Every year or so I try to get away on a short trip with a couple of mates and – having looked at a few options, including Dubai and Germany – we plumbed for Poland and Krakow in particular. Having looked on-line beforehand there didn’t seem much to the place and my initial thoughts were whether we’d get bored but as I was a bit tight for cash at the time I wasn’t complaining as it was very affordable. We usually begin our search by looking at the destinations the low-cost airlines fly out to from Cyprus and use the usual process of elimination as to what takes our fancy and what doesn’t. Dubai, although expensive to travel to and also quite expensive once there, remained on the list. This was due to the fact that we had a friend living there who we wanted to visit, ultimately though, finances made our decision for us and we had to put the idea on the back burner.
So, to the airlines and their respective destinations. Having looked through all the options and crossing off some of the candidates…Barcelona because Nick had been the previous year with my sis and the kids, London…..because….well, we all grew up there!….and Frankfurt…….we just couldn’t seem to summon any enthusiasm.
So Krakow it was then!!
Nick, who was in charge of the organisation of this trip (we were going for his 40th after-all) emailed me some pics of the hotel he’d found while researching and all of a sudden my attention was grabbed! He had found a place called the Antique apartments…it was my type of place with its rustic design and its old feel architecture. It wasn’t trying to be anything more than what it was….and I love that about a place. Not only was it stunning, this was a huge 2 bed flat, it was slap bang in the centre of the city…..and the price was amazing! We all agreed that this was the place and we paid €300 (₤220) for the 3 nights and if you’re on a budget €33 each per night ain’t half bad!
There was 3 of us but if there’s 2 of you, you can book the studio, its got a double bed and it’ll cost you €20 (₤15) each per night!!! Peanuts!
So it was agreed, flights were booked with Ryan Air €110 and I managed to pull together €300 spending money and we were ready for the off…..
We arrived mid-May and it was a little wet weather wise but it didn’t dampen our spirits as the sun was shining and it definitely wasn’t cold. A 25 minute taxi ride from the airport to our hotel cost 45 PZL which is just over €10. We were confronted by a beautiful plaza with a fountain and memorials to some of Poland’s top minds (Krakow is a university city) and this just added to the quality of Nick’s hotel choice, it’s location was perfect. We checked in, a very polite and helpful guy at the reception, who also spoke better English than all of us and up to our room we went…….stairs mind, no lift. Our room, as I mentioned, was a 2 bedder and it had the most amazing sofa bed in the living room…..one’s a snorer, one’s a light sleeper….so that one’s mine!
They can go in their rooms and close the door, I’ll be on the sofa bed, living room, kitchen……this meant, kettle and TV!! Thank you very much.
We arrived at around 4 pm, plonked down our stuff…..took the mandatory photos of the room to Viber to our missus’ and we headed out to have a look around and to get our bearings…….literally a stones throw up the road was the main plaza, full of restaurants, shops, cafés and bars. Being a university town, unsurprisingly, the area was awash with students and the place had a very youthful vibe….we still managed to walk into what must have been the only place in the whole of Krakow where we were the ‘youngsters’!! We ordered a drink (under €1.50 for a local beer) and laughed at our bar selection when a rain storm of crazy proportions took hold and threatened to prematurely end our arrival day outing…..after a good 20 minutes Nick decided enough was enough and dashed out on a mission to purchase 3 umbrellas. He didn’t disappoint. Our bad weather hero returned within 5 minutes and, armed with 3 of the finest rain guards anyone could have hoped for, we downed what was left of our beverages, said goodbye to the OAP’s…..not sure they even heard us……and out into the fray. The rain stopped.
Food in terms of places to dine and selection was not something I expected to be of great quality (not sure why I had that impression) but I was definitely corrected on that front. Indeed there was an abundance of choice to satisfy every palate. From fast food to fine dining. Oddly, the biggest issue we faced was locating a traditional Polish restaurant in order to experience the local food…..when we did finally find one, it was spectacular. I was drawn to the Bigos (hunters stew). This is a very traditional dish in Poland and might even be considered as the national dish. It is made with various kinds of meat and sausages seasoned with sauerkraut and served in a bread bowl………delicious just didn’t do it justice….it was phenomenally good. Cost wise, meals were repetitively cheap with the average price of a meal being the region of 30-40PZL (€9-10) per person, rising to anywhere between 90-130PZL (€22-30) for high end dining, which is still very good value compared to the prices we are expected to pay in most of Europe. For the vegetarians among you, don’t fret, Polish cuisine almost always involves salad and it is a major part of their diet, Vegans are also covered although I personally didn’t come across a strictly vegan restaurant, I’m sure with some research you will find some suitable establishments.
As the rains continued on and off and walking around was becoming a bit of a damp chore, we decided to take up the offer of a city tour in a small electric vehicle. The guy drove us round for a couple of hours and pointed out various places of interest and talking us through the relevance and history of certain places. He was a young guy, spoke excellent English, was very knowledgeable and also had a brilliant sense of humour, overall we were happy to pay the 350PZL (€85) not only for the tour but for the fact that he had us in stitches half the time. His tour inadvertently gave us the opportunity to see parts of the city and bring to our attention certain sites we wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of.
