Krakow, Poland

We loved Kraków. It’s one of those cities with oodles to do. We’d orginally planned just 3 days in Kraków, at which point we realised there was too much to do to leave it as is so we stayed 5 days (all the while wondering if we should have stayed longer). The city is friendly, the city is affordable and the city is pretty (kinda like a slightly more run-down Paris at a quarter of the price, just squint your eyes). Below we’ve compiled a list of our highlights and suggestions for your stay. Be sure to also check out our accompanying post on our favourite places to eat and drink in Kraków.

St Mary’s Cathedral

Towering in red over the old town square at 84 meters tall is the impressive St Mary’s cathedral. It’s one of the iconic sights of Kraków. The real gem of this cathedral is found inside this richly decorated sanctuary. Overlooking the altar is an immense wooden sculpted piece depicting various stages of Jesus’ life as well as the Catholic version of Mary’s story. The alter piece gets opened daily by a nun accompanied to music at 11:50am and stays open till around 5pm. As a piece of artwork it’s worth seeing, especially if you can be there for the opening.

IMG_2216

Wieliczka Salt Mine

To say the Wielizka Salt Mine is vast is an understatement. A source of Poland’s original wealth (when salt was worth the same as gold in trade), they definitely got their money’s worth by digging a huge network. A 3 hour walking tour (the most expensive of our Kraków activities) takes you through something like just 3% of the mines tunnels. The tour takes you past some of the most exciting and intriguing rooms, halls, sculptures and chapels. Some of them are really quite impressive such as the St Kinga chapel, an immensely large room complete with the biblical narrative chiseled into its salt facade and chandeliers jewelled with salt Crystals. Most impressively the chapel Was dug and decorated by just two men in their spare time over a period of 70 years. It’s still a functioning chapel whose service you can attend for free at 7:30am every Sunday (although arrive earlier as it takes a while to get to the chapel).  If you’re looking for a wedding venue, seriously check this place out, Its impressive and a lot more affordable than you’d think. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although the more I travel the more I realise how common this status is.

Auswitz

A visit to Auswitz is sobering to say the least, the numbers and the atrocities are incomprehensible, it leaves you a little low on optimism for our future as mankind but also serves as an important reminder for generations to come. There is also encouragement to be found in that the evil was (eventually) brought down and the good has prevailed despite all that was thrown its way. A visit here will take a full day (an hour and a half bus each way from Kraków, about 2.5 hours at the the concentration camp and a further 1.25 hours at the death camp) entry into Auswitz is free (but should be prebooked) so overall it is an inexpensive day.

Shindler’s Factory Museum

An impressive museum that overviews the Nazi occupation of Kraków. The museum is cost effective for what you see using a variety of media and sets to not only tell the story but also set the mood and scene. It’s worth seeing but also important to note that while it is set in the actual former factory of Shindler, who was able to save over a 1000 Jews as the movie suggests, the museum is not actually about him or the factory and highlights very little of that story; it is by in large just a museum about the nazi occupation. Furthermore if you plan to go avoid going near the end of the day as it seems this when many tour companies choose to host their tours throbbing the walk through museum (which really isn’t big enough to host the groups of that size). So if like us you find yourself going at the end of the day expecting to see a lot about Shindler and his work you will find yourself disappointed and battling though a never ending set of tour group waves.

IMG_2248

Walking food tour

On a more positive note, Jenny and I have done countless walking tours but the walking food tour by Free Walking tours Kraków has to be one of our favourites! For only 16zt/€3.5 or 20zt/€4.5 if you partake in the optional vodka shot (plus your generous tip to your tour guide – Ania was particularly excellent) you get taken advantage a culinary journey through 10 rounds of delicious polish tasters. + once you’ve tried polish food, you’ll be a convert like us – much tastier than it often looks! Also by partaking in the walking tour you also get given one of the best city maps we’ve seen, filled with heaps of inside tips, street art locations, phrases and food suggestions! http://www.freewalkingtour.com/calendar

Pinball Museum

Just a quick note about this place because time restrictions meant that we weren’t able to spend much time here, we popped  in though and it seemed pretty cool. With over 50 pinball machines all on free-play this historic arch-brick basement looks like nostalgic gamers dream. Entry costs 40zt (9euro) per person but considering that the time you could spend there, worth it.

