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Sunday, October 21, 2018

SOLO EURO: DAY 16 [KRAKOW]

like days past, it was raining. i had until about 2 to explore krakow. later in the day i had to catch a train to oswiecim (more on that later). it was a sunday morning and therefore everything was closed or would open later in the day. this allowed me to have a slow start.

i started my morning by returning to lajkonik to get a delicious pastry and latte. interestingly i saw the polish police, policja, at work. there was a crabby, and assuming hungover, young guy trying to sleep at a booth. one of the worker girls yelled at him, he yelled back and then just passed out. polish was spoken so i don't know what was said. the worker took some pictures of him, and then the police arrived and escorted him out. it was an experience.




i then took a walk once again up and down the streets of the old town. the first stop was to jagiellonian university. it's pretty crazy that there is a university right in the middle of old town.



a dragon, the town symbol.



the collegium maius building (c. 1400s)







the history building :) look how pretty.


the next stop was the the gallery of 19th century polish art. this gallery is actually located inside the cloth hall. it was pretty busy, but was also a day with free admission.





this piece was my favorite. just a woman casually carrying a man's head.




i did not plan on visiting the barbican, but was glad i went. the barbican outpost used to be connected to the old city walls. it is the best preserved gothic-style outpost in europe and is of only 3 on the continent.




c. 1498



i was happy to find out you can actually walk inside the walls.



this window is purposely made so you can slide a cannon in.



of course i had to return to lajkonik for lunch: a cheese and tomato sandwich, chocolate mousse, and a latte. no shame this was my second visit of the day


i then went back to the hostel to pick up my stuff and make my way to the station to catch a train to oswiecim. 6 months prior, i made a reservation to visit aushwitz concentration camp (about an hour and half train ride from krakow). i decided to pick a time as soon as they opened. because october is still considered a peak time, you have to go reserve a ticket before 10 in the morning to not have to go with a tour (for the most part, i really hate tours). i planned on taking a train in the morning, but the schedule was not released that far in advance. 

about 2 months before my trip i realized there would not be a train that early in the morning, but discovered there was a very highly rated hostel in town. i cancelled one of my nights in krakow, and booked a night for this place so in the morning i could walk to auschwitz. i also bought my afternoon train ticket.



memorial for the battle of grunwald near the krakow train station.


the train ride was....an experience? every mode of public transportation that i used up to this point (and after. even the trip back to krakow) had modern machinery, but this trip was different. i am almost positive it was a train from 1970s soviet era. the train looked very old, used absolutely no electric signage (instead there was a paper pinned onto a cork board stating the destination), had wooden panelling, and mustard corduroy upholstery. it was an empty train and some random guy sat next to me, so duh i moved. also every time the trained stopped, there was no audio stating what the stop was. i knew i really had to pay attention so i would not miss my stop. the bathrooms were also very scary. and there was some drunk guy who yelled in polish and smelt very strongly of liquor. he would go up to random people, but luckily never tried to speak to me.




once i arrived it started raining. i knew in advance, but had to walk 3/4 a mile to the hostel. the biggest con, was the station not having a little convenience store. even at little stations during my trip there was always a quick little place, but not here. i walked all the way to my hostel and had no luck to pick up some food or even water (which was part of my plan). oswiecim is a very little town. for the night and most of the next day, i would have to live off of tap water (something kaiser told me not to do in poland) and protein bars. my stomach was rock hard.

when i arrived to the hostel, it was completely dark. someone answered the door, but i quickly realized i was the only person who had a reservation out of this entire hostel/hotel! the guy was nice, but kind of weird. he did upgrade my room. i ended up have 2 bunks and a roller bed (6 beds in total). once i was left to my room, i freaked out a bit. i just thought how this was the beginning of a horror story (bates hotel type of shit). i was the only one here other than the owner who had keys to every room. i almost had a panic attack, but called my boyfriend and then realized there was a tv and friends (in polish) was on. i felt better, but that night i slept with the furniture pushed up against the door (i am no fool). i also left both the tv and light on. a more objective review on the hostel later.

to add, i almost canned my whole trip to auschwtiz. on the website, the hostel/hotel states they will hold on to your luggage after check-out, but the owner told me no because i was the only one in for the night. he said what i could do was leave all my stuff in the room with the key when i checked out and the maid will give him my stuff and i can then pick it up at about 2. that was too much trust to put on people, so i passed and just planned to leave in the morning back to krakow. luckily, i did more research and learned that auschwitz has their own baggage storage. even though you are not supposed to leave luggage. my backpack was only at this point maybe 20L. i decided to take my chances in the morning.

