This morning we leave behind the city of Vienna and continue the Topdeck Mega European Tour by making our way further north into the country of Poland stopping over in the city of Krakow for two nights, along the way we stop at Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp set up during World War II.
09 June, 2012 – Vienna to Krakow
Today we are off to our next country in Europe leaving behind the stunning city of Vienna and heading towards Poland and the city of Krakow. Getting to Krakow today means that we will first have to travel through the Czech Republic, so technically today we can say we are visiting three countries, but the only stop we will be making the the Czech Republic for now is just a rest stop along the way.
Our first official stop will be in the Polish town of Auschwitz, a town with a troubled past and the most recognised when it came to the atrocious crimes committed during World War II during the holocaust years.
The Auschwitz concentration camp is a Topdeck optional extra so if you don’t think you are up to the whole thing then you do not have to go in, however you do not really have any other option to do anything else as the coach takes everyone here and there isn’t anywhere else to go, so you are best to participate in this activity, one that is well worth it.
On arrival at the concentration camp we head inside to the main foyer where our tickets are purchased and we pick up an audio headset which our tour guide for the afternoon uses to speak to us. Most of the time we are walking through the grounds and inside buildings so the group gets quite spread out so this made the tour a lot more practical around the camp.
We are taken around the various buildings of the concentration camp and are told stories of what exactly happened here leaving no graphic detail untold from the use of gas chambers to the use of a wall between two of the houses where a firing squad would execute prisoners. In this particular location where the prisoners were told to line up between the two houses the windows of the two buildings were blocked out so other prisoners would not know what was going on right on the authorised of the wall.
There are many displays containing the belongings of the people who were transported to the camp, a whole room dedicated to the suitcases people used, another room dedicated to the thousands of shoes collected and even a very graphic room which is full of the hair cut off all the prisoners.
After looking around the main concentration camp we all then hopped back on the coach and were taken further down the road to another camp where prisoners were initially taken before being segregated. They would be transported here on train with one side of the camp set aside for women and the other side set aside for men.
While today wasn’t exactly an exciting day it was well worth coming here to learn about an important part about world history and the impact the crimes of World War II had not only here in this region but the impact it had for the entire world. After looking around some of the huts here that have been reconstructed for people like us to learn about the camp, we headed back to the coach and started to make our way towards Krakow.
When we arrived into Krakow we checked into our hotel for the next two nights which is called Quality System Hotel Krakow, it is located on the outskirts of the city along a major road with a Shell Petrol Station right out the front and an IKEA right across the road. Tonight we have an included dinner in the hotel restaurant and then the rest of the night is ours to do what we like. We all opted to head out tonight and caught several taxis into the centre of the city, however there wasn’t very good communication and a whole heap of us got lost. Adding to this it started to pour with rain and we were drenched trying to find the place we were all going to meet.
Two of us broke away from the main group that were lost and we decided to go and check out some of the bars before going for a stroll through the main square called Rynek Glowny and walking to the other side of the old town. From here we caught a taxi back to the hotel, an hour or so later everyone started coming back to the hotel to call it a night. On a plus side we discovered that Chuck Norris is the face of a bank over here, is there anything this man can’t do?
10 June, 2012 – Krakow
Today is a our free day to explore Krakow and as we are a a bit of a distance out of town we need to catch a bus into the city with the bus stop being near the hotel and opposite an IKEA. For some strange reason I just wanted to go into IKEA, but I can do that at home. After trying to figure out which side of the road we needed to catch the bus from, we finally figured it out translating the stop names with the information we had to try and make our way to Wawel Castle.
Once we arrived into the city it was a pretty horrible day weather wise, it was probably the worst we had weather wise for the whole trip so far and so while walking towards the castle we bought the last two umbrellas being sold at a small stall along the way. We went inside the castle where you can pay to see as many or as little of the attractions you like.
You can spend all day exploring the many nooks of the castle, we check out the Polish Crown Jewels and checked out the caves under the castle which lead you out an exit of the castle, so make sure to leave this until last or you will have to walk all the way round to get back in.
From here we went and checked out the Jewish Quarter of the city, this was a segregated area of the city during World War II as large walls were build around the area to contain the Jewish people. There are many things to see around here, we just opted to have a leisurely stroll around the area before making our way to the coach that was waiting to pick us up to take those of us who opted to check out the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is not an additional Topdeck optional extra but our tour leader decided to include it and I’m certainly glad that she did as this place is amazing. The mine is still a working salt mine, however most of the income comes from the thousands of tourists that come to visit the vast and extensive network of caves, shafts and extravagant rooms hundreds of metres under the surface.
We managed to get one of the last tours of the day, so most of the crowd had left the mine for the day and our guide took us around the many rooms which have been set up. A massive church with extravagant chandeliers has been built along with many statues of people, animals and religious figures have been carved out of the salt laden rock.
There are so many rooms and shafts to explore in the mine that we simply didn’t have enough time to explore it all, there is even an underground lake where a small show is put on where you are supposed to make a wish. Towards the end there is also a small church dedicated to the late Polish Pope, John Paul II. Of course no tourist attraction would be complete without the obligatory gift shop, but this gift shop is underground and surrounded by salt, so they have a point of difference.
After we were finished at the salt mine we were taken back into the city where we were left to fend for ourselves to organise some dinner. We spotted a restaurant earlier in the day that we wanted to go back to, so we headed straight there, ate dinner and headed back to the coach to take us back to the hotel. It was an early night tonight, tomorrow we are off to the Czech Republic and its capital city Prague.
DOWNLOAD: Topdeck Krakow City Guide