Poland, May 2023


Angela and I recently returned from a trip to Poland, spending twelve days exploring as much of the country as we reasonably could. We visited Warsaw, Gdansk, Poznan, and Krakow during our tour of Angela’s cultural homeland, yet there remains so much for us to see on a return trip in the future.

Returning to Europe at the end of our extended New Zealand flight itinerary, we needed to decide where to go after terminating in Paris. Poland was an obvious choice. It had been on our list to visit for quite some time and the trip would be especially meaningful for Angela because she grew up in a home imbued with Polish traditions. Her great-grandmother and great-grandfather were both Polish-born and immigrated to the United States of America after World War II.

Bookings

As previously mentioned, both in this post and others involving the itinerary, I booked us flights to New Zealand with Paris as the origin. The start of this trip was us flying the segments returning us to Paris from Las Vegas. Knowing we were flying to Europe, it was just a question of how to hop to our final destination, where to stay, and how to get home.

Flights

Flights within Europe have always been fairly cheap in my experience, but we ended up paying much more than I anticipated to fly from Paris to Warsaw (in economy, no less). I booked a fully refundable ticket with the intention of either rebooking a lower-priced ticket as we firmed up plans or having Air France open up award availability. The specific flight I booked was the most convenient as it was a non-stop and didn’t require an eight hour layover in Paris like the much later LOT Polish Airlines flight did.

Unfortunately, the price of the flight only went up from my original booking. Eventually, even the most restrictive fare bucket was priced higher than the fully refundable flight that we had scheduled. Also, award availability on Air France at the lowest rates never opened up, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of paying non-saver rates through Air France’s award program.

On the positive side, our return flights were about as close to ideal as I could have hoped. The later flight out of Krakow was much better than the alternative, an 0600 flight that would have required a very early morning, and the direct flight from Amsterdam to Las Vegas is probably the single most convenient and comfortable option for us returning from Europe. While the fuel surcharges and taxes levied by Air France aren’t great, I’m happy to pay them for the convenience. In fact, we’ll be flying the opposite way on the same flight in a few months.

  • Angela and Nicholas
    • 715.33USD per person (distance-prorated cash fare of 3,062.94USD for complex itinerary) per person
      • LAS-SFO on UA J
      • SFO-CDG on UA J
    • 290.36EUR per person
      • CDG-WAW on AF Y
    • 68,000 Flying Blue miles + 265.38USD per person
      • KRK-AMS on KL J
      • AMS-LAS on KL J

Hotels

For our lodgings, we attempted to prioritize convenience and location while using our considerable Hilton Honors Points balance. The only non-points reservation was our hotel in Warsaw which we booked through the Fine Hotels & Resorts program to use up some lingering credit card benefits.

Buses and Railways

We booked our bus and railway tickets the night before we were scheduled to move from one city to another. This backfired a bit on us for the Poznan to Krakow leg, but we adjusted as necessary and I don’t regret the just-in-time booking strategy we took.

  • Rail travel from Warsaw to Gdansk (2nd class, EIP) for 169.00PLN per person
  • Rail travel from Gdansk to Poznan (2nd class, IC) for 49.00PLN per person
  • Rail travel from Poznan to Krakow (1st class, IC) for 77.00PLN per person
  • Bus travel from Krakow to Auschwitz return for 68.40PLN per person

May 18, 2023

As with most of our travel, this trip started by dropping Fitz off at his boarding facility before driving to the airport, finding a parking spot, and proceeding through security. We stopped at the Centurion Lounge to grab a bite to eat and were happy to be able to enter without placing our names on a waiting list. It feels like Centurion Lounge access is actually a useful benefit of the Platinum Card again.

Our flight to SFO was short and uneventful. Interestingly, we were put on a non-retrofitted United Airlines 777 for the short hop, with business class seats configured 8-across. It was the first time I’ve ever flown a plane like that. I would rate it as more comfortable than your typical domestic first-class recliner, especially if you’re traveling with a partner, but would not prefer it long-haul when compared to other products with direct aisle access.

Once we landed, we walked to the Centurion Lounge to while away the relatively short connection. The SFO lounge expansion seems to have worked wonders as we haven’t been faced with a waiting list on any of our recent visits. When our boarding time rolled around, we proceeded to the gate and patiently waited for our group to be called.

