CPCC Contributor Alana de Haan, Toronto blogger, and photographer. A collaborative series of photo-essays. Kraków, a favourite city.
I recently travelled to Poland to celebrate the wedding of my good friend Sophia. Over the course of a week, my partner and I went to Kraków, Niepołomice, and Warsaw, where we visited important historical landmarks, celebrated the union of a beautiful couple and revelled in the extravagance and beauty of the country’s historic and contemporary architecture. This was my first time in Poland; my grandfather was of Polish descent, his family from Poland by way of Chicago, so having the opportunity to see a part of my heritage was very important to me. Within hours of arriving in Kraków, I was captivated.
Kraków is a magical city. Quintessentially European, I fell in love with the winding cobblestone streets, the colourful architecture, and the inviting, open public spaces. During our three days in Kraków, we filled our time with long walks and tours, beginning each morning with a stroll through Planty Park, lush and green from the rainy weather. Our sightseeing included the Wieliczka Salt Mine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s oldest salt mines; Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory Museum, where we immersed ourselves in an informative exhibit on the Nazi Occupation of Kraków; and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków, a beautiful museum with unique artwork by new Polish artists.
The most notable tour of our trip, however, was our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oświęcim. Visiting Auschwitz was an experience I will never be able to translate into words. We may have learned about the Holocaust through school history lessons, period movies, and famous novels, but walking through the gates of Auschwitz, as millions of victims were forced to do, is an unparalleled experience. It is chilling to think that the events that transpired here only happened seventy-odd years ago, the wounds still fresh for many. We may never be able to truly comprehend the sheer horror of the Nazi-death camps, but I believe anyone who can should visit Auschwitz to remember, honour, and commemorate those who lost their lives, and ultimately, understand the danger of supremacist ideologies, should they ever take hold again.
Kraków is a city of many layers: underneath the undeniable beauty of the architecture, culture, and urban spaces is an unfortunately turbulent past, with the Polish people showing resilience unlike any others. By far one of my favourite cities, I recommend a visit to Kraków to everyone planning a Europe trip – I’m already longing to go back.