Krakow and Auschwitz - worth a side trip from Budapest?

I’m leaving for vacation on 10/17 and will be spending one week each in Barcelona and Budapest (yipee!). I’ve been thinking about doing a two or three day side trip to Krakow and Auschwitz. I’ve heard good things about Krakow from a friend that was there recently, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the travel time and taking the time away from Budapest. My questions are:

  1. Is Krakow worth the trip and lost Budapest time?
  2. I’ve heard scary things about the train from Budapest to Krakow, including theft and worse. Anyone have any info on the safety of that?
  3. If I rented a car, is there anything to see on the way?

Any other tips are of course welcome. Thanks in advance for your help!

I have nothing worth saying, but I love talking about travelling, so I’ll say something anyway.

First of all, how long a trip is it? That’s the important question, but I don’t feel like researching it. I’m not sure I would want to go from Budapest to Krakow and back – I would prefer to go into one city, and leave from the other.

I went to Krakow in 2006. It was something of a side trip, as I went from Berlin way out to Krakow, and on to Vienna (about nine hours from Berlin, and six hours to Vienna I believe). My family is Polish, however, so it was important to me to go there. I loved Krakow, for what it’s worth. It was maybe the highlight of my backpacking tour. I thought it was a beautiful city, very different from home and even from Germany where I had been for almost two months before. It was very cheap, too (I still remember this wonderful meal I had, with chicken breast, potatoes, vegetables and salad, and a large beer, which was only $8…) Made Vienna horrible in comparison, though.

I found it somewhat difficult to get around without Polish, but it wasn’t a huge problem. I didn’t go to any museums; I just walked around, saw the main square and the big churches, went to Wawel and the cathedral (oh wait, I did see some museums there, but they were a bit of a waste), walked along the Vistula, and visited Kasimierz and the old Jewish cemetary.

Auschwitz is apparently the top tourist attraction in Poland, which sounds horrible. It’s worth seeing, I think, but it’s very… touristy, as concentration camps go. There are a lot of complaints about that. The main camp is now a museum. You watch a film before you enter, and then see exhibits in the different buildings. You can take a shuttle bus to Birkenau, which is more just an open air memorial. There’s not much left there. Most people reportedly find Birkenau better, and I was there rather late in the day, and for a while, I couldn’t see anyone else around. It was all very moving. My Lonely Planet guidebook told me not to bother with a tour of the main camp, and I’m glad I didn’t bother. People are loud and obnoxious, and if you walk around by yourself, you can try to ignore them. (My favourite story comes from a history professor who told of her visit, when a woman called out to her husband to take a picture of her at some site, saying “Look, honey, I’m a Jew!”)

I heard stories about the train being dangerous, though Krakow was the furthest east I went so it wasn’t as dangerous. I was a small, 22-year-old woman travelling alone, so I wasted two days in transit and travelled during the day, because I read that night trains could be rough. I also made a point to keep my backpack within my view, and my money and credit cards were in my money belt anyway.

Thanks for the feedback, Sonnenstrahl!

It’s two weeks total, one week in each destination with the three Saturdays in Frankfurt.

I’d definitely prefer that, but I booked the flights before I thought of visiting Krakow and it’d be too expensive to change now, unfortunately.

:eek:Please tell me that she didn’t have an American accent…

I can’t say anything about the trains or renting cars, and I don’t remember how long it takes to get between the cities, but I will say that I LOVED Krakow. I saw it on a three-city tour when I was studying abroad, along with Budapest and Prague, and Krakow was my favorite, followed by Budapest in second and then Prague. Really, Budapest and Krakow are close in my book – Budapest is a lot bigger and more cosmopolitan city from what I remember, but Krakow was a bit more beautiful and special. Auschwitz is extremely difficult and moving, of course – worth it, but if you’re particularly sensitive to such things, it might put a damper on your trip.

Well, the professor put on an exaggerated American accent when relating this to me (we were chatting, this wasn’t while she was teaching). But we Canadians sometimes have an unfortunate tendancy of attributing everything dumb to Americans, so she could have been Canadian…

That unfortunately doesn’t excuse the two American students in my German class who *made out *while touring the gas chambers of Buchenwald on a class trip.

IMHO, Krakow is definitely worth spending more time at. Budapest is a cool town, but the Pest part of it got destroyed during the late 1800’s and was rebuilt with Georgian architecture which I find a bit dull. This is especially true compared to Prague, Vienna and Krakow.

Krakow was basically not damaged very much in WWII. It is extremely well preserved. It’s a stunning city with a beautiful central square that you can hangout and snack and drink beer. The castle is really spectacular. There is some part of it called the Dragon’s Lair which is a secret passageway to the outside. It’s a must see.

Just outside of Krakow is that crazy salt mine where the salt miners have carved all kinds of amazing shit including an entire cathedral with salt crystal chandeliers.

Polish girls are unbelievably hot (Hello Yvonne Strahovski!) with really great racks.

