Of the sixteen holidays I went on last year (yes…16, I went a bit OTT), nine of those were with my man friend, Andy. Nine. And we are still thriving. This excessive amount of traveling really boils down to the simple fact that dating me means dating the world; I am a person who is in a constant state of ‘Dora the Explorer’ing’, and as a result, anyone who dates me is too.
Dating me also means having to put up with my impulsiveness, restlessness, and strong-opinion-ness; I have very strong opinions about a lot of things, just ask my family and friends or, better yet, the animal-abusing cat breeder who I am currently engaged in a battle with (the short of a long story is she sold a sick and dying kitten to the wrong person…that’s another blog post for another day though…). But besides animals and fancy sauce (ketchup + garlic mayo), travel is one of those things I am annoyingly passionate about and means I wear the proverbial ‘travel pants’ in my little loveship with Andy.
As per my last blog post (which I apologise was a while back), traveling with pals is a choice ones makes, good or bad. Traveling with a partner, on the other hand, is something I believe must be done. Must being the operative word. Too many people vouch they won’t marry a person until they have first shared an address, electricity bills, and an open and public release of bodily functions, but yet heaps run down the aisle never having hoped on a plane/train/rickshaw/donkey with their potential forever human.
That’s asking for trouble.
Like our old pal Mark Twain,who is relentlessly quoted by travel enthusiasts, once may or may not have said: ‘I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them’. This, I am afraid, is true. You learn a shit load about your compatibility with a person when you globe-trot together and, in my case, I have learnt that Andy is very laid back when it comes to most things in life, but especially traveling. I count myself lucky for this. To give you an idea of his lovable laid-back-ness, I am currently planning a holiday to India, and after having booked a few flights, trains, hotels and tiger safaris, I asked whether he wanted to see where we were going or let it be a surprise, and he has gone down the ‘surprise’ route. He doesn’t have a fucking clue. We could touch down in Brazil and he would be none the wiser. Muahahah. It’s hilarious and amazing all at the same time.
On one of our trips to Austria, we were sitting outside at a pub and Andy looked around, basking in the moment, and blurted out: ‘I can’t believe I’m in Germany right now’. To be fair, we did fly into Munich and took the train to Austria, but nonetheless, he was just stoked to be there. The smaller details, such as what country we were actually in, didn’t matter. 😛
Anyways, believe it or not the same thing kinda happened again when I started entertaining the idea of a city break to Poland. For a solid five days before we left, Andy was convinced we were off to Prague. He started Googling ‘Things to do in Prague’, was asking colleagues for tips on where to go, but quickly became confused by the prospect that Auschwitz was in the Czech Republic (now named ‘Czechia’ to us English folk, apparently). Once we sorted out that minor detail of the correct country again, his excitement levels rose and we were ready to jet off.
It may sound like I am poking fun at his special blonde moments, which I am, but those moments also make me realise why we work as a couple, and especially as a traveling couple. Have you ever traveled with two control freaks? It’s the human equivalent of that Battle at Kruger Park video where the crocodile and the lion are fighting for the baby buffalo. Essentially, it’s a fucking power struggle at it’s finest, but with a not-so-happy ending.
Andy and I are both pretty chilled out humans (we have a designated ‘Zen Attic’ in our house for god sake), and on holidays are understandably especially laid back, but in the build up to a trip, I am a self-confessed control freak. I like to plan errthing. So for our weekend in Kraków, unsurprisingly I did all of the ground work.
Kraków (pronounced Krak-oof) has been on my radar for awhile now (I *adore* Eastern European cities, probably more so than Western), so have always kept a watchful eye on flight prices to there. Within Europe, the earlier you book the better deals you will get. However, you may find gems one or two weeks out (apparently 10 days before departure is when you will nab the best fares). Exhibit A, for the weekend we went to Poland the flights were hovering around the €350 mark for a solid while. We got ours for €175 roughly a week before departure. There’s a bit of guess work and luck involved, but there’s now this new travel app called Hopper, an airfare prediction tool, that ‘analyzes billions of flights to help you find the best deals and the best times to fly and buy’, to give you a hand. Get it. It didn’t affect us purchasing our Kraków flights, but it did make us pull the trigger on our New Delhi ones, so there ya go.
So now here’s what Andy and I got up to in Poland, and ‘The Tips’ to ensure your Kraków city break doesn’t end you up in the news for a homicide-suicide incident:
- Download Uber before you go. Uber isn’t a massive thing in Ireland (yet), as any Uber that rocks up will just be a regular taxi anyway, but Uber has taken off in Poland. We pre-booked a lift from the airport into the city centre, which cost 80zloty (€20) and took 25 minutes. But when we left we got an Uber, and it was only 32zloty (€7). Worth the savings and wish we had known that before.
