Poland – Warsaw and Krakow

WARSAW

It was my first time in Poland. After an overnight bus trip from Vilnius, I finally arrived in Warsaw where the bus stopped at the Warsaw central train station at almost 6am ( Poland is 1 hour behind of the Baltic States). The summer sun was already up but it still felt a bit cool though. I was lucky that i managed to open the map to my hostel before my data ran out on my roaming Swedish mobile number.

My hostel was called Warsaw Hostel Centrum at 36a Emilii Plater Street and was around a 10-15 minute walk from the central station. It was too early to check in but I was allowed to put my bags, have a shower and rest. It felt so good to have  my first shower since Riga 2 days ago. After that, I had a short nap at the hostel lounge since it was still early and nothing in town was opened yet. I was aiming for the free city tour in the old city just in front of a column in front of the Royal Palace starting at 11am. I also joined the Jewish tour at 2pm.

Places I visited :

1.  The Warsaw Old Town

As usual, almost all European cities have an old town. According to the free tour guide, the old town was destroyed during the war as a payback after the Warsaw uprising. As a result, the old town was rebuilt to resemble as close as they can to how it looked like before the bombings. So the building might look old and medieval but it’s less than 100 years old.

Approaching the old town from the direction of the central station, there are lots of beautiful old buildings housing museums, government and educational buildings.

In the old town, you can visit :

i) the market square which was smaller than what I expected

ii) the Royal Palace

A trumpet song is played from the towers once a day when the clock hits 11am (?). The history was explained to us by the tour guide.

iii) the Basilica Cathedral of Warsaw

iv) The Little Insurgent Monument

to commemorate the children who were involved in the uprising became messengers relaying information to the residents of the city during the war.

v) Milk Bar

 An old concept of a Polish restaurant that sprung up during the communism era that sold cheap subsidised meals to the masses. The  number of authentic milk bars have dwindled in recent times and replaced by more modern version of it.

According to the guide, there’s one authentic milk bar located just outside the old town gates.  The staff didn’t speak that much English but there were English menus and yet I still ended ordering something tasteless and bland. The other meals looked better though. Two dishes cost me PLN7.50

2. The Palace of Culture and Science

Located close to the Warsaw Central Station, it’s one of the tallest building in Warsaw. At the top, there’s an observation tower where you will have a view of the city centre. PLN 15 (student ticket)

3. Museums

Most museums I visited were related to the occupation and uprising. I visited the :

i) National Museum (PLN 10)

ii) Uprising Museum (PLN 14)

iii) Polin/Jewish Museum (PLN 15)

I paid student prices for my tickets. Out of the 3,  I would recommend the Uprising and Polin/Jewish Museum. Might take 1.5-2 hrs for the uprising museums as there is lots to see and read. It also houses video footages as well as some personal belongings from the people who lived in the city during that time.

I arrived late at the Jewish Museum so I could not visit all the exhibits.

Apart from that, I strolled along the newer part of the city. The area near my hostel has a few cafes along the streets and parks. I moved around with a zone 1 24 hour ticket which costs PLN15.


KRAKOW

I took the Polski bus to Warsaw where I stayed for 1 night. The bus terminal is around 1 km or 10 minutes walk from the old town centre. The station is connected to the train station as well so it’s quite large and can be hard to navigate around especially when the mall next to it is closed and you are taking the bus. This is because the bus terminal is behind the mall and train station and you will need to find your way around the doors that will be closed after hours.

1. Old City

I spent my time mostly in the old city. It’s very lively and beautiful with lots to do. There’s also a free city tour you can join. I went to :

i) Market Square

Undoubtedly the main attraction in the city. It’s large and surround by cafes. Intro hostel where I stayed was located on the 3rd floor of an old building located just 1 minute away from the square. hard Rock Cafe is located here and at night you can ride beautiful horse carts to go around the square.

ii) St Mary’s Basilica

The St Mary’s Basilica located next to the square also serves as a city landmark as it towers over this part of town. Don’t miss out on the free city tour leaving from near the entrance of the church.

Every hour, you will hear a person playing a trumpet from the Basilica tower. According to the tour guide, a watch man was on guard at the tower in the old days and he played the trumpet to warn the city folks. The enemy shot him with an arrow. Hence, when the trumpet is played, it will abruptly stop signalling the moment when the watch man was shot.

iii. City Hall Market

At the opposite end of the Basilica is the city hall. It’s an impressive building that not only houses the city hall but also a market selling touristic stuff. A museum is also located underneath the building. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to visit.

