Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Santorini: Travel Guide

Greece was an item on my bucket list that needed some serious dusting. So, my husband and I decided to travel to Greece for a more extravagant "honeymoon" once all the wedding planning nerves were gone and I had finally shed the last layer of my bridezilla skin. Santorini is known as one of the most picturesque Greek islands making its Instagram fame widespread. When we bought flights to Athens, I suggested tacking on Santorini and we just went with it!
We have no regrets, Santorini was gorgeous, extremely hot, and perfectly relaxing.
At the beginning of our trip we flew straight into Santorini from Athens (after a 34hr travel day, WHEW!). We sadly flew in at night, but I’m sure the views from above over the Greek islands are incredible.

About Santorini:
  • We visited Santorini at the beginning of September. Just after their busiest tourism month (August), but before the tourist season really died down.
  • Santorini is situated on top of a volcano! The crescent moon shaped island is actually the rim of a volcano, allowing the seaside cities to overlook the caldera (crater of the volcano) to the west. I was actually freaked out about this initially, but it is not scary at all, you can’t tell what’s down there!
  • Due to the whole volcano thing, Santorini has hardly any trees, shrubbery, or vegetation, which made the sun very hot as there was little shade to offer reprieve.
  • Santorini is the name of the island, not the Instagram town. The city we stayed in is called Oia (pronounced ee-yuh or ia).
  • Oia has the cliché tourist area you see on social media, which is where we stayed. No cars are allowed in this part of the city and all traffic is foot traffic. We arrived to Oia via our hotel shuttle from the airport. The shuttle dropped us off at the post office, which is off the main street of tourist Oia.
Entrance to our hotel
Where we stayed: Oia Mare Villas
  • Half of our Greece budget was spent on this hotel (that’s what it felt like anyway) for 4 nights and it was worth every single penny.

View from our room out to the caldera
  • We had a private sun deck and private hot tub, both next to our room, and our view was straight out over the caldera, which is the direction the sun sets. Note: not all houses and hotels in Santorini face the caldera.

Laying out on the sundeck overlooking the caldera
  • Oia Mare Villas offered complimentary breakfast, and had a pool and larger sundeck where we spent most afternoons when the sun was too hot to hike the stairs that make up Oia’s streets.
  • Prime viewing of the sunset each evening was simple as we had perfect views from the hotel, meaning we did not have to plan ahead to fight crowds or find a sunset view restaurant.
  • The hotel also offered pickup shuttle from the airport and a shuttle to the ferry when we left (a huge plus considering we did not have to navigate island roads or try to book a cab).
Watching the sunset from out hotel. Look at all the crowds of tourists behind us!!!
What we did: Nothing

  • Absolutely nothing, it was glorious.
  • The beauty of paying for an expensive hotel with a water view was that we did not feel the need to go do anything and everything while in Oia.
Exploring Santorini
Our typical day in Oia:
  • Woke up early to see the sunrise and walk through the city before the suffocating heat and swarms of tourists – Great time to people watch guys taking hundreds of pics of their "I-wish-I-was-an-Instagram-famous-Influencer" significant others for that perfect Santorini shot.

  • Breakfast at the hotel – Our last day we ate breakfast at a yummy Crepe place up the hill from our hotel.
  • Window shopping/exploring Oia – We did this in the late morning and ended the exploring with finding a lunch spot.
  • Hiding in the hotel room from the sun and tourists – Cruise ships dock almost daily and the afternoon are JAMMED with cruise tourists, you can pick them out by the big sticker name tags they all wear. The area around our hotel was free of tourists and quiet and relaxing.
  • We spent most afternoons in the hotel room napping, or out on the sun deck reading/napping.

