One of the great train journeys in Europe is the over-night train. A hotel on tracks taking you from city to city while you sleep. Coming from Australia we really don’t have the opportunity to travel effectively and long distances on trains due to the vast distances and cost. But it is an epic experience in a continent where it really is an arterial route around the countries! We booked our journey through Czech Rail.
Arriving at Krakow Główny was easy, located just northeast of the old town of Krakow. The station is new and clean. We came up onto our platform early to look at the different trains passing through. There is always that slightly fluttering feeling when you don’t have any clue as to the language that is being spoken and on the signs, so when the train halted on the platform with ‘Budapest/Vienna’ in the window, we did look at each other with slightly worryingly. But… as we walked further up the platform we found that the train was section as per its final location. ‘Prague’ was on our carriage, so we climbed aboard and found our cabin.
The sleeper cabins are reasonably sized. The beds are thin but long enough. There is a sink and tray table and wardrobe; enough basics to get us through the night. Toilets were down the corridor and were as clean as can be expected!
I have had previous experience with a sleeper train from Madrid to Paris; the clackety clack all night made sleeping impossible! However, there was little of that on this train.
I think we paid around €100 for a double sleeper cabin, and we weren’t expecting the pleasant surprise of a croissant and coffee in the morning as our train glided into Prague at 0730.
Krakow is really a hidden treasure only just being discovered by tourists. Despite being only 90mins from Auschwitz, it has only recently become a must on the European travellers path.
We came to Krakov in May which can be a beautiful month to visit. Everything is green, there are lovely flowers out everywhere, but it can rain a little. The old town is very small and easy to walk around, with plenty of cheap eats, and well as good quality restaurant meals.
Food in Krakow
We ate two very different meals in Krakow. Our first night I had heard about an amazing restaurant that had been open in Krakow since 1364! As we walked in the waiter was slicing the neck of a champagne bottle with a sword! Restaurant Wierzynek is set not far from the main square. It features centuries old wooden beams, painted in old Slavic decorations. The menu is seasonal, with a quality that would match the poshest in London or Paris. I think we paid around £80 for 3 course and a bottle of wine. Really worth it for the experience! (Pics to the left)
Our second evening we found Pod Wawelem is a typical Polish restaurant come pub. If you don’t book you have to wait in a line, and the line is very long. Given the size of the dining area and the length of the line gives you and indication of how popular, but really great it is! The beer is plentiful and the plates full of food are more than generous. AND it is super super cheap!
Krakow Old Town
Krakow has some very distinctive architecture. Similar to many of the Baltic countries, the buildings are plane and ‘blockie’, but the churches, castle and walls of the city are unique. We really loved the Cathedral at the top of the hill. As you can see above it looks like a mish-mash of buildings added onto each other. There is quite a catholic influence in the churches, with some renaissance facades. The main church in the town centre of Krakow is very iconic, with its tall thin towers. There is a trumpeter that still plays some weekend to mark the time. Getting around the old town is relatively easy. There are lots of carriages to take if you get tired, but the beautiful cobble streets and the parks surrounding are so delightful to walk through.
Activities in Krakow
There are two main activities on offer in Krakow; They are the Wieliczka Salt Mines, and Auschwitz. We chose to pre-book our tickets to both of these through Viator ahead of time, allowing us to be picked up from our hotel and taken in small minibuses to the locations both about an hour away.
The Wieliczka Salt Mines are an amazing look into the older history of Krakow, and more currently workers still using the mines for concerts and art sculptures. The most amazing aspect is the chapel of St Kinga, in the heart of the mine. It is over 100m under the ground and the workers had to remove all the salt rock that filled the space. It was consecrated by Pope John Paul II, and a statue of him made from salt rock also stands in the chapel.
Auschwitz is not everyone’s cup of tea, but like us, many just want to see it and experience what the hell went on in this dreadful place. It gave us a little perspective; reminding us of how a peaceful field can hold such a dreadful past. There is not much left of Auschwitz 2, with only mangled concrete where the two furnaces were. But i think that is enough to chill your bones and gain an insight into the suffering of the Polish Prisoners and the horror the European Jews during WWII.
I’m sorry to end on a slightly depressing note, but not all travelling is beaches and city breaks. History is not all royalty and castles. Sometimes it is about learning about what we never want to happen agian.