Moments after I received my acceptance email from The Remote Experience, Mikela and I started planning when and where she was going to come visit. Originally, we were going to be in Istanbul for the month of August and it was a no-brainer that was where she’d meet me. But as the violence escalated in Turkey, the organizers decided against Istanbul and switched our August-city to Barcelona. While I was excited for this, Mikela has been to Barcelona multiple times, so we were back to the drawing board.
We finally netted on an early September visit in Prague and since we’re both WWII nerds, we thought a side trip up to Kraków was fitting. Turns out, it’s really easy to get to Kraków from Chicago; not so easy from Prague. To avoid an all day layover, I opted for the overnight train. I had taken the overnight train when I studied abroad and we had some translation issues and ended up in a regular carriage vs. a sleeper car. It was not at all pleasant and to be honest, a little sketchy. So I can’t say I was super stoked on the idea of going by myself, but it was the easiest way to get up north, so that was my plan.
What you can’t see is that we had 4 other friends in our carriage. And this is how we traveled…for 9 hours.
The only opportunity for any break.
Luckily, Westley, our Prague local ambassador, came to the rescue. He told me about ReggioJet, which is completely changing train and bus travel in the Czech Republic. For a quarter of the cost and less time than the overnight sleeper train, I was able to take a ReggioJet train and bus during the day, straight to Kraków. And unlike the ex-Communist trains that feel like they’re about to break down any moment, ReggioJet has fairly new equipment and outfits everything with a personal TV on each seat, WiFi and free snacks. Sign me up!
I have to take a quick second to give a huge shoutout to how helpful Westely was. When I told him I was having issues booking a sleeper car on the overnight train, he called Czech Railways to talk to them, then researched the ReggioJet options, priced everything out, sent me schedules for all of the available scenarios and called multiple times to confirm that my transfer in Ostrava from train to bus would be at the same station. And after all of that, he offered to go down to the main train station with me if I decided I still wanted to do the overnight train to purchase my tickets to avoid any confusion. Westley – you are a lifesaver!
I successfully made my transfer in Ostrava, which Westley did warn me to make sure I did otherwise I could very likely end up in Ukraine…
I got to Kraków just in time to drift off to sleep and awake to Mikela arriving in Europe! We enjoyed coffee and breakfast in the main square.
Then headed to the hotel room to drop Mikela’s stuff off and let her shower. Our hotel was so great – super cute, comfortable and a block off the main square. If anyone finds themselves in Kraków , I’d highly recommend the Aparthotel Stare Miasto.
Then it was time to explore the city.
For how incredibly hot our summer had been, our first day in Kraków was chilly and grey. But a little drizzle couldn’t stop us. We admired the main square…
…which is one of the largest in Europe, and explored the central market.
We meandered through the park surrounding the main square and all of the side streets, ducking into small shops.
For lunch, I had found a Jewish restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto with great reviews on Yelp – seemed like an appropriate place to try. We walked up and the menu outside didn’t look appetizing at all. As in pickled fish and stuffed gooseneck. Turns out, Jewish food is very different than American Jewish deli food. Mikela was all the wiser the whole time but was nice enough to never question my restaurant choice. But was also A-ok with not eating there. We quickly looked up other options and found a more traditional Polish restaurant where we enjoyed much more normal fare. Suffice it to say that I’m a big pierogi fan now.
Mikela was creeping up to the 24-hour mark of being awake (thanks to a bunch of teenagers going on their birthright trip to Israel, she had a really lovely flight over with absolutely no sleep) so we snagged a coffee at the cutest little café.
Energized by espresso, we continued on to Wawel Castle, on the hill overlooking Kraków.
The castle was built in the 1300s and while many generations of Polish royalty lived there, it’s now home to several museums and other collections. We toured around the elaborate church, looked at ancient Polish artifacts and clothing and climbed to the top of the bell tower.
It was cool to see the bells so close – they are absolutely huge! Although I wouldn’t want to be in there when they are rung.
Our next stop was Oranzeria for a glass of wine with the most beautiful view of the castle.
We had an early dinner and admired the square at night…
…before heading back to our hotel to try and get a good night’s sleep, considering our early, early wake-up call the next morning.