I haven’t had a sec to update everyone on my travels for a little bit!
Last we left off I was flying out from Norway to Poland. Why Poland, you wonder?
Well, when I started to research possible locations for my “grand tour,” I really wanted to get to a few locales that were off the beaten path. I read a lot of travel blogs, and watched a lot of travel videos on Youtube. At some point I stumbled across a couple of videos about Krakow, and it really jumped out to me. I’d always known that my great grandparents were from the Krakow area, but I’d never known that Krakow was actually a beautiful, historical city with tons to see. Once I dug in a little further, I found that Krakow is also super affordable and safe; two things I was totally looking for as I planned my itinerary.
And so I booked my flight!
I arrived late at night, so the first thing I did the next morning was hop into a walking tour group, which helped me get the lay of the land.
Our tour started in the Old Town square, which actually looked a lot like Italy. This is because the old “Cloth Hall” was designed by Italian architects back in the Renaissance era.
Krakow used to be a walled city from the 13th century right up until the 19th century, when they became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and ended up having to tear down the walls. The site of the walls and the coordinating moat was then turned into a circular park that runs all the way around the old town; pretty cool, huh? That meant lots of great running trails for me, and tons of great greenspace for Krakovians. There are still a few pieces of the old fortifications left, which are really Game-Of-Thronesy, if you know what I mean.
Our tour took us through the beautifully well-preserved streets of Krakow’s Old Town. Unlike Warsaw and so, so many other great towns around Europe, Krakow was not damaged during the Second World War.
Krakow is also a very Catholic city, and is particularly proud of it’s native son, Pope John Paul II. There are images and statues of PJP2 all over Krakow, and the joke is that if you enter any Polish grandmother’s home, she’ll have at east as many images of Pope John Paul as she does her own grandchildren. We got to see so many ornate churches along the walk that I strted to lose track of which was which.
At one edge of the city sits the most enormous castle I have ever, ever seen. Wawel Castle was the historical seat of the Polish royal family, back when that was a thing. I got to tour the interior of the castle on my final day in the city, but I wasn’t allowed to take pictures:( But the exterior was completely amazing, as well!
While I was in Krakow, I also took a day trip out to visit the super weird and fascinating Wieliczka salt mines. These mines were a huge source of wealth and power for Krakow throughout history. Over the years, the miners carved out insane artwork as they excavated the salt deposits. There were rooms down there carved out to look like cathedrals, there were statues of kinds, there were chandeliers with jewels carved from salt crystals.
I also took a trip out to visit the Aushwitz and Birkinau concentration camps. There was a part of me that really didn’t want to spend one of my days abroad confronting such intense sorrow and tragedy. However, I felt that I wouldn’t be doing my job as a human if I didn’t take the time to pay my respects and learn from the terrors of the past. My time touring the camps was harrowing. Birkinau was particularly overwhelming for me.
I opted not to share any photos from the camps on social media, but I have included a few of the photos that I took here.
My final day in Poland was super rainy, which presented some challenges from a solo-travel perspective. The key to not feeling lonely while traveling on your own is to get out and do things with other people. My first two days in Krakow I was with tour groups for most of the day, so I had people to chat with. When it was raining all day on my final day, I’ll admit I felt a little down.
Lucky for me, though, the rain cleared enough in the evening for me to join a running group for 9 miles through the wooded park lands at the edge of the city. The leader of the run was a native Krakovian and ultra-marathoner, and everyone else in the group was just traveling through, like me. We got to see two of the famous “Mounds” of Krakow. These are man-made hills built throughout history to commemorate beloved leaders and war heroes. Legend says the oldest mound (which we didn’t have a chance to see) was built to commemorate King Krakus, the founder of Krakow.
I absolutely loved learning the legends and history of Krakow! Although it’s no Rome or Paris, it is an incredible little city with amazing green spaces, fabulous food (I didn’t even go into the food, but I’ll leave an image of my protein-packed-low sugar-gluten-free pancakes with coconut cream and caramel below for reference), and some truly beautiful architecture to oogle.