I promised I’d be back with a blog just about Krakow and I’m finally living up to that. Sorry, I kept you waiting. Once again the Erasmus Buddy Network at WU organized a fantastic trip for us to visit the city of Krakow, Poland. We began our trip by stopping before we even reached Krakow to tour take a tour and taste the beer of Tyskie brewery, the largest brewery in Poland. We arrived in Krakow at the Giraffe Hostel (which is a great place to stay if you visit) and immediately left to get some traditional Polish cuisine. Over the course of the trip my courses included: Goulash, Bigos, Kielbasa, Kotlet Schabowy, Pierogis, and a plethora of soups, desserts, and snacks.
We were given a walking tour of Poland on our first full day by a woman who was very proud to be Polish and took us around the entire city listing off fact after fact and story after story from medieval times, to WWII Krakow, to modern day.
For example: every hour there are trumpeters within the castle walls who play ‘Taps’ but they always never finish the full song. The piece used to be performed to signal the lowering and raising of the gate. The legend behind the uncompleted song is that during a Mongolian invasion in the 1200s, a trumpeter began playing to alert the gatekeepers to lock up but his throat was pierced by an arrow of the invaders and therefore didn’t finish playing.
She also told us tales of dragon bones, showed us where the pope would come speak to people when he visited Krakow, and took us to one of the major filming locations for Schindler’s List.
If you picture Moria from Lord of the Rings you won’t be far off. The tunnels are crafted straight through the salt. You can literally run your hand along the wall, lick your fingers, and they’re salty. There are statues four times taller than me carved into the salt. The chandeliers were made of giant salt crystals. There was even a replica of The Last Dinner carved out of – you guessed it- salt. I’ve been into caves before but nothing as fascinating as this. We were 327 metres below the surface when we had dinner that night.
Following the Salt mine we grabbed a little bit of rest and got ready for the Krakow pub crawl where we got to experience the Polish nightlife, Polish drinks, and got to know our fellow travelers a bit more. A good friend of mine on the trip, Jacco from the Netherlands, was humming a song under his breath that’s a soccer chant but he had replaced the team name to ‘Krakow’. Fast forward 5 minutes and he and myself had taught the nearest 5 people the song, who taught the nearest 5 people the song, and we had a full marching parade going through the streets singing about how much we love Krakow (thus the title of this post).
The next day is difficult to describe. Maybe influential is a good word. We spent the majority of the day on a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Our guide was fantastic but that’s about the most positive thing I can say. It was haunting. At one point we walked through the smallest of the gas chambers (the only one still standing since the others were destroyed when the Nazi’s were trying to cover up their atrocities) and I would count that as the single most uncomfortable moment of my life. I’m really glad(?) that I had the experience but haunting and sickening is the only way I can think of to described it. As something that we begin studying at such an early age in America, it’s so disorienting to see it with your own eyes.
The rooms full of human hair, full of shoes from all ages, full of suitcases stamped with the names and locations of their owners, turn the textbooks and lessons into actual people. The sheer scale and size of the infrastructure is baffling. One of the thoughts that kept running through my mind while there was just imagine if all of this time and effort had gone towards something productive instead of something so heart-wrenchingly destructive. I highly recommend going if you ever get the chance because it definitely was a life-changing experience.
We wrapped up Krakow with another dinner and another night on the town and we went all out. If I’m being completely honest, I would hate to live in Krakow. It is foggy and dirty and feels much calmer than many of the places I’ve travelled. BUT it is the perfect place to visit for a few days as we did. You can really soak up a lot of culture and history there as well as have a good time and (as always) good food.