Poland from North to South

In September 2017 I went to Poland with my boyfriend. It was a very demanding trip – visiting 5 places in 5 days: beautiful Gdansk, modern Warsaw, elegant Krakow, sad Auschwitz and colorful Wroclaw. It’s hard to say which one I loved the most! We were tired but very happy to visit a country that has met our expectations and surprised us in a good way!

 

GDANSK

Facts about the city:

Gdansk still has its historical Beer Bell that was used to announce the opening of pubs in the old times.

Gdansk was a part of Germany for many years. In fact, this city is just as German as Polish. It was incorporated to Poland after World War II, in 1945. Actually, World War II began in Gdansk. German invasion on Poland started on 1st September 1939 by attacking the Free City of Gdansk.

Most of the amber stones washed by the Baltic Sea are found on the Gdansk seaside. The boardwalk, bearing the name of John Paul II, is 511.5 meters long.

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Our first stop was Gdansk. We booked a direct flight from Malta that lasted about 3 hours. I didn’t even know this city before this trip but it’s really amazing! In Gdansk we stayed in an apartment called Był sobie Gdańsk – Stare Miasto for one night. It costed us around 25€ each and it was well located in the city center: Stajenna 3/A/2, 80-842. It was very nice!

We started by seeing the Great Mill area. We went to buy some food and beers (by the way, everything is cheap in Poland, due to the different currency – 1 euro = 4 zlotys) and we stop by a nice fountain in that area.

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In front there was a church where we could climb up to the top the see the clock and we did it because of the amazing views from up there. Then we went to Mariacka Street, a cute narrow street with a lot of shop that sell jewelry with amber stones (famous from this area). We tried to visit St. Mary’s church, right next to it, but they were doing some works in the building.

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We continued our walk along the Motlawa River Embankment (Dlugie Pobrzeze), along the river side. The restaurants in this area are very cute, with lots of colorful flowers. We also saw the Crane (Zuraw), a house with a strange shape.

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After that, we strolled around the main street – Dluga Street. This is probably one of the most beautiful streets I’ve ever visited! It has amazing nice buildings on both sides, it has a lot of flowers as well, it has the amazing tower of the old Main Town Hall (Ratusz Glownego Miasta), the Neptune’s Fountain, etc.

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We ended our walk in Piwna Street, right next to Dluga street. I got sick on my first day in Poland. It was sooo cold (and I didn’t come prepared for that, with warm clothes) that I had a fever and obstructed nose right away from day 1. Alejandro was amazing and took good care of me 🙂


 

WARSAW

Facts about the city:

Warsaw, rebuilt after World War II based on paintings from the 17th-18th centuries, is protected by UNESCO and is a perfect example of restoration of cultural heritage.

Warsaw is the most congested city in Europe – Poles spend an average of 106 hours per year stuck in traffic.

The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw was a gift of the Soviet dictator Stalin to the Polish nation. At 237 metres tall, it’s the tallest building in Poland, and at 165 metres, the clock tower is considered to be the tallest in Europe.

Warsaw, Poland. Palace of Culture and Science and skyscrapers

After Gdansk, we flew to Warsaw, the capital of Poland. We found a cheap flight for 4,99€ and we decided that it was way better and faster than to go by train – approximately 50 minutes. In Warsaw we stayed in an apartment called Rondo ONZ 1. Again, we paid an average of 25€ each for one night. It was located in Śliska 10 Sródmiescie 00-127. The apartment was modern and nice, but super small and the lady who gave us the keys couldn’t speak English (like a lot of Polish people we saw) and she was kind of rude because we were confused about the price.

In our second day in this trip around Poland it was raining all day. We were cold and completely wet. I didn’t really like the city. Not because of that, but because it was completely destroyed by the war and they had to rebuilt it all over again. Now it’s too big, modern, with a lot of skyscrapers and not a lot of beautiful things to see, like the other ones we visited.

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We walked around a park and strolled along Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street and Nowy Swiat. We went to the main square called Royal Castle Square (Plac Zamkowy). The main building was under reconstruction work.

