Bring on the Bling

Friday, July 11, 2014


I’ll just come out and say it: I love Poland! I’m not biased by the fact that my best friend from Kindergarten is Polish or anything, but it’s true! This place is so green, the people are so nice, and the towns are so adorable! It’s full of history that surprisingly, Hitler didn’t destroy. Let me back it up…

After I toured the camps, I returned to Auschwitz I to get my bags and have lunch. There was a little café next to the museum, so I decided to grab some food since it was after 12 and the place was hopping! The museum, not the café. That would come later. The problem I faced when traveling to Poland was that I don’t understand a word of Polish. I can understand German and a little bit of Russian, but that didn’t do me any good when ordering. Finally, I just indicated to the lady I wanted what the guy in front of me ordered, which happened to be a chicken sandwich. 
Yummy lunch!
There’s a bus that drives between Krakow and Auschwitz I every hour or so, and I was fortunate to just happen across it. I think it only cost me about 12 Zloty, which is nothing. It was a huge tour bus with air conditioning and soft seats. I sat in the front because I didn’t want to get carsick. Also, I had no idea where this bus was taking me in Krakow and I needed to be able to hopefully ask the driver (who happened to be my age) if I needed to. Well, up until this point, I had only had about 6 hours of sleep since LA, including the 4 hours I got the night before. During the 2 weeks leading up to the trip, I didn’t sleep well at all (stupid purse being stolen), so I was pretty hammered by this point. I would catch myself drifting in and out of consciousness during the drive and would jerk myself awake. It was horrible because no matter which position I would sit in (even if I was uncomfortable), I would fall asleep. I didn’t want to pass out because I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t want my stuff to get jacked again, and I didn’t know if they would leave me on the bus if they stopped. Silly, but these are the thoughts that go through your head when you’re a single female traveler. I fought sleep until we arrived at the Krakow main bus station, about 2 hours later, having made a few stops along the way.

Can't believe even the tour busses are stick shift!!
Main bus station in Krakow
Main Galeria 
Last month, I booked a room at Hostel Aleje 28 in Krakow, but had no idea where it was. I indicated that I wasn’t going to be at the hostel until 7pm when I booked it. Why? Because those crazy people/travelers on Lonely Planet and other travel guide websites said that you need at least 8 hours to experience both concentration camps to REALLY experience them, and I was silly enough to believe them. So I decided to head out and see what Krakow looked like. To get out of the bus station, you have to walk through the Galeria Krakow. Translation: HUGE shopping mall. Like 4 stories tall. And long. By this point, I hadn’t really taken off my shoes (slept on the train with them) and my ankles were becoming kankles. I told you. Hott mess. This mall didn’t end! After taking a few breaks on benches (that had phone chargers for about 4 different models), I made it outside to a huge plaza. It was hot and sunny, so I found a nice tree to sit under and found some wifi. It was nice to take off my backpack for an hour or so and just people watch. By this time it was around 2. In talking to other travelers, I learned that when you book a hostel, they ask you what time you’ll arrive…basically so they know when to have everything ready. And they get really mad and putout when you arrive early. Not wanting to be on bad terms at the hostel, I decided to try and wait until 7. I decided to go on an adventure. I wasn’t familiar with the layout of Krakow, so I just took off. I ended up finding a huge park and plopped on a bench, my feet killing me. I didn’t want to take off my shoes because that meant having to put them back on. I’d rather leave them. I started looking at the signs that were around, trying to figure out what was here. I had a bike tour planned for the next day, so I wasn’t too pressed for time to sightsee. At about 4, I said screw it and found a taxi. I was grateful that I had saved emails for all of my reservations, so I could just point out the address and the taxi driver took off. I don’t remember this taxi driver all that well, mainly because I became aware of how much I needed a shower.

We found the hostel, tucked away off of the river in a small high-rise building. One thing I’ve come to figure out is that hostels aren't that well advertised for the most part. The one in New Orleans was the same way. After finally figuring out where the hostel was, I found a door that said “Reception” with a small picture of the hostel logo. I opened it and saw it was dark. I was totally confused, so I started walking up and down the stairs, looking for the hostel. Finding only apartments and businesses, I again said screw it and opened the “Reception” door and walked in. Apparently, the lights are motion activated, because it flipped on as soon as I walked in. To my left was a long hallway with the “reception” sitting at the end of the hall. The lights turned on as I walked under them, and then turned off again. It was kind of creepy, but I’m sure it saves money on electricity. The girl working there was so nice and she showed me my room, the WC, and where breakfast would be. I think I only paid about 15 Zloty, and I felt like I was ripping her off. Oh well. I was the only person staying the hostel, so I had a bedroom with 5 bunks and a couch to myself. It was so nice. I got cleaned up and went around the corner to the market for some food. I found my new favorite potato chips…even better than the Ketchup ones I found in Canada (haha Jane).
My new favorite flavor! 
Hostel Aleje 28
After repacking and catching up with Facebook, email, and texting, I was able to finally shower. It was magical. And then I slept. Hard. For about 10 hours. Oh yeah. It was wonderful. I woke up at 7 to my alarm, a little confused about where I was. When I staggered out to the WC, the girl that worked there had my breakfast plate waiting for me. I didn’t want to be rude because I wasn’t hungry, so I thanked her and took the plate to my room. It was a few slices of ham, cheese, and cucumber with some buttered bread. So cute! I got ready and asked her to order me a taxi. I feel like I cheated a bit using taxis, but my feet thanked me for it. The taxi driver was really nice and took me to my bike tour place.  So excited! I loved the tour in Prague, so I was hoping this one was going to be awesome too!
Signs in the cab that I can't read...