Our favourite places to eat and drink in Krakow

Heading to Krakow? Here are some of the best places to eat and drink!

Easy on the wallet

Polakowski

IMG_2189

If you only take away one thing from this post, take away this name. Polakowski is a small chain of traditional milk bars serving very cheap but very delicious polish cuisine. Jenny & I literally ate here every day, sometimes twice a day; it was healthy, filling and cheaper than cooking ourselves. While you’re here, be sure to try out their: Zurek Soup, Cucumber (Gerkin) soup as well as an assortment of pierogi (with either butter or bacon sauce) and some traditional bigos. delicious! Website: http://www.polakowski.com.pl/

Zapiekanka (in the Jewish Quarter – Plac Nowy)

20160217_213456

predominantly located in the hip jewish quarter (known for its nightlife) this gourmet equivalent of gourmet cheese on toast (the foot-long subway variety) is about as cheap as it gets; a standard footlong cheese and mushroom (+ a sauce of your choosing) sub goes for just over €1 and is perfect to keep your mind in the game after a couple of drinks. The subs come in a variety of flavours (the most elaborate coming in at just over €2 euro – so nothing that will break the bank

A little more expensive:

Pod Aniolami (“Under the Angels”)

Located in the historic 13th century cellars, the restaurant is set up to make you feel like a medieval king and queen of old. Fully decked out, it feels like you’re sitting in a museum (except you’re allowed to touch the furniture). Pod Aniolami specialise in marinated and grilled meats (over beech hardwood fires) giving you a very rich and satisfying experience. The place is quite and romantic so perfect for that surprise date!

5 minutes down the royal route from the old town square. Website: http://www.podaniolami.pl/en

W Stare Kuchni (The Old Kitchen)

As the name suggests, walking into W Stare Kuchni, is like walking into a an old rustic kitchen in the country side. The meals are reasonably priced and VERY hearty. We were only able to make it through half our meal we were so full (a very rare occurrence for us) but the waitress was very happy to help us pack away the rest into take-away containers (I suspect they’re used to this). This is also the perfect place to visit if you wish to try the famous (and Mr. Bean-made-famous) Steak Taretare – which we did, far exceeding my expectations. W Stre Kuchni is located a block north of the Old town square: website: http://www.wstarejkuchni.pl/

Late night drinks:

Wodka Bar & Cafe

20160218_224220

For many people, Poland is synonymous with vodka, which is fair enough because the Polish love the stuff. So while you’re in Poland give it a go & we reccomend doing so at Wodka Bar & Cafe. Wodka is the best when it comes to vodka, sporting over 100 different brands and flavours these guys are the real deal. We visited twice and on both times shared a tray of 6 mini shots of varying flavours and only costing around €6 each time. Its a cosy little hideaway matched with some delectable vodkas. We suggest trying the Chilli chocolate, the caramel, hazelnut to start you off, let the knowledgeable bar tender suggest the rest. Centrally located, 2 blocks east of St. Mary’s Cathedral on the old town square. Website: http://wodkabar.pl/

Finka Bar

Located on Plac Nowy square (the same place you’ll find Zapiekanka) is Finka Bar, a quirky fun bar with upcycled furniture and  an excellent array of cocktails at very reasonable prices. worth a look. Website: http://klubfinka.pl/

4 Things to Know Before You Head to Warsaw

IMG_8586

It can take a little bit of adjustment when you arrive in a new country, filled with new sights, foods and customs. Sometimes the clearest way to discover the local customs it to ignorantly break them and witness the reaction. However, to help you avoid trouble we’ve compiled a quick list of 4 things we think will help make your adjustment into Warsaw life easier!