- Our pre-booked private tour to Auschwitz-Birkenau, however, was 100% worth every penny, or zloty. Krakow Trip was the name of the company and I booked with them because of the stellar reviews on Trip Advisor. I himmed and hawed about whether we should take the bus/train or private tour to Auschwitz (which is a 1.5hr car journey from Kraków), and read that the train journey, albeit slow, is a fascinating and emotionally provoking way to visit the site. But, the reality was we only had two days in Poland, so wanted to make the most of our time. I requested our driver collect us at 7:45am on the Saturday morning, which meant we had our tickets and were inside by no later than 9:30am. If you want to look around the camps on your own, you HAVE to be there before 10am. Otherwise, you have no choice but to join an organised tour. In hindsight, Andy wished we had done a guided tour. I studied the Holocaust extensively in school, at both high school and university levels, but surprisingly, here in Ireland Andy had not. They had touched on it, but it was never a week-long curriculum like we had. In Poland, it is mandatory for all kids to visit Auschwitz. Our guide, Michael (a Swedish Pole) told us this, and explained that around the ages of 14-15 Polish children visit with their schools. He said even then a lot are not ready for what they will see, and described it as a very harrowing experience.
Witnessing the groups going around, which did include school kids, there would be pros and cons to joining one. They all wear little ear pieces, with the guide speaking into a microphone, and they are offered in a number of languages. I’m 100% positive those on guided tours took away more knowledge than we did; it’s A LOT to take in, and we did skim past a few rooms/information boards that although I’m sure very interesting, was in all honesty just too much reading. What we lost in historical knowledge, we gained in having very quiet and provoking experiences in the buildings themselves though. Andy and I were able to enter the one remaining gas chamber and also the central sauna/disinfection building on our own, not another soul in site, and I will never forget those moments. They were intense. Almost as intense as the woman who I spotted at Auschwitz wearing a shirt that read ‘Karma is a bitch’….pretty sure she was the bitch…
- Finding cash machines in Kraków is the opposite of a bitch though! ATMs are EVERYWHERE. Honestly, every 10 feet. I didn’t realise how nice of a convenience this was until it became a convenience. Dream.
- There are some great things in and around Kraków you don’t need cash for too! There are free walking tours that leave from the Old Square, and you can spot them holding up small flags with varying accents on them (English, French, etc). If you like the tour, you can give a tip at the end (standard).
- Another free-ish activity you can do, which I really encourage, is to hire bikes and see the sites that way. Most European cities are pretty bike-friendly, and Kraków is no exception. I really love exploring cities by two wheels, as I cycle to work everyday in Dublin (which is a very NOT bike friendly city), and think it is a fantastic way to get your bearings, see loads, and work off the gross amounts of ice cream I always inevitably eat on holidays. On our last day, Andy and I cycled a few kilometers just beyond the city centre to a resevoir called Zakrzówek; a total mind-fuck of a place that will make you think you are in the Mediterranean. It’s stunning and was an absolute hidden gem. Andy and I were without a doubt the only non-locals there, and I loved every second of it. The water was so irresistibly turquoise blue that we toyed with the idea of jumping in fully clothed, as we sat on the cliffs, sweating profusely and enviously watching the other swimmers and cliff jumpers, but with a flight in a few hours we decided against it. I would go back to Kraków on a sunny weekend just to veg at this place in an inflatable boat, drinking wine, and eating ice cream (of course).
The ‘official’ local entrance to Zakrzówek is a bit awkward to find, as the whole area is surrounded by a fence, but follow the road to the diving club and there are heaps of ‘unofficial’ entrances along the fence at the roadside. And by ‘unofficial entrances’, I mean holes in the fence. We paid the 10zloty each to enter after finally finding the small stall that doubled as the entrance booth, but could have easily gotten away with not paying.
- You will be expected to fork out some coin if you get approached by girls with red umbrellas in the square, so just be forewarned. 😉
- Despite the excessive amount of stag and hen parties that flock to Kraków each month, the city centre, and particularly the Old Square, is SO freakin clean and drama-free. Don’t get me wrong, there were still loud groups of English lads drinking outside the token English pub, but the police presence in Kraków was something I really hadn’t witnessed before. They drive around the square non-stop, plucking up any homeless or homeless-looking person they see. Sometimes we thought it was a bit unnecessary, but there’s no doubt it helps maintain the beauty and vibe of the place.
- If you can work it, visit Kraków in July over the International Street Theatre Festival. Although we managed to be there at that time by total fluke, I would try and plan any future trips around it. It was so so so amazing. Really, it was. Each day and night they had multiple dramatic theatre performances in the square (think Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland stuff), that had beautiful sets to accompany the acts, and also concerts, acrobats, you name it. We thought about having a night out at the clubs, but the Street Festival went on until about 1am, so we spent our nights in the Square, walking around to the various stages and watching the shows. Which were entirely free. Again, back to the free stuff. It was such an economical weekend. I think we actually saved money by going away…funny how that works sometimes! The long of the short, is that Kraków was magical. Now I’m going to attempt magic and start writing my blog more often again….