Sunset from the hotel
  • Watched the sunset.
    • Watching the sunset is equivalent to a sport in Santorini.
    • Every single day starting at around 3, you could see people starting to congregate at good viewing spots. They stayed there for hours so that when the sun finally set they would have the best view.
    • Right before sunset, all the boat tours would line up on the water so everyone could have a view.
    • After the sun finished setting, everyone would clap! That was one of my favorite parts. It was almost like everyone was clapping and exclaiming, “Yay, God! You’re sunsets are beautiful every day, thank you for letting me be a part of it!”
  • Nightly stroll on the high street and dinner - Right after sunset was prime dining time for tourists and most restaurants stayed open until midnight or later. We wouldn’t eat until around 9pm!
What we ate:
  • Fava beans
    • Similar to hummus, but better and local to Santorini.
    • Made with yellow split peas, but make sure you order with pita bread, otherwise they just serve you a plate of fava with nothing to eat it with.
    • We would put it on our gyro’s, meat, or anything else we were eating (even pizza!)
    • We ended up only eating at restaurants that served fava.
  • Breakfast
    • Every morning except our last we ate breakfast at the hotel.
    • Vitrin Café Creperie – yummy crepes and a cute rooftop seating area! Usually busy later in the day but for breakfast we were the only ones eating on the roof!

Lunch view from Skiza Pizza
  • Lunch
    • Skiza Pizza – the best pizza we had on the island. Tasted like typical Italian pizza goodness, and they let you take your leftovers to go!
    • Niko’s Place – best gyro we had on the island!
  • Dinner – one of my favorite things we did each evening was finding a dinner restaurant. We walked by so many restaurants on the high street and perused their menus until we found one that looked good. We ate at a different place each night. While some were better than others, they were all yummy.
    • Skala Restaurant - Tip: if there is no one eating at the restaurant it probably isn't very good, if most of the tables are full or the place is packed you know its going to be yummy!
We left Santorini via Ferry back to Athens. We actually found out upon arriving in Santorini that we had booked the wrong ferry time and had to rebook 3 days before were to take the ferry (CHAOS!). This is the site we used to book our ferry.
Tips for Santorini:
  • Everyone speaks English, most locals don’t even try speaking Greek first because everyone there is a tourist. There are plenty of American, British, Canadian, and Australian tourists in Oia.

Atlantis Books

  • There is a bookstore in Oia called Atlantis Books. It has an awesome back story on how it was founded and I bought the book Circe, by Madeline Miller, there to read (which happened to be the perfect book to read in Greece!) The shop is on the high street and they have a cute rooftop as well! I also found a great Greek cookbook there that we ended up gifting to my dad for Christmas!
  • We were about the only people we met only doing one island. Most people island hop, or at least visit two. While I loved the simplicity and stress free environment of staying on the island for 4 nights, I can see the value in visiting others as well!
  • Research your islands! Santorini is gorgeous and there is a photo op at every turn but I think other islands would prove less touristy with just as much beauty!
  • The ferry out was extremely stressful, if you are going to island hop, do it by plane for less stress, or don’t go to a ton in rapid succession. I would not have enjoyed dealing with the ferry on a frequent basis.
  • Spend the money on a nice hotel with a view! It is seriously, hands down, worth it. I usually book an Airbnb and always love them, but in Santorini we made an exception and were not disappointed.
  • There is SO MUCH to do on this island (boat tours, volcano tours, vineyard tours, different rock “beaches”, the capital city Fira, etc.), don’t let our uneventful, relaxing, and restful time there discourage you from visiting if you want to see the sights and take the tours!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

San Francisco: The City by the Bay

After an unforgivably long absence from the travel blogging realm, I’m back from a fun and MUCH needed long weekend away in San Francisco!

If you haven’t been keeping up with my life (I don’t blame you, its been extremely boring), my past eight months have consisted of 80+ job applications, 3 interviews, and 0 big girl job. Safe to say, a weekend away was JUST what I needed.

Thursday April 7

I flew in that morning and got to the Airbnb around 9:30am, yay for time change and an entire day to explore a dazzling new city!

After walking 15 miles we saw so much of the city!

What started as a hunt for brunch (and eventually lunch because we couldn’t decide on a place), we walked 3 miles to a pizza place, Hole in the Wall Pizza. If you’re in a pinch for time and in that area, its pretty good pizza, however, if you’re looking for an amazing pizza place in San Fran, this isn’t the one for you.