Wedding Bands

Poland is a remarkable country with truly charming inhabitants, its not farfetched to assume some travellers head to Poland in the search for love. If this is the case, you’re single and keen to mingle, there is one important factor that you need to keep in mind…

IMG_8617

Unlike many parts of the world, the Polish wear their wedding rings on their right hand, not left! So if you’re used to keeping an eye on that left hand as an indication of availability you may quickly find yourself disappointed that someone already liked it and put a ring on it. Worse yet you could find yourself going a little too far with a married wo/man and finding yourself in trouble!

So be alert, check the other hand and play it safe!

Public Transport

Despite the limited underground network for a city of its size, Warsaw does have a reasonable public transport network that stays reasonably on time. However there are a few basic things to know that’ll help you navigate your way through the system;

a) Tickets are available either on board (via machine) or via Newsagents dotted around the city

b) For temporary visitors, tickets come in two main forms 3.40Zlote – ticket valid for a 20 minute trip or a 4.40Zlote ticket that is valid for 75mins & can be used for transfers – We feel the cost/benefit weighs in the favor of spending the extra Zlote for the extra minutes

c) The ticket machines on board only accept coins, so keep change on you.

d) After you purchase you ticket, even if you do so by purchasing it through the ticket machine on board, must be validated – which can be done so via another smaller machine dotted around on board. Being found on board without a ticket, or a ticket that is not

Amber

You’ll find amber for sale everywhere! I didn’t realize how much of polish thing it was until we arrived. However one thing to keep in mind as you peruse the amber aisles is that Amber is not a rare or particularly precious stone. In Poland you can pick it up from the beach, so make sure you don’t spend too many of your pretty pennies on it, it’d be like buying a really expensive pumice necklace, it’d just be a bit silly.

Old Town

Old town is a remarkable place; we loved it & spent much of our time there. There are so many back streets to explore and so much culture to find. It looks very old, hundreds of years you might expect…but you would be wrong. Impressively much like the rest of Warsaw, everything was destroyed during the second world war.

IMG_8782

What you see in old town today are impressive reconstructions of the original buildings based on the pictures and plans they had. Furthermore, much of the rebuild was done by locals and financed by donations from the public and local businesses. Its astounding! Almost more impressive than if the originals still stood. No wonder is now a UNESCO World Heritage site!

IMG_8607 IMG_8530 IMG_8525

4 Affordable Fun Things to do in Warsaw

Multimedia Fountain Park.

For fans of Disney California Adventure’s World of Color, a nighttime fountain show dazzling with lights, lasers, music and film, Warsaw has its very own free version called Multimedia Fountain Park. Erected in 2011 the park has since created a summertime weekend extravaganza for the whole family. The show is quality and a pleasure to watch, the music covers a lot of genres from classical, 90s and even modern day classics. The graphics are also reasonably impressive; make sure you wait for the laser dragon!

IMG_8660

The ‘Water – Light – Sound’ multimedia shows take place each Friday and Saturday from May till September at 9.30 pm (May and October – 9 pm). On other weekdays, the shows do not include lasers and sound.

IMG_8652

Milk Bars

First rising to prominence in the financial depression of the 30s and then again in the 60s/80s of communist Poland; Milk Bars filled a gap in the market by providing affordable cafeteria type meals to poorer workers. This is a no-frills consisted of mainly vegetarian and dairy heavy meals to provide sustenance.

IMG_8621

Though many have since closed, there are still a remnants of them in Warsaw which will serve you an ample affordable meal with a side of culture. Jenny and I had the pleasure of visiting the Zlote Kurka Bar, two stops south of centrum station by tram. The Milk Bar had a definite communist feel, with 3 windows, 1 to order, one to collect dishes and one to return dishes (like a drive through by foot). The casher and cooks spoke no English which also made for quite an experience and an opportunity to practice by body language and gestures. In the end, Jenny & I both ordered 3 course meals with a whopping total of $9NZD for all 6 dishes! They were hearty dishes but it was the experience and cost that we came away beaming about!

