KrakowAugust 19 in Poland
I left with mixed feelings about Krakow. On one hand it is an undeniably beautiful city, but on the other, like so many beautiful cities further west it has been long discovered and thus overrun by hordes of tourists. This was only made worse by the fact that half of Poland was on holidays this week due to the Wednesday public holiday. If I thought the crowds in Warsaw were too much, Krakow was something else, which severely tested both my patience and reinforced my unabiding hatred hatred of organised tour groups.
This hatred came back to bite me on my second day in Krakow as I tried to get to Auschwitz. Every second person in town was selling package tours to Auschwitz, offering the same generic overpriced package. I’ve never been a fan of tours, but especially for visiting somewhere like Auschwitz, which for me would be a deeply personal and confronting experience, being stuck with a large number of mindless drones and passionless tour guide sounded like my idea of personal hell. Instead I took the independent option and grabbed a 2 hour local bus from Krakow to Auschwitz, arriving with a sinking heart to find a huge car park full of coaches and tour groups being corralled. Things only got worse as I ventured further in and saw the line to get individual tickets. It was 10am and the line must have stretched over 500 metres and showed little sign of movement, as tour group after tour group wandered straight to the front and through the gates. A couple of enquiries later confirmed that the wait was close to 4 hours for individuals, but that if I was happy to sign up then and there for a guided tour with any one of the many touts I’d be able to skip the queue. Faced with the prospect of selling out on my principles and seeing the place I had come so far to see I chose instead to shoot myself in the foot and headed back to Krakow. To be honest, despite wasting my day, I’m happy with my choice. I’ve been to concentration camps at various locations in Europe in the past and so I knew what to expect, and the prospect of going through that experience while being jostled by crowds and rushed by guides is not how I wish to pay my respects and reflect on one of the worlds darkest periods.
It was a similar experience back in Kraków as I was frustrated in my attempts to get into various attractions, such as Schindler’s factory and the very impressive Krakow castle. Not that all was lost though, there was a Pierogi festival on for the length of my stay, so I ate my body weight in dumplings and once I got outside of old town and the crowds started thinning I discovered another fantastically vibrant city full of parks, life, street food and the very characterful Jewish district, which has remained largely untouched.Read more