It worked out for us because it was in the direction of Presidio Park, where one of my favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy (don’t worry, I don’t expect you to know of him), has multiple art installations!

Andy Goldsworthy, "Wood Line," 2011.
"I am not a performer but occasionally I deliberately work in a public context. Some sculptures need the movement of people around them to work." -Andy Goldsworthy
Eventually stumbling onto “Wood Line,” we walked throughout the logs. Between getting that perfect shot (gotta do it for the gram!) and me talking all sorts of artsy gobbly goop, the space was enjoyable to traverse.

Goldsworthy works ephemerally, some of his work doesn’t even last for more than a few minutes. This particular installation was created with large tree trunks laid end to end along a path between the trees in Presidio. The back and forth path of the logs and the shadows cast from the tall trees easily played on the imagination. Moving through the piece, each time we looked back from where we had come the installation gave us a new image, like it itself had moved. As we walked, “Tree Line” slithered along with us. I absolutely loved this piece and didn't mind the 4 mile walk to get there!

As we walked through Presidio to another Goldsworthy installation we realized there were trails running throughout the park, and one that led to the Golden Gate Bridge!! Since I had yet to see the bridge, we took off down the most direct path to the bridge after stopping by Goldsworthy’s “Spire”.

Interacting with art may be one of my most favorite things!

Andy Goldsworthy, "Spire," 2008
Presidio is not just a beautiful park, but the trails offer many different areas of interest. Lookouts are scattered throughout and, among other things, we stumbled onto the National Cemetery (One of my favorite spots from Presidio) and a WWII memorial for all who died at sea (it overlooked the bay along the cliffs at the west end of Presidio).

National Cemetery overlooking the bay!
Walking toward the Golden Gate Bridge along the cliffs was breathtaking. The fog rolled in as we took in all the sights and sounds of the bay. Eventually we walked a bit across the bridge before deciding to head back toward the Airbnb for dinner.

View from the cliffs!
Side Note: San Francisco’s public transportation is expensive! ($4 for a bus ticket! Yikes!) And the subway only runs on the east side of the city, so we opted for an Uber, which was our main form of transportation from that point onward). Taking the Uber back to Civic Center to catch the subway back to our Airbnb we hunted for dinner. I say hunted because I was hangry and irrationally indecisive (completely different from my normal indecisiveness). We settled for a sushi place we found in a cool, hipster grocery store called The Market. Inside it sold groceries, had a café, and the quaint sushi bar we ate at; it was perfect!

Friday April 8

First thing on the agenda: Brunch (obviously!) We ate at Plow and it DID NOT disappoint! We ended up walking there from the Civic Center subway station, which we immediately regretted. We walked up LOTS of STEEP streets, got lost, but eventually ran into a local taking a break from her morning workload. She was walking around the block and was so kind to help us with directions.

Plow was on the corner of Texas Street!!
We finally found Plow and got coffee at a nearby coffee shop while we waited! Seriously, Plow was SOOOO good and I’m so sad I forgot to take a picture of our yummy food before we devoured it!


Coffee Shop across the corner from plow (the baristas were super pretentious, just a heads up)
The only thing we had concretely planned for San Francisco before we arrived was a tour of Alcatraz (but more on that later!)

Because we knew we had to be at the dock for the tour that evening we started the day in the Marina District.

Columns at the Palace of Fine Arts
We started at the Palace of Fine Arts. Originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition to exhibit works of art, the entire place took me back to Rome.

I loved this! Not that you can tell or anything ;)
Apparently, during the Exposition the entire district was erect with buildings built in this style (be still my beating heart) and the Palace of Fine Arts is the only structure that still survives today.

Dainty details at Palace of Fine Arts!
From there we walked toward Fisherman’s Wharf, where we stumbled upon the Ghirardelli Factory and spent ample time perusing the shops and sneaking every free sample of chocolate we could!

View of Alcatraz from our walk to Fisherman's Wharf!
We ate lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf, which is the touristiest place we visited in all of San Fran (touristiest? Word suggested this and is now saying it is not a thing, I digress).

