3 Weeks in Poland {Wroclaw & Krakow}

August 31st - September 6th // Wroclaw, Poland

Poland was a mixed bag and culture shock is a very real thing. It’s not just something people say. It’s an actual shock to your system.

We landed in Wroclaw, Poland after a long travel day coming from the Lake District National Park in England. It was immediately unfriendly with the guy at passport control rolling his eyes and ceasing to speak to us when we said we spoke English.

I know comparison is the thief of joy, but it was just such a stark contrast to the welcome in England -- with cheerful agents standing around passport control, greeting everyone and asking anyone if they needed help.

We were pretty haggard and we knew the currency exchange was in our favor, so we did one thing we have never done before -- we called an Uber. The thought of hauling all of our shit (as we’d done in all previous stops) on and off trains and buses and along steep inclines just made me want to cry, let alone doing that in an extremely foreign city.

Our Uber came and the guy was not friendly either, strike two. We checked into our Airbnb and that process was also rocky - it was an apartment in a massive complex with extremely unclear check-in instructions. Our saving grace was that we did not have to immediately go to the grocery store or back out for food — the apartment had some random food in the pantry so we ended up making some random half empty box of pasta and some oddly thick tomato sauce from the fridge. Anything was better than having to go back out into the world.

The next morning was a new day and we were ready to explore and have a good time. That quickly went south as we went downstairs to the coffee shop at the bottom of the apartment complex and had the worst coffee on record in addition to crap pastries. I didn’t even know it was possible to be a bakery and make crap pastries. At that point all we wanted to do was get some groceries and go back inside.

Please note to french press behind the cabinet that says “Please do not use”. But our host doesn’t leave her guests any way to make coffee at home. So that was nice.

Please note to french press behind the cabinet that says “Please do not use”. But our host doesn’t leave her guests any way to make coffee at home. So that was nice.

The thing about culture shock and foreign travel in general is that it makes even the most basic tasks take 100 times more brain power so even the smallest task totally zaps you. A simple trip to the store is really an hour + of wandering around, trying to find things, using google translate to read labels -- not for the nutritional value because you just can’t care about that -- but to actually just see what the fucking thing is. Otherwise you might buy buttermilk thinking it’s yogurt. Then there’s the epic fuckery of the produce section where you have to bag, weigh and label everything yourself. But it’s not in English and the photos are a little weird and there’s lots of produce that’s just straight up missing from the system.

We barely kept our shit together in the store before we just ran back to our apartment to continue cocooning safely in our bubble. The one gigantic plus was that there was a massive TV in front of a sectional couch so we pretty much just lived there watching Netflix for the remainder of our stay.

The third day we decided to try again -- going out into Poland. We walked into the town center and the walk itself was just a bummer. Wroclaw is dirty and industrial and the people are not friendly or welcoming and all in all it just doesn’t invite you in. They had a nice, classic European town square, but what is that really? What do you do in a square? Walk around for a few minutes? Take a picture so the good people of the internet know you were there?

Here’s a picture, okay?

Here’s a picture, okay?

We went to a juice bar and it was so shitty it was just like the icing on the cake — room temperature fruit blended with room temperature water and called a smoothie. Ick. We went back home and stayed inside. Even though our apartment was in some obnoxiously large complex with a balcony that faced the courtyard that had a common area the size of a city park with people constantly yelling and kids constantly screaming and the neighbors smoke coming into our windows - it was still a better alternative than navigating the outside.

The next day we tried again -- schlepping out to a cafe for brunch. It was good but not great and all in all was not really worth leaving the house for. It was extremely average, nothing to write home about. After brunch we walked down to a soup cafe we had read about -- quarts of soup for $3, how bad could it be? It wasn’t bad, but again it wasn’t great either. And more eye rolls when we asked if they spoke English. EVEN THOUGH THEY SPOKE ENGLISH. It made no sense.

All of that combined was enough to make us literally stay inside for the remaining three days of our stay. The interesting thing about feeling like an outsider is that it makes you very sensitively aware of wanting to be more inclusive. As a lil white gal in ‘merica -- I literally never feel like I don’t belong and that is pretty fucking profound when you really stop and think about it. That’s why I wish travel was more accessible and was some sort of prerequisite in life. Lots of people naturally seek things outside of their own little bubble, but most people don’t. And if they did they wouldn’t be such assholes.


September 6th - 20th // Krakow, Poland

We were nervous about going to Krakow. We had booked two weeks there and what if it was the same shit? The train ride to Krakow didn’t help. It was your average shitty train that went through the most boring stretch of land I’ve ever seen.

