Auschwitz

Planning a trip to Poland was complicated as I knew I couldn’t go without touring Auschwitz. This is not a place you want to take small children if they are anything like mine. First, we have Kellan who was overwhelmed with emotions and questions during visits to the Titanic experience and Culloden battlefield. Then we have Carter, a toddler with special needs that got us kicked out of a castle tour in Germany for being loud and distracting to others. No way was I bringing these two. Even in a typical museum I hardly get to read or fully absorb information.

We talked about taking turns touring the museum while the other stayed behind in Krakow with the boys. We decided to go ahead with this plan until some friends in Germany mentioned wanting to go to Poland but having the same concerns about their toddler boys. It worked out perfectly meeting them in Oswiecim one morning and spending a full day swapping being with the kids and touring the museum. The men went first, so Kaitlyn and I had breakfast with the boys at a cafe and then walked around the city and a local park.

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4 little boys = endless energy

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When the men came back a couple hours later we took the kids to a local play place called Park Family Fun. The boys had the place to themselves and is the perfect place to burn some energy. Kaitlyn and I drove a couple miles to the museum where we chose to tour on a pre booked “individual basis”. This is where you can tour the museum on your own time instead of being in a group. We purchased a tour booklet so that we could still follow a map and read about each building. Word of advise, we were very late for the time slot we had pre booked and we barely made it in. We hadn’t thought it would matter given we were on an individual tour but they almost didn’t let us enter.

Concentration camps are something I’ve learned about my entire life but nothing compares to learning about it as you walk along the same paths an unfathomable amount of murdered people walked. Brutally and unimaginably murdered and for no wrong doing. It is a surreal and humbling experience. You cannot help but think about your family and how fortunate you are.

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The first things prisoners saw entering the camp: Work will set you free

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The courtyard of block 11: also named the Death Wall as it was used for execution by gunfire

Auschwitz was established in 1940 and 1.3 million people died here. Some of the buildings we walked through included the gas chamber, crematorium, and experiments wing. While touring the camp you will witness things that will tear at your heart. Perhaps the toughest bit to see for me was upstairs in block 5. On display is 2 tons worth of haircloth made from human hair of the victims. The hair of Jewish women murdered in the gas chambers was used for textiles and sold to German companies. I think it was seeing something so physical and real that used to belong to someone’s body, and in such mass quantity, that put it all into perspective. I decided to skip block 6 which has a room on the children of Auschwitz. I just didn’t think I could handle it emotionally.

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floor plans to the gas chambers 
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Near the entrance to the gas chambers. People were brought here under the promise of a shower and instead were killed using Zyklon B

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empty canisters of the Zyklon B used in the gas chambers 
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Prisoners were documented by photographs accompanied by name, date of birth, occupation, date of arrival and date of death. Every type of occupation is represented from farmer to accountant. 

Touring Auschwitz is an eye opening experience because not only do you feel humbled and thankful for your life;  you will also have the unique experience of walking out a changed person. It’s impossible to come here and not reflect on the world’s history, the need for power, and the desire to not repeat the mistakes once made.

 

 

Krakow

My husband never has much of an opinion on where we holiday but Poland has been the one place he has continuously talked about visiting. I am pretty certain the reasons for going has nothing to go with the sites or culture- he wanted to go because his friends told him how cheap it was. Who doesn’t love a cheap getaway?

They weren’t lying. Poland has been the most affordable place we have been to date. The flights into Krakow were a bit more expensive for the time we wanted to travel (and by expensive I mean over $75 for a ticket), so we saved money by flying into Katowice and driving an hour via rental car.

Where we stayed

P&J Apartments have two bedroom flats one block from the Old Town main square. If you plan to walk to all the sites this is a great place, spacious and clean. The realtor told us the buildings in Krakow are very old and it’s one of the only buildings with an elevator. Parking is easily found on the street. They even sent a team of people to rescue me after the lock jammed when I tried to exit the bathroom. I was stuck in there for an hour, y’all. So embarrassing.

What we ate

The food is so cheap in Poland you will feel like you are eating like royalty. We would even order multiple entrees per person just because we could and wanted to try everything. Pizzatopia just off the main square was so good we ate there twice. Its child friendly, serving ‘build your own’ artisan pizza in 3 minutes. What’s unique about it is how creative you can get with your toppings. The craft beer is great, too.

Another family friendly dine-in place we enjoyed was Taco Mexicano. We can’t help ourselves when we come across Mexican food in Europe as we don’t get it very much. The food was good (again-cheap), and there is a small play area for the kids to enjoy while you wait for your meal.

For Polish food we took to the streets. We had takeaway of kielbasa and fries from kebab shops and traditional dishes from the Christmas market such as perogies. The best thing I tried was grilled oscypek, a cheese dumpling topped with cranberries. Sweet mized with salty…mmmmm!

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artisan pizza at Pizzatopia
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of course the boys favorite was the gelato

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lunch and train table at Taco Mexicano
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Cakes for US equivalent $1.50. Yes, we had a lot of treats!

The Christmas Market

We were in town for the opening of the Christmas market which is held in the main square of Old Town. We spent our evenings walking around with some friends that met us from Germany and letting our boys play together. Europe really knows how to make Christmas feel magical. This was a smaller market with but still charming. Sold the basic sweets, ornaments and other locally made items. There are street performers dancing and playing instruments.

My only disappointment was the lack of children’s activities. Last year we went to markets in 5 different countries and each had small rides, a Santa’s grotto and other activities. This one didn’t have anything like that aside from carriage rides. In fact, we didn’t see a lot of children at the market or generally in the city of Krakow for that matter. I noticed that the city had a young, trendy vibe full of attractive and well dressed people in their 20’s.

 

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Strolling the city

We didn’t make specific plans for things to see in Krakow. We really wanted to just walk around, shop and eat. We spent hours wandering the streets. It is a great city to just stroll about while admiring the architecture. Those are my favorite cities. The ones where you don’t have to be on a schedule, get advanced tickets and wait in lines for things. Poland is famous for its pottery so we made sure to pick up a couple pieces. I also picked up way more ornaments than was necessary because I couldn’t believe how cheap they were.

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Took a break to let the boys chase pigeons- their favorite activity

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Former home of the Pope

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Wawel Castle 

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Wawel castle is considered to be the most historically significant site in Poland. We didnt tour inside the castle but chose to walk the perimeter. Built in the 13th century it is where the kings of Poland resided and now serves as a museum. It is said the area has been populated by humans for 50,000 years. In the middle ages bones were found that the people believed to be dragon bones. They were believed as such up until the 19th century when they were revealed to be of a wooly mammoth. This is why a dragon is the symbol of Krakow.

At the bottom of the hill is a dragon statue that breathes fire every 10 minutes. The boys had a blast pretending to fight the dragon with their swords. Every castle we visit we always tell the boys to look for dragons and protect us with their swords. It was so much fun having this castle display a fire breathing dragon.

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**For my next post I will be writing about our trip to the nearby Auschwitz camp**