Lunch was what you expect from a place hustling and bustling with tourists, over priced and over rated, but it sustained us for the time being.

After lunch, with time to spare, we rented bikes and biked back toward the Golden Gate Bridge.  

You should be able to see the Golden Gate bridge in the background, but fog
The fog was SO thick that day you couldn’t see the bridge at all and when we got to the bridge, bikes weren’t allowed due to fog and foot traffic.

Thick thick fog at the GGB
Alcatraz. I really am at a loss for words. Honestly I knew NOTHING about Alcatraz before the tour, I didn’t even know Al Capone was there, that’s how little I knew.

View of Alcatraz from the Ferry
We took the night tour. It costs a little extra, but offers more for visitors. Aside from the audio tour that every ticket includes, visitors on the night tour enjoy a narrated ferry tour that goes around the entire island (other tours don’t have narration and they go straight from dock to dock, no scenic views), areas of Alcatraz not usually open to the other tour groups (that night the hospital was open, and oh my was it spooky!), and programs after the audio tour giving visitors the opportunity to learn more about certain aspects of the prisons (we sat through a presentation on a specific inmate and heard his crazy story of pre, during, and post Alcatraz life).

Alcatraz from the ferry with San Fran in the background
The audio tour was very well done; they have different voice over actors for different inmates and prison guards.

Touring the prison while the sun was setting added another component to the tour, making it even creepier.

As the sun went down the lighting in the main cell block changed with the natural light.
The audio tour covered attempted escapes, successful escapes, an inmate uprising, and other aspects of the prison. We were taken down the main cellblocks, including solitary confinement cells, the library, cafeteria, and warden offices.

Alcatraz lighthouse. Did you know it was the first lighthouse on the west coast?!
The hospital was by far the creepiest part of the tour. I got the heebie jeebies walking through the rooms and reading informational posters about psychotic inmates who stayed up there.

Operating room in the Alcatraz hospital (the lack of overhead lighting didn't help the creepy setting)
Walking back down to the dock in the dark black fog was eerie. We couldn’t even see the lights of the city at times when the thicker fog would roll through. Overall, I would recommend the night tour! It was definitely worth the extra bucks to experience so much more!

For dinner we got pizza from Pizzeria Delfina, this is where you want to go if you want some yummy Neapolitan pizza in the city.

Tip: A lot of restaurants there have a weird hostess system, instead of giving your name to someone who works there, you just write it down yourself on a list with the number in your party. It took us a while to figure this out.

Saturday April 9

As the brunch athletes that we are, we decided to hit up brunch a second morning in a row! This time at a super crunchy farm to table place called Outerlands.

It blew our collective minds! Would highly recommend!

Then we were off to the Muir Woods!

Getting to the Muir Woods was something we had planned. We talked about renting a car for the day, or figuring out a bus that went there. In the end we settled for an Uber. With three of us, it wasn’t too expensive once it was split. A 40-minute drive from brunch, which was in South San Francisco, took us to the Muir Woods. Entry fee is $10 for adults and parking is limited (another reason we chose an Uber).

The Muir woods were fantastical. A main boardwalk path runs through the National Park with other unpaved trails leading from it. After talking with someone in the gift shop we chose a 3.7 mile hike that boasted gorgeous views of the ocean. Again, it was a foggy, rainy day and no view of the ocean was to be seen.

The fog made the forest come alive. I felt as if we were on a quest in Middle Earth, or some other enchanted land. With the mist and the fog and the tall trees it took everything I had to not let my imagination run away completely. We trekked through mud and rain, over cliffs and rivers, and loved every second of it!

Leaving the Muir Woods was something we hadn’t planned on: No cellphone service! No cell phone service = no Uber. Thankfully, a shuttle runs from Muir Woods to Sausalito, the town across the bay from San Fran. $5 and 45 minutes later (actually I fell asleep so no guarantee on the time frame) we were in Sausalito. Visiting the tourist info building we asked the sweetest lady where to grab lunch. She recommended a Taco place and off we went. Kason had been pushing for Mexican food all weekend and the quaint Sausalito provided in full. I had probably the best tortilla soup EVER!

