Krakow - Prague - Vienna (The Coldest Journey)
About a year ago, when I was in Israel for a 10-day group trip in May, I found myself walking through the desert in 40°C heat. I swore that nothing could be worse, and maybe that’s true, but with -20°C temperatures during my week in eastern Europe I began contemplating my preference.
The first leg of this adventure was the way from Strasbourg to Krakow. I took the Flixbus to Frankfurt, met my friend there, and then boarded an hour and a half flight to Krakow. As soon as we landed, I could feel that it was cold – the shuttle from the plane to the airport felt more like an icebox than anything else.
Before we go on, it’s important I tell you that in my stupidity, I brought my light winter boots and left my warm fur lined ones in Strasbourg. Also, that week was snowing in Rome. That’s how cold it was. My feet are still recovering.
Anyway, that night we took a taxi to the Airbnb where our other friends had arrived before and went right to bed.
The next morning, we had an extremely early start. We booked an 8:30 am tour to Auschwitz that picked us up right from the apartment. It was about an hour long bus ride to Oświęcim, the city where the concentration camp is, and the tour included both Auschwitz and Birkenau. As someone who loves history, seeing the camps had always been an interest of mine. But, I would recommend this visit to anyone to truly understand the injustice and crimes against humanity that occurred.
We spent that evening in Krakow and stumbled upon a great restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name, but I ate a mouth-watering lentil-goulash, cabbage perogies, and kompot (fruit juice). The wonderful thing about Krakow is that everything was so affordable. A meal that would have cost 20 euros in France was about 8 euros in Krakow.
For our last day in Krakow, we booked a trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. We were taken deep underground and given a tour of the mine which opened in the 13th century. Being underground was not really my favourite, and I would have personally skipped the salt mine because of the limited amount of time we had in Krakow. My friends, however, loved the experience, so it’s just a matter of preference.
I really wanted to see Schindler’s factory, which we didn’t have time for. But, I guess that gives me an excuse to come back to Krakow one day and chow down on another plate of perogies.
At around 3pm that afternoon, we took a six-hour RegioJet to Prague. The train in Eastern Europe is a lot slower than the 200 km/hr ones in France and Germany, but RegioJet does provide the luxury of free water and there is an attendant that comes around with snacks for purchase every so often.
There’s something genuinely preserved about Prague. As much as I love Paris, it’s become commercial, a concept that has yet to reach this lively eastern European city.
We had two full days and three nights in Prague, which felt like enough, especially with the freezing temperatures.
The first day there, we visited typical tourist spots: The John Lennon Wall, Charles Bridge, and then climbed up to the Petřín Lookout Tower. For lunch, we stopped for goulash and dumplings and ordered the delicious cheese and cranberry dish pictured below.
The first two nights of our trip we stayed in Hostel Prague Tyn. It was conveniently located, but the bathrooms were run down, and the breakfast consisted of solely cereal. We paid about 12 euros a night, so the price makes up for these faults.
The second day, we spent a lot of time in the Jewish quarter and bought a pass to visit five synagogues. It was interesting, and a good activity given the weather.
While in Prague you must also try the Staroceske Trdlo (the donut looking creation in the pictures below).
Since only one of my friends and I were continuing to Vienna, we spent our last night in Residence Bologna. The hotel was gorgeous and offered an amazing breakfast. We paid about 25 euros a night, which is more than the hostel, but it was well worth it and left us wishing we’d stayed there for all three nights.
The final leg of this week-long trip was a day and a half in Vienna. Again, we took a four-hour morning RegioJet to our destination and then walked over to our Airbnb. For some reason, the two of us booked an apartment big enough for six people because it was one of the cheaper options, but this place was huge — big enough to do cartwheels in.
We spent that first day checking out the Naschmarkt, which is a food market. We’d heard good things about the market, but most of the vendors were closed when we went… maybe because of the cold. The freezing temperatures got to us as well and we only ended up seeing Schloss Belvedere before grabbing Pad Thai for dinner and heading to bed.
Our second day was a bit more eventful, but the cold temperatures made it so difficult to walk that we actually ended up jogging everywhere. We did manage to see the Spanish Riding School and Café Central (this was really cool because everyone from Freud to Stalin has dined here) and the outside of the famous Vienna State Opera. It’s at this famous opera house where we bought rather affordable tickets (35 euros) to a concert/opera/ballet show at a nearby theatre. The show was probably one of the highlights of my time in Vienna— after all, it was warm in the theatre.
After a flight and bus ride home to Strasbourg the next day, I was happy to be back home in the warmth of my own apartment. That next week it was about 10-15°C warmer in all of the places we had just visited. My advice for those traveling during a winter frost —bring warm boots and a lot of layers… just mummifying your entire body in layers then maybe you’ll be able to handle entire days outside in freezing temperatures.