Poland: Krakow (Nov. 5-8)

Entrance to Auschwitz, translated as "Work makes you free"

Entrance to Auschwitz, translated as “Work makes you free”

Josh and I took an eight-hour Deutsche Bahn bus from Berlin to Krakow, which was probably the nicest bus I had been on with far-reclining seats and great wifi. Arriving at Let’s Rock Hostel, we put down our things and went to a fantastic burger restaurant called Moaburger (although we did spend about 30 minutes trying to find another would-be-favorite called Koko, which serves Polish food for cheap). I got a bacon avocado burger, which was probably the first burger I’d eaten in months. We sat in the lobby of our hostel for a bit afterwards, me drinking ONE beer, until two drunk girls kept accusing me of being drunk and stroking my leg. If there’s one thing I cannot handle it’s a girl flirting with me. That was my cue to go to bed – we would be getting up at 6:45 the next day anyway.

Victim Monument at Auschwitz

Victim Monument at Auschwitz

Somehow actually getting out of bed on time, Josh and I woke up Thursday morning and caught an 8am bus to the biggest Nazi concentration and extermination camps, Auschwitz and Aushwitz-Berkinou. The five-hour tour was pretty tough to get through, seeing rooms full of human hair or suitcases or other things that didn’t even come close to representing the number of those killed there. I think it’s important to remind oneself of man’s capacity for evil and hate – and that in some ways we are still far from past the kind of brutal violence of the Holocaust.

Auschwitz took a heavy toll out on the two of us, and the early morning didn’t help much with that, so Josh and I went back to the hostel for some R&R. I caught the previous night’s episode of “American Horror Story,” which had some disturbing enough scenes for my dormmates to ask me if there was something wrong as they listened to my squealing and gasping. Josh and I left to eat at Koko, which we successfully found and serves soup and a hearty meal for about €4. I got cauliflower soup and a fried pork chop and tried pierogies for the first time – cheese and onion – which were pretty delicious. We then headed back to the hostel to watch more TV, myself finishing the last episode of “Mad Men” and all of the sudden not knowing what to do with myself after watching maybe 72 episodes during my travels.

Prisoner bunks

Prisoner bunks

We slept in the next day (sometimes you really have to even if you only have a limited time in each city – traveling was my life for four months after all) and ate lunch at Moaburger again. This time I tried a fried goat cheese burger that was also pretty amazing. I’d also recommend their fries (they have about a half-dozen homemade sauces, my favorite being their sweet chili) and milkshakes. Ironically I had dreamt of going back to America for a milkshake on my way to Poland and found an abundance there.

After lunch, we left for a late tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of the oldest salt mines in operation until it closed in 2007 and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mines are massive, and I think you only see like 1% of them on the tour. Most of the rooms we explored were filled with salt carvings and statues, and there’s even a big cathedral inside. After the tour, we went on an optional free tour through the mine’s museum and ended up having our guide all to ourselves for a private tour.

Josh and me at the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Josh and me at the Wieliczka Salt Mine

We decided to eat at Koko again since it had such a wide-ranging menu and it was so cheap, this time bringing a Swiss girl whose friends had left early that morning. I had a presumably more traditional duck with berry sauce alongside a tasty broccoli soup.

We left for the hostel after dinner, picking up some cheap drinks along the way. We had heard great things about Krakow’s nightlife and planned on experiencing it firsthand that night. After drinking with some new friends in the hostel, we went to a communist-era-themed shot bar called Pijalnia Wódki, which is actually a chain found in Krakow and Warsaw. The place was very charming, the bartender’s uniforms looking straight out of the 50s and newspapers lining the wall. The shots were €1, and they had a particularly good one called a Monte with milk and hazelnut vodka. Eventually, some drunk man decided he wanted to try to get in a fight with our friend, so we left to find another bar nearby.

The other bar had similar prices and shots but none of the atmosphere, so we ended up spending most of our time chatting outside. I made a new Polish friend who took me to see Krakow’s castle while I thought everyone was going home. It ended up that they too made some Polish friends and ended up going to an actual club, but I didn’t regret leaving – I was tired anyway.

Salt sculpture in Wieliczka

Salt sculpture in Wieliczka

On our final day in Krakow, we went in search of a pierogi restaurant recommended by our hostel. Similarly to Koko, the hostel staff’s directions were not correct and we spent about 45 minutes wandering aimlessly trying to find it. We ended up eating at another one that was still pretty amazing – I tried a salmon filled pierogies and realized the necessity of the soy-like sauce that comes on the side and Josh accidentally ordered dessert pierogies (it was sweet cheese flavored).

Josh and I had both wanted to see Interstellar and decided that we had seen most of the city (although we never made it on a city tour – the mines and Auschwitz I think were enough). We found a movie theater that played it with Polish subtitles and I was mildly underwhelmed by the movie as a Christopher Nolan fan. It wasn’t terrible, but I thought it was a little cheesy and somewhat unexciting.

Before catching our train to Warsaw, we ate at (surprise) Moaburger one last time. I attempted to order their vegetarian fava bean burger, which was sold out, and ended up with a chicken avocado burger that was as tasty and reliable as all our meals had been. Running low on time, we rushed to the train station and boarded with only a few minutes to spare. We would be in Warsaw in just a couple of hours.

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