IMG_8620

Antique Shops/Window Shopping

New Zealand is pretty isolated, which is in many ways a blessing, but one thing I realized as we window shopped our way through a local Warsaw antique shore was that Antique shops here are legit! Particularly the military sections which had more WWII memorabilia than many museums that we’ve visited and best of all are free to visit. One particular Antique shop that we visited even had a cabinet of hand grenades; pins still in. We were so taken a back to see this, I love to be surprised in our travels, it leads to learning.

IMG_8610 IMG_8613

If WWII memorabilia are not really your thing though don’t worry, another great place to Window shop in Warsaw is the fabulous Złote Tarasy shopping centre. The centre features some of the most impressive modern mall architecture you’ll ever see and contains an overabundance of great shops to take your fancy! Located centrally by the main train/tram hubs and the iconic Palace of Culture and Science (which we’ll talk about in a future post) its also very easy to get to!

Movies

If you’re anything like me, you relish an evening out at the movies but despise the cost! Which considering the cost/benefit (hours) is rather pricey – especially 3D! Back home in NZ for a movie in 3D we’d be looking at tickets for a minimum of around $18.5NZD/pp which was why we were so ecstatic to find the price of going to the brand new Marvel ANT MAN film in 3D (and English!) only cost us around $9NZD/pp at Arkadia mall Warsaw, half the price of back home. This allowed us to kill two birds with one stone 1) Feel normal again – full time travel does this to you 2) load up at the candy bar, so good!

5 Delicious Polish Dishes you Must Try

IMG_8548 

1) Soup

I have really come to appreciate Soup as one of the most Underrated dishes around. Usually healthy, surprisingly filling, scrumptious and best of all affordable! Jenny and I had soup for dinner every night for dinner the 3 months leading up to our wedding as a way of trimming down and saving money. So yeah, I like soup. And lucky for me so do the Polish. They seem to have it with every meal. They are excellent producers of it. In fact I would go so far as to say that out of all my travels over my lifetime I have been most impressed by the soups in Poland, a real pleasure. There was one day in Warsaw where Jenny had soup for breakfast and as a late night snack in the same day, it was that good. Soup, Poland will make you a convert! (Particularly look out for Zurek & White Borscht)

2) Pierogi

Pierogi is a form of filled dumpling that’s boiled (similar to some other countries – but with its own Polish spin on it) and served with butter or bacon gravy. If my stomach was bottomless, I could literally see myself eating this all day, its that good. Many restaurants also allow you to select a mixture of different Pierogi (from a list of over 20 flavours) so every bite is a surprise, which is fun, will it be sour? Will it be sweet? Will it be hearty? Pierogi Roulette where every time you’re a winner.

3) Layered Meringue Cake

The closest thing I’ve seen abroad to a kiwi Pavlova, the Polish version features two separately cooked layers of Meringue stacked with a layer of tarty sauce in between (often raspberry or cherry flavoured), this is chewy, tangy and delicious, perfect for those with a sweet tooth!

4) Wedel Hot Chocolate

Wedel is a Polish Chocolatier, the polish equivalent of Cadbury, who has a number of café stores around Warsaw and Krakow. These café’s are famous for their hot chocolate drinks, get one, you wont be disappointed* (*unless you don’t like chocolate).

5) Vodka

One can’t write a post about Polish Cuisine without mentioning Vodka, the Pols are famous for it & there is actually more variety to it than first appears! A couple of popular polish vodka orders include

a)

Zubrowka (also known as Bison Grass Vodka – as its got a bison on the label and famously a blade of grass in each bottle) and apple juice.

b)

A Mad Dog Shot – which involves a shot of Vodka, with a base of raspberry syrup and a bunch of Tabasco Sauce drops – which makes for a warm sensation as it goes down.

Careful though, the polish are renowned for encouraging hearty dosage of the vodka shots, drink responsibly!

