This year, on May 18th 9:00am, I was just boarding a coach with 27 other students and 3 lecturers, which would take me to Bristol Airport, from which I would then fly out to the historical Polish city of Krakow. We were on a trip to Krakow to visit the more prominent historical monuments and locations that could be found in Krakow, a city that is coated in history and culture. For £150, I was able to get transport there and back, 4 nights in a hotel that was within walking distance of everything in the city and was well kept, alongside paying admission fees to every museum, building and attraction that was planned (with the exception of one, which I will speak about below).
As a group we managed to see a large amount of Krakow, obviously we couldn't quite fit it all in with the time that we had, but we definitely managed check off a lot of the must do’s/sees of Krakow. Excluding the evening of the 18th, we had three full days, two of which were already predetermined and the last of which was a free day left to the students to do as they wished independently around Krakow. That free day for 24 of the students was organised by one student in particular, as a visit to the infamous Auchwitz and Auchwitz-Birkenau death camps that reside only an hour and a half drive away from the city. The rest of the group attended the nearby Salt Mines with lecturers, in which they had a fun day licking the salty walls and visiting an underground chapel. However I will go in more depth below as I lay out what we did on each respective day.
After an early start, Day 1 started with a walk in the roasting sun to the very centre of the city, to the Wawel Castle, a renaissance era castle that was one of few to survive centuries of occupation and invasion. Inside we got to see the Wawel Cathedral, the primary crypt for the royals of Poland and other significant cultural figures such as Władysław Sikorski the prime minister of the Polish government in exile. While at the actual castle we visited the state rooms, a museum in the castle focusing on the nobility and religious aspects of polish culture, told through art, tapestries and artefacts. Then we visited the castle Armoury, which featured another museum, this time focusing on European and Polish weaponry and military throughout history, such as armours, weapons and symbolic royal arts.
Finally we got see an authentic Da Vinci, the Lady with an Ermine. While Art History doesn’t really hold my interests, it was interesting to have the opportunity to see the works of such a prominent historical figure such as Da Vinci. After the Da Vinci, while everyone else stopped for lunch, I and four/five other students decided to make the trek to the top of the Cathedral Bell tower, with which I took that first picture overlooking the entire city. Also found out that the bell weighed a hefty 3000kg.
After lunch we were able to visit St Mary’s Basilica, a building of great religious importance and beauty situated right on the main square of the city.
Day two consisted of yet another early start, jumping on a tram to the main square and going to the old Cloth Hall. Once there we descended into a particularly unique type of museum that was completely underground, directly below the entirety of the square. Here we got a tour around the museum which aimed to tell the story of Poland throughout history, especially in regards to that of Krakow. The tour guide told many prominent stories about Krakow, one being the story of the Scout who spotted the Mongol invaders in the 13th century, only to be killed during the middle of sounding the warning. However despite this, the scout supposedly saved the lives of many who were able to get behind the walls with advanced warning. To remember this event, a trumpet tune is played from the top of the Basilica on the hour all day, always stopping half way through its tune. This is just one of the many legends we were told of, ones featuring dragons, others prominent kings. Following on from that we quickly made our way to the beautiful and somewhat rustic Kazimierz the old Jewish quarter of the city, where we took a nice break in the basking sun to grab a bite to eat.
Shortly after we went to the Old Synagogue, which is exactly what it says it is, the oldest synagogue in Krakow, it has now become a museum for Jewish history. Not just Jewish history in Krakow, but the whole of Jewish history across Europe. With exhibits of traditional Jewish dress, prayer reading apparatus (it was forbidden to actually touch religious scrolls!) all within a synagogue kept in pristine condition. After we were meant to go directly to the Schindler factory, however the tour guide for the Synagogue also happened to be one of the guides for the Schindler factory, and managed to essentially kidnap the whole group for an unplanned tour around Kazimierz to view all the different synagogues, of which there were many, varying in age and purpose.
Skipping ahead to what is now mid-afternoon we made our way to the Schindler factory, a museum that was designed and created within a building that was a part of the factory, the very same from the film Schindler's List. Within here we heard all about the true facts of what happened in the factory, about how Schindler was not truly as nice as he was made to be in the film. These also included exhibits on other extraordinary stories about Polish resistance to the Nazi regime occupying Poland, alongside stories about horrific deeds committed in the ghettos. One wall was dedicated to letters written by the children in those ghettos and painted a particularly gruesome picture.
The day was finished off by going on a group outing to a small pub in the centre of Kazimierz to have a relaxing drink and chat with nearly all in attendance. Followed by an evening free to explore the city in whichever way we wished. The main square in the evening was a bustling place, with food vendors, actors walking around and horse carriage rides.
Day three as mentioned above was a day that was dedicated as a day trip to visit the memorials/museums at Auchwitz and Auchwitz-Birkenau, the two most infamous death camps of the Nazi regime. Rather than get a tour of the locations, we got a coach out of Krakow early in the morning and were allowed to explore the camps at our own pace. It is hard to put into words exactly what it was like at each place, any writing done here would only serve as an injustice to what it is like there and how it felt. A truly interesting and thought provoking day out that I was glad I had the chance to experience, all thanks to my course in History. Following the trip on the way back to Krakow, we stopped at a restaurant in a small village which served mostly traditional style Polish food.
This whole trip was planned by the History lecturers for the History students studying in their second and third year. It was a trip that was partially subsidised by the course, which allowed for the cheap price of £150 which was a good deal considering everything that we managed to get up to on the trip. I know for a fact it isn’t the only trip that people studying History will get to attend, I know of a trip to London for first years, and others to other historical locations around the U.K depending on lecturer availability and funding. This was a truly fantastic trip, which included the right amount of course-related activities and free exploration. It is definitely on the table that such trips be organised in the coming years due to the great success of this one and the previous year’s trip to Vienna. The overall point is, it is definitely worth finding out what experiences your own course offers at Plymouth, many courses do in fact offer these trips and it could be a good chance for you to go places and see things which you have never done so before, or would never have had the chance to do so previously.