Next on the agenda (much to my begging) we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge.

This was one of those activities that is awesome to say you’ve done, but that day with high blustering winds and down pouring rain. We walked across anyway and lived to tell the tale!

On the other side of the bridge, thoroughly drenched and shivering from the cold (or was that just me?) we found ourselves at the Painted Ladies.

Alamo Square is a small park where the Painted Ladies partly line one edge. Actually, all of the houses immediately lining the park are gorgeous, I’d recommend taking them all in if you have the time and desire. You will know where the Painted Ladies are because all the tourists will be pointing their phones in that direction (again for the gram). If you’re lucky enough, you may even catch a whisper of the Full House theme song playing over someone’s phone speakers (thankfully we weren’t “those” people.) The Painted Ladies were fun to see and it was interesting to converse over which was our favorite (mine was the blue one!)

That evening we spent in the Airbnb. After weathering the elements all day/weekend and walking our tired feet off, we couldn’t be bothered to get out and find a fun, new place to eat, so we ordered pizza! Third time in one weekend, no complaints!

Sunday 10 April

We decided to hit up brunch one last time (we have a problem, and we aren’t going to apologize for it). But we stayed close to our Airbnb so there was less rush getting to the airport. We decided on a place called Big Joe’s! The owner’s daughter (maybe 7 or 8 years old) helped seat guests and the whole place had a local diner feel (probably because it is the local diner). Many people came in and were called by name and sat at what seemed like their usual place at the bar. It made us feel like locals on our last day in town!

We spent the rest of the morning finishing laundry and packing. If you have never stayed in an Airbnb, DO IT!!! Meeting locals, living like a local while you’re there, having access to a kitchen and washer/dryer (depending on the listing) are all pros to the Airbnb experience. We lucked out with an AMAZING Airbnb location (right off the subway) and had great hosts who left us a list of local restaurants to try, among other things.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


If you have been following my posts on Instagram, you know I've been traveling through Europe the past 10 days. I started in Amsterdam, then Berlin, and finished in Krakow. I'm writing my post from Krakow first because I have much more to say about Krakow than the other cities. I also think it will help me process the heavy subjects I encountered while there. 

I didn't take the average Joe tour of Krakow. I went specifically to tour Auschwitz. While many may find this something they'd rather not see, I think it is important to learn, experience, and remember. Anyway, I'll get to Auschwitz later.

Monday 11 May 2015

I left Berlin on an early flight and landed in Krakow Monday morning. I should point out that this was my first time to travel solo (other than my previous day trips around England). I had a car waiting for me and was transported straight to the hotel. As I was traveling alone I got on trip advisor and planned what I wanted to do for the day and headed out the door!

My hotel was located in the Jewish District of Krakow. Well, it used to be the Jewish District, before WWII. I was right down the road from 2 synagogues and the Jewish Museum.

Originally I didn't want to tour the Jewish Museum. I had found on TripAdvisor that there was a concentration camp on the outskirts of the city and I wanted to beeline there to give myself enough time to see it.

However, I ended up going into the Jewish Museum and I'm so glad I did. It's one of the best museums I've been to in a long while. I spent a good 2 hours there reading everything and going through their books. I ended up buying the catalogue for their permanent exhibition! It has been a while since I've been to an exhibition about the Holocaust and have learned something new. I have never specifically studied Poland and its Jewish history and their exhibition was fascinating and also heavily moving. This is one of the perks that comes with traveling alone. I can spend 2 hours in a museum and actually experience it without worrying about other people wanting to see different things in the city.

Next I found Schindler's factory as it was on the way to the concentration camp. This time I did not go into the museum, I just snapped a pic and was on my way.

And here is my not so great shot of the iconic gates at Schindler's Factory.

At this point I hopped on a tram to take me to the closest stop to the concentration camp. The name of the camp is Plaszow and I had no idea what to expect. I'd never heard of this place and didn't know if it was out in the country somewhere on a road that wouldn't be safe to walk down.

