I finally experienced the infamous Krakow, Poland. It has become famous among Peace Corps Ukraine Volunteers as a haven for diverse food, people and and a thriving cafe & bar culture. It is also located very close to Ukraine and therefore doesn’t require very expensive travel plans. I explored Krakow with my good friend Lauren and oblast mate, Brian for four days on our fall break from school.

View of Krakow’s central square/market from our hostel window

We managed the perfect combination of relaxation, food, culture and night life. Not only did I feel refreshed after visiting this oasis, but I also felt like I didn’t need to eat for a week. Traditional Polish food is not much different than Ukrainian food. It was delicious and had a little more spice, but not a highlight of the trip. However, I admit that a lot of our time meandering about the streets of Krakow’s Old City had a secondary motive of stumbling upon a glorious hamburger joint, cupcake bakery, mexican restaurent or any high quality dark beer…A few American joys that are rare in the average Ukrinian town.

Me, Brian and Lauren with pure deliciousness!

Wawel Castle

Jagiellonian University

Eros Bendato (Eros Bound) by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj

We saw countless beautiful buildings, discovered cozy streets and admired many churches but one of the most memorable places we visited was Aushuwitz Concentration Camp and Aushuwitz II-Birkenau extermination camp.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp

There was fresh snow on the ground from the first snowfall of the season, the day we visited. It was bone-chillingly cold and the sky was a depressing, ugly and gray. This miserable weather made the uncomprehensible tragedy of this place hit home. It was hard to stomach and I can never understand how such a thing happened. I can only hope we will never create a similar situation in our future.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau Extermination Camp entrance and railway tracks

This being said, if you are new to the study of WWII, the Holocaust or history in general, I do not recommend making the trip to Aushuwitz. In general the ambiance of the camp was not interesting or unique. I was not half as moved by this excursion as I was by the Holocaust museum of Washington D.C. As a non-Jew and personally unconnected to these events, I had no way of relating to its tragedy or humanizing its mass suffering. If you are interested in learning more about the subject, I highly recommend the DC museum as well as the book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. I learned so much from both these sources and they had a profound effect on my perspective of WWII.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau Extermination Camp at sundown

Now, I’m back in Romny and trying to jump into the swing of things at school. This might be impossible, but I’m here to try my best and that is all I can do.

Check out the rest of my Krakow photos HERE