We kept walking until we reached the Old Town Market Square. It’s the most beautiful place in Warsaw for me, but it’s quite small. The building of the Palace of Culture & Science is also very impressive and reminds us of NY. I was still very sick in this day. We had dinner in a shopping mall close to this building and we went to sleep early.


 

KRAKOW

Facts about the city:

The Town Hall Tower of Krakow is the city’s own version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Even though the tower deviates from the base by mere 55 cm, it can be clearly seen thanks to its being 70 m high.

Stephen Spielberg’s famous movie Schindler’s List was shot in one of Krakow’s Jewish quarters, called Kazimierz. Most of the quarter’s houses are still decorated with Stars of David. The local synagogues and tiny shops and cafés that serve Jewish dishes are all enshrouded in the spirit of those times.

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After Warsaw, we decided to catch a train to Krakow. I was working that day, so I used that 2h40 trip to check my emails on my tablet. In Krakow we stayed in an apartment called Horizon Apartments-Bożego Ciała. We paid around 20€ each for one night. It was located in the beautiful Jewish neighborhood, where there’s a lot of restaurants and bars: Bożego Ciała 9/11 Old Town 31-059. I really liked this apartment, I think it was my favorite. The girl who gave us the keys was very nice and I felt cozy there. The bathroom was amazing and big!

In Krakow we started by visiting the Wawel Cathedral and Castle and some churches in the way to get to the Main Market Square. This square is huge and really impressive! There’s a market inside the arches and the Church of the Virgin Mary (Kosciol Mariacki) is also located in this church. There we met a family from Cuba and we talked with them for a bit. They were very nice 🙂

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We also went to the Planty Park and Collegium Maius, as well as kind of “castle” I don’t remember the name. Krakow is very beautiful as well! At night we went to have dinner in a typical polish restaurant and then we went for some drinks in a nice pub nearby. I was getting better from my cold but the weather was still bad.

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AUSCHWITZ

Facts about it:

Auschwitz was a German Nazi concentration camp during World War II that was in operation from 1940 to 1945. It was a network of concentration and extermination camps built by the Nazis in Poland. Auschwitz I was built to house political prisoners from Poland but soon Auschwitz II was being used to exterminate Jewish prisoners and prisoners of other nationalities. Of the estimated 1.1 million prisoners who died at Auschwitz it is believed that 90% were Jewish.

More people died in Auschwitz than the British and American losses of WWII combined.

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From Krakow we took a direct train to Oswiecim. It took us 1h30 to get there. Auschwitz and Birkenau are located in Oswiecim, about 66km west of Krakow. Then, from the train station, we took a taxi because we were a bit late for the guided tour. We booked a trip in Spanish and it costed is around 10€, really cheap. The tour takes about 3h30.

Auschwitz is a very interesting place. Everyone should have the chance to visit it. The first part of the tour is in Auschwitz I. This camp was initially set up to hold Polish political prisons before being a hub for Jewish prisoners. This was the first camp to be build and was the headquarters for the SS. Prisoner number reached 16,000.

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Walking up to the infamous Arbeit macht frei (work brings freedom) gates, I felt a strange sense of familiarity. Maybe it was because I had seen these gates before in films, books and on the internet. We continued on through the gates, and for the next hours we followed our guide across the grounds of Auschwitz I and into the buildings of the barracks, prison cells and gas chamber.

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We saw the wall where they used to shot people and we entered the only gas chamber that is still standing (even though it’s not the original one). Inside the buildings we could see objects from the people who died there. Glasses, hair, luggage, shoes… It’s really sad to think that they were real people like me and that some human beings were able to to this to other human beings and kill over 1.5 million people in two years there. It was hard to see the pictures of some of the prisoners with the date of when they entered Auschwitz and when they died. Some of them just lasted some days or weeks there. There’s no record of the ones who were killed as soon as they got there.

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Located 3km away from Auschwitz I is Birkenau II. This is the largest concentration camp constructed to house more prisoners after Auschwitz I became crowded. Approximately 1.1m people died here (mainly Jews). We went by bus with the rest of our Spanish group.

As we walked up to the main building, the first thing I could see was the red brick building that is all so familiar. The next thing that came to vision was the single train track that once led millions of prisoners to their death. It was clear from here this was a one-way train. Nobody was leaving.

