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Exploring Kraków

September 20, 2015

In leaving Warsaw for Kraków, we learned that train stations are great for stocking up on essential supplies – looking at you, cold meds, vitamin C tablets, and big-and-fancy European McDonald’s lattes. (Unapologetically waving our American flag here. Oversized Normal caffeinated beverages definitely count as essential objects if/when you’re growing weary of the mini espresso thing everybody’s rocking over the pond.)

When we arrived in Kraków, we were reminded of why AirBnB (<– psst: click if you’d like to claim a free $25 credit from us!) is such an amazing option for travelers (us) exploring cities they’ve never been to before (us again). The tram we needed to take to get to the city center was inexplicably cancelled, which would have been a much bigger issue had we not had the luxury of texting our host and asking for a back-up suggestion. Having a direct line of communication with a local is by far one of the biggest advantages of choosing an AirBnB location over a hotel! Plus, how nice are these digs?

more details about the listing here if you’re interested in booking a stay! 

After checking in and deciding that we loved our location, we went to a nearby market where we motioned at the meat counter until we somehow ended up with chicken. Since our check-in day just so happened to be Taylor’s birthday, we also picked out birthday beer and chocolate in addition to our more standard supplies: bread and cheese for sandwiches, cucumber and tomatoes to slice up for breakfast, apples, chips, and few other odds and ends. In grand total, we spent less than $11 and purchased enough food to last multiple days. Taylor claims THAT was the best birthday present of all time!

neighborhood views 

TAKEAWAY TIPS: Stretch your trip budget by choosing AirBnB listings with full kitchens or selecting a hotel with a mini fridge, then shop local markets for the supplies you need to make easy meals “at home.”

the coolest of murals at a bus stop in Kraków

On our second day in Kraków we took a day trip to the Wieliczka Kopalnia salt mine. The commute was lengthy, but the sight was so worth the extra bus stops! Construction of the mine began in the 13th century and took around 700 years complete. The structure is hundreds of meters deep and primarily built from pine wood, which would have made the tour down into the depths extremely scary except for the fact that, through the years, the wood has been petrified by salt and basically turned into stone. (Can you tell we were taking notes on our tour?)

It was difficult to believe that the walls, floors, bas relief sculptures, and even the chandeliers were all made from salt until Taylor took a lick of the wall and confirmed that the substance was indeed that which we sprinkle on our eggs in the mornings. As for the stunning figures in the chapel? They were sculpted by “amateur” artists throughout the 17th and 18th centuries as an act of after-work devotion to God!

After venturing outside the city limits of Kraków to see the salt mine, day three demanded a walking tour of nearby Old Town Kraków and Wawel Royal Castle. It was very cool to walk the medieval square (the oldest one in Europe!) in Old Town, and we truly enjoyed every aspect of our Wawel Castle experience as well.

medieval square + old town

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wawel royal castle views

Note to other travelers: Early arrival is recommended at Wawel as a limited number of tickets are made available for each exhibit. Since we got a late start, we missed out on seeing the Royal Apartments. However, we did catch the “Lost Wawel” (featuring artifacts such as medieval shoes and ornate stove tiles), the Treasury and Armory rooms (which included goblets made of conch shell with gold stems, Turkish riding adornments captured during battle, a coronation sword, and jeweled broaches), and the State Rooms (picture apartments and ballrooms covered in ornate leather wallpaper, writing desks crafted from ebony and tortoise shell, and enormous tapestries depicting Noah’s ark hanging in the same place they were 400 years ago).

Afterward, we ate at a Polish pierogi restaurant that we thought/hoped was semi-authentic until we bit into the center of a dumpling as cold as the freezer we can only assume it came from. That being said, the traditional sour soup with egg was delicious and earned back a few points on our Four Square review. Still, if we could do it over again, we probably would have just eaten at one of the wooden stalls in the Old Town square serving up fresh veggies, dumplings, and chicken roasting over an open flame.

TAKEAWAY TIPS: Research the sites you want to see in advance so that you’re aware of any special ticketing policies. Even though we were aware of Wawel’s ticket limitations, we assumed we’d be able to see whatever we wanted since we were traveling during shoulder season…a mistake on our part. Also, if a restaurant looks kinda kitschy, chances are that it’s, well, kinda kitschy. Pass on it and look for options slightly outside the city center to save dollars (and regrets).

That’s all for our time in Kraków!


Check-ins Europe Hotel Places

Just Checked-in: Warsaw, Poland

September 13, 2015

Fun fact: To date, Warsaw is the only city on our 2.5 month backpacking trip through Eastern Europe where we pre-booked our hotel more than two days in advance. (What can we say? We like to keep our itinerary flexible!) We selected the Ibis Hotel due to its affordable price and proximity to Warsaw’s Old Town. While it quickly became clear to us that Ibis is geared more toward those on business trips rather than backpackers (AKA we saw a lot of people in suits and/or on their phones and looking official in the lobby), the accommodation choice actually worked great for us since we take our business on the road with us!

Our first day in Warsaw began with breakfast at To Lubię café, which we stumbled upon thanks to a prominent chalkboard sign advertising our most needed commodity at that point: caffeine! One pot of lavender tea and two platters of warm bread, fresh veggies, meat, cheese, and a local spread of eggs and ham later, we left the café to explore Old Town.

The Royal Castle was amazing, and for whatever reason, admission was free on the day of our tour! While the rooms and regal trappings were impressive, we were most amazed by the fact that the entire castle was completely reconstructed in the 1970s and 1980s following its total destruction during World War II.

For dinner, we turned to Four Square and discovered Z Gara I Pieca, which was possibly the most uniquely-decorated restaurant of all time – it felt like eating inside a coloring book! After a long day of walking around the city, the whole meat-and-potatoes thing had a really nice ring to it. We ordered goulash and some sort of meat pies that were like a fancy Polish version of Hot Pockets (thought of you, Jim Gaffigan), then headed back to our hotel to put in a few hours of work. Day one, complete!

On our second day in Poland we took a morning bus ride to Wilanow Palace and returned to Warsaw to visit the POLIN museum of Jewish history in the afternoon. While both tours were fascinating, we definitely crammed too much into just one day. To fully absorb and appreciate the POLIN museum – which covers thousands of years of Jewish history and continues the narrative through the present day – would take a lifetime. Two hours hardly did it justice. Four would have been better. All day would have been best.

That’s all for our time in Warsaw!