Onboard, we both skipped meal service and attempted to sleep as much as possible before arriving in Paris. To be honest, the flight timing leaves a bit to be desired as it is very hard to rest well when you’re departing in the middle of the afternoon.

The United Airlines hard product remains very nice while the service on this particular flight was about standard for an American carrier. Meal service took a while, and the lights were only dimmed about three-and-a-half hours after takeoff.

May 19, 2023

We landed in Paris on time and cleared immigration and customs without any hassle and very little wait. Walking from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2, we printed our Air France boarding passes, checked our bags (we were flying on an A220 and they were definitely not going to fit in the overhead bin), and proceeded through security to find our gate.

After arriving at our small departure concourse, we did a few laps before grabbing an espresso and pastry from the closest Starbucks. We only had to wait about forty minutes before boarding our flight and enjoyed a pleasant two-hour cruise to Poland. With seats arranged in a 2-3 layout in economy, we were able to enjoy our time together without rubbing shoulders with another passenger. Interestingly, the brioche, butter, and ham sandwich served on the flight was better tasting than any meal I’ve ever eaten on a United long-haul flight.

When we arrived in Warsaw, we decided to take an Uber from the airport to our hotel. Unfortunately, we seemed to encounter the worst of Warsaw’s rush hour traffic and it took us over an hour to arrive at our destination.

We checked in, confirmed the benefits for our stay, and settled into our room. It was quite nice with a comfortable bed, sitting area, and excellent shower.

After such a long day of travel, we decided to take it easy and order room service to use up the dining credit included with our stay. We split a Caesar salad, Angela ordered the Bristol burger, and I opted for the steak sandwich. The easy and delicious meal was just what we needed in advance of an early night’s sleep.

May 20, 2023

We started our day with a delicious breakfast and some interesting conversation with another American visiting Poland named Jim. We learned (five times) that he knows the American ambassador to Poland during our brief interaction – I hope he enjoyed the remainder of his stay in Warsaw, deploying his venture capital in whatever way he felt was appropriate, but I’m glad we didn’t see him at breakfast again.

Leaving the hotel, we walked to the entrance to the Saxon Gardens, taking some pictures of the Smolensk Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by members of the Polish military.

After failing to locate a public transit ticket machine, we set off on a long walk to Lazienski Park, stopping to grab some photos of several notable statues and buildings. Our first stop was the extremely expressive Nicolaus Copernicus statue.

We then walked past Holy Cross Church which contains urns housing the hearts of notable Poles.

Our next stop was the Palace of Culture and Science, built by Stalin as an exemplar of the socialist reconstruction of Warsaw. I personally love the building’s aesthetic and we paused for a few pictures of the exterior given that it is in active use as a convention center these days.

As we concluded our walk to our destination, we sauntered by a telephone and radio building of some sort that I loved the look of as well as some interesting concert posters.

Inside the park, we spent an hour just strolling about, taking in the various buildings and sculptures, including the Chopin Monument and the Palace on the Isle.

After leaving the park, we found a ticket machine and took our first public transit in Poland to the Wilanów Palace of John III Sobieski.

Angela purchased timed tickets for entrance to the palace and we walked around the grounds until we were allowed to enter.

The palace interior was just as grand as the exterior.

When we were finished with the palace interior, we explored the second half of the grounds.

We were hungry when we departed the palace and took the bus to, apparently, the best pierogi shop in Warsaw. We were dismayed to find that they were closed, not just for the night, but for the entirety of our time in the city. With a resigned determination, we walked to an old-fashioned bar mleczny (milk bar) named Bar Gdanski, passing the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes along the way.

The food at the milk bar was quick, cheap, and filling. The taste was somewhat mediocre, but we went into the meal knowing that was likely to be the case.

We did a bit more sightseeing as we walked back to the hotel, stopping briefly at a park that follows a partial outline of the Warsaw Ghetto and viewing the Krasinski Palace and Warsaw Uprising Monument before walking through the old town.

In the old town, we saw the Little Insurgent statue, a statue portraying the Mermaid of Warsaw, the royal castle courtyard and exterior, Sigismund III’s column, and statues of Adam Mickiewicz and Josef Poniatowski.

