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.