On the train coming into Kraków at 8 in the morning, after a bumpy-night’s sleep and after listening to some randoms above us snore for a while, my friend Ella turned to me and said, “Welcome home.”
“Oh yea,” I said out loud, laughing. “I guess I’m back where my family came from.” I think it was the bad night’s sleep that caused me to momentarily forget that I was now in the country where my dad’s family began. I felt excited immediately, however cheesy it sounds.
After some trouble figuring out how to exit the train station (they were doing some construction work), and a pit stop at a charming bakery along the way, we made it safely to our hostel and got settled in. The people staying at our hostel included a father and son (the son was about 4 years old and adorable), and two friendly American ladies who we got to chat with a few times. It was interesting hearing the stories of the different people staying at the hostel.
My long weekend in Kraków included a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a tour of the Old Jewish Quarter, visits to many beautiful churches, and a trip to the cemetery for All Saints Day.
We did the tour of the concentration camps through a booking site online, and so a van picked us up bright and early in the morning. The bus ride there took about an hour-and-a-half, and we watched a documentary about the Holocaust on the way. I’m sorry to say that although it was obviously surreal being at the actual place where so many people lost their lives during the Holocaust, the lackluster emotion and the rushed attitude from our tour guide made it a not-as-touching-as-I-expected experience. I feel sort of inhumane saying that, but I left feeling like I did not experience the feelings that people who had been before me had described to me. Even so, though, I am glad we went, and I think it is something that people should have to see.
The salt mine was one of my favorite stops we made. It took about three hours, and it was one of the most unbelievable manmade creations I’ve ever seen. Inside the underground mine (we only visited a minute portion of the entire thing) were beautiful chapels, chandeliers made entirely of salt, and sculptures explaining the people of that time period. Our tour guide for that was a teacher in the town too, and she was excellent.
Like all places in Europe, there were many gigantic churches in Krakow, and we visited our fair share. On the eve of All Saints Day, I attended a Catholic mass in Polish at Saints Peter and Paul Church in the Old Town. I had no idea what the priest or anyone else was saying, but the singing and the instruments sounded beautiful. When it came time for Communion, I had no idea what was happening because it all happened so fast. The people almost seemed to be jumping or flying out of their pews and onto their knees, when the priest came around and placed the host in their mouths at each pew. It was an interesting experience.
After attending the mass, I took a tram out to the Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery to witness the awe of All Saints Day there. People came out in the masses, carrying candles and detailed flowered arrangements to place on the graves of their loved ones. It was like nothing I have ever seen before, and I was glad I ventured out to witness it.
Besides all of our visits to the obvious tourist destinations, Ella and I made a few visits to a delicious cupcake place in the Old Town. It’s hard to find desserts in Bratislava that actually taste as good as they look, so these were a taste of heaven. They literally melted in your mouth.
On the overnight train ride back to Bratislava, we were holding our breath at who we would share a car with this time. We got lucky on the way there, and this time we got even luckier. One of our car mates happened to be a nun. She didn’t speak much English, but a few of her nun friends were at the station to hug her goodbye, so we gathered that it was an exciting trip for her. She fell asleep saying the rosary and holding some of the beads, and it was awesome.