After a busy first day, we finally returned to the hotel where we got some much-needed sleep.

May 21, 2023

Luckily, we didn’t have any issues with chatty neighbors at breakfast on our second morning in Warsaw and were able to hit the streets quite early.

From the hotel, we walked to the George Patton Enbankment along the Vistula River before walking along the river to the see a famous Mermaid of Warsaw statue.

We retraced our steps to stop at the Warsaw University Library Garden, a beautiful green space that stretches from street level to the roof of the University Library. Our time there was quite peaceful and I’m glad that Angela made a note for us to visit.

After a brief stop at the hotel to refill our water, we continued to the Warsaw Uprising Museum where we spent the majority of our day. The museum tells an incredible story of resistance against the evils of Nazi Germany’s occupation during World War II. The ending is not a happy one, but I think it is easy to be inspired by the average Poles who combined forces with remnants of the Polish military apparatus to fight against onerous oppression. This is a must-visit for anyone in Warsaw, in our opinions.

Shortly after we entered the museum, Angela helped a woman from Canada locate her husband. Watch out for your older white guys getting lost in history museums, ladies!

After exiting the museum, we explored the grounds, including a relocated Nazi bunker, a reconstruction of the Polish resistance’s only scratch-made armored vehicle, and various memorials.

We returned to the hotel via the metro, which was clean and easy to navigate.

When we arrived, we worked out in the nicely appointed hotel gym before ordering room service and relaxing for the rest of the night.

May 22, 2023

Waking up a bit early, we decided to hit the gym. After our workout and a quick breakfast, we walked through the old town to grab some pictures without the mass of people that were present on our earlier visit.

While we were out, we bought a couple of transit tickets at a convenient machine and stopped for snacks at a local convenience store. As always, Angela was excited about her haul of local delicacies.

We packed up and checked out before catching a bus to Warsaw Central. There, we boarded a train to Gdansk Main. For this train journey, only, we were lucky enough to ride on an Express InterCity Premium train, the best type operating in Poland.

After a three-and-a-half hour ride, we were in Gdansk. We walked from the train station to our hotel and were able to check in immediately.

After freshening up, we walked along the waterfront to the long market where we turned right to enjoy one of the most notable tourist attractions in Gdansk. Unfortunately for us, much of the riverfront that we walked along, together with parts of the National Maritime Museum, were under construction. We did our best to snap a few pictures showing the beauty of the area, though.

Halfway down the long market, we stopped at the Museum of Gdansk that is located inside the former Town Hall. We saw a small collection of historical artifacts, restored rooms, and some interesting exhibits on the history of Gdansk and what day-in-the-life would look like for an average citizen.

We continued walking down the long market on our way to the the Museum of Amber.

We were lucky enough to be visiting on a day with free entry and were able to secure our complimentary tickets at the entrance before touring the exhibition. To be quite frank, the museum was a little bit of a letdown as an adult visitor and should be skipped unless you’re with children or are very excited by the formation and shaping of amber.

After leaving the museum, we made our way to St. Bridget’s Church, famous for its amber altar and nationalist bent. We are glad to have visited as the altar did not disappoint and the various memorials and epitaphs were quite fascinating.

Moving on, we walked to Restauracja Bazar where we enjoyed a hearty meal of salmon tartar, żurek, fried cod, and wild boar. We loved the dishes and strongly recommend a visit to anyone looking for a nice place to eat along the river in Gdansk.

After our savory delights, we visited Fabrica del Gelato for some deliciously creamy scoops of authentically Italian dessert.

May 23

We ate a somewhat mediocre breakfast after waking up early in preparation for a long day. The available dishes were fair at best and the coffee was so bad that neither of us bothered drinking any. For a property advertised as a five-star hotel, we expected more from the Hilton Gdansk.

After breakfast, we walked to the Museum of the 2nd World War, arriving right as it opened. We purchased our tickets and secured our audio guides before proceeding into the exhibition. Interestingly, and this was a first for us, the audio guides were location based, automatically playing as you wandered through the exhibition and providing audible signals as to where to go next.

Coming from a couple that has both read and watched a large amount of material about World War II, the museum was a bit light on new material. We saw a small selection of interesting artifacts, but the narrative about the rise of fascism and totalitarianism is something we are very familiar with at this point. In addition, the audio guide was not configured very well and would refuse to play new segments where appropriate. I often found myself walking out of a room before hearing the narration concerning said room.