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the lobby and hotel is to the left, while the hostel part is up those stairs.


now, more on the oswiecim hostel/hotel (the krakow hostel will be in the next post). ironically this was the highest rated hostel of my entire trip and really was a nice stay even though there were scary circumstances. i have never stayed in a hostel that had a tv in the room (this is not even an accommodation in american hostels which tend to be more 'luxurious'). the furniture was really nice and you can tell either the building was super new or just modernized. i also had no idea how to use the furnace, so i ended up sleeping with my jacket on.



the bed i slept on and the measly table i push in front of the door. also, admire the tv towards the top.




it's a rarity to actually have keys for a hostel.



for such a crappy night, there was a beautiful misty morning.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

SOLO EURO: DAY 14-15 [KRAKOW]

now day 14 is the 'lost day' of my trip. i ended up not taking any pictures (all these pictures were after this day). first, i woke up really sick. my throat was very sore, but i had an early train ride. i went through a private company because czechia really does not have any public trains. when i arrived at the train station, i had to wait until 15 minutes until departure to know what platform to run to. it was nerve-wracking for obvious reasons (navigating around when nothing is in english). the train ended up late, which also made me nervous. at the border, i had a connecting bus ride to krakow. i assumed the bus would wait (it was through the same company as the train), but i did not know for sure and the workers did not know english. i also upgraded to business class (it was not much more money),but did not realize that the food was free. i kept saying no. 

luckily, the bus did wait, but this was when the fever hit. the bus ride took forever, i also did not realize that we had to make a few stops along the way (including the airport) which prolonged it. also when we reached krakow, there were street closures. the bus arrived 2 hours later than what was planned. overall, i would still go through the company. in reality it was just unpleasant because i was sick and the language barrier. i knew delays could possibly be a problem, especially because with a bus you cannot control traffic on the road (that's why i prefer trains!).




krakow glowny, the train station.


now the one smooth thing that did happen was picking up my train tickets for poland. i went through a third party company (polrail), because unlike germany you cannot buy your train tickets online. i wanted to be sure to reserve the tickets to warsaw and then to berlin well in advance. i picked them up at the local post office which was very easy to find (the company provides photos, directions, and even a polish blurb for the worker to read to let them know why you are there). i highly recommend them! they set up transportation to travel throughout poland and italy. i also did the math of how much their service charge is and it is definitely worth it. it is nice to know your transportation is locked when you are making reservations with hotels/hostels. it definitely kept me less stressed.

then my trip went back downhill. it started raining really hard and i got very confused (i blame it on the fever). my hostel in warsaw also has a location in krakow. i got the names confused and started heading to dream hostel, instead of bubble hostel (also the names are within the same realm). bubble (the right one), was near the station, while dream was over a mile away near the jewish quarter. i pretty much walked all the way to dream hostel when i realized the mistake, so walked back the mile in the rain.



i seeked refuge here when it was raining, and came back the next day to take a picture of the beautiful stained glass.


the bubble hostel was in a great location (across the street from the old town wall), but was hard to locate. first, there was a lot of construction. streets and sidewalks were closed, but unlike in the us everyone just literary walked through the gate and on top of the dirt mounds to get to where they needed. do what the locals do? i went inside a quickie food place and they told me the hostel was right next door. i then figured out there was a buzzer outside and that the hostel shares the same building with a science lab (weird zoning codes). then i had to take a weird elevator (with room for like 4 people and no double door so you can see every floor you are passing) to the 5th floor, but it was not over.



all the construction. even though it looks shady, it was actually a quiet area (except the construction of course).


 i then had more bad luck. after checking into bubble, i realized someone took my umbrella, i dropped my sandwich (but ate it anyways because by that time i did not give a fuck), and realized my only european charger was broken. luckily, i had a really nice american roommate who had a convertor and let me borrow hers, she was so nice and trusting even though when she was in prague someone stole her entire backpack at her hostel! i then took a long hot shower and gave up on the day.

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the next morning i woke up feeling a lot better. my fever was gone, and now i had a sexy raspy voice. it was a very cold morning. so cold i ended up wrapping my scarf not only around my neck, but my face (i wish i had a picture).  i had trouble figuring out where the platform was for my trolley, but a nice pole helped me. i wanted to make sure i got to oskar schindler's factory early even though i had a reserved ticket. i heard it could be busy, but it was not so i stood in the cold and drizzle for 30 minutes with an old couple.

