Last Christmas, I decided to do something I had always wanted to do but been too scared to do so – I went travelling. Alone.
I have always wanted to visit Poland, and my brother’s girlfriend spent last year in Łódź. Furthermore, being a history student, Poland’s vast, and sometimes harrowing, history makes it the ultimate destination.
Firstly, I had to brave the airport alone and more importantly, entertain myself for 3 hours whilst waiting for my flight. Boarding the plane was a stressful and rushed process – why can people not queue without pushing? (or is that just my British side showing?). I must admit I slightly cheated on the whole independence thing upon arrival having booked a taxi to take me to my hostel but hey, it was 8pm and I was tired.
I stayed in a lovely hostel just outside the city centre called Mosquito. If anyone is thinking of visiting Krakow then I really recommend this hostel; the staff were absolutely lovely and the small size made it feel very welcoming.
I did a little exploring my first night, doing what all travellers do in a foreign country and have a McDonald’s for my tea, before settling into my bunk for the night.
Getting up early, I went on the free walking tour around the Jewish quarter which was around 2 hours. The tour guide was so knowledgable and explained both the past and the present of the area. As a history student, I was really engaged by the information given but I think I would struggle to find anyone who wouldn’t be.
Walking through the historic Jewish quarter, there were memorials and reminders everywhere of the horrific atrocities that were committed only 70 years previous. Being able to walk to where the walls of the Krakow ghetto stood tall and the guard posts of the SS soldiers was almost surreal, to stand where people had fought for their lives and lived under such terror and repression. It was also inspiring, that a city which had been so thoroughly devastated has been able to repair, but still remember. For any Spielberg fans, the tour takes you to the location of one infamous moment in Schindler’s List, where a young boy saves the life of his classmate, a Jewish girl.
(The railing to the right in my own picture is the stairs on the left picture)
The tour finished in the Heroes of the Ghetto square, where a memorial of several chair statues have been erected. I decided to continue on to the Oskar Schindler museum, which was about a 10 minute walk away. I recommend visiting the museum as it chronicles Krakow’s journey under Nazi occupation, and doesn’t spare on the graphic and heartbreaking details. For anyone without much knowledge of this period, the museum was extremely thorough and like most things I found in Krakow, very reasonably priced.
I must say, this quote is one of my all time favourites.
Although being the middle of December, I decided to walk the hour or so back into the city centre in order to see more of Krakow besides the marketed tourism spots. I’m glad I did, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen this beautiful scene on a bridge, overlooking the Vistula river.
My night was spent socialising in the hostel, getting to bed early in preparation to visit the Salt Mines. I went on an organised tour, which included transport to the mines, which I must admit was a relief to not have to navigate a train system I had yet to get to grips with. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from inside the Salt Mines as there was a charge in order to take your own pictures, and I feel like I wouldn’t have done it any justice. Another thing to add to my already long list of sites to see in Krakow and its surrounding areas.
Another night of drinking with my fellow hostellers and yet another early night as the next day I was going to the site for which my whole reason for coming to Krakow centred around; Auschwitz-Birkenau. This infamous place needs no introduction and I won’t dwell on its purpose, as I’m sure any reading this already knows. I was surprisingly nervous to visit, as I wasn’t sure that I would be able to cope with such an intensely emotional experience but I knew that we have to acknowledge and remember such events, in order to prevent anything like it happening again. I think the poster in the entrance of one of the blocks which has been converted into a memorial display sums it best – those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
This is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about history and all that we have to learn from it; time and again we see the same patterns repeating and it is up to my generation to ensure that we do remember, we do learn and we do not forget. I do have pictures from my visit but out of respect, I do not wish to post them online. I have them as reminders of my duty as a global citizen, the stand up for those who cannot themselves, and to not forget just how incredibly lucky I am. I will however post a picture of the rail tracks leading to Birkenau, to demonstrate just how somber and humbling the experience of visiting a concentration camp makes you feel. I remember being wrapped up in thermals, with snow falling around me in -5 degree weather and I couldn’t understand how people were able to survive in these conditions but they did. They did, and they have shared their stories.
My final night in Krakow was spent having a few drinks in a cosy bar with some hostel staff and other guests, chatting about our home lives. It sounds like a set up for a cheesy joke – An Italian, a Polish, a Brit and an Australian walked into a bar.
All too soon, my first ever solo adventure was over and I was on the train to the airport. For anyone considering travelling alone, do it. I hate to be a cliche but I really do think it helps you become more confident, as everything you do is by your own rules and own responsibility. I met some lovely people who I probably wouldn’t have spoken to if I was with my friends, and I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, even if that was just having a nap at 4pm!