This post was written in sections, as I wanted to be in the moment when I wrote it, so some elements may not read as you would expect. I have used *** to give you an idea of the break points. It is quite a long post!
I wanted to go away for my birthday (it’s kind of what I do these days), I was hoping to go with someone, but people are flakey and I got to the stage where I just wanted to book something. I looked at flights from Bournemouth and Southampton airport, as they’re the closest to me and I just wanted a short break. Bournemouth had flights to Krakow, Poland and having never been, I decided this would be the location of my birthday treat.
I booked the flights for £66, surprisingly cheap (might have something to do with the outgoing flight leaving at 8.20pm).
With a hangover I started looking at accommodation, I saw lots of reasonably priced hotels, but thought as I was going on my own, I should try staying in a hostel. I’ve stayed in hostels before, but only private rooms, this was the first time I ever ventured to a shared dorm, “I went to boarding school, I can do this”. I also hoped I would meet people, my circle of friends is very small, so this was the perfect opportunity to get out of my comfort zone.
I found Momotown Hostel in the Jewish quarter of Krakow, £25 per night seemed reasonable, so I booked it. When the booking confirmation came through though, it was not £25 per night, but £25 for 3 nights!!! I couldn’t believe it, then started to panic a little, before checking the reviews. It had such a good rating, and everyone commented how clean it was. The only downside seemed to be the stairs, well I’m not past it yet, so I didn’t think it would be an issue.
Lots of people gave me ideas on where to go and what to see, but I really wanted to see Wawel Castle and Auschwitz, so that’s where I focussed my attention.
Whilst waiting in the queue for the delayed flight (more common than I would like), I got chatting to a couple of guys from my local town. Ralph is half Polish, so knew a bit of the area, he and Steve (his friend) were over for a weekend break staying on Krakow too, so offered to share a taxi. This actually put my mind at ease, although I’m not sure why, they were both complete strangers…but strangers are just people you haven’t spoken to, right?! Given that they were both family men, I assumed I would be safe, so hopped in the taxi to my hostel, where we exchanged numbers in case “I needed to sleep on their floor if the hostel was anything like the film”.
Once in the hostel, I was greeted by a really friendly guy on reception, who showed me to my room and told me that I had the room to myself. I couldn’t believe my luck, but was also a little disappointed that I would have to make more of an effort to meet people.
I dumped my stuff, had a quick “pikey” wash and headed out to explore. Bearing in mind it was 2.30am at this stage, I was very mindful of my surroundings, but generally felt quite safe. The Jewish Quarter, where I’m staying is quite chilled, and I didn’t feel out-of-place in my trainers and jeans. I walk to the square and grabbed the only thing that didn’t contain meat (thanks to Joanna for teaching me the only phrase I can remember, (pronounced “bez miesa”)). It was very doughy and full of beans, not sure I’ll have another, but at least I tried some local cuisine.
After wandering the streets, expecting to get lost, I stumbled into the bar right next to my hostel. I apologised for my lack of Polish and embarrassingly sat down to enjoy a beer wondering what tomorrow might bring.
What a day! I set my alarm for 8am, so I didn’t waste the day, after getting in around 4am, my body was not used to so little sleep. I forced myself into the shower and dried myself on what I can only describe as a tea towel, got dressed and headed off to find the free walking tour of Old Krakow.
I couldn’t believe how much history there was here, most of which I had wrongly assumed would have been due to “the war”, however, I found out that Krakow was rebuilt by Germans during the 13th century, so during the occupation, Germany deemed Krakow to be of significant historic value, therefore left it alone…that on top of which the locals didn’t put up a fight, so there were minimal casualties (according to my guide).
Krakow is steeped in architectural confusion, a lot of the main buildings were added to over varying centuries, leaving a mixture of gothic, Italian renaissance and pre 13th century buildings, often intertwined.
My first impressions was how clean it was, along with the limited number of cars. Admittedly, I am staying in the tourist area, so could have the rose-tinted glasses on, that said, I’ve not seen anything similar elsewhere.
After a few hours walking I headed off in search of some pierogi (Polish dumplings).
Once I was completely stuffed, I popped back to the hostel to rest my feet. 2 hours later I woke to somebody coming into the room, my sanctuary had been broken and I realised I was not the sociable person I hoped to be. I awkwardly said hello, then headed out in search of a bar (they’re everywhere, it wasn’t a difficult search), then met with Ralph and Steve for some more drinks.
Yesterday I headed to Auschwitz, I don’t want to say too much about this, as it’s hard to put into words the emotion and suffering the people who went there. I will say that if you go there, expect to do lots of walking, wear sensible shoes and take water and a coat (weather depending).
I went with a tour guide, who took us to Birkenau as well, which is the largest part of the concentration/execution camp. I did feel that it was useful to go with a guide, but at times I wanted to wander off and take time to absorb what I was seeing.
After an emotional day, I decided to wander around the Jewish Quarter in search of more local food and beer.
As I started to fall asleep whilst eating, I thought it best to head back to the hostel after one more beer. I headed off in the wrong direction and saw a bit more of Krakow than planned!
Today I’m flying back, but knowing that I can happily stay in a hostel on my own, Krakow is somewhere I never expected to visit, but would come back to, as I still want to see more of it, that I’m happier abroad than at home and that if you walk 25km, wear socks or bring plasters!
Have you ever visited Krakow, what were your favourite parts? Would you stay in a hostel?