As we walked from the top to the bottom of the rail line, on our left and right were rows upon rows of housing barracks – all identical. We later learned that these were not actually build in a way to house prisoners, but rather crush them together until it lead to their death. This camp was also a site where extensive tests and experiments were undertaken on prisoners, mostly twins (children) and women.

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The tour took us down to the very end of the train tracks where we witnessed the demolished gas chambers. At this site, there is also a monument erected to honor the victims, as well as a small memorial stone set up for all those prisoners bodies and ashes were buried and scattered on the surrounding ground.


 

WROCLAW

Facts about the city:

Wroclaw has had a long a varied history stretching back over a thousand years. For many years Wroclaw was a German city. It has also been part of the Czech Republic and Austria.

Because of the many rivers, islands, some 200 or so bridges and the sheer beauty of the city, Wroclaw has a growing reputation as the Venice of the North.

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Finally, our last stop was Wroclaw. From Auschwitz we took two trains: one from Oswiecim to Lubliniec and another from Lubliniec to Wroclaw. It took us around 4 hours to do this. In Wroclaw we stayed one night in an apartment called City Apartments Old Town I. We paid 29€ each. It was located right in the heart of the city center: Biskupia 7 Stare Miasto 50-148. The girl who gave us the keys was nice. The apartment was OK, but the decoration was weird and the WiFi was not working.

The biggest surprise for me in Wroclaw were the little Dwarfs. Mostly bronze, often cheeky, and each about a foot tall, there are more than 300 dwarfs (or krasnale) dotted about the city in various guises. It only takes a few hours of strolling around the Old Town to have the chance to meet them.

Why is there so many dwarf statues in Poland? Back in the 80’s, communism was still present in Poland and police were very strict about any sort of secret meeting and manifestation against the ruling regime. Luckily, a group of eccentric individuals began a movement called the Orange Alternative. Their strategy? Using the absurd and the nonsensical in order to avoid being arrested by the police.

Can you treat a police officer seriously when he is asking you: “Why did you participate in an illegal meeting of dwarfs?” said one of the leaders. Their tactics involved drawing dwarf graffiti on top of the anti-communist signs that were constantly painted white by the authorities. Eventually, the movement succeeded in planting the seeds of peaceful opposition and now there is a relatively big statue of a dwarf (called Papa Dwarf by the locals) standing in Wroclaw and funded by the modern-day government of Poland.

Then, in 2005, the mayor of the city of Wroclaw decided to continue the tradition of having dwarf statues and hired Tomasz Moczek, a renowned Polish sculptor, to make five small dwarf statues to adorn the main touristy sights of Wroclaw’s old town. They were an instant hit and soon the city demanded more and more dwarfs, each one representing a different profession or an aspect of everyday life. These are some of the ones I saw:

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I loved Wroclaw. It’s such a colorful cute city! We arrived at night and we went out for dinner in a fancy restaurant where we ate a lot of meat. The next day we were lucky because it didn’t rain and I was fine again. We visited Saint Mary Magdalene’s Church and we paid to go up to the Witches Bridge. It was a very good idea because the view from up there is really breathtaking!

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Then we visited the Town Hall, a really nice medieval building, In this building is also the oldest restaurant in Europe, called Piwnica Swidnicka. Some famous people ate there. It’s from the year 1200 or something like that.

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The old town of this city is amazing. The buildings are super cute. We spent a lot of time there just walking and appreciating it’s beauty.

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Then we passed Ossolineum Garden and visited the islands – Ostrow Tumski (Cathedral Island) and Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. It’s very cute the blue bridge with the love locks. After that, we returned to the old city centre (stare miastro) and had dinner in a nice restaurant in the main square.

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We took a tram to visit the Multimedia Fountain at Pergola. Before going to the airport we went to check the Pomnik Anonimowego Przechodnia statues, that looks like they are coming out from the ground, close to the train station. I really loved this trip!

 

BUDGET:

  • Flights: 98,50€
  • Accommodation: 100€
  • Flight to Warsaw: 5€ 
  • Train to Krakow: 53,50€
  • Train to Auschwitz: 8,50€
  • Train to Wroclaw: 14€

 

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