This week we have another fantastic guest blog, courtesy of Adaptable Travel's very own Beth and Ellie, who recently visited Krakow. At Adaptable Travel we love to know our groups are getting the best possible experience from their school trip so, exploring the cities ourselves is the perfect way to make sure we're offering the best possible trips. In this blog Beth and Ellie share their experience of the city, epxloring it's cultural heritage and poignant historic significance. Without further ado, let's hear from our guest bloggers
In May 2019, we embarked on a three-day trip to Krakow to check out some of the main excursions that we offer our school groups. After a very early flight from Manchester, we were met at the airport by one of the regular guides provided by our Polish agent company, who we liaise with on all of our Krakow trips.
Our guide Julia accompanied us from the airport to our hotel in the ‘Kazimierz’ area (Jewish Quarter) of Krakow, the Astoria Gold Hotel. After dropping our luggage, Julia then led us on a walking tour of the Old Town, emphasising the Jewish history and legacy through various landmarks. Despite the diminished significance of Judaism in Krakow nowadays, the historical significance is clear to see throughout the area. Several synagogues still remain, including the oldest and still most important Jewish centre in Krakow. Despite the relatively small number of Jews still living in this area, it still feels rather untouched and retains the old-fashioned charm that the Jewish community created. Quaint shops, galleries and eateries line the cobbled streets, and you really get a feel of what it was like for the Jewish community before the horrors of the Second World War took hold. Finally, Julia took us to the Ghetto area, where the Nazis would round up the Jews in order to exploit and terrorise them, before deciding their fate. We stood in the Ghetto ‘Heroes’ Square, where large monumental chairs have been installed as a symbol of the empty ‘seats’ that were left behind when the Jewish community was nearly destroyed by the Nazi regime.
Following some lunch in the Kazimierz area, we then visited the Galicja Jewish Museum, a short walk from our hotel. The museum is a commemoration of the Holocaust victims, and a celebration of the Jewish heritage in Krakow. The museum aims to “challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions typically associated with the Jewish past in Poland and to educate both Poles and Jews about their own histories, whilst encouraging them to think about the future.” (Galicja Museum website). The museum is made up of selections of photographs which aim to deliver this purpose, challenging the visitor to see new perspectives in the tragedy of the holocaust.
Following an audit of one of our most popular hotels with students, the Wyspianski, the evening was spent having dinner with a representative of our partner agency in Poland. We ate at the Ariel Restaurant, which serves traditional Jewish food and as an added bonus we were entertained by some traditional ‘Klezmer’ Jewish music. This is something that our groups can book with us and is highly recommended as an authentic Jewish cultural experience, with some delicious food to boot.
The next day we had another early start (!) , as we were picked up for our journey to Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps. The atmosphere on the journey was slightly apprehensive, as we knew that it was not going to be an easy experience. When we arrived, the number of people visiting showed just how significant the camps are as an experience for tourists. However, the sites did not feel tarnished by the sheer volume of visitors, with the buildings and surroundings left pretty much as they were when they were occupied, with a few added exhibitions to aid the visitors’ understanding. We were struck by the quiet and poignant atmosphere, which made for a deeply moving experience. We did not speak as our guide escorted us around, explaining the most significant areas. There was little to say in reaction to the tragic events that happened here, the brutality of it all was hard to comprehend…but certainly was a trip to never forget.
The evening, on a lighter note was spent in the main Market square which has stalls and lots of bars and restaurants, we even treated ourselves to some famous Polish Wodka!
Our final day was spent visiting Schindler’s Factory Museum, where we were shown around by an elderly guide, who had first-hand experience of the events of the Second World War, making for an even more in-depth experience. Schindler’s list film promptly added to our film viewing list on our return home.
Overall it was an extremely interesting and also emotionally challenging experience, as one would expect when faced with the graphic and brutal nature of this aspect of history. Although very difficult at times, the experience and knowledge gained of these events is essential in shaping our understanding of what happened in this dark period. As light relief from the harder excursions, Krakow is a vibrant and beautiful city with much to offer our groups.