Why I Spent Only 24 Hours in Krakow

24 hours in Krakow
The breathtaking Wawel Cathedral in Krakow.

I’m not usually a 24 hours per city type of person.

I much prefer a slower way of traveling, and often feel a terrible sadness when leaving any place I visit. I always wish I could stay just a bit longer, live there for a little while. But, sometimes, 24 hours is all you have, as was the case for me in Krakow, Poland.

So what brought me to Krakow for only 24 hours? Let me start at the beginning…

My mother is Polish!

My mother was born in the small city of Wałbrzych, Poland. Her parents actually came from modern-day Belarus, from a small rural area that was once part of Poland. They were in Wałbrzych preparing to immigrate to the United States, where my grandfather already had family. When my mother was just three years old they set off on a plane to their new life in Worcester, Massachusetts. They worked hard to make a living and assimilate in their new country. My grandmother quickly learned English and soon stopped speaking Polish at home, likely frightened that her native tongue would set her apart in this new world. So my mother’s native language slowly slipped away, as she became as American as anyone.

Lauren and Grace
My mother and I.

For nearly all of her life my mother didn’t embrace much of her Polish heritage. Every now and then she’d stop by the Polish store and pick up some candies, but other than that there wasn’t much Polish influence in her life. This was understandable, her parents had divorced when she was a child and her mother brought her up saying that she wasn’t actually Polish, but rather something else, Belorusian perhaps (a mystery we have yet to solve). With the borders in this area constantly shifting, it’s easy to see how one could be confused about their identity.

So instead of learning to make pierogi and gołąbki as her first dishes, she married my father (whose parents had immigrated from Italy), and learned to make a delicious red sauce and hearty bean soups instead.

Why not visit Poland?

All these years later we were planning my parents’ visit to Spain when inspiration hit. Why not visit Poland? There was an inexpensive Ryanair flight that went direct from Madrid to Krakow, which is supposedly Poland’s most beautiful city. I figured we could go for five days, visit some nearby villages, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Salt Mines, and perhaps take a cooking class or a day trip to Warsaw. I booked the flights and started researching our options.

But I soon realized that the trip my mother had in mind wasn’t quite based on monuments and cooking classes. She had the desire to know a little bit about her roots. She wanted to visit her hometown, Wałbrzych. As I started to look up possible options, my mom called her cousin, also living in the US. He was so excited we were making the trip and told us we had to change our plans– we would need to stay at least three weeks he explained. And, by the way– we would be staying with family.

Polish family
Some of our lovely Polish family, who at this point we didn’t even know about!

What family?

Three weeks wasn’t going to happen, but we could extend the five-day plan. So we rebooked, deciding on a complicated return going from Wroclaw to Girona, then by train from Girona to Madrid. It would be a tiring experience, but we’d get to meet family members we had only heard about (if that). We’d also be staying with family according to our cousin– although we weren’t exactly sure who they were.

But I believe that when an opportunity like this presents itself, there is only one response: go with it!

I didn’t think twice, we paid the change fees, downloaded Google Translate, and took a deep breath before setting off on our adventure!

Coming soon: The Perfect Day in Krakow, Visiting Lodz, Polish Food 101, Ksiaz Castle in Walbrzych and more!

Have you ever set off on a very personal, largely unplanned trip like this one? I’m curious about your experiences!

Comments

  1. Ooh wow this sounds fascinating! Am looking forward to reading more about your trip. I’m currently planning a trip to Devonshire, England, because apparently there is a tiny village called Huxham hanging around north of Exeter…so I may as well check it out and knock on some doors hahaha.

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