From our perspective, this is a good local museum and great for children, but does not rise to the level of a must-visit for tourists otherwise familiar with the progression of World War II. To be fair, and to the site’s credit, it did relate the fact that basically every combatant, even the Polish victims of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, did terrible things to some group of people that they were primed to persecute. Of course, the scale is quite different in many cases, but it is an important note that you don’t often see in war museums.

When we left the museum, we walked to Pierogarnia Mandu to meet up with Ewelina and her dachshund Pretzel as part of our worldwide dachshund community tour. Our late lunch was delicious and we loved hanging out with a local. She gave us tons of great recommendations and a local perspective on a lot of the things that we read about second-hand, including Polish politics, with which we are only vaguely familiar.

The pierogi we chose for lunch were filled with roasted boar, sauerkraut and mushroom, and seafood. I was partial to the roasted boar, but they were all delicious.

Ewelina was kind enough to gift us several varieties of delicious gingerbread treats from her hometown, Torun, along with a bottle of Goldwasser, a locally renowned alcohol. I’ve been devouring the gingerbread ever since.

After taking leave of our new Polish friend, we walked back to the same gelato shop we’d visited the night before to enjoy a delicious dessert before returning to the hotel.

May 24

After a quick breakfast, we walked to St. Catherine’s Church and took a few pictures of the exterior before popping inside for a quick look. It is a beautiful building and worth a visit.

We stopped at Dobra Paczkarnia (our first of many visits) for some absolutely delicious Polish doughnuts before swinging by Mr. and Mrs. Coffee for excellent flat whites. After procuring our treats, we visited a park to enjoy them.

After finishing our morning sweets, we walked to the European Solidarity Center. We started our visit by admiring the copious monuments dedicated to the men and women who resisted the totalitarian communist regime of the Polish People’s Republic. We also observed the museum’s facade, explicitly reminiscent of the construction that you’d see in a working shipyard.

The museum tells the story of Solidarność, the nonviolent movement led by trade unionists in Poland throughout the 1980s in the fight against totalitarian communism. I believe this is one of the best museums we’ve ever been to and would encourage anyone in the region to visit in order to see the artifacts and read the story behind them. It was truly inspirational to me and, as an added bonus, filled in the backstory as to why every Polish person we know loves Pope John Paul II so much.

After the main exhibition, we took an elevator to an observation area on the roof of the building where the surrounding shipyards can be observed while their location and history are put into context by the audio guide.

When we finished at the museum, we ate a small snack in the attached cafe to power up.

We walked to Góra Gradowa, a scenic viewpoint featuring a large sculpture in the form of a cross. We then walked around a nearby park that used to be a Polish Army fortress.

On the way back to our hotel, we grabbed some snacks for the following day’s train ride.

We decided to eat dinner at Półpiętro because Angela found that they had good reviews for their czernina (duck blood soup). On the way there, we stopped at the Gdansk sign for a little photoshoot and were lucky enough to avoid the hordes of people usually surrounding it.

Dinner was delicious, especially the czernina, and we returned to the hotel full and happy on our final night in Gdansk.

May 25

After a quick breakfast, we walked to the train station to start our journey to Poznan. The train we rode on was an older model with seats arranged in groups of six with three seats facing each other in a small cab. It was not the most comfortable way to ride for multiple hours, but we made do.

Once we arrived in Poznan, we walked to our hotel where we were informed there were no rooms available and we couldn’t be checked in early. We were then summarily dismissed. I asked if we could just store our bags and come back to check in later, which we were able to do.

Upon leaving the hotel, we immediately stopped for the local delicacy, rogal świętomarciński (St. Martin’s Croissant), at Cukiernia Karpicko. We recommend prioritizing this food while you’re in Poznan as it was absolutely scrumptious!

We walked to Adam Mickiewicz Park where we admired the June 1956 Monument, an outstanding piece that commemorates the Poznan uprising in the titular month that was brutally crushed by the communist regime.

After walking around the park for a few minutes, we moved on to the Poznan Imperial Castle for a self-guided audio tour. First, we took some pictures of the exterior.

