March 20, 2013

Backpacking Europe Part II: Krakow

Part 2 of 6 of my Onsite Chronicles: Europe Edition.

  • Backpacking Europe Part I: Warsaw
  • Backpacking Europe Part II: Krakow
  • Backpacking Europe Part III: Paris
  • Backpacking Europe Part IV: Italy
  • Backpacking Europe Part V: Tromso, Norway
  • Backpacking Europe Part VI: More Warsaw 

  • Blogger's Note: I was supposed to write about my trips within Poland in just one entry, but then I realized that the post was getting too long...

    Most of Europe is just a big mass of land, so perhaps the most practical way to travel from one place to another is by train.  Sure, train travel takes a lot more time than air travel, but if time isn't a factor in planning the trip, it is wise to consider going around by rail.  Tickets can be purchased online or in person, but I've learned that the tickets are sold cheaper when you buy them on the station.  However, it is also a good idea to check the timetables online, and to verify if the ticket you plan to purchase needs to be bought ahead of time (i.e. compulsory reservation).


    Krakow is 253 kilometers south of Warsaw and takes around three hours to travel by train.  For this trip, I searched online for the earliest possible departure from Warsaw on a Saturday (which was around 6AM), and bought the ticket in the Central Station a few days before the trip.

    Krakow City Walk

    This city is the second largest, and one of the oldest cities in Poland.  Similar to Warsaw, the modes of public transportation are the bus, the trams, and the metro.  However, I found the city center to be significantly smaller than Warsaw, so most of my sightseeing here was done on foot.  Needless to say, despite the size this city has a lot of history to share.

    Krakow also has an Old Town Market Square, but theirs is bigger and is actually original.

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    Left: A model of the Wawel Castle found inside the castle courtyard.
    Right: A memorial in the Jewish Quarter.  Yes, they also had a ghetto.

    The New Jewish Cemetery in Kazimierz (Jewish Quarters). 

    Since Krakow is a bit far from Warsaw, I decided to spend the whole weekend there to get the most out of my visit.  I didn't plan to splurge on accommodations, so I searched through Trip Advisor and Virtual Tourist for any information about accommodations that give good value for your money.  Greg and Tom's Hostel seems to have a lot of positive reviews on both websites, so I decided to reserve a slot.  The reservation was made online, but somehow they weren't able to receive my confirmation email.  When I got to the hostel to check-in, they told me that they were already fully booked.  Good thing that they were able to refer me to another hostel, Pink Panther's Hostel, having just the same room rates and situated conveniently near the tourist center.

    Old Town feel. 

    Just for comparison:
    • Greg and Tom's Hostel
      • Cheapest Rate: 6-Bed Mixed Dorm with Shared Bathroom - 57PLN (All Year Round)
      • Location: 15 minutes away from the Old Town Market Square (outside Old Town, near the train station)
      • Free wi-fi
      • No extra fee for towels
    • Pink Panther's Hostel
      • Cheapest Rate: 10-Bed Mixed Dorm with Shared Bathroom - 40PLN (Off Peak Season)
      • Location: 10 minutes away from the Old Town Market Square (inside Old Town)
      • Free wi-fi
      • Extra fee for towels 

    Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp
    For my second day in Krakow, I signed up for a guided tour I found in the Web.  Even though I believe that I am fully capable of planning the trip alone, I didn't want to waste most of the day checking for bus schedules and lining up for tickets.  Auschwitz-Birkenau is around an hour and a half away from the city center, so I decided that for this trip it's okay to let the convenience of a guided tour weigh out the practicality of organizing the trip alone.

    IMG_7947 IMG_8041
    Left: The infamous gate of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
    Right: Portraits of the numerous Holocaust victims hung on the hallway of the museum

    For those who aren't familiar with the Holocaust, allow me to share a short history lesson.  It was during the 1940's when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.  Hitler had plans of establishing a New World Order, which included *purifying* the human race.  Under his command, concentration camps were built within Polish territory, Auschwitz-Birkenau being one of the largest camps.  Here, countless number of Jews and other *undesirables* were transported, falsely informed that they were just being relocated to a place far away from the war.  A detailed account of the victims' plight was given in the four-hour tour of the concentration camps.

    I have to say, despite the solemn atmosphere throughout the tour, I really enjoyed the experience.  I usually don't take interest in history, but somehow the place made me realize a human's capability in doing good or evil, and how much it can affect society.  At the very core, Hitler is just a man with a dream.  And with that dream, he was able to destroy a huge part of humanity.

    Wieliczka Salt Mine
    In that afternoon, I signed up for another guided tour (with the same company); a rather happier one, I could say.  According to the guide, this was once a fully functional salt mine, but now is being maintained purely for tourism purposes.

    The salt mine tour happens 53 stories underground. /vertigo 

    The interesting attractions in this salt mine are the artworks created by the miners themselves.  There are statues, carvings, and even whole underground chapels created from blocks of salt.  There even was a salt carving that is a pretty good replica of Da Vinci's Last Supper.

    IMG_8226 IMG_8292 IMG_8293
    Left: Sculpture made from black salt.
    Middle: The crystals of the chandelier are made from salt, too.
    Right: The floors were carved from slabs of black salt, polished by the feet of tourists.

    IMG_8256 IMG_8286
    Left: Chapel of St. Kinga, 101 meters underground.
    Right: Last Supper salt carving.

    The tour took about three hours, and by the time we were finished it was already dusk.  After an hour ride from the salt mine to the city center, I headed back to Warsaw by train.


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