Via Baltica – Krakow

Aug 4, 2012

We had a long day on the road after leaving Riga. We were now driving through the entire country of Lithuania, which pretty much translated into endless fields and rural villages. Even though the route of Via Baltica is under a lot of construction (by the European Union), the roads are still way slower than the western counterparts: most of the time they go right through town centers, speed limits are lowered down around each village, roads have commonly only two lanes and there are crossroads and traffic lights on the way. These factors combined with plenty of other issues result in longer driving hours.

We made a small lunch break around Kaunas, and continued over to the Polish boarder- here the fun always really starts. Up until Poland, the traffic is always somewhat fluent and although there are certain flaws in the infrastructure, I guarantee, Poland takes all those issues to a whole new level. First off, the driving habits. This could be the entire blog entry on its own. Let’s just say that if you ever decide to drive there, be careful and extremely aware of the other drivers- they just might overtake even if there’s absolutely no space (including heavy trucks!) and in most cases they rely on you giving way. We had a couple of occasions where we had to almost drive off the road in order to avoid a head-on collision, and one time a car in front of us just put on the breaks out of nowhere (at full speed) and hadn’t my dad had such an immediate instinct, we would’ve ended smashing that car! However, as we approached Warsaw, we wanted to reroute our way in order to avoid going through the city center (out of experience- it’s a huge mess and excessively time consuming). In the end, we found a good detour and we spent a night at an offsite hotel. Convenient and cheap, we thought. As it turned out, it was both- we had a real good sauna that night and a dinner that cost less than 20€ for four people (with drinks included)! Now, that’s the Poland we’re talking about! The next morning we got back on the road and were hoping for a ‘smooth’ ride to Krakow. After hours of driving we finally arrived to the outskirts and found the camping ground without a bigger hassle. Three words: we are full. Oh no. We did not feel like driving further into the city and look for another place. After a minute of desperation things turned around as they had found a spot for us- we were so relieved!

Now that we had our camp all set up, we were going to head to the city itself. We got on a taxi and fifteen minutes later we arrived to the historic old town of Krakow.

Now, going from one beautiful eastern town to another, I just kept being blown away every time and this time was no exception. We only needed to step to the stunning, gigantic market square and we were totally sold to this place. The huge gothic basilica of St. Mary, the gorgeous renaissance style Sukiennice Cloth hall in the middle, Adam Mickiewicz monument, small church of St. Barbara, the Town Hall Towers and so on, all surrounded by the buildings in so many colors and styles. Definitely the most outstanding town square I’ve ever been to! 

As we got past all the exploring at the square, we wanted to head to the Wawel Hill and what could’ve been a better way to do that than following the Royal Road. It's a walking route that takes you through the town showcasing all the prominent masterpieces and important places (and in Krakow, that’s a whole lot of places). Additionally to that, a very cool place to walk around is the Planty Park, which goes around the city walls and that way makes it a good transitional passage walking to or from the Wawel area.

The location of the castle and cathedral on the hills is just magnificent: on the other side you can see over the old town and on the other you have the views down to the Vistula river. The entire courtyard is inside the walls and gates, and the feeling there is very charming, almost like traveling back in time.

The weather had been glowing so far, but as we strolled around the royal yard, the sky was suddenly filled with black clouds. We knew we should probably head back 'downtown' before we’d find ourselves in the middle of a thunderstorm. Consequently we didn’t have time to go walk around the Kazimierz Jewish district (historically known as the Krakow Ghetto), which lies on the other side of the Wawel Hill and is home to a number of Synagogues, historic buildings and Jewish cuisine.

As we made our way back inside of the town walls, we started looking for a nice place to eat traditional Polish cuisine (when you approach the main town square there are restaurants everywhere, which is the reason we looked for a local advice on good places). We were advised to go to this place called Chlopskie Jadlo and ended up having a great hefty meat-ish plate for four with some side dish. All in all I would certainly recommend that place for anyone looking to eat local cuisine in a nice cozy setting.

The rain had come down just around the time we spent in the restaurant, and as we got out, it had stopped. Fabulous. Now we could still go around in the nightly Krakow and see its gorgeous buildings all lit up. We still had some of the Royal Road to discover on the other side of the town, and it was a great idea to stroll the rest of it in the dusk. 

We walked up to the St. Florian’s Gate and wandered around the area. One of the most memorable sights must’ve been the stunning Juliusz Slowaski Theater that just beamed in the dark. Nonetheless the town square itself was equally resplendent as all its monuments were lit up and the entire square seemed so full of life. We had a long day behind us, and we had seen so much. It was time to get back to our camp and crash into our 'beds'.

The following day we got up early to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Birkenau before heading down to Austria. As predicted, it took a good few hours to get around the place (since you need to be on one of the tours to go around) and I have to say it was quite a touching experience. I had been there when I was younger, but this time around I understood more of it, and so it hit me harder. To sum it up, I thought it’s a pretty good reality or history check for everyone, and it’s important to know what went down there.

Finally we were back on the road, headed further south. If only it would’ve been that simple. Instead, we were totally lost in the Polish countryside somewhere between the road we were supposed to be on and the place we had left from. Apparently on a small enough “path” not shown on the navigator. Sigh. On the positive note, these are sometimes the best moments and memories of a road trip! A few twists and turns later we were back on track and most likely really headed to the Austrian boarder. The sun started setting somewhere around Vienna, and we kept on driving long enough to have a yet another struggle to find our place for the night. No sweat, we did arrive somewhere, somewhere lost in the middle of nowhere, in a place that seemed to be shutdown since a decade. But we found a functioning shower with hot water and an electricity plug, that’s all we really needed. That night, there was no putting up the tent- all four of us squeezed into the camper. In the morning, we were ready to find some sort of reception of the camping, but we never did. It all looked as rundown as it had the night before. And so we left. And for the record; it turned out to be the cheapest night, ever.

Next stop: Slovenia.


General Information

Chlopskie Jadlo
- Although it is a Polish chain restaurant, we enjoyed the food, the setting, and service + easy location
- Krakow is full of nice restaurants, so it is not hard to find a good place!

- Nice, clean camping ground, also bungalows for 2-4 people. Helpful staff. Grocery store few meters away.

(Lots of information for different cities in Poland, hotel reservation etc.)

Auschwitz (Birkenau)

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