When I was there in 2002, there weren’t a whole lot of English speakers, but the Poles are friendly and you can get by. Auschwitz is chilling, but you have see it and it will sadden you to your core.

I loved Krakow too - beautiful and quaint, and while things are written in Polish, most people speak reasonable English. I found it odd to walk around and understand nothing (I speak a little French, German and Italian, and nothing was familar!), but easy enough with a guide book. And I soon learnt to say “A sesame bagel-thingy please” in Polish, and that made me very proud. Here are some photos in case you’re interested. I was there when Pope JP2 died, (was originally from Krakow).

Auschwitz was well worth the visit - you have to go around the first bit with a guide, but we managed to give them the slip, and once the crowd moved on it was much less touristy, and far more moving - the hall of shoes and the case of baby clothes in particular. It was the odd stuff that really got me though - people packed shoe shine and strainers; these were people who didn’t know what was ahead at all, and that’s so creepy. And so clinically and efficiently cruel of those who made those in ‘Canada’ etc collect and catalogue every last item.

I didn’t get as much time as I wanted at Birkenau, but it made a huge impression on me. No problems on the trains, but it did help to have a few other Aussies on the same train - it’s not clearly marked how you get to the camp from the train station, so that can be a little confusing (I think we walked in the end? Not sure I remember).

The only bit of advice I’ve got for you is be careful of muggers, pickpockets, thieves etc. in Barcelona. The place is crawling with 'em.

You can - or could - walk to Birkenau from the main camp, which might be another good way of getting away from loud groups. I’d second the opinion that the Birkenau site has more of an impact. But that’s perhaps partly as I was there in January, in freezing weather (around -15) and heavy snow, and there was no-one else there. No-one. It was terrifying, which seemed appropriate.

Oh, and Cracow is beautiful.

Krakow is lovely and well worth a visit, and Kasimierz was very nice.

Auschwitz (and Birkenau) was worth it too, though I agree the main camp is not a great experience, even though I didn’t see anyone behaving obnoxiously. The tour guide was not very good at all.
I was more moved by my visit to the Bohaterow ghetto across the river from Kasimierz (and seeing the dilapidated state of the Schindler factory there). Extremely haunting.

Backpacking around Europe in the late 90’s, my friend and I were being eyed up outside Barcelona train station by a dodgy looking hoodlum on crutches. When he came back with 2 other unsavoury types, we were forced to take out a tent pole each just to give them something to think about. Apart from that, we had a great time.

Ditto on this warning.

Be particularly careful of your belongings if you decide to check out Las Ramblas… it’s a pickpocket’s paradise, seeing as there are large crowds consisting mostly of clueless tourists and plenty of street performers to serve as a distraction while they lift your cash.

I’ve also heard of pickpocket problems in Budapest - in fact, my mother’s bag was picked while riding a bus there last year. All the thief got was a coin purse with a small amount of change in it, but it could’ve been a bad scene if she’s been carrying anything of value in that bag. She says the thief managed to open her bag and grope around until he got something of interest without her ever feeling a thing.

I’d suggest carrying minimal cash in your wallet, and keep everything else in a belt or neck pouch.

I went from Budapest to Krakow on the train several years ago. Young female, alone, don’t speak Polish, giant backpack (complete with maple leaf flag), overnight train, no trouble at all. The train was a bit dirty, had no dining car, and as I recall, the trip took about 15 hours (although I could be mixing that up with another train ride, there were a lot). So that kind of sucked.

Krakow is nice - the castle is cool, and there are good breweries and associated pubs. The salt mine at Wieliczka is amazing - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wieliczka_Salt_Mine - one of the highlights of a couple of years of travel for me. Auschwitz I honestly felt ambivalent about - it certainly was sad, but I felt sort of removed and weird about it. It’s hard to explain, but I think people have vastly different experiences of it.

Krakow is lovely, I’m glad I went. I thought both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II - Birkenau were both very moving and worth seeing; I was there on a wet day in mid February and basically had the place to myself. Seeing both really drives home how the genocide progressed from small to incomprehensibly massive in terms of scale. I was by myself and on foot with a whole day to spend, mind you. Seeing the whole of both camps takes some time.

I’ve just got back from Krakow (as in 3 or so hours ago) and believe you me, it is well worth the visit. I didn’t get chance to go to Auschwitz, but Krakow itself is definitely worth the visit. The old royal palace on Wawel Hill has been amazingly restored, and the Cathedral and Royal Tombs are definitely worth the time to visit properly, though knowing a little of Polish history (or at least having a tame native to inform you :wink: ) helps amazingly.

As far as language goes, do take a phrasebook, but many people do speak English, and I found no problems getting around on my own, buying stuff etc when my tame native was in talks/meetings etc. There are some excellent pubs, and restaurants especially off Rynek Głowny and in the Kazimierz (PM me if you want reccommendations), and really, Krakow is bloody amazing…

Damn, now I wish I was still there.