Number 1 – Go to Auschwitz
Firstly I do have a confession to make , Im in Krakow main square as I type, but Im actually at an American restaurant not a Polish one.
In my defence, I cant keep buying two meals because I cant understand Polish and I’ve ordered something inedible ( there is a lot of inedible food here if you have an Australian palate like I do, or maybe Im just fussy) The travel brochure the hotel gave me does have this place listed as best place to eat in Krakow, Grande Grill, if anyones heading this way.
It is in the main square of Krakow , so I am looking at Polish things and a group of men are singing what could be Polish songs , they do look suspiciously like they are in Austrian national costume and someone is playing the accordion ( is that a Polish instrument?) but nothing here is American accept of course the restaurant is full of Americans.
I am also looking at a Plecke stand which I know is Polish because I just googled it.
There are loads of market stalls, many selling stuffed crocodiles…I didn’t think Poland had any crocodiles? So no idea why they are on sale in abundance here, I haven’t bought one
Anyway to recap , I arrived in Warsaw early in the morning, I cant remember what day in fact Ive no idea what day it is today.
I got thru customs in 5 minutes , in fact there may not have been any customs, one guy asleep on a chair near an exit and I was in a taxi in 10.
I had booked, The Marriot and it was a winner…location location location and a 5 star hotel at $110 a night, a bargain and it really was 5 star.
Gregorze, the concierge, Ill call him Gregory, was most helpful, by the time Id checked in he had popped over to the train station for me and bought my train ticket to Krakow, all for 3 zloti…$1.00! That was for him, not the train ticket.
I got an upgraded room and early check in , the benefits I think of being a single female traveller , they all feel sorry for you.
I literally dropped my suitcases and went exploring…straight to H and M across the road..Seriously it seems there is a H and M , Zara and Marks and Spencers at every city in the world except OZ.
I did buy some gold sandals for bargain price of $2.85, which will probably equate to $300 when I pay my excess baggage fees…I wish I left Oz with less stuff… I did try, but for those of you that know , I never travel light.
I went to the supermarket to buy some bottled water, I was in there an hour, longer than when I do a big shop at home. Firstly the aisle that sells water is twice the length of any of our aisles , 1000s bottles and of course it was all written in Polish, possibly other languages as well but all foreign to me and none cold.
But a tour of the supermarket was an eye opener, they should put it in the tourist books as a “must see” place.
Firstly there was a fridge 5 metres long with 5 shelves deep just of yoghurt…I didn’t even know there were that many flavours.
The deli section was just full of frozen products from carrots, broccoli, peas, fish, meat, all pay by weight, nothing prepackaged at all and not a fresh
morsel in sight.
The fresh fruit and veg section tiny in comparison and sadly nothing fresh about any of it.
Then there was the deli section full of entirely unrecognisable dishes, many looked and smelled plain awful.
I eventually selected my water bottle only to find when I opened it , it wasn’t still water at all..some perfume flavoured carbonated liquid.
Hence when I spotted a Hard Rock cafe I went in and ordered a cobb salad…its the same all the world around ( except the rock hard avocado, haven’t had that before) and water is water and chardonnay is chardonnay
I wandered the streets for a few hours then went back to the hotel for happy hour.
The barman talked me into trying various vodka cocktails…none of which I can pronounce but apple seemed to feature a lot. He also talked me into booking bike hire online as being the ” easy” option…more on that later.
I moved to the happy hour at the Panorama bar on the 40th floor, views were amazing but none of my photos turned out, drank more drinks I couldn’t pronounce.
I discovered that the Marriott is built on top of a casino, so thought Id try my luck.
I think they thought I was a high roller with my fake gold necklace from Tel Aviv. I had to give them my passport to get in. I was looking for Polish mafia, it was that seedy looking but instead just found a group of chain smoking old guys all queueing to bet on the roulette table with minimum bet of 1 zloti, about 28 cents.
I splashed out and bet on table with minimum bet about 90cents, I lost my entire investment of $10 on 13 black, I’m giving up on that number its lucky for everyone else but me. I was given a complimentary chardonnay so figure I lost nothing.
Next day I signed in online to hire my bike. They have pick up and drop off points all over the city, lucky for me , one right out the hotel door.
It all seemed as easy as the barman had said until I actually went to get the bike and all the codes I pressed came up with nothing.
Instructions in Polish no good to me at all. Asked help from locals who tried but to no avail so I ran back to my concierge, Gregory..he came out to machine , no joy so we went back to hotel and he phoned help desk…this meant I had to keep running out of hotel to the machine trying things and then run back to the phone. An hour from my first go I finally got my bike…Gregory took a photo.. I went to pedal off and the chain was broken… At this stage I almost gave up. But it seems I had signed up and paid for 9 months bike hire none of which is refundable ( it is actually only $9) but I thought I better at least ride somewhere, eventually I got a bike. If anyone is heading this way in the next 9 months Ill give you the codes.
The roads are very wide and busy and there are subways under ground to cross over to the other side..but there are only stairs, 100″s of them
I did more wheeling and carrying the bike down stairs than cycling… In the end I thought hang it, Ill ride on the road..how hard can it be riding on other side of the road? I discovered early on the reason why the roads are so wide is because trams go down the middle… Not Aussie cyclists
Was a thrill seeking , heart stopping ride is all I can say.
I did get to see Old Warsaw which didn’t look much different from New Warsaw to be honest.
Dropped bike off at midday and jumped on a train to Krakow.
I was starving so went up to the restaurant carriage and ordered a ham sandwich and glass of wine, I said “ham” the barman said ” hum” I thought we were on same page but what I got was roast beef and pickle with a bottle of warm beer, both awful. Lucky I had pinched some peanuts from airport lounge, so ate those instead.
