CONTRIBUTED BY MICHELLE FULLER
Krakow, Poland is a city that I am ashamed to say I never had much of a desire to visit. I didn’t know a lot about it. It is, however, now one of my top five favorite cities in Europe. When I think of Krakow now, I think of Blessed John-Paul II, the Main Market Square, St. Mary’s Cathedral, pierogi, a sobering trip to Auschwitz, and salt sculptures.
First, we found coffee, because I’m one of those people (no judgment please, I’m from Seattle). So after finding Coffee Heaven (great place, like the Starbucks of Eastern Europe), we tackled Main Market Square and Old Town. The Cloth Hall was full of beautiful and interesting souvenirs and hand carved gifts. Amber jewelry, boxes, crucifixes and more. Brett and I liked that the merchants weren’t at all aggressive. It was refreshing (and completely opposite of our experience in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul). We bought some Christmas presents for our family and a crucifix for our home and continued on our way. Well, Brett pulled me away…there were so many pretty things to look at there!
St. Mary’s Church was both inspiring and beautiful. So many of the gorgeous, old cathedrals in Europe are sadly empty, even on Sundays. This was not the case in Krakow, where 3 out of ever 4 Poles are practicing the Catholic faith according to Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe. It was rejuvenating to witness and participate in. Brett and I spent time sitting in the church and reflecting. In seeing so many people, young and old, praying in the church, I found myself rethinking all the temptations in the Cloth Hall: jewelry, souvenirs, and other things I didn’t need. Instead, we sat quietly under the starry blue ceiling (which reminded me, somewhat, of The Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame) of St. Mary’s church taking it all in.
We stopped at Blessed John Paul II‘s home church when he was Archbishop of Krakow, St. Francis’ Basilica, and then continued on to his residence, the “Archbishop’s Palace,” and his home when he would visit Krakow after becoming Pope. There is a picture of him placed over the window where he used to spend hours talking to the people below on religion, faith, and other topics. I loved imagining this. It’s no surprise he is beloved by people around the world. Some of the simplest things he did meant so much. His spirit is very much alive in this city where he spent much of his early life.
We ended the day with a visit to Wawel Castle and grounds. Despite the rain we had great views.
We set out on our second day in Krakow to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. This was something we both felt was a must. I hadn’t ever visited a concentration camp before. My mom visited Dachau when she was 19, visiting Europe with her family. She’s always conveyed the importance of remembering such a tragedy and encouraged me to do the same. I have yet to visit Dachau, but going to Auschwitz was like going to another world. A world that I can’t imagine, because I have lived such a safe and blessed life. I am very thankful that I cannot begin to understand the horrors that took place at concentration camps around Europe. But I also think it gave me a new understanding of WWII and what so many, including my grandfathers fought against. As a visual learner, the reality of what happened never felt more real. I still want to visit Dachau and I am very glad we went to Auschwitz.
Our final day in Krakow we spent slightly outside the city again, visiting the Wielicka Salt Mines 10 miles underground where we looked in amazement at works of art carved from the salt by miners. Whole chapels were constructed and are still intact and the mines still produce salt.
Krakow, Poland was a special place. Friendly people, good food (pierogi and milk bar cafeterias are a must), and a strong spirit of faith. I would love to go back someday. What are your thoughts on Poland? Have you been pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised by a city you visited? I love reading your comments!
St. Mary’s Basilica:
Monday – Saturday 1130 – 1800
Main Market Square, Kraków, Poland
St. Francis’ Basilica:
Monday – Saturday: 0940 – 1500
Sunday 1330 – 1530
Pl. Wszystkich Świętych 5
1 April – 31 October:
Tuesday – Friday: 0930 - 1700
Saturday: 1000 -1700
Sunday: 1000 – 1700
1 November – 31 March:
Tuesday – Friday: 0930 - 1600
Saturday: 0930 - 1600
Sunday: 1000 – 1600 (Free admission)
Tickets will not be issued during the last hour.
1 April – 31 October: 18 Zloty (11 Zloty for students, EU citizens, those over 65)
1 November – 31 March: 16 Zloty (9 Zloty for students, EU citizens, those over 65)
31-001 Kraków, Wawel 5
What to expect:
Tickets are printed with times and are only good for a certain time period.
You will see the staterooms, royal private apartments (only with guided tour), crown treasury, armory, and any ongoing exhibitions. Seasonally the dragon’s den, Sandomierska tower and former buildings and fortifications will also be included.
No photography, filming or cell phone use.
Admission to the cathedral is free, however if you’d like a audio guide or a ticket for the museum, bell tower and royal tombs there is an additional charge.
Seven days a week
8:00 AM - 3:00 PM December through February
8:00 AM - 4:00 PM March, November
8:00 AM - 5:00 PM April, October
8:00 AM - 6:00 PM May, September
8:00 AM - 7:00 PM June, July, August
Entrance to the museum is free, but there is a fee for the tour.
40 Zloty per adult
30 Zloty per student
Includes 4-hour tour with headphone rental and transportation to and from Birkenau.
From 1 November – 31 March the guided tours in English will be held at 1030, 1130, 1230, and 1320
From 1 April – 31 October you will need to be with a guided tour to enter the Auschwitz I Camp grounds. This does not apply to Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
April and October: The English tours are held every hour between 1030 and 1530.
May-September: The English tours are held every half hour between 0930 and 1500.
GPS coordinates: 19.20363 E, 50.0266 N
The Museum is located on the outskirts of the city of Oświęcim on national road 933 (note: entry to the parking lot is at Stanisławy Leszczyńskiej Str. no. 11)
What to expect:
Plan 90 minutes to visit Auschwitz and another 90 to visit Birkenau.
Wieliczka Salt Mine:
1 April – 31 October: 0930 – 1800
2 November – 31 March: 1000 - 1430
For the Tourist Route (There are other routes with different prices and expectations)
Adult non-Polish: 73 Zlotski
Discount (child 4-16, student with ID) non-Polish: 58 Zloty
Children under 4: free
Family (two adults with two children) non- Polish: 204 Zlotski
Tickets may also be purchased on-line
What to expect:
Tours are regularly offered in Polish. Check this site for tours in other languages including English (at least once an hour).
10 zlotski/per person if you’d like to take pictures or videos inside the mine.
Note: Michelle originally posted this article on her site, but has graciously shared it with us here as well.