What I encountered was not what I had envisioned.

I got off the tram and followed my google maps to where it said the concentration camp was. I was wandering through suburbs of family homes and apartment complexes.

Then I turned down a street and the road turned into a skinny lane of asphalt that disappeared into the trees.

There were people walking and women with strollers taking their babies for an early afternoon walk.
After about 10-15 minutes of walking the trees cleared and I saw this:

It's a memorial to everyone who was killed at the Plaszow Concentration Camp.

Other memorials in Polish and Yiddish dotted the open area, and I found myself, yet again, walking on a path through the trees.

When this path opened up I found something different.

This memorial is dedicated to the mass grave on which it is built. There are multiple sites of mass graves still at the former location of Plaszow and this is a known spot. (I ended up googling the concentration camp after about 2 hours of wandering around the site, which is how I found out all this information.)

Once again, I found myself on another pathway through the trees. This time I found an expanse of gravel.

The yellow gravel, rock area to the left is where I'm guessing the barracks were. The buildings to the right are part of the suburb I walked through to find this. The entire time I was wandering around the site it was so bizarre that people could go about their daily life (walking around the "park" or soaking up some sun on their balcony) while knowing what used to be here. This is what I would've found had I walked through this site in the 1940's:

Barracks instead of an empty gravel field
image source: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_ph.php?ModuleId=10005301&MediaId=2819
Barbed wire instead of beautiful flowering trees.
image source: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_ph.php?ModuleId=10005301&MediaId=1822
I could see what looked liked ruins on the hillside beyond the gravel. When I reached it I realized it was a Jewish cemetery. The Nazis destroyed two Jewish cemeteries and used the tombstones as foundation for the barracks and other buildings at the camp.

The single grave marker that still stands.
One lone stone still stands at the site of the cemetery. It was actually featured in a photograph displayed at the Jewish Museum I toured a few hours before. I choked back tears as I wandered in and out between the ruined remains. What many don't realize is that the dead are treated with respect in Judaism, similar to Christianity. Not only did the Nazis murder mass amounts of Jews, but they treated them like animals while they were both alive and after their death. Burning them, burying them in mass graves, spreading their ashes in ponds and using the ashes as fertilizer.

At this point I began googling the camp. I didn't know how much more of it there was to see. 70 years ago, before the defeat of the Third Reich, the Nazis forced prisoners to destroy the camp. They tore apart barracks and blew up buildings and burned everything. However, there are still two buildings standing.

This house was where the head commander of the camp lived. What is strange is that it is situated between the family homes that line the street. I couldn't even walk on the same side of the street as it. I was creeped out and had a bad feeling when I saw it. I had to cross the street and hurry by, I can't even imagine living by such a place.

This house was used by SS officers who worked at the camp. They used the basement as a torture chamber for prisoners. What you can't see in this photo is that behind the house is a park where children were playing with their dogs and swinging on swings. It was all very surreal.

I wandered around for a few more minutes and then couldn't bear being there anymore. It was all too creepy and dark. I was one of the only people actually there to see the site of the camp. I passed maybe 5 other individuals who were riding bikes or pushing baby strollers. Its disgusting that the neighborhood now uses this former concentration camp site, where there are still MASS GRAVES, as a park to take an afternoon stroll.

I walked back through the neighboorhood with a different perspective. Never could I live in that proximity to a site where such cruelties happened.

Catching the train back into the city I decided to see the historic and tourist Krakow.

Basilica of the Virgin Mary. Gothic style architecture rebuilt in the 14th century. Every hour a trumpeter plays from the tower on the left in memory of the Trumpeter of Krakow, who saved the city and townspeople from a Mongol invasion.

Like I said, I didn't take a tour of Krakow like the normal tourists. I was more interested in the Jewish history of the city. That means all the buildings I saw I knew nothing about. The only reason I know about the trumpeter is because my mom texted me about it. Thanks mom!

Walking through the old town district was amazing. Every corner up ahead had another beautiful building.