Awesome cabbie's bald head...
I found the place and soon realized that I would be sharing my tour with 2 families from Northern Ireland: 2 couples and 3 teenage boys. Oh. My. Goodness. They were a RIOT! I’m sad that I didn’t get a picture with them. Oh well...but I did get their email addresses! Both of the couples were eager to talk and asked me a bunch of questions, and I did to them as well. They were on holiday for the week and decided they wanted to see Krakow. We all got on with our tour guide, who happened to be a young mother that had studied in London and worked in Piccadilly Circus. Her English was awesome. When we chose our bikes, one of the ladies told me I just HAD to take the neon green bike, since it matched my shoes. Done. And I like her already! 2 of the boys got a tandem bike at the urging of their mothers. That turned into a bad decision about 10 minutes into the tour, when they realized that the seat was wet and dripped water, leaving an unpleasant wet patch on their pants. We had just ridden to the Uniwersytet Jagiellonski w Krakowie to watch a cute little “show” by the clock (like the Astrological clock in Prague, only better) when they decided to run back and switch out bikes. While the ladies and I waited, I bought the coolest thing ever!
Pretzel necklace!!

Little clock show at Uniwesytet Jagiellonski w Krakowie

One of the city gates that is still standing
Riding through the streets in Krakow
Cute little old couple playing the upright and accordion
Alley where Schindler's List was filmed
Stills from the making of Schindler's List

While we were riding around, I realized that I needed to come back and explore Krakow a little bit more. One thing I loved was that the roads, although cobblestoned like Prague, weren’t as bad. I wasn’t afraid of constantly slipping in between the stones.
My bike! I called him Gumby...
Our guide was so knowledgeable and was full of stories for us. She told us the local legends/myths, and the followed them up with the actual history. For example: one of the first stops we made was to the Basilica of St. Mary (which I later returned to go inside…pictures below). There are 2 towers at one end of the basilica: 1 is tall and skinny; the other is shorter and fatter. Local legend says that 2 brothers were commissioned to each build a tower. The older brother finished his first (the taller tower) and waited for his brother to finish the other. While waiting, the older brother realized that his brother’s tower had a wider base and was being built really well. The older brother started to worry that his brother’s tower had the possibility to be built taller than his. Not wanting to be outdone, he killed his younger brother before he finished. The older brother then finished the tower, shorter than his original one. Overcome with grief, the older brother eventually tossed himself off of his tower. Real history: the basilica was used as a lookout for invaders. The watchman needed to be able to see 360*, so one tower had to be taller than the other. Awesome.

We went over to the Jewish Quarter by the Ghetto, at which point it started raining. We tried to wait it out under a tree, but it just got worse. After 30 minutes, we decided to head back, since we had been on the bike tour for over 3 hours already. Yeah, we all got soaked. I was so grateful I remembered to pack an umbrella! We all ducked into this little pub next to the bike place to warm up and hopefully wait out the storm. We were sitting in there for over an hour, drinking (I had Coke again) mulled beer and warm apple pie (I again had leftover chips and granola bars and cherries I bought from a street fair), and talking. These are the experiences that make a trip so amazing. I wondered why I didn’t just get up and go explore the city more, but I realized that these were the moments that people remember most about their trips: those unplanned experiences that create lifelong friends. We exchanged email addresses and they promised me a bed if I ever made it to Northern Ireland (Kasia!). Done. They want to bring their boys to the US, so I told them to let me know and I’d come to them if they weren’t going to be too far away. So fun! 
Getting caught and drenched in the much fun!
Warming up in the pub next door while the rain slowed!

After saying goodbye, I headed out in the rain. Well, it wasn’t as bad and I wasn’t as soaking wet as before. I had a few things that I wanted to see: I had pinned the Basilica of St. Mary on Pinterest, so I headed off to that first. It was stunning! There are paintings, carvings, statues, reliefs, murals; every piece of wall/ceiling was covered. It was so breathtaking. My pictures don’t do it justice.

The cool thing about Krakow is that it is built on traditions. There are so many traditions that are kept to this day, and one that I got to witness was the trumpeter. Back in the medieval times, a trumpeter would stand watch over the town square (back when there was a locked gate) and play his trumpet when it was time to open/close the gate, and also when there was an attack coming. Today, the trumpeter plays 4 times every hour, on the hour, from the tower. It was so cool to see it and hear it.
Outside St. Mary's Basilica

Watching the trumpet player

When a wall surrounded the town square, there was a moat around the wall. Now, it is a beautiful garden walk type deal. So pretty. I spent some time walking around it and just enjoying the beauty. I then wandered over to the castle. So cool. I spent some time walking around, pretending I lived there during the time of kings and knights. Such the romantic, I know. Deal with it. How did I deal with it? By walking over to the castle!!

Garden walk around Old Town

Krakow Castle

More of the castle

Castle wall

I walked back to the train station, stopping in the mall for a bit. After getting a few fun snacks, I boarded my train and was surprised to find that my bunkmate was an LDS girl around my age. These beds were nicer (I splurged the extra cash) and there were only 3 per room. Fortunately, there were just 2 of us and we passed out fast. I had a 9-hour train ride, so I was able to get some good ZZZZs. Of course, I woke up super early and enjoyed just staring out the window at the passing countryside. We arrived in Prague around 7:45am and I decided to just jump on the train heading up to Hamburg. I found out the next train left at 8:20…perfect timing! That train ride was not fun, as I was sitting up in coach for about 8 hours. Thank goodness I had my neck pillow (thanks Bethany!)…it has saved me many times. So excited to get into Germany!!
Where to next??

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