For the past two years, we’ve tried to arrange a trip to Poland with my mom, which is where she was born and grew up before moving to England and then settling in the US. Unfortunately every year we tried, something came up that stopped us from being able to go and it was always disappointing.
However, this year, we finally managed to make the trip to Poland and decided to visit Krakow and Zakopane. We spent 5 days exploring my mom’s beautiful home country and immersing ourselves in the culture and food. The first three nights we stayed at the gorgeous Hotel Indigo Krakow, which I would highly recommend. It’s located in a restored building and leverages the Polish art of the neighborhood in its design and furnishings. It has a great restaurant and located just a few blocks from the heart of Old Town.
Cole, Mumushka and I headed to Krakow for a few days to explore. We walked all over Old Town, enjoying some delicious pierogis and lunch at Cafe Camelot. We then made our way over to the Jewish Quarter for a free Walking tour, where we learned what it was like to be Jewish and living in Poland in the decades before World War II. We grabbed a beer in the square before heading over for dinner at Restauracja Sąsiedzi. We got lucky and scored a table in the gorgeous outdoor courtyard and enjoyed a traditional Polish meal. It was one of the best meals we’ve had in a while – it may have been the lovely atmosphere or the wonderful company or just the delicious food – but it was a wonderful evening.
The following morning, Cole and I woke up early to head to Auschwitz. It’s only about an hour from Krakow; I have always been fascinated by World War II and since we also had family members sent to Auschwitz, it was absolutely a must see. We spent a sobering few hours walking the buildings and property in Auschwitz. I was particularity moved by all of the personal items that they had on display (the thousands of eyeglasses, hair, shoes, and unfortunately, the list of items goes on…). If you’re ever in Krakow, please make sure you make the trip out to see firsthand Auschwitz and the devastating consequences that hatred can have on society. I especially loved the quote below as a reminder of why remembering the past is so important.
We tried to compose ourselves and headed back to Krakow to pick up Mumushka (my mom’s nickname) to head to Wieliczka Salt Mine, which my mom really wanted to see. While it was a bit touristy, it was really interesting to see the intricate details and learn about the operations of the mine, which was one the oldest sale mines in operation in the world and continued production until 2007.
That evening we had a delicious dinner at Nota Resto where we got to overlook their lovely outdoor garden and listen to two musicians playing beautiful music. It was another delicious meal and would recommend checking out this restaurant as well if you’re ever in Krakow.
Saturday morning, Cole and I went for a morning run around the city. We then explored more of the old town, stopping for lunch at Resto Bar Pierogarnia, a tiny little restaurant operating out of a window that only serves pierogis. We had our first fruit pierogis of the trip, which lived up to my mom’s hype. We continued to explore more of Old town, just getting lost on the quaint cobblestone streets and alleys while admiring the beautiful architecture. Krakow is one of the few cities in Poland that wasn’t destroyed by World War II so the buildings are really spectacular. We then headed back to Nota Resto (from dinner the night before) to watch the England World Cup match on the television they’d set up for the tournament outside in their garden.
Edward flew in that afternoon and joined us for our final evening in Krakow. We had dinner at Bierhalle, a rowdy German restaurant that was showing the World Cup games that we really wanted to watch (you’ll see that living in Europe has definitely made us ‘football’ fans).
Sunday morning we woke up early and picked up a few snacks for the road trip at the farmers market, Stary Kleparz, located right next to the hotel. We then hopped in the rental car and made the trek down to Zakopane, heading straight to Morskie Oko lake.
Morsie Oko, the “eye of the sea”, is the largest lake in the Tatra Mountains (known as the Polish Alps). The hike to the lake was much more of a walk with a paved road and pretty packed with local Polish families and Eastern Europe tourists. Mumushka excitedly claimed that she wanted to take a horse-drawn carriage up to the lake, which is what she used to do as a child visiting the area. We complied as it didn’t seem like it was much of a hike anyways and enjoyed the hour ride up to the lake. The horses stop about 30 minutes from the lake so you finish the rest of the journey on foot. After a short walk, you turn a corner and suddenly you’re surrounded by towering mountains and crystal clear water and you know you’ve arrived at Morsie Oko.
Once you reach the lake, I highly recommend you quickly leave the main gathering area that’s overflowing with tourists and walk the perimeter of the lake. The vast majority of the tourists don’t seem to explore the area around the lake so it provides the perfect opportunity to feel like you have the lake to yourself. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even hike an additional 45 minutes to another smaller lake, Czarny Staw, that sits behind Morskie Oko. We started to do that before we realized that we wouldn’t have enough time (and Mumushka may find the hill too steep) to manage the walk. For the way back down to the car, we decided to mix it up a bit, Mumushka enthusiastically took her horse-drawn back down while Cole, Edward and I raced down the bottom. It was about 5-6 miles and because it was mainly downhill, we made it back in record time (just nearly beating the horses back!).
We started the drive to Zakopane where we were staying for the next two nights, but first stopped in this tiny little town my mom used to spend her summers growing up. It was amazing to see her face light up as she pointed out the areas she would roam around. The town had a great view overlooking the valley and mountains, so we enjoyed a beer and pierogis outside (at this this point, I am surprised we didn’t turn into pierogis after eating them non-stop for days).
We arrived at our beautiful hotel, The Aries Hotel, and enjoyed an hour or so in the spa before getting ready for dinner. That evening we followed a friend’s recommendation and ate at Villa Toscana for a delicious Italian dinner (need a change of scenery from all the Polish food we’d been eating!). The restaurant faces a large park and we got eat al fresca and watch the sunset from our table.
For the final day in Zakopane, we headed out to another walking trail/hike, this time to Strążyska Valley. Again, Mumushka begged to ride the horse and carriage and we obliged. This time it was a bit more enjoyable as it was just the 3 of us on the horse and the area was way less touristy than the day before. We arrived at a spot in the mountains where we could walk around for a bit and even managed to convince Mumushka to tackle a small, but steep climb. Of course, just our luck as soon as we got up there it started to rain which meant the hike back down was a bit more challenging as the rocks became very slippery. Luckily, we managed to get her down safely and raced back to the carriage as the rain really started to come down hard.
We enjoyed a quick lunch together before I had to head back to Krakow to catch my flight that evening. I took the Flixbus, which was surprisingly my first time on one of the discount travel buses. Fortunately, I booked a bus that arrived back in Krakow in plenty of time before my flight as the bus was nearly an hour delayed. Once back in Krakow, I stopped into one last charming cafe, this time at Żarówka Cafe, to catch up on a few emails, enjoy a coffee and soak up the last bit of the charming spirit of Krakow.
This was a trip I will never forget. It was so special to experience Poland with my mom, Cole and my brother Edward. Krakow was amazing with its history, thriving cultural and arts scene and delicious restaurants. Zakopane was the perfect city escape to get an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful countryside of Poland. The best part of all though was seeing the excitement on my mom’s face throughout the whole trip. Whether it was reminiscing on stories of her childhood, tasting food she hadn’t had in ages, or listening to her speak Polish to everyone she encountered, we made memories that will last a lifetime. I can’t wait to have another opportunity to get back to Poland and explore more of the country with my mom.
PS Before we flew to Poland, my mom spent a week in London with us. We even made homemade pierogis in preparation for our Poland trip and showed her around our home.