One such place was Oskar Schindlers factory. We passed it during the tour and agreed that we would return the following day. Entry fee was 20PZL (€5) and was as you would expect of any museum. The problem I had was probably the fact that I was expecting it to be dedicated to his efforts to save Jews during the war, where as what we found was that it was hardly about Schindler at all, it was rather more a history of the Nazi occupation of Poland…….this was a little frustrating….but it did give us the idea to visit the place that ultimately bears all the history of this horrific historical event in Poland….Auswitch.
Upon our return to our hotel we promptly booked our place on the Auswitch tour for the following morning. Carefully planned to make sure we returned back in time not to miss the FA Cup final….how miscalculated (and costly) would that end up being?!?…. we paid the €20 each for the tour and were pleased we managed to find spaces on such short notice. The following morning at around 8 am the coach arrived at our hotel. The journey took around an hour or so and they played a rather horrifying and gruesome Nazi death camp video throughout the duration of the journey, if anything it prepared us for the sights that laid ahead. Upon arrival we were assigned to a guide and given ear-phones and a radio transmitter that was connected to the guides microphone, made a lot of sense seeing as though there were hoards of people and guides and to have them all shouting over each other would not have been a very pleasant experience……moreover, in a place that had seen so much pain and suffering it would have also been rather disrespectful to have countless people shouting. Our guide was a middle-aged chap who spoke in a very soft weepy tone, almost as though, even after being a guide for over 15 years and having showed thousands of people around the site, he was still so deeply affected by the atrocities that took place there. This brought home the magnitude of what Auswitch is and represents. It is deeply moving and some of the things you see there are so hard to fathom, it is though, a must see……. Do make sure you have the whole day free though, we were told the tour was 4 hours…..what we weren’t told was that the 4 hours didn’t include all the travel time and that it included visits to two separate sites with lunch in-between, this meant the tour was in actual fact 7 hours. We wanted to be back for 2 pm to catch the FA Cup final but we wouldn’t have got back until 5!!…… Urgent action was required, so we skipped the visit to the Birkenau site which is a further 3 km coach trip from Auswitch, summoned a cab and got ourselves back to Krakow.
Having made it back in the knick of time, it was time to find the pub Andria had found on-line that was showing the match. As avid Arsenal fans it was important to find a pub full of like-minded supporters to enjoy the game with…..Andria’s research did not disappoint!! She pointed us to the Irish Mbassy Sports-bar, two floors of pub packed to the rafters of football fans, keen to enjoy the cup final. This place was rockin!! Polish Arsenal fans singing all the songs, rival fans doing likewise, all in a really raucous but friendly atmosphere. If you’re a sports fan, be it football, rugby or tennis and you find yourself in Krakow, head down to the Irish Mbassy, you will not be disappointed…..oh and to top it off……we won the cup!!
Following our exploits in the pub and with voices long gone from all the singing, chanting and cheering, we headed off for a night on the tiles. Krakow night life is a lot better than we imagined it would be……..but we did stumble across a night club that had us wondering if we had been teleported back to 1973……. Before we got there though we were on a bit of a pub/club crawl. The first bar we entered was ultra cool with great ambient lighting and a really funky vibe.
From here we moved to the Baroque Club, it was on 2 floors and was lots of separate rooms, each one had a different vibe from jazz, to soul, to rock, many of which had live bands singing the crowd’s favourite tunes.
After visiting a few more less memorable bars, we decided to try a place recommended to us by our electric-car tour guide a day or so earlier…….we asked him if there were any places that catered for our age bracket……remember, this is Uni town and night-life generally revolves around that age group, not us 40 something’s…..Did I mention that the guy had a great sense of humour? I realised how good that sense of humour actually was when I stepped into this place. It was without doubt the oddest place I have ever been to, I still to this day cannot figure out what the hell was going on!! We asked for a club that was more suited to our age group……what we got was a club that was full of what I can only describe as people that couldn’t possibly get into any other place in town…..we saw flared trousers, a woman wearing a ball gown, a 7 foot bloke that insisted on standing directly behind me at the bar breathing on the top of my head….which totally freaked me out, a couple doing the twist to local polish pop music and tables where 3 men would sit on one side staring intently at 3 women sitting on the opposite side, all in a club setting straight out of the 70’s with vinyl flooring, mirrored walls and ceilings and …..well, velvet curtains everywhere, even though there wasn’t a window in sight! At this point I have to apologise but I was so freaked out by this place that I didn’t take any pics or even make a note of the name….sorry
This started off as a cheap getaway and ended up as a really good holiday with lovely people, top food, good night-life (and some odd) and amazing sights. Poland was never really a place that I’d have considered as a holiday destination but this trip really opened my eyes to the place. I would recommend it for anyone looking for a place to visit with plenty to do, plenty to see and that won’t pull too hard at the purse strings.
Krakow, I am a big fan!!