May 25, 2011

1 Seven Tips for Your Visit to Krakow (including Auschwitz)

1. Hire a private guide for a site that's really important to you.  I (of course) researched Auschwitz-Birkenau as we were planning the trip and I saw under the guided tours (which are required) that the general tour, which is 400 zt (about $120), lasted about 3-4 hours and was with a group of up to 30 people, usually using headphones. Knowing that we wanted to get the absolute most out of our day there, I opted for the "one day study tour" for 480 zt (about $140) that gave us our own guide for the three of us for 6-7 hours.  We got to see several buildings more than the general tour, plus one of the victim country exhibits (each country that was home to victims has their own museum-type memorial), and even got to see two buildings currently closed to the general public for renovation, since we were such a little group.  Our guide also had the time to explain more, answer our questions, discuss the autobiography I'd read prior, and was patient with my incessant photography.  Paul and I both regret not having had an audio recorder, though, as neither of us feel as though we were able to process a fraction of the information at the time our guide was speaking to us.

2. Check around for hotels!  This advice is the same as for Athens, Greece, but for the opposite reason.  Krakow is extremely affordable and quite safe, so we stayed in a simple and cheap "holiday apartment", a small studio with a lofted bedroom and two futon beds below that shared a kitchen with three other similar units, for $150 for all four nights.  Our location was great, literally down the street from the main train station and only a 5 minute walk (straight down a cross street) to the Main Square.

3. Similar to Greece, use public transportation!  We got our train ride to Oświęcim (Auschwitz) for under the equivalent of $5 each total and our train ride to the salt mine was $2 each total.  Our train ride to the airport was more, about $3 each one way, but that is in comparison to our $32 total taxi ride to the hotel upon arrival (we flew in Sunday night and would have had to wait over an hour for the next train).  I will warn you, the Polish public transportation websites are not well translated and slightly difficult to navigate, but I was able to figure out general time table ideas eventually.

4. Even if you're not a planner or researcher, do some reading before heading to Krakow.  You really will get so much more out of the museums and historical sites if you're already familiar with them.  I read a novelized autobiography of an Auschwitz survivor (and read another autobiography right after we got home), both Paul and I scoured the internet for information on both Auschwitz and Schindler's Factory/List, and we watched the film Schindler's List.  Please do dedicate time to the museums as well.  The Under the Eagle Pharmacy in the Old Jewish Ghetto has a small but informative exhibit on the time in the Ghetto and Schindler's Factory has recently opened an exhibit detailing the Nazi oppression of the city.  The latter is a wealth of information, you'd need a couple of days to absorb it all, but we spent a couple of hours there and all three of us learned a lot and thought it was an incredibly well done exhibit.  Krakow has done a tremendous job of presenting their history for public gain, and I advise you to take advantage of this!

5. Vary your sites. Besides the obvious WWII and Holocaust sites, there are beautiful churches and synagogues, amazing architecture, art museums galore, the salt mine, charming parks scattered throughout the city, and of course, lots of good food!

6. Consider a chronological Holocaust tour. We opted to see Auschwitz/Birkenau our first day, since it was our top must-see, but I think I would have preferred to start with the oldest synagogue, which had an informative exhibit on Jewish traditions and religious practices, then procede to the Ghetto and the Under the Eagle Pharmacy museum, then to Schindler's Factory, then Auschwitz/Birkenau.  Honestly, there's no way to fully take in all the information.  There's so much (again, kudos to Poland!) and it's quite overwhelming.   I do think I would have followed the process with a bit less mental-jumping-around if my brain hadn't been trying to process and understand the horrors while also bogged down with remembering my history (even the recent reading).

7. Learn some Polish!  We were a bit careless and presumptuous here, in that we didn't take the time  to learn our basic language niceties that we like to do.  Part of the problem is that Mango, the language software we prefer, doesn't offer an English-Polish program, only a Polish-English.  I managed to get a few phrases by listening to the ESOL program, such as dzien dobry (good morning), but I didn't get nearly as much as I wished.  This was unfortunate, though, as, contrary to Athens, Greece, English speakers were much harder to find in Krakow!  Most restaurant staff spoke English, and we were able to fumble our way with the international clerk at the train station, but I felt clumsy and rude in my lack of Polish.

1 comment:

Thanks so much for stopping by! I can't wait to read your comment!

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