Europe which is easy to believe, surrounded by tourist shops, restaurants, horse rides and trip touts. To be honest, nothing bothersome, and not taking away the interest level.

Further south there are some more old areas not on most tourist radars, where we found some quaint and unique drinking bars – nothing like the main centre. For food, we just snacked at a local ish canteen style thing as after beers we weren’t overly hungry.

We got our apartment managers to sort us a trip to Auschwitz which has long been on out to-do list. It’s a long trip, around 7 hrs, mostly on the bus it appeared. You do need a guide and its easier to get tickets/guide/transport in advance, but only certain days had availability – such is the popularity. The trip was interesting enough, but you were rushed around by your guide. And though the facts of the atrocities there are well known, the scale you see is massive.

With no disrespect whatsoever, whether it was the tour speed; or the massive numbers of people going round; or the sheer scale of Auschwitz; or the fact there isn’t much you can read and ponder, but for us, we both said afterwards it was worth seeing and learning, but didn’t really have a huge “impact” to us. Now other concentration camps we’ve visited over the years, like Bergen Belson, or Mauthausen, or some others, we’ve left in states of shock. We think its because in the smaller places, its quieter, less touristy, and you can read much more detail and get a better feel for what went on. Whereas in Auschwitz, you don’t have time to really understand and absorb the facts.

Long may we remember and learn…..

Back in Krakow, more beer, more food, more beer, and vodka. We slept well.

On our last full day we headed to Schindlers factory (well known from the Schindler’s list film) – and annoyingly tickets were sold out. Can’t book in advance, need to turn up at 9am and queue. Grrr. I’m sure some tours get them in advance, but clearly a pain for us. So we wandered around the southern area which we otherwise wouldn’t have seen – showing a newer well invested and pretty part of Krakow. As a plan B we went into the Museum of Illusions which kept us entertained for a bit. Not cheap, but a bit of fun.

Wandering back we found a little local bistro, pretty much local only, so we jumped in for an early tea. Two course meal each (soup & main) and drink for £11. Totally lovely and plentiful, and then opted to get back to base and rest, getting snacks and beers and opting to watch the movie of Schindler’s List instead….. Having much more of a feel of the history, and hearing some of the truths in the film made it quite a sad viewing.

Our final day was bright and sunny, so yet another venture into town. Amazingly even after 10 miles walking each day, we were still able to find new areas to explore. Krakow really is a great place to walk and explore. After almost certainly walking every street we stopped for our final scrummy local apple cake and called it a day, catching a cheap local bus to the airport (<£1), simple no-queue security and check in. Such a change from Luton!

Anyway, in summary, our trip was to have a quick explore and determine if we want to visit for a longer van trip. Well, a whole hearted yes. The cities felt perfectly safe, spotlessly clean, organised and friendly. Driving standards fine (though parking in cities may not be recommended!) and we’d have no hesitation about driving there. We can imagine the smaller towns being equally interesting and much less touristy. For a weekend citybreak we can recommend Krakow – couldn’t fault anything on our stay.

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