Our last city to visit was Krakow. We wanted to visit Krakow four years ago, but didn't get to it. We are really glad we did now as this is a great city that we really enjoyed. We arrived in the afternoon in time to get to the hotel and get out for pierogi dinner. The first place we had read about was not open during July, and the second place was a bit hard to find. But U Babci Maliny was pretty good. A small place where you order at the window and wait in the little upstairs or downstairs for your number. It was pretty tasty, but three plates wasn't enough and we headed back to something we spotted earlier, a summer festival at Mały Rynek square. I asked the girl at the beer tent (as her english was quite good) and it was a food and misc festival that was there all week. Awesome! We ended up here every night! We had pan fried pierogi, sausage, beer, kraut, potatoes, kebabs, and grilled oscypek cheese.
Our first day we scheduled a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Salt Mines. We knew this would be a long day, but we had a private driver who took care of everything and made it a doable day. We started at Auschwitz for 1.5 hours and then headed to Birkenau for an hour. Our tour guide was from the area and she did a great job taking us through. All I really want to say is everyone needs to visit here. Thoughts of this place are permanently engrained in my head. (Pictures from Auschwitz are here). After these tours, our guide took us to Wieliczka to tour the salt mines. He dropped us next door for lunch (pierogi and a delicious Mocno Dojrzale polish porter) and we started that tour at 5pm. This place is pretty interesting and an UNESCO world heritage site. The miners took a lot of pride in their work and carvings, especially the cathedral! After the main lift breaking and walking out to another lift, we didn't get back to Krakow until 8pm. And guess where we ended up for dinner...
The next day our plans were to talk around Market Square and just take in the sites, and then walk around Kazimierz (Jewish quarter) a bit. We watched the opening of the alter in St. Mary's Basilica and this church was quite interesting. We also visited the little church next door (made from left over bricks from St. Mary's), which contains the tomb of Jakub Wujek, who translated the Bible to polish. I took a quick trip up the Town Hall tower, but the view is obstructed as you can't get outside; you only look through 3 small windows. After eating some food at, guess where, we stopped at the hotel for water and toilets and then walked to Kazimierz. We checked out a couple synagogues and got some ice cream (lody) at the place our guide said was the best in Krakow. The place is possibly called 'Pracownia Cukiernicza Stanisław Sarga'. Lines form in the summer, but our line was only about 5-7 minutes. They use real fruit and it tastes great! For dinner we went to Zapiecek for pierogi. Another great place!
Our last day we went to Wawel Castle. The ticket process is a little cumbersome, but we bought several different tickets and spent the afternoon visiting places. Getting food here is a bit tricky unfortunately. Some of the sites sell out, so don't come up at the end of the day. I think I liked the cathedral best of all, which doesn't sell out at all. The views from the Sandomierska Tower was not that great as you only get to look out a few small windows. We finished our day by walking out through the caves, known as the Dragon's Lair, which lowers you down to the river. At the end once you are outside, there is a stone dragon statue that breathes fire! We finished by going back to Zapiecek and then the food festival again. Then, it was time to catch our night flight back to Dublin.
Krakow was our favorite, and I think Poland is a place we could drive around for a week. Nice people, yummy food, a tough history with resilient people, and beautiful countryside. Also, it is easy on the pocket book!
Pictures from Krakow and the Salt Mines can be found here.