11th August 2019: I had to leave Lviv, Ukraine! I checked out from my Airbnb apartment, had lunch with the newly married couple, took a taxi and reached the railway station.
I posed this question to myself a couple of times in the past few days but I couldn’t get enough of Lviv. I was just waiting till the last day when my Ukrainian tourist visa would expire and then I would think of something.
Let me tell you something… it was 2014 when I fell in love with traveling after my first unplanned adventure in India and this is the kind of traveling I prefer: unplanned, solo, going with the flow, and if possible without counting the days! I like traveling slowly and experiencing things, rather than just visiting for the sake of instagram or facebook posts or to say: yes, I have been there.
Anyways, coming back to the railway station in Lviv. I needed some answers to the question - where to go next? So I went up to the tourist information desk and asked that young guy about some destinations to which I could go from Lviv by night train. He could have been 19 or 20 years old and he was amazed at me and gave me a weird look - how I can have no idea, where I want to go? But he had no idea how thrilled I was to travel without any plan, didn’t know which city I would sleep that night and what is waiting for me next. He gave me some options and I decided to go to Prague via Kraków, Poland. I planned to stay 1 night in Kraków and like I said “I planned to stay 1 night”, what actually happened is a different story.
Interested to know? Keep on reading.
Kraków or Cracow
Honestly I haven’t even known how to pronounce the name of this city properly before I arrived there and you may find that in my travel vlog on youtube. That’s funny, but I liked to stay honest about my new learnings.
How did I get there from Lviv?
I took a direct overnight train from Lviv to Krakow. Arrived at Kraków Główny train station at 8 am. The train stopped twice. Once at the ukrainian border and once at the polish border for the border control purpose. Border guards came inside the train and checked the passports and visas. The whole process took about 2 hours for the train to move again.
Where did I sleep in Kraków?
While I was in the train I contacted a polish friend of my brother and she told me about the district, where I could find the best hostels within walking distance from the city centre. The district is called - Kazimierz. I found a really cool hostel through Airbnb but it showed me non-availability on the website, so I decided to walk up to the hostel and try my luck with the reception and guess what, I got in! Express hostel has a cool staff, big space, big lockers, huge kitchen and common area, so many bathrooms… I mean this was the biggest hostel I have ever stayed in. The reason why I like to stay in hostels is the travel vibe; I often meet travelers from around the world.
Budget per night for this hostel was $8 with breakfast.
Let’s take a pause! Do you remember that I have met in Lviv someone pretty and interesting? Well, she was from Poland but unfortunately she wasn’t there when I reached her country. That’s one thing about travelers, hard to catch them as they are always traveling! She was like a voice of god for me throughout my travels in Poland and guided me to all the places. Big thanks to her!
How did I Explore Kraków for almost Free?
Poland is an interesting country. There is a lot of interesting history about this city and the whole country. One easy and free way to explore the city was a Free City Tour, available in English & Spanish.
Now what is Free City Tour? Well, this was also my first time in which I heard about such a possibility. Basically these tours are conducted by licensed guides, usually at particular times of the day. You can find these guides in the old town square, underneath St Mary’s Church. They carry an umbrella on which it’s written - “Free Tours”. Once the crowd gathers at the meeting point, the guide starts the tour. In the end, they aren’t actually free. You have to tip the guide with an amount as you want, so it could be $5 to $10 or 20 or any amount.
Places to Visit in Kraków:
In the Old Town
Market Square, Wawel Castle, St Mary’s Basilica Tower (For the panoramic view of the city), Underground Museum in the market square, The Craft market in the market square of the old town, Planty Park.
St Mary’s Basilica Tower
Near the Old Town
The Jewish Quarter, and Vistula Boulevards
Outside the City
Auschwitz-Birkenau - an hour and a half drive from the city center. It’s a memorial and museum now, which served as the largest concentration and extermination camp for the prisoners of the II world war by nazis during the german occupation. Over 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives there. You must book your ticket in advance to visit that place and expect a half day tour if you’re planning to go there.
Wieliczka Salt Mine - visit one of the largest underground salt mine museums in the world, where table salt was produced continuously until 2007. The Wieliczka Salt Mine is now an official Polish Historic Monument and since 1978 features on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. Visiting Wieliczka, you can choose the tourist or miners’ route to have a possibility of exploring that place even as a true miner.
