The city of Krakow is now known as the new Prague, and I can see why. Problem is, not only does Krakow have the sights to compete with Prague, she also attracts the same immense crowds. And it's now a major stop on the Eastern European backpackers' trail, which means that they are everywhere.
Krakow is a gorgeous town that caters to tourists of every nationality. But for all its beauty, with its Wawel Hill and its castle and cathedral, with its neat Old Town and its gigantic market square (the largest in Europe), and everything in between. Add to that easy day trips to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, as well as to Auschwitz and Birkenau extermination camps, and you have a recipe for a wonderful couple of days.
Still, for all the foreigners arriving in Krakow every day, the most beautiful women remain the lovely Polish ladies. Nice to see that things remain the same, regardless of the hordes of tourists everywhere. And though I can't speak more than a few words in Polish, somehow it feels wrong to hear about 10 different English accents just by walking down the street toward Rynek Glowny. Okay, so Polish pronounciations sound mighty strange sometimes, but I'll take that over that Boston drawl (Park the car in Harvard Yard!) any day!;-)
Speaking of beer, it's quite nice and cheap, even when you pay between 25% and 30% more in touristy Krakow. Zywiec, Okocim, Warka, Piast, Tyskie -- at half a litre for about 3$-4$, it's all good! Especially when you're hanging out on the main market square, people-watching in either Wroclaw or Krakow!
Visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau extermination camps yesterday made quite an impression. I have already been to Dachau, near Munich in Germany, so Auschwitz wasn't that impressive in that it was very similar to Dachau. But when the shuttle bus dropped us at Birkenau, the impossible size of the camp defies the imagination. This place was purpose-built to be a killing ground, and it really disturbs the mind. Though the Nazis bombed a number of buildings to destroy as much evidence as possible as the Soviets were getting closer, all that's left is troubling enough. I feel that everyone should be made to visit that site at least once in their lives, just so that the errors of the past will not be repeated in the future.
I'd be remiss if I did not give kudos to every hostel I've stayed at. Indeed, Poland boasts some of the best hostels in Europe. Modern, cheap, with every possible amenities, and full of freebies, they are slowly setting a new standard in Europe. Moreover, they are staffed by the nicest and most helpful people I have met, and I've been to 26 different countries. Thus, if you are thinking of traveling to Warsaw, book a bed at the Oki Doki hostel (www.okidoki.pl); in Gdansk, check out the Targ Rybny (www.gdanskhostel.com); in Wroclaw, Nathan's Villa is the place to be (could be the very best hostel I've stayed at); and in Krakow, look no further than Greg and Tom Hostel (www.gregtomhostel.com). By booking a bed at any of these places, you'll get more bang for your buck and a lot of extras!