The castle has an interesting history, as it essentially has no claim to Polish provenance at all. It was built for the last German emperor, Wilhelm II, as a very sparingly used residence. The actual reason for its construction was to remind the local populace who their ruler was.

After World War I, Poznan reverted to being part of the newly reconstituted Polish state and was used as the residence of the Chief of State and later President of Poland. Following the annexation of Poland by Nazi Germany, the palace was refurbished by Nazi architects to serve as one of Hitler’s residences, although there is no indication he ever stayed there and it was primarily used as the headquarters of the administrator of the surrounding lands, Arthur Geiser, the aptly named butcher of Poznan.

Given all of this, the architecture, both inside and out, is quite a bit different than one would expect. We really enjoyed our time at the castle and believe it is worth a visit.

Upon departure, we walked through the city on the way to Citadel Park. During our journey, we saw the old town walls that have been somewhat restored.

Once we arrived at the park, we strolled around the grounds, taking in the various statuary and memorials. The park hosts a monument dedicated to the Soviet Red Army and a Red Army soldiers’ graveyard. As you might expect, the monument was vandalized, and the graveyard seemed to be completely untended. In addition to those two oddities, though, there are several understated pieces including the Monument to Polish Heroes and the Peace Bell.

Exiting the park, we walked past the Poznan War Memorial, a well-done piece commemorating the soldiers who have fought to keep the area free.

At this point, we continued into the old town and were immediately confronted by the fact that the entire area was under construction. While Angela was able to take a few pictures of the famous town hall, we were disappointed to find nearly every road ripped up with all of the most famous attractions closed or covered up.

After leaving the old town, we walked to the Poznan Cathedral to admire the extremely pink facade from multiple angles.

We stopped at the Poznan Goats Statue where Angela took a fabulous picture of yours truly.

For dinner, we stopped at Pierogarnia Pierożak for a delicious selection of dumplings including roasted duck, sauerkraut and mushroom, minced meat, veal, baked apple, billberry (European blueberry) and cheese, and cherry. They were scrumptious alongside a couple of servings of fried onions and sour cream.

We returned to the hotel to collect our bags and check in. Our room was on the small side, but it was clean and well-maintained with no reason for complaints. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this Hampton Inn.

After settling in for the night we decided to buy our train tickets to Krakow for the following day. Our plan was to spend the morning at Poznan Cathedral before continuing on our journey. We found out this wouldn’t be possible because every train from Poznan to Krakow leaving after 0900 was sold out. A bit disappointed, we decided we had no choice but to book an early morning train and come back to the city to see the cathedral in the future. Because the early trains didn’t have any second-class seats together, we decided to splurge for first class on the six-and-a-half hour train ride.

May 26

After a surprisingly high-quality breakfast, we walked to the train station and settled in for the long journey to Krakow. With little of visual interest, we both listened to audiobooks for the majority of the journey while enjoying some of the snacks we’d accumulated over the course of our travels. Given the flat, featureless landscape reminiscent of Indiana, it’s no wonder so many Polish immigrants settled in the Midwest.

When we arrived in Krakow, we walked through a mall attached to the main train station before heading into the old town on the way to our hotel. The Hotel Saski is located in an ideal location for a typical tourist visit to Krakow, about a block away from the main square in the old town with easy access to the rest of the city by foot and public transit. The room was well-appointed with a great bed and shower.

After dropping our bags off and filling up our water bottles, we walked around the town square, listened to St Mary’s Trumpet Call as the hour turned, spotted the rusted knife of legend in the cloth hall, and took a walk to the old city walls and the last standing barbican in the city.

Angela did an excellent job directing us to each of the major sights, but a local bird took exception to her excellent tourism services and pooped on her, the second time this happened on our trip!

We returned to the hotel to freshen up and ordered room service to cap a long day of travel and tourism.

May 27

Breakfast at Hotel Saski used high-quality ingredients, but the food served on the buffet tended towards the cooler side of lukewarm, unfortunately. That being said, we enjoyed a hearty morning meal before setting out to spend the day at Wawel Castle.

Because we wanted to see everything, we purchased the Wawel Castle from A to Z ticket type and separately secured an audio guide once we arrived at the castle. The ticket type we purchased was well worth the price as we spent literally all day at the castle complex.