Experiencing the Warsaw Uprising Anniversary (Video)

IMG_8631

It’s fair to say that Warsaw has had more than its fair share of hardships. Taken over, burnt to the ground, taken over again, kept under communist rule and a mass exodus of around 20million polish people. A particularly poignant moment in Poland’s history was the Warsaw Uprising that saw the largest underground army in history bursting forth (literally – some out of man holes) to surprise the distracted Nazis. Armed with their hands, Molotov cocktails and the occasional gun the underground army focused on booting the Nazi’s out of their capital and setting off a domino effect for the rest of the country. With the Russians approaching from the East it was also hoped that they would join in the fight against the Germans and liberate the Pols. Unfortunately this was not the case, the Russians sat waiting within sight of Warsaw. They did not want to engage in combat and chose to wait for a more favorable time.

The underground Warsaw Army was fighting a losing battle and Hitler was furious, ordering total dismantlement of the city citing that no two bricks should be left on top of one another. Which is was happened; Warsaw was burnt and bombed to the ground. On the 1st of August each year at 5pm in Warsaw crowds gather to remember the moment the uprising began some 71 years ago in 1944.

Unknowingly and by chance we happened to be in Warsaw on the 1st of August this year and were able to partake in a gathering. Huddled in around the Centrum Station, filling roads and sidewalks thousands of people gathered, some in military outfits, some on motorbikes, many carrying flags and flares.

At 5 pm the sirens went off the square filled with smoke and light of flares. The was so much energy in the air it was so surreal. A moment I doubt I’ll ever forget. After the sirens finished sounding, the crowd began to chant in Polish;

Glory for the dead

Glory for the heroes

 A chilling moment.

2 minutes later the crowd dispersed as if nothing ever happened. It was an amazing experience and I’m truly glad we were able to partake in its moment of remembrance.

So if you’re thinking of visiting Poland in the future, make sure you factor this in, it’s well worth featuring into your plans!

Angloville (A volunteering opportunity in Poland)

As we travel we are often on the look out for volunteer opportunities that involve free food and board in exchange for our work. It makes for interesting experiences, you feel productive & most importantly it helps to extend your trip! To locate such opportunities we have been using sites such as WorkAway and more recently HelpX. On both these sites we have volunteering profiles and so while we predominantly do most of the contacting, occasionally we will be contacted by a host. Such was the case with Angloville.

We were travelling through the Netherlands at the time, when out of the blue Mitch, a Angloville program coordinator (and now good friend) from Australia, contacted us. Mitch offered us free accommodation in a twinshare hotel setting (good for single travellers wishing to make new friends & great for couples who wish for privacy) and free meals from the hotel restaurant just outside of Warsaw in Poland. In exchange we would have to travel to Poland and participate in a program that involved chatting with Polish Participants. The program seeks to give the polish participants an authentic English immersion opportunity to practice their English within the relative comfort of their own country.

As such the conversations we had came in a number of pre-organized settings and conversational topics including; one-on-one, two on two, telephone conversations, negotiations, group activities and a mentee to mentor for the week. In total you spend around 50hours in conversation with Polish participants (a lot for usual work exchange scenarios but easy and fun work).

Intrigued by the offer, as we hadn’t planned on visiting Poland, and based on the plethora of good participant reviews on their website we decided to take Mitch up on this offer provided that we could sign up for 2 weeks worth of courses instead of 1.

Participating in the program was great and provided a different kind of insight into the country than you’d get from a normal touristic visit, conversations with locals (and lots of it!). Sometimes it can be tempting to measure experience in a country based on the amount of local attractions you see and the selfies you got by them. While there is no harm in this idea, as many of the attractions are fabulous, we found that participating in a program such as this gave us a certain depth into polish culture that we would be unlikely to find elsewhere; even if doing so was at the expense of seeing fewer museums and attractions.

The food was good, the rooms were reasonable and the wifi steady, traveller’s paradise! We met so many people, both polish and native English speakers, with impressive job titles and life stories, it was fantastic. The fun spilled over from the pre-organized times into the wee social hours of night, card games, pranks and general fun. We made genuine friends. I think we’ll have a lot of hosting to do if everyone takes us up on our offer by visiting us back in NZ!

Alas our time in Angloville has come to an end, this bus is very quiet (I guess we’re all a little talked out) but I think all will look back on these last two weeks of programming with fondness!