The train ride was 4 hours of my life Ill never get back..Polish countryside all the same after first 2 metres.
Read my book instead, now have nothing to read by pool in Palma.
Got to Krakow, checked in at hotel, yet another upgrade, in fact my room is so new I don’t think its been used before.
Went to bar down stairs and got chatting to some Americans, Correction..I listened to some Americans.. They did all the talking, mostly of course about America.
They did however tell me to forget catching a bus to Auschwitz and to get a private driver instead. They had been collected at lobby, and driven to Auschwitz in a black Mercedes, the driver got them thru queues, gave them info about places and spent the day driving them wherever they wanted to go…. Bargain I thought… So much better than rushing to bus station by taxi at 7 am.
So with great anticipation next morning I went to lobby to find an old guy who spoke NO english and drove a Holiday Inn mini bus, not a black Mercedes in sight!!
Anyway we headed out for Auschwitz an hour away in silence..my Polish as good as his English
Every time I took a photo out the window, he braked and pulled up onto kerb, opened the door for me so I could take a proper photo..was very sweet.
We got to Auschwitz and he pulled up in the disabled bay..got me in without queueing and left me to wander around on my own.
Auschwitz is a place we should all see in our lifetime.
They have turned the camp into a museum with an absolute overload of information..it is the best museum I have ever been to.
The place is teeming with tour guides with every nationality traipsing behind but everyone is silent, its very surreal..even the guides only whisper.
Some things I saw will remain in my memory for life, a picture of a little blonde girl, not unlike Jazzey at 3 ..lucky she survived but what she would have seen just doesn’t bare thinking about.
A room as big as a hall full of human hair..the sight, tattooed on my brain for life.
Such evil, such cruelty, such cowardice
I met my driver, still in the disabled parking bay, cant pronounce his name, he couldn’t pronounce mine either.. ( how hard is Ally to say?)
He drove me to Birkenhau another camp down the road, he said stay as long as you want ..in Polish, but I understood what he meant… I didnt stay long there is only so much evil you can stomach in a day.
We then headed back to Krakow
On the way I spotted two deer, there were signs warning to watch out for them. The driver hadn’t seen them so when I asked if he could stop next time so I could take a photo the language barrier between us, became more apparent.
We spent the next 30 minutes trying to understand each other..I was trying to explain what a deer looked like, he kept mooing in response. I wasn’t sure if Polish deers did in fact moo so I nodded my head and next thing we turn off the main road and head into farm land.. He pulls over after 15 minutes and proudly presents to me a cow, in a paddock for my photo..certainly took the gloom off the day!
When I shook my head at the cow, he called Holiday Inn and got someone to translate.. Deer not cow.
Anyway I think he felt bad I hadn’t got a photo of a deer so he took me to an “attraction” he actually said the word… He repeated it many, many times pleased with his english. it was a good ” attraction” he even paid for me to get in… He was clearly very proud of “Paps” which he also repeated.
I had no idea what paps was. We had to climb a huge hill, I was concerned halfway up with all his coughing, spluttering and heavy breathing that I may have to drive the Holiday Inn bus back myself, but he plodded on and wanted to take photos of me at every stage.
After he had recovered we went into the museum and he proudly showed me a statue of “Paps” …….the Pope!!! The first Polish one, John Paul I think.
Anyway we continued our drive back I chatted in “strayan” and he Polish and neither of us understood a word either said but we had a funny bond , he was a nice kind man.
At 5 pm I realised I hadn’t eaten all day, Auschwitz is not the place you walk around with an ice cream in your hand.
I asked the concierge where was a good place to eat. He said just turn immediately left and walk 3 minutes .. I did that and came across one dodgy place amongst sex shops that sold panninis… I knew this because instead of polish writing they had photos on the menu. What the photo didn’t show was the gallon of hot mayonnaise that would drip out when cooked…. Eeewwww.
Later that day I walked the other direction and came across the town square with literally 100s of eateries , including yet another Hard Rock cafe… I couldn’t believe the concierge didn’t mention it. Its a bit like recommending the South St Ale house in Hilton and forgetting to mention Fremantle Cappuccino strip 5 minutes away!
It was a big day emotionally, mentally and physically, I actually had a bath with a charddy or three. It took me 10 minutes to work out the hot water tap. As every country seems to have some different system I’m thinking of writing a travellers guide to having a bath or shower.
Our showers in Australia so uncomplicated, well to us at least.
Today I walked to Oskar Schindlers factory and museum. I watched a documentary for over 2 hours, some of Schindlers Jews retelling their story. I felt more emotional about the kindness of mankind than yesterdays evil.
The holocaust was such extreme examples of man at his worst and man at his absolute best.
It just reinforced my view that it takes a much bigger person to be kind and that cruel people are just cowards.
I also went to the Krakow contemporary art gallery..I think the artists inspiration was the holocaust, Ive never seen such ghoulish, sick , violent art…I didn’t stay long.
On my way back to my hotel I discovered yet another H and M…seriously??
Anyway I bought two pairs of jeans which is ridiculous cos even though Im under weight on my existing suitcase ( I still have one suitcase at hotel in Heathrow to pick up) its so small it wont fit anything else.
Anyway its my last night in Poland, I leave at 4am for Berlin then Palma, Im leaving a bit sadder, a bit cheered, a bit fatter , a lighter wallet but a heavier suitcase and with my Polish vocabulary now including one word ..PAPS.
Krakow in particular is an amazing place…put it on your bucket list, Ive now crossed it off mine!
PS dont bother about eating at Grande Grill, the service slow and food cold.
- Go to Auschwitz on your own, not a tour
- Vegetarians and definitely vegans will struggle to find food.