The architecture of the city is amazing! I couldn't help but just take photo after photo of random buildings that lined the streets.

Some church that I ate ice cream by... I don't even know what its called.
I finally made it to Wawel Castle (pronounced "Vavel").

Wawel Cathedral
Which also happens to be the site of Wawel Cathedral.

I headed back to my hotel to call it a day and found some interesting places in the Jewish district.

This is the entrance to the Old Cemetery at Remu Synagogue. Some stones in this cemetery are from the 12th and 13th centuries!

This is a former Tora Prayer House that is now a residential building. After WWII, there were nearly no Jews left in Poland and many who were left did not return to their home town but immigrated to Israel or America. In the 1990's many of the single story buildings were built on top of and used for new purposes. There are also multiple restaurants in the area that used to be important sites for daily Jewish life before the war.

Tuesday 12 May


"Work makes you free"
I woke up super early to catch a bus to Auschwitz. This was what I came to Krakow for and I was going to try and spend as much time there as I could. Unfortunately, the bus I tried to catch had mechanical problems and we had to wait over half an hour for another bus to arrive. Auschwitz is about an hour and a half outside the city by bus. I arrived right at 10am. Starting in April, the beginning of peak tourist season, everyone that enters the camp from 10-3 must be accompanied by a guide. Normally the camp is free to enter for individuals, but as my bus broke down and I arrived at 10, I had to pay for a guided tour. This completely changed my experience.

Auschwitz I
The tour guide was okay. I was in a group of about 25 and she took us through the museum aspects of Auschwitz I, which was the labor camp.

Then we shuttled to Auschwitz II/Birkenau, the death camp.

This is my photo, I couldn't help but edit it in B&W
The experience I had at Auschwitz was entirely different than the one I had just the day before at Plaszow. Being in a tour group made it feel like a class trip to a museum, a "and here is a model of where cavemen lived" type feeling.

It might also have something to do with the fact that everything is still there, well at least for the most part. The Nazi's didn't successfully destroy everything, just a lot of the barracks and the crematoriums at Auschwitz II/Birkenau. Since Auschwitz was the biggest, and we know a lot of what happened within its barbed wire fences, it was not as much of a shock to me as Plaszow.

Rail car used to deport Jews to "the East" 
Where the tracks ended. At the crematoriums.
I won't go into all the details of what I saw at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II/Birkenau, but I will say the camp was massive. This is now the 4th concentration camp I have visited and the sheer scale is unfathomable. None of my photos did the camp's size justice, but it was a massive beast while it was at full steam.

After the tour was over I wandered through the camp some on my own as the tour did not cover every single building.

It was difficult to walk through the camp and understand the cruelty that took place there. Poland is gorgeous, and walking through Auschwitz, the grounds were also beautiful, blooming with many different wildflowers. It hurts my heart to know that the people who suffered here saw the spring and the blooming flowers but yet were still surrounded by such atrocities.

Once again, I found it too much to bear to stay there any longer so I headed back to Krakow.

I think it is important for everyone to visit a concentration camp. Our guide said it best when she said, "it is not always something we want to do, but it is something that needs to be done." However, it is scary to think that while people can visit and see and learn, nothing will change until we apply and respond to what we saw. History has a sly way of repeating itself.

It was a long bus ride back to the city. I was sunburned and mentally and physically exhausted. I was going to go straight to my hotel and ask for suggestions for dinner, but then I found an Israeli place around the corner and it was perfection! Just what I needed after an emotionally strenuous day.

My waiter was cute, and the food was amazing. I sat outside in the perfect weather and overlooked the Remu Synagogue while listening to reggae music about Israel.

Wednesday 13 May

I knew that I wanted to walk through the Jewish ghetto before I left. So, my last morning in Krakow, I set out to walk the perimeter of the Jewish Ghetto during WWII. I felt the need to do this. By doing this the people who suffered are not forgotten.

I started in the Ghetto Heroes Square where there is a memorial to the Jewish Ghetto and Krakow Jews. These are oversized bronze chairs whose emptiness makes you realize how void Krakow is of its once thriving Jewish community.

