First Stop…Poland!

I had wanted to go to Poland for many years, I think the thought came from the many Polish people that came into the UK a few years ago and so I was always interested to see their country and so this is where I decided to start my Central/Eastern Europe trip.

The best deal on flights from Birmingham (45 minutes from where I live in England) went direct to Kraków in the south of Poland, although I did want to visit Warsaw too in the North it made sense to fly straight into here. The cost of the flight was £43.00 with carry-on luggage only which I booked about 3 weeks out, I looked a few days before and the tickets had gone up to £80.00!

I flew with Ryan air and the 2 hour flight went quick enough, I arrived at Krakow airport at terminal 2, took the free shuttle bus to terminal 1 and jumped on a bus that took me into Kraków old town. The bus journey cost roughly 60p although I didn’t have change on me to get a ticket on the bus so a very nice guy who had picked his girlfriend up from the airport paid for me!
Once in Kraków the bus stopped at the main bus terminal which is also the train station and a shopping mall.
This was a strange first impression to have of the city as the station and mall were all really modern with lots of shops and fast food chains that we have at home but at the same time it felt quite comforting and very safe.
I arrived late in the evening so walked to my hostel which took about 5 minutes and went to bed. I stayed in a 10 bed dorm with breakfast included and in a good location for £6.50 a night.
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The Main Square

Kraków like a lot of cities has a main old town which is then surrounded by a ‘newer’ part and the old town is generally the base for all tourists and you can see why as it was really beautiful with lots of churches, the main square, an old market and lots of shops, places to eat and travel agents.
I had a little walk around by myself in the morning, the streets were pretty empty so I got a really good first impression that day. This is the first European city I have visited outside the UK (which considering how many other cities I’ve been to is actually quite crazy!) and I was in love with the architecture and colours of the buildings straight away.
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So colourful!

At 10:00am I headed into the main square to start a free walking tour, it lasted about 3 hours and was a great way to get to know the history of the city, what the main landmarks are and their history and to get a good sense of direction around the old town. We finished the tour at the castle after hearing the legend of the Kraków dragon and paid the tour guide a tip which he deserved because he was a very nice local guy and full of information and passion for the city!
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Walking towards the castle

The sun had came out by the afternoon making it a perfect day to wander about, the old town is small enough that you don’t have to walk too far to get from place to place but big enough that you’re not constantly seeing the same thing.
I found a really nice vegetarian cafe which I ate at for 2 days in a row, and like the rest of the city it was very reasonable, I paid roughly £2.50-£3.00 for each meal, it was out of the tourist area slightly and appeared to be a local spot but that just made it even better! I also loved that the polish translation for vegetarian is…
I checked out some of the prices at the restaurants on the main square which give a great view and these meals were roughly £5-6 do still very good if you’re going on a city break.
On my second and last day in Kraków (this trip is going to consist mostly of 1-2 days in each city only) I took a trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau, two very famous concentration camps just an hour or so from Kraków. Although this seems like and is in fact a strange tourist attraction, with it being so close it’s a must. The concentration camps are probably one of the best ways to see the true reality and brutality of the war.
We learnt so much about the war as school and especially the concentration camps so to go to these was very worthwhile although very sad.
The tours start from about £20 depending on how much you want to see, we saw most of it but there were a few extra rooms in Auschwitz we didn’t visit due to not being on that tour and it’s a pretty full day too, we left at 8.30 until 3.30. I was really lucky and walked into a random travel shop and when I said I would have to come back with the money (I don’t tend to carry much money directly on me) the girl gave me a voucher which said that the first 5 people that day to book with the voucher got the tour for €5 which is £3.50!! An absolute bargain and as I’m on a budget and don’t want to spend too much on extra trips then this was perfect for me.
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Birkenau

After the trip I got back to the city and took a walk down to the Jewish quarter, it was nice to see another side of the city. The company that do the free walking tour also do an afternoon tour around here but I didn’t fancy doing two walking tours on day 1 and wasn’t back in time on my second day but it would of been better to go with the tour guide as I didn’t understand the area well on my own, however I did come across some food stands which all made pizza on a half baguette for £1 (!!) so that turned out to be a great dinner. (All menus are in English as well as polish with is a huge help!)
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Yummy!

I left Kraków at 10.00pm on an overnight train to Prague. I had brought the ticket from the station the day before for £46, slightly expensive but the only way and I knew that this is going to be one of the most expensive trains I’ll pay for, I think because it was a Czech train so Czech prices which are higher than Polish. Although on the actual website for the train which you can book tickets online on the price was a lot higher than this so it worked out well to not over-plan and instead wait until I got to Kraków and went to the station myself!
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Praha!

Overall I really loved Kraków, it was so beautiful, so easy to get around as a tourist and so cheap for a European city without having the hoards of tourists like some cities have.
The locals were very friendly and spoke a really good amount of English.
Kraków is said to be the nicest city in Poland (even by the polish people I have worked with) so Kraków and especially the side that tourists see doesn’t provide a true sense of the reality in Poland with low employment opportunities and a bad economy but hopefully the more popular it comes the more opportunities there will be.
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The castle.. so beautiful!

This is the company I did the free walking tour with so if you go then check them out and my guide Jack was really great as I mentioned above!
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