But thankfully Krakow itself was amazing. Our apartment again was less than ideal. It didn’t have an oven? Like. What the actual fuck? It was a large one bedroom apartment with a big kitchen…..but no oven. That was the first of many things that were inconvenient and straight up strange.

Seriously? No oven. Like. The listing didn’t explicitly say it had an oven, but that’s not something I would even think to check for. It’s a fucking oven. That’s standard in any normal kitchen.

Seriously? No oven. Like. The listing didn’t explicitly say it had an oven, but that’s not something I would even think to check for. It’s a fucking oven. That’s standard in any normal kitchen.

Our time on the outside though was great. We were staying on the outskirts of the center and our neighborhood was so pretty. The walk into town was delightful and the river that runs through Krakow is really fantastic -- full of cycle paths and green space and cafes. The people were so friendly and the square was massive and really jaw-dropping.

We got some dental work down which involved three visits to the office and it was all just a revelation. To put it in an insanely tiny nutshell -- we saw four dentists in Phoenix. They were all patronizing, they all laughed at our questions, and they all tried to up-sell us on dental work that we did not need. That is sickening and dangerous because I know most people would’ve just done it. You just do whatever the person in the white coat says. But it didn’t sit right with either of us and I’m glad we listened. The dental office in Poland was the best experience we’ve ever had and I’d go back there in a heartbeat. It was clean and modern with all the latest technology and every single staff member we encountered was super warm and nurturing. Also — my teeth cleaning didn’t hurt, like — my eyes didn’t even water. The woman was so gentle and delicate and the tools she used were top notch. I feel like I’ve been so hosed in the U.S. I got several cavities filled too and that was all around pleasant — great care, great communication, and I felt so comfortable. AND. There’s no sales pitch of any kind with anything. Even the xrays — the automatically just give them to you on a CD to take home. There’s just no bullshit of any kind.

Check out this amazeballs abandoned cemetery we walked through one day:

Krakow, Poland

We also had the good fortune of a shitload of recommendations from my friend, Anna, who lived in Krakow for a couple of years. Every single thing we did was on her recommendation and none of it disappointed. There was a particular cafe called Ranny Ptazak -- decorated in dark wood and soft pink and brass with the best coffee you’ve ever tasted and the most inventive sandwiches I’ve ever had. And the prices. I couldn’t believe how cheap it all was for us with the exchange rate. A gourmet sandwich for $4, world-class cappuccino for $2, a glass of riesling for $3. We were living like kings.

The rhythm of our days was very slow. We’d wake up and snuggle for a while before rolling out of bed at the point of being dying for coffee or food. We’d make coffee and sit on the couch or on the balcony if it wasn’t too cold. Breakfast an hour or so later and then some time deciding where we’d go for lunch that day. Usually it was to Ranny. Some days we’d mix it up and walk into the square or walk around the castle or along the river. A couple of days we went to Charlotte - a legit french cafe. Also fantastic coffee, ridiculous croque sandwiches and of course -- the pastries.

But generally it was lunch out, a walk around, back home for afternoon winding down time and then we’d cook dinner as best we could in our fucked up kitchen. At least there were lots of great grocery options. Literally on our same street was a gourmet corner store with all the basics. A few more blocks away was a larger store with more options. And one day we even trekked all the way out to the Tesco — that was so novel to be in a a familiar store (Tesco has locations all over England) and to be able to get a lot of things we were missing like tortillas and salsa and donuts. After dinner we’d relax with some TV. We were/are watching The Bodyguard (a new BBC show) and of course -- the new season of bake off.

One day we had lunch at a place with a fancy tasting menu that was only $18 a person:

It was such a lovely place to walk around with the river and the castle and everything. Everywhere you looked was pretty:

Krakow, Poland
Krakow, Poland
Krakow, Poland

All in all the people in Krakow were incredibly friendly, every square inch of the city was beautiful and it was just a great place to spend some time. It’s very humbling to walk around a city that has experienced so much death and destruction. I feel like in the US -- nobody really thinks about it. If you didn’t live through the war or serve in it -- it’s just some distant thing that happened in history. But in places like this -- it’s in your face every day. New buildings jammed right in between old buildings. What was saved and what was bombed. All of the people that were killed and all of the history and character that was destroyed. Again, just. Fucking travel. Just go somewhere, go anywhere. Have some things go wrong, have some shit be weird, see some epic sights. As long as you don’t, like, only take taxis and stay in Hiltons and eat at McDonalds -- it will make you a deeper, richer person almost automatically.

On our final day we took another Uber (still not over the novelty of that) to the airport and hopped on a plane to The Netherlands. More about that later….