Daily Wanderlust: Krakow, Poland

I thought I’d never make it to Krakow. Under the cover of night, I boarded a van which took me across the border into Hungary, dropping me off back in Budapest before the sun rose. Then, at 6 in the morning, I got on a bus to head to Krakow. It was 24 hours of Romanian sunsets, Hungarian mornings and Polish afternoons.

When I arrived to Krakow, before I even got to my hostel, I managed to walk straight into the funeral procession for President Lech Kaczynski and many of the political and military leaders of Poland. To be a part of that historic moment, as tragic as it was, is something I will never forget.

That evening I took some solitary time and headed to the city’s main square in Old Town and was absolutely delighted by what I saw. As the sun set and the moon rose behind the historic church, St. Wojciech, little lights began to twinkle in the windows of the old buildings. Horses giving romantic rides clopped their hooves against the old stones. It was a magical moment as I prepared myself for my next adventure, exploring Krakow’s Jewish District the following day.

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Escape of the Week: Krakow Sunset

Krakow is an easy city to fall in love with, and one of the most underrated. The old portion isn’t too large, so it’s easy to navigate. There’s tons of kebap shops. Clubs and bars make the nightlife one of the best in the region. And, well, it is just plain gorgeous.

I spent a few days in this city, just wandering. My first night in Krakow, after a hellish bus ride that began at 10 p.m. and ended at 2 p.m. the following day, I longed to just sit and relax over some comfort food. Down a few minutes from Tutti Frutti, the hostel where I was staying, was the town square.

I sat for more than an hour with a glass of wine, a little pizza, a book and my camera, just eating, drinking, reading … and most of all, watching as the sun sank and the moon came up.

In this moment, with the old buildings, the  square and the horses and carriages, I was transported to another period of time. Plus, if you stare at the sky and buildings for a moment, it looks like the clouds are moving … which makes me feel like I am almost back in that moment.

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How to have a Travel Adventure without Adventure Travel

 

 

Adventure. It’s a pretty hefty word with a lot behind it.

To me, adventure is more than just jumping out of airplanes … more than climbing a mountain. I’m so not that girl. In my world adventure is about taking risks. Going off my beaten path to experience something new.

As a traveler, each day is an adventure. Whether it is getting off a bus before check-in time at a hostel and trying to find something to do, or kayaking in the Mediterranean.

I tried to be adventurous each day on my trip. And, unlike the time I fell off the cliff while embracing adventure/sports, I normally was met with pretty great results.

So, how can someone have an adventure without raising your pulse?

Well …

1. Don’t plan. Well, plan a little. But, don’t feel the need to always stick to the plan. There were plenty of times when I would wake up in the morning and decide I wanted a different view, so would ask around to other people in the hostel, find out where they were going/coming from, and then make a game-time decision as to where  I would go later that day. To ensure I wasn’t bed-less for the night, I would book a room, but that’s it.

Really, I’m a Planner

2. Book a hostel, not a hotel. Hostels are much more social than hotels. At hostels, you are much more likely to meet like-minded people who want to check out A, B or C. Some of my closest friends today have come from hostels. Just be sure you follow hostel protocol during your stay. Nothing sucks worse than being That Guy/Girl at a hostel.

Dude, don’t be a hostel dick

3. Try the local cuisine. I didn’t really venture anywhere with cuisine that was too out of my comfort zone, but I can assure you eating bugs AND snake are both on my list when I hit Asia this year.

Para morirse — food to die for in Valencia

4. Get lost. Within reason. Pop on some good music, grab the camera and wander. Take note — don’t be ignorant about wandering. Find out the safe places to go before you leave your room. Ladies, keep your purses under your arms. And don’t broadcast your riches.

Being Jewish in the Krakow Jewish District

5. Hit the local markets. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of fresh fruits, veggies, flowers and crafts. Super easy. And, most times you can actually purchase items at these markets without spending a lot of money.

6. Rent an apartment for a little. If you want to spend more than a night or two in a city, rent an apartment. All over the world, there are apartments to rent for a few nights to months or longer. When I traveled, I rented a gorgeous little place on the Adriatic for a few nights with some friends. It was amazing.

Living in Technicolor

7. Talk to the locals. Nothing can make an experience in a foreign place better than having a local’s insight. The more locals you meet, the more opportunities you have to really get the flavor of a place.

A week of Spanish

8. Volunteer. There are plenty of options for short-term volunteer work all over the world. Plus, volunteering opens you up to meet other travelers and locals. And, its totally good karma.

The only English-speaking town in Spain

9. Take a class. Learn how to make sushi or prepare Thai dishes. Or do a language exchange.

10. Rent a car. This may be a little bit risky, but it lets you travel places you might not normally see.

Steering wheel death grips and driving in Romania

11. Go camping. Get a cheap tent and fork out the few bucks to camp instead of stay at a hostel.

12. Use a squat toilet. Seriously. You haven’t lived until you use one.

13. Go to a nudie beach. Or a topless beach. If necessary, grab some tall boys before hitting the surf. Just make sure you do it. And use sunscreen to prevent burning of the bits.

