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June2023 Trip to Poland and Prague Trip Report

Trip Report June 2023: Berlin-Warsaw-Krakow-Prague
(NOTE: I am Jewish, my family was from Poland, and we focused mostly on Jewish history during this trip.)

Berlin - Westin Grand Berlin. Jewish Museum (free but need ticket). Excellent museum about the history of Jews in Germany. Very good exhibits and better than most Jewish Museum that display hundreds of menorahs. Food tour with EatingEurope.com. Tour of food and history of East Berlin. I learned a lot about East Berlin, saw parts of Berlin I would not have seen without the tour (even a piece of the wall), and learned about Germany under Communism. Food was good, but nothing amazing. Basic German and immigrant foods. Train to Shop at KaDeWa department store.

Warsaw Day 1- LOT flight to Warsaw from Berlin. Sheraton Grand Warsaw. Really nice hotel (used Marriott points). Perfect location, excellent breakfast and customer service. Walked to food hall and had some lunch. Several food halls in Warsaw, we tried a few, several choices, Google for locations. Walked to Old Town- Warsaw was demolished during WWII so the town is “new”, they built the Old Town Square to resemble the original. Nice to walk around, Souvenir shops, restaurants, perogies restaurants (look like dumplings). We had various perogies but the best thing we ate was potato pancake with mushroom sauce. Frydrck Concert (recommended by traveler on Rick forum). Buy tickets online. Wonderful 1 hour piano concert. Chopin. Lovely location and music.

Warsaw Day 2-POLIN museum. Bought tickets online. Not very crowded but suggest getting tickets online so you don’t miss out. Incredible museum about the 1000 history of Jews in Poland. Museum has a nice cafeteria and café, but we decided to try a Milk Bar near the museum. Ate meatballs with dill cream sauce, Beet root soup, meat/rice rolled in cabbage leaf, tomato soup, dumplings, drinks. Total was $20. Poland is very cheap- food especially. Took the Tram (very easy to use the Tram, but we could not figure out how to buy a ticket on board- luckily only went a few stops) to a boutique shopping street to look for clothing since everything was so cheap. Tried Wedel chocolates as everyone had told us they are the best Polish chocolates- they were OK.

Krakow Day 1- Express Train to Krakow from Warsaw. No stops; 2 hours. Sheraton Grand Krakow. Highly recommend this hotel (Marriott points). Excellent location looking out on water and castle. Delicious breakfast, customer service was wonderful. Walked to Jewish Quarter for a quick lunch at Hamsa Hummus Bar and Restaurant. Private driver to Salt Mines (we decided to use a private driver due to timing, but lots of people on tour buses). It was only a 16-minute drive from Krakow castle to Salt Mines. We had purchased timed tickets online and highly recommend you get the tickets before arriving due to crowds. Salt Mine tour guide was very good. Total of 2.5 hour tour. 400 steps down to start the tour. Another 374 steps during the tour. The salt mines are incredible, but after about an hour I was bored. If you really enjoy mines and excavation and engineering, then this is for you. What the miners did and what they carved out of the salt walls is beautiful. When the tour was finished, it was another 15-minute walk to the elevator to exit. It was a long tour. There are bathrooms and food available in the mine. We had reservations at Klezmer Hois for dinner, but we were very late, and the klezmer music did not start for another hour, so we decided to eat at a restaurant on the same Jewish Quarter Square that had some music outside and a nice patio. BIG MISTAKE! "Ariel" was TERRIBLE. The food was inedible. We had stewed lamb, gefilte fish, and lamb kebob. Lamb so dry and hard we could not chew it. The waiter was shocked when we did not eat it and said “he would tell the kitchen” but still presented us with a bill for everything.

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It was a beautiful, clean, friendly country. And cheap. I highly recommend Poland

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Hi,
Where is the boutique shopping street you mentioned in Warsaw? Thanks

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Nice trip report. All places we visited and would revisit if we had time. We felt the same way about Warsaw on our first day, but by our last day it was starting to grow on us. We actually wished we had a few extra days to see more if the city.

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RE Crowds: No crowds in Poland. Auschwitz and Salt Mines have many tours going at once, but they manage it well. POLIN museum was empty. Prague- crowded around the tower clock and in narrow streets around the clock, but otherwise, not overly crowded. Lots of tourist, but I always felt I had some space to move.

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"Boutique" streets in Poland: Marszałkowska Street, Jerozolimskie Avenue and Nowy Swiat Street. Nice clothing, dresses, shoes.

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PART 2 Later we heard that Klezmer Hois has good food! We walked to the beautiful and huge Town Square! Wow! It is lovely and full of people and food and fun. Lots of stag parties, but there is so much space on this square you can easily stay away from them. Ate gelato….lots of choices on the square.