We visited the treasury and armory first, where we saw some of the few remaining items from the medieval and renaissance era Polish court. Unfortunately, Poland’s royal heritage was purposely erased by the countries that took part in the various Polish partitions over the years so there aren’t many treasures left intact. The most important exception is Szczerbiec, the sword used in Polish coronations.

After leaving the armory, we visited the royal state rooms, fantastically decorated with various friezes, tapestries, and well-maintained furnishings.

The special exhibition following the state rooms was Art of the Orient: Ottomon Turkish Tents which featured items procured through trade as well as some captured during the Battle of Vienna by John III Sobieski’s forces. In addition to the tents, the exhibition contained some examples of Turkish-style armor and artwork depicting the events of the aforementioned battle.

We stopped in the Church of Saint Gereon, a partially restored place of worship, but did not take any pictures as it wasn’t very visually interesting. We re-entered the palace complex and visited the first-floor galleries which offered pleasant views of the courtyard and surrounding area. Unfortunately, the maintainers of the grounds have put netting up in the gallery area which distorts photos a little bit.

We then backtracked to visit the opulent royal private apartments. It is always interesting visiting royal residences because you can see just how much splendor the court lived in, especially compared to the average human being (then and now).

With that, we finished the main castle complex and walked to the royal gardens featuring a few sculptures from a renowned contemporary artist. To be quite frank, the gardens felt a bit lackluster compared to those of other European monarchies. It isn’t that the flowers weren’t beautiful, more that the grounds were not quite as extensive as we’ve come to expect.

At this point, we purchased tickets and an audio guide for the Wawel Cathedral and Pope John Paul II Cathedral Museum and transitioned from the secular to the religious. The Wawel Cathedral is beautiful in its own way, but we’ve seen so many fantastic Catholic churches in our various travels that there wasn’t much to make it stand out. It was interesting to see the location that Pope John Paul II presided over during his time as the Archbishop of Krakow.

The best part of the cathedral, in my opinion, was the crypt underneath containing the first altar that Pope John Paul II said mass at as well as memorials and remains of notable Poles. We particular enjoyed the climb through the bell tower.

The cathedral museum holds a number of interesting artifacts and is worth a visit, especially given it is so small that you can complete a near-comprehensive tour in about an hour.

Returning to the castle, we visited three more locations. First, we visited The Lost Wawel, a partially excavated set of ruins from a much older version of the castle complex.

Next, we ascended one of the remaining original towers to enjoy the view over greater Krakow.

Finally, we exited Wawel Castle via the Dragon’s Den, an underground passageway dug right through the rocky ground that deposits you on the outside of the castle walls.

We loved our visit to Wawel Castle and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of Poland and viewing some of the few remaining artifacts from the golden age of the Polish state.

After exiting, we spent a few minutes walking along the Vistula River (much nicer looking in Krakow than Warsaw, by the way) before deciding it was time for dinner. We headed to Mirror Bistro for another hearty Polish dinner. We both ordered a bowl of żurek and then split the sauerkraut and mushroom, minced beef and chicken, and “Krakow” (potato, chives, and bacon) pierogi. For dessert, we enjoyed the plum, billbery, cherry, and “apple pie” pierogi.

After dinner, we wandered back to the hotel. After letting my food settle, I headed down to hotel gym. Much to my surprise, the gym had a ton of interesting equipment, including speed ropes and agility ladders, which I really appreciated. Hotel Saski definitely had the best gym of any of the property on this trip and I’m glad that Angela and I got to make use of it.

May 28

After a breakfast consisting exclusively of cold dishes (even the eggs, unfortunately), we made our way to Dobra Paczkarnia for a much-needed pick-me-up before continuing our day. Afterwards, we bought transit tickets, ventured to the tram stop, and got on the tram to take us to the Polish Aviation Museum, our destination for the day. Unfortunately, we ended up going in the wrong direction.

Hopping off at the next step, we retraced our steps to a different tram stop and were on our way. After disembarking from public transit, we walked a quarter of a mile to the museum and started our visit.

The aviation museum was fantastic, and we loved every moment there. There are so many planes exhibited, many the last remaining example of a particular type, that it was an absolutely delightful experience and someplace I’d recommend to any aviation enthusiast. Rather than attempt to walk you through the museum, please enjoy this selection of photos from the six hours we spent looking at aircraft and their engines.

