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Kasteel Well Week 4: Sweden & Poland

  • February 22, 2013
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As we started planning for this weekend, we didn’t have much in mind.  Our main goal was to visit the Auschwitz & Birkenau Concentration Camps as we felt it was something that we should all take the time to experience.  Besides that, we had no plans and had no expectations.  In our planning stages, we found that we could fly straight into Poland on Friday afternoon OR we could fly to Stockholm on Thursday night and make it to Poland at the same time for the same price.  Stockholm?  Why not?

Semi-poor planning resulted in us running out of our last Thursday class into a waiting cab to take us to the airport.  After Abby got held up at every security checkpoint possible, we eventually made it to our gate, headed out onto the runway and boarded our plane.  Three little girls were sitting right in front of us along with their mother who started to turn around and make faces at us.  Abby made faces back and before we knew it they were climbing over the seats, hitting us with menus, taking our stuff from under the seats or off our bodies.  After Emily’s hat was stolen, she put it behind her back and then suddenly they were in the aisle trying to get it.  The flight attendants came over twice and told the mother to sit her children down, but somehow she missed the message.  The quote of the flight unfortunately goes to Emily: “Help! I’m being pinched! Ow!”  One would assume that certain words would be the same in every language but evidentially “ow”, “stop” and “no” do not translate to whatever these children were speaking.

Langholmen Prison, Stockholm, Sweden

Langholmen Prison, Stockholm, Sweden

We only had 12 hours in Stockholm so we tried to make the most of it.  We first figured out how to use the subway system (it’s called the T – just like Boston!) and found our way to our hostel with the help of a nice Swedish lady who stopped to help us confused Americans looking at our maps on the sidewalk.  Our hostel was actually a former prison that was converted into a hostel after the prison closed in 1975.  Even if Stockholm were horrendous, the prison would have made the trip worth it.

Langholmen Prison, Stockholm, Sweden

Langholmen Prison, Stockholm, Sweden

We asked the receptionist where to find some classic Swedish food, but once we left all we could remember was the general direction and that the place she recommended had a “d” in the name.  Working off of our available information, we entered the first restaurant with a “d” in it and we were not disappointed by our choices.  We made quick work of our dishes of Swedish meatballs, game meat, and roasted chicken and then headed in early with hopes of waking up early in the morning to see part of Stockholm’s Old Town before we caught the bus back to the airport.  All 3 of us managed to sleep through 3 alarms and we barely woke up in time to make it to our bus in time.

Castle Walls, Warsaw, Poland

Castle Walls, Warsaw, Poland

Our next flight was relaxing without the children that had plagued the one prior and we calmly landed in Warsaw, Poland.  After about 20 minutes of fighting with a ticket machine, we managed to buy train tickets to get to the city center and then realized we had no clue what we were doing in Warsaw.  We went in with the notion that it was the capital and we could find something to do for a few hours.  We managed to wander long enough to find Old Town Square, which was completely rebuilt after it was obliterated during WWII.  We also found a cathedral that contained composer Frederick Chopin’s heart in an urn.  So that was cool?  While we made the most of our time there, we weren’t necessarily disappointed to board our train to Katowice.

Well…we weren’t disappointed until we arrived in Katowice around midnight.  Definitely not as nice of a city as we’ve been to, but we were just planning on sleeping a few hours in our hostel right next to the train station.  We thought it would be simple to buy a tram ticket to get to Oświęcim.  We were wrong.  It took 4 different Polish ticket attendants who spoke very little English to finally point us in the right direction of where to buy tickets and catch our tram.  Go to track 4 then take a left.  Simple enough?  What she failed to mention was that after the left, you have to walk a quarter-mile through a tunnel, then go back to street-level, cross 3 streets, walk 3 blocks, then you can finally get to track 5.  Well we were definitely getting our exercise on this trip!

My experience at Auschwitz needed to follow in it’s own post.  You can view that post here: Kasteel Well Week 4 Special: Auschwitz.

The question of the day was “why didn’t we start in Kraków?”  It seemed like such a clean, lively city in contrast to everywhere else we had visited in Poland.  Our hostel (The Tutti Frutti – chosen just by its name) was located right in the Old Town where everything was happening.  We took in as much as we could Saturday night around Old Town Square but most things were closed.

Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland

Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland

A highlight for me was walking around the Wawel Castle that now sits on Wawel Hill.  Legend has it that a dragon used to live under Wawel Hill until he was slayed by a polish prince, Krakus, who then founded Kraków.  The legend of the dragon is visible all over Kraków and there is even a sculpture by the castle that breathes fire every few minutes.  As we were taking pictures of the sculpture we met a group of students from all over Europe – Poland, Estonia, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark to name a few – so it was nice to stop for a few minutes with them to chat about travelling and adventures.

One of the things on our to-do list was to eat pierogies before we left Poland.  After a little bit of searching side streets, we found a 24-hour pierogi place and we ordered a few varieties to share.  We tried cabbage & mushrooms, cottage cheese & potatoes, meat (Yes. That’s all it said.), and apples.  While I was hoping to get some Polish kielbasa while we were there, this ended up being our only experience of Polish cuisine as we realized we kept forgetting to eat due to our crazy travel schedule.

Sunday morning we were up at the crack of dawn to head to the Wieliczka Salt Mine which was recommended to us by numerous people who had visited Kraków before.  About 20 minutes south of Kraków lays the salt mine, which was mined for over 700 years.  After the miners excavated a deposit of salt, they were left with large caverns in which the miners took their free time to crave sculptures into the salt walls and out of complete blocks of salt.  The mine contains an underground spa, hotel & several ballrooms where events are held.  The most impressive was an entire cathedral created entirely out of salt.  Over 90 meters underground, the cathedral featured numerous sculptures including a statue of Pope John Paul II (Archbishop of Kraków) and a 3-D carving of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.  It was incredible that all of these were created by miners and not by artists.  It is still somewhat hard to fathom that I was 135 meters below the surface of the earth at the deepest point.

da Vinci's "The Last Supper" created out of salt

da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” created out of salt

A bus, a run, a train, a tram, a plane and a cab were all that stood in our way to get back to the castle.  Planes, trains and automobiles!  We managed to make it back despite train rerouting and inability to speak Polish and we were all relieved to have completed this weekend.  We were curious of how long & how far we traveled in one weekend so this is what we came up with.  It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough.

















GRAND TOTALS (kilometers)










Life lessons from this trip:

  • Make the most of a layover – use it to see somewhere you wouldn’t normally travel.
  • Be cautious how early during a flight you make friends with little kids
  • Don’t be afraid to go somewhere different or obscure.  Your experience will be more interesting overall if you leave the main cities and really explore a country.