Krakow Day 2- Bought sandwiches from Charlotte bakery (yummy sandwiches and pastries) for our trip to Auschwitz. We had a prepaid tour package of bus and tickets thru DiscoverCrakow.com. Easy meeting spot only 5 minutes from hotel. Regarding Discover Cracow: there was no staff at the meeting spot to help manage questions or people. Buses just pull up to the meeting spot with a sign in front window of where it is going, board bus and bus driver checks your name on list. Several confused people walking around asking questions the driver could not answer, but once we got going it was nice bus (only 26 people). One hour drive to Auschwitz. Once there Discover Cracow staff gives you a ticket for entrance and you meet your guide (Auschwitz provides the guide). Our guide had a thick accent and was hard to understand. Basically, I didn’t like the guide. He provided basic information but was not great at helping me experience or feel the place. He was stern and direct. If I go again, I will find a private guide. I know many people have had heartfelt guides, but not this guy. Overall, the walking tour is exactly like Rick’s book. Rick’s tour is very complete. We walked thru a gas chamber which was horrifying, and our guide did not present us with an option not to go thru it, but once outside I noticed that it is possible (and easy) to walk around it. 2 hour tour at Auschwitz then a short break and back to the DC bus. DC bus drove us over to Birkenau (we ate our sandwiches during this break- there is not planned time for lunch, so bring some food but DON’T EAT INSIDE THE CAMP- the guide will yell at you.). Birkenau is a visual experience, not much touring (a few buildings) then time alone to wander around. DC bus back to drop off spot.
We had dinner at a delicious restaurant: Farina. It was a calm lovely atmosphere after a difficult day. Fish restaurant. Excellent food and wines. And inexpensive compared to US. Located just off the Square. We walked around the square all evening just to appreciate life and the lively atmosphere of this town. After the horror of WWII and the Holocaust, it was nice to feel humanity at its best. At this point in our trip, I am starting to realize something that I have never truly appreciated-- Although WWII and the holocaust ended, it was not freedom and happiness for Jews, Poland or Eastern Europe. Communism was not a pleasant transition after the War and the citizens and Jews continued to suffer. They were still not free. Krakow had Pogroms in 1945!

Krakow Day 3- Met with a Professor from the Krakow Institute of Jewish Studies for a tour of the Jewish Quarter (a friend made the connection for us. She does not do this regularly, but she said there are plenty of good guides around to hire. FYI-She cautioned us that the “golf cart” tours are not 100% accurate in the information they provide.). First, we learned that the “Jewish Quarter” and the “Jewish Ghetto” in Krakow are two completely different areas. We started in the Jewish Quarter and learned that in the 13th and 14th centuries the Royal Families of Poland welcomed Jews to their country from the surrounding countries that kicked them out. That is how Poland came to have the largest Jewish population in Europe. We then walked over the river to the Jewish Ghetto (where the Nazi’s “kept” the Jews at the start of the War). Here we saw a section of original wall that surrounded the ghetto. Our guide explained that the movie “Schindler’s List” completely changed the trajectory of Krakow and the Jewish historical sites.

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PART 3-The movie increased tourism which increased financial investments and improved tourism infrastructure. Krakow is a beautiful city, and the Jewish sites are now well preserved. We visited the factory (did not tour inside), the Jewish square where the Jews were rounded up (some shot) and put in ghetto, saw several historic synagogues. Krakow has many Ukrainian refugees and our guide told us that visiting Poland is helping the Ukrainians too. Ate lunch again at Hamsa hummus restaurant-had lamb tagine (delicious)
Dinner at Balaton restaurant near main square. Hungarian food. Delicious food but very heavy. Highly recommend the smaller portion of original Hungarian goulash on potato pancake.

Prague Day 1- 10am flight to Prague on Ryan air. Uber to airport was 20 minutes from Sheraton. Luggage Check-in took 20-minutes. Security 10-minutes. Locals said lines are much longer for early morning flights. 40-minute Uber ride to Augustine Hotel in Prague. Wonderful hotel--Lovely rooms, delicious breakfast, excellent service. Note: the entrance to the hotel is on the tram line- watch for trams when coming and going. Started walking to Town Square when it started to rain so we went to Jiserske Pekarny for a sandwhich (“Honest Guide” online recommended) then to The Spot for some delicious carrot cake and blueberry cheesecake. Dinner at”. Ichnusa Botega Bistro (reservations a must) Sicilian Italian food. Very good. Food was not as cheap as Poland, but not too bad.

Prague Day 2- EatingEurope.com food tour of Prague. First stop was a brewery on a boat…. great way to start! Eating Europe has wonderful tour guides. Lots of history and info about the cities as well as history of the foods and drinks. 5-hour tour and we were stuffed by the end! A few places I would recommend: Café Louvre- restaurant food was delicious. Make a reservation, but they were not packed. Sisters’ café for sandwiches and desserts- yum! After all that food, we walked along river and rented a paddle boat for 30 minutes…lots of fun!

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PART4-ENDPrague Day 3- Tram #22 to Strahov Monastery. Bought tickets onboard the tram with credit card at orange box. 90-minute ticket. (20 cents (crowns) to use bathroom at monastery). Rick needs to update his book---Photos are free. Incredible library at Monastery!! (FYI-35 steps up to the library level) Rick’s guidebook was very helpful. Walked to Prague Palace in time to see changing of the guard- crowded but fun to watch! Rick’s walking tour thru the Palace was perfect. Walked down the hill to the Tram #15 to Sisters’ bistro for lunch. Husband ate across hall at Nase Maso for pastrami sandwich- excellent! Shopping as recommended by Rick Steves’ (he needs to update this book info): Hevelska market- bought fresh fruits and some souvenirs. Ungelt was nothing, skip it. Celetna and Na Prikope were good areas to walk around. Palladium mall was good when it was raining, but typical chain stores. Prague is a city to walk around and look up. The architecture is beautiful. We sat in squares, strolled around. Enjoyed when it wasn’t raining which was a little bit every day. Dinner : MIncova. Just off the square. Food is excellent. Make a reservation.

Prague Day 4- Bought tickets for Jewish Quarter sites (tickets are valid for a week and unlock door to the bathroom). Followed Rick’s walking tour of Jewish Qtr.

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elebang, thanks for taking the time to write this trip report. Sounds like a great and very interesting trip for y’all. I will be in Prague for a week in October so I really appreciate all your observations and restaurant recommendations.