The ghetto was tiny. As I walked the perimeter I realized just how small it was for so many people to be crammed into one little area.

Some buildings, like the one pictured above, have plaques that commemorate what tragedies happened there. Unfortunately, these plaques are few and far between. The map I was following showed 3 mass killing sights within the ghetto and I couldn't locate any of them on the street, the sites have turned into hotels and tram stops.

It took me a while to locate a surviving section of the ghetto wall.

It is the right section of the wall. The wall was shaped like tombstones, which only acted as a foreshadowing of what was to come.

At this point I tried to get closer to the wall but ended up walking up a large hill and finding an open field with a beautiful view of the city.

Hiking up the large hill, urban hiking at its finest

Path at the top of the hill.

Field on top of hill.

View from top of hill.
Looking across the field I could see another large open field beyond and I decided to head in that direction. It took me to Krak Mound, the resting place of the legendary King Krakus, fabled founder of the city of Krakow.

There it is, Krak Mound.

View from the top of Krak Mound.
I wore my chacos on my entire 10 day trip. They were the only pair of shoes I packed. Now my feet are very tan with a chaco tan line and my legs are still very white as I wore pants the entire trip. I keep looking at my feet thinking there is dirt on them, nope, just sun damage.

beautiful view of Krakow from the top of Krak Mound.
From the top of the mound I could see some cliffs. This ended up being a limestone quarry. But, not any limestone quarry. This was the quarry that the prisoners of Plaszow were forced to work at.

Then I found a cemetery. A Christian cemetery. The Nazis didn't destroy this one, unlike the two Jewish cemeteries they destroyed. I kept walking, I knew I was close to Plaszow and at this point it seemed as if I was on a pilgrimage.

I found the camp and went back to the site of the mass grave where I found this small stone someone had placed there. It was a solemn walk into the Jewish ghetto, the same way the Jews were forced to move out of their homes in Krakow, then out of the Ghetto, the same direction they were forced into the camp, then to the quarry where they were forced to slave away for hours and hours every day, and then to the camp where they were forced to endure horrendous acts of cruelty, violence, and murder. I decided to walk back to the city center instead of taking a tram, I needed to clear my mind.

After my long walk and lunch in the square, I wandered around the city trying to spend my last Zlotys.

I honestly loved just walking around the city with nothing to do. The sights were amazing, I can't get over the architecture!

I didn't take hardly any selfies while I was in Krakow (sorry mom), but I did manage to take this selfie with some horses!
I ended up walking back to the castle. I knew there was a dragon statue somewhere, but I didn't know where. This is a statue of the same dragon that King Krakus defeated to found Krakow. The dragon's cave is beneath the castle.

I bought a ticket to go down to the caves below the castle. It cost a total of $1 (or 3 Polish Zloty) and I had some great views while taking the spiral stairs down the side of the castle.

The caves are real! And tourists only get to see a small portion of them. Apparently the caves runs for a long time underground.

Then you pop out of the caves and see this guy. He's a pretty awesome statue. Was designed by a contemporary artists AND breathes fire.

After the caves it was time for me to head back to the hotel to get a ride to the airport. So I took a leisurely stroll down by the river back toward the hotel.

I really didn't want to leave. For my first time traveling alone, Krakow was the perfect city to visit. I felt safe the whole time and mostly everyone spoke English. I do think I missed out on a lot by traveling alone. Traveling with a group means sometimes you do and see things you wouldn't normally, and I definitely missed out on those things. I also wanted to take a segway tour while I was there but thought it would be lame alone, if I were with friends it would've been a blast.

So, I headed back to the airport, and I'll spare you the dramatic details, but my 10 day trip that began with my being jet lagged from getting back to the states ended by getting back to my room in London at 3am. I am thankful that I actually made it back at this time and not any later because it truly was an insane night trying to get back to London safely!

I hope, if you made it through this long post, that you found it interesting and that it stirred something inside you about the gruesome past of human people and the need to combat the current cruelties that are still occurring around the world.

More from my time in Amsterdam and Berlin will be up soon!