The old city has lots of narrow cobbled streets with a lot of medieval churches. I did not enter the St Mary’s Basilica as it required a ticket. Having been to lots of churches in the past few weeks or my eurotrip, I felt that I could skip going in and just took pictures from the outside. The queue was also quite long besides the fact the Pope was visiting the city in a few days so they had limited opening hours.

iv. Jagiellonian University Museum

Located in the old city as well where you can have a look at the university main courtyard.

2. Wawel Castle

Around 10 minutes walk from the old town, the castle is located on top a hill and made of a few buildings. Entry requires separate payments depending on which building you want to visit. I made do with just taking pictures from the outside. Since I only had 2 days, the castle was closing soon when I arrived so I would’ve been able to get in even if I wanted to.

It is also located next to a river. So you will be able to see the view of the city, the old city as well as the river from the top.

 

3. Auschwitz Concentration Camp

You can go there on your own by taking the bus but I didn’t want the hassle . It’s a bit far from the city so I joined a tour that my hostel offered. It left in the morning and got back to the city at around 2pm.

Once you get there, you might also need to queue for tickets. Check the website as they might have implemented online ticketing now. Since I was with a tour, it was all arranged. The queue was very long. Get in early if you don’t want to stand very long. While entry is free, you will need to enter with a guide. Since I was already with a guided tour, it was arranged for.

The downside for me was the tour was a bit rushed and I did not manage to take a picture in front of the famous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign. I was under the impression that we would exit via the same place but we exited from another gate. If you haven’t read about the place, a tour would help to simplify everything for you and they’ll bring you to the main buildings.

It’s a massive area and listening from the stories you hear, it is hard to imagine the events that happened here. The place housed the hospital, bunk beds, records of the people who were interned there and exhibitions to explain the history. You will be able to take pictures in most of the places except some where it’s not allowed mainly to show respect to the victims. Some rooms are filled with hair and personal belongings of the victims.

After the main concentration camp, we were driven to another spot a few kilometres to Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp where the train station is located. It has a platform where the city people who were brought in were segregated between the men and women and there possessions were taken away. They were told that they were going to be relocated to better places to live with facilities given to them. The bags were to be tagged with their names so that can get it back later but it was a lie and the journey to Auschwitz was in cramped trains with the doors locked for days until the time that they arrived there.

I would recommend going if you had the opportunity as it is part of world history. If you have time, the cheaper way is to make your own way there. Take a tour if you are short on time. My tour cost me PLN 120 which is one of the cheapest I found. Prices vary a lot but it also depends on the facilities you get.

Below are the some of the pictures taken from my Auschwitz tour

Since the tour took more than half a day, I didn’t have time to do anything else for the day. If not, you can visit the salt mine. Check the closing times before you decide to go.

My hostel also recommended a restaurant that served Polish dishes at reasonable prices. It was located near to my hostel so I have dinner there twice. It had a dining area at the ground floor as well as a cellar. In the cellar, it shared the space with a pub.

 

I just walked around the old city which is quite big. I think I should’ve allocated at least 3 days 2 nights here instead of just 2 days and 1 night. I made my way to the bus stop afterwards to get to my overnight bus to Budapest.

More pictures from the trip on my facebook page album : wanderingfadz

Album link : https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1867432063480722.1073741839.1795244350699494&type=1&l=b49b591ff3

Instagram : @wanderingfadz


Expenses in Polish Zloty (PLN) :

Warsaw

Hostel ( 2 nights )  173.10

Palace of Culture and Science    15

Warsaw ( Zone 1 ) 24 hours ticket    15

Train to bus terminal    3.20

National Museum ( student tix )    10

Uprising Museum ( student tix )    14

Polin/Jewish Museum ( student tix )    15

Polski bus Warsaw – Krakow    39

Food    30

Miscellaneous (Laundry, free tour tip etc)    60

Sub total :  374.30

Krakow

Hostel in Old Town (1 night)    40.50

Auschwitz tour    120

Food    40

Miscellaneous    10

Overnight bus Krakow – Budapest    56

Sub total 196.50

TOTAL : 570.80

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