Upon leaving the museum, we walked through a nearby park and past some interesting art celebrating Mexican-Polish connections before continuing in the direction of our hotel.

For dinner, we stopped at Pierogarnia Krakowiacy. We enjoyed rosol, smalec (flavored lard served with pickles), and sauerkraut with mushroom, minced pork, and “Krakow” (cheese, onion, and sauerkraut) pierogi. We ordered so much food that we actually had to switch from a two-person table to a four-person table when it all arrived.

Having consumed so much, we walked to the town square to get a little bit of exercise before settling in for the night. Doing so, we happened upon some type of traditional Polish folk dancing which we stopped to watch for about twenty minutes.

May 29

After the best breakfast of our stay at Hotel Saski, featuring naleśniki made at Angela’s request, we took the tram to the former location of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp. We spent the morning exploring the grounds of the labor-camp turned death-camp, reading the placards and looking at the monuments that have been erected. It was a somewhat surreal experience to walk around the idyllic grasslands that make up the park and understand it was the site of mass death and horror.

We found it interesting that old Nazi barracks were left intact across the street from apartments that were obviously built after the war, probably within the last twenty years.

Leaving the main area of the concentration camp, we entered a now-unused quarry that acted as a hard labor worksite for denizens of the camp. Our entrance was made through a slit cut in a chain-link fence and we slowly made our way around the rim before ending up by a set of structures previously used for material storage and processing. Interestingly, part of Schindler’s List was filmed in this quarry.

We left the quarry via the official entrance and walked to the Krakus Mound for some beautiful views over the city.

Leaving the mound, we walked to a reconstructed piece of the old ghetto wall.

Then, we proceeded to Saint Joseph’s church to capture an unimpeded shot of the exterior. The plaza in front of the structure makes for one of the best photo opportunities we saw in Krakow.

Finally, we made our way to the Ghetto Heroes Square where we admired the understated memorial and took some time to read the stories of the people who resisted the atrocities of Nazi occupation.

We stopped at Karma Coffee Roasters for some absolutely delicious espresso. We both recommend the coffee here and think it is worth a stop if you’re in the area.

For dinner, we continued to Plac Nowy, a hip spot with tons of restaurants, and enjoyed zapiekanki from Endzior. Angela chose kielbasa for her topping while I opted for salami. Every zapiekanka comes with a sauteed mushroom and melted cheese baselayer. We absolutely loved the open-faced casserole/sandwich and highly recommend the dish.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Kopalnia Ceramiki and bought two ceramic mugs with a dachshund motif. We broke our “no souvenirs” rule on this trip, but I’m glad that we have the mugs to anchor our memories from our journey.

Once we returned to the hotel, we decided to take advantage of the property’s pool and spa area. The Hotel Saski offers a wet sauna, dry sauna, relaxation room, and pool with jets. The pool had a very interesting feature that I’ve never seen before, with a metal “daybed” built into the pool with jets all along the tubing that makes up the daybed. Overall, it was a great experience.

After the pool, we ate some leftover pierogi that we’d stored in our fridge and enjoyed a relaxing night in preparation for an early morning the next day.

May 30

Our last full day in Poland was spent at the Auschwitz death camp. We woke up early, walked to the bus station, and departed on the bus that we purchased tickets for the night before. The bus journey is one hour and twenty-five minutes and the bus itself was as comfortable as any generic coach bus. The nice thing is that the bus drops you off immediately opposite the camp museum entrance whereas the train station is a twenty-five minute walk away.

We arrived a little earlier than our entrance time so we spent a few minutes sitting on the benches outside the museum and reading the various signs and plaques scattered about. Thirty minutes before our guided tour time, we were allowed to enter the facility, subjected to a security screening, and then ushered to the side to secure a receiver with headphones.

For this visit, we decided to book a guided tour because we thought it might provide a deeper experience than walking around on our own. The tour includes the screening of a short movie before meeting with a guide and being led, primarily single-file, on a continuous journey around the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II camps. I am still unsure if I think the guide was a net benefit for us. You’re not given access to any areas you can’t get to on an unguided tour and, if you’re familiar with the atrocities committed at Auschwitz and other death camps, there isn’t any new information. That being said, a lot of the indoor exhibitions only have room for a single person on the side of the tour barriers close to the placards, so if you’re not in a tour you’re going to be constantly getting run over.

