EuroTrip 2019: Poland & Czech Republic!

*by Whitney*

Timeline: July 16-28, 2019

If you haven’t already, you can check out my previous posts on our trip timeline here:

Krakow, Poland

We were so ready to get out of Hamburg, Germany and move on to our next destination, Krakow, Poland. Krakow brought nicer weather and a nice, private hotel room, which was much needed after the bad Airbnb in Hamburg. In Krakow we used more Hilton Honors points to book 5 nights at a hotel, also using the 5 night free perk with our Hilton Honors status. The hotel was a little ways outside the city center, but it was fairly convenient by bus or by walking. The hotel also offered free breakfast and a nice gym, pool and spa we took advantage of! We laugh at how different some parts of our trip are. Sometimes we are “bumming it” in less-than-ideal Airbnbs, and sometimes we are living the high life at nice hotels, but usually it’s somewhere in between!

There was lots to see and do around Krakow, but we also spent a little time relaxing at the hotel and getting caught up on work. This part of the trip was really busy, moving from city to city every few days. So the cities where we had 5 or more days were nice to be able to catch our breath a little bit.

Our first day in Krakow, we went into the historic city center and did a free walking tour. We learned a lot about the history and enjoyed seeing the sights. Krakow is a really beautiful place, with lots of historic buildings including a fortress, a castle, a cathedral, and the old city gates. The castle on the hill reminded me a little bit of the castle in Edinburgh, Scotland, though not quite as grand. There is also a massive center square with lots going on. Outside of the center, we also visited the Jewish district, and we “hiked” to the top of Krakus Mound to get a great view of the city.

While in Poland, we scheduled a tour of the Auschwitz Memorial, which is reachable by bus from Krakow. This was a heart-wrenching experience, but I am so glad we went. Last year, we visited the former Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany, which was also heartbreaking. But this was even more powerful and saddening. We are fortunate to be able to travel in order to learn and have these experiences, because as they say, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Another day, we took a trip to the Wieliczka salt mine outside of Krakow. What an incredible place! It’s a massive salt mine underneath the town, where they not only mined the salt, but they also made amazing carvings into the salt rock. Underground, they have several chapels. Yes, chapels! Including altars, chandeliers, statues and more, all carved out of salt rock! It was an amazing sight to behold. They even have a restaurant inside the salt mine where we ate a traditional Polish meal after our tour!

We actually had a lot of good, and very affordable, Polish food while we were in the area- which is a delight to both me and Jared! We tried the peiroges, potato pancakes, some different types of stew, cabbage, slaws, pork, and some yummy sauces! We also tried these massive local toast sandwiches, which were okay, but they were overloaded with sauce!

We had a great time in Krakow and could definitely see returning there in the future!

Prague, Czech Republic

Our next stop was the much anticipated Prague! Everyone we’ve talked to that’s been to Prague said they loved it, so it had a lot to live up to! We actually booked a full 7 days there, which was really nice. There is quite a bit to see and do in Prague, but again we also needed some more down time to relax and catch up on things. We found a nice balance of sightseeing and hanging out at our Airbnb while in Prague.

The place we were staying was outside the city in a very residential area, which allowed us to see a different side of the city and the local life. We visited a local pub/restaurant within walking distance to the house where they didn’t speak any English and aren’t used to tourists. This was challenging, but with the help of Google Translate we ordered some food and beer and were not disappointed!

The Airbnb was a big house and the host family was so hospitable. I enjoyed talking to them on several occasions about the local area, our travels, and their travels. They were about to go on a vacation to Portugal, so I was able to share some advice from our stop there earlier in our trip! Our room there was very private and cozy, on a separate floor from where the family slept, which gave us a lot of privacy to relax and make ourselves at home. This can make a huge difference in an Airbnb, rather than being in the room right next to the hosts and feeling like you have to walk on egg shells!

While in Prague, we were able to take advantage of a lot of free tours. As I mentioned in a previous post, we had been taking free walking tours with a company called Sandeman’s New Europe in almost every city we visited. We had racked up a lot of stamps on their loyalty card, which allowed us to earn some additional (paid) tours for free.

First, we did our usual free walking tour of the city center and learned some about the history and the city. Prague is such a beautiful city! The best part is that almost all of the architecture is historic and has been preserved, without any damage from wars. The main square was amazing, and the views across the river at the castle were lovely! The history was interesting too, since Czech has changed borders and “ownership” many times throughout history. The timeline was a lot to keep up with!

The next day, we booked a day trip to the nearby town of Kutna Hora, where they have the famous “Bone Chapel.” We hadn’t actually heard of this before arriving, but it was a really cool experience. There is a historic church there where the cemetery was said to have soil from The Holy Land, which made it a very popular place for people to want to be buried. Because space was limited, they actually “leased” the burial plots out for a certain period of time to a family. Then, once their time was up, their remains would be dug up and moved, so that someone else could be buried there! They ended up with a giant pile of bones in the basement, and later someone arranged them into art! The Bone Chapel is a very interesting place, with massive neatly organized piles of bones, as well as chandeliers and other arrangements made with the bones. For us anatomy geeks, it was a neat experience to see everything from femurs to metatarsals. But in some ways it was morbid and a bit creepy. In addition to seeing the Bone Chapel, we also toured around the cute town and ate at a traditional Czech restaurant. We met some nice people and enjoyed talking to them during the tour as well.

Next, we booked a beer tour. This was our second beer tour of the trip, with the first being in Brussels, Belgium. It was interesting to learn more about Czech beer and beer culture in contrast to other countries. We learned that they created the first golden lager, the “Pilsner,” named after a town in Czech Republic. In contrast to Belgium where they pride themselves on the high alcohol content of their beers, in Czech they actually enjoy lighter, lower ABV beers. Statistics say that the drinking-age citizens of Czech drink the most beer per capita than any other country in the world! On average, they drink 2 liters of beer per day! The beer tends to be lighter and less alcoholic, allowing this higher volume of consumption! We had a fun guide and also made some new friends on our beer tour from all over the world, including Argentina, Canada, Ireland, and Switzerland! At the end of the tour, we even enjoyed some more Czech food at the pub on our last stop!

The next day, we went on one last tour to the Prague Castle. The castle is actually a complex of several buildings taking up a whole area across the river. We always enjoy exploring castles and fortresses. After the tour, we saw a small museum with medieval military armor and torture devices which was interesting! Castles, armor, torture devices, what’s not to love? 😉 Then, we took a lovely walk across the historic Charles Bridge.

Our last two days in Prague we did a little more exploring and a lot more relaxing and sleeping in. One day we ventured over to another fortress called Vysehrad. While walking around that area, we found an awesome outdoor restaurant and bar atop a hill overlooking the city. We sat outside at a picnic table enjoying some delicious local food and beer while looking out across Prague. This was such an awesome find, and if you plan to visit Prague I would definitely recommend it! We then took a long stroll along the riverfront and caught an amazing sunset over the river with the castle in the distance! Talk about magical! On our last day we didn’t do a whole lot, but we did see the strange TV tower, saw another beautiful sunset from a hilltop park, and ate another good Czech meal!

We definitely made the most of our week in Prague and had an amazing time! It was really nice to have a little more time to see various parts of the city, as well as relax and take it slow for a few days. In the future, we would love to come back to Prague and also explore other parts of the Czech Republic.

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