Thailand, Hawaii, Spain: what do these countries have in common? Beaches. Yes, beaches. These areas appeal to those young, bikini ridden travelers who want nothing more than to have a drink while hanging on the beach as well as experience countries and cultures through local nightlife. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the sand sifting through your toes and having a little fun, traveling can be a much more rewarding experience if you diminish your tunnel vision mindset and explore those areas of the world that are less visited: one of these places being Kraków, Poland.
While studying abroad in Ireland, I found myself with less and less money in my wallet, thus resulting in fewer and fewer planned weekend getaways. Because of this, I allotted myself four trips around Europe. While I researched which places I wanted to touch down in, I found myself curiously intrigued with the idea of visiting Kraków (one of Europe’s most affordable cities). Although I essentially knew nothing about the country, I have always been fascinated with World War II and learning about it. It was this reasoning that made me decide to spend one weekend in Kraków. Regardless of its lack of beaches and party atmosphere, it was one of the best weekends I experienced while I was abroad. There are a lot of things to do in Kraków, but these were my favorite:
While I’ve never considered myself much of a foodie, I’ve never been more intrigued with a variety of unique dishes as I was when I was in Kraków. One of my favorite dishes was the Pierogis, dumplings filled with anything your heart desires (within reason). I had everything from cheese to chocolate in my doughy dumplings, and I am hesitant, to say the least, when it comes to trying new food. For those of you who are picky eaters, you are sure to have your fill of delicious, reasonably normal food that is unique to Poland.
I have seen the cliffs of Inis Mór on one of the Aran Islands in Ireland. I have been to the top of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland. I have been to the most beautiful, handcrafted temples in Thailand made entirely of gold and others meticulously crafted out of mosaic tiles. While all of these places left me floored, nothing has left me as moved as I was after I visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
I paid my respects to those lost at the camps, learned more about the history of the war than any college course could teach me and left in tears knowing that something like that could ever happen. If not just for the history alone, it is important for people to know about the genocide that took place there.
You should also visit Schindler’s Factory before leaving Kraków. Featured in Steven Spielberg’s movie ’Schindler’s List,’ the factory is now open for visitors hoping to learn more about how Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory saved thousands of people from perishing in the concentration camps.
Now that we’ve been hit with some history of Kraków, it’s time to have a little fun. Kraków’s nightlife is one that cannot be missed. From underground bars to pubs to pulsing clubs, Kraków has a nightlife for all walks of earth. Don’t forget to try the vodka as well. Even if you aren’t a big drinker, you are going to want to be as culturally immersed as possible and drink with the Poles. Be warned, you should not try and keep up with the locals. Chasers and mixed drinks aren’t very popular in Kraków. If not careful, you will regret the hangover you find yourself paralyzed with the next day.
Regardless of where you are from, you will be refreshingly surprised at the cost of living in Kraków. Even though my wallet had insufficient funds to say the least, I was able to go out to eat, hit the nightlife and even treat myself to some souvenirs while I was visiting Kraków. Poland currency uses the Polish Zloty. One Zloty equals about $0.25. This leaves a lot of wiggle room for extra-curricular activities that you maybe thought you couldn’t pull off before leaving for your trip. Everything in Kraków is relatively cheap as well. Remember all that great food I was telling you about? Prepare to leave Kraków uncomfortably full, because all of the food is not only delicious, but cheap as well.
Because I was still a guileless backpacker at the time, I booked my trip through Weekend Student Adventures (WSA). WSA does an amazing job at planning out entire days filled with cultural excursions. I didn’t feel like a tourist as our guide wove us through the streets of Kraków, bringing different pieces of history to our attention that we would have not have seen otherwise. Our guide was also of great use when my wallet was stolen, and seemingly no one within the city spoke any English as I fumbled my way through a description as to what had happened at the police station. Regardless of the stolen wallet and hundreds of Euro unaccounted for, I still had one of the most memorable weekends of my life.