It is hard to talk about the visit to Auschwitz in a way that fully conveys the feeling of being there. Quite frankly, the experience is a little bizarre given how well-maintained the camp grounds and buildings are. Auschwitz I was a Polish army camp prior to appropriation by the Nazis and is quite nice in terms of layout and architecture. It could be any other random army base if not for the huge watchtowers facing inwards and the double layered electrified barb wire. Of course, then you go inside the buildings and see the exhibits of human suffering and death, hear the story of the “death wall” (and see a reconstructed version of it) where prisoners were subjected to summary execution, and walk through the first crematorium. It is all just so incongruous when compared to the relatively idyllic exterior.

Auschwitz II is another matter entirely, as the number of barracks, the knowledge of how many people were housed in each, and the fact that only 25% of the inmates inbound to the camp even made it into those barracks while the other 75% died within an hour of arrival in the gas chambers, makes it clear the scale of the liquidation of human life that Nazi Germany perpetrated.

We both think that if you’re in the area, you definitely owe it to yourself to make a visit to the camps. I felt physically ill throughout the entire time we were site. We’re both glad we went, but the visit isn’t exactly enjoyable.

After our guided tour ended at Auschwitz II, we spent forty-five minutes exploring the camp on our own before returning to Auschwitz I via shuttle bus. Once there, we waited twenty minutes before our return bus to Krakow arrived. After the bus journey ended in Krakow, we walked back to Endzior for another pair of zapiekanki. I was quite hungry, as you can see in the first of the following two pictures.

Afterwards, we walked to Lody Tradycyjne Bracia Hodurek for some absolutely scrumptious ice cream. I ordered the chocolate, which was creamy and sweet, while Angela chose the tiramisu, a delicious treat. We enjoyed our ice cream on the walk back to our hotel, where we relaxed during our final night in Poland.

May 31

After breakfast, we packed up our bags and stored them with the front desk before walking to the Botanical Garden Of the Jagiellonian University where we saw copious beautiful plants and flowers. Rather than trying to describe them, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Leaving the gardens, we walked to Cukiernia Czarodziej for an early afternoon snack of kremowka and szarlotka. They were delicious, and we strongly recommend this cafe if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat.

Returning to the hotel, we retrieved our luggage, walked to the train station, and took the seventeen-minute ride to the airport. After checking in, we visited the business lounge, a very nice respite from the activity in the main terminal.

We flew to Amsterdam and, after arriving, walked to our hotel for the night. By all rights, Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has no reason to be as nice as it is, and we had a delightful stay. The room was nicely appointed and comfortable, the lounge attendants were welcoming and friendly, and our dinner at the hotel restaurant was way more delicious than we expected.

After a relatively late dinner of duck spring rolls, salad, and a burger, we headed to bed in preparation for our journey home the next day.

June 1

After waking up, we hit the relatively packed gym for an early morning workout. While not huge, it had enough equipment to get a pump in before our long-haul flight later in the day. We visited the restaurant for a delicious breakfast. The spread was varied and high-quality. After retrieving our luggage, I checked out via the Hilton app, and we walked back to the airport.

Checking in with an agent was quick and easy and we cleared immigration and security without any issues. We headed to the Crown Lounge to enjoy some coffee and water before our flight.

The direct flight back to Las Vegas was very nice, with a Thai themed meal service that was more delicious than we expected it to be. We received a couple of new Delft Houses and the purser informed us of the official KLM Houses app for tracking our collection.

While the journey was long, it was a relief to land in Las Vegas, knowing home was only a car ride away. I went and got the car while Angela handled our luggage and then we retrieved Fitz from boarding.

We both adored our time in Poland. The cities were cosmopolitan and interesting, the people were polite and friendly, and the food was delicious. Most people we interacted with spoke at least some English and Angela was able to bridge the gaps given her Polish language skills.

We will definitely return in the future, not just to visit our friends Ewelina and Pretzel, but also to explore the things we were forced to skip because of time constraints on this trip. To anyone on the fence about visiting Poland, we would both encourage you to take a chance on the country – you may love it as much as we did!


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