Poland is somewhere that’s been on my list of places I’ve wanted to visit for a really long time so when we were looking for a cheap getaway for a week we had off in September I was pleased that Krakow was one of the cheapest places you could get to from Newcastle that week. One of the main things I’ve wanted to do if we ever went to Krakow was to visit Auschwitz. Dave had already been on a previous trip with his friend Brian but agreed to go again with me since it would be unlikely I’d get the opportunity again any time soon. We also incorporated it into a trip to the Salt mines on the same day so at least there was something new we could do together.
We wrestled with whether doing both in one day was too much but we only had three nights there and wanted to make best use of our time. Doing both in a combined trip made the most sense time wise and we ended up booking with a company called Mr Shuttle who arranged the whole thing for us.
Pick up from our hotel was at an eye watering 6.50am and re travelled by coach the 1hr 10mins to Auschwitz 1. Thankfully I was able to snooze on the coach and we arrived roughly about 8.30am. We had 10 mins to use the restrooms before queuing for 10 minutes or so with our tour guide to get in. With this particular tour you get a completed guided tour and are provided with headsets so you can hear her talking and don’t get distracted by the other tours.
I’m not sure how to describe Auschwitz without you going yourself The word that kept in coming to mind, was ‘grim’. It was hard to get your head round the fact that it wasn’t a film set or a museum. It happened. And it happened right there. It’s also hard to get your head round the scale. You’re shown ‘dorm rooms’ but because they’re empty, it’s hard to imagine them packed with people. There are some exhibits which shows you suitcases, shoes and glasses taken from prisoners and they give you some indication of the scale of it all. And it’s absolutely horrible.
You spend about and hour and a half in Auschwitz 1 which is known as the main camp before the bus takes you to Auschwitz-Birkenau which is the extermination camp and where you see the famous train tracks leading to the gas chambers. There’s less to see here it’s essentially an old army barracks that was repurposed but it’s equally as horrifying. There’s some old folklore that birds don’t inhabit the surrounding area and once I was told that, the fact that it is, indeed deathly silent makes it even more eerie.
Both parts of the museum have toilets and vending machines for refreshments but the toilets at Auschwitz-Birkenau you have to pay to use. From here it was about another hour or so on the coach to the Saltmines, which at least was something to look forward to after a harrowing morning.
The Wieliczka salt mine, excavated from the 13th century, produced table salt continuously until 1996 as one of the world’s oldest operating salt mines but falling salt prices meant salt mining there was discontinued. So they made a cool museum out of it instead. The mine goes 1073 feet and your get there via some steep stairs which are relatively narrow (ie you have to walk single file) so if you have claustrophobia issues bear that in mind. And is 178 miles long, which, for context is roughly Newcastle to Leicester. The salt isn’t white like we know it and actually looks like granite. But if you give it a lick; definitely salt!
It certainly was a welcome change of pace from the boiling September sun outside as it was nice and cool (you may need a jumper depending on the time of year) but all the art carved into the walls is super impressive. Particular highlights for me were the Pope John Paul II (who was Polish I believe) and a really intricate carving of the Last Supper. The whole tour lasts about 2 ½ hours and you only get shown about 4% of the mine which gives you an indication of how massive the whole things is. We had an English speaking guide who was really funny – totally made the tour although I think is sarcasm was a bit lost on a couple of American’s in our group, which made him even funnier!
Another highlight was some of the under ground caves, the colour of the water of which are just stunning and in one of the caves the dipped the lights and played some orchestral music, which made it extremely atmospheric They sometimes have live concerts down there for special occasions which I bet is incredible! Coming out of the mine is thankfully easier than going down and accessed via a lift.
Despite our reservations that trying to squeeze both tours in, in one day and fear of not being able to see either properly, I’m pleased we did it, as it gave us the rest of our time there to explore the city of Krakow. So I definitely recommend it!
So. Here’s what you need to know about doing both in one day:
We paid about £80 per person and that included pick up and drop off from our hotel, fast track entrance into all attractions, English speaking guides and lunch (which was a large pasta salad, a sandwich, some fruit and some chocolate).
Apart from on the bus, there’s very little sitting down; you’re on you feet almost all day so comfy shoes are essential.
You get the same coach the whole day so can leave any belongings on the bus if you want to
You’re outside a lot at Auschwitz and it’s not very shaded so if it’s hot you need sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water. If it’s cold wrap up warm!
Whilst lunch in provided, we didn’t get that until about 12.30pm having been up since 6am so I would recommend taking snacks with you to eat on the bus.
You can book the same tour we did here: Mr Shuttle Auschwitz and Salt Mine Tour