if you live in a box, schindler is credited with saving the lives of almost 1,200 jews during wwII. he employed them in his enamelware factory. ironically, he was also a part of the nazi army (and therefore why he was respected by the party) and convinced/bribed officials to allow him to keep his jewish workers, among other things. he is technically the only nazi to be buried at mount zion in jerusalem. also spielberg's schindlers list was mostly filmed in krakow





the museum tells 2 different stories: the overall history of nazi occupation in krakow and the story of oskar shindler. the museum sets up different exhibits to feel like you actually there, whether that is going to the ghetto, exploring a secret room where jews hid, or walking into a labor camp. i spent more time here then i thought. I enjoyed it very much.








the rosary box is made from bread while the leather cigarette holder is made out of human skin.


a walks away was podgorze. now this is not what is now known as the jewish quarter, kazimierz. the ghetto i went to is where jews were forced to relocate in the 1940s. most of the residents were then relocated to nazi death camps and killed.

at the ghetto's largest town square is the heroes of the ghetto square memorial. it was once a location of gathering but after the deportations, the square was filled with the furniture and belongings of jews who were forced out of their homes. today, the memorial has 70 evenly spaced metal chairs around the square.




in the square is the eagle pharmacy museum. the polish owner, tadeusz pankiewicz, was the only businessman who stayed when this space became the jewish ghetto. the pharmacy would give out free medicine. also, the pharmacy provided residents with hair dye to give jewish residents a more aryan appearance and sedatives to hush children who were in hiding. 

i also did one mess-up. i reserved a ticket to see the pharmacy and chose the wrong day, but the worker was nice and let me go anyways. it was not busy at all. i actually also chose the wrong date for the schindler museum, but the worker did not say anything to me.



the pharmacy



after, i made my way across the vistula river to kazimierz, the historical jewish quarter. i did not actually visit anywhere here but decided to walk my way back to old town instead of taking a bus.



a giant bird bath.



a reminder of home :)

next was a visit to one of the joys of my trip, lajkonik. i know i am on repeat, but one of my favorite things about my trip was discovering the concept of quickie food places where you can drink coffee (and not to go) and get a gourmet sandwich or pastry (not no subway crap). i went to several of these types of places but this was my favorite! i went to 2 different locations at least 4 times within a 3 day period. they are only in krakow and i still think of this place often :(




a sandwhich, oreo cheesecake, and a latte. yummy.


due to my terrible day before (where i was not able to knock-off anything on my itinerary), i did not think i would be able to see everything i wanted. i was happy to still have half my day left to visit wawel castle complex. the hill has been used as a fortified castle since at least the 900s and has been 'polish' since the 1300s! 

i did not end up visiting every building (some you have to reserve way in advance), but i did visit the cathedral and bell tower. the former does not allow you take pictures inside, but my favorite part was the underground crypts. even though the crypts includes royalty who died centuries ago, one tomb is from more recent times. in 2010 the president and his family died in a plane crash. also, the cathedral has been the location of the crowning of almost every polish king and queen.



the defensive wall.





so many styles clashing. i love it!



the 16th century inner courtyard.




this cutie is smok wawelski. since the medieval times, it was said that a dragon lived on wawel hill.


i bought myself a nice polish scarf in their nifty gift shop and now truly looked like a babushka. other than 'ya little shit,' this was the other endearing name my grandmother has for me. i then made my way back through old town to my hostel.

along the way i saw a katyn massacre memorial. these memorials are all over poland and to this day contributes to the complicated relationship between poles and russians. more on this later when i visited a museum in warsaw about the katyn massacre.





a horse playing a keyboard.




next was a more thorough visit to the medieval old town square, the largest in all of europe. it was created in 1257! sukiennice, the cloth hall is at it's center. it is still used as market, but mostly of trinkets and handmade goods. i ended up buying a little wooden bird and a ceramic thimble with poppies.



 you can see just how huge the old town main square is.



inside the cloth hall.



i did not plan it, but i ended up going inside st. mary's basilica. in the 1950s, pope john paul II was a preacher here. 



can you spot the grim reaper?





it was lovely to walk around the quiet streets and see all these little nooks and crannies. 




and now it was dinner time. i went to this lovely little place (and actually returned the next day). 



perogies and peppermint tea.


before my day would end, i made a trip to saturn; it's pretty much like the best buy of poland. i was able to upgrade and get a charger converter that can fit 2 usb chords so i could charge my phone and camera at the same time.



the view from right outside my hostel. krakow had the most beautiful sunsets during my trip. also this was the crazy time there were a swarm of crows that were  making so much noise. it was like a scene out of the 'birds.'


now for a song. this morning i am going to see 'a star is born' and i have listened to the soundtrack multiple times. i don't know which song is my favorite (there are so many good ones), but i today chose 'is that alright.' i feel like it is a very nostalgic song and right now i am very nostalgic of my trip. a year ago today would have been my last full day in europe. that is the best connection i can make to the soundtrack and this post. enjoy!