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Chasing a Dream - Part I "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference" - Robert Frost

Poland

POLAND | Sunday, 8 May 2016 | Views [188]

Warsaw - Wednesday, 4 May

It was a long 8hr bus ride from Lithuania to Warsaw Poland and we arrived quite late in the evening. Since Lauren had not yet been to Warsaw, I accompanied her on a quick reconnaissance of the Old Town, so she could get her bearings prior to leading the group in the morning. Most places were closed at that time but we did find an open kebab shop run by a friendly Pakistani guy and had a couple of falafel wraps to go.

Thursday was a free day and our only day to explore Warsaw. The city had been nearly completely destroyed during WWII (only 15% of buildings remained post the war) and was painstakingly rebuilt. The reconstruction of the historical part of the city, was in keeping with the old world architecture, yet the newness was apparent, giving it a Disneyland like feel. Since we only had the one day, I spent it exploring the Old and New Town areas. I regret not having visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum and would recommend that as a must do for anyone visiting. In the morning I climbed up the Taras widokowy, and was rewarded with excellent 360° views of the city. Then the rest of the day was wandering the alleys and squares, and a good amount of time spent lounging at the Multimedia Fountain. If I had more time in the city I would have liked to have rented a bike and ridden along the Vistula River.

Krakow - Friday, 6 May

It was a comfortable 2hr train ride to Krakow and to our lodgings in the Jewish Quarter. I loved the location of our hostel, off of Jozefa. This was the place for a more authentic experience, filled with quirky cafes and restaurants, bars packed with young locals, and great food trucks and Zapiekanki stalls. For a wide selection of delicious chewy bagels in a chilled-out ambience, head to Bagelmama, off of Dajwor. For a pleasant laundry experience and a cheap beer, head to Frania Cafe off Starowislna, where you can do your laundry for 18 PLN, while having a drink in their cozy cave-like bar. Or if you are in a hurry, they will wash and fold your clothes for 28 PLN and you can pick it up later. The Old Town and main square of Krakow was markedly more touristy than Warsaw had been, and by afternoon the massive and constant crowds were a bit too much. There are some nice food stalls and craft markets in the main square that were fun to browse, however, for generic souvenirs they are cheaper the further you go from the square. I bought a ticket to go up the clock tower, expecting something similar to the tower views in Warsaw, but was sorely disappointed. You can’t go outside on the the balcony and the windows are barred, so the view is limited and obscured. Even if it had been free, which it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been worth the steep climb up. The green park space encircling the entirety of Old Town was a great place to take a peaceful break, or along the Visla river bank behind the Wawel Castle for sunbathing and people watching.

I visited the Wawel Castle early the next morning, arriving to the grounds around 8:30 and there were very few people around, so it was a great time to take pictures. The ticket office didn’t open until 9am and most of the exhibitions didn’t open until 9:30am, and that was the time the large tour groups and crowds started arriving. The grounds and courtyards were free to explore, but various exhibitions and rooms required separate tickets. There was a da Vinci painting on loan (Lady with an Ermine), so I bought a ticket for that and also the Dragon’s Den, and ancient natural cave located under the castle that spawned local Dragon lore in the 13 century. The entrance is via a long and narrow spiral stone staircase, so wear sensible shoes if planning to visit. Both evenings I had dinner near our hostel in the Jewish Quarter and there was a huge variety of various ethnic cuisine, and at amazing prices. In an empty lot on the corner of Jakuba and Ciemna was a collection of food trucks. A group of us, picked up some beers from the market then sat in the provided lounge chairs, and had a hipster meal to live music.

On Saturday afternoon, we had an organized tour to Auschwitz Death Camp. The depth and cold precision in which the Nazis engineered the torture and debasement of over a million people was horrifying, and walking through the barbed wired gates made the reality of it felt in a way that reading about it in history books could never match. It was a profoundly emotional experience, but one that all visitors to Poland should experience.

Tags: auschwitz, krakow, poland, warsaw

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