My visit to Krakow was one of the most heart-wrenching and frankly, exhausting trips I’ve ever taken. We’ve all heard the stories about the world wars before in our history classes but I never knew the depth of the pain of those who were directly affected.
I visited my boyfriend for spring break and we took a weekend getaway to Krakow. People around the world visit this city to get to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and that’s exactly what we did.
KRAKOW OLD TOWN
Krakow is located in the southern part of Poland and takes about three hours by train. We arrived exhausted, sleepy and hungry. The first thing we did was to find a decent restaurant before we begin our sightseeing. We didn’t actually plan out our trip in Krakow since we only had one goal. So we just walked around the Krakow Old Town and looked for a decent (and hoping for a cheap) restaurant.
After our late lunch, we visited a market hall with a polish art museum above it. We also went inside St. Mary’s Basilica and saw their magnificent wooden altarpiece by Veit Stoss. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a photo of the altar because there was an additional fee to take photos inside the church but once we were inside the Basilica, we regretted not taking that fee because it was truly a remarkable piece. After a few hours, we left the old town and looked for our Airbnb space where we would stay for two nights.
It was hard for us to get to the Auschwitz Birkenau Museum on our own, since we would need our own transportation to get there and which we don’t have one. We booked a tour instead, to make everything else easier. The tour includes a van transportation, a tour guide at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, and at the Salt Mine Museum.
AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM
The tour operator picked us up on a rainy morning. An hour and a half later, we arrived at the Auschwitz-Birkenau I. Even with the rain, there were still a lot of visitors who came. Our guide met us after we got through the security point. Before we began the tour, she emphasized the museum was not a tourist destination. That this place was neither a happy place nor a place for selfies. This was a place to remind us and the rest of the world that this should never again, a time where greed and hatred ruled the world.
Our guide explained to us everything, in details and with strong emotions. She shared a detailed history how everything started, how the children, women, and men had to let go of their precious valuables and was moved to one place to another in a small train wagon to different concentration camps, and how, for years, they were given false hopes, suffered and died in those concentration camps, just for their beliefs. It was hard for me to take everything in, especially with the things that I saw and imagine those helpless children.
We saw their sleeping quarters, their bathrooms and their faces that made everything so surreal. There were a few rooms where the museum displayed their belongings: shoes, shoe brushes, cups, suitcases, combs, utensils and much more. It broke my heart every time I see something that belongs to a child. There was even one specific room disturbing and gave me goosebumps that I quickened my pace to get out of the room. It was a room full of hair from all the women, which was made into various products.
We saw different execution areas and before we left, we went inside one of the gas chambers and imagined the thousands of lives that suffered and died in that room. After Auschwitz-Birkenau I, we moved to Auschwitz-Birkenau II which was 15 minutes away.
When we arrived at the second concentration camp, I couldn’t believe how huge the camp was. What used to be hundreds of buildings, only the remnants of the chimneys were left, rows and rows of chimneys. Then we saw a single train wagon and it made me imagine how a 100 people could fit in that wagon. We saw the remnants of three more gas chambers and before we left, we visited their sleeping quarters. It was hard to imagine how they were able to sleep in a crowded, filthy and cold bed spaces.
We left the concentration with heavy hearts and hoping the history won’t repeat itself. This is something that no one in the world should ever go through.
SALT MINE MUSEUM
After our heart-wrenching tour at Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, we headed to the Salt Mine Museum for the second part of our tour. The Salt Mine Museum is part of UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been around for more than 700 years.
We started to descend and was stuck a few times because there were too many tourists. This isn’t your tour if you get claustrophobic because the only way out is to go through the whole tour, which was more than 400 feet below ground and the whole salt mine is about 3 kilometers. We learned about the legends and their process and the tools they used. At some point, there were horses in the salt mine, that would transport the salt.
There were numerous salt statues throughout the salt mine. We were stunned when we saw a beautiful lake, a huge Cathedral and a number of chapels where they held masses, and a full functioning reception area underground. There was also a hollow cave inside where someone, for the first time ever, bungee-jumped underground.
We ended our tour by taking the elevator, going up and a 15-minute walk to our van. We got back to our room that night, emotionally and physically exhausted.
On our last day in Krakow, we planned to visit the Jewish quarter of the city. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t good that day either, and we only visited one area. Jboy and I were both tired and one of us were starting to get sick. We decided to head back and wait at the train station for our trip back to Warsaw.