All these places have an entrance ticket, so please check the price and open hours on google before you will plan to visit.
Other interesting places: Aqua park, Home of Fear Lost Souls Alley - interesting and truly scary experience :D
If you wanna taste some street ‘polish’ food – you must try the best zapiekanka in Kraków! Namaxa mini bar. Beer house, bar old port, pin ball museum and bar (you can drink and play pin ball – over 60 pin ball machines and 25 arcade games), Harry Potter pub - Dziórawy Kocioł.
A Few Tips about Polish Culture and Poland:
Famous traditional Polish dumplings - “pierogi”. You must try them during your stay in Poland.
Polish people are friendly and if they like you, consider yourself their guest and enjoy free drinks (happened with me pretty much every time with all Polish people I have met).
Being in Poland and not trying polish vodka? You mustn’t make this mistake! If you like sweet alcohols - your stay won’t be the same without tasting Soplica - best fruit vodka! If you prefer clear vodka - try żołądkowa or żubrówka! Don’t forget the polish “cheers” word, which is “na zdrowie”.
Polish soups! The most traditional one is called “żurek”, served in a bread instead of a plate, tomato soup, chicken soup and borscht - beetroot soup, served with small, particular type of dumplings or patties with cabbage and mushrooms.
Don’t forget that polish restaurants usually close soon (especially during the week around 9 pm), so don’t wait until the last time to eat your dinner!
The most popular and very useful phone app for the transport - it works in all bigger cities in Poland: “jakdojade”
Keep in mind that in Poland shops are closed on Sundays! There is one private chain of small shops, which you can find everywhere in Poland, that is opened also on Sundays - it is called “żabka”.
Old Town Main Market
My Hostel Dairy : It was funny how I met her
On the first day when I arrived I met those two, sweet polish girls at the hostel reception and they were very accommodating and friendly. They helped me to check-in 3 hours early. After the check-in, I took a shower and when I came back to my room, I found a young girl from Columbia sitting on the bed next to mine. Well, I took off my contact lenses before taking the shower and when I met her I could barely see her face, that was funny! I thought: let me at least say hi, because it wasn’t polite to sit next to her and don’t say anything. She replied: hi and then we started talking and I went to sleep after some time with a blurry image of her face in my mind. It was getting funnier now.
In the evening, I woke up and put on my lenses again, I was walking in the corridor coming back to my room and I saw a young, pretty girl outside my room and I wasn’t sure if she was the girl I was talking to, so while I was walking towards the door, she looked at me and I looked at her with an unsure smile and then she smiled back and we entered to the room together. When she sat on the same bed I thought: Oh god, I having been talking to this pretty girl all this while and I hadn’t even known how she looked like. Hahahaha. Well, I did tell her this after a few days, while she was checking out and we laughed together.
I shared my room with some interesting people, specially that guy from Italy -Chris. In that room there was me from India, one young guy from Italy, two girls from France, a boy and a girl from Spain, and one girl from Columbia. Wow, I mean this was the most multi-cultural room I have ever stayed in. We all started talking and making plans for the next days and I really enjoyed my next 4 days in Krakow with those guys and a few more whom I met in the hostel. Well, my journey with them didn’t end in Kraków. I will tell you in the later part what happened after Kraków.
Budget Per Day:
Currency Exchange: 1 USD = 3.7 PLN (Polish Zloty)
Hostel Stay - $8 per night
An Average Meal - $6 to $8
Craft Beer - $3 for a pint
Domestic Beer - $1.5 for a pint
Local Wine - $3 for glass
A Cup of Coffee - $1.5
1 package of Marlboro Cigarettes - $5
Data Sim Card - $2.5 for 6 GB internet valid for 30 days
I was supposed to stay only one day in Kraków but I ended up staying 5 days. And what happened after that?
2 Girls from France (from the hostel): So where are you going next?
Me: I don’t know, where are you going?
Girls: We are going to the Tatra Mountains in the south for hiking.
Me: Wow, what’s the name of the place?
Girls: Zakopane! Check out the photos!
Me: I thought to myself “I love hiking and nature” and then I said: can we go together?
Girls: Yes indeed. Would be fun!
And the story continues; how I celebrated a Bachelor party in the train; did hiking for 8 hours in Zakopane and a lot more.