To be or not to be … topless

14. Find a festival or event that sounds good and go. Like La Tomatina in Spain, or Exit Festival in Serbia. Or Fringe in Scotland. This would require a little planning, but still. Go.

15. Don’t book a return ticket. Until you have to.

What do you think makes for a travel adventure?

This post was sponsored by InsureandGo Travel Insurance.

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Surviving Auschwitz

I didn’t want to go to Auschwitz. In fact, I had been dreading the trip to the concentration camp since I knew I was going to be in Europe. Maybe “didn’t want to go” is not accurate. I wanted to go … but knew it would be an experience that would be achingly painful.

As a child being raised Jewish, I was fortunate enough to meet many survivors of the Holocaust. And, as former actress, I was fortunate enough to have a part in a play “Who Will Carry the Word?” that dealt with 20 women attempting to survive in Auschwitz. Between being Jewish and being in a play about the Holocaust, I had learned a lot.

I knew going in to Auschwitz how bad it was there. I knew what to expect. And yet, after I watched the short film they show at the beginning of the tour of the camp, when the doors to the camp were opened and I saw the “Arbeit Macht Frei” metal sign above the entrance, my eyes and nose stung with salty tears.

Man, this tour was going to get me.

“Are you OK?” Stephan, a Scottish guy I had met the night before at Tutti Frutti, asked me, placing his hand on my arm after we exited the gas chamber in Auschwitz.

“Yeah,” I said. It was only then, when the “yeah” came out choked and strained that I realized I was far from OK.

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Being Jewish in the Krakow Jewish District

On my second full day in Krakow, I decided to do my walkabout. I knew there were places I wanted to go — mostly the locations on the map marked with a Jewish star, also known as the Jewish District.

I know Poland is seeped with a terrible history as it relates to Jews (and many other religions, cultures, etc.), and it makes my heart heavy to think that such a beautiful place has such sad stories behind it.

The Jewish District is one of those places. Lined with kosher and Jewish restaurants and shops, the area oozes charm, personality and beauty.

And, then there is the darker side. The side that hurts me and makes my chest feel tight.

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A Polish funeral and Krakow

When someone questioned me as to why Poland, my answer back was “why not?”

When I first decided to go to Krakow, it was because of the city’s close proximity to Auschwitz, as someone who identifies myself as Jewish it was a place I felt necessary to visit.

I had heard mixed reviews about Poland. Some people had said the country seems sad and a gloom permeates the air continuously. Clearly, those people have never actually visited the country, because I experienced nothing like that at all.

My time in Krakow came on the heels of the tragic plane crash in Russia. In fact, as I walked up to my hostel I careened into one of the funerals.

My hostel, Tutti Frutti, was on one of the main drags in Old Town. Across the middle of the road were lines draped with the Polish flag and black flags  of mourning, hanging solemnly.

But, despite all of this, people remained upbeat.

My first day in Krakow was mainly about catching up on sleep. In the evening, I walked around a little and grabbed dinner, and then met a crew of Serbians in town for a pharmaceutical congress. A group of about 15 of us headed out for sheesha, clearly chasing other patrons out of the cozy Middle Eastern bar with our loud voices.

For hours, we sat there, enjoying the sweet concoctions — cappuccino and milk; mint and water; apple and rum — and singing Serbian songs. Well, they sang, I watched and smiled, thinking to myself how lucky I was to be in the moment with them.

I ended up in Krakow for nearly four days … taking in the city, its charm and beauty and doing some exploration mixed with some intense “getting to know me” moments, some of which took me by surprise.

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A BRIEF intermission: Chasing spring … two months in

Today, May 7, is my two month anniversary of traveling. It is the longest time I have been away from home. The longest time I have been away from family. The longest …

For two months now, I have chased spring. It started in Spain, with the first buds on the trees, the first field of little yellow flowers, and has followed me since then.

Spring is an amazing time of year. It is about birth. About starting new. And, it signifies a lot to me, since this trip is a birth of sorts for me. I have literally taken my entire life’s work, my dreams, my desires, and washed them from my mind and here, have begun to reconstruct the wheel, to re-identify what my dreams and desires could be/are.

A year ago, when I lived in Atlanta, I remember marveling at the city’s sheer gorgeousness with the changing of the season. The pink flowers that would sprout from the winding trees. The bright green grass that would pop up overnight. The light wind that would gently blow during days spent at Piedmont Park, taking in the South’s spring.

I would never in a million years have imagined spending my spring 365 days later in Europe